HC Deb 15 May 1997 vol 294 cc178-265 3.39 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

Madam Speaker, in opening today's debate on the Queen's Speech, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on what I think you described as a very good innings indeed. I also wish to indicate that, in the spirit of the Jopling Committee recommendations, I shall keep my speech brief—not least so as to ensure that many of the new Members can make their maiden speeches today.

I have the privilege of being the first Labour Secretary of State for Education and Employment; the first Labour Secretary of State for the past 18 years to stand at this Dispatch Box; and the first shadow Secretary of State for Education since 1929 to make it to the Secretary of State's job. I owe that gem of information to Roy, now Lord, Hattersley and I pay tribute this afternoon to a lifetime's commitment to the education service and to the love of his life.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

That was in The Guardian.

Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says that it was in The Guardian. I had better check that, but I checked it with Lord Hattersley and it is bound to be true.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has placed a particular burden on my shoulders—not the burden of delivering some of the most essential and key pledges of the new Labour Government, but rather that, in a pre-election party political broadcast, my right hon. Friend warned all of the nation's children that I was about to inflict on them a great deal more homework. Children have been coming up to me ever since asking whether that was a threat and what the extent of the homework would be.

I do not mind being the bogeyman on the Government Benches, as long as I do not have to come across in the night the bogeymen of the Opposition—not least the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard). I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) counts himself as a bogeyman—he was certainly wise enough to move from St. Albans. I do not know whether he is here this afternoon, but I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Pollard) on achieving that tremendous victory. This is the first time I can remember that anybody standing for the leadership of a political party has appealed to his supporters to stop campaigning for him, on the ground that what they have said about opponents might be embarrassing. That shows the measure of the disarray on the Opposition Benches.

At last, we have the opportunity of turning words into action and of starting the process of making a difference to the lives of millions of people across this country. We are able to offer a new beginning—a partnership and a consensus within the British nation so that the crusade for standards, the drive for opportunity in work and the chance to be able to earn their own living will at last be a reality for so many people who have waited these long 18 years for a change of Government.

We have a chance to give young and old alike some hope for the future. We have the opportunity to offer young people the sort of standards that others have taken for granted. We have the ability to give young and old alike the chance to work when, for so long, they have been dependent on others—to translate dependency into independence and to translate welfare into work.[Interruption.] The grumblings of Opposition Members should be mirrored by the reality of the tripling of the number of people over the past 18 years who were made dependent on state benefits—that is a tribute not to independence but to extending the tentacles of the state in a way that Margaret Thatcher could not, presumably, have envisaged when she made her speech on the steps of Downing street in May 1979.

This time, the pledges are clear; we will deliver on them over the next five years and rebuild trust in politics and democracy and the ability of the Government to work with the people in delivering those pledges.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

Which of the right hon. Gentleman's ministerial colleagues would he congratulate on the latest fall in the unemployment figures?

Mr. Blunkett

I would give considerable credit to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends for bringing about a new state of unemployment among former colleagues of Opposition Members—that is the only level of unemployment that we are prepared to tolerate over the next five years.

I am proud of the Government's education and employment team and, working with the people, we will do the job—but the Government do not believe that we can do it alone. We shall be working with those in education—parents, governors, teachers and heads—and with those in the Employment Service, in our jobcentres and in the community who have long awaited an enabling Government who will provide the resources of the state to enable people to determine their own lives and to be given the opportunity and the wherewithal to flourish in a complicated world of new technology and a knowledge-based society in which human capital has replaced the 19th-century investment of fixed capital.

Above all, we shall give the many what has so often been available only to the few. We shall spread the benefits of smaller class sizes to those who, over the past 18 years, have suffered the indignity and difficulty of larger class sizes, thus extending the benefit of lifelong learning to the many.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) spelt out the situation clearly in his elegant and witty speech yesterday. He spoke of three private schools in his constituency and how £2.25 million of state money benefits the privileged few, whereas 14,000 children in his constituency were facing larger class sizes and underfunding. Translating the resources that we have at our disposal into priorities that enable the many to succeed will be a key task for me, my Front-Bench team and the whole Government.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Is it not true that the money available in the first year from the abolition of assisted places will amount to something like £49 million? The Government cannot deliver on their undertaking. Are they not in fact promoting a deceit on the British people by saying that class sizes will be reduced but without specifying where the money will come from? The abolition of assisted places will not provide it.

Mr. Blunkett

I am very happy to enlighten the hon. Gentleman, as I was during the general election campaign. I was delighted that the British people believed a party of honesty rather than a party of gross dishonesty.

By the year 2000, £100 million will have been freed from the assisted places scheme, partly because some youngsters will come off the scheme as they leave school and partly because new money will not be applied to the scheme from next year but will instead be used to aid pupils in state schools.

Perhaps I can remind the hon. Gentleman of the legacy of the previous Government. Over the past 15 years, there has been a 40 per cent. increase in the number of children in primary education taught in classes of more than 30. How an Opposition Member can raise the issue of class sizes with me, a representative of the new Government, I really do not know. The increase in class sizes and the legacy of neglect will take us years to overcome, but we have been honest; we did not pretend to the electorate that we could do everything in 12 or 18 months. We set out a programme for a five-year Parliament which, the electorate and our success willing, we shall turn into a second and third Labour term to build on the foundations that we are laying so that we can rebuild the trust of the British electorate.

A reduction in class sizes is just one of our pledges, but I shall spell out in greater detail this afternoon and in the weeks to come the way in which we shall implement our key commitments to ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I join others in wishing the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues well, in the hope that they succeed in what they have set out to do.

Has the Secretary of State yet had time to ponder the rather peculiar fact that some of the local education authorities that deliver the best results in their schools have the largest class sizes; whereas many of the LEAs—mostly controlled by Labour—that produce the worst results have the smallest classes?

Mr. Blunkett

Until 1 May, of course, the Conservative party controlled only five councils. It now controls the county of Kent, with seven of the worst schools in Britain. I shall be interested to see what dramatic action Kent county council, under the Conservatives, will now take to deal with the five LEA schools and two grant-maintained schools that have worse results than The Ridings school had when the right hon. Gentleman's regime—he was a Minister in it—took action against The Ridings and Calderdale council. We shall see what happens in the weeks and months ahead.

Whenever action is not taken, whatever the complexion of the local authority, we shall act to ensure that the children in question are not denied a decent education. I just wish that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) had acted decisively when, as a Minister, he had the chance to do so.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Blunkett

I give way to the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes).

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I hesitate to raise it during the speech of the Secretary of State, for whom I have the highest regard, but it relates to the business of the House.

As you know, Madam Speaker, the Referendums (Scotland and Wales) Bill was to be published today; it is of great interest to Scottish and Welsh Members. It appears that the Bill was circulating among members of the Welsh press by 12 noon today, yet when I made representations at the Vote Office 10 minutes ago it was not readily available to Members. Does not that show contempt for the rights of hon. Members?

Madam Speaker

I shall of course have the matter looked at right away. The House is grateful to the hon. Lady for raising it.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Will the Secretary of State consider one other method of improving equality of access, consistent with what he has said about the abolition of assisted places? There are many good schools, but it is often difficult to get into them. They all have to be applied for separately. Schools in metropolitan areas, for instance, would certainly benefit from a co-ordinated application system at primary and secondary level rather like the system operating for universities and colleges.

Will the Secretary of State review that matter, including the Greenwich judgment, so that access to schools and quality of teaching can be approached by the Government with a fresh mind, with a view to dealing with some of the injustices and frustrations caused by the current system?

Mr. Blunkett

For the avoidance of misunderstanding: I believe it unlikely that there will be a change in the Greenwich judgment. The system of children crossing local authority boundaries has become established as part of parental preference, but I can undertake to review the admissions system and the co-ordination that is required. Proposals will be made in the White Paper and consultation will take place on it, so that we can make some sense of what, in certain parts of the country—Bromley, Hertfordshire and elsewhere—is currently nonsensical. We should be very happy to hear from the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues any suggestions that they may have. We would be prepared to listen to them and to consider them.

I was going to give way next to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South—

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Rothwell)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend—but I must tell him that I am no longer the Member for Leeds, South. I have been translated to Morley and Rothwell, which does include parts of Leeds, South.

The former Minister, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), used to make it clear in Committee and in the House that the Government rejected the idea that class size bears any relation to performance. Does my right hon. Friend's experience bear out mine? When I met parents outside schools during the campaign I found that nothing was more important to them than our promises on class size. They knew very well that their children were losing out because they were in classes of more than 30. We shall need time to put that right, but the electorate found our commitment on the issue very important.

Mr. Blunkett

I am grateful for that comment. Perhaps my hon. Friend will forgive me for getting the name of his constituency wrong. I am struggling with 200 or so new voices to get used to as well, so we may have a little difficulty on that front for a month or two.

My hon. Friend is right to point out that the issue of class sizes is raised in every school that we visit. Everyone, including those involved in private education, acknowledges that class size matters for delivering the basics. We shall face and overcome the Conservative Government's legacy of 45 per cent. of our youngsters aged 11 being unable to deal with maths adequately and more than 40 per cent. of them not being able to deal with reading and writing at an adequate level. It is crucial that we set targets and work with teachers on methodology. We must have class sizes that make it possible for us to deliver to those young children so that we can do the job satisfactorily.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

May I add my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman? I hope that he achieves everything that he has set out in his manifesto. Will he confirm that only a few weeks before the general election he allowed the new assisted places to go ahead from 1 September? Will he also confirm that those places will go ahead from that date and tell us how long they will last? Presumably they will last for at least the next six years.

Mr. Blunkett

I am delighted to say that Cheltenham Ladies' college is now in a Labour constituency—or was it Roedean that the hon. Lady attended?

Mrs. Gillan

Cheltenham Ladies' college.

Mr. Blunkett

That is actually in a Liberal Democrat constituency.

I am delighted to take questions from the former Ministers at the Department for Education and Employment. It is like déjà uv, only the other way round. I am also delighted to confirm that, on this occasion, the hon. Lady is correct. During the general election campaign, I said that children who have been allocated places will be permitted to take them up. We shall legislate within weeks to ensure that schools do not abuse the licence that was given to them to look after the interests of children by agreeing to places for 1998 or 1999 onwards. The hallmark of this Government will be to put children before dogma. It will be to ensure that the interests of our children come first on every occasion. Our ambition is to ensure that the programme that we are delivering and the targets that we are setting work with the profession to do the job.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I add my words of welcome and wish him success in his important task. He talks about dogma. Does he realise that most damage has been inflicted on education in this country over the past 20 or 30 years by the imposition of socialist dogma by local education authorities?

Mr. Blunkett

After six and a half weeks of trailing round the country, I had hoped that we had finished with all that. I should like a new beginning from this afternoon, getting rid of the tired rhetoric of the past and instead giving people a sense of purpose and some hope and belief that not only the Government but Parliament might address the real issues that face our country: young people without jobs; the long-term unemployed who want hope; lifelong learning to equip our nation with the tools that it needs to succeed in a new century. Instead, we get the same old questions and the same old dry, doctrinaire dogma from the Conservatives. They have switched seats, but they have not switched the jargon or rhetoric one iota.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunkett

No, I am going to make some progress in the spirit that I indicated at the beginning of my speech—setting targets and establishing some momentum for that change. We have already established the standards and effectiveness unit in the Department for Education and Employment under Professor Michael Barber. We have already established a new relationship with schools and colleges. We have already changed the style as well as the substance of the Department's approach.

We have talked to staff in London and we will be talking to staff in Sheffield, in Runcorn and in Darlington as quickly as possible. I was due to be in Sheffield doing just that now, but this afternoon's debate was arranged.

We will ensure that, through the White Paper and the legislation we will introduce, there will be a new beginning. There will be a general teaching council, the establishment of advanced skill teacher posts, and a new relationship and a new job description for local education authorities. Parents will work with schools, and schools will work with authorities. We are a Government determined to use the tools available to us to encourage, to support, and to bring pressure and support together to do the job.

I recall and pay tribute to Laurie Lee, who died yesterday. I knew Laurie Lee and I had the privilege of undertaking a Radio 4 programme about Laurie Lee and the village of Slad. I interviewed him in his home and in The Woolpack. I had the privilege of talking to him about one of my favourite books, "Cider with Rosie". I also talked to him about the golden nails he described when he talked about knocking in the knowledge and information necessary to give children the tools to be able to read, to write, to spell and to do tables—those little golden nails that make the difference to children's lives. The Laurie Lees of this world, who bring alive our literature and give children a love of learning and a love of reading, are the people whom we should hold in high esteem. We should remember them with affection and thank them for their contribution to making learning something which all of us can be proud of and enjoy throughout our lives.

By working with the professions—working with teachers and heads—we can do the job. I am proud to announce the first steps since the new Government took over. The Teacher Training Agency has put forward a new qualification for headship. Aspiring as well as existing heads will be fast-tracked to take on the new qualifications that will become mandatory under legislation. In time, all heads will have the leadership skills and management qualifications to enable them to do the job. They will not only receive academic qualifications, but gain experience from the new headship qualification. The course will ensure that best practice is established and spread from one school to another so that we can ensure that the crucial task of leadership is available in the 24,000 schools in our country, thereby giving every child a chance.

We will build on the work of governors throughout the country. There will be new parenting skills in school and there will be the opportunity for lifelong learning from the moment a child is born. That is the task we face. Over the next couple of weeks, I will make announcements about a new beginning for early years education, sweeping away the dogma and the market forces that the previous Government espoused.

Let us be clear. The agenda of the future is one of equality of opportunity, in terms of gender, race and disability. [HON. MEMBERS: "Clichés."' I do not think that there is anything clichéd about equality of opportunity for women, for ethnic minorities or for disabled people. I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Department of National Heritage, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), who did such sterling work in opposition in terms of disability rights. With the Minister for Employment and Disability Rights, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), he will review the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. They will work with and meet groups representing disabled people to ensure that we carry that work forward in the years ahead.

So many of our young people who are out of work have special needs of one sort or another. So many of them are in difficulty. It is our task to ensure that, through the new deal, we can enhance the life chances of people who have particular needs or have been out of work for more than six months. We must ensure that their hope is restored and that the cynicism that results from exclusion and alienation from our communities is set aside by the investment of the new deal money from the privatised utilities to give those young people the chance of a life. We must give them the chance to earn, to build their own families and to establish their belief in themselves in the community and help them set aside the desperation that results from feeling that society has rejected them and that they have been spat out by the communities in which they were brought up.

We must provide hope for a new generation and qualifications that will offer a passport to lifelong learning for all, reducing the divide in our society and removing the stigma of exclusion. That is the task of the new Labour Government working with the people. The Government cannot do it alone. We must work with everyone who is prepared and willing to put our objectives and priorities into practice.

To deny Government responsibility is to remove our responsibility for ourselves. We have both rights and duties. We need a Government prepared to take responsibility and a nation willing to rise to the challenge of the future. That is what we are talking about in the Queen's Speech. It is what we shall be debating in the months and years ahead. I am proud and privileged to serve in the new Government and I commend to the House the task of implementing our vision for the 21st century.

4.6 pm

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

I begin by conveying the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), the shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment who, as she put it, is temporarily suffering from antibiotics. She will shortly be back in the House.

I convey my sincere congratulations to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), on his appointment to the Cabinet. I am sure that he will fill his post with great distinction. I say that not as a mere formality: before the election, I was asked on a radio programme whom I most admired on the Labour Benches and I immediately mentioned his name. [Interruption.] I will not continue in that vein or he may think that I am soliciting his vote, but I wish him and his team well— and, indeed, the social security team who do not seem to be present in force today.

I wish the Government team well, despite our party differences, because their responsibilities are of crucial importance. Failure in education would blight the future of a generation and social security exists to help vulnerable people at times of greatest hardship. During my period of office at the Department of Social Security, I always sought to focus help on those who needed it most. If the Government fail, I know that disabled, sick, unemployed and elderly people will suffer most. In opposition, as in government, their interests will be our prime concern.

The Queen's Speech comes in the wake of a severe defeat for my party. There are crucial lessons that we have to learn from that defeat. I have discussed those issues elsewhere, and they are not the subject of today's debate, but one point is relevant. We have to have the humility to recognise an unpalatable truth about the verdict of the voters. It may even be unpalatable to Labour Members. It was the Conservative party that lost the election, not the Labour party that won it. It was a chastening rejection of a divided Conservative party; it was certainly not a ringing endorsement of the Labour party. Labour Members know only too well that there was little enthusiasm for them on the doorsteps and they ended up with fewer votes than my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) secured in 1992.

Our failings not only damaged us, but allowed Labour to be elected on a bogus prospectus. Labour was able to raise expectations of what it can deliver way beyond what it can afford if it is to honour our spending and tax plans, which it adopted wholesale. Labour appetites will not be satisfied on a healthy Conservative diet and our task in opposition is to expose the inconsistencies, the shortcomings, the damaging consequences of Labour's programme.

Nowhere is Labour more vulnerable than in its approach to education, work and welfare, which it has said is the centrepiece of its programme. I am rather disappointed that the Secretary of State for Social Security—my old sparring partner, whom I congratulate on her promotion—is not in her place. Education, work and welfare is apparently the centrepiece of Labour's programme, yet the whole edifice of Labour's education and welfare strategy is built on very flimsy foundations.

Labour's objectives are fine. It wants to boost spending on education and to finance it by reducing spending on unemployment benefit, and it wants to achieve that by getting people off welfare and into work. Conservatives agree with those objectives. Indeed, that is precisely what the previous Government did. We did boost spending on education, and did so because spending on benefits for unemployed people had been falling steadily for four years as we brought unemployment down. We accomplished that by implementing our policies of reducing burdens on business, increasing incentives and achieving sustainable economic growth. Yet Labour says that it can reduce unemployment further not by encouraging natural economic growth but by job subsidies and artificial make-work schemes.

Mr. Fabricant

Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the people of Lichfield and Burntwood, in whose area in April the unemployment rate was only 2.9 per cent?

Mr. Lilley

I certainly convey my congratulations to them and to people in many other constituencies where there is low unemployment—far lower than in countries that have adopted the policies that the Labour party wants to inflict on us.

There may be a social case for make-work schemes. It may be worth spending money on providing training and work experience for young unemployed people as we have done for 16 to 18-year-olds. It is, however, codswallop to say that such schemes can save money. Those schemes cost money. They cost far more than they ever save on benefits. I have studied similar schemes throughout the world and I can tell the Secretary of State for Education and Employment that there is not a single scheme that saves money.

Labour's schemes will generate no social security savings; there will be no additional money to invest in education. Labour said that when it came to office it would look at the official books. After 10 years in office, I know that the officials will be looking at Labour's books, and I can tell the House what advice Labour will be getting: its sums simply do not add up.

The reason why job subsidy schemes cost more than they save is obvious if one bothers to think about it. Most of the subsidy goes to people who would have got jobs anyway, so it is wasted. There is no way of stopping employers replacing existing employees with subsidised workers—more money wasted. Given that under Labour's plans the subsidy will last only six months, many people will find themselves back on the dole in pretty short order. What a cruel deception. If the Secretary of State has hopes of receiving extra money from the social security budget, he is in for a nasty shock, as are any teachers, parents and pupils who have put their faith in Labour's bogus claims.

Even though the Government's schemes will not save money, they are clearly right to believe that job subsidies might create some extra jobs. That is simple economics. The lower the cost of employing people, the more people will be employed. If the Government believe that, however, they must also accept that increasing the costs of employing people through the national minimum wage and European social costs will destroy jobs. Indeed, the deputy leader of the Labour party, before he was lobotomised by the Minister without Portfolio—or perhaps for every portfolio—admitted as much. He said: A minimum wage will cause a shake-out of jobs. Any fool knows that. I do not know whom he had in mind. The jobs destroyed by new Labour's increases in employment costs will far outnumber any jobs created by its subsidies. The overall effect of the Government's policies will be the opposite of what they intend. Their programme is not one of welfare to work, but of work to welfare.

What is more, the Government's job subsidies will not last: they will end when the windfall tax revenues dry up, and they apply to only a few hundred thousand jobs anyway. The national minimum wage and the European social costs will be permanent increases in the costs of employment and will apply to millions of jobs. Labour proposes a temporary job creation scheme and a permanent job destruction policy: new Labour, new job losses.

Yesterday afternoon, while the new Prime Minister was delivering his old Opposition speech about 18 years of economic failures, our policies were delivering yet another fall in unemployment. A further 59,000 people came off the dole.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I ask a simple question. Is there a link between youth unemployment—I am sorry, but I cannot continue.

Mr. Lilley

I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.

The welcome fall in unemployment today has brought the rate down to around 6 per cent. on the claimant count and 7.5 per cent. on the labour force survey. Either way, the rate is lower than in any other major country in Europe. Those are the very countries whose social policies are destroying jobs and those are the very policies that Labour wants to adopt here. The Labour party will give power to Brussels to impose those job-destroying policies on us, and we shall fight that tooth and nail.

In my previous role, I travelled on the continent and visited countries to study their employment policies. When I met business men on the continent they told me how much they envied the low social costs of their British competitors. They said that their ambition was to persuade their Governments to reduce their social costs to Britain's level, but that if they could not achieve that, their second priority was to push Britain's social costs up to their level. They could not do that so long as we were outside the social chapter, but once we are inside they will.

Labour has long claimed that the unemployment figures are bogus. It asserted that 4 million people are unemployed and that the number has not fallen. When will the Government publish new unemployment figures? Will their new figures show that there are 4 million unemployed people? If so, will the Government pay all of them unemployment benefit? Will they count people on their new make-work schemes and their environmental task force as unemployed? Or are those ways to take people out of the published figures?

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am sorry about my previous intervention. A slight medical difficulty arose. Is there a link between youth unemployment and crime, taking into account answers previously given to me by former Ministers at the Dispatch Box?

Mr. Lilley

Nobody can define the causes of crime, other than to say that crime is caused by criminals. It is sensible to leave fewer people with idle time, because the devil makes work for idle hands. That is why it has always been our objective to bring unemployment down, and we are proud of our success in doing so. We did it through real measures, but the Government propose bogus make-work measures. I want answers from the Government about whether they will use those measures to manipulate the unemployment figures. Will they count those on temporarily subsidised jobs, for example, as unemployed? Or will those people, too, be taken out of the published figure? Labour's claims, not the official figures, have been bogus.

The Prime Minister yesterday boasted of an unprecedented welfare shake-up. To listen to him, one might think that Labour had spent the past five years clamouring for reforms that we stolidly resisted. History is a little different: I introduced 12 Bills to focus help on people in need, to improve work incentives, to tackle fraud and to encourage better provision for old age. Almost every Bill that I introduced was opposed and criticised by Labour, and virtually all Labour's proposals involved spending more money. Yet at the end of all its years in opposition the only specific money-saving policy that Labour produced was to abolish child benefit for children staying on in school. Now even that policy proposal seems to have been airbrushed out of the Government's programme. A party that was so vacuous in opposition is unlikely to prove a bold reformer in government.

When I was Secretary of State for Social Security, nothing mattered more to me than securing the future of pensions in the United Kingdom for present and future generations of pensioners. The Pensions Act 1995, which I introduced, brought equality between men and women, secure funding of occupational pensions and greater choice of methods to provide for retirement. A few weeks ago I unveiled my proposals for basic pension plus. That offered the prospect of higher, secure, funded and guaranteed pensions for the next generation. The proposals were welcomed by virtually every newspaper and by informed commentators across the political spectrum. Even some Labour politicians were forced to recognise the merits of our proposals.

How shameful it was, then, that Labour chose to scare pensioners on that issue; how disgraceful it was that Labour chose to attack that policy with a cheap smear. At the very beginning of the election campaign, at a meeting in a school with other candidates, I was asked by one of the sixth-formers whether politicians ever told lies. I could reassure them that in my personal experience I had never known anyone—including all those on the Opposition Benches against whom I had debated and with whom I had often disagreed on points of fact—who had knowingly told a falsehood. If I had to attend that school today and answer that question now, I would have to give a different answer.

It was the Prime Minister who led the way with that smear in every newspaper and on every broadcast—and that was from the man who said, "Trust me." None the less, according to The Observer, at least one Labour Member of Parliament felt uneasy about such unscrupulous scaremongering. The newspaper reported that

a Labour candidate, probably to be made a Minister in a Labour Government, was canvassing an elderly lady who burst into tears out of fear that the Conservatives would abolish the state pension… The candidate, who asked not to be identified, felt moved to explain the Government's Basic Pension Plus proposal, to reassure the old lady. Thank heaven that at least one sinner repented.

Labour lost the 1992 election because it told voters that it would spend more money, so in 1997 new Labour pretended that it would not. New Labour spending plans, it promised, would be the same as Conservative spending plans. That promise was the foundation of its appeal to middle England, but Labour cannot honour that promise, and it knows that it cannot. For Labour cannot stay within our spending plans. To avoid extra spending, Labour does not need just to jettison its own policies, but needs to implement ours. Our reforms of the past five years will save £6 billion by the end of this Parliament, and they were introduced in the teeth of Labour opposition.

Some of our reforms have been announced, but are still in the pipeline. Our spending plans depend upon them. We planned, for example, to equalise benefits for new lone parents and married couples. The Labour Government have said that they want new lone parents to get more. That will mean spending £120 million more than we had planned to spend next year and an extra £500 million in the long run.

It is not only our lone parent changes that the Government have said that they will not implement. They also propose to block our changes to housing benefit and to social security administration. In all, that is an extra £ 1 billion a year that the Government will have to find, and they will have to find it from within the social security budget because they have said that they will live within that budget. If the Government want to give priority to benefits for lone parents, will they take that £1 billion from pensioners, from disabled people, from married couples or from childless single people? Who will it be? No doubt the Secretary of State for Health will tell us when he winds up the debate.

The overall picture is clear: new Labour's claim that it will get money from social security to spend on education is totally flawed. First, its make-work schemes would not save money, but would cost money. Secondly, it has rejected £ 1 billion of savings measures that we have announced. Thirdly, it has no other plans to save money on social security. There cannot be extra money from social security for education.

The only remaining source of extra money for the education budget comes from the Government's commitment to abolish the assisted places scheme, but the pickings are not so rich there either. The children currently on the assisted places scheme will be an extra burden on the state system and in any case the scheme can only be phased out gradually, so Ministers will have a long wait before they can get their hands on what will be a paltry sum.

The real reason for Labour's decision to abolish the assisted places scheme has nothing to do with the money that it might save. It has everything to do with the unacceptable face of new Labour—hatred of the independent sector, class envy and a knee-jerk hostility to choice. Choice is something that new Labour does not like and does not understand. Its hostility to choice is the common thread tying together the education measures in the Queen's Speech—the imposition of local authority control on all state schools, the abolition of city technology colleges, the end of grant-maintained status and the end of nursery vouchers. The Government really do believe that the man in Whitehall and county hall knows best. The sheer bossiness of it all is quite extraordinary. Many parents up and down the country are striving to get the best possible education for their children, but they are going to find it much harder if Labour's Bills are passed. They should know that the Opposition will continue to fight on their behalf.

The Prime Minister chose to send his child to a grant-maintained school, of course, and the Secretary of State for Social Security sends hers to a selective school. Those are precisely the opportunities that they intend to take away from everyone else. Yet the Prime Minister had the extraordinary cheek to write in his manifesto: What I want for my own children, I want for yours". The sheer hypocrisy is quite amazing. There is no truck with middle class left-wing parents who preach one thing and send their children to another school outside the area. Those are not my words, but the words of the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, and we all know which parents he had in mind. It is one thing for their children, another for the rest. It is not just the hypocrisy, but the arrogance that is intolerable.

Mr. Blunkett

I had not intended to intervene, but I wanted to take the opportunity to welcome the new Deputy Speaker to his first sitting and to offer our congratulations to him. I also want to ask the shadow Secretary of State whether he thinks that wanting the best for all children can be described as hypocrisy.

Mr. Lilley

When what someone has decided is best for his child is what he refuses to others, I think that there is no other word but "hypocrisy" to describe that decision—although "arrogance" is perhaps the runner-up, given the way in which the Government have handled the issue.

That is the arrogance of which we have seen so much over the first few days of this Government. First, there was the Bank of England: without having warned the voters, the Chancellor ceded interest rate policy to the Bank. He made what he described as one of the most fundamental changes in the way in which the country is governed without even bothering to make a statement to the House. Then came the issue of Prime Minister's questions. The Prime Minister now tells us that he will answer questions only once a week—and, as though that were not enough, he even wants to be told the questions in advance. That is another change that we now know to have been pushed through without any consultation or agreement with Madam Speaker.

The Government may be able to steamroller those changes through now. The other side has the votes, but we have the arguments. The numbers may be on the Government's side, but the facts are on ours. The Government may think that they can use their majority to push their measures through the House, but the hard facts will not be so easy for them to push aside. I shall spend the next five years ensuring that the British people learn the truth about new Labour—for when the British people know that truth, they will not give new Labour a second chance.

4.30 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I think that we have just heard a leadership bid. It is not for me to intervene in the internal affairs of the Conservative party, but I must say that I heard hon. Friends sitting behind me say that they hoped that the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) would win the election for the Leader of the Opposition. I do not wish, however, to declare any preferences.

Let me be the first Labour Member to congratulate you on your appointment, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a very different House of Commons from the one that I last addressed: it is almost impossible to believe how much the House has changed as a result of the electorate's decision on 1 May. Understandably, much attention has been paid to the increase in the number of female Members of Parliament—mainly, of course, on the Labour Benches. That is indeed progress, and I submit that further progress will be made when the number of female Members no longer attracts attention from any quarter. I hope that that day is not too far away.

I welcomed the mention in the Queen's Speech of prohibiting the private possession of handguns. Like a number of my hon. Friends, I argued in the previous Parliament that after Dunblane we should take drastic action on handguns. The previous Government went so far and no further, and I am pleased to learn that the House will have the opportunity to vote for a total ban on handguns. I take it that it will be a free vote, and I know which way my vote will go.

If I have any regret, it is that the House did not take the necessary action 10 years ago, following the tragedy at Hungerford. Indeed, in the previous Parliament I criticised the Government, but also criticised Opposition Members such as myself, who should perhaps have been more forthright in demanding the kind of action that was taken, at least in part, after the further and terrible tragedy at Dunblane, which we must never forget. I accept that we might not have succeeded after Hungerford, but nevertheless we should have been more forthright.

The ban on trade union membership at GCHQ—Government communications headquarters—has now been lifted. As some of my hon. Friends know, during business questions I took the opportunity to welcome the lifting of that ban. If there was ever an illustration of the arbitrary way in which the previous Government acted, it was their decision to impose the ban, without any justification. I reiterate the fact that two years before the ban, after the Falklands war victory, the director-general of GCHQ praised those involved in intelligence gathering.

We should pay tribute to those who fought the ban year in, year out—people such as Mike Grindley, who must have wondered at times whether he would ever see victory and the lifting of the ban. Those people have a spirit of believing in and fighting for a principle. Mike Grindley was dismissed from GCHQ and refused the compensation because the principle was so important, in fact so sacred, to him that he would never give up the fight. Victory has come to him, and I should like him to be given an award for the fight that he so bravely and heroically put up for an important principle, which is certainly appreciated by the Government if not by the Opposition.

Mr. Fabricant

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that GCHQ has an important role in the nation's security? Does he advocate trade unions in the armed forces?

Mr. Winnick

As usual, the hon. Gentleman's intervention is totally irrelevant. When the time comes for a debate on the armed forces, we can express our views.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman does not know the answer.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman has asked me a question; if he will be good enough to be quiet for a moment, I can give my response. I am speaking about GCHQ. If and when there is a debate on the armed forces, we shall deal with the matter to which the hon. Gentleman alluded.

I am pleased that the Queen's Speech makes it clear that, after 18 years of Tory rule, local authorities will once again be allowed to start building as well as carrying out essential improvements. I am sure that new Members will find in their constituency surgeries, as I find in mine, that most of the people who come do so because they want to be housed in the first place or because they live in a high-rise block, perhaps with two or more children, and are waiting to be rehoused in a house.

It is disgraceful that for 18 years local authorities have been denied the means of building rented accommodation. Most people want to buy, but those who are not in a position to do so have been punished by being made to wait so long to be rehoused. It is right that capital receipts should be used in a phased way, as we clearly described in the general election campaign, so that local authorities can once again undertake the work that they did under Governments of whichever party before 1979.

In 1978, the last full year of a Labour Government, more than 75,000 local authority dwellings and nearly 18,000 housing association dwellings were started in England. In 1996, only 500 local authority dwellings and nearly 22,000 housing association dwellings were started. I am not sure where the 500 were—certainly not in my borough, where no starts have been made since 1979. The 22,000 housing association dwellings in no way compensated for the number of local authority dwellings built previously. No wonder there is so much housing misery and hardship.

In the late 1960s, when I was a Member of Parliament, and in the 1970s, when I was outside the House, I never saw the scenes of homelessness that are now so common. I do not drive home; I go to Charing Cross station, and people now are always lying down for the night there and all along the Strand, and many of us see homeless people in our constituencies. That is only one illustration of the current housing shortage and the misery that it causes. There are also the jobs involved in housing construction and in furniture and other related industries that go hand in hand with housing starts.

There has been much justified concern about poverty and near poverty over the past few years, which, of course, was not mentioned by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden. Much of that poverty has been deliberate Government policy. I want inequality to be narrowed considerably in the next few years. Large-scale unemployment, low wages—often very low wages—short-time working, insecure employment and the abolition of the wages councils have all contributed to poverty and inequality. As we knew during the post-war years, there is no more effective way of ending poverty and near poverty than once again to give unemployed people the chance to earn their living.

Far too many people in the west midlands are paid very low wages. Some are even paid less than £2 an hour. It is almost impossible to believe, but that is not unknown in the west midlands. I am sure that it is true in other parts of the country. A national minimum wage is needed and justified. I listen carefully to the arguments against it, but I do not accept them. I found it nauseating in the previous Parliament that Conservative Members who were not content with their parliamentary salaries went out of their way—not illegitimately or in a way that would come under the Downey report—to take directorships and consultancies, but lectured us about how terrible a national minimum wage would be, because it would undermine the economy. I used to wonder how they would like to work for such disgraceful wages, when they were not content with their parliamentary salaries or last year's increase.

There are many changes and reforms that I would like. I do not know whether this is old Labour, new Labour or any other Labour, but I accept that those changes cannot come about overnight or in months. After 18 years, it will take time—more than one Parliament—to bring about many of those changes on a secure footing. In the days after the general election, people felt relieved. Perhaps that feeling was confined to me, although that would surprise me. I am talking not only about Labour activists. People came up to me in the street and at the surgery that I held soon after the election and told me how relieved they were at the change of Government.

Without wishing to exaggerate, I believe that in some respects it was a bit like the feeling in eastern Europe in 1989. For so long, there was a feeling in Britain that there would never be a change of Government. People felt the arrogance of those in power, the way in which time and again the Conservatives belittled any belief that there would be a change of Government. They gave the strong impression, and I do not believe that they have learned the lesson yet, that they were the masters and had every right to rule. Like the communists in eastern Europe, they believed that they had the historical right to rule this country for ever and a day. The electorate decided otherwise.

The Prime Minister told the parliamentary Labour party at Church house last week that Labour Members should always remember that we are the servants of the electorate. I believe that we should always bear that in mind. We are indeed the servants of the electorate. We should at all times carry out our duties with modesty and humility, always recognising that in a democracy, it is the electorate who decide at the appropriate time who should be the Government of the day. I hope, and I have every reason to believe, that we shall never show, however long we remain in office, the arrogance of those who ruled the country for the past 18 years.

I believe that the House of Commons will win back respect, as it has to, because our reputation is not high for all sorts of reasons. Its reputation is nowhere near what we would like it to be. We shall win back the respect of the electorate to the extent that people will see that we are doing the job for which we were elected as Members of Parliament; that we are not in the pay of lobbyists and companies; and that we have not been elected to get second, third and fourth jobs. Our job is here, first and foremost. When people see that over a period, regardless of my party's fortunes in future general elections, it will do much for the House of Commons.

This is an exciting time in national politics. I am very pleased that I have lived to see such a total transformation. It has been 27 years almost to the day since I last spoke from the Government Benches. I was out of the House for several years. When I came back in 1979, l was of course on the Opposition Benches. There has been a total change. At last, our people have decided that they want a very different sort of Government and a very different approach to politics. There is so much to be done, such as the improvements that I mentioned in jobs, in housing, in the national health service and in dealing with criminality. There may be changes in the welfare state. Nothing is set in concrete, but I am here to defend the welfare state, as I am sure are all my colleagues.

First and foremost in the welfare state is the national health service, which was brought into being by a Labour Government and which it is our task to defend and improve at every opportunity. If we carry out our task as we have said that we shall, and as the Prime Minister has said that we should, I believe that this Government will be re-elected in five years' time. I doubt whether there will be a general election before then. When people see the result of five years of this Government, they will conclude that we should be re-elected, even more so bearing in mind what happened over the past 18 years.

4.46 pm
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

It is a great pleasure to address the House on this subject. This is my first opportunity to speak from the Back Benches on constituency matters for several years.

I was interested in the contribution of the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). I may have been one of the people he was getting at when he mentioned the arrogance of former Ministers. I do not feel like a fleeing communist dictator. I have not taken to a helicopter to escape the wrath of the people. I have simply moved from one side of the House to the other and listened to what the electorate had to say to me. Labour Members should remember that all hon. Members are elected by the electorate and held to account by them. None of us should grow too confident or arrogant. All Ministers and the Prime Minister should remember that they, too, can be held to account by the electorate in due course.

I am pleased to be able to speak on a subject of great importance to my constituents, who will be interested in the contents of the Queen's Speech, especially as regards education. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) on his appointment as Secretary of State for Education and Employment. I recognise and appreciate that he has a deep and sincere interest in education, and especially in improving standards for those in less privileged areas such as the inner cities. I recognise, too, that in framing the legislation in the Queen's Speech, he comes to the House with a mandate for the changes that he is seeking to make.

Perhaps the centrepiece of the right hon. Gentleman's legislative programme is phasing out the assisted places scheme. I regret that change, but I must frankly recognise that the right hon. Gentleman has a mandate from the electorate for it. That is regrettable, because more than 400 children in my constituency receive a high standard of education at independent schools through the assisted places scheme. The right hon. Gentleman, perhaps in an unguarded moment, referred to them as the privileged few. They may be privileged in the sense that their parents choose to give them a good education, but they are privileged in no other sense.

The common denominator among those children is that their parents do not have much money. Many receive completely free places because their parents' combined incomes are less than £10,000; the remainder of the parents have combined incomes of between £10,000 and £26,000. I would not describe those people as privileged and I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman, on reflection, would do so either. They are low-income families receiving a good opportunity.

That does not mean that those children would not have had good opportunities at other schools in my constituency, because Hertsmere is proud of offering high standards in all its state sector secondary schools. Five of the seven secondary schools happen to be grant-maintained. They have achieved many distinctions; one received a special commendation from the schools inspectorate, while others have received national recognition in other ways. However, children on the assisted places scheme have an opportunity to receive education at schools of not just national but international excellence, including Haberdasher's Aske's school. Those schools are much coveted by parents in my constituency as a destination for their children to receive the education of their choice.

I recognise the fact that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has, through the election, received a mandate for phasing out the assisted places scheme. I welcome what he said in his speech today about the scheme's future. Despite his mandate, we want to ask a number of questions on behalf of parents whose children are on the scheme and who are concerned about its future. I take what the right hon. Gentleman said today as an assurance that children now on the scheme will continue to receive education at those schools throughout their school life. The right hon. Gentleman gave that assurance in response to a question, and I look to him now to deny it, if it is not the case. That is how I interpreted his response, and I welcome it.

Parents have many other concerns, including about the priority given to the brothers and sisters of those at present on the scheme. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, in other forms of education, brothers and sisters have priority in admission. He will have to address that issue in due course.

The Government's mandate is interesting, because the Labour party manifesto made a commitment to phase out the assisted places scheme and to use the savings to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds. That is the basis on which the Labour party put that pledge to the electorate. Many people feel that the objective of reducing class sizes is desirable in itself. Why the assisted places scheme should be sacrificed in order to achieve that is not entirely clear. Unfortunately for the Secretary of State, the manifesto quotes the cost of the scheme as £180 million a year, but the savings made from phasing out the scheme are different from the cost of the scheme, because they must take into account the cost of educating in the state sector those who would have been on the assisted places scheme.

Mr. Blunkett

I should not like the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member to pursue a red herring. The money that the assisted places scheme will yield over the coming years is greater than the amount now being spent on the scheme, because the previous Government, in their public expenditure prediction totals, intended to expand dramatically the assisted places scheme. Indeed, they intended to double it.

We shall not expand the scheme, but we shall reuse the resources. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said that he was not committing new money to the 110,000 youngsters who had entered school in the past two years, on the ground that the marginal cost was so small that they could be absorbed at no extra cost.

Mr. Clappison

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has raised that matter because, as he will know, independent analysis has been carried out on that basis—the full cost of the assisted places scheme. Before he tries to discredit the source of that analysis, I should say that it comes from the Institute of Public Finance and has been supplied to me by the House of Commons Library. The Institute of Public Finance estimates that the saving from phasing out the assisted places scheme will fall well short of the figure that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, because it has taken into account the cost of providing smaller class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds and set that against the net saving. It estimates that the saving from phasing out the scheme all at once will be £49 million, which is the figure that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) put to the right hon. Gentleman. However, my hon. Friend was being rather generous—that is the amount that would be saved if the scheme were phased out all at once.

The Secretary of State has just made the commitment that the scheme will be phased out over a number of years, with children at present receiving education under the scheme being allowed to continue to do so. The net savings in the first year, according to the Institute of Public Finance, will be no more than £13 million. Over the full period of the phasing out of the scheme, it estimates that there will be a £250 million black hole between what will be saved from phasing out the scheme and what is needed to reduce class sizes, in terms of both new teachers and capital expenditure.

The Secretary of State and I will no doubt debate that matter on many occasions in the future, and I shall be interested to see the costings that he makes. What is his view of the net savings to be made and the cost of alternative education for children now on the assisted places scheme, and how does he arrive at his calculation? According to the Institute of Public Finance, there will simply not be enough money to pay for reducing the class sizes of five, six and seven-year-olds. The £180 million mentioned in the manifesto was the cost, not the savings, and the matter was put to the electorate on that basis. Those matters will have to be pursued, and the Secretary of State will have to say a little more about them.

Grant-maintained schools are also of great interest to my constituents. Five of the seven secondary schools in my constituency are grant-maintained. In each case, a substantial majority of parents voted for grant-maintained status; they want to know the Government's plans for the future of those schools. Given that the schools have made considerable progress as grant-maintained schools, they want to know why the Government are considering changing the structure. One of the points made in the right hon. Gentleman's manifesto, to which I shall return in a moment, was that there should be a greater concentration on standards rather than on structure. That being the case, parents of children at such schools in my constituency will want to know why the Government want to make any changes at all.

We are all concerned about the important subject of standards in schools. I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's serious, sincere concern about it. We shall take a constructive approach towards that matter. We shall want to look constructively and critically—

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Who is we?

Mr. Clappison

I hope that concern about standards is shared throughout the House. We want to look constructively and critically at the Labour party's proposals. We shall look at them on the basis of whether those changes are well thought out in detail and are designed to help to improve standards, or whether they are gimmicks.

Last year, the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues made various proposals about, for example, summer literacy camps. They also proposed changes to the amount of time spent on homework by children, which would involve a degree of prescription. The centrepiece of the Labour party's manifesto commitment on standards—the flagship proposal—which was designed to attack underachievement in urban areas, was a new scheme involving the Premier League. It proposed the creation of study support centres at Premier League grounds for the benefit of local children. We have not heard anything about that in the Queen's Speech, but it is something that we shall look at with great interest. We shall be extremely interested to hear about the future of that proposal, because we are concerned with proposals that will deliver real improvements in standards, not with gimmicks and wheezes.

One of the features of new Labour's election campaign was its specific proposals to the electorate. I congratulate the party on the magnificence of its marketing and public relations campaign, because it set a high standard in the marketing of ideas and suggestions. In the remainder of this Parliament, we shall want to consider the Labour party's proposals in detail. We shall want to see not just gimmicks and photo opportunities, but the real merits of its proposals, which we can examine in detail. It simply will not be good enough to offer a photo opportunity, a wheeze and a gimmick in place of a well-thought-out idea. We will hold the Labour party to account not just on those specific proposals, but on its entire conduct of Government business.

The Labour party has come into government with what can be described only as a very good inheritance. We have sustained, steady economic growth. Yesterday, the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level in seven years and is on course to fall to its lowest level for 17 years. We have witnessed particularly large falls in the number of unemployed under-25s, especially those who have been unemployed for more than a year. The new Minister of State, the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), generously described that fall as a bonus. Today, the inflation rate hit its target of 2.5 per cent. Those achievements represent an extremely good economic inheritance.

We in the Conservative party will hold the Labour party to account not just on the promises that it has made, and which we shall consider in great detail, but on all matters pertaining to government. There is no comparison between the inheritance of the Labour party in 1997 and the inheritance that we had in 1979, when the country was crippled by high inflation, economic stagnation, strikes and a terrible reputation.

Today the country is well placed. We want to see it succeed. We shall play our part as a constructive and critically aware Opposition in holding the Labour party to account in government.

5.3 pm

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today, not only as the youngest Member of the Parliament but as the first Labour Member for Shipley since Arthur Creech Jones was elected in 1935.

I am particularly delighted to represent Shipley, because I have always lived locally. I was brought up and attended school in Bingley, and I currently live in Saltaire. It is a fantastic constituency, and to describe it simply as Shipley obscures the diversity of the area. Shipley town is the largest settlement, but the Aire valley also encompasses Bingley town, which I have represented on the local council for three years, Baildon and other villages such as Denholme, Cullingworth, Harden and Wilsden, and Menston and Burley in the Wharfe valley.

As tradition holds, I should like to pay tribute briefly to my predecessor, Sir Marcus Fox, who was certainly a high-ranking parliamentarian as chairman of the 1922 Committee. Whatever else may be said, he served his party well and his influence in Government circles was reputedly significant. Today, I read the maiden speech of my predecessor, which was made in January 1971–18 months before I was born. I am sorry that I missed it. He discussed the issue of transport, which is ironic because, 26 years later, it is still a central issue in the economic development and the environmental quality of the Aire valley and the Bradford district. Although the need for the construction of the Bingley relief road in my constituency has been recognised for many years, the previous Conservative Government could never quite complete the scheme. It is now awaiting its fate under the private finance initiative. I will press for its early completion.

The Gracious Speech contained many proposals which will be of direct benefit to my constituents. It is so refreshing to be able to praise the Government, having all my life known only of the harm and injustice inflicted by Conservative Administrations. I am determined to try my best to ensure that for the rest of my life the Government represent the many, not the few. In particular, I am delighted to hear that immediate action is being taken to create employment for young people, who increasingly leave school and university with no option of stable work or long-term careers. In fact it is a struggle for many young people even to get their foot in the door. Age discrimination can cut both ways, and unless young people can obtain sufficient work experience the quality of their academic ability and skills is almost useless.

Through the implementation of the windfall levy on the excessive profits of the privatised utilities such as Yorkshire Water, which has paid not one penny in corporation tax since its privatisation, young people of my generation will be given a helping hand into work. They will have the potential of six months' real employment—a move that will dramatically improve the longer-term job prospects of young people.

For too long, the plight of ordinary working middle-class people has been ignored by the uncaring laissez-faire attitude of the previous Government. The need for a catalyst to spur the job market to move in the right direction has at long last been recognised. I am proud to be playing my part in this historic Parliament, which will benefit so many people by channelling resources from those who have enough already to those who need them most of all.

The transfer of resources to more productive benefit is the theme of the Queen's Speech. By working to shift the enormous budget spent on welfare costs and to transform it into increased opportunities for work and wealth creation, the emphasis on long-term economic sustainability is clear. It makes good, plain common sense to see public resources used for investment and not for more short-term consumption.

Investing in education is the key to unlocking the great competitive and inventive capacity that used to be the hallmark of British industry. By pursuing investment in the health service and infrastructure of our country we can not only create work projects in the medium term but upgrade the living standards of all our people so that we enter the new millennium equipped for new challenges, with our heads held high.

I am pleased to see that the new Government are able actively to promote the proper balance between rights and responsibilities in employment. Giving small firms the statutory right to charge interest on the late payment of debts is a long-overdue initiative, which was welcomed with great acclaim in my constituency. Moreover, the introduction of a national minimum wage will signify the Government's strong commitment to those who are in low-paid employment. That will help to create new jobs not only by boosting spending power but by helping employers to see that long-term profitability is achieved by upgrading production processes and new technology and not by pursuing a policy of short-term asset stripping, redundancies and lower wages.

When considering the direction of the economy over the long term, the role of new technology cannot be overstated. In an increasingly competitive global market, maintaining flexibility in the production process is achieved by the combination of a highly skilled work force and the capacity to adapt products at speed, retain high quality and meet new demand in new markets. Frequently, that essential adaptability of the production process is aided by new technology, either delivering information, improving design or making efficiencies in the production process. I am therefore extremely glad that the new Labour Government plan, among other things, a university for industry, to help to disseminate the latest technological and vocational training and advice to British firms.

When, in 1936, the last Labour Member of Parliament for Shipley made his maiden speech, he delivered a remarkably insightful account of the need for improved standards in the workplace. I am enormously proud and honoured to stand here today, continuing that fight for more and better-quality employment, and I shall try my best to deliver on the promises that I have made. I hope that I can live up to the trust in me shown by the people of my constituency. Above all, I am here to shout for the needs of Shipley and to use my position for the betterment of the ordinary working people and families I have the pleasure to represent.

5.10 pm
Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I am absolutely delighted to follow the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie). It is perhaps somewhat appropriate that I do so as, when I entered the House five years ago, I came having defeated a former chairman of the Conservative party. The hon. Member for Shipley enters the House having defeated a former chairman of the 1922 Committee. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Sir Marcus Fox will be a very hard act to follow. However, I think that other hon. Members will acknowledge that the quality of his speech and the confidence of his delivery show that the hon. Member for Shipley will be well up to the task.

I take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) to his new post as Deputy Speaker. I am sure that we can look forward to your wise guidance on many occasions, Mr. Deputy Speaker. While on the subject of congratulations, before the new Secretary of State for Education and Employment sneaks out, I wish to give him my best wishes and congratulate him on his appointment. I also congratulate the Government's Front-Bench team on their appointment.

The Secretary of State knows only too well that he has a difficult task, but many of us believe that, like the hon. Member for Shipley, he is well up to the task. He and his Front-Bench team have made a remarkably rapid start in beginning to undo some of the damage that has been done over 18 years owing to misguided Conservative dogma and misguided Conservative rule.

I pay tribute to the new Secretary of State on the tone and substance of the letter that he recently sent to head teachers and governors in our schools. I particularly applaud his desire to work in genuine partnership … With everyone involved in the Education Service to bring about substantial improvements in standards, achievements and equality of opportunity for all. We wish him well in achieving that desire. He would do well to listen to the hon. Member for Shipley, who referred specifically to the need for significant investment in education if we are to succeed. I say to the new Secretary of State that we cannot fix a leaking school roof with fine words, fill a child's schoolbag with letters to head teachers or surf the information super-highway on broken desks. Promises without price tags do not mean a thing; there is no bargain basement in education because, as we all know, good-quality education costs money.

Of course, we all welcome the Government's new commitment to lifetime learning; but, without an additional commitment to increase funding for education, it may take a lifetime to achieve that ambition. If the country is to succeed in the increasingly global market, we must invest in its most important resource and increase funding for the education and training of its people. However, judging by the Queen's Speech, it would appear that the new Government believe that increased funding for education is too high a price to pay for our children's future. We have been told—indeed the country has been warned—that for the next few years at least this Government intend to stick to the previous Government's spending targets.

I hope that the Secretary of State will intervene in my speech—or perhaps the winding-up speech will provide an answer. The previous Chancellor's Red Book on the Budget in November last year contains figures to which the new Government say they will stick. A table on page 124 shows that in the forthcoming financial year there will be less, not more, money for education. It would be helpful if the Secretary of State would confirm that those are the facts and it is his Government's intention to stick to those figures. It would be even more helpful if the Secretary of State would go a stage further. On many occasions, he has said that it is the Government's intention over time—we acknowledge that it will have to be over time—to increase the percentage of gross domestic product spent on education. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, if there is to be even a modest increase in the percentage of GDP from its current 4.7 per cent. to, let us say, 4.9 per cent., that will require an additional £6 billion a year to be spent on education? It would be helpful to know where the Secretary of State will find that additional money.

If standards are to rise, as the Secretary of State wants, extra funds are needed and they are needed now. Without the basic tools to do the job—books, equipment and decent classrooms in which to work—raising standards will be an uphill struggle for any teacher. The Secretary of State has said on a number of occasions that it is his intention to raise standards. He also said in an article in The Independent on Sunday on 23 February 1997 that he intends to lay down from the centre exactly how reading should be taught. Let me raise a further note of caution with the Secretary of State, for whom I have enormous respect. He should remember that it is not politicians who will raise standards, but the professionals. Politicians can give teachers the framework and the money to do the job, but they cannot take over that job from teachers and do it themselves. We should no more believe the Secretary of State's claim that he will raise standards in education than we should believe him if he offered us a cure for the common cold. There is more than a hint of danger that the Government seem to believe that they know best how teachers should organise their classes and even how teachers should teach. We believe that those are matters best left to the professionals.

Mr. Blunkett

I reciprocate the hon. Gentleman's words of kindness and, in answer to a number of questions from him I should like to suggest that, in the spirit of wishing to fulfil our agenda, the hon. Gentleman should come and have a cup of tea with me in the next few days so that we may share our views—

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood)

Call me David?

Mr. Blunkett

Yes, he can call me David.

One way we can stop the common cold from spreading—it is something about which I have a particular obsession—is not to sneeze over each other. In the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman delivered his words, I can say that we need a common cause and a consensus for raising standards and increasing our achievements. I shall work with all those who are prepared to do so.

Mr. Foster

I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for his offer of tea. I apologise to him publicly—I have already done so privately—for the large number of occasions on which I sat next to him during the election campaign, streaming with cold while he became extremely frightened that I would pass it on to him.

I shall accept the Secretary of State's offer to join him and his ministerial team for tea. I hope that he will extend his invitation, not only to me but to the whole of my education team, which has now been significantly enlarged. However, I should tell the Secretary of State, in a genuine spirit of co-operation, that although I shall be delighted to have many cups of tea with him in private, it is important that the public debate continues, so I shall continue to challenge him in public. I must say—in a gentle way, because we are all being kind to him—that I was disappointed that he followed the precedent of his predecessor as Secretary of State and, at very short notice, pulled out of a public debate with me on education on television yesterday. I hope that we can have private as well as public debates in future.

There is, as the new Secretary of State said, much common agreement between his party and mine. For example, we entirely agree on the urgent need to reduce class sizes and we support his pledge and commitment to reduce class sizes for children aged five, six and seven. We would wish him to go further and make that commitment for all primary school children, from the age of five all the way through to 11. We have made it clear how we believe that can be funded. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), who is no longer in his place, was right to draw attention to his concerns, which I share, that the current proposal for funding the class size reduction—the phasing out of the assisted places scheme—might prove inadequate and that the sums might not add up.

The Secretary of State will not agree with me on that point, but even if he does not acknowledge my concerns, he should pay attention to his hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), who is now Under-Secretary of State for Wales. He, too, appears to be somewhat concerned about the funding of that commitment. On 7 April, during the election campaign, he was quoted in The Western Mail talking about the class size commitment. He said: Some, if not all, of the money to fund this will come from the assisted places scheme and we will also be talking to Labour's education team in England if extra resources are needed. He, at least, is not entirely convinced about the proposed method of funding.

Although we do not disagree with the proposal that some lottery money should be used for education, we worry that that might be the thin end of the wedge. We all recall that, under the Conservatives, schools became increasingly reliant on supermarket sales promotion gimmicks. It would be a sorry day if, in future, schools had to rely on the uncertain profits of gambling. When we talk of high-quality education for all, we do not want to rely on the lottery slogan "It could be you"—the slogan for every child must be "It will be you". A wiser Britain must not be a lottery. It must be a certainty.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Before my hon. Friend leaves what was obviously the end of a purple passage in his speech, I wish to put a question to him as the chair of the governors of a local primary school. Does he agree that the justification for funding classes of fewer than 30 for all primary school children is that there is no logic in having classes of fewer than 30 up to the age of seven and then suddenly having far less teacher attention per pupil, with no less likelihood of disruption, no less importance or difficulty in the exams and testing and no lesser mix of languages? The logic must be that pupils aged seven to 11 should receive the same level of attention as those aged less than seven.

Mr. Foster

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, if one can have only one part of the package, it would be far better to have it in the earlier years; but, as my hon. Friend says, it would be better to go the whole hog and ensure that all primary school classes contain no more than 30 pupils.

We share with the new Government a commitment to home-school partnerships. However, I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), who is now in his place and whom I congratulate on his appointment, will bear in mind our real concern that if we introduce—as seems to be proposed—a requirement for parents to sign a home-school contract before their child has even entered school, that is like asking parties to come together and sign a pre-nuptial agreement before they have even met. It is the policies, the procedure and the working together between parents and school that are critical, not the signing of a contract. Surely such a contract cannot be signed before there has been an opportunity for both sides to work together.

We share with the new Government a passionate belief in the importance of getting young unemployed people off benefits and into work. For a long time, we too have advocated a benefits transfer scheme. However, we would urge the Government to bear it in mind that it is vital that each part of the proposed package contains a training element. Training will be vital.

We cannot possibly support the proposed means of funding that programme—the proposed windfall tax. We believe that tax to be retrospective and unfair and one that will hit customers and consumers. It is certainly legally ambiguous and, as has already been pointed out today, it is a short-term tax and there is no Government commitment to long-term funding of these various schemes

We will go even further than that. The one thing that we shall oppose even more vigorously is any element of compulsion within the Government's proposals. Not every job is suitable for everyone. I was told recently that the youth training service had required a colour-blind person to go on an electrician training course. I certainly hope that that person is not responsible for the wiring in my house. It would not be appropriate to compel Swampy to work as a road builder. We agree with the Churches, which said recently of a compulsory scheme that it would be seen as a scheme to teach the unemployed a lesson, rather than as a means of giving them real assistance. In effect the work is made compulsory for most of the unemployed and that of itself could transform it into a form of servitude. Of course the social security budget must come down, but we will not achieve that by punishing the unemployed for the mistakes of Governments, past and present. We need a social security policy that makes it easier to get off benefits, not one like the present system, which traps people on benefits and ensures that they are worse off in work than out of it. Increased support for child care will certainly help; so, too, will a minimum wage—but only if it is set at a realistic level, with an element of flexibility and, we would argue, the possibility of regional variations.

If I have sounded somewhat critical of some of the proposed new measures, that is because, although we share many of the Government's aspirations, we believe that—at least in some respects—there are more effective means of achieving them. I should say that I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday because of an incident that occurred after the Queen had made the Gracious Speech. I travelled in a lift with the relatives of a new Labour Member of Parliament and, as we exited the lift, one of those relatives sidled up to me and said—out of earshot of the new Member of Parliament—"You're Don Foster, aren't you?" I admitted that I was and he asked, "Why don't you come and join the Labour party?" I asked why I should, to which he answered, "If you became one of us, you would ensure that we took on board your much more sensible education policies."

Notwithstanding our differences, there is much on which we can agree. We entirely support plans to drop nursery vouchers. However, we wish the Government would go further and introduce early-years education of high quality for three as well as four-year-olds. That would be the best way to start to tackle the problems of illiteracy and innumeracy. We support plans to establish a general teaching council. We are delighted that the Government are getting on with the specialist qualification for head teachers. We are also delighted that they intend—I am sure that they will—to raise morale throughout the teaching profession. We support their proposal to insist that schools set targets, but we must of course make sure that schools are given the support to enable them to reach those targets.

The Secretary of State and his team have got off to a good start. Where possible, we will support and work with them, but where we disagree, we will provide constructive opposition. The House will agree that the nation deserves the very best education system, and we, too, were given a mandate to ensure that it has just that. We shall do everything possible to ensure that the Government live up to their promises, and we shall constantly push them to go that little bit further and, in particular, to fill the huge funding hole in their policies.

5.30 pm
Mrs. Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I am delighted to see you in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you on being confirmed in your post yesterday.

Edgbaston has a long and, indeed, proud tradition of being represented by women. In 1953, Dame Edith Pitt became the first woman Member of Parliament for Edgbaston, a city that she described in her maiden speech as a city … with a great tradition of good local administration and social progress … of hard-working and warm-hearted men and women."—[Official Report, 3 November 1953; Vol. 520, c. 10.] She was succeeded in 1966 by Dame Jill Knight, who served the constituency loyally and well for more than 30 years. I am sure that many hon. Members remember her with great fondness. After 43 years of being represented by a woman, the people of Edgbaston, Harborne, Quinton and Bartley Green decided that they wished to continue being represented by a woman, but there was just one change—for the first time ever, it was to be a Labour woman.

In her maiden speech in 1966, Dame Jill Knight described Edgbaston as having pleasant, spacious lines … judges' lodgings, some very beautiful botanical gardens, a silver sweep of reservoir, a famous hospital, an important university, many excellent schools, a high-powered chamber of commerce and a world-famous cricket ground."—[Official Report, 25 May 1966; Vol. 729, c. 507.] All that still holds true. The four city wards of Edgbaston, Harborne, Quinton and Bartley Green make up this diverse constituency, which, like my predecessor, I am proud to represent.

I entered politics when I became aware of what was happening to our pensioners. For so many of our older people, the past 18 years have been hard—3.5 million pensioners are on income support. Even those who thought that they had provided for their retirement found that they had been let down because some occupational pension schemes did not use their surpluses for the benefit of their members. Also, some workers lost out when their companies were taken over or went bankrupt. Some personal pensions were missold, and thousands of policy holders are still awaiting compensation. There has also been steady erosion in the value of the basic state pension.

It is important to acknowledge that pensioners are not a homogenous group, and one group of pensioners has suffered more than others—women. Even today, only one woman in five is in receipt of a basic state pension in her own right. Women who spent their working life working hard, either in low-paid and part-time jobs or—this is even worse—caring for their families or dependants, were not able to provide for their retirement. There were no occupational pension schemes for them. They had no way of paying into a personal pension scheme because their income was not high enough. Those who stayed at home fared worst. The system was simple: those who did not earn and did not pay tax could not pay into the system and take advantage of the various insurance policies and pension plans. In addition, married women thought that they were provided for in their old age through their husbands' pensions but, on divorce, they found themselves in dire straits.

Edgbaston has more than the national average of women over 55, so I am acutely aware of the problems that women face in retirement. My previous work in pension law also raised my awareness. Labour's plans for a stakeholder pension will return dignity and status to those who have worked all their life. They deserve a decent retirement and financial security with a proper pension.

The Government are committed to saving the basic state pension and to cutting VAT on heating, which will especially benefit those, like pensioners, on fixed incomes. They are committed to reducing national health service waiting lists and stopping the forced sale of care homes. I know that many of my constituents will benefit from these first steps taken by the Labour Government, but I remind hon. Members that we will all, sooner or later, be pensioners, and we will all find that the improvements will be relevant to us.

I shall do my level best to ensure that future generations of pensioners, and women in particular, will not be caught in a perpetual cycle of low wages during their working life and poverty in old age. As a newcomer to the House, I hope that my colleagues will support me.

5.35 pm
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

It is my pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Stuart). I hope that she will enjoy representing a Birmingham constituency. I cannot say that I am exactly from the Birmingham area because we in Lichfield consider ourselves to be very different from those in Birmingham.

I am especially pleased that the hon. Lady has come to the House because, along with the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), I am making a play for the co-chairmanship of the all-party German committee. I was telling him that her arrival would give me an opportunity mein Deutsch zu üben, or to practise my German. Perhaps the hon. Member for Edgbaston and I can get together outside the Chamber to discuss in German matters of mutual interest to our constituents in the west midlands. The hon. Lady will find that while there is sometimes argument in the Chamber, hon. Members co-operate outside. That is not a bad thing. It is a shame that television viewers sometimes do not understand that we co-operate.

The speech made by the hon. Member for Edgbaston was in marked contrast to what we have heard from Labour Front Benchers, who have offered a strange combination of clichés and wish lists—which we also heard during the general election campaign—but when they were questioned by Conservative Members about how these wish lists were to be paid for, there was no answer, only evasion.

I welcome three particular measures announced in the Queen's Speech, and believe it is a shame that they were not introduced by a Conservative Government. The first is a freedom of information Bill. It is a great shame—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. There is far too much conversation on the Government Benches.

Mr. Fabricant

Thank you for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I am disappointed that the freedom of information Bill has been relegated to the second or third year of a Labour Administration and in the form of a White Paper—perhaps it will never appear at all. I come from the libertarian right of the Conservative party and, as a libertarian, I think that freedom of information, which has worked perfectly well in the United States, ought to be allowed to work in the United Kingdom. I should have liked such a Bill to have been introduced in tandem with a privacy Bill, but I note that neither the Labour nor the Liberal party has girded its loins and suggested such a possibility. A freedom of information Bill might bring some gentle pressure to bear on the media to concentrate on things that are worth investigating, as opposed to those things that are not worth investigating but which do sell newspapers.

I have consistently said in the House that I support a ban on tobacco advertising. It is quite fallacious to maintain, as some in the House do, that a Conservative Government would not introduce such a ban—indeed, it is nonsense. We did introduce such a ban—in the two Broadcasting Bills brought to the House by Conservative Administrations. Both Bills contained provisions banning tobacco advertising on radio and television. We did that because tobacco advertising works. It encourages young and old people to smoke, when it is known that smoking is bad for people's health. It is therefore intellectual nonsense to claim that a Government who thought it wrong to advertise tobacco on radio and television would not also think it wrong to advertise tobacco on posters and in newspapers. This, therefore, is the second item of Labour legislation that I welcome.

The third item refers more to an action than to legislation. I support the appointment as Minister of State of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who will serve in the Department of the Secretary of State for Social Security, whom I see now sitting below the Gangway. The hon. Gentleman used to have an office adjoining mine; on a number of occasions I was able to repair his television set for him. I hope that the Secretary of State for Social Security will support him as much as I do in what he is trying to achieve.

There are also many items in the Queen's Speech that I do not support. Indeed, I do not support most of it. A great deal of it concerns presentation, not substance. We have heard about the Blair project and about social inclusion. Who can argue against that? What we argue about is how it can be achieved in practice. At the moment, the Government seem to be concentrating on relations with the media. The Foreign Secretary spent an inordinate amount of money putting on a media promotion to explain the mission of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—instead of sending our missions overseas a document explaining that mission. An expensive video was put on in the Locarno room for the benefit of the media, not for our ambassadors and high commissioners overseas. Once again, the media seem to be the message.

I should like now to comment on some other aspects of the Queen's Speech. I am pleased that we can comment on them, after what we heard from the Leader of the House today. It would seem that anything that appeared in the Labour party manifesto is to be given to the nation, not the House, but by decree—

Mr. Dorrell

—supported by plebiscite.

Mr. Fabricant

My right hon. Friend is correct. Having the opportunity to debate anything is becoming a luxury rather than the right of all parliamentarians.

Education appears at the top of the Queen's Speech. Before the election, education, education, education was the mantra. It was said that it would be the primary concern of the Labour Government to invest in our children's future. No one could argue with that, either. It is of paramount importance to invest in the future of this nation. The question is: how will it be paid for?

We have heard about the abolition of the assisted places scheme. Some 38,000 children of poor parents, whose average income is £10,800, benefit from the scheme. Missing from the calculation is how children who benefit from the scheme will be funded in the state system, irrespective of whether the abolition will be staggered. Some schools in my constituency will be affected, including S Mary and S Anne in Abbots Bromley. As a result of the change, 38,000 students will flood into the state sector, where of course they will have to be paid for.

The average cost per pupil in the state system under standard spending assessments is a little more than the cost of an assisted place. I cannot therefore understand how extra money will be generated. I could understand it if those 38,000 students remained in the private sector—but they will not. They will go into the state-run education system, so no extra money will be available. During the election campaign—it was repeated today by the Secretary of State—we heard again and again the Labour promise that class sizes would be reduced by abolishing the assisted places scheme. The figures do not add up, as I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer will tell the Secretary of State for Education and Employment in due course.

The Chancellor has his own problems, of course, not least a £12 billion gap in his spending and income projections. It was calculated by the Treasury only a few weeks ago—by the same officials who serve the Chancellor today—that a £12 billion gap will have to be filled somehow. I trust the Labour Government not to increase income tax rates, because to do so would be too blatant a lie even for a Labour Government. They put up posters promising not to increase income tax rates, but already there have been certain tax increases.

The first tax increase—it will presumably be debated because it did not appear in the manifesto—is the tax on mobile telephones. Are they really a luxury? Many would argue that, for small businesses particularly, they are far from a luxury. They enable many small businesses to survive.

Labour Ministers may claim that the independence of the Bank of England was foreshadowed in the manifesto; others would argue that it was not. Various models have been offered as success stories of independent banks in other countries, yet the most truly successful independent bank, the Federal Reserve in the United States of America, owes its success to the directive issued to Alan Greenspan not just to keep inflation low—that may involve putting up interest rates—but to aim for full employment. The two do not necessarily go together.

At the moment, the Bank of England has been given only one directive: to keep inflation within the bounds set by the Chancellor. That formula will be bad for small businesses and, more to the point, bad for the future of the United Kingdom.

Large businesses that are major exporters will be affected as interest rates rise. I remember the Chancellor, when he was still shadow Chancellor, criticising the Government by saying that the pound's value was too high. In the same breath, he claimed that the public finances were weak. How one can have weak public finances yet a strong pound I do not know. The strength of the pound derives not just from interest rates but from confidence in a country's economy. Still, the Bank is now free to raise interest rates in order to curb inflation, as it sees fit, while having no regard to the future of small businesses. If the pound is driven up, small businesses and large exporters alike will be adversely affected.

We have still not been enlightened about the rate at which the national minimum wage will be set. I remember the Deputy Prime Minister, when still in opposition, discussing that in the House of Commons just a few months ago. When I intervened on him to ask about the effects of the national minimum wage on small businesses, he said, "Well, it works in America, doesn't it?" It works in America because the national minimum wage there is around £2 an hour. Is that to be the national minimum wage in the United Kingdom? If it is, many trade unions will regard it as an insult. If it is not—if the figure is £4 or £4.50 an hour—it will be an insult to people in work.

Only a few years ago, did not the Foreign Secretary, when he was shadow Secretary of State for Health, say that any sensible minimum wage would result in £500 million-worth of extra costs a year on the national health service? That will affect the health of the nation far more than any of the Labour party's plans—which are bad enough—to abolish fundholding and perhaps trusts.

I am also concerned about the use of the national lottery to fund health and education projects. The national lottery was introduced on the basis that the principle of additionality would not be broken. It was to be used to fund projects that are not funded by the taxpayer. However, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer walked into the Treasury he found that the estimate of a £12 billion gap in his finances was correct. The civil servants who made that projection are the same ones now telling him that the gap indeed exists, so the shortfall must be made up quickly. The national lottery is now to be used to fund health and education—services that should always be funded by the state. The Labour party may well have introduced the national health service and the welfare state, but time and time again Conservative Governments have shown their worth as stewards of the welfare state.

I have already said that I support the freedom of information proposals. I am pleased that they might be introduced, although I am disappointed that they will appear in a White Paper rather than a Bill.

In the latter part of her speech, Her Majesty talked about the European Union—the completion of the single market and the adoption of the social chapter. The Prime Minister said before the election—and he has repeated it since—that he would not adopt any measure that would damage British business and employment prospects. He does not seem to understand—or does not choose to admit—that he cannot cherry-pick. Once he has signed the social chapter, all measures are decided by qualified majority voting. There is no veto. That means that if France and Germany want a point enforced in law, it will be enforced by a directive from Brussels. There will be no cherry-picking.

I believe that the Prime Minister has misled the nation by saying that we can cherry-pick. If he feels strongly about the measures, why will he not introduce them in the House? If further legislation were introduced in Brussels and he chooses to cherry-pick, the House can cherry-pick. With its large majority, the Labour party can decide whether it wants a particular measure and pass it in the House. By signing up to the social chapter, the right hon. Gentleman takes that power away from Westminster and gives it to Brussels. The Labour party will learn to regret that as unemployment rises.

I said in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Social Security that unemployment fell to just 2.9 per cent. in Lichfield last month. I hope that it stays at the level. If it starts to climb, it will only be duplicating what is already happening in France, Germany, Spain and Italy. What is the common denominator in those countries? It is not that they are on continental Europe, but that they have signed up to the social chapter and to state intervention in all things. Although new Labour calls itself new Labour and has all the rhetoric of new Labour, I believe that it still does not understand that Governments cannot make work; private individuals, entrepreneurs, companies, the market and customers make work. Businesses will be damaged by the social chapter and the national minimum wage.

Mr. Winnick

The hon. Gentleman has attacked the idea of a national minimum wage. Will he give the House an idea of how much he earns—his parliamentary salary plus anything else? Does he not feel some responsibility to do so, when he wants to deny his fellow citizens and many of his constituents a decent minimum wage?

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is renowned in Walsall. If he would like to contact the Fees Office he can find out for himself what he earns. The public are not as ridiculous as the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Winnick

Tell us.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the figure has been publicised many times and is in the public domain.

Mr. Winnick

How much?

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman has never done a job in his life, unlike me—I have run a company. I know that the minimum wage will affect not just people who are on minimum wages—

Mr. Winnick

How much?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) is addressing the House.

Mr. Fabricant

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman does not realise that a minimum wage will also affect differentials. Of course I want hospital porters in the national health service to earn more, but if they had a wage increase, even the hon. Gentleman should be able to realise that other employees in the NHS would want wage increases, too. It is all very well his grinning idiotically. He is not on the Front Bench and he does not have responsibility for these things. If anyone were stupid enough to put him on the Front Bench, and even more stupid and made him Secretary of State for Health, what would happen when he found that the Foreign Secretary's prediction was right and that the policy would cost the national health service an additional £500 million? Would he like to tell me where the money would come from?

Mr. Winnick

I would like the hon. Gentleman to answer the question that I put to him. The Fees Office will have no knowledge of his incomes from outside Parliament. He has attacked the concept of a national minimum wage. I am asking him to declare to the House how much he earns.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman asks an interesting question. I can tell him that I have virtually no income from outside Parliament. He might like to read the Register of Members' Interests. I was fortunate enough to run a corporation before I came to the House. I am proud to say that it did quite well. I am proud to say that I sold it and have no shares in it. I have some savings from selling that company. Apart from the odd fee from Sky, which amounts to about 50 quid, I think, I do not earn anything outside the House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured that I am a full-time Member of Parliament.

Mr. Winnick

indicated dissent.

Mr. Fabricant

He is not reassured. Well, I cannot waste the time of the House.

Another of the Prime Minister's comments on Europe—it sounded sane at the time—was that there is no mutual exclusivity between our involvement with Europe and our association with the United States of America. That is naive in the extreme. There may be no mutual exclusivity at the moment between our membership of the European Union and our continued ties with the United States of America, particularly with regard to trade and commerce, but if the European Union deepens—there is no guarantee that it will—and if the Prime Minister continues not to be the odd man out in Europe, signing up to all sorts of things that ought not to be signed up to because they will damage business and industry in this country, he may well find that there is mutual exclusivity.

I believe—I speak only for myself now—that it is almost old-fashioned to talk about association with Europe, with the United States or, indeed, with any bloc of countries. The World Trade Organisation is committed to bringing free trade to all developed countries, certainly by 2020; I think that it will happen a lot sooner. Whereas in the 1970s it made sense to go into partnership with countries that were geographically close, it does not make so much sense any more.

The revolution in containerised shipping has meant that the cost of exporting goods to Australia adds only about 0.25 per cent. to the finished price more than exporting to Germany or to Austria. Nowadays, shipping goods abroad is relatively cheap. Telephoning abroad, sending faxes abroad or e-mailing abroad are instantaneous. The world has become a very small place. I believe that there is mutual exclusivity between deeper involvement in the European Union and our relationship with the United States of America.

We should not forget that it is not just language that we share with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; we share a common legal system too, which is important in business. People do not realise that United Kingdom companies—not the Japanese—are the biggest shareholders in American corporations and that American corporations are the biggest shareholders in British companies. That has happened not just for historical reasons, but because we can do business together. We speak the same language in every sense of the word. We share the same legal system and that is something to be proud of.

The Labour party and the Labour Government will enjoy a honeymoon period for up to a year, or perhaps 18 months, but at the end of the day-that day may be sooner rather than later-they will have to translate all the wish lists into performance, and that means finding the money. It does not mean saying, "We are going to abolish the assisted places scheme simply for the sake of socialist dogma." It means finding the money not only to pay for reduced class sizes, but to pay for the 38,000 pupils currently in the private system who will be forced to enter the state system. The figures do not add up, and the Chancellor knows it.

Tax rises have already been announced. Heaven knows what will happen in the forthcoming Budget. There is a shortfall of £12 billion over the next two years, and Treasury civil servants say that it has to be made up. We shall begin to see how it will be made up over the next few months. God help the Labour party but, more important, God help this nation.

6.2 pm

Audrey Wise (Preston)

I add my congratulations and pleasure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at seeing you in the Chair. It has been pleasant to sit through the debate and to hear two maiden speeches. 1 add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie). It is especially appropriate to hear from such a young Member of Parliament because for 18 years, we have had a Government who have waged war on young people. My hon. Friend will have a great deal to do in helping the new Government to undo the effects of that disastrous policy.

It was very nice to hear the maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Stuart), one of the new women Labour Members. I know Edgbaston and its beautiful botanical gardens. Every time I visit it, it will give me additional pleasure to know that it is now represented by a Labour woman. The addition of so many women, of whom my hon. Friend is one, to the House will materially improve the style and content of our debates. She gave some indication of her future contribution.

I will concentrate my remarks on health. Before moving to the specific issues of the national health service, I point out that other health issues are covered in the Queen's Speech. The food safety agency is a health measure that I greatly welcome. The opportunity for people to have access to purer food, to know what they are eating and to have confidence in it is very much a matter of health. Housing is also a matter of health. Anything that can be done to improve housing, to reduce homelessness and to provide homes that are decent, warm and comfortable is a health measure, as is the reduction of poverty.

Conservative Members see the national minimum wage simply as a cost. I can tell them that the low-paid see it as a benefit, and it will be a benefit to their health. The more people can be lifted off starvation wages, the healthier the nation will be.

I warmly welcome the passage in the Queen's Speech that commits the new Government to improve the National Health Service, as a service providing care on the basis of need to the whole population. I also particularly welcome the reference to building co-operation within the service because over the past few years, we have seen nothing but fragmentation. Competition can be useful in certain circumstances, but inappropriate competition in the national health service is entirely destructive. One of the things it destroys is rational decision making.

I draw on my experience of serving on the Health Select Committee, which I have had the honour to do for the past 10 years. The Health Select Committee, like all Select Committees, is an all-party Committee. The great merit of a Select Committee is that if it does its job properly, as our Committee has, it is driven by facts and by evidence. That is why, even with the inclusion of rather more Tory Members than will be the case in future, we produced excellent reports which received scant attention from the Conservative Government and from which they did not learn the proper lessons.

About three years ago, we produced a report on priority setting in the national health service, which is particularly interesting and useful in the context of a new Government pledged to eliminate the internal market. The Select Committee called for approaches to decision making that: are systematic; are transparent; take full account of the views of the public, health professionals and other interested parties; are based as far as possible on a firm assessment of need—taking full account of epidemiological data; and, where the information is available, make full use of effectiveness and cost effectiveness data. There is no mention in that recommendation of any value in competition. The approach is far more strategic and coherent than the approach we have in the national health service at present with the internal market.

We also asked for, at national level, the comprehensive evaluation of all aspects of local purchasing and decision making. When we abolish the internal market, we shall need to evaluate carefully everything that we put in its place. I believe strongly in the sensible concepts that the Select Committee identified.

Of course I want a properly resourced national health service. It is, however, possible for money to be spent well or to be spent badly. There are many instances in the national health service of money that could be spent in much better ways. For instance, more alternative complementary therapies could be provided. It has been established that chiropractic is a more effective and cost-effective way of treating back pain than conventional methods. Yet most people who require the services of a chiropractor have to pay for private treatment. Would it not be more sensible for GPs and others to enlist the services of a chiropractor through the national health service? In theory it can be done, but it does not happen very often. That will be one of our yardsticks.

We should also seek effective treatment. One of the Select Committee reports made the following rather plaintive request: We would urge that consideration is given to highlighting treatments and services which are known to be particularly effective—as well as those which are particularly ineffective. That struck me as a modest ambition, yet we know that many treatments carried out in the NHS are not effective. I congratulate the previous Government on taking some steps towards encouraging research and a research-based health service, but the new Government will go much further.

Other parts of the NHS, such as maternity services, are extremely important to me and most of the population. Five years ago, the Health Committee produced a landmark report which continues to reverberate. It was such a powerful report that even the previous Government had to take some notice of it.

Many of the issues that the report raised still require attention. For example, we pay twice for some aspects of maternity provision. We pay GPs for examinations that are actually carried out by midwives. I am glad that the British Medical Association has given the health measures in the Queen's Speech a warm welcome. Although I am very much in favour of carrying professionals with us, I believe that GPs have quite enough to do. Payments are being duplicated in the national health service, and I recommend that we look into that matter.

There is evidence of empire building in the NHS through investments that appear glamorous but are not necessarily the most appropriate. For example, there is heavy investment in monitors, yet the best monitor of a pregnant woman is a midwife who has the time to devote to the mother and has followed her throughout her pregnancy. The Select Committee placed great stress on the importance of continuity of care and carer in the delivery of maternity care.

That is not about more money, but about money being spent differently and giving professionals such as midwives adequate grading, which they frequently do not have. It is also about more rational staffing, and in maternity, that means "staffing the women", rather than "staffing the ward". There is a great deal of richness in the Select Committee's recommendations which involve changes of attitude and the consequential rearrangement of provision. I strongly support the Government in their desire to look at all those matters.

There have also been pilot schemes which would have come to an end had the previous Government continued in office, despite the fact that they have proved extremely valuable. One example is the establishment of midwifery partnerships. The new Government should consider midwifery partnerships as a rational way of delivering maternity care.

Twenty years ago, the then Labour Government instituted an inquiry into children's health, resulting in the Court report. Unfortunately, before it could be implemented, the Government changed and for 18 years we had a Government who gave scant priority to our children's health.

Mr. Fabricant


Audrey Wise

Yes. For 18 years, the poor have got poorer and more children are living in poverty to the detriment of their health. There is more homelessness and more people live in rotten housing and suffer from respiratory problems. Little children are bearing the brunt of a Government whose priorities were entirely wrong.

The Select Committee report referred to the Court report which was produced 20 years ago. It stated: The Court Report contained over 200 recommendations, and though it is not possible to state in bald terms that the report was or was not 'implemented', … it is undeniably the case that some of the Court Report's major recommendations, for instance the proposal that comprehensive community children's nursing services should be provided, have not been implemented. The failure to make progress in providing an adequate number of trained children's nurses, despite recommendations not just by Court but in other official reports dating back to 1959, reinforces our view, which has gained in strength as our inquiry has progressed, that the special needs of children are given insufficient priority by policy-makers, health service professionals and others who in one way or another have a responsibility for children's well-being. The neglect of children's needs in respect of health services extends to the entire House. I have quoted from the recent inquiry into children's health by the Select Committee. It was the first ever major parliamentary inquiry into children's health. That demonstrates the need for the 101 women who will be on our side and the need for an injection of human values and human priorities into the business of the House.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I respect the hon. Lady's knowledge and commitment to the subject. If she agrees with me that we need more children's nurses and more school nurses and generally more staff working in the health service, does she believe that it is possible to achieve that without a significant increase in net resources to the health service and, therefore, an increase in the NHS budget?

Audrey Wise

It is impossible for us to know what the NHS budget should be until we have examined some of the issues that I have mentioned. I have said clearly that I want a properly resourced national health service and I stand by that, as my conduct in the House will demonstrate. However, it is too easy simply to say that we need more money spent. We could spend more money on the present wrong priorities and we still would not have a really good health service.

The United States Government spend a vast amount of their national income on so-called health care. A great deal is spent in the private sector, but about one third of it comes from the American public purse and they get extremely poor value from a huge amount of spending. So it is not just a matter of how much; it is also a matter of how well it is spent. For example, we need more children's nurses. Only one in 33 nurses have a children's nursing qualification yet more than one fifth of the population are children. That is clearly an inappropriate number, to say the least of it. Even worse, many of those one in 33 nurses with a children's qualification are employed not in children's nursing but in all sorts of other areas. That is nonsense.

We need a proper evaluation of how resources are spent and a determination to ensure that they are spent properly. Part of that process will come through giving people more chance of knowing how things are run. That is why I am proud to have been a member of the Select Committee that called for transparency and openness in decision making. That is the sort of thing that we need. Although I am very keen to see a transfer of resources to my particular priorities, I am perfectly sensible of the extra need to look very carefully at how money is spent.

Half the population is not served by a children's community nursing service. As adults, we know that we can be seen and helped by a district nurse if we are ill. For half the children in the country there is no equivalent to the children's nursing service. The new Government have an absolutely enormous task to remedy things that should have started being remedied after the Court report in 1977.

In evidence to the Select Committee, the previous Government said that everything was all right because if no children's nurse was available to go to somebody's home to nurse a sick child, a district nurse could do the job. That showed their lack of sense of the fact that children's health needs are different from those of adults.

Children are not simply miniature adults. We will not have a good NHS until that is recognised and children's needs are given proper priority. That change should be made and it should start in the House. All of us who have been Members of Parliament for some time ought to be ashamed of the fact that there was not an inquiry into children's health until last year. I am ashamed—but I am proud that I proposed one and that when it was carried out it produced four extremely useful reports.

We have to get our priorities right. I and Back Benchers in general, especially the 101 women who sit on the Government Benches, must ensure that we change the priorities of Government and of Parliament for the better. The task is very big, but many people are willing to help. One of the great things about hearing evidence—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Opposition Front Benchers are being far too noisy.

Audrey Wise

I am not particularly addressing Front Benchers. I am glad that there is quite a healthy attendance of my hon. Friends.

I believe that what I am saying will reverberate among the population. A new Government have been elected on the kind of things that I am saying—to change the country's priorities so that children, along with all those who are vulnerable, including the elderly, are properly treated and their needs are understood.

After a proper examination and a proper transfer of resources from empire building or inappropriate, inefficient and ineffective spending, we will be in a position to say how much extra we need. I am happy to go along with the Government's aspirations to ensure in the first instance value for money, knowing that we have made a commitment in the Queen's Speech, on which we were elected, to protect and improve the NHS. I believe that Labour will do everything that is required to honour that commitment. In five years' time, we will have the thanks of all those people for whom the NHS is a great Labour achievement and a great priority in their lives.

6.24 pm
Mr. Charles Clarke (Norwich, South)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Audrey Wise) on her speech and on the priority she gives to children's health, which is extremely important. I am sure that all Labour Members share her priorities.

I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor, John Garrett, who was first elected in February 1974. Many hon. Members will know him not only for his contribution to the promotion of good management throughout the public services—and, indeed, the private services—but for being a scourge of complacency in the civil service through his membership of the Treasury and Civil Service Committee and, before he entered the House, for the advice he gave to the Fulton committee. He will be warmly remembered, particularly in Norwich, for the consistently tremendous work he did for the constituents of Norwich, South and in promoting the interests of the city of Norwich.

It is a tremendous honour to have been elected to represent Norwich, South—the southern part of the great city of Norwich. It is an historic city; the former second city of England. It has an historic cathedral, a Norman castle, a guildhall, monastic buildings in Blackfriars and a mediaeval city centre. It is an educational centre, with the university of East Anglia being one of this country's outstanding universities. It has a city college, which is entering into tremendous new agreements to give the young people of our city, through partnership with Bull Technology, the information technology qualifications that are needed in the modern world.

Norwich research park has a series of institutions that put Norwich at the forefront of food research in Britain. One of the things about which I am delighted is the commitment in the Queen's Speech to establish an independent food standards agency, which we in Norwich will be urging should be located in our city as a principal researcher into the quality of food.

The headquarters of The Stationery Office, which publishes Hansard, is located in Norwich. Despite the depredation of the sell-off that the previous Government ordered, The Stationery Office intends to provide the Government with the quality of service that it has historically provided.

Norwich is a regional financial centre. The headquarters of Norwich Union and Sedgwicks are located there. There are tremendous resources in the city for all financial services. It is also of course the culture and media capital of the region, producing regional television programmes and being home to the Broads national park authority, which extends within the boundaries of my constituency. There is a theatre and art college, and the city is home to the Canaries, who are hoping to return to the Premier League, although I regret to say not for the coming season.

I am glad that the people of Norwich strongly support the Queen's Speech and the themes of work, welfare, education and health. They know that youth unemployment must be tackled and that only the Labour party's proposals for a windfall tax to provide jobs, education and training for young people can do so. They know that a minimum wage is needed—specifically in Norwich and Norfolk, where low pay is traditional. Indeed, my predecessor referred to the incidence of low pay in that part of the country in his maiden speech in 1974. The people of Norwich will welcome the commitment to a minimum wage.

The people of Norwich will also welcome the commitment to minimum class sizes of 30 pupils for five, six and seven-year-olds. Some primary school classes in my constituency have as many as 39 pupils. The people of Norwich know that the changes will make a substantial difference. Norfolk as a whole has been the subject of the previous Government's guinea-pig approach to nursery vouchers, which caused major problems in Norwich. We are delighted that a proper nursery scheme will be established through the state education system and that the nursery voucher scheme will be abolished.

I should like to focus on a specific, small health measure: the measure to clarify the legal power of national health service trusts to sign private finance initiative contracts. I hope that the Bill to implement that will have a rapid and trouble-free passage through both Houses. It is needed because banks are holding back from signing PFI contracts—public-private partnerships—because they are uncertain about the legal status of NHS trusts. There may be other reasons, but that is one. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, one of the Labour Government's missions is to remove the red tape that has stopped investment in the health service. By clarifying the legal status of hospital trusts, we will enable the acceleration of public-private partnerships and investment in health and the building of new hospitals and health facilities. I strongly support the measure in the Queen's Speech and the accelerated resources for health that it will offer.

The issue is especially relevant to Norwich, because a PFI scheme for the Norfolk and Norwich hospital awaits agreement from the banks, having been signed in November. The scheme faces the obstacles that I mentioned earlier. From our experience in Norwich, we welcome the election of a Government who are committed to developing private-public partnerships more successfully than in the past.

Under the previous arrangements, the people of Norwich were not allowed to know—for reasons of so-called commercial confidentiality—which services, ranging from clinical services to canteen cleaning, would be included in the PFI arrangement. The local people were not permitted to know which specialisms would be available at the new hospital; the prices that would be charged for services; or what guarantees the previous Government had to give to sustain the deal. They were not permitted to know about any future plans for existing hospital sites, even though hospitals had been closed, thus reducing total bed numbers in Norwich. They were not permitted to know what transportation arrangements had been made to ensure that people could use the new hospital on the outskirts of the city at Colney. It would have been better if the new hospital, like the old, had been planned for the city centre—as originally proposed—instead of outside.

The Labour Government are not responsible for the flawed process that led to the PFI agreement, but they will have to do their best with their inheritance. The Bill that was announced yesterday will accelerate the process and I welcome it. I know that the new Government will use the Bill to build a much more democratic, open and accountable procedure under which people can learn about the investments under the PFI schemes and public-private partnerships. We will encourage more much-needed private resources for, and greater investment in, health, and we will also encourage a system that allows people to participate fully in the discussions, unlike the PFI schemes that the previous Government operated. We will end the unaccountable secrecy of the unelected quangos, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, and we will establish the necessary public, open discussions and a new flow of investment.

The people of Norwich, South welcomed the Gracious Speech yesterday. They know that it will make a dramatic difference to the people of the city of Norwich. I have great honour and pride in speaking in the House today and commending the Speech to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

6.33 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), whom I know well, on his maiden speech. I welcome him to the House. I also welcome his contribution to the city of Norwich which, as he said, is one of the great cities of England. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will be a redoubtable Member of Parliament for his constituents. He used to be the boss of the Cambridge Students Union, well before new Labour. If, when he was CSU president and I was president of my college union, I had predicted that he would be elected to Parliament on a wave of new Labour policies, he would have shown me the door. Even student politics have changed greatly since the 1970s.[Interruption.] Public-private capital in the health service is just another example of this change.

Not all hon. Members may know that the hon. Member for Norwich, South also did a good job at the right hand of Neil Kinnock when he was leader of the Labour party, and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for that—I know that he was hugely important to the success of all that Neil Kinnock sought to do.

I was serious when I said that I appreciate the commitment and passion of the speech by the hon. Member for Preston (Audrey Wise) on the health service. I am sure that she will be firm and true to her commitment to keep the pressure on what is now her Government to ensure that the health service has the resources that it needs. Of course the Government need to look at the books, but nobody who works in the health service believes that it has enough money. I am sure that the hon. Lady knows that, and I look to her and to people like her to tell the truth about next month's Budget and the funding of the health service. I am sure that many of her voters also look to her to do that.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) is no longer in his place, but I pay tribute to him—the youngest Member of the House. When I was elected, I was the youngest Opposition Member at 31. He has come to the House at the age of 24 and relieves my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) of a responsibility that he has carried for more than 10 years. That shows how middle-aged we have become. Unless the House continues to become more representative in age, as well as in gender and colour, we shall not be recognised as properly representative at all.

How we become politically representative is another debate. Suffice it to say that the present Government no more have the support of the majority of the British public than did the previous Government: we are all minorities here and I hope that we shall all have the humility to remember that.

I also wish to compliment the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Stuart). I welcome her to the House because, among other reasons, she is greatly committed to electoral reform and to positive progress in Europe. Her constituency has much to commend it—not least the fact that my parents, so they told me, met in Edgbaston at the end of the war and I have studied there and stayed with relatives. I welcome the hon. Lady and all the new Members, especially the women; I sincerely hope that one day at least half the Members of Parliament will be women, as befits a nation more than half of whose citizens are women.

We have a new ministerial team and I welcome them. I wish them well, without qualification. They have a huge responsibility. I should have liked to be in their place because I do not do this job to be in opposition, but I am encouraged by the fact that I now have many more hon. Friends around me and we have made significant progress. The teams with responsibility for health, social security and education have a particular responsibility: they have to build a new welfare state for the next century. That will not be easy and we shall have a great debate about how to fund it. I hope that there will be no no-go areas for that debate. We must open all the doors and consider all the ideas. I welcome the appointment of the Minister for Welfare Reform, the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), because he is a thinker and a brave contributor to that debate. I welcome in particular my two parliamentary colleagues, the right hon. Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Ms Jowell), to their important jobs. The borough of Southwark is well represented on the health and social services agenda on the non-Tory Benches and I am sure that that is what the people of Southwark want.

Whatever the politicians said—including the three party leaders—I believe that the public felt that health was the most important issue in the election. The party leaders claimed that education came first, but the public chose health. That was the evidence of the opinion polls, nationally, regionally and locally. In London and in my constituency—now called Southwark, North and Bermondsey—health was undoubtedly the main issue.

It is therefore a privilege for me to return to Parliament to do the job of health spokesman for my party again, and it is a great privilege now also to have the unsolicited but extremely welcome addition of three colleagues to help me—my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch), who is sitting on the Bench in front of me, and my hon. Friends the Members for Isle of Wight (Dr. Brand) and for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris). I know from my experience in the general election campaign that health was a huge issue in each of those seats, too.

I welcome in addition my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), who is sitting behind me and is one of our three new Liberal Democrat doctor Members. I know that in her constituency, as in almost every other, health was a hugely important issue. Only yesterday, services at Queen Mary's, Roehampton—a hospital serving her constituents—were said to be at risk again.

None of us will be under more political pressure than when health service reductions are threatened in our constituencies, because the health service is the most valued public service in the United Kingdom: 95 per cent. of our citizens use it and we must do our best to preserve it.

Let me now sound one note of dissent. I am one of the few Members who was elected by beating Labour. I have done it five times now, so I hope that the Labour party has got the message.

Mr. Dorrell

I beat Labour, too.

Mr. Hughes

The right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) says that he beat Labour, too. I also beat the Tories, and I beat them down to 6 per cent. They got 10 per cent. of the vote at the last election, and I did not think that I would get them much lower, but I got them down to 6 per cent. this time, so the possibility of squeezing the Tory vote has now really been reduced in my constituency. To his credit, however, the Tory candidate in my constituency managed to elevate his position from being the candidate with the lowest share of the Tory vote in England to the lowest but one—there was an even lower Tory vote in a Liverpool constituency—so he will obviously be promoted to a better seat next time.

I shall start with a local issue, and then deal with some of the wider issues in the Queen's Speech. The big issue in my constituency in this election was unquestionably the future of Guy's hospital. When I was in the United States for a week last year studying health service matters, people in famous hospitals on the east coast could not believe that the British Government could contemplate running down a hospital like Guy's. They found that inconceivable. During the election campaign, one of the promises made by the Labour candidate in my constituency was that on the first day of a Labour Government Guy's hospital would be saved. A few days passed after the election before the Hampstead and Highgate Express published a conversation with the new Secretary of State confirming that a review of London health services would take place. The test will come over the first year.

For Londoners, and for my constituents, the first real test of whether the Government do their job properly on health will be whether the Minister of State sets about his review with no preconditions or prior agenda, conducts the review using up-to-date facts and statistics—unlike the review under Tomlinson, which was out of date, partial and ignored some of the evidence—and delivers a set of proposals for the future of the health service in London which have been the subject and reflect the results of wide consultation. [Interruption.] The former Secretary of State intervenes from a sedentary position, as he always used to do. I will give way, of course, in a moment.

The intervening period is hugely important. Labour said that in London there would be no rundown or closures of services for the period of the review. That should apply across the country, as we said. We committed the funding for it, unlike Labour. That undertaking must now be carried out. For me and for my constituents, that means the trauma service at Guy's not disappearing before the end of the review and entire departments not being shifted to another hospital. The review must freeze the present position and examine fairly all the services, including casualty, at hospitals such as Guy's.

Mr. Dorrell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He said that he wanted an open-ended review with no preconceptions and a proper analysis of the evidence. We already know that we shall not get any of that. The Secretary of State has already announced that he is ruling out a possible conclusion of the review when he said that the Government will not end up endorsing the previous Government's policies. That is one conclusion that he has ruled out before the review begins. He has also made it clear that the review has seven months to proceed and complete a process which, when it was initiated by Tomlinson, took three years and engaged a huge consultation exercise leading to the decisions that were announced in April 1995. We already know that the review will take place in a much shorter time scale than last time, and that one possible conclusion—I do not comment on whether it would be the right or the wrong conclusion—has been ruled out by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Hughes

I have great respect for the former Secretary of State. In many respects I think that he did an extremely good job as a Tory Secretary of State for Health. He was not responsible for the last review, and I acquit him of that. It is reasonable to assume that a new Government would not expect to revisit all the questions. It would not be credible for them to say that a review would take place but that the outcome would be identical. On that point I defend the new Secretary of State for Health.

I share the concern of the right hon. Member for Charnwood that it may be impractical to think that we can sort out all the problems in a short time, but people do not want to be kept in limbo for months and years. It is a difficult balance to strike. I represent staff at Guy's who want to know their future.

On this, as on other matters, I hope that we shall perform the task properly and that in this Parliament we do not have arguments over facts. I say that especially to new colleagues. Let us have arguments over funding and policy, but let us not argue over clear and incontrovertible facts. I hope that one of the signs of a new regime in government is that we do not get hundreds of answers on health service questions—for example, how many hospitals have been closed and how many beds there are—all stating that the information is not held centrally. No colleague on either side of the House will be happy if we get a stone wall of silence about what is going on in the health service so that no one can find out what the score is locally, regionally or nationally.

I shall continue my resistance, should the Government not deliver on these matters adequately. I am still blocking a Bill, which got blocked before the end of the last Parliament, that would bring about a merger of the United Medical and Dental school and King's college London. I shall continue to do so unless we get satisfactory assurances about adequate numbers of beds at my local hospital.

I wish to make four points about the Queen's Speech. The first was made similarly yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), and my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) made it today in the context of education. I do not think that any objective analyst believes that there is sufficient money in the kitty to sustain the NHS as at present demanded by the citizens of the United Kingdom. I quote from the election briefing of the Institute for Fiscal Studies—not a party organisation—which stated: The real growth in health spending planned over the next three years is well below average spending growth in health over any recent parliament, or indeed over any period of consecutive years … The projected growth in health spending over the next three years is far lower than the average growth in health spending since the Conservatives took office in 1979, or at any time over the last thirty-five years… Either they"— the current spending plans— are unfeasible, and will be broken, or they will mean a much lower injection of new resources into the health service than hitherto experienced. At a time when the public's demand for health care is inevitably rising, this will have serious implications for how well the NHS will be able to continue its role as a comprehensive provider of free health care. I say to Members on the Labour Benches that they were timid on health service spending before the election and during the election. It was only the moment before the election that they suddenly announced that they would spend as much as the Tories; previously, they said that they would spend less. That was because the right hon. Member for Charnwood and I had a go at them every Question Time until eventually they decided that it was so embarrassing to be third in the spending league table that they had better do something about it.

If the Labour Government carry on the synchronised swimming—having the same budget for health as the Tories—they will be in trouble. I say that in the hope and expectation that the wisdom of government will descend on the new Chancellor of the Exchequer and the new Secretary of State for Health and that they will say, as Governments so rarely do, "We are sorry. We were wrong. We need more money. and it is better to tell you that than to pretend otherwise." We look forward to that process beginning in the Budget next month. If that does not take place, we shall vote against the relevant parts of the Budget and we shall table amendments to increase funding for the health service, as we have consistently argued over recent years.

Secondly, I welcome the Government's stated intention to end the two-tier health service. The great failing of the Tory reforms was that patients received different treatment depending on which doctor they went to or where they lived. It is absolutely true that, as of today, the NHS is still a national health lottery. If we are to put that right and end the difference between fundholders and non-fundholders, we need to do so in a way that receives support from those in the profession and elsewhere. I welcome the fact that there will be consultation, and that it may not be necessary to legislate. If that is the case, we must have consultation about the proposed instructions, guidance and directions as though we were discussing legislation. Having got it so wrong last time, I do not want us—and patients do not want us—to get it wrong again.

Thirdly, I wish to refer to the private finance initiative. The hon. Member for Norwich, South welcomed the Bill—which I gather is to be published in another place tomorrow—to facilitate private finance coming into the NHS. That is not an uncontroversial matter. The only reason why we are going down that road is that the previous Government slashed capital spending in the NHS. There may be an argument for bringing private money into the capital budget of the health service, but last year the Treasury, the Treasury Select Committee, various financial advisers and certainly the Labour party were not persuaded by it. I do not think that, as of today, the public are persuaded either.

If we are to build a secure NHS—with the buildings, hospitals and facilities that we want—we must seek agreement about how to bring in private finance. I welcome the fact that, in theory, it is on the agenda. If the Government are seeking to push through a Bill to allow projects that have been in the pipeline for some time to be built—such as the example referred to in Norwich or such as Rochdale—some hard questions will be asked about whether that secures either the best investment of public finances or the best security for the NHS. Effectively leasing hospital buildings that one does not get back in 35 years may not be a good way of spending public money. A lot of people need to be persuaded about that proposal.

Finally, I wish to refer to public health. I welcome the appointment of a Minister for public health. The hon. Member for Preston is absolutely right in implying that the NHS is a national sickness service—and the more it is such a service, the poorer our public health will be. In most respects, we have not a national health service, but a national sickness service. We are rescuing people whom we have allowed to fall into the river rather than stopping them falling in in the first place.

The Government are right to single out smoking as one of the most pernicious routes to ill health. Smoking kills 100,000-plus people a year in this country—I am not sure of the arithmetic, but I believe that that works out at 300 people per day dying as a result of tobacco-related diseases. I ask the Government to be as tough as nails on this. There must be no backsliding or equivocation. There must be no tobacco advertising, except at the point of sale, and no tobacco sponsorship of sport—even if that means that sport has difficulties for a short period. The idea that a racing driver—or a snooker player or a darts player—gains success partly by being associated with smoking has to be hit on the head. Smoking kills you, and if it does not kill you, it debilitates you, puts you out of work and gives your family and friends a harder time. We have to be tough on smoking and tough on the causes of smoking. [Interruption.] I mean that. If this House does not deliver, we will betray our responsibility.

In addition, we must be tough on alcohol and tough on the causes of alcoholism—particularly among women, where there has been an increase. We must also be tough on drugs and tough on the causes. I do not mean illegal drugs only, but I mean drugs in the NHS which are often given with no proven benefit to the patient. There are far too many drugs given as a quick answer to a difficult question. Alternative remedies and alternative medicines are often a better way forward.

It is a source of great pride in my party that the plan for the welfare state was devised by a great Liberal who became a Member of the House of Commons and then a peer—William Beveridge. He made it clear when he wrote his report in 1943 that a precondition of a successful welfare state was a successful national health service. I share the view of many hon. Members and many voters that the best test of whether we shall have a successful welfare state for the next century is whether we build a successful health service for the next century that will survive.

I hope that, as a House, we shall be united in trying to make the national health service stronger, and that we shall spend more time doing that than having a go at other people where there may be differences as to how to achieve it. We have a collective responsibility for the national health service and the welfare state, and a collective duty in this Parliament to do a hell of a lot about it.

6.56 pm
Mr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown)

It is with great pride that I rise for the first time in this House representing Brighton, Kemptown. I should like to follow the tradition of the House and recognise my predecessor, Sir Andrew Bowden. He was a very hard man to remove, and held on to a marginal seat for 27 years. He did so largely because he was an effective constituency Member of Parliament who was extremely popular with his constituents and worked hard on their behalf. Although he was a Tory, I give him all credit for that. If I can establish an equal reputation to Sir Andrew's with my constituents, I shall be well satisfied.

I want to refer also to my predecessor's predecessor, the late Dennis Hobden, who was the first Labour Member of Parliament in Sussex. He won in 1964 by seven votes after four recounts and, if the House will bear with me, I shall explain how it was done. Before the election, the Conservative agent spoke to one of our organisers and asked whether he thought it was safe for his man to go on holiday in case the election was called. Our lad said, "You are an agent. You know the last person you want around your feet when an election is called is the candidate. Let him go." Two days later, the election was called, and the banner headline appeared in the local Evening Argus: Tory MP hunts Loch Ness monster". He lost by seven votes. That is an election strategy which I should like to commend to Opposition Members for future use.

My constituency is fascinating. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) yesterday pointed out that the levels of unemployment and social deprivation in his inner-city constituency in Manchester made the Queen's Speech relevant, because it addressed those issues. He added that his constituents would be happy with it. Hon. Members will be familiar with the elegant Regency facades of my constituency, but they hide levels of unemployment and deprivation that are exactly comparable with Gorton. There are areas of my constituency where one household in two has no one working. Our unemployment is double the national average—just about comparable with the unemployment in Gorton.

It therefore came as no surprise, certainly to me, that as we conducted our triumphal tour of the constituency the day after the election, people were hanging out of office windows shouting and cheering. People were really happy: they were going around the supermarkets with a new spring in their step. It was as if a great black cloud had been lifted from the nation, because we no longer had a Government who told us what could not be done.

That was the substance of the speech that we heard this afternoon from the former Secretary of State for Social Security, the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). It was all about being negative—about saying, "You cannot do this; you have to suffer." Now people feel better, because they know that they have a Government who talk not about what they cannot do but about what they can do, and who will set about doing it. They will not be able to produce miracles at first—no one expects that—but they will make every honest attempt.

There was so much in the Queen's Speech. It really was radical. One could not imagine the Opposition producing anything as radical in their wildest nightmares.

There is high unemployment on the estates in one of the wards that I represent. Earlier this afternoon, there was some doubt about where Roedean was; I assure hon. Members that it is in my constituency, right next to—I believe—the third most socially deprived area in the country, where the effects of the windfall tax will really be felt. It will take young people off the dole, and put them into work or training for the first time.

Yes, we have problems of crime on our estates. That is not surprising: there are young people there who do not know what it means to have a job, because they have never had the opportunity of having one. Many of those young people will now have jobs. They will have a reason for getting up in the morning, and something to look forward to in life.

Brighton has another distinction—an unfortunate distinction. Along with Manchester, it is in the premier division in many respects, but not the ones that we would like. We would almost prefer the relegation of Brighton and Hove Albion to the levels of unemployment and deprivation that go with being in the premier division, along with some other inner-city constituencies. We have the highest level of homelessness outside certain London boroughs, and that is not funny. Walking around Brighton, we see just as many rough sleepers as can be seen in central London.

The ability to build again will make a significant contribution. That is only one part of the legislation proposed in the Queen's Speech, but it is a vital part. We must go back to building low-cost accommodation that people can afford. If we are to take people off the streets, we must have somewhere to put them. At present, we simply do not have the places in which to put all the people who come knocking on our doors. It is tragic to have such appalling housing conditions as exist in large parts of my constituency, and the legislation will be devoutly welcomed there.

My constituents will also devoutly welcome the other main topic covered by the Queen's Speech—improvements in the health service. We have heard considerable debate about the health service this evening. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was right to speak of the difficulty of obtaining an accurate picture of what is happening across the health service, and the real situation bequeathed to us by the former Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell). At present, we can do that only by collecting anecdotal data. I know the anecdotal data for my constituency, and they do not make pretty reading.

For instance, the chief executive of our local health care trust—the acute trust—has instructed surgeons not to treat anyone who has not been on the waiting list for at least 15 months for non-urgent surgery, except of course the patients of fundholding practices. In that case, it will depend on how generously funded the fundholding GP happens to feel at the time. It is not even a two-tier health service; it is a multi-tier health service, and "a lottery" is a very accurate description of it. The position is unacceptable, and we will abolish that lottery. Not only do we want equality of opportunity in education; we must have equality of opportunity when it comes to access to health care. That is probably old-fashioned socialism, but it is a principle—

Mr. Simon Hughes

We shall vote for it.

Mr. Turner

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I thought that he might. I believe that this is an area of common ground, on which we shall be happy to work.

It does not end there. Our health care trust has just closed a few wards—only a few, but they happen to be very important. They were highly specialist surgical wards dealing with specific types of cancer. The patients will now have to go to general surgical wards. The specialist teams have been broken up, and there is only one possible outcome: people will die, because their cancers—I am talking mainly about cancers of the colon and rectum—will not be diagnosed and treated as early as they might be. Those patients' chances of survival have been seriously impaired.

Is that the record bequeathed by a Government who proudly proclaimed that the health service was safe in their hands, and that they were continually spending more on the health service year on year? Why, then, are our health trusts in deficit? Why are they having to make damaging, life-threatening cuts? Only now are we able to find out just where the black holes in the health service are, and just what the truth is. It will be some time before we know what is needed for us to be able to deal with those black holes.

Believe me, it is a sorry inheritance that we have come into; but at least the people of Kemptown, and the people of Britain, now know that they have a Government who are committed to doing something about it. The first evidence is before us in the Queen's Speech—and as for all the doubts that we have heard from Opposition Members this afternoon, let us just wait a year and see what happens. That is the test.

7.8 pm

Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

I welcome you to your new elevated role, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do so with great pleasure—and it is also a delight to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Turner), which was of evidently high quality. It was fluent, delivered with the aid of hardly a note and most impressive in content and style. I am sure that the House will enjoy many more speeches from the hon. Gentleman in the not too distant future.

The hon. Gentleman paid a generous tribute to his predecessor, describing him as a hard act to remove; I am sure that he will also find him a hard act to follow, but his speech gives me confidence that he will succeed, and I wish him the best of luck.

I did not agree, however, with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), which was of the highest quality and aptly reflected the views of Conservative Members. The only sadness is that my right hon. Friend is not at present able to sit on the Government Benches, perhaps in a different position from the one that he held before, to continue in the work of fundamental reform that he conducted so ably in his Department over the past five years.

Several matters referred to in the Gracious Speech are of considerable interest to my constituents and reflect the concern that they expressed during the general election campaign about aspects of Labour party policy. For the sake of brevity, as I know that many hon. Members are waiting to speak, I shall refer to only two such matters.

The first matter concerns health. The Labour party has, to put it mildly, been difficult to pin down over the past few years on policy for capital provision for the health service, and the private finance initiative in particular. At first, the party appeared to favour the abolition of the PFI; then it moved to advocating a review; and the latest position appears to favour amending the PFI. Perhaps we shall hear later whether the party has decided to support the PFI.

Certainly, the reference in the Gracious Speech to the Bill that will clarify the legal position of NHS trusts seemed to suggest that the new Government are prepared to run with the PFI. I hope, in the interests of practicality, that that is the case and that there has been a conversion. Clarification on that point would be helpful, not for the purposes of theory—interesting though that is—but for good practical reasons. A great number of major hospital projects that are now on stream were put together under the PFI; many are ready to be signed off and simply await Treasury approval.

As a matter of simple responsibility, the Government owe it to the health trusts and to the people in those areas to give a clear indication as soon as possible of whether the schemes will survive, because if they are not signed off shortly, they will quickly lose their relevance and become impractical.

I have a local vested interest, as an excellent package has been put together, based on the PFI, for a new Bromley district general hospital. The project is at the point of being signed off and can go ahead if the Government are prepared to move rapidly; if they are not, the project in its current form will collapse and the people of my area will be deprived, at least for the near future, of a new hospital. That is an important matter for the future of health care in the area that I represent: the quality of that care depends on a new hospital, and there is no other way of overcoming the historical difficulties.

A tremendous amount of work has been done, and people at all levels—clinical staff, patients, future patients and administrators, who are often castigated but have in this case worked extremely hard to put the project together—need to know whether the project will work and can go ahead. At the very least, they need some assurance about whether the project's general basis, together with a timetable for the next few steps, will be accepted.

If that is not forthcoming, those in charge of the project will need to know whether the rug is to be pulled from under their feet and they are to be denied their new hospital, because they will then have to consider future plans, square it with the local population and explain that, unfortunately, the serious problems in the local NHS cannot be solved. I hope that the Government will have the sense not to follow that latter course, because if they do so, they will have some severe explaining to do to local people and will undoubtedly be blamed for delays in improving provision. I hope that the Government will respond to that point as early as possible, and preferably tonight.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) in an, as usual, interesting and thorough speech, referred to tobacco advertising and the health problems associated with tobacco. For a long time, I was against further restrictions on tobacco advertising. I formed that view as a result of the time that I spent working in the advertising industry.

I was not involved in tobacco advertising, but I became aware of the way in which advertising works and formed the view that controlling tobacco advertising has a smaller impact on consumption than is often fondly imagined. I have to an extent changed my position over the years, because I feel so strongly about the health aspects, and I am now more drawn towards an acceptance of a ban on tobacco advertising, as long as it is imposed in the clear understanding that it will not achieve the dramatic effects that many of those who argue in favour of it suggest, and as long as it is accompanied by other, in my view, more meaningful measures to restrict tobacco consumption.

In other words, if the ban is to be merely a gesture and an attempt to pretend that there is a genuine desire to reduce tobacco consumption, I do not consider it a convincing strategy, but if the Government can show that it is part of a coherent and serious drive to reduce consumption, I shall find it much more palatable. Reduction in consumption is much more important than mere gestures to appease those who argue in favour of a ban.

The second item that I want to talk about concerns education policy. I hope that the Secretary of State, who has already referred to the Greenwich judgment in response to an intervention from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, will be more specific on that subject. He said that he felt that a change in the law—the only way of reversing the Greenwich judgment—was unlikely. I wonder whether I could encourage him or one of the Ministers in his Department to be a little more specific and make it clear whether he is ruling out any primary legislation or is leaving the door open. The judgment cannot be taken any further through the court system, so primary legislation in this place would be needed to overturn it.

If the Secretary of State is not prepared to do that, is he saying effectively that he is not prepared to do anything to answer the legitimate and deeply felt concerns of my constituents about the fact that, in next year's secondary school admissions, a minimum of 804—that is the present figure—out-of-borough pupils will take school places in the London borough of Bromley, while 600 pupils in the borough do not have places in local schools? It is no longer a small issue. In my borough, it is a major issue that is causing parents severe stress. The problem must be sorted out one way or another. I hope that the Government realise the urgency of the effect of the Greenwich judgment.

I applaud the Government for their commitment to continue to improve education standards, which was a major element of the previous Government's policy. I welcome that, but I wonder how schools, parents, teachers and pupils will react if the impact of further changes is another major reorganisation that causes tremendous stress, dislocation and problems. There is a limit to the extent to which the structure of any large service, whether health or education, can be reorganised. The costs are not only financial but human and they affect the product—in this case, the quality of education.

The new Government will no doubt be motivated by zeal and by the desire to do new things and to prove themselves. I hope that they do not fall into the trap, into which Governments of all parties have fallen in the past, of rushing in believing that they have a new radical system that will make everything right. In rushing it into effect, they may find that they produce more problems than they solve. That is a danger for education, because teachers in particular have had to go through so much change in recent years. It was all intended for the best and I believe that most of it has been successful, but some of it has not been. For teachers to have to go through yet another change could prove counter-productive.

I especially hope that the Government will resist the temptation to use education as a political football and to introduce change for the sake of political dogma. I hope instead that they will err on the side of retaining stability in the system. The Government's approach to the assisted places scheme is a bad sign of what could happen, because I believe that the changes are based on political dogma. The Government will take away an education option from people in lower income brackets by depriving them of the opportunities offered by the scheme, which does not, as they sometimes argue, distort the system. Its abolition will not produce the funds that they pretend that it will. I am afraid that this is a bit of ideological spite, a mean-minded policy. It saddens me that they should want to pursue it, especially with the vigour that they intend. The people who will lose out will not be those whom the Government like to castigate as Tory voters, but will come from among their supporters and the groups that they pretend to champion.

Labour Members can perhaps be excused at present for feeling self-satisfied or even for gloating. I do not entirely blame them. Much of the thinking behind the Gracious Speech reflects that self-satisfaction. Nevertheless, the Government should even at this stage restrain themselves from thinking that they will have a free run. They should not underestimate the ability of my right hon. and hon. Friends to scrutinise everything that they propose in this Queen's Speech or will propose in subsequent ones, nor the inner resilience that undoubtedly exists in the Conservative party.

7.23 pm
Mr. Tom Levitt (High Peak)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I represent the most beautiful seat in Britain. I was going to claim that it was only the most beautiful seat in England, but I cannot see many Scottish or Welsh Members, so I think that I can claim Britain.

High Peak is in Derbyshire and takes in most of the Peak district as well as the historic towns of Buxton and Glossop and the land in between. We expected to scrape home in the seat, but having been returned with 51 per cent. of the vote, my belief in electoral reform has been shaken; perhaps it is not as necessary as I once thought. My election on 1 May completed the jigsaw for High Peak. We have a Labour borough council, a Labour county council, a Labour Member of the European Parliament and now a Labour Member of Parliament.

I mentioned Scotland a moment ago. High Peak has been described as Derbyshire's Scotland. It has hills, it is rather wet, it is in the north of the county and, since the county council elections, it has been a Tory-free zone. From that point of view, we have much to be proud of.

I am the first Labour Member since Peter Jackson to represent High Peak. He served from 1966 to 1970 and had a reputation in the House for having voted against the Labour Government more often than any other Labour Member in that period. I must tell my Front-Bench colleagues that that is not a reputation that I intend to match or surpass. I was proud to stand on the Labour manifesto. I am proud to have fought on Labour manifestos in three general elections. I will be proud to continue to work for the implementation of that Labour manifesto in the years to come.

Someone once said that people should not trust politicians with more than three passions. My three chosen passions are all relevant to the Queen's Speech. The first is disability. I have not been able to take up one parliamentary tip which I picked up yesterday by producing my book and saying how I had written it and how excellent it was. Suffice it to say that I hope to make progress on access to services for people with sensory impairments. My second field is local government. I served at parish, district and county level before coming here. Thirdly, there is education. I was a teacher for 17 years and I shall return to that issue.

There is one aspect of my past that I would like to celebrate. During the 1980s, I was both a parliamentary and European parliamentary candidate in Gloucestershire and actively involved in the campaign for the restoration of trade union rights at GCHQ. It gives me immense pride to make my maiden speech on the day those rights were restored.

My immediate predecessor in High Peak was Charles Hendry, who was, and may still be, a vice-chair of the Tory party with responsibility for communications. Perhaps the less said about that, the better. He looked after High Peak competently for five years. I congratulate him on not having taken the chicken run, as many of his colleagues did. He spent most of his career in the House, either advising Ministers or working for Tory central office. Having achieved the position of Member of Parliament, to lose it after five years must, I concede, have been a devastating personal blow. My best wishes go to him and his young family in finding another career.

In Charles's final speech to the House just a few weeks ago, he invited hon. Members to come with him on an imaginary helicopter ride to see some of the examples of Tory success. It was by its nature a brief ride, but I would like to take hon. Members on a similar ride to look at some of the schools in High Peak and ask what we mean by "Tory success".

Let us start in the village of Tideswell, which has a large primary school where no child is taught in a class of less than 30. If we go to the town of Buxton, we can go one better. There is a reception class with 46 children in it. Still in Buxton, High Peak college is the only provider of further education in the constituency. It has fought hard to stay open recently. It has a purpose-built nursery, which is empty because the college can no longer afford to run it for the benefit of the students for whom it was intended. In the village of Whaley Bridge, an excellent private nursery is in danger of closing because it does not accept vouchers. Because of the short period for which people send their children to the nursery, vouchers are not appropriate for the style of nursery provision that it provides and it fears that it cannot survive.

A couple of miles away, at Taxal and Fernilee primary school, which was purpose-built by Derbyshire county council and the Church authorities working together just a few years ago, parents launched a £25,000 fund last weekend to build an extension to one of the classrooms because of severe overcrowding. It seems that the days are gone when parents were asked to provide the extras, not the essentials, for our children's education.

Dinting school in Glossop is an example of a school that is bursting at the seams. It must be impossible to teach there effectively, given the conditions and overcrowding. The fact that Hope valley is the most beautiful part of High Peak does not help Bamford primary school, which must lose one of its five teachers this summer. That will necessitate mixed-age classes and have a devastating effect on the confidence of staff and children in the school. My heart goes out to them.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was visiting the village of Castleton during the election campaign, the local primary school was proud to be opening its first indoor toilet for use. For how many years had it been waiting to do that?

The final school on my list is Chapel infants school, Chapel-en-le-Frith, which was built in Victorian times. Despite its being a good school, the Victorian buildings are not in good repair. Not only are the classrooms too small, but right next to the school is a busy main road. Some 100 yd down that main road on the opposite side is another playground with the other half of the infant school. In the playground are four "temporary" classrooms—they were temporary when they were put there 45 years ago. Their roofs are held up by pit props, among the 700 pit props holding up roofs in Derbyshire schools. The fabric of that school is a disgrace, while the practice in its classrooms is excellent. The teachers in all the schools that I have mentioned do a wonderful job, given the highly undignified circumstances in which many of them and their pupils work.

It is no wonder that we have such problems in Derbyshire schools. Of all the shire counties, Derbyshire had the third lowest standard spending assessment for education under the previous Government. It has a £100 million backlog on capital spending, £10 million of which is urgently required. Last year, the previous Government allowed Derbyshire to spend some £800,000, or 0.8 per cent.—less than 1 per cent.—of the capital building requirement. The authority was asking not for money from the Government but for permission to borrow. Without that, it was impossible for the authority to address even the most serious of the capital and physical problems in the buildings which had to be put right.

One could guess from my description that Derbyshire has the highest primary class sizes of any shire county in the country. That is the Tory inheritance, in terms of education in Derbyshire and schools in High Peak. That is the legacy that we must turn round and put right, and that is how the last Government failed the people of High Peak.

During the election campaign, education was one of the major issues raised on every doorstep of every family with children. It is where the last Government failed and where the new Government, uniquely, will succeed. We shall succeed, because our priorities, especially the priority of education, have been set by the people. We have not imposed our agenda from outside; it has come from the doorsteps and classrooms of High Peak and beyond. The education of our children is our first priority. Our children have only one chance and this Government will give that chance to our children.

7.34 pm
Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

It is my pleasant first obligation to welcome you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the Chair and to congratulate you on your appointment. It is a great pleasure to see a friendly and a skilful face in the Chair and we look forward to your wise counsel prevailing over us for many years to come.

It is also a privilege to follow yet another fine maiden speech. I may have disagreed with the content and argument put forward in it, but it was another example of an articulate and skilfully argued speech, which put some older hon. Members to shame. I have considerably more notes in my hand than the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt), and I congratulate him on his fine speech and wish him a successful and happy period in the House. He should not take it personally if I say that I hope that he will not stay too long.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman paid a generous tribute to his predecessor, Charles Hendry. This is the sort of debate in which Charles would have wished to speak. He was committed to the welfare of everyone in our country, as all Conservative Members are. His passionate work for the homeless in the all-party homelessness group bears testimony to his sense of compassion and concern. He will be sadly missed in the House for his expression of the authentic voice of one-nation Toryism.

As far as I could see, the Gracious Speech was a strange mixture of soundbite politics, dogma and a limited dose of common sense. Tonight, I shall concentrate on the dogma that characterised too much of the Queen's Speech. First, I refer to the words of an earlier Member of the House, Mr. Edmund Burke. The Edmund Burke Society kindly sent every Member of the House a copy of his speech to the electors of Bristol of November 1774—more than 200 years ago. It made terrifying reading in terms of the illumination that it offered to the Government's programme and our general political situation because it was so deeply contemporary. I wonder whether Edmund Burke was prophesying the behaviour of the Minister without Portfolio, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), or perhaps the Prime Minister, when he said: To be a good member of parliament, is, let me tell you, no easy task; especially at this time, when there is so strong a disposition to run into the perilous extremes of servile compliance or wild popularity. I wonder whether he was foreseeing the regrettable arrogance that is creeping into the Labour party's treatment of this place and its rush to overpopular legislation when he said: government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide". Were you not now on the other side, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would agree that those are strangely prescient words. I am sure that, in your previous incarnation, you would have agreed.

Unemployment is, rightly, a matter that concerns the new Government. I would have been more appreciative of their concern had they paid fuller tribute to the previous Government's achievements in that regard. After all, this economy has the lowest unemployment of any major European economy. That happened not by accident but as a result of Government policies. I am staggered by the scale of the reduction in my constituency. Library figures show that, over the past year, unemployment in Mid-Worcestershire fell by 34.7 per cent. to 1,240—a reduction of 660 compared with just a year ago. I welcome the huge reductions that have taken place. However, it is staggering that the Government's attachment to a number of dogmatic principles means that they are probably the first in British political history to come to this House with a Gracious Speech that makes pledges to the people of this country that will increase unemployment, for that is the direct effect of three of their pledges.

The first is the windfall tax, which cannot be paid out of some pot of gold that will do no harm to the rest of the economy. It will be paid for in one of three ways. First, it may be paid for through increased prices for the products of those utilities that must eventually bear that tax. Secondly, it may come out of reduced investment, which will cut employment in the capital goods sector. Thirdly, it may come out of the dividends that would otherwise go to those who hold the shares—the pension funds. In fact, ordinary people will pay the price one way or the other. I suspect that one major impact of that tax will be its effect on unemployment because of the reduction in capital spending by those utilities.

The windfall tax is but one of three pledges in the Queen's Speech that will increase unemployment. Another is the pledge on the national minimum wage. The Deputy Prime Minister has admitted that any damn fool knows that that will cause some kind of shake-out in employment. There it is—an unemployment-increasing pledge at the heart of the Queen's Speech.

The most bizarre and extraordinary pledge is that on the opt-in to the social chapter. We have all the evidence in the world from German and French industrialists and international commentators that our opt-out from the social chapter made us a unique magnet within the European Union for inward investment. It is clear that that opt-out was crucial to maintaining that high investment. We now read a bizarre oxymoron in the Queen's Speech, which promises to "improve competitiveness", yet in the same sentence promises that we will opt into the Social Chapter". That is simply untenable. The opt-in to the social chapter will inevitably increase unemployment. It is another example of dogma triumphing over reason.

I am afraid that the Government have again fallen prey to dogma in relation to the health service. In my county of Worcestershire, 85 per cent. of the county's general practitioners are now fundholders. That offers enormous benefits, not just to the 85 per cent. of patients in those fundholding practices but to the other 15 per cent., because that initiative has improved the quality of health care across the national health service. It has levelled up and not levelled down the quality of health care available to all my constituents. As so often in the past, that difference represents the crucial distinction between the two sides of the House.

There are two fundholding practices and one non-fundholding practice in the town of Droitwich Spa. Those GPs have adopted imaginative approaches, including taking advantage of improvements in technology, to produce a dramatic improvement in the quality of health care available locally. All that will be put at risk by the Government's dogmatic insistence on overturning fundholding and replacing it with some kind of meddling commissioning group. I do not know what such groups will be like—we may hear about that later today or in the next few weeks. It is clear, however, that they will be quangos—the great enemy that was attacked a little while ago by the Labour party.

It is obvious that fundholding puts the power where it should be—in the hands of the general practitioner, the man or woman who knows what his or her patients need. Fundholding represents a profoundly democratic approach; by abolishing it, the Government will reduce the level of democracy in the NHS, not increase it.

I love the story about the old days before our reforms when GPs used to send Christmas cards to the consultants at hospitals because they desperately needed their good favour if they were to get their patients treated. There was a two-tier health service then—whether a GP's patients got on to a consultant's list depended on how well that GP got on with the consultant. It was a matter of who one knew and how one could work the system. That two-tier health service has been swept away by fundholding. Instead, the consultants now send Christmas cards to GPs because they want their custom, favour and patients to treat. That is a wonderful illustration of the reversal of power within the NHS, but the Government are dogmatically seeking to overturn that. Fundholding means decentralising, but the Government are set upon recentralising. That is profoundly regrettable.

Before I return to my theme about dogma in the Queen's Speech, I must pause to pay tribute to one of the more sensible measures in it. I am absolutely delighted that it includes a commitment to introduce a Bill to clarify the relationship between NHS trusts and the private sector in terms of the provision of capital for new hospital building.

I have a special relationship with the new Minister of State at the Department of Health, the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Ms Jowell), because she is my pair. That relationship was put in some jeopardy when she descended on Worcester unannounced in the run-up to the election. She made certain statements about the local hospital, but I will forgive and forget that particular lapse.

As the hon. Lady will know, the proposed new hospital in Worcester lies outside my new constituency, but it will serve all my constituents. That building project is at a crucial, advanced stage. The consortium that wants to build that hospital places great importance on the proposed Bill. I thank the Government sincerely for picking up a piece of legislation that was developed by the current Secretary of State's predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), which would have featured in our own Queen's Speech. I am aware that my right hon. Friend, the NHS generally, the health authority and the trust have done a huge amount of work to bring the new hospital building to fruition at last. I am delighted that the final obstacle—the lack of clarity concerning the relationship between the private sector and NHS trusts—will be swept aside.

I am still concerned that the hon. Lady was unable to answer some of the direct questions that I put to her after her visit about that hospital project. For example, I asked whether she would sweep aside the apparently strong opposition of the union in Worcester to the development of a hospital that used private capital. She failed to say whether the consortium that had been accepted to build the hospital was undoubtedly acceptable to the Labour party.

I am still unclear about the status of the review of the private finance initiative. Will that review last for days, weeks or months? How will it relate to the Bill referred to in the Queen's Speech? I sincerely hope that all those obstacles are removed. If they are, I shall be the first to express my gratitude to the Labour party for picking up our policy and running with it to ensure that that new hospital is at last delivered to the people of Worcestershire.

Some of the most worrying dogma in the Queen's Speech relates to education. In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), I should like to refer particularly to the assisted places scheme. It is right that I should declare a limited interest, because both my children attend schools that award assisted places, although they are not beneficiaries of them.

When I knocked on doors during the election campaign, I was struck by the extraordinarily large number of people whose children were in receipt of assisted places. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham has said, such parents come from ordinary backgrounds. We are not talking about rich kids getting an unfair subsidy at the expense of poor deprived children in inner-city areas. Those children come from less well-off families who, for one reason or another, have concluded that the education offered at an independent school is appropriate for their children. I see no reason why that perfectly legitimate choice should be denied to those parents.

The parrot cry we get from the Labour party is that the assisted places scheme subsidises private schools. That is absolute nonsense. They will survive perfectly comfortably without the assisted places scheme, but they will lose some of that cultural diversity and mix of socio-economic backgrounds that make them more vibrant and less elitist. I bitterly regret the fact that, because of the Labour party's dogmatic assertion that that scheme is equivalent to a subsidy to such schools, we will lose that scheme.

Four schools in my area of Worcestershire benefit from assisted places. Two of them were state schools—the Worcester Royal grammar school, and King's school, which is direct grant. They became independent because they did not want to go comprehensive. Most of the children at those schools would otherwise have been educated at the state's expense, but many parents have found the resources to send their children to those schools because the schools have maintained their reputation for excellence. The fact that quite a large number of children attend Worcester Royal grammar school on assisted places is something that we should welcome, because the scheme has maintained access to that school for children from less well-off backgrounds. I am absolutely delighted about that, particularly because those four schools are the only ones in that part of Worcestershire that offer sixth forms. Those who live near Worcester who want to send their children to a sixth form must opt for the private independent sector. Under the state system, one is forced into the tertiary sector, which many parents do not like. I, too, prefer sixth forms in schools.

The assisted places scheme has extended choice and broken down barriers. To me, that is entirely in line with the spirit that the Prime Minister seems to wish to claim that he has set before the British people both in the manifesto on which he won the election and in the Gracious Speech. I am extremely surprised at his insistence on pursuing the dogmatic policy to abolish assisted places.

As for the arithmetic behind the abolition of the assisted places scheme and the pledge to reduce class sizes in primary schools, I would be tempted to describe that with an unparliamentary word. You would call me to account, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I used the word that I would like to use. I do not know whether you will allow me to say that it is deliberately misleading—that expression may also be a little tendentious and I may have to withdraw it, but that is what I feel about the estimate.

The abolition of the assisted places scheme will save a pittance. In one respect, I am glad that it is to be phased out over seven years, but that means that the pittance that it does save will become available only very slowly. The estimate that I heard my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition use yesterday was that an extra £250 million would be required to meet the pledge on primary school sizes. That is a huge sum of money over and above the money from the abolition of the assisted places scheme.

I was intrigued by the arithmetic of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) when he made his remarks yesterday—and Hansard has done him an even greater injustice. According to Hansard, he says that £2,250 million will go to assisted places at three schools in his constituency, benefiting 95 of his constituents. If that were right, it would mean that the figure per child would be £23.7 million, so that is probably not the figure. I think that he said that £2.25 million would benefit 95 children. Unless my calculator has let me down, that means £23,700 per child. I do not believe that figure either, because I am not aware of any schools in the country that charge £23,700 per ear—£13,000 is a pretty healthy whack to pay for a private school, and schools in Worcester charge a fraction of that.

I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman has got his figures wrong by an order of magnitude and the cost per child of the assisted places scheme in his constituency is in the order of £2,300. That fact is important because, according to figures provided by the Audit Commission, the 1995–96 figure for spending per secondary school pupil in metropolitan council areas averages £2,194—so it will save about £100 per child on average. The figures for expenditure in Manchester show that it spends above the average. It is difficult to tell from the table what the exact amount is, but it is probably about £2,300 or £2,400. Therefore, if the figures are right, the abolition of the assisted places scheme in Manchester could cost the people of Manchester money because the children who would have replaced pupils with assisted places in later years will not be able to afford to go to those independent schools; they will return to the state sector, where they will have to be paid for at that rate. Therefore, the policy could cost money, not save money, in Manchester.

Savings around the country will be very modest—nugatory even. The average cost of the assisted places scheme, including the most expensive schools, is only £3,800 per pupil. We are therefore looking at small savings to fuel a regrettable sense of dogma on the part of the Labour party.

That same label of dogma applies to the abolition of the nursery voucher scheme. It is a difficult subject; I fully agree that the policy has not had the effect intended, but that is no fault of the previous Government. It is the fault of county councils up and down the country that have set about amending their entrance policies to schools deliberately to ensure that they can maximise their revenue from the nursery voucher scheme at the cost of the pre-school playgroups and the private nursery schools. They have sought to shuffle off the blame on to the Government in a very skilful public relations exercise mounted by the burgeoning PR departments of Labour and Liberal Democrat-controlled county councils. It will not do.

I understand that in Wandsworth, where there is a Conservative-controlled local education authority, pre-school playgroup provision has increased since the introduction of nursery vouchers. The authority was determined to use the scheme to produce choice and diversity. Here we see the true Labour colours: an absolute obsession with obtaining a monopoly of state provision for public services. That is what the Labour party wants and that is what it seeks to achieve.

I fully admit that the Conservative party underestimated the passionate desire of Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians to get their hands on the monopoly of public provision. We underestimated the deviousness that they would use to squeeze the pre-school playgroups out of existence, so perhaps we must bear a share of the blame for the tragedy that is unfolding in too many areas of the country.

I visited several pre-school playgroups in Mid-Worcestershire and watched the difficulties that they face. But I blame no one but the politicians at county hall: it is they who set out on this mischievous path. I sincerely hope that the Government can be persuaded to think again about nursery vouchers. The Government should not abolish them, but should encourage Labour colleagues who run the local education authorities to use the vouchers constructively to produce the choice and diversity that parents want.

Yesterday, we heard the Prime Minister's traditional claim that education was his priority. Why has he not been saying that to the Labour local education authorities the length and breadth of the country? It is they who bear the heavy burden of blame for failure, particularly in our inner-city areas. It is no coincidence that Islington comes at the bottom of the pile and is the worst of all the local education authorities. We know the Prime Minister's response to that problem for his own family. I do not blame him for doing what he did; he made the right decision, faced with the appalling disaster that is Islington's education. But it is the Labour party's fault that education is so bad in Islington. It is a cheek for the Labour party, having failed so many generations of children, now to say that education is its priority. I suppose that one should rejoice over a death-bed conversion—that at last the Labour party has seen the light—but it is a bit late when so many children have paid the price for the Labour party's failure.

Another example of dogma guiding education policy in the Queen's Speech is the effective abolition of grant-maintained schools. There are weasel words about developing

a new role for local education authorities and parents and establishing a new framework for the decentralised and equitable organisation of schools". Those are wonderful words, but what do they actually mean? They mean taking power away from parents, governors and teachers and giving them to politicians and bureaucrats instead. In the process, funding for grant-maintained schools such as Flyford Flavell first school in my area or Prince Henry's high school will be cut. That is a scandal and I urge the Government to think again.

I have one final point, on a more optimistic note, to make on education. The Gracious Speech mentions the review of higher education that Sir Ron Dearing has been conducting. I have high hopes for that review in relation to dance and drama students, but I understand from talking to the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), that I may be disappointed. I hope that the Government will look in detail at the Dearing review and consider the future for the funding of higher education, which is a difficult issue for any Government to grapple with. The Labour party has been more honest about the problems that they will face over this issue than it has been over other matters. If the Dearing report does not deal with the problems of dance and drama students who rely on discretionary awards from their local education authorities to receive the training they deserve, I hope that the Government will set up their own review to address the problem.

Dance and drama students have received a better deal now thanks to lobbying by myself and others. I pay particular tribute to lain Sproat, the former Minister of State at the Department of National Heritage, who did so much work to drive the policy forward. We now have a three-year interim scheme of which some local education authorities are taking advantage. Unless there is a more whole-hearted review of dance and drama training and its funding, I fear that we will lose a generation of dancers and actors; that will have huge implications for our theatrical life, our cultural life and our economy. Dancers and actors make a vital contribution to this country's economy, particularly tourism. I hope that the funding of dance and drama training will feature in the Government's programme if the Dearing report does not deal with the matter effectively.

I have talked for longer than I intended, for which I apologise, but I feel passionately about the errors, faults and dogma of the Queen's Speech. I am deeply depressed to see the Government pressing ahead in such a mean-minded way on so many fronts. Other issues concern me that are equally dogmatic and worrying, for example the break-up of the United Kingdom, which is threatened by the constitutional measures contained within the Queen's Speech. It is interesting to note that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has just entered the Chamber—the West Lothian question remains unanswered after all these years. On this subject, the Queen's Speech shows a dogmatic pursuit of something that will damage this country. That is what I see in the Queen's Speech, which is not what I hoped for. It is not a one-nation speech, but a dangerous speech. We Conservatives must fight it all the way.

7.58 pm
Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)

First, I thank the people of Harrow, East for returning me as their Member of Parliament. I start my first speech in the Chamber with a hint of sadness. I should not be here this evening; I should be in the civic centre in Harrow carrying out the happy task of proposing a fellow Labour councillor to be the first Labour mayor of Harrow for some time. That meeting has, sadly, had to be cancelled because, yesterday morning, the incumbent mayor of Harrow, Councillor Alan Hamlin, an Independent Ratepayer, was found dead. We have therefore had to cancel the annual council meeting as a mark of respect. It is, therefore, with a hint of sadness that I rise to make my maiden speech tonight.

Councillor Hamlin was a councillor in Harrow—as I said, as an Independent Ratepayer—for close on 20 years and he had a profound interest, both professionally and politically, in education. It is therefore appropriate that that subject will be the dominant theme of my maiden speech. He will be sadly missed, both by my constituents and by his own.

Not only because it is traditional, but because I would choose to do so anyway, I want to pay some respect to the former Member of Parliament for Harrow, East, my predecessor Mr. Hugh Dykes. He served Harrow, East and its predecessor seats for some 27 years and did so in a hard-working fashion, with the interests of his constituents uppermost in his mind. He put forth his views in a forthright manner and I am bound to say that he was neither the most enthusiastic, nor perhaps the most comfortable, Government Back Bencher over the past 18 years. He probably sees much that he would commend to the House, were he here, in the current Queen's Speech. He probably finds more in it to support than he found in Queen's Speeches during his 18 years as a Government Back Bencher under the Conservatives. I reiterate that I wish him all the best in future and repeat my sincere tribute to him. It is not often that one gets a chance to pay tribute to 27 years of public service. Whether for our party or for other parties, such service is worthy of respect.

I should also like to pay tribute to Roy Roebuck, who was Member of Parliament for Harrow, East from 1966 to 1970. I hear, although I have not spoken to Roy recently, that he was as surprised to find himself in the 1966 intake as many of the 1997 Labour intake are. A gentleman called Mr. Skinnard represented Labour in Harrow as part of the 1945 landslide, and I want to pay tribute to him as well.

I am sure the House will understand if I stop paying tribute to my predecessors at that point. One has to go back to 1924 to find the previous Labour Member of Parliament for what was then the urban district of Harrow: that gentleman spent about six months on the Labour Benches before toddling off to found his own various parties. He ended up in the British Union of Fascists, so I shall not pay tribute to Oswald Mosley as one of my predecessors as a Labour Member of Parliament, albeit a temporary one, for the seat of Harrow.

Harrow, East consists of many areas such as Wealdstone, Harrow Weald, Kenton and Stanmore, as well as Harrow town centre. I shall certainly be reminding the House of those areas in years to come. It contains a rich and diverse ethnic mixture and has significant Asian, Irish and Jewish communities, all of whose vibrancy and social and cultural life I shall seek to enjoy far more in the years to come than I have done until now. The people of those communities will welcome all that is in the Queen's Speech, especially the emphasis on education.

Harrow has—and this is not a complacent remark—excellent schools. By any criteria, even value-added, Harrow has consistently emerged as one of the most effective and best performing local education authorities in the country. It has that reputation for excellent performance because of a cross-party wedding to the notion and ethos of comprehensive education. Harrow is, without doubt, the best comprehensive local education authority in the country.

Any authority that has beaten Harrow in any measure of performance has done so with swathes of grant-maintained, independent and other types of school. Harrow has but one small Catholic high school that has opted out; all the rest have stayed within the fold. Harrow has excellent first and middle schools, excellent high schools and a vibrant Catholic sector. Next year, we welcome the first Jewish first and middle school in the area, which reflects the needs of that community. During my time in the House I shall do all I can to represent the interests of all those schools as effectively as possible.

Sadly, the notion of comprehensive education and the cross-party nature of the support for it ended this year. It takes no skin off my nose to pay tribute to previous Conservative administrations on Harrow council and to the hung council that continued until this year for their cross-party support for education. Indeed, on at least two or three occasions in recent years, councils such as Wandsworth, which are run by groups more right wing than the Conservative group in Harrow ever was, have chastised Harrow council for not pulling its finger out, getting more schools to opt out and going even further down the road of voluntary contracting out and other such policies. I happily pay tribute to Harrow Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour representatives for, until this year, sharing a cross-party vision of education.

I say until this year because, this year, the Liberal Democrats decided that, whatever noises their party was making nationally about putting a penny on this and a penny on that to pay for education, they thought it appropriate locally to slash some £6 million off the education budget, which was already well overstretched. The consequences are unfolding at this very moment as we approach the end of the school year, with compulsory redundancies among teachers and severe difficulties for all the schools.

As I said, the people of Harrow, East will welcome the emphasis on education in the Queen's Speech. Although our schools are effective and successful, more than 32 per cent. of our five, six and seven-year-olds are still taught in classes of significantly more than 30. Even if it is dogmatic, we should make no apologies for shifting resources from the privileged few on assisted places to the many. That is especially welcome—it is certainly long overdue.

Measures to raise standards are also welcome. The education community wants an end to what might be described as the mindless rhetoric of the blame and shame culture that has developed in recent years, whereby children's successes are ridiculed and their failures condemned in hopelessly simplistic terms and our teachers are at best patronised and at worst—and all too often—demonised. The education community in Harrow, East and everywhere else wants to work within a robust, critical but supportive partnership with the new Government in their plan to raise and sustain standards and energise the teaching profession. The education community welcomes an end to the demonisation of the teaching profession and the recognition of its integrity and its will to work with the Government to improve both standards and effectiveness.

Local education authorities, including Harrow, will be pleased to be afforded a new and stronger role in education. They will also welcome the clarification of their role and the review and development of specific plans and targets. It is absolutely right that the Government look to LEAs as the key agency to secure improvements in the standards and effectiveness of our schools by working with our schools—not, as Conservative Members have said, by unleashing the town or county hall bureaucrats. LEAs, working with the Government and all those involved in education, can sustain the drive for higher targets and achievement in education. LEAs can offer support, challenges and assistance to schools and the Government as all work together in a consensual partnership to secure higher standards.

However, LEAs will also recognise that, with some enhancement of their power and responsibilities, comes public accountability. It is right that LEAs should be reviewed and held to account. Some LEAs already recognise that; others are learning to do so. Work on LEA review has already been carried out in areas such as Kirklees and Staffordshire. Although those attempts are modest and require much more development, they represent steps in the right direction. The Association of Chief Education Officers is developing a framework for external review that should inform the Government's own work on that part of the second education Bill, to the benefit of all concerned.

At the root of the Queen's Speech is the idea that all the key players should work together with a degree of vision and direction so as to increase effectiveness and improve standards. Let us have a full review of local education authorities and their development plans within a robust, fair and supportive framework. Equally, let us have some clarity about the roles that the Office for Standards in Education and the Audit Commission will play in that review process. I believe that the Audit Commission has far more experience of such review processes, a better track record and perhaps greater integrity. It should lead those processes rather than Ofsted because Ofsted's experience is wholly different.

We should also evaluate the relationship between externally moderated reviews on a statutory basis and the continuing internal review processes which more advanced local education authorities have already carried out. As public bodies, LEAs can and, I believe, will, in the spirit of partnership, welcome such scrutiny and will, to cite a popular phrase, recognise that with the crown come the thorns—that an enhanced role brings with it enhanced responsibilities for which the LEA will be held to account. If it fails, and thus fails our children, the Government have made it clear that they will not hesitate to intervene directly. I am sure, however, that the Government will spell out clearly what is expected of LEAs and the mechanisms by which they will be held to account before any intervention by hit squads or Government teams. Responsibility is without doubt a two-way street.

Equally, the education community in Harrow, East will welcome the developing notion of a fresh start for failing schools, but I issue a word of warning—let us assess the current situation and not isolate any school, failing or otherwise, for immediate closure and fresh start treatment. Let us first work with all those in the education community to put in place the criteria for measuring any lack of effectiveness and to establish some clarity in the definition of schools that need fresh starts, of which there are undoubtedly a number.

The last thing that anyone working in education needs is lack of clarity, hobnail boots and precipitate action born of an absence of criteria and evidence. That was the approach taken by the Conservatives when they were in power. I know that the Government will not introduce any education measures in that way or indulge in cheap political stunts that impinge on children's education, as the previous Government did so readily. This will be a Government for education and we will remember above all that we are here to serve and build consensus among all those involved in the provision of education because we owe our children no less.

My constituents will also look forward to developing policy on post-16 provision and to a positive response to proposals outlined by Dearing as significant numbers of young people in Harrow, East go on to further and higher education. Education matters to my constituents, and pupils, teachers, head teachers and parents will be delighted that the Government have emphasised from the very start that education is a key priority. Education must matter for all our futures. For this Government, education will matter because pupils matter. The education community will welcome the shift from empty rhetoric to focused action and policies that will work and which involve the professionals who seek to do so much for our children.

The people of Harrow, East will welcome the commitment to a referendum on a directly elected authority for London. My constituency has a significant Irish population and we shall therefore welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to finding a real and lasting peace in Northern Ireland. I have family and friends throughout Ireland and roots in County Donegal, so I share that welcome and wish the Government well in their endeavours.

Finally, I say thank you again to the people of Harrow, East for the privilege of being elected to the august position of their Member of Parliament. I shall represent them as best I can. I shall certainly attempt to be in the House for at least as long as my predecessor and ensure that Harrow, East enjoys all the benefits of a radical, reforming new Labour Government who care for people and put them first. We are indeed the servants, not the masters.

Although over the past six weeks I have grown to detest the song, I really believe that from now on, things can only get better. I look forward to playing a full role in the Government's legislative programme and fully support the proposals outlined in the Queen's Speech. We shall never become as complacent or detached from people as the previous Government did, or become as bloated with arrogance and indifference as they did over the past 18 years—and, indeed, as they have shown themselves to be in defeat.

I look forward to serving my constituents well in the next five years. One way to do that is fully to support the education proposals in the Queen's Speech—my constituents will expect no less. I must emphasise what a pleasure it will be to support from the Back Benches a Government who have ensured that politics matter again because, as the Queen's Speech shows, for this Government people matter again.

8.14 pm
Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree)

I believe that it is the tradition to compliment an hon. Member on making his maiden speech. This is in effect a double maiden, but I nevertheless compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) on a speech which is sure to overshadow mine. I studied it with great interest to see whether I could pick up on certain points.

I am proud to represent the county division of Braintree in Essex. At one time, my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) was the sole Labour Member for the county of Essex, but we have multiplied that figure a number of times—I believe that there are now six of us.

It is not only a matter of tradition but a personal wish that I pay tribute to my predecessor, Tony Newton, the former Leader of the House. Hon. Members will not be surprised to learn that he was very highly regarded in the constituency or that the election campaign in Braintree was clean and straightforward. I shall certainly convey to my constituents the fact that Tony Newton was clearly held in high regard in the House. He served the constituency for 23 years. It is some consolation to me that, when he was first elected in 1974, he had a smaller majority than I have. For various reasons, not least his own effort, he increased that majority to 17,000 at one point. I therefore look with hope to the future.

I must also mention some other previous illustrious representatives of the Braintree division. One who will spring to the mind of older Members is Mr. Tom Driberg, who represented the division between 1942 and 1955 when it was joined with Maldon. Of course, he was first elected in a wartime by-election as an Independent. Come the 1945 election, he was given the choice—in the Maldon Labour hall, I believe—of taking the Labour ticket or not. Tom Driberg took the obvious course. He took the Labour candidature and went on to represent the constituency for a further 10 years. To this day, he is remembered in virtually every small hamlet and nook and cranny of what is a widespread division, even though it is some 42 years since he represented the constituency.

Another name that I must mention is that of Sir Valentine Crittall, who had the honour of being the first Essex Labour Member of Parliament elected outside the London area since 1923. His name is linked with window frames; his family firm was a major industry in the constituency, especially in the model village of Silver End.

It may come as a surprise to hon. Members that I mention a Mr. R. A. Butler, who represented two villages in my division, Earls Colne and Gosfield. Conservative Members will remember that he twice failed to become the leader of the Conservative party. I fear that he might have had just as much difficulty in doing so were he here today. However, Mr. Butler is still well regarded by Labour voters in that part of the constituency, even after such a long time.

For hon. Members who are not familiar with real Essex—central and north Essex—I should point out that the constituency of Braintree includes not only the town of Braintree, which would be good enough in itself, but Witham and Bocking. They are mediaeval wool towns. The area is surrounded by approximately 40 villages and hamlets of various sizes—Kelvedon and Coggeshall are among the larger, while Rotten End is a mere hamlet with only a few residents.

Industry provided the backbone of the towns of Braintree and Bocking, which were surrounded by agriculture. It is tragic to see the changes that have occurred since 30 or 40 years ago; old photographs show the market squares of those towns full of men and women coming home from work. Full employment was universally understood in those days to be a normal part of our system. In my constituency, we have lost many major employers, some of which will be familiar even to those who do not know my part of Essex well: Coulthard, Lake and Elliott, Hunt and Crittall. All these have either vanished or been reduced to shadows of their former selves. It is easy to imagine the effects on local employment, especially when one bears in mind the fact that employment on the land has also been in decline. Agriculture was still a major employer in the constituency as recently as 25 or 30 years ago.

This explains why my constituents are most interested in the new Government's welfare-to-work proposals. Indeed, the logical centrepiece of our whole programme is welfare to work. We have heard Conservative Members today discussing the perceived inequities of taxing the profits of the public utilities, but I can assure them that my constituents will welcome the money being channelled into employment and training—initially for young people, but I trust that in the longer term the programme will generate wider successes.

I want to end on a local matter. I am sure that my constituents will have been encouraged to hear of the review of hospital provision in London, and to read the report that appeared in The Guardian today which stated that large, centralised hospitals are not necessarily the answer to medical need. It may already be too late; we may have already passed midnight—I make no reference here to darkness—but I would ask those responsible for health to consider Black Notley hospital. It may not be at the forefront of their minds at present, but that hospital outside Braintree has a long history and has been greatly valued in the constituency. The health authority has scheduled it for closure, and planning permission has been obtained, as so often happens I am sorry to say, to redevelop the site for gain. The priority seems to be selling houses as opposed to providing local facilities.

I hope that, even at this late stage, some consideration may be given to maintaining medical facilities at the site, to serve not just the town of Braintree, but the surrounding villages.

I know that my constituents will overwhelmingly commend all parts of the Government's programme. I am very proud and pleased to be their Member of Parliament at this great moment in our nation's history, and to serve and support the new Government.

8.22 pm
Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood)

I begin by congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your election to your post. I look forward to being able to address the House on a number of future occasions under your auspices.

One thing strikes me immediately as I rise to wind up this debate on education, employment and the national health service. The Prime Minister has made great virtue of the fact that new Labour Members have been sent to this place to work. Quite a few of them seem, however, to have gone home to dinner this evening. I find it surprising on the first main day of the Queen's Speech debate that there should be such difficulty keeping the debate going to fill the allotted time. Clearly, more than 200 new Labour Members this evening have preferred to eat new Labour dinners than to come here and debate education, which the Prime Minister regards as his first priority, and employment, which I would expect to be a major priority in the constituencies of all those absent 200 new Labour Members. There is also the matter of health, my former ministerial responsibility; I would have expected them to want to voice their concerns about the NHS.

I have also been struck by how much Labour Members have concentrated on the record of the former Government. Almost every Labour speech has mentioned the shortcomings of that Government. If this were really the radical Government that the Prime Minister claims, Labour Members would have risen today to enthuse about a genuinely radical programme, explaining to the House, their constituents and the country how new Labour's ideas will change the lives of their constituents.

Yet almost all the Labour speeches we have heard today have failed to mention how the Government's ideas will change the country. Instead, they have given us a tired litany of perceived difficulties after 18 years of Conservative government.

Despite these general criticisms, I do want to congratulate those who have made their maiden speeches on their fluency and presentational skills. Perhaps we should not be surprised by those attributes. New Labour Members have led us to come to expect fluency and presentational skills. Still, almost all of them paid gracious tributes to their predecessors.

There cannot be many maiden speakers who can refer to two predecessors as distinguished as Tony Newton and Rab Butler, who were mentioned by the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst). Tony Newton was a sad loss to our side. When I was first elected, in 1979, his was the friendly face that met me as the representative of the Whips Office. He was my delegated Whip who tried, not always successfully, to keep me on the straight and narrow. Between 1979 and 1997, he developed a reputation second to none in this House as an effective constituency Member and as a friend of the House of Commons. He loved this place and understood its workings. Every member of the Conservative Government came to respect him as someone who could persuade us that we really did agree even though we usually came to meetings thinking that we did not. We shall be the poorer without him.

Rab Butler was a key figure in Conservative history—one whom my party would do well to heed as it squares up to the challenges that it faces over the next few years.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) probably imagined that his colleagues would be able to keep this debate going until 9 o'clock—a perfectly reasonable assumption—so I do not criticise him for being absent. He spoke graciously of Sir Marcus Fox, who was a distinguished parliamentarian and another sad loss to the Conservative Benches. I understand that the hon. Member for Shipley is the youngest or almost the youngest Member of the House. In that, he follows in my footsteps—I was the youngest Member in the 1979 Parliament, but I was 27 when elected, so I was an old man compared with the 24-year-old elected in Shipley. He developed his argument clearly and fluently and I am sure that the House will hear more from him in the years ahead.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Stuart) paid a gracious tribute to her predecessor, Dame Jill Knight. All the Conservative Members who heard it will have been grateful for that.

I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke). I particularly welcomed his unambiguous support for the private finance initiative and the hospital building project in Norwich. Given his background on a wing of the Labour party that would not in its time have been regarded as new Labour, the hon. Gentleman's endorsement in his maiden speech of an idea that was at the heart of so much of what the previous Government sought to do is a striking testament to the way in which the Conservative party has dominated the intellectual tide of the 1980s and 1990s.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Turner) also paid a gracious tribute to Sir Andrew Bowden, who was not only a hard-working constituency Member of Parliament, but a man who developed a wide range of friends and admirers among those interested in the affairs of pensioners. He will also be sadly missed in the House of Commons.

The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) paid a gracious tribute to Charles Hendry. I have no doubt that Charles will soon be back in this place, resuming a career for which he was clearly well equipped. He served his constituents with distinction and I look forward to his return to this place. He is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) said, a distinguished and articulate representative of one-nation Conservatism.

The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) paid tribute to his predecessor, Hugh Dykes. Hugh and I go back a long time. Throughout his time in the House of Commons, he remained a friend of mine, even if that was not immediately obvious from some of our public comments on his constituency concerns. I am sure that the new Secretary of State for Health will have further exchanges with his hon. Friends representing Harrow and surrounding constituencies. I look forward to watching the unfolding of that issue and the relationships between the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends.

I congratulate you, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker—as you have just changed places with another new Deputy Speaker—on your election to an important and distinguished post in our affairs.

I have told the new Secretary of State for Health privately and I repeat publicly that he comes to one of the best jobs in the Government. Conservative Members will watch with great care the way in which the right hon. Gentleman and his ministerial colleagues discharge their responsibilities. We are as committed as I do not doubt that he is to the principle on which the national health service was founded—that health care should be available to the people of this country on the basis of clinical need without regard to their ability to pay. That is the simple but powerful idea on which the national health service was built. The Conservative party, like the Labour party, is committed to that. We shall watch how he turns that idea into practice. Day by day, week by week, month by month, we shall be watching to see that under his stewardship the national health service delivers on the commitment for which it was established.

I do not detract from my welcome to the right hon. Gentleman when I observe that his appointment came as a little bit of a surprise. During the general election campaign, when I was debating with the health spokesmen from the other parties, I offered the Liberal Democrat spokesman a small wager on whether the new Secretary of State for National Heritage would assume the health brief if the Labour party won the election. The Liberal Democrat spokesman replied, "No bet." I thought that that was an interesting comment on the way in which the issue of health played out in the dying days of the last Parliament.

The new Secretary of State is the fourth Labour health spokesman whom I have faced in less than two years as the leader for the Conservatives on health issues. [Laughter.] The leader for the Conservatives on health issues.

The first of those spokesmen was the current President of the Board of Trade. In an unguarded remark to a newspaper reporter, she let slip that the traditional national health service was undermanaged.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson)

And so it was.

Mr. Dorrell

That is an interesting recognition from the right hon. Gentleman. On the strength of her piercing insight into the managerial skills of the traditional health service, the right hon. Lady was transferred and given responsibility for the whole of British industry and commerce. It is clearly easy to impress with one's understanding of managerial strength. She departed quite soon after I became Secretary of State for Health.

The second spokesman whom I faced was the present Secretary of State for Social Security. It is fair to say that she suffered from no such blinding flash of inspiration when she was looking at the history of the national health service. She, after all, was a member of the health team who argued during the 1987 Parliament that the establishment of local management of trusts was "a monumental irrelevance". She said that there was no demand among Britain's general practitioners for the establishment of fundholding—words that she had to eat when it became clear that more than half of them demanded fundholding status. At a meeting that we both attended she proudly described the private finance initiative as the privatisation initiative. We had better introduce her to the hon. Member for Norwich, South, who seems to have disappeared again. I would be pleased to organise a tutorial by the hon. Gentleman, with his old Labour background, so that he can ensure that the Secretary of State for Social Security properly understands the benefits of the private finance initiative and the fact that it has nothing to do with privatisation.

I remember the right hon. Lady, during her time as health spokesman, being responsible for what was best described as a high-octane whinge. For me, she summed up new Labour. She was dressed by the hon. Member for Stevenage (Ms Follett), coached by the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), and educated at the best schools—schools that the Government want to deny to children whose parents cannot afford to pay the fees. She was a new label on an old and bitter vintage.

The right hon. Lady moved on to apply—[Interruption.] I am waiting for the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) to rise to his feet to defend the new Secretary of State for Social Security.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

I have been very patient and have not intervened yet in this Parliament. It occurs to me to ask what the devil all this claptrap has to do with the Gracious Speech. We should be talking about the Government's programme, not the dress sense and style of people who have served on the Opposition Benches and who now form an important part of the new Government.

Mr Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman ought to arrange an appointment with the hon. Member for Stevenge. I suspect that not all my hon. Friends are aware that she was responsible for the Follettisation of the Labour party. We shall no doubt hear from her about how the hon. Gentleman can improve his presentation skills.

The present Secretary of State for Social Security moved on to apply her forensic skills to the problems that had baffled my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), the previous Secretary of State. We look forward to seeing how she finds her way through that particular jungle. She was replaced as Labour's health spokesperson by the present Secretary of State for National Heritage, the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith).

When the right hon. Gentleman arrived, he announced to the world that he had been tasked with forming a health policy for the Labour party. I thought that that was a trifle ungallant as a way in which to refer to his predecessor. It was, however, perfectly true that his apparent commitment to draw up a health policy for his party was at least novel. I have good news for the new Secretary of State for Health. The right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury did not tie his hands with anything that need constrain his options in terms of health policy.

The present Secretary of State for National Heritage held the health brief for the Labour party for roughly nine months. It is not unfair to say that the future historian of the national health service will not devote a whole chapter to the evolution of health policy under the Secretary of State for Health's predecessor.

It is more likely that the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury will be remembered for the judgment passed on his efforts by the Health Service Journal. It said: At the last election, the Natural Law Party proposed to improve the health of the nation through yogic flying. Mr. Smith's plan to levitate standards in the NHS by cutting 'bureaucracy and red tape' shows a similar lack of concern for cause and effect wrapped up in mumbo-jumbo … Mr. Smith is too bright, and Mr. Blair too astute, surely, to believe all this. The right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury came to health to provide a policy and his epitaph is that what he left behind was yogic flying dressed up in mumbo-jumbo. That point brings us to the new Secretary of State.

The right hon. Gentleman is not an altogether convincing face of new Labour. I do not think that he would present himself as being the authentic voice of the changed Labour party. He comes with attitudes aplenty and prejudices aplenty—all of them on the record. As yet, his hands have not been much tied by policy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Paul Boateng)

Get on with it.

Mr. Dorrell

I now propose to satisfy the Under-Secretary of State. He is not yet a right hon. Member, but no doubt he will be before long. I propose to move on to deal with some of the aspects of policy to which Labour's health team now have to address their minds.

Mr. Boateng

It is about time.

Mr. Dorrell

It is about time that they did so; that is right. They were in opposition for 18 years without a health policy and now they have to develop one. It is about time, to use the words of the Under-Secretary of State. That is absolutely right.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

While the right hon. Gentleman is giving advice to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, what advice would he give on the serious problem of the Human Tissue Act 1961? With his experience as the previous Secretary of State for Health, what advice would he give on a kidney donor and organ opt-out proposal of the kind that I and others were constantly suggesting during the previous Parliament, both to him and to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam)? On reflection, might he not have had a more benign attitude towards the matter?

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raises an important point, which reveals the difficulties in each proposed way forward. We sought to ensure that where there was a demand for tissue to be transplanted, there were proper safeguards, but that the tissue was available with those safeguards being observed. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will pursue the subject with his Government with the same enthusiasm that he did with my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) and me. Frankly, the problems in that area do not get any easier because there has been a change of Government. I would be happy to engage in a detailed discussion on the matter either with the hon. Gentleman or with the Secretary of State for Health.

I now turn to the health issues that the Government have brought forward in the Queen's Speech. First, they have committed themselves to introducing legislation to allow the private finance initiative to go ahead and to clarify the legal position of trusts entering PFI contracts. I welcome the fact that they are introducing that legislation. I think that the Secretary of State will confirm that there was a Bill in his top left-hand drawer, as it were, when he took office on 2 or 3 May. If the new Bill is essentially the Bill that was agreed before the election, I welcome the fact that he is proceeding apace with that measure.

I ask the Secretary of State when he addresses the House to clarify what exactly his policy is on the use of private finance projects to deliver clinical support services where there is consent and agreement among the local clinicians about the use of the private sector. There was an article in the Financial Times on 14 May which reported: Radiology and pathology may continue to be open to private finance deals in the National Health Service. It said, however, that when a Minister was asked whether that was true or false, he said, 'We will have to wait and see … It remained a grey area. I think that that is true; it is a grey area.

It is important that the Government maintain a degree of flexibility on the issue, but that was not the line taken by the right hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury in the election campaign; nor was it the line taken by the present Prime Minister during the election campaign. Both of them criticised the PFI project at the Sheffield Royal Hallamshire hospital precisely on the ground that it recognised that there was a grey area around some of the clinical support services. It would be nice to hear from the Secretary of State that some of the rhetoric in the election campaign on that issue was wrong. If he will not recognise that, will he disown his unnamed Minister who was talking to Nick Timmins in yesterday's Financial Times?

While we are talking about the capital programme, I hope that the Secretary of State can clarify another point which relates to the position of London hospitals. Labour has clearly committed itself to a moratorium on the process of change in London's hospitals. I think that that is a step backwards because it will inhibit the process of change and the process of commissioning new facilities within London's health service. More important from the point of view of the House is that we need to know from the Government what kind of review it will be.

When the previous Government set up a review of London's hospitals, it was headed by Sir Bernard Tomlinson. It was a total review of all the options which looked at bed availability, each specialty in London in detail and the implications of the proposed changes for the research programme of the national health service. It made it clear that it wanted to listen to the views not just of the big battalions within the health service, but of the health authorities and of the general practitioners. It wanted to apply a proper priority to the development of primary care within the health service and it took three years to deliver its conclusions.

I do not ask the Secretary of State immediately to recognise that all the conclusions of that process were right, but I do ask him to recognise that a review process that took three years to produce its conclusions is unlikely to be supplanted convincingly by a review headed by a Minister of State which has been given seven months to produce the answer. Especially it will not be convincing when the Secretary of State has already ruled out one possible conclusion of the review. He was reported in the Evening Standard as saying: This Government will not end up endorsing the previous Government's policy". I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to endorse the previous Government's policy, but I do ask him not to set up a review and then to rule out potential conclusions before the review has even started.

Mr. Dobson

Surely there would be no point in having a review if we were satisfied with the lunatic situation in which the previous Government placed the London health service.

Mr. Dorrell

Surely a review looks at the evidence and comes out with a conclusion based on that evidence. How can the Secretary of State expect us to have confidence in a review when he has already ruled out one of the potential conclusions? That is the question that he must answer. He has in fact obstructed the process of change in London's hospitals and he has set up a half-cocked review which will not carry conviction because it will not have the time to look at the evidence that is necessary to assess the issue in detail.

Let us go on to the other questions about the Government's health policy that remain unanswered. Do the Government propose a major management upheaval in the national health service? That should not be a difficult question to answer. Does the hon. Member for Thurrock want a major health service management upheaval? [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is the only Labour Member who has been willing to express an opinion, so I am encouraging him to do so again.

Mr. Mackinlay

I support my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Dorrell

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his capacity to get the line right. He did not even need to look at his teleprompter to work that out. He conducted a review in five minutes and now he supports the right hon. Gentleman.

For months, the Labour party has spoken with forked tongue on the issue. It says in one breath that it supports the purchaser-provider system and in the next it promises to end the internal market. Last Friday, the right hon. Gentleman went to Leeds to speak to staff at the NHS headquarters there. I applaud him for that. He promised them no major upheaval in the health service. How is that consistent with the abolition of the internal market—a commitment in the Labour manifesto and in the Queen's Speech?

Either we shall have a fundamental change in the running of the health service, in which case the right hon. Gentleman cannot go to Leeds and say that there will be no upheaval, or we shall not. If there is to be no change, we shall continue with the internal market and the purchaser-provider system—the two phrases have exactly the same meaning—that was established by the previous Government in the 1991 legislation.

The Secretary of State is unfortunate in that his three predecessors sat firmly on the fence. Within the next few weeks, he will have to come off the fence because he is committed to producing a White Paper. He will have to tell the national health service, the House and the British people what the Labour Government mean. Do they mean fundamental change or do they propose making a few cosmetic changes and changing a few brass plaques, but basically accepting the system that they have inherited?

An absolutely crucial part of the question whether the Government are going for reform is what they plan to do for GP fundholders. Will they or will they not allow individual primary care practices to continue to operate national health service budgets? Will they continue to allow the system of practice-based budgets to operate? As the Secretary of State will know, I never made it a compulsory system but it was an option available to GPs who felt that it was in the interests of their national health service patients. Will the right hon. Gentleman continue to leave that option available? That is another question that he will not be able to fudge.

Either the doctors will be able to decide what is best for their patients or they will become mere consultees and the right to decide will be shifted from the doctors to the bureaucrats. The right hon. Gentleman will have to decide whether he wants the doctors to decide or whether he wants another tier of bureaucracy in the health service; commissioning, as his predecessor called it. He will have to decide whether he wants to transfer the power from the doctors to the commissioning bureaucrats.

The Labour party loves bashing bureaucrats in the health service but the Labour Government will not be able to continue simply bashing bureaucrats. They will have to develop a policy. The acid test will be whether they prefer doctors or bureaucrats to decide.

That is one of the much wider questions raised by a number of measures in the Queen's Speech. In the national health service the threat is clear. It is that power will be taken from doctors and given to a new tier of bureaucracy. Incidentally, plenty of people within the Labour party will advise the Secretary of State against that course of action. I quote the most recent article by a Labour supporter endorsing fundholding as a key part of a flexible, patient-led health service. Mr. Dick Sorajbi, who until recently was an adviser to the Home Secretary, wrote: Fundholding has created an explosion of initiatives in health care … This should have been a Labour policy. It puts primary care before secondary care. It is more publicly accountable because citizens can put more pressure on their GP than on a health authority quango. That was written by a new Labour adviser. I want to hear whether the right hon. Gentleman accepts that advice from his own party or whether he prefers to put his faith in bureaucrats within the health service. If he prefers to put his faith in bureaucrats, he will be applying the same policy in the health service as the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is applying in the education service. It is a consistent theme there, too. There will be less power for schools, governors, and heads. All the power will be concentrated in the local education authority, which will decide not merely the distribution of schools, but the type of schools, and the distribution of pupils. Management vested in the local education authority is the policy which the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has made it clear that he will pursue.

That is a key difference between the approach of the new Government and that of the Conservative Opposition. The Government continue to believe that the way to deliver good public services is to empower well-meaning bureaucrats. We have 50 years of experience to demonstrate that that model does not work, but despite all the evidence, they continue to believe that that is how to deliver a well-run public service.

Our approach in government was different and our approach in opposition will continue to be different. We shall continue to argue that the way to make public services responsible and accountable to the people they serve is to give parents and patients real choice and to give those responsible for managing the services the opportunity and the responsibility to develop those services and to respond to the choice of the people who use them.

Our policy in education, in health and across the whole public sector was to break up impermeable bureaucracies because they are unresponsive and do not deliver high-quality services to the people who rely on them. We shall fight any plans that the Government introduce to recreate bureaucracies that block progress in the public services.

That is not the only theme that runs through the Queen's Speech. In his opening speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden identified another key theme and my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) made much of it in his remarks. The Queen's Speech is full of unexceptional sentiments and fraudulent arithmetic. In the national health service, the Government say that they will deliver shorter waiting lists, but that it will not cost any money. In schools, they promise to deliver smaller classes and say that the money will come from abolishing the assisted places scheme. The fact that no money will come from the assisted places scheme for several years and that all the independent analysis of their proposals says that their arithmetic does not add up continues simply to be brushed aside.

Sooner or later, the Secretary of State for Health and his right hon. Friends will have to get their calculators out. They will have to work out how much the various commitments that they are making will cost. We are told that the commitment on education will cost £250 million. The growth in resources that the right hon. Gentleman needs simply to meet his commitments to increase costs in the health service—never mind treat more patients—will add several hundred million pounds to his budget.

Is the Secretary of State still committed to the abolition of compulsory competitive tendering in the NHS? We never got a straight answer to that. Has he calculated—or asked one of his junior Ministers to calculate—how much the minimum wage will cost the NHS? The Labour manifesto commits the Government to the abolition of the efficiency index in the NHS. In the arithmetic of the last public expenditure survey round, that saved us £527 million. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to throw that to the winds? Where is the money going to come from to deliver all the specific and individual spending commitments?

Worst of all, of course, is Labour's commitment on the assisted places scheme, which is not only bad arithmetic but had social policy. I simply do not understand how a party that seeks to steal the one-nation epithet can move on to seek to close the doors of schools to children of parents who cannot afford to pay the fees. In my former constituency of Loughborough there is a grammar school that was founded during the reign of King Henry VII. Instead of laughing, the Secretary of State should explain to the present generation of Loughburians why, if they cannot afford the fees, he thinks that it is good social policy to deny them the opportunity that has been given to every generation of Loughburians for the past 500 years. Why does he take pride in introducing that new division in our society? Let him explain that.

Mr. Dobson

If the right hon. Gentleman is so confident that the people of Loughborough object to our policy, why did he go on the chicken run to get away from the constituency? He clearly made the right judgment because Loughborough is now represented by a Labour Member of Parliament.

Mr. Dorrell

The right hon. Gentleman has no answer to the question.

The Queen's Speech reflects the Labour party's election campaign. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) made clear, the election campaign was made simply of soundbites. It left all the difficult questions unanswered. Labour held out the promise of smaller classes, shorter waiting lists, lower youth unemployment and welfare to work—all soundbites that we have heard until we have become bored of hearing them. The arithmetic to support those commitments was sketched at best on the back of a matchbox.

Even worse, Labour made other commitments in the Queen's Speech, such as extra local authority spending, and extra spending on social security because it does not have the guts to reform the social security system in the way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden planned.

The truth is that the Government continue to float glibly over all the real issues that confront them. They have deliberately stoked up expectations that cannot be met. The task of an Opposition is to call them to account as people get angry and become disillusioned when those expectations are not satisfied. The Government come to office uniquely well packaged and uniquely badly prepared. As the gentle mist of early morning gives way to the relentless heat of the midday sun, the carefully worked soundbites will be seen to be thin gruel indeed. To those on the Government Benches I say this: enjoy the cheers while they last because they will turn soon enough to tears. For new Labour it will indeed be never again glad confident morn.

9.2 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson)

I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment—or election, I am not quite sure which—as Chairman of Ways and Means. I think that we voted unanimously for you, so if anyone objects to your rulings you should remind them that we did so.

Many maiden speeches of all shapes and sizes have been made today. It would be worth while if Opposition Members—even those on the Front Bench who assert what they are going to do and tell the House what is going to happen as though they had a majority—would bear in mind the constituencies represented by Labour Members who have made their maiden speeches: such as those of Shipley, of Brighton, Kemptown, of High Peak and of Braintree. Before Opposition Members read us lectures, they might contemplate why maiden speeches have been made by Labour Members who represent such places.

I shall now refer to some of those speeches. Those people who made maiden speeches displayed awesome confidence and competence. I hope that my new hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie) will not follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and become chairman of the Tory 1922 Committee. Whenever there was a crisis in the House, Marcus Fox ran round like the Tory party answer to Jonesy in "Dad's Army" shouting, "Don't panic," although he always appeared to be leading the panic. My hon. Friend is fortunate to become the hon. Member for Shipley, which includes Saltaire, a distinguished place that is good to look at. When people compliment him on his youth, he should remember that at 24 he is still a year older than Pitt was when he became Prime Minister.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Stuart) rightly pointed out that her seat has been represented for 43 years by women, including the redoubtable Jill Knight. My hon. Friend brings to the House a wide knowledge of pensioners' problems and of pension law. I am sure that we shall draw on that knowledge, especially those of us who do not pretend to be on top of the subject of pensions and benefits.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Turner) mentioned the need—in Brighton—for low-cost housing and the promotion of equal opportunities in health. I hope that he will be happy with the Queen's Speech and with what I have to say tonight.

The next maiden speech was from my hon. and good Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who succeeded one of my closest friends in the House, John Garrett, who sadly had to retire because of the temporary—I hope—state of his health. My hon. Friend welcomed the private finance initiative partnership and I shall return to that subject. As with so many issues in today's society, the Tories claim credit for an initiative that they originally opposed. Public-private partnerships fall into that category, as I will explain later.

My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) rightly claimed credit for his work in supporting the restoration of trade union rights at GCHQ. Today's statement and policy change are a credit to the new Government and will restore civil liberties that were roughly and unpleasantly set aside by the present Government—[Interruption.] I mean the previous Government; I will get it right eventually. I confess to the House that when I arrived in the former Secretary of State's office on the Saturday after the election and was given a pile of briefings by the civil servants, I was puzzled by the apparent common sense of what the briefings called "Government policy". It was only after I had read the third one that I realised that "the Government" meant us.

The next maiden speech was from my new hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty). When most people think of Harrow, they think of education or at least of one particular educational institution—Harrow school. My hon. Friend pointed out that whatever the state of that publicly subsidised institution, the state of the schools in the rest of Harrow leaves much to be desired. Something needs to be done.

My extremely confident new hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) rightly paid tribute to several of his predecessors. I join with others in saying that he was right to pay tribute to his immediate predecessor, Tony Newton, who is a decent man. I have never known whether the following story about Tony is true, but he is such a decent man that it may be. When he discovered that his official driver did not like driving on the motorway, the arrangement was that at the motorway slip road Tony got in the driver's seat and the driver got in the back. Whether it is true or not, the story is entirely in character with that very decent man.

My hon. Friend referred to a health institution at Black Notley. If anything comes in about it, I shall refer it to one of my hon. Friends to deal with. I happen to know, however, that Black Notley is rather a nice place, so perhaps I could go there.

There were two other maiden speeches tonight, in a sense. I am making one of them—my first speech from the Government side of the House and from the Government Front Bench. The former Secretary of State made his maiden speech from the Opposition Front Bench. So far as I can make out, he had a reasonable reputation in the Department. I do not think that I am giving away any secrets. At the worst, he was regarded, if I may sloganise, as better than Bottomley, but of course that is not the highest praise in the history of the world.

I shall not indulge in many reference to points made by the would-be Leader of the Opposition this evening, but in relation to the health service his claim that the Tories were the breakers-up of bureaucracy took the biscuit. We had expected some recantation from those on the Opposition Benches, but they are apparently into denial. That breaker of bureaucracy presided over a health service which ended up with 20,000 extra bureaucrats and 50,000 fewer nurses. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] If that statement is rubbish, it is based on figures supplied by the Department of Health when it was in the control of Tory Ministers. I accept no responsibility for their accuracy or otherwise. [Interruption.] The figures were supplied by the right hon. Gentleman's Department to my predecessors who at the time were leading for Labour on health. If he objects to the use of them, he should have corrected them at the time.

Labour Members, old and new, will understand my feelings when I say how honoured I am to have been invited by the Prime Minister to become the Labour Secretary of State for Health and so to have ministerial responsibility for the national health service, which was founded by our party in the teeth of opposition from the Conservatives and which has served the British people so well for almost 50 years.

The NHS was founded on the principle that the best health services should be available to all. That basic principle of fairness explains why the NHS and the dedicated people who work in it are so dear to the hearts of all decent and right-thinking people in our country. The basic fairness of the health service goes with the grain. It matches the basic fairness of our people. They cherish a health system based on the commitment to provide people with top-quality treatment because they need it—not because they are rich or influential, not because they happen to live in a particular place or go to a particular doctor, but because they need it. The best health services should be available to all. Quality and equality have been the slogans of democratic socialists since democratic socialism commenced.

Those treasured principles of fairness, quality and equality have been breached under the outgoing Government. The changes that they made have created a two-tier system which is unfair to patients and repugnant to doctors who have to impose the unfairness, and is costing a fortune in bureaucracy, invoices and red tape. We will get rid of it. We will get rid of the internal market. That is what we promised the British people at the general election, and we have already made a start at keeping that promise.

On the Saturday on which the Cabinet was appointed, I set in train arrangements to tackle two-tierism and to make sure that non-fundholder patients do not suffer the disadvantages that they have been suffering up to now. The arrangements will streamline the system, tackle the paperchase and cut the flow of invoices. They will reduce management costs and release money instead for treating patients. As we promised in our manifesto, we shall divert the millions saved on bureaucracy to the treatment of patients and, in particular, to cut waiting times for cancer treatment. That is certainly needed, because at the moment 78,000 people admitted for cancer treatment have waited more than a month for that treatment, and nearly 2,500 have waited more than three months.

We intend to change the fundholding system, with all its associated unfairness and bureaucracy. We shall replace it with local commissioning, in which general practitioners and other primary care professionals can work together to help plan local services and arrange for local hospitals to meet local needs. Most people working in the NHS share our criticisms of the existing system and our wish to change it for the better. But we must all recognise that after 18 years of Tory government— 18 years of almost constant upheaval and 18 years of change for the sake of change—most people in the NHS do not want another round of ill-thought-out, untried and untested reorganisation. They want something better than that, they deserve something better than that, and they will get it from this Government.

All over the country, forward-looking people in the NHS are trying to develop new and better models than fundholding—modern arrangements, designed to provide top-quality treatment to meet local needs in the real world. Those models are based not on the half-baked theories of overpaid management consultants, but on the principle of fairness and on a commitment to top-quality services. They draw on the day-to-day experience of the real needs of real patients.

Mr. Dorrell

The Secretary of State has described the development of a wide range of different forms of purchasing in the health service, much of it led by primary care producers. That is fine. But my simple question is whether he will continue to allow those who wish to run budgets at a practice level the option of doing so. Will that option remain available?

Mr. Dobson

All will become clear as my speech proceeds. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I will answer the question if Opposition Members wait a moment. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) made his speech, and I will make mine—that is the arrangement in this House.

While we are reducing the excessive costs of the current system, we shall encourage more pilot schemes for local commissioning, building on what is already happening. We shall allow pilot schemes to show what they can and cannot do and we shall then assess which schemes work best. Then, and only then, will we move to change the structure of the NHS to start introducing new arrangements across the country. That will guarantee that our proposals for change will have been literally tried and tested before they are applied generally. They will embody the principles of fairness and equality and will not, as the Tories did, take chances with the lives and health of patients. Nor will they ignore the views, experience and professional knowledge of the dedicated staff of the NHS.

Mr. Dorrell

I am simply seeking a yes or no answer to this question: will the option of managing a budget at practice level remain? The Secretary of State has said that other options will be developed, and no one could object to that. I simply want to know whether the option of practice-based budgets will remain—yes or no?

Mr. Dobson

It seems likely—but not certain—that in the light of our experience in assessing the pilot schemes the fundholding basis will disappear because I hope that most doctors—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Charnwood was in charge of the NHS for two or three years. We have inherited a poisoned chalice in which 37 out of 100 health authorities were in deficit at the end of last year and 111 out of 425 trusts were in debt at the end of the year. Waiting lists are going up; waiting times are going up.

Mr. Dorrell


Mr. Dobson

No, I will not give way. Waiting times are going up. Doctors tell me that there is a shortage of doctors, and nurses tell me that there is a shortage of nurses. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that it is fine for him to ask questions about what may be happening in 18 months or two years. What I am saying to him, if he will just listen, is that I would expect that fundholding would disappear, but the test must be what works. We shall see whether the pilot schemes work. In the end, we shall have to decide what works and take responsibility for it, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the people whom I have been meeting over the past few days—most of whom he has met—appear to be satisfied with our approach to the future of the health service, because most of them are sick to death of the health service as it is currently being operated.

Mr. Dorrell

The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought that fundholding would disappear. I then asked him who would decide, and he said that he would decide. Does that mean that, if a doctor believes that it is in the interests of his national health service patients for his practice to continue to run its budget, the right hon. Gentleman will decide that that option is to be removed?

Mr. Dobson

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I am not one of those who try to get out of responsibility, and I do not expect to. I am saying that, ultimately, responsibility for all this will lie with the Secretary of State. The final decisions will have to be made, and I am saying that I expect that in the end that option will disappear. I repeat, however, that we are genuine when we say that we want pilot schemes, and we want to see how those schemes work. We want them to be allowed to run long enough for us to make an evidence-based assessment of how they work; then, in consultation with all concerned, we shall have to make the final decisions. That, as I understand it, is what being in government involves.

I know that many decisions that should have been made by the former Secretary of State over the past year have been left to us to try to sort out. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned some of them earlier. In the meantime, we shall get on with building more hospitals. The last Government, led in this area by the former Secretary of State, talked a lot about putting private finance into hospital building: they talked a lot, but they did not do a lot. Tonight, the right hon. Gentleman claimed credit for the idea of public-private partnerships.

My memory goes back sufficiently far for me to remember when those speaking from this Dispatch Box treated with total contempt the proposals for public-private partnerships that my right hon. Friend the present Deputy Prime Minister advanced in relation to transport. After four or five years in which the transport industries were deprived of capital, the Government finally got around to seeing some merit in, at least, the theory of public-private partnerships, but their record in promoting such partnerships is pathetic. They have obstructed more than they have achieved. Compared with the excellent record of many Labour local authorities in promoting public-private partnerships, the Government's record is a disgrace—[Interruption.] I mean the previous Government's record.

We shall introduce a short Bill to clear up any doubts about the powers of NHS trusts to enter into private finance initiative arrangements to help provide much-needed hospitals. That keeps a promise that we made in the general election campaign. We also promised not to extend private finance to include clinical services, and we shall keep that promise.

The Queen's Speech fulfils another promise: we shall change the law to prohibit tobacco advertising. Smoking is the largest single preventible killer of people in this country: at least one in every five deaths is caused by smoking. The Tories did nothing about it because they are in the pockets of the tobacco barons, but we are not. We shall publish a White Paper spelling out a concerted programme to reduce tobacco consumption using every possible lever available to the Government: changes in the law, taxation, education and publicity.

At the same time, we shall publish a draft Bill to ban tobacco advertising. It will cover all forms of tobacco advertising, including sponsorship. We recognise that some sports are heavily dependent on tobacco sponsorship and, as we do not want to harm those sports, we shall give them time and help to reduce their dependency on tobacco and to replace it with sponsorship from more benign sources. We do not want to harm those sports, but they must recognise that by helping to promote tobacco sales they are harming the health of many of their spectators and viewers.

I hope that during the discussions on the White Paper and on the draft Bill we shall be spared the fatuous claims by the tobacco industry that its advertising is not designed to promote sales. The fact is that the tobacco industry, uniquely among industries, kills about 120,000 of its own customers every year, so it has to recruit another 120,000 new smokers every year to its ranks to make up for that year's casualties. Of course tobacco advertising is intended to promote sales.

The programme to reduce smoking, and therefore to reduce smoking-related disease and death, is part of our fundamental commitment to improving the nation's health. We have already carried out our manifesto commitment to appoint a Minister with responsibility for public health, but our commitment does not end there. As we all know, some illness is unavoidable: it can strike suddenly out of a blue sky. Some illness is caused by people's life styles—smoking or drinking too much or, as in my case, eating too much—while some is caused by the harmful conditions in which many people are forced to live and work.

As a society, we must try to help the victims of unavoidable illness. That is what the health service does. We should offer advice, help and inducements to people to choose a healthy life style. We must also act together to combat the innumerable causes of ill health and injury that spring from the conditions in which people are forced to live and work.

Under Labour, every Government Department will be charged with the task of contributing its share to improving the nation's health. We are committed to a root-and-branch attack on the factors that systematically make our people ill. That includes factors which harm us all, such as air pollution or problems with food—we shall reduce air pollution and introduce a food standards agency—as well as factors which bear down most heavily on the worst-off: homelessness, unemployment, low wages, poverty, crime and disorder.

All those things are awful in themselves, but that is not all: they are the main sources of gross inequalities in health. Poor people, homeless people, jobless people and badly paid people are ill more often and die sooner. That is the greatest inequality of them all: there is no greater inequality than the difference between being alive and being dead. We intend to tackle those inequalities.

Other measures announced in the Queen's Speech will contribute to tackling those inequalities. Homelessness and bad housing produce intolerable conditions. Labour's housing policy is based on the belief that every family should have somewhere decent and affordable to live. A decent, secure home is vital to family life: without it, a family's health suffers, grown-ups find it hard to hold down a job and children find it hard to do well at school. How can they do homework if they have no home to do it in?

Without a proper home, family relationships are soured and family breakdown becomes more likely. Without a proper home, life is vile. Many of our fellow citizens do not have decent homes. Several thousand families spent last night living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, which does not provide a proper home. Bed-and-breakfast accommodation is vile.

A medical report on the problems of living in such accommodation states: Even if hotel accommodation is in good order it is rarely appropriate to the needs of young children. This is an official report, and therefore has a mastery of understatement. It continues: It is difficult to maintain hygiene while washing, eating and sleeping in one overcrowded room. High levels of gastro-enteritis, skin disorders and chest infections have been reported. Kitchen facilities are often absent or inadequate. So people are forced to rely on food from cafes and take-aways which is expensive and may be nutritionally unsatisfactory. The stress of hotel life undermines parents' relationships with each other and their children. Normal child development is impaired through lack of space for safe play and exploration. High rates of accidents to children have been reported, probably due to a combination of lack of space and hazards such as kettles at floor level in the room where the family are trying to live.

A further report emphasises the problem, stating: Risk to health in bed and breakfast is well above that of the domiciled population. These risks stem from shared, or lack of, amenities, overcrowding and unsafe properties. Infection, accidents, malnutrition, sleep disturbances, low birth weight babies, eating problems, behavioural problems, depression and even death can result". Those circumstances apply tonight to several thousand of our fellow citizens in towns and cities up and down the country. That is a disgrace and we intend to bring it to an end. That is why our manifesto contained the common sense promise to allow councils to invest the takings from the sale of council houses to provide new and improved homes for people with nowhere decent to live.

Mr. Fabricant

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson

I will if it is necessary.

Mr. Fabricant

It is always necessary. What will the right hon. Gentleman do about councils, including Labour councils, that posses empty council houses?

Mr. Dobson

Get them to fill them. That idea works reasonably well.

Let us take London as an example. I think that there are 26,000 officially homeless families in London. Last year, under the previous benighted Government, not one council house was built. That had nothing to do with local government; it was because the Government prevented councils from doing it. I am convinced that when we keep our promise it will be good for the families concerned and will improve their health.

I shall give one example. When improvements were made to the Holly street housing estate in Hackney, there was a 33 per cent. fall in demand for both general practitioner and hospital services. It is good for the people and it pays off.

Mr. Dorrell

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that Hackney has no capital receipts? His example does not relate to capital receipts at all. Hackney does not have the resources to do what he is talking about.

Mr. Dobson

My point about Hackney was that it was an example of where improvements to housing had led to an immediate direct fall in the demands that people placed on local health services because their health had improved. The building of new and improved homes all over the country will be of immense benefit. We will make sure that it happens all over the country.

Mr. Dorrell

The right hon. Gentleman has just made an important commitment. Is he committing the Government to machinery for translating capital receipts from one part of the country to another? If so, what arrangements will be made to compensate authorities that lose their capital receipts? How will the machinery work? The right hon. Gentleman has just made an important announcement. He is Secretary of State now; he cannot stand at the Dispatch Box and commit the Government to machinery when he does not have the vaguest notion of how it will work, especially as it is not in the Department of Health's sphere of responsibility.

Mr. Dobson

I repeat exactly what I said when I was shadow Secretary of State for the Environment: except in the fantasies of the Tory party, we have never had any proposals to transfer capital receipts from one part of the country to another. [HON. MEMBERS: "You just said it."] I did not say that at all. As the right hon. Member for Charnwood knows, I said that there will be a house-building programme; it will apply in all parts of the country, and in those parts of the country where capital receipts are available it will be financed from the capital receipts. Is that plain, straightforward and simple, or do I need to explain it again? I will explain it again if the right hon. Gentleman wishes.

Our proposal to get 250,000 young people off the dole queues and into work will improve their health. They certainly need it. That Secretary of State is responsible for all sorts of—[HON. MEMBERS: "You are the Secretary of State."] I got the tense wrong. That ex-Secretary of State was responsible for producing all sorts of statistics. He should have looked at the mortality of young men. Although mortality in general has declined this century, the mortality of young men has risen over the past few years. If people are asked why, they associate it, at least partly, with joblessness and the lack of hope that goes with it, as well as with the problems that follow.

That is why it is absolutely right to take money from the privatised utilities and transfer it, to get 250,000 young people back to work. Tory Members bleat on about how difficult it will be for the privatised utilities. Let me remind them of one lot of figures relating to the water industry. Since it was privatised, the water industry has made profits of £10.5 billion. It has distributed dividends of £3.5 billion and, during that time, under the arrangements made by the benighted Government who have just rightly gone out of office, the industry paid not a single penny in mainstream corporation tax. The Government who privatised the water industry gave it huge sums and took no tax from it. The industry is in for a surprise. Actually, it is not in for a surprise because it has known about our windfall tax for the past four years, but it is certainly in for some taxation.

Many people who are in work are so badly paid that they cannot afford decent shelter, clothes, food or heating, so they are more likely to fall ill. Measures in the Queen's Speech and the forthcoming Budget will help them. We shall introduce a national minimum wage to lift working people out of poverty so that they can afford better clothes, food and heating. We shall also reduce the cost of heating by reducing VAT on fuel. The national minimum wage will help to reduce the £4 billion which taxpayers must contribute towards benefits that make up, at least in part, for the low wages paid by the worst employers. Above all, it will mean that many of the worst-off will be ill less often and will die later in life than they would otherwise have done. I should have hoped that the right hon. Member for Charnwood would wish that to happen.

Mr. Dorrell

The right hon. Gentleman will be preparing his spending bids for the public expenditure survey. I presume that he will include an estimate for the cost to the national health service of the Government's minimum wage commitment. What will that estimate be? How much does the right hon. Gentleman intend to write into the health service budgets for 1998–99 to cover the cost of the minimum wage?

Mr. Dobson

I must say that I regard that as an abject plea of guilty. The Secretary of State is saying—[Interruption.] The former Secretary of State is saying that after 18 years of presiding over the health service he is proudly proclaiming that a lot of people working in it are on poverty wages. He is the one who has the explaining to do, not me. All the changes—[HON. MEMBERS: "How much will it cost?"] How many people are on poverty pay in the NHS? I am happy to give way to the right hon. Gentleman to hear the answer.

Mr. Dorrell

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He is the Secretary of State and he has just made a commitment to introduce a minimum wage. Presumably he intends to do that during the course of 1998–99. That will have a cost to taxpayers and I believe that taxpayers are entitled to know how much the right hon. Gentleman's policy will cost them.

Mr. Dobson

Until the Secretary of State tells me how many people are on—[Interruption.] I will get it right eventually; I understand that the Paymaster General can distinguish between us, and that is quite important to me.

Mr. Fabricant


Mr. Dobson

No, I will not give way. I do not think that wigs are available on the NHS yet.

All those changes will apply wherever poor housing, high unemployment and low wages occur. As we all know, some parts of our towns and cities—and for that matter some rural areas, which are now represented by Labour Members for the first time in a long while—contain dense concentrations of poor housing, low wages and high unemployment. As a result, those areas have generally poor standards of health. We intend to take concerted action to improve those areas. That will involve partnerships between central and local government, business and voluntary organisations designed, first, to stop the rot and then to start to put things right. The NHS will be at the heart of those efforts to treat ill health and promote good health.

Our election manifesto also committed us to make sure that the appointed boards that control health authorities and trusts should become more representative of the communities that they serve. I can tell the House that arrangements have already been made to ensure that that change applies to all future appointments, including the round of posts up for renewal from 1 November.

The new Labour Government intend to tackle the root causes of ill health and inequalities in health. We intend to restore and improve the national health service so that it can provide the best health services to all who need them. We shall therefore do away with the internal market that has proved unfair and wasteful. We shall use pilot schemes to develop alternative means of organising local services which draw on the local knowledge, skills and experience of the staff involved.

Under Labour the NHS will be a public service which belongs to the people of this country and which commands their support. We want to ensure that the NHS deserves the loyalty and commitment of those who provide the services: the people on whom we all depend—the people whom the Labour Government will allow to get on with their jobs.

I should like to finish on a personal note. I hope that I shall never find myself at this Dispatch Box claiming personal credit for any improvements or good performance in the NHS. To the best of my knowledge, no Minister of the Crown has ever treated the sick, comforted the dying or tried to comfort grieving relatives: all of that is done on our behalf and on behalf of the people of this country by almost a million dedicated, hard-working people. Whatever arguments we may have across the Floor of the House, I hope that we can agree that we owe it to them to ensure that they can do the jobs which they have set their lives to do and on which we all depend.

Debate adjourned.—[Ms Bridget Prentice.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.