§ [FIRST DAY]
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the mover and seconder of the humble Address, I should inform the House that the proposed pattern of debate during the remaining days of debate on the Queen's Speech will be as follows:
Thursday 7 December—health and social security; Friday 8 December—education and industry; Monday 11 December—foreign affairs and defence; Tuesday 12 December—home affairs and inner cities; Wednesday 13 December—the economy.
I now call Sir John Morris to move the humble Address, and Miss Anne Begg to second it.
§ Sir John Morris (Aberavon)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.It is the privilege of a Government Back Bencher to move the address. I have had to wait 41 years for the opportunity. I make no complaint: owing to the kindness and, may I say, most immodestly, the wisdom of three successive Labour Prime Ministers, I have simply not been available, because I was holding ministerial office from time to time. After 18 years, at a mature age—although not quite as mature as many Chinese statesmen—it was a particular delight to be called back to office by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to become a Minister in a Government pledged to build a sound economy and, on that basis, to improve the quality of life. My right hon. Friend would be the first to agree that there is much more work to be done in this Parliament and the next.
When Lloyd George's son, Gwilym Lloyd George, was Home Secretary, he was driving in Wales accompanied by his permanent secretary. When they got lost on a back road, they stopped and asked a pedestrian, "Where are we?" "In a motor car." was the reply. The permanent secretary sagely observed, "That was a perfect parliamentary answer. It was short, it was accurate and it did not reveal any information that was not already known." My speech will be short and I hope that it will be accurate, but it will reveal things about my constituency that are not known to most hon. Members.
It is a happy tradition on this occasion to refer to one's constituency and to the people who sent one here. I do so with gratitude—the gratitude of my wife and I. Together, my immediate predecessor and I have served Aberavon for 71 years. If we are not Labour's heartlands, who are? Whatever may occur in future, I would deplore the loss of the Member-constituency link—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] When, after 23 years, I lost part of my constituency, I missed the friendship of two generations. My constituents and I had grown up and grown older together.
Aberavon is a small constituency, consisting of an old mining valley—there were four pits when I started in Parliament; a sea shore with one of the most efficient 7 steelworks in Europe at Port Talbot; and the west, where BP Oil and BP Chemicals used to provide much larger employment. The architectural jewel in the crown is Margam park, with its magnificent orangery—now restored—which, in its proportions, is not unlike the orangery at Versailles, and which has been the scene of many major gatherings in south Wales.
Apart from steel, we have produced famous actors: Sir Anthony Hopkins, a fellow freeman of Port Talbot, and Richard Burton. One of my most pleasant duties as a Member was to attend Elizabeth Taylor's 40th birthday party—
§ Sir John Morris
Gallantry forbad me from saying how long ago it was.
When the Abbey steelworks was being built at Port Talbot in the late 1940s, men and women from throughout the country flocked to man it. Housing, schools and community facilities had to be built quickly. In 1959, when I started, 16,000 men and women used to enter the works. The number employed has shrunk to well under 4,000. Too many of my constituents have lost job opportunities, and little was done to replace them. Their children had to get on their bikes to find work elsewhere.
The weakness of the euro is a constant anxiety for steelmakers, as it is for other manufacturers that are dependent on exports to Europe. We note with interest and relief the recent strengthening of the euro.
Investment in steel has been made locally in recent years, and last year I was privileged to open a new line at a cost of £190 million. However, it is operated by a handful of engineers, both men and women. We shall follow closely yesterday's changes in the leadership of the steel industry.
Attracting new industry west of Bridgend is a perennial problem in south-west Wales. The lifting of the moratorium on gas-powered electricity plants for Baglan energy park was a significant signal of the Government's listening and understanding. We appreciated the personal interest of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in ensuring that the leading-edge technology of General Electric of America was facilitated there. If all goes well, the energy park, with its cheaper energy, should be a major catalyst for the attraction of new industry on a substantial scale, which is one of the major concerns of that part of the heartlands.
As an old mining area, we share the impatience of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the need to speed up compensation for ex-miners and their widows. My grandfather went down the pit at 13, and I have seen too many instances in others of the ravages of coal mining on the human frame. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, the responsible Minister, is tackling the problem energetically. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will do his utmost to ensure the success of the new plans for the adaptation of the scheme for Wales. All power to their elbow, because for many time is running out. It is certainly a matter of concern in the heartlands.
I welcome the Bill to improve performance in the health service, and the money provisions in the Finance Bill. In my constituency, we are having a new hospital 8 built at Baglan, but that is no thanks to the three, if not four, Conservative Secretaries of State whom I called upon to make a decision on my many visits to the Welsh Office—I wore the carpet threadbare on my visits there.
The Leader of the Opposition, when he was Welsh Secretary, was most gracious in his welcome. I even offered him the chance to drive the ministerial bulldozer and cut the first sod if he took the decision. He never did, and his time ran out.
Where Welsh Conservative Secretaries of State failed, the Welsh Assembly delivered. Miss Jane Hutt, the Welsh Health and Social Services Secretary, and I together dug the first sod, bringing 15 years of campaigning to a conclusion. Against that background, I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to making devolution in Scotland and Wales work, and to the introduction of a Bill to extend the functions of the Children's Commissioner for Wales.
Jobs for the young are of particular concern to the heartlands. Since the new deal was introduced, youth unemployment in Aberavon has fallen by 86 per cent: 456 young people have found a job through the new deal. Since 1997, there has been a 26 per cent. fall in overall unemployment. That is reflected right across the country. What a waste of national resources it was to spend money on long dole queues when there were so many better things to do by investing in improving society.
Many of my constituents have retired from employment in the steel, coal, oil and chemical industries, and they have occupational pensions. We followed and welcomed the Chancellor's November proposals. The 13,320 pensioners in Aberavon welcomed the proposed pension increases from next April. My pensioners are the nation's investors. They have invested their working lives in our industries, and the Chancellor is recognising that.
In the heartlands, as elsewhere, we are concerned about crime, in particular the small number of youths who perpetrate car theft, acts of vandalism and nuisance. The effect of the actions of a few is out of all proportion to their numbers. When I was Attorney-General, I joined my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor in speeding up justice for young offenders. In my constituency, the car is vital for many people to travel to work, so there will be a particular welcome for a Bill to cut vehicle crime and a Bill to tackle disorderly conduct and raise the age for child curfews.
Lastly, I welcome a Bill that enables the United Kingdom to ratify the statute of the international criminal court. The Government have taken a lead in getting international agreement to set up the court. We believe that those who commit crimes against humanity should be brought to justice, and from the evidence of my postbag so do many of my constituents.
I commend the Gracious Speech to the House, and I wish my colleagues in government well.
§ Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)
I think the whole House will agree that it has certainly been worth waiting 41 years for the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Sir J. Morris).
It is regarded as a great honour for a new—or newish, as I have been in the House for three and a half years—Back Bencher to second the Loyal Address. It is an 9 honour not only for the hon. Member, but for the hon. Member's constituency. I was absolutely thrilled when my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip approached me a year ago and asked whether I would be interested in seconding the Loyal Address. I was so thrilled, indeed, that three days later I had an argument with a car at Aberdeen airport, and the car won. It is amazing to what lengths some people will go to avoid delivering a speech.
Last year my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis) did a sterling job—his act will be hard to follow. However, I am back, fighting fit and delighted to be here today, as it is indeed a great honour—or perhaps not. Since I agreed with such alacrity to deliver this speech, I have discovered a disturbing pattern among those who have previously seconded the Loyal Address.
It is generally assumed that the seconder on such occasions is an up-and-coming Member of Parliament, one to watch. From my side of the House, such luminaries as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and Neil Kinnock have carried out the duty that I am performing today.
If we look at the constituencies of those who have seconded the Loyal Address since I was born, which was 45 years ago today—[HON. MEMBERS: "Happy birthday !"]—I am glad not to be told that I do not look a day over 50! During the past 45 years, I am the fifth hon. Member representing Aberdeen, South to deliver such a speech. It is an honour for Aberdeen, South, undoubtedly, but possibly not an honour for those elected to represent the constituency.
Let us examine the history of those who have represented Aberdeen, South. In 1957 a predecessor, Lady Tweedsmuir, proposed the Loyal Address, but in 1966 she lost the seat to Labour. The next hon. Member for Aberdeen, South to participate was lain Sproat in 1972, who seconded the Loyal Address. He did not lose Aberdeen, South, but in 1983 he thought that he might lose, so he went off to fight what he thought would be the safe Tory seat of Roxburgh and Berwickshire. The Tories won Aberdeen, South in 1983, but I am afraid that in Roxburgh and Berwickshire lain Sproat lost.
Next up was Gerry Malone, who seconded the Loyal Address in 1985. The Liberals did not win Aberdeen, South, but two years later Gerry Malone lost. Then there was Raymond Robertson, who seconded the Loyal Address in 1994. We all know what happened to Raymond Robertson in 1997—he lost.
Hon. Members will understand why it is with some trepidation and not a little foreboding that I address the House today. Perhaps I had the right idea last year, when I used all possible means to get out of this. Since the second world war, the only two hon. Members for Aberdeen, South who did not have the privilege of proposing or seconding the Loyal Address were my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, Central (Mr. Doran) and the sadly missed late Donald Dewar. They both lost the seat as well. I am the first Labour Member to deliver the speech, and provided that I never take the voters of Aberdeen, South for granted, I hope to change the pattern.
I know that it is the custom on such occasions for the Leader of the Opposition to pay tribute to right hon. and hon. Members who have died since the previous Gracious Speech, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) will pay fitting tribute to 10 Donald Dewar. However, I crave the understanding of the House if I, too, indulge in some reminiscence of my most famous predecessor.
Donald knew better than most how difficult a seat Aberdeen, South was to win and subsequently to hold. All through the 1997 election campaign, when everything seemed to be going so well, when members of my campaign team were up-beat2014;the canvass returns were good; the reaction on the streets and the doorsteps was excellent—and when everyone thought that we were on to a winner, there was always Donald saying, "Oh, I don't know. If the vote doesn't split just right, you won't win, you know." He was always a cheery soul.
Everyone has many stories about the late First Minister for Scotland. I was reminded of another one last night when I paid a visit to Dover house—the old Scottish Office when Donald was Secretary of State for Scotland. I can remember my first visit there. It was the week after the 1997 election, and I could not get to a function in Dover house because it was on the first floor and there was no lift. On that occasion, blushes were spared—mine particularly. I do not know whether hon. Members have any idea what it feels like being a lady of a certain age—I feel a bit sensitive about my age today—who has to be carried up and down stairs. On that occasion, the party was moved down to one of the offices on the ground floor.
The next time I visited Dover house, a brand new lift had been installed. "Was this put in especially for me?" I asked of the official who was showing me where it was. "Oh, not at all", he replied. "This is just part of the programme to make Government offices more accessible." Of course, the first person I met when I got out of the lift was the Secretary of State himself, Oor Donald, who asked, "And how are you finding the new lift we put in for you?" I believe he even called it Anne's lift after that. He is, and will be, sadly missed.
The electors of Aberdeen, South obviously like to keep their Members of Parliament on their toes by not taking anything for granted. One thing they like, however, is the economic stability that the Government have brought. I suppose that Aberdeen, South is a complete contrast to the heartlands described by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon, who proposed the motion. I am sure that the Finance Bill announced in today's Gracious Speech will build on the solid foundations that have already been created.
When my immediate predecessor, Raymond Robertson, delivered his speech six years ago, he observed that the Grampian area was so prosperous that, thanks to the Conservative Government he supported, it had anunemployment rate of only 5 per cent.—[Official Report, 16 November 1994; Vol. 250, c. 11.]I can report to the House that since this Labour Government came to power, unemployment in Aberdeen, South has dropped by more than half and is now only 2.2 per cent. Much of that reduction is obviously due to the oil and gas industry—and thanks to the high price of oil at the moment. I know that not everyone thinks that a high oil price is necessarily a good thing, but in Aberdeen we can be quite pleased. The high oil price means that the United Kingdom will continue to be a major player in the oil industry, and Aberdeen will play an important part. There were several very important announcements this summer of new developments on the UK continental shelf, which should secure the jobs of many in my constituency.
11 However, there are, and always were, pockets of deprivation in Aberdeen, South, which the Government are slowly addressing. I make a special plea for the fish processing industry, which still provides more than 1,500 jobs in Aberdeen, South. Because of the lack of available fish, the processing industry is facing some serious difficulties—we hope that those difficulties are temporary, but the industry needs to overcome them if it is to survive as the thriving industry it once was.
Transport links are also very important to my constituency. Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I am not going to make any jokes about the frozen north. The promise to improve transport safety is very much to be welcomed. I hope that the Bill that will bring about safer travel by sea will also apply to fishing vessels.
My constituents in Aberdeen, South are very internationalist in outlook. They have welcomed people from all over the world who came to live and work in Aberdeen, particularly in the oil and gas industry. One of the issues about which I have had a large number of letters is the Jubilee 2000 drop the debt campaign. I have also received many letters condemning human rights abuses in many countries and asking the Government to take action. Those constituents of mine will be delighted with the proposal to set up an international criminal court.
The fact that education was left out of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which was passed by the previous Government, has rightly been strongly criticised. I am therefore glad that that omission will be rectified in the proposed special educational needs and disability Bill. Unless we take discrimination against disabled children and young adults out of the education system, the dream of having full civil rights for people with disabilities will remain a dream and never become a reality.
As a former teacher, I know about the importance of a good education. That is doubly true if we expect, as expect we should, disabled children to grow up to play their full part in society, so that they too can contribute and not always have to be the recipient of charity or good will.
People such as my brother, who is a general practitioner, will be delighted to see an end to tobacco advertising.
I am sure that my constituents will be happy to note that where Scotland leads, the rest of the United Kingdom follows. A number of Bills fall into that category. The Bill dealing with the mode of trial will bring English law into line with that in Scotland. The curfews on teenagers were piloted in Scotland, with some success. The House will be given a free vote on the issue of hunting with hounds, a barbaric practice about which more of my constituents have written to me than about any other subject.
It has been a great honour to second the motion on the Loyal Address. I hope only that I shall be present to hear the next one.
§ 3.1 pm
§ Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)
It is a great pleasure to congratulate the Members who proposed and seconded the motion on the Loyal Address. First—as is 12 our custom, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) pointed out—let me pay tribute to Members who died during the last Session.
Clifford Forsythe was a quietly spoken but brave Member of the House of Commons and a staunch defender of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We shall miss him. Audrey Wise was a dedicated and passionate Member of Parliament, a long-standing campaigner on many issues and, of course, one of the authors of the famous Rooker-Wise amendment of 1977—the check on stealth taxation that is still necessary today.
Michael Colvin's tragic death with his wife Nichola—they will be much missed—deprived the House of a distinguished and experienced contributor, particularly on defence issues. We remember him very fondly. He had many interests, and was even a pub landlord—a qualification much prized in the modern Conservative party.
Bernie Grant will also be greatly missed, especially today. On this occasion, he always showed his pride in his roots by wearing traditional African dress. In his last few years he battled bravely against illness, but that never stopped him speaking out.
Finally, let me mention the death of Donald Dewar, who was mourned throughout the House and throughout Scotland. I spent many months debating with him in Committee. He was a cultured, accomplished, civilised, extremely entertaining and endearing man—notwithstanding the fact that he hardly ever went abroad, that his favourite food was fish fingers and that he had a "happy melancholy" about him, to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South referred. It was once written of him that he was happy only when he was thoroughly depressed.
Donald Dewar once said that he would give a lot to be present at the opening of a Scottish Parliament. He did indeed give a lot to be there, including all his energy and all his health. He was a friend to many of us on both sides of the House; we miss him greatly. When he first entered the House, he did so as the Member for Aberdeen, South. It is on a far happier note that I warmly congratulate the present hon. Member for Aberdeen, South on her speech. We wish her many happy returns, in one sense at least.
I note from the hon. Lady's biography that many years ago, as a student, she gratefully received the help of her local Conservative MP in dealing with a massive telephone bill that had been unfairly sent to her and some fellow poor students. She has now repaid that kind act by dedicating her life to unseating Conservative Members, which she has done very successfully. We have all met constituents like that at our surgeries. I unreservedly congratulate the hon. Lady on her speech.
I also congratulate the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Sir J. Morris), who has been a Member of Parliament continuously for 41 years. He would have become the Father of the House had he not decided to step down at the next election. He once said:I don't regard myself as a professional politician,which is quite a statement for someone who has been Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Transport; Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Power; Minister of Defence (Equipment); Secretary of State for Wales; shadow spokesman on legal affairs; Attorney-General; served in the Cabinets of three Prime Ministers; and spent 13 33 years on the Front Bench of the House of Commons. With that record, he would have to be a professional politician to claim that he was not one.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman was Secretary of State for Wales in the 1970s. It tells us something either about Secretaries of State for Wales or about the Welsh that he spent five years campaigning hard for devolution, at the end of which the Welsh voted to reject it; and I spent two years campaigning against devolution, at the end of which they accepted it. That was not his only setback. He was against joining the European Union and the country joined. He opposed unilateral nuclear disarmament and the Labour party adopted it. He supported Roy Hattersley for the leadership of the Labour party and it went to Neil Kinnock, so he will understand if I look cheerfully on his prediction of a Labour victory at the next election.
Judging by the content of the Queen's Speech, it is probably the last Queen's Speech of the current Parliament. In fact, there was so little in it that I think it was very good of Her Majesty to come down to deliver it at all. It is now clear that certain things that the Government committed themselves to in their manifesto will never be enacted in the current Parliament. The Government's manifesto said:We are committed to a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons,and their annual report told us that the referendum was "on course", so where is it?
There is always one group of people that will be gullible enough to believe that the promise of a proportional representation referendum is about to be kept. The Prime Minister promised a PR referendum to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown). It is all recounted in the thrilling page-turner "The Ashdown Diaries." Page 276—not many people have reached page 276—says:4th September 1994. Blair: 'You must understand that I am not playing a tactical manoeuvre on you. You can trust me on this'. I said I believed him.It is touching really, is it not? More recently, the right hon. Member for Yeovil, now older and wiser—well, older anyway—when asked by friends whether the Prime Minister hadplayed him for a foolsighed and replied:He was sincere at the time.That is the trouble with the Prime Minister. He can be sincere about something at the time he is asked, but he is sincere about the opposite the next time he is asked. The Liberal Democrats are all still sitting there—eager beavers—waiting for a PR commitment from Labour at the next election and willing again to believe it. It just shows that the Government cannot fool all the people all the time, but they can fool all the Liberal Democrats most of the time. The Liberal Democrats do not understand that the Government are all spin and no delivery.
The manifesto said that the Governmentwill introduce legislation to allow the people, region by region, to decide in a referendum whether they want directly elected regional government.14 The annual report said that the Government remained committed to that undertaking. This is the last opportunity to do that, so why have the Government not done it in the current Parliament? Is it because there is no demand for regional assemblies, as we told them at the time? Is it because the London elections did not go exactly to the Prime Minister's taste, or is it because the intricate legislation would have to be delicately steered through the House by the Deputy Prime Minister?
Come to think of it, why is there so little legislation in the Queen's Speech that is anything to do with the Deputy Prime Minister? There was to have been a water Bill. We know that the Government wanted a water Bill, because those measures were in last year's Utilities Bill, which collapsed amid chaos and confusion. There was to have been a Bill to implement the urban White Paper. The Government had three and a half years to produce the White Paper. They published it so late that they cannot legislate on it.
§ Mr. Hague
I shall give way in a little while.
The Deputy Prime Minister no longer has time for legislation because he is so busy in his new role as international diplomat. The Prime Minister once said:There is a new era, a new millennium approaching, and it requires a new Europe.Last week, the Deputy Prime Minister said:everyone was with us until we got to those Euro ministers.The Prime Minister said that we have established "strong, positive relations" with our European partners. The Deputy Prime Minister said:She got cold feet and she couldn't explain it. She was exhausted and couldn't understand the detail.The Prime Minister said that weengage constructively with Europe to get a better deal for Britain.—[Official Report, 29 March 1999; Vol. 328, c. 733.]The Deputy Prime Minister said:I had not been home for three weekends, so I admit … wanting to go home that night.—[Official Report, 27 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 638.]Why are the Government bothering to recruit the star of "One Foot in the Grave" when they already have the star of one foot in the mouth? After that performance, the Deputy Prime Minister must be concerned that, in a lengthy interview that has just appeared in the magazine Local Government First, a long-standing, deep interest in local government and the environment is claimed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). Well, the Deputy Prime Minister has at least been allowed a housing Bill. However, the right hon. Member for Hartlepool could do quite well with a housing Bill. At least, he would certainly much rather introduce a housing Bill than pay a housing bill.
§ Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain his promise yesterday to cut £200 million from housing programmes?
§ Mr. Hague
We have set out very clearly—[Interruption.] I will explain several things about 15 yesterday. Yesterday, we set out very clearly our proposals. Now, it is very clear—as the BBC economics editor said last night on "Newsnight"—thatThe Tories are telling the truth and only by wilfully misreading the Conservatives' spending plans can you call it £16 billion.So now we have it from the BBC: our figures are the ones that add up.
We also know now that other things that would have had cross-party support and are badly needed are not in the Queen's Speech. The Prime Minister said some time ago that overhauling adoption law was a high priority. Thousands of children could be adopted more quickly. Every week makes an enormous difference to the rest of their lives and their welfare goes beyond party disagreements and calculations. In February 2000, No. 10 Downing street told us thatTony Blair is personally to take charge ofthe Government's review of adoption law, and that heis keen to be seen to be acting swiftly.Legislation is likely before the next election.That was 10 months ago. So where in the Queen's Speech is that legislation?
§ Mr. Hague
I shall give way again a little later.
Vaccine damage payments were increased by this Government and by the previous one. There is cross-party agreement that we need legislation to improve the scheme further. In June, the Secretary of State for Social Security told the House:We shall legislate at the earliest available opportunity.—[Official Report, 27 June 2000; Vol. 352, c. 719.]So where is the legislation?
In April, the Minister for Trade told the House of Commons that the Government would beintroducing new legislation as soon as possible—[Official Report, 10 April 2000; Vol. 348, c. 33W.]to implement the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention designed to combat the bribery of foreign officials. So where is it? How on earth can the Government say that they have an ethical foreign policy or that they are leading in the European Union when, of the 20 countries that have ratified that convention, this is the only one that has not changed its law?
§ Mr. Hague
If, even now, the Prime Minister wishes to reconsider or to announce—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I am saying something directly to the Prime Minister, in the hope that he will listen.
If the Prime Minister wishes to reconsider or to announce that, after all, measures on vaccine damage, adoption or the OECD bribery convention are in the legislative programme, he will have the Opposition's full support. Those are things that people in all parties wanted to see in the Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. Hague
I shall give way again, in a few moments, to the hon. Gentleman.
16 One reason for this thin legislative programme is the Government's complete mismanagement of the parliamentary timetable, which meant that they were unable to end the last Session until a few days ago. Huge amounts of legislation were passed without ever being debated in the House of Commons. That abuse of democracy happens when the Government reduce the hours that Parliament sits while increasing the amount of legislation that they force through it. They are producing the least considered legislation in the history of the country and many Labour Members think so—
§ Mr. Hague
I shall give way in a moment, but first I want to tell Labour Members what one of them thought about this situation.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) wrote to his constituency executive last week. For greater accuracy, as you would say, Mr. Speaker, I have obtained a copy of his letter. He wrote:Parliamentary Report 28 November 2000Dear Comrades—I thought that they were not supposed to say that any more—Please accept my apologies for not being able to attend the executive … I am trapped in Parliament.I have to say that today I feel ashamed of being associated with a Labour Government … Ashamed because … during the election campaign we promised that "our air was not for sale" … In last night's debate they refused to even discuss the amendment which I tabled as a compromise …I will never forgive those that forced this lunatic policy upon us, Ministers and backbench lobby fodder alike.That is what the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington wrote.
§ Mr. Blizzard
This time last year, I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question. Now that he has had a year to think about it, I wonder whether he can explain to the House why crime doubled under the Government of which he was a member?
§ Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)
I am grateful for that. I made a timely entrance to the Chamber. My constituency party's judgment on air traffic control 17 was based on an assessment of the privatisation of British Rail carried out by the previous Government, which was a disaster.
§ Mr. Hague
I notice that the hon. Gentleman made no retraction of his description of his own party as lunatics and Lobby fodder. If he wants a botched privatisation, why does he not look even more closely at air traffic services and London Underground? His is the party of botched privatisation—the party that he is rebelling against. The hon. Gentleman thought that our air was not for sale. He was another one who believed the Prime Minister. When will people realise that, under this Government, it is all for sale? The policies are for sale, the people are for sale and the principles are for sale.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington has been dealing with an arrogant Government. Looking at the Queen's Speech, one sees that their arrogance is alive and well. They are bringing back the mode of trial Bill for a third time, in the face of opposition from the Criminal Bar Association, the Law Society, the Legal Action Group, the Institute of Race Relations and the Society of Labour Lawyers.
We have done a little research and the reason why the Bill saves money is that it makes sentencing weaker. We have looked at the Government's figures and it is clear that the reason why they think the Bill would save £80 million is that magistrates can sentence people to only six months, so there would be fewer criminals in jail and more criminals on the streets.
We have done a little more research. A famous London barrister who was always opposed to this plan said:On the right to jury trial, it is totally unsatisfactory to leave this to the magistrates to decide. Fundamental rights to justice cannot be driven by administrative convenience.That barrister was the Prime Minister in 1993—[Interruption.] We have had the Lobby fodder; now we are getting the lunatics.
Arrogance is also behind the Bill to abolish community health councils. Three weeks ago, the Prime Minister told the House that the future of community health councils was "open to consultation". When the chairman of the Association of London Health Councils telephoned No. 10 to see whether that was true, she was told by the press office that the Prime Minister had made a "slip of the tongue", and that community health councils were going to be abolished. It is astonishing, then, that when I asked him about the matter last week, the Prime Minister made exactly the same slip of the tongue. The poor thing, his tongue must be very slippery these days. He said that the Government would "consult" on the proposals andlisten to the representations that are made.—[Official Report, 29 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 958.]I have a representation here—a letter from a Mr. John Burton, the agent to the Prime Minister in his Sedgefield constituency—to the south Durham and Weardale community health council. It states:I am replying on behalf of Tony to your letter … concerning the early-day motions congratulating CHCs … of course, Tony agrees with every word … Tony would certainly like to add his congratulations to the work the CHCs have done … and wishes them every success in the future.That letter was written only last year, but now the right hon. Gentleman is going to abolish CHCs. It is not unusual for the Queen's Speech to include a list of 18 measures opposed by the Leader of the Opposition: it is unusual for it to contain a list of measures opposed by the Prime Minister, but that is the current situation.
Is not the real reason why the Prime Minister wants to abolish—
§ Mr. Hague
I see that the Lobby fodder are coming on again. I shall give way in a moment. The real reason the Prime Minister wants to abolish community health councils has been spelled out by the director of the community health councils' national association. Last week, he said:Getting rid of CHCs won't get rid of the problems in the NHS, but it might make them more difficult to detect.The Prime Minister who last year wished CHCs every success now abolishes them without consultation.
Let us have a bit more Lobby fodder.
§ Mr. Plaskitt
Talking about abolition, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that his intention would be to abolish the £200 winter fuel payment that now goes out to every pensioner?
§ Mr. Miller
While the right hon. Gentleman is sitting down, will he consult the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo), who is sitting next to him, and define exactly how much "far higher" is?
§ Mr. Hague
We have already given the figures. Under our proposals, single people under 75 on a weekly pension would get £9.60 extra, and married couples over 75 would get an extra £16.10. [Interruption.] We shall have to have a word with the Labour Whips, as the Lobby fodder should be better informed.
With regard to the new Bills dealing with crime and deregulation, the Queen's Speech should have read, "My Government, having interfered in people's lives with excessive regulation and having been excessively weak on crime despite promising to be tough, will now introduce Bills on crime and deregulation as cosmetic measures to cover their complete failure in the run-up to the election."
It is all spin and no delivery. The Government have spent four years increasing regulation and strangling the country with red tape. Now they say that they are going to cut the burdens on business. The Bill may not get through every stage of Parliament, but it has already passed through every stage of new Labour.
The first stage is empty rhetoric. Labour's manifesto pledged not to impose "burdensome regulations on businesses". The next stage is the broken promise. There has been an extra £5 billion a year of costs for business, 19 and an extra 3,700 new regulations. The final stage is the brazen refusal to admit the truth. The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce has said thatthe Government have dramatically increased regulatory burdensand that they are "stifling enterprise".
The Bill on deregulation is late, weak and hypocritical. I suppose that it might fool some people, such as Liberal Democrat Members, but it will not fool anyone out in the real world.
Then we have the usual spin about being tough on crime.
§ Mr. Hague
I will give way to the hon. Lady later.
Once again, we read the headlines about crackdowns and curfews and protection against yobs, while the measures to back up these headlines have been a complete failure. The Queen's Speech said that the Government would combat crime and anti-social behaviour, and promised curfew orders, but those were the words of the first Queen's Speech of this Parliament in 1997.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman is giving way at this stage. Hon. Members should not persist in standing.
§ Mr. Hague
Those were the words of the first Queen's Speech, following which crime increased, antisocial behaviour worsened and not a single child curfew order was imposed. Of what value are the same words, parroted again by a Government who have been weak on crime since the day that they took office?
On no area of policy has the Prime Minister's failure been more stark than on crime. Tough on crime, he said, and there have been 190,000 more criminal offences in the past year. Violent crime has risen by 16 per cent., and the Home Secretary has released 27,000 criminals from prison early so that they can commit more crime. Tough on crime, he said, and he has cut police numbers by 3,000 and tied their hands with red tape and political correctness.
The vice-chairman of the Police Federation said on television this lunch time, when asked about the Queen's Speech, that the federation was extremely sceptical as to whether these measures could make a real difference on the ground. That is because we have heard it all before. The Home Secretary says, "Crisis—what crisis?" and presses on with loading non-existent officers with yet more gimmicks and spin.
§ Mr. MacShane
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for destroying my career. On crime, does he 20 share my view that probably the single biggest criminal at large today is General Augusto Pinochet? Does the right hon. Gentleman share my sense of shame that his patron and mentor, the man on whom he bestowed a peerage—Lord Lamont—went to receive a medal at the hands of the supporters of this torturer and murderer? Will the right hon. Gentleman dissociate the Conservative party from that disgraceful scene in Santiago?
§ Mr. Hague
A legislative programme that was serious would end this scandalous early release scheme. A legislative programme that was serious would give rights to victims rather than criminals—rights enshrined in law for greater information, consultation and access. A legislative programme that was serious would impose tougher penalties on those who abuse children or try to sell them drugs. A Government serious about winning the war against crime would stop spinning promises and start delivering tough law and order policies and more police to enforce them.
§ Mr. Hague
Instead, it is all spin and no delivery in the Queen's Speech. It is all spin and no delivery on the health service. Twenty-four hours to save the NHS, the Prime Minister said before the election. Four years later, he stands in Downing street and admits that the health service is in crisis. Waiting lists are up 62,000 and 79 out of 99 health authorities report longer waiting times for operations than in 1997. Last year the number of students applying to become doctors fell to a record low. A record number of nurses is leaving the country to work overseas.
Let us listen to what people in the health service are saying. Dr. Geoff Scott at University College London hospital had to admit a woman with tuberculosis into a maternity ward because no other beds were free. He said:The Government does not have any solution at all. They have no intelligence, no insight into what is going on …The Prime Minister is already trying to escape responsibility for a winter crisis. He is already blaming the media. However, if there is a winter crisis in the NHS—which he is now predicting—he will have no one to blame but himself. His Government's regulations have already closed at least 15,000 care home beds. His Government's crazy seven-year restriction on consultants working in the NHS threatens to force many young consultants to leave it. His Government's political interference and ministerial incompetence have brought about a greater crisis in the national health service.
A legislative programme that was serious about solving those problems would get rid of distorting waiting list initiatives that distort clinical priorities. A legislative programme that was serious about preparing the NHS for 21 the winter would include measures to work with the independent health sector, to restore care beds and to encourage young consultants.
§ Helen Jones (Warrington, North)
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how dealing with clinical priorities in the NHS would be improved if my poorest constituents were made to pay for basic operations?
§ Mr. Hague
The only ones who are making people pay are the incompetent managers in today's health service. I have met people in recent months who are waiting for a heart bypass, who cannot obtain one within a reasonable time on the national health service and who feel that they must pay £10,000 to have the operation privately. They cannot get one from the health service under the Labour Government. That is making people pay for their operations, and it happens more today under this Prime Minister than under any other Prime Minister who has presided over the national health service.
It is all spin and no delivery on education, too. Secondary school class sizes have risen. Government interference and paperwork are driving teachers out of the profession. Instead of setting schools free to raise standards, the Education Secretary has tried to micro-manage every classroom from Whitehall. The result is that there is now a teacher crisis in our schools: 2,000 are leaving the profession every year, and there could be 30,000 teaching vacancies within five years.
"Education, education, education" was the mantra at the previous election. Four years later, our schools are facing a four-day week and the teaching profession is in crisis. A legislative programme that was serious would set schools free from bureaucratic control, put the money directly into the classroom, give choice to parents, end the vindictive campaign against grammar schools and allow new partner schools to be created.
It is all spin and no delivery on transport, as well. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Hague
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
It is all spin and no delivery on transport, as well. The Prime Minister said that he wanted to get Britain moving again. Four years later, the country is at a standstill and our transport system is in crisis. Taxes on the motorist have soared, and transport investment has slumped. The Deputy Prime Minister boasts of a 10-year plan, but public investment in our transport over the 10 years from 1997 is now to be £30 billion less than it was for the last 10 years of the previous Government.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)
Will the right hon. Gentleman apply his mind to the aspects of the Queen's Speech that seek to improve the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which he piloted through Parliament? Does he recall that, as he did so, he steadfastly opposed the introduction of a disability rights commission? We now have such a commission, and it is working. Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that he would not use any specious arguments about cost-cutting, either to abolish the commission or to amalgamate it with, say, the Equal 22 Opportunities Commission? If he did, millions of disabled people would be as opposed to him now as they were then.
§ Mr. Hague
The right hon. Gentleman knows that, over the past two years, the Conservative party supported in the House the creation of the Disability Rights Commission. He knows that the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995—on whose Committee I served as a Minister and he was the Opposition spokesman—is one of the matters in politics of which I am proudest; it made a lasting advance for disabled people in this country. I will never do anything to turn back advances made by any party for disabled people in Britain. He certainly has that assurance.
There is all spin and no delivery on transport, on education, on health and on crime. The Prime Minister said that there would be no tax increases at all—that his plans required no more tax—but for all those with a pension who save, who drive a car and who own a home, it has been tax and waste. At the previous general election, he had all those "Trust Me" posters. At the next election, he plans another picture of himself with the slogan, "Thanks to me, £25 billion of taxpayers' money has been poured down the drain". To all those who voted for change, loose change is all they will be left with.
Yet, of all the Bills whose contents will be finalised in the coming Session, the most important may be one that was not mentioned in the Speech: at Nice, the Government intend to surrender even more of our national independence. However, as always with this Labour Government, it will be surrender by stealth. All their talk will be of vetoes and standing firm; all their actions will be giving way and giving up.
We now know that none of the Prime Minister's tough words about Europe can be believed. In the House, only two weeks ago, he said that he had the full support of the US Defence Secretary for the European rapid reaction force. The Prime Minister said:The idea that the proposal undermines NATO or the US relationship … is a proposition that could only come from the Leader of the Opposition.—[Official Report, 22 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 302.]Yesterday, we discovered that the proposition was coming from the US Defence Secretary himself; he said that there were still too many unanswered questions and that NATO could become a relic of the past. I do not remember the Prime Minister explaining any of that to the House. Whatever the Prime Minister calls it, surrender is still surrender—just as a super-power is a super-state, a European Union army is a Euro army, a legal charter of fundamental rights is a law and a handover plan is a sell-out.
In the Prime Minister, we have a man who has forfeited the right to be believed or to be trusted. In more than 20 years in politics, he has betrayed every cause he believed in, contradicted every statement he has made, broken every promise he has given and breached every agreement that he has entered into.
§ Mr. Hague
No, I shall not give way.
23 In 1982, the Prime Minister said that we would negotiate a withdrawal from the EEC. In 1994, he said:Under my leadership, I will never allow this country to be isolated.—[Official Report, 24 November 1994; Vol. 250, c. 725.]In 1996, he said—[Interruption.] They do not like it, do they?—[Interruption.]
In 1996, he said that he had made it clear that if it is in Britain's interest to be isolated then we will be isolated—[Interruption.] In June 1996, he said—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I cannot tolerate shouting across the Chamber; it will not be allowed. The right hon. Gentleman has indicated that he will not give way, so I do not expect Bank Benchers to rise again.
§ Mr. Hague
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Lobby fodder is one thing, but noisy Lobby fodder is quite another.
There is a lifetime of U-turns, errors and sell-outs. All those hon. Members who sit behind the Prime Minister and wonder whether they stand for anything any longer, or whether they defend any point of principle, know who has led them to that sorry state. In one of his frequent meetings with the former leader of the Liberal party, whom he so much preferred to meeting his own Cabinet, the Prime Minister told us as it is. He said that he had taken from his party everything they thought they believed in and had stripped them of their core beliefs and that what kept them together was power.
That is the Government we see before us. Everything they thought they believed in has been stripped from them. They have had their core beliefs taken away. That is what this Queen's Speech is all about: all spin and no delivery. It is designed to produce better headlines, not better public services. Today's measures will not speed up one train or one hospital operation. The Speech will not improve discipline or standards in a single school; it will not cut crime on the streets; it will not reduce tax for one single family.
The Queen's Speech is 1,000 words long and it can be summed up in one sentence: "All spin and no delivery." Britain needs a Bill to cut tax, not to increase it. It needs a Bill to let doctors treat patients according to their needs, not to force consultants out of the health service. It needs a Bill to impose tougher sentences, not one designed to save money by letting prisoners out of jail earlier. Once this Government were clapped in so enthusiastically; today they are utterly clapped out.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair)
The first half of the speech of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), in which he made his jokes, was excellent, but in the second half he had to deal with policy, and it is fairly extraordinary for someone to speak in the debate on the Queen's Speech and not to mention the economy. I will come to the other parts of his speech later.
I join in the warm congratulations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Sir J. Morris) on his excellent speech. He was a member of the Front-Bench team for 33 years. I was particularly pleased that 24 he paid tribute to Baglan energy park, in which I was delighted to play a part. As his reward, he has the winter allowance—and under this Government he will keep it.
Generous tribute has already been paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg). I also pay tribute to her enormous courage in the past year. Although she made light of it, it was a serious accident, but despite that she worked ceaselessly for her constituents. She is known as an outstanding constituency Member of Parliament. She was a teacher and she used to say that, having taught 15 to 16-year-olds, being in the House of Commons was no problem for her. Her speech was excellent. It showed the full range of her commitment and I congratulate her on it.
If the procedures that the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks wants were put in place, my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend, as Welsh and Scottish Members of Parliament, would not have full voting rights. I assure them that, under this Government, they will keep those full voting rights.
The right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend also paid tribute to Donald Dewar and to other Members who died during the year. So much has already been said about Donald Dewar—in particular, so brilliantly at the memorial service by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. It is worth saying that he was not only an outstanding Member of the Scottish Parliament—indeed, the First Minister and one of its founding Members—but an outstanding Member of this House. He was a brilliant debater and we all have our stories of his extraordinary humour and character. It was a strange blend of melancholy at one level and of extraordinary strength and determination. In July, when he came down to see me, I thought that, as a delighted father, I should take him to see our baby. We went into the flat, where my mother-in-law was holding the baby. He poked him in the stomach, took a step back and gave that Donald laugh—half a snort, half a laugh. He turned to my mother-in-law and said, "Aren't all new-born babies remarkably ugly?" For anyone who knew him, that was a very Donaldish comment. He will be deeply missed, but he will also be long remembered.
I pay tribute to Michael Colvin, who was a distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence and a real gentleman who will be missed on both sides of the House. I also pay tribute to Bernie Grant, to whom we have paid tribute in the House. It is worth emphasising how he worked himself up from very little and became a Member of this House but never forgot his passionate commitment to social justice and ending all forms of discrimination, which carried him through his political career.
Clifford Forsythe had a background in local government. His contributions to the House, some of which I heard, were always full of strong common sense. He was, like all Northern Ireland Members of Parliament, a very brave and decent man.
Audrey Wise, as has been said, was a Labour party figure and character. I do not suppose that anyone will forget either her time on the national executive or her commitment to social justice. Throughout her parliamentary career, she never let up on social justice. As party leader, I can honestly say that there were times when her views were not entirely convenient to the 25 party leadership, but they were always consistent and she expressed them very clearly. She won many of the battles in which she was engaged.
We pay tribute to all those Members who died. If I may, I should like to say how welcome it is to have the three new Members from the by-elections that were held a few weeks ago.
That might be a convenient place to start with the speech of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks. He was very determined that he would be successful at the next general election, but I have to tell him that that belief in success is not shared by all his Members. A senior member of the Conservative party recently sent a letter to the Chief Whip. The envelope said, "Chief Whip" and, indeed, it reached the Chief Whip—our Chief Whip. The note was attached to a press cutting from The Times headlined:Top Tories plot Hague succession.It said:Dear James,All of this is a self inflicted wound at the back of which is Central Office whose knowledge of the electorate's likely voting intentions seems tenuous. It was obvious to me… it would have been much better to have taken the opposite line ie. that we were unlikely to win but we were going to fight every seat in our determination to win the next election and then claim great progress although we lost.Given the evidence of the policy content of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I think that is right.
The right hon. Gentleman criticised our record over three and a half years, so let us analyse the Conservatives' record. Before they criticise us, let them take responsibility for their record: the mess that they made over inherited SERPS, which cost the taxpayer £12 billion; the cuts that they made in nurse training, the long-term effects of which are with us today; the cockeyed privatisation of the railways, which is the reason for the shambles today; the failure to maintain school buildings, which left teachers and children trying to work in schools where the roofs leaked; the record levels of Government borrowing, so that under the Conservatives 42 per cent. of Government spending went on interest payments on the debt and social security, with taxpayers picking up the tab and mortgages at 15 per cent.; the record levels of repossessions and negative equity; the one in five households with no one at work; the 22 tax rises; and the 4 million children in poverty. They attack us on health service waiting lists—the concept barely existed before they took office.
I will take criticism from people, but I will not take criticism from the Tories. They want everyone to forget just how bad they were; we will not forget and, more important, neither will the country.
In so far as there were any, I shall pick up on the one or two factual points in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He made a point about regulations under this Government. There have been 3,500 regulations, but the number of statutory instruments is the same under this Government as it was during the last three years of the previous Government—so that point is nonsense. He said that none of the crime figures was down. It is true that violent crime is up, and I shall come to that in a moment, but burglary is down considerably, by 20 per cent.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he opposed the early release scheme. I just point out to him that that scheme was supported by a Select Committee that included 26 someone who is now one of his Front-Bench spokesmen on crime. The right hon. Gentleman said that national health service waiting lists were up. In-patient waiting lists are down. It is correct that out-patient waiting lists are up. They were rising for years before we took office, but they too are now falling, and this is the first time that in-patient and out-patient lists have fallen together.
The right hon. Gentleman made virtually no mention of any of his policies, but, in respect of the NHS, perhaps he can explain how he would manage to fund private medical insurance, the deadweight costs of £750 million and his refusal to accept the increases in tobacco tax in the Budget. That amounts to £1 billion, which will come straight out of national health service spending. He also said that the number of nurses had fallen. In fact, it has risen by 16,000 since we took office.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the number of places in residential care homes had fallen because of the regulations that the Government had introduced. First, those regulations do not come into force until 2002; and, secondly, they will improve quality in the homes. It is completely wrong to say that they are putting residential homes out of business.
The right hon. Gentleman said that secondary class sizes had risen. It is correct that they have risen by 0.4 of a pupil—they were rising for a long time before we took office. However, we promised to cut primary school class sizes and infant class sizes. There are 450,000 fewer infants in classes with more than 30 pupils, yet he is committed to scrapping the money that allowed that to happen. He also said that teachers were being driven out of the teaching profession and that no one was being recruited. Teacher recruitment is up as a result of the bursaries that we have given—there are more teachers. Yes, it is true that we need to recruit more, especially in areas such as London and the south-east, but that is why we are introducing provision to help them with their housing costs. The right hon. Gentleman is opposed to that extra investment; the very thing that he wants to happen will not happen.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he would never do anything to hurt disabled people. However, £100 million of the money that he says he will save—I shall come to the rest of his spending programme in a moment—comes from disabled people on incapacity benefit, so that argument is wrong as well.
As for the so-called surrender at Nice, the right hon. Gentleman described Nice in that way because he said that it was wrong for there ever to be any additional qualified majority voting. Let me quote from Hansard and comments made in June 1990 by the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude), when he was a Minister of State with responsibility for Europe. He said thatqualified majority voting has enabled us to get some liberalising measures through against protectionist resistance by some of our partners.—[Official Report, 11 June 1990; Vol. 174, c.103.]Indeed, more qualified majority voting was agreed under the Maastricht treaty, which the Leader of the Opposition supported, and under the Single European Act 1985, which the Conservatives all supported, than has been introduced by the current Government. The truth is that some qualified majority voting is in this country's interests. For example, it is in our country's interests to have qualified majority voting that allows us to get a better deal on items such as structural funds and the costs of the Community.
27 The American Secretary of Defence said yesterday that the European security and defence initiative must not duplicate NATO's procedures. We are in total agreement with that. He also repeated his full-hearted support for European defence co-operation.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Private conversations are going on in the Chamber. [Interruption.] Order. If hon. Members find the debate boring, they know what they can do—they can leave. They will not be missed. If hon. Members wish to become involved in private conversations, it is only courteous for them to leave the Chamber. That is the case no matter which hon. Member is addressing the House.
§ The Prime Minister
I apologise to Conservative Members because I am talking about policy.
The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said that police numbers had fallen. That is true, but they were falling for five years before we took office. We are now putting extra investment into police services. That will mean that police numbers will begin to rise again by next March. Once more, of course, he is committed to opposing that investment. The Conservatives have never committed themselves to matching investment on law and order and police. If they want to do that now, they can. But they have not, so although other people may be able to criticise the Government, I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman cannot.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am happy to join the Prime Minister in criticising the leader of the Conservative party, but he implied that he was willing to take criticism from people who were not Tories. Therefore, will he respond to a criticism made by a pensioner constituent of mine who was diagnosed with chest pains last January? Although he had to cancel the first appointment because he was ill, three of his appointments at Guy's hospital have been cancelled and he will not be seen until January.
As the Prime Minister came to office on the basis of a commitment to save the national health service in 14 days, and as the Chancellor has so much money in the kitty, when will we get a commitment on the maximum waiting time either for operations or for seeing a consultant? Why is it not possible to collect more money from the well-off to pay for services for everyone?
§ The Prime Minister
I totally understand why the hon. Gentleman's constituent is anxious and wants to be seen and treated as soon as possible, but the hon. Gentleman will know what the problem has been over many years. As a result of substantial under-investment in the health service, we do not have the number of people, such as heart surgeons, that we require. Those people are not in position. However, there will be a 50 per cent. increase over the next few years. We are also investing a vast sum 28 in the national health service. The truth is that we are putting in far more money than the Liberal Democrats have ever promised.
In all frankness, the difficulty that I have with the Liberal Democrats on such issues is that, no matter how much money we put in, they always ask for more. However, there comes a point at which we need to balance the books and ensure that the economy is stable. I shall return to that in a moment.
In three and a half years—despite what the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks said—we have made a real difference, step by step. First, we have economic stability and an end to boom and bust. Secondly, we have got people off benefit and into work; we do not have mass unemployment and deprivation. Thirdly, we have invested in our future; there is no longer chronic under-investment in our public services. Fourthly, we have attacked crime and its causes. The right hon. Gentleman attacked us on the crime figures, but crime has fallen under this Government. If crime figures are the measure of whether a Government succeed or fail, how does he explain that, as the recent British crime survey showed, crime doubled under his Government? Finally, we have a positive and serious attitude to Europe—the key alliance right on our doorstep—to get the best out of it for Britain.
None of those steps has been easy. None of them happened without difficult decisions being made, including those on Bank of England independence, measures to cut the deficit, performance-related pay for teachers, changing the basis of GPs' contracts, incapacity and welfare reform, the private finance initiative, devolution, House of Lords reform, the minimum wage, banning handguns, a more constructive relationship with Europe—which was fought every inch of the way—the new deal and the working families tax credit. But the one thing of which we can be absolutely sure is that, whatever difficult decisions were needed to make that progress, each and every one was opposed by the Conservative party.
If the Conservatives oppose the measures to produce the results, they cannot support the results themselves. Mortgage rates are virtually half of what they averaged in the Tory years, which is a saving to the average home owner of £1,000 a year. The £28 billion borrowing requirement that we inherited has disappeared. Inflation is the lowest in Europe, and there are 1 million extra people in work. Leaving aside money spent on pensions and child benefit, social security spending in this country is falling in real terms for the first time in decades. Long-term youth unemployment has been cut by more than 70 per cent. In addition to the winter allowance, there are free television licences for the over-75s—again, something that will be taken from people by the right hon. Gentleman. Only 17p—instead of 42p—in the pound is going on debt interest payments and benefit payments.
All the money that we put in goes to the front-line services that we need. Some 17,000 schools have new buildings and equipment and we have had the best-ever primary school results. Hospital deficits have been cut. The Tory two-tier system has been abandoned and, in its place, are primary care groups and primary care trusts, which are doing excellent work. There are 38 major hospital development projects worth £4 billion around the country. Of course all that has taken time, but those are real, tangible benefits.
29 One feature of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was extraordinary. As I have said, the jokes were good—they are always good. There is probably a little debate in his office: "Do we go for jokes or for policy?" Let me congratulate him on at least one sound judgment. Frankly, I think it is better to stick with the jokes; he has taken the right tactical decision in that respect.
I have referred to real achievements, and now we must build on them for the future. The national health service plan and legislation for it is referred to in the Queen's Speech, as is taking forward the changes in primary schools into secondary schools. The new Bill on special educational needs and disability will be important in that context. Of course there is transport chaos at present, and we know the reasons for it, but at least we have a proposal. The 10-year transport plan has been agreed by the industry, by consumers and by the Government. Of course, the Leader of the Opposition is opposed to extra investment for transport. The one person who cannot stand at the Opposition Dispatch Box and criticise is the person who would cut the very means of solving the transport situation.
There will be further action to cut debt and to keep interest rates low. There is the extension of the new deal and the children's tax credit, which will be a family tax cut of £8.50 a week and will come in April. There will be new help for pensioners on the basic state pension, new measures on the knowledge economy and Bills on social security fraud, free nursing care, banning tobacco advertising, the international criminal court, housing, safety, the armed forces and Northern Ireland.
Across all those areas is a clear narrative to what we have achieved, which is laying the foundations of economic stability, getting people off welfare and into work and investing in public services. These measures are all designed to build opportunity. In return for that opportunity, the Queen's Speech provides for responsibility. It is tough on crime at every level, including car crime, drugs, organised crime and the yob culture and anti-social behaviour. We are giving the police the powers that they need and we are giving the people the support that they need to win back their communities.
The right hon. Gentleman did not really mention any of the crime measures set out in the Queen's Speech. He did not say whether he would support them. We know that the levels of burglary and car crime have fallen. However, we are taking extra measures because we know that violent crime is continuing to rise. We know also—I suppose that every Member knows this—that the impact of drug-related crime is a scourge on every community.
We are legislating at every level, including on vehicle crime, handling stolen cars, hit-and-run drivers, kerb crawling and the yob culture, with a wide range of new public and police powers. We will confiscate the assets from organised crime, including those of drug dealers, and regulate the private security industry. At each stage legislation is matched by investment. At each stage we are putting the money in as well as legal provision, be it in respect of the police, hospitals, schools, rail or roads. Every pound of that extra money is a choice, and that is the choice that there will be between the two main political parties.
More than 90 per cent. of the extra spending will be in the priority areas plus pensions. What is the alternative What does the right hon. Gentleman offer? Why was it 30 that he made a policy-free speech, apart from a load of nonsense from the shadow Home Secretary, most of which we are doing in any event? [Interruption.] Not the nonsense. [Interruption.] I knew that the Opposition would like the joke, even if it was against me.
Let us plot the path of the right hon. Gentleman. In his first Queen's Speech as Leader of the Opposition he was brim-full of confidence. There were four wheels on his bandwagon and he was rolling along. What was he predicting then? He talked about a recession made in Downing street, dangerous arrogance in giving the Bank of England independence and hundreds of thousands about to lose their jobs. Instead, his bandwagon lost its first wheel. But he did not mind—with three wheels on his bandwagon, he was still rolling along. He went into the first comprehensive spending review, which he said was reckless and irresponsible. He said that the economy would collapse. Having realised that it was popular, he got himself into a convoy, and with another wheel off he rolled into the land of guarantees, notably the tax guarantee. His stay there was short and not entirely congenial.
With two wheels on his bandwagon, he let the shadow Chancellor grab the steering wheel and that took him to the old familiar Tory town of spending cuts guaranteed. That is why the right hon. Gentleman did not deal with the economy. The Tories say that they will cut spending from our 3.3 per cent. rise to just 2 per cent. below trend growth. That was very clear and precise, and it adds up to £16 billion worth of cuts in the Government programme.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Perhaps he could explain why Conservative central office put out a press release on the day of the announcement about the comprehensive spending review, showing how the regions would benefit from his £16 billion worth of tax cuts. There was only one tiny problem with the proposal: he did not have the faintest clue where the £16 billion worth of cuts would come from. In desperation, he started the fuel protest bandwagon, then the floods bandwagon; on defence it became armour-plated, then on air traffic control it became airborne—he is in favour of privatising the whole of air traffic control—and for a brief spell he even handed the controls to the shadow Home Secretary. The trouble was that she tried to impose fines on all the passengers and half of them pleaded guilty, so there he was with another wheel off.
The right hon. Gentleman is still rolling along, but he has to find £16 billion worth of cuts. [Interruption.] Oh, it seems that Tory Members find the issue boring. I do not think that the British people will find it boring. He insists that he is not committed to those £16 billion worth of cuts. I am happy to give way to him. I shall read what he said in July. I know that is a long time ago in policy terms, but he said:Gordon Brown is setting an unsustainable course for public spending—it will increase in real terms by 3.3 per cent. compared to a forecast growth of just over 2 per cent.He went on:We are making clear now that a Conservative government will increase public spending by a smaller proportion than the growth of the economy as a whole.31 So, 3.3 per cent. minus the 2 per cent. equals 1.3 per cent., which is £16 billion. If someone wants to explain why that figure is wrong, I shall be very happy to listen to them. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman in all frankness that in the end the jokes do not get him through these questions.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot find his £16 billion, so he now says that he will find £8 billion worth of cuts, and yesterday he found £5.3 billion. Let us see where the £5.3 billion worth of cuts are. First, he says that he will get £1 billion from fraud detection. The Government are taking action on that. For the first time since figures were collected, fraud actually fell, but we will leave that aside. He has the extraordinary proposal that he will find £1.8 billion from central administrative costs. The latest figures show that in real terms administrative costs have not risen but have fallen as a proportion of national income. In any event, the current number of civil servants is 8,000 down on the figure in April 1997. The right hon. Gentleman may say that we are about to increase the number of civil servants. Yes, we are. I shall tell him where we are about to increase them, so let us see whether he agrees or disagrees—immigration, benefit fraud, prison officers, and getting the money through to pensioners. [Interruption.] Are they against that? We do not know. We are on policy now.
The other part of the additional money is the money on the private finance initiative. That is controversial—it might even be controversial among my hon. Friends—but unless we enter into PFI contracts, the money must be found from other parts of capital spending. If the right hon. Gentleman cuts all the administration of PFI, how does he finance the new hospitals and school buildings in every constituency in the country? How can he?
Let us go on. The right hon. Gentleman says that he will get £500 million off lone parents on the basis that, under his Government, they will all go into work. However, he is committed to scrapping the new deal on lone parents, which is what gets them into work.
The Leader of the Opposition then says that he will get another £400 million because he will cut long-term unemployment. In 18 years, the Conservatives doubled long-term unemployment. Since we took office, there are a million extra jobs and youth unemployment is down by 70 per cent. Who will believe that he will cut unemployment?
Let us give the right hon. Gentleman all that. Next, he says that he will scrap best value in local government. That means that local authorities must get the best value for services. He says that he will get £125 million from that. Will he not replace it with anything? Will he not go back to the policy of compulsory competitive tendering? [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on, tell us."] The right hon. Gentleman is wise; it is better that I tell the House. The costs of compulsory competitive tendering are greater than the costs of best value, so the £125 million saving is nonsense.
The right hon. Gentleman will scrap all the regional development agencies and get £100 million out of that. However, there are only just over 1,000 people employed by all the regional development agencies in the country. How will he get £100 million out of that? Who will then administer the programmes that they currently administer?
32 The right hon. Gentleman says—this is my favourite one—that he will save £205 million from not creating regional assemblies, but there is no £205 million budgeted for regional assemblies, so where does he get it from? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] In the end, the Opposition must answer these questions. They say that they will cut £20 million from the university challenge fund. Does the Leader of the Opposition realise that that means that Manchester university and University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology would lose £4.5 million, Bath and Bristol universities would lose almost £4 million, Cambridge £3 million, Imperial college in London £3 million, cancer research £3 million, Oxford £3 million and Queen's in Belfast £2 million? The money that the right hon. Gentleman says he will take out is vital for the future of the country.
People may know the game "Who wants to be a Millionaire?"—I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of the State for Education and Employment does. Where will the cuts come? Will they come (a) on health, (b) on schools, (c) on the police or (d) on pensioners? There is not much point in asking the audience, as members of the audience do not know. The right hon. Gentleman could always phone a friend, or even the shadow Chancellor. I will help him with the answer. The cuts will fall on schools, hospitals, the police and pensioners.
Let me change television programme for a moment. I know that the Leader of the Opposition is keen on summing up policy in six words. How about this: "You are the weakest link. Goodbye"? There is virtually not a single area of his policy that could not be ripped to shreds, even after a cursory examination—for example, his education policy. I questioned its credibility when I saw the statement of the shadow Education Secretary that the literacy hour was set too long at 60 minutes. I thought that there was something awry there.
The right hon. Gentleman says he is going to get £540 to every pupil. Right—that comes to £4 billion. Of that £4 billion, however, we are already providing £1 billion through the Chancellor's payments direct to schools; so it is not £4 billion—it is £3 billion. He also said that he will put the standards fund through direct to schools, but in fact the vast bulk of that already goes direct to schools. Of the rest, £400 million goes—targeted, it is true—to primary schools for class sizes and literacy and numeracy, with 6,000 extra teachers. Is he going to scrap that? So that money cannot be used, either.
The last bit of it is that there is £900 million of the £4 billion—[Interruption.] No, this is very important. I hope that Opposition Members will listen because they will have to explain this to their constituents at the election. Nine hundred million pounds is for children with special educational needs. Are the Conservatives pledged, or not, to reverse that money? Is that part of their £4 billion, or not? I think we should be told. The truth of the matter, which is why it is so important—
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
Let us hear about Government proposals on special educational needs, not the Opposition's policies. This is the Queen's Speech debate.
§ The Prime Minister
I have just talked about it.
33 If the Conservatives want to save £1 billion on fraud, they can start with their own programme. The truth is, they cannot tell us where the money comes from. There is a black hole, and only two things could follow from that. Either, because they could not find the money, we would be back to the old, late 1980s and early 1990s boom-and-bust economics, which is what they did before; alternatively, we would have major cuts in the Government's programmes, which are vital to the future of this country.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is extraordinary that, in such policy questions and debates, he has absolutely nothing to say. I cannot believe that it is possible to be in his position: as Leader of the Opposition, he has to try to put forward an alternative programme for government, but he plainly has not even thought through the beginnings of the answers to some of these questions. The reason it is important for us to make the commitments we have set out in the Queen's Speech and elsewhere is that without investment in education our children will suffer. Without this extra investment—which he wants to cut—in skills, technology, small businesses and transport, our economy will suffer. Without investment in the national health service, people will be forced to take out private medical insurance, but many of them will not be able to afford the private medical insurance that he will force on people. Without investment in law and order, the streets will be less safe.
The truth is that a strong economy and a strong society go together. This side of the House believes in that, but that side of the House will do everything it can to undermine it. We know, because we can see the proposals of the Conservatives, what that would mean. The right hon. Gentleman's speech yesterday, which he made with the shadow Chancellor, was a truly Thatcherite condemnation of all Government spending in general, but when it came to the particular he could not quite make up his mind. All he is left with is the courage of his own contradictions.
All the way through, the contradictions in the right hon. Gentleman's policy are stark. He says that he is against the single currency in principle, but only for five years. Can someone explain—can he explain—how on earth he can be against something in principle, but for only five years? He says that he is in favour of locking up asylum seekers in purpose-built detention centres, but we know, from the rest of his colleagues, that he is against building any. Every time we propose one, they oppose it. He says that lone parents should work, but would scrap the new deal for them. He says there would be more prisons and more action on benefit fraud, but would put a freeze on prison officers and fraud busters.
Tory central office made a great statement today about how the Conservatives are in favour of the Kyoto climate change commitments. The Conservatives were attacking my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister for not securing those commitments strongly enough, but they are in favour of abolishing the climate change levy, which is one part of getting there. The right hon. Gentleman—or his spokesman—demands more defence spending, but he refuses to match the commitment on defence. In opposition, that type of policy incoherence is amusing; in government, it would be a disaster.
The truth is that we need to move the whole agenda on from the 1980s, where the right hon. Gentleman is stuck, to an agenda that says, "If we are the fourth largest 34 economy in the world today, as we are, let's invest in world class public services." If we do live in a global market, let us keep the economic stability that we have won. If we provide opportunity for people through the new deal, the working families tax credit, the minimum wage and extra child care—all those social measures opposed by the right hon. Gentleman's lot and introduced by us—we have a chance of getting back the responsibility that we demand.
That is what "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" means. Yes, it means taking good, tough measures in the criminal justice system, but it also means recognising that unless we deal with the squalor of our inner cities, unless we deal with poverty, unless we deal with the deprivation on our streets, we will never get that responsibility. It also means—as I know many of the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. and hon. Friends privately agree—that we must have a sensible, outward-looking, constructive attitude to the European Union, which is the key strategic alliance on our doorstep.
Those are the serious choices for the country. Yes, the right hon. Gentleman made a very witty, funny speech, but it summed up his leadership: good jokes, lousy judgment. I am afraid that in the end, if the right hon. Gentleman really aspires to stand at this Dispatch Box, he will have to get his policies sorted out and his party sorted out, and offer a vision for the country's future, not a vision that would take us backwards.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)
First, let me associate my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself entirely with the proper and dignified tributes that have been paid to hon. Members who passed on during the previous Session. They will all be sadly missed, especially—in my case and many others—the late and very great Donald Dewar.
Let me also associate all of us with the tributes paid to the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address. The lengthy and distinguished tenure of the proposer, the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Sir J. Morris), began in 1959, the year in which I was born. Even if we are the only two Members to agree on this across the Chamber—the majority might not—we can definitely agree that, in the words of the song, it was "a very good year".
I equally pay tribute to the eloquent, amusing and touching speech made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg). According to her biography, she is fond of saying that in life she always sees the glass as half full—a notion to which I thoroughly subscribe. Only this week, the Prime Minister, talking at No. 10 Downing street about the national health service, said that the glass was "very much half full". The hon. Lady is clearly having a rhetorical influence on the man at No. 10.
I enjoyed the extracts quoted by the leader of the Conservative party. I did not know that my predecessor had employed him to advertise his memoirs to quite that extent. Always available, always available—and he has got further through the book than I have. [Laughter.] That was off the record.
I was encouraged by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman's first line of attack was directed at the Liberal Democrats. That tells us a lot of what we need to know about the context of the general election, just as the 35 Queen's Speech tells us that it is not very far away. It tells us that the Conservatives will have to take us on in many seats—and I promise that we will give them a good fight back, but by God we will take them on in a lot more seats.
The thing about the right hon. Gentleman is that—whether he is talking about asylum seekers, the fact that there are too many Asian doctors in the NHS who do not speak English well enough or some other issue—he picks his populist cause. Yet the opinion polls show that he remains the world's first unpopular populist—and long may that continue.
It was interesting that the only intervention in the Prime Minister's contribution came from my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). There was no constructive, or destructive, criticism to be heard from the supposed aspirant party of government. That told us a lot.
On the Prime Minister's slip of the tongue, Members in at least two parties in the House—and, I suspect, in large sections of another party—would hate to think that inside the Prime Minister there is a Widdecombe struggling to get out. Will he take it from us that one is more than enough?
It is not a Queen's Speech; it is half a Queen's Speech. Today's events do little more than clear the decks for the general election that we see swimming into view. The Government make no pretence that it is a legislative programme for a full year.
The country will judge the Queen's Speech by what hope it offers schools, hospitals, transport, pensioners and on crime. On that measure, it is a failure. Secondary schools have the highest class sizes since 1979. Hospitals are overcrowded and understaffed. There is chaos on the railways and gridlock on the roads. Pensioners are falling behind as prosperity grows. Crime is rising and police numbers are falling. The Labour Government began the Parliament pursuing Tory spending. As we get to the end of the Parliament, they are beginning to introduce Tory policies.
Nowhere is that more clear than in the centrepiece of the Queen's Speech: the proposed measures on law and order. The proposed Bill on police and criminal justice contains a series of knee-jerk measures, which will not enhance the prevention and detection of crime but will introduce blanket policies that will have serious civil liberty implications. Therefore, we will give them great critical scrutiny.
The Government have adopted a "two strikes and you are out" approach on social security fraud. The policy for benefit fraudsters is unacceptable. The Government said that they would eradicate child poverty by 2020, so how can they introduce that proposal, under which it is the children who will suffer? It is fraudsters, not their families, who should pay the price for their crimes before the courts.
On the mode of trial Bill, will the Government never learn? They have, thank goodness, been thwarted on that measure more than once. We have opposed it vigorously in the House and, pivotally, in the other place. When the Bill comes back, by God, on civil libertarian and traditional natural justice grounds, the Liberal Democrats will be at the forefront of the opposition again. It should not happen.
36 On the health service, there is no mention of community health councils, about which there continues to be great concern throughout the country, but there is mention of the royal commission on long-term care for the elderly and the legislation that will flow from the NHS plan of earlier this year. Among other things, it will introduce free NHS nursing care in all nursing homes.
Let us be clear. That is a welcome development. However, as the Prime Minister and the House know, the royal commission argued that there must not be an artificial distinction between nursing care and personal care. The commission highlighted the inequity in the Government's proposals, in which the Government have refused to fund free personal care.
What is the consequence of that inequity in daily domestic and human terms? Someone who is suffering from cancer and receiving treatment in hospital will be eligible for such care, whereas someone who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease and being cared for at home will not be eligible, subject to the application of the means test. That cannot possibly be equitable, fair or socially just, and it is a major deficiency in the Government's proposals.
On education, the Government promised that "education, education, education" was their number one priority. Just a few weeks ago, however, the Prime Minister was candid enough to admit that, since the Government took office, the ratio between pupils and teachers in secondary schools had worsened; that secondary class sizes are now the largest since 1979; and that teachers are bogged down with daily and weekly increasing, morale-sapping bureaucracy. Although the Government came to power promising "education, education, education", the cumulative effect of their policies is that they are giving us bureaucracy, centralisation and ever-more control. It is not the right way forward. However, the special educational needs and disability Bill is very welcome. Let us hope that it will be enacted in the coming Session.
Not only is transport one of the prime talking points in the United Kingdom, it is a source of personal and professional frustration for many thousands of people. To date, the Government's record on transport has been woeful. The railways are in chaos and there is gridlock on the roads. What are the Government doing about it? Despite clear public opposition and a considerable parliamentary revolt among Labour Members, Ministers are pressing ahead with the part-privatisation of air traffic services. The United Kingdom genuinely needs an integrated transport system, but the Government have completely failed to deliver one.
Much of the responsibility for that failure must surely rest with the Deputy Prime Minister. As I have said, one would think that joined-up government was about a Department encompassing the environment, transport and the regions. In fact, in all those policy spheres, we have increasingly disjointed government. The politician presiding over that must carry the can, and the Department must be reformed. It is amazing that, in a Queen's Speech, the word "environment" does not appear even once.
There is nothing about rural affairs and agriculture in the Government's programme. Hon. Members will recall that, a few years ago, we had a Tory White Paper that promised little. Now, we have a Labour White Paper that—in relation to the Queen's Speech—will deliver 37 nothing. Yet, the clear evidence from across the country and throughout this Parliament has been that the rural economy generally and agriculture particularly are in genuine crisis.
One would have thought that after seeing all the mounting difficulties in farming, in rural transport—or the absence of it—and in other rural facilities, such as the steady disintegration of the sub-post office network, any Government listening to what is being said in the countryside and rural Britain would take the opportunity of a Queen's Speech to signal to those parts of the country that the Government will do something. We have had only silence. Nevertheless, silence speaks volumes.
We also have a regulatory reform Bill, although we have not yet seen its detail. One thing that we will not be seeing, although it was promised to the country, is a consumer protection Bill. The part of the Queen's Speech dealing with Department of Trade and Industry matters said nothing about a consumer protection Bill, and that is a major breach of faith by the Government.
§ Mr. Kennedy
No. There are moments when every consumer requires protection.
On housing, we welcome the proposed legislation on commonhold, but restrictions could make it useless to leaseholders who want to become commonholders.
It is worth making the point that there are currently 750,000 empty homes in Britain, yet there are 150,000 homeless households. At the heart of the problem is the chronic lack of affordable housing for public-sector workers such as teachers and nurses, particularly in London and other major conurbations.
We certainly support the proposed ban on the advertising and promotion of tobacco products. That just shows what an altruistic chap I am. Perhaps the Government are trying to encourage me in the right direction. Also, given the horrendous examples and the ensuing reports and inquiries on the delicate and dangerous position in which children are being placed, the Welsh legislation is especially welcome.
The Queen's Speech is unambitious because it promises so little, but that shows us more clearly than anything else that most of the proposed measures are unlikely to find their way on to the legislative agenda or the statute book. The Government have their eyes not on governing but on an election. People would have wanted measures on the public priorities—health, education and crime. I fear that what we have here are the Government's priorities—re-election, re-election and re-election.
§ Dr. David Clark (South Shields)
We are debating the Gracious Speech this afternoon against the background of a strong economy growing stronger. We are repaying our debts, educational standards are improving and, steadily, the national health service is beginning to meet the needs, aspirations and demands of British people. In a quiet way, the face of Britain is changing and British people are realising that life is improving for them.
Although I enjoyed the amusing speech of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), who represents most of the north 38 of Scotland, he was a little less than charitable when he spoke about the Government's lack of ambition. The Government have been very ambitious. In our first parliamentary Session we enacted 52 Government Bills; in the intermediate one we enacted 27; and last year we managed to get through 39. This Queen's Speech proposes a further 15 much-needed Bills.
Throughout my career in the House, I have tried to argue for innovation and modernisation. I note that the word "modernisation" is not mentioned once in the Gracious Speech. I recall that in past years it was almost every other word.
§ Dr. Clark
I am being corrected. Apparently, it is there. Although the word "modernisation" may appear infrequently, clearly the intention is there. I very much approve of that.
I heartily approve of one proposal in the Queen's Speech that does not mention change, although modernisation is clearly involved. It states:My Government will continue to ensure that NATO remains the foundation of Britain's defence and security.That was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition and it is extremely important. It is important that European nations show that they are prepared to pick up a more responsible burden of defence expenditure. They have to show that we can act together as a rapid reaction force where the United States might not wish to participate.
My right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Prime Minister, on behalf of our Government, are absolutely right to insist that the European taskforce must not be separate from the NATO planning procedure. I heard American Defence Secretary William Cohen say on the "Today" programme this morning that he was absolutely at one with the British Government, and I know that at Nice my colleagues in the Government will stick to the position that they have set out. It is a matter that probably unites both sides of the House.
I am delighted that there is to be a Bill on fox hunting, on which it is right and proper that hon. Members should be given a free vote. Our manifesto at the previous election promised such a measure and, in days gone by, many Labour Members have argued for, and insisted on, its inclusion in previous manifestos. To be frank, many people are considerably disappointed that the Government have not acted earlier in that respect. I know the problems involved, and am aware of the difficulties that have been encountered—and which may still exist—in the other place. The Government intend to put the matter right, and it will be up to the House to decide what will happen. Whatever that decision is, the Government will back it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) made a fine contribution when she seconded the Loyal Address. She said that she received more correspondence from constituents on the subject of hunting than on any other. I am sure that I speak for other hon. Members when I say that my experience is the same: I get more letters on hunting than on any other issue, and 99.9 per cent. of them agree with me that hunting should be banned in a modern Britain.
39 The Queen's Speech also dealt with the matter of regulations, which is dear to my heart. For 15 months, I was responsible for the Government's regulatory programme. One of my first acts was to scrap the previous Government's deregulation unit. I believe that any modern society needs regulations to protect its citizens on, for example, matters such as food and health and safety.
I have been deeply involved in the saga of bovine spongiform encephalopathy and am convinced that we need regulations, but they need to be focused, understandable and direct. Many should come with a sunset clause that enables them to be terminated, as there are a lot of regulations that we do not need any more. They are not appropriate and should be swept away. I hope that the expected Bill on deregulation will help in that respect.
The Select Committee on Deregulation is chaired well by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), and is dedicated to its work. There is plenty to do, but not enough of it goes before the Committee. However, the Committee has done an amazing amount of good. In 1997, 12 deregulation orders were passed. In 1998, there were five, and last year there were only four. An example of the fine work done by the Committee can be found in what is known as the long draw deregulation.
The Leader of the Opposition might have been especially interested in the long draw rule, as it has to do with pints of beer. Apparently, until the Select Committee got to work, it was illegal to serve more than one pint of beer at a time. The relevant law dated from world war one, when it was believed that people should not be encouraged to drink. It was a silly, nonsensical regulation, but it was on the statute book and it could have led to prosecutions, so the Deregulation Committee dealt with it.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
I have another example of the work of the Deregulation Committee, which goes along with the Government's policy on social exclusion. The Committee has enabled the bond with credit unions to be widened, increasing their scope, which is an important move.
Is my right hon. Friend surprised to know that Conservative participation in the Deregulation Committee is almost nil? Indeed, on many occasions not a single Conservative Member is present.
§ Dr. Clark
I very much regret that and I hope that Conservative Members have taken note of my hon. Friend's point.
I am well aware of my hon. Friend's excellent work in connection with the credit unions. I declare an interest, as a director of a friendly society that is using its good offices to help credit unions to expand and to provide services to their members that should be available to them.
I conclude on an issue that is almost unthinkable, but needs thinking about. One of my other responsibilities in government was the civil service. It consists of wonderful men and women, of the highest integrity and competence, who provide a wonderful service to the Government of the day. It is a real tribute to them that the changeover in 1997 from the Conservative Administration to the new Labour Government was so seamless and well transacted.
40 It just shows their professionalism and integrity. However, I wonder whether their modus operandi—the system under which they operate—is absolutely compatible with the new world of e-commerce, e-business and the global economy in this new century. I do not doubt their ability to give advice, but I wonder whether their accountability fits neatly with their philosophy.
I am disappointed that we have been unable to put on a statutory basis the code under which the civil service operates, because that would enhance its morale and workings. We had the Ibbs report and the Oughton report in the 1980s and 1990s, but all that we have had recently were the proposals of the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson—fine though they were. I am slightly concerned by Sir Richard's conclusions. When announcing his internal reform, he said:The world is changing fast and the civil service must change with it. This is a reform programme devised by the civil service for the civil service and led by the civil service as part of the modernising government agenda …If we want to continue the social, economic and political modernisation of our country, we may have to look from the outside at the way in which our civil servants operate, excellent though they are in many respects. Is theirs the right way of operating when it comes to allowing and encouraging the Government to modernise our country? I leave the thought there, but I believe that we should put it on our agenda.
§ Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire)
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). I agreed with what he said about NATO and defence, but not with what he said about hunting. I shall say more later about NATO, but not about hunting. That is for another day when, no doubt, the House will spend quite some time on it.
In a Queen's Speech debate, one should not only look ahead but look back over the past calendar year, especially as this Queen's Speech is so late in coming to us. The country has had a disappointing and frustrating year. We made a bad start on 1 January, with the controversial opening of the Dome, followed by its financial trouble and bad publicity, upset national newspaper editors who did not get there on time and general discontent about the way in which it has been run.
We are ending the year with the biggest crisis on the railways since the war, which is putting a huge strain on people struggling to get to work—thousands of whom are my constituents. Furthermore, the cost to industry has been, and will go on being, simply enormous.
I shall make two constituency points, which are relevant to the Queen's Speech—indeed, it almost contains a direct mention of them. The first concerns the national health service and its reorganisation. Earlier this year, Bedfordshire pointed out to the Department of Health that it was the second worst-funded health authority in the country, according to the Department's capitation funding policy. However, it now emerges that that policy has been suspended in favour of a different approach, which looks at years of life lost in health authority areas as a whole. As a result, Bedfordshire has made only marginal progress in relative terms: it is now the third worst-funded health authority in the revised league table.
41 The calculations suggest that, had the Government retained the capitation funding policy, Bedfordshire would have received a further £3 million in addition to the £29 million that it has been allocated. That money would have enabled the authority not only to address the Government's initiatives but to begin to strengthen the services that are the core of Bedfordshire's national health service provision.
I say to the Government—as I said to my own Government when they were in power—that the pressure goes on for more house building. As houses continue to go up, so the demand for national health service provision increases. Bedfordshire should not be where it is in the league table. The county has done a huge amount, particularly for London, in providing schools and jobs. We now look for a fundamental re-balancing of health service spending in our favour.
My second local point is referred to only obliquely in the Queen's Speech, which states:My Government will ensure the continued economic stability which has enabled it to increase the resources available for education, health, transport—and I stop at the word "transport". We still have no clear idea of where Dunstable's vitally needed bypass is to be. Are there to be more inquiries, more multi-modal studies and more proposals and counter-proposals? I urge the Government, as I urged my own Government for 18 years, to get started on a public inquiry into Dunstable's need for a bypass. The situation has been made worse by the rail dispute, but it is getting worse, in any event, week by week. If Dunstable is to remain an industrial town providing employment, something has to be done quickly about this problem.
After all the chaos on the railways, there ought to be less emphasis on speed. We are not France or Germany. We cannot straighten out curves and knock down hundreds of houses to make trains go faster. We should make better use of what we have. We are in trouble locally because of the emphasis on speed. Virgin and Silverlink are quarrelling like hell about access to the fast track from Euston to the midlands, which passes through the town of Leighton Buzzard in my constituency. Virgin has made a proposal to push trains through Leighton Buzzard at 140 mph. That is unthinkable. If passenger safety and comfort are to be improved, both Virgin and Silverlink must have access to the fast track. At present, there is considerable argument about that, and a possibility that Silverlink, which operates the commuter line, will be able to use only the slow track. That is not how to run a railway, nor how to look after commuters in Leighton Buzzard. Both firms should have access to the fast track, and if that means less speed for Virgin trains, that is all well and good.
On the national situation generally, I hope that the country and the Treasury have the financial will to go through with the heavy and sustained investment needed to put the railways right once and for all. Since the war, the Treasury's record on railway investment has been poor—always fiddling with and cutting costs, and always trying to do things as cheaply as possible. However, the Treasury luxuriates when the UK economy thrives, because tax revenues are more buoyant and the Chancellor—whoever he is—is more content. If we want a first-class British economy, it is time, once and for all, to establish a first-class railway system.
42 I refer to two housing matters raised briefly in the Queen's Speech. The first is the proposal to levy full council tax on second homes. The Government must be careful about that; they should not plunge into the quagmire that we fell into over poll tax—assuming that all second homes were holiday homes. What will happen to tied accommodation? Certain people—for example clergymen, school caretakers and soldiers serving in Northern Ireland—have to live in such accommodation. If there is to be full council tax on second homes, some exceptions must be made, especially for those people. Furthermore, when a second home is used solely and completely for business purposes, will the single person discount continue to apply under the proposed changes?
Secondly, there is the proposal that the seller should arrange for a survey to be carried out before he or she can sell the house. The Government should reconsider that matter because it will lead to a lawyers' paradise, with arguments between seller and purchaser as to whether the seller's survey was accurate and lawful and whether searches were carried out properly. The Government should think carefully before they make house buying even more complicated than it is already—as those of us who have bought and sold houses are aware.
I do not deny that the Government are ahead in the opinion polls, but instead of luxuriating in that lead, they should pay far greater attention to the mood of the nation. There are plenty of complaints: on tax, rural issues and transport. Indeed, there is almost a case for presenting Parliament with a second grand remonstrance, reflecting people's grievances.
There is more, however. People are being pushed to the limit at work—obviously, that is made worse by the trouble on the railways. The Government are employers. They should ask what they could do to slow down the frenetic pace of life. People should remember that the faster they try to work, the more likely they are to make mistakes—bad mistakes.
This week, the Prime Minister goes to Nice. He is aware of the British public's two major fears about the forthcoming negotiations. First, they are afraid about the weakening of NATO—a magnificent shield for this country since its creation in 1949; and, secondly, they are afraid that a single currency will inevitably lead to political union. However, the Government and the Prime Minister are also aware of our huge commercial interests in Europe and of how vital they are—not only in my constituency, but in every constituency.
If we consider those points in combination, surely our present policy should be that we need restrained friendship with our European partners. The Prime Minister could remind them that the EU's founding fathers set up the EU for the benefit and security of the peoples of Europe and to improve their living standards. Over-ambitious political projects disappoint and could undo much of the good work that has been done.
§ Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire)
My hon. Friend is making an extremely thoughtful and interesting speech. Given his present worries about the EU and in the context of some of the views he has held in the past, is he changing his mind somewhat about the direction in which Europe is going? Are his worries increasing as time passes?
§ Sir David Madel
No, I am not doing that. I have always thought that, if one wants to persuade the British 43 public to join the single currency, one must convince them that it will not lead to political union. At the moment, given all the articles that have been written, the statements made and the debates, there is an automatic suspicion that it would lead to political union, which I oppose. If we can persuade the public that it will not do so, we might get the result that some people may want in a referendum, when it comes.
Although the Prime Minister's speech had its jokes too, it was curiously defensive about how the Conservatives might improve as a political party. The best way to lead the Conservative party is the way in which Mr. Churchill did it between 1945 and 1950, and the way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), as Leader of the Opposition, is now doing it with great skill. The best way to lead the Conservative party is to make right-wing noises and move left. That is what worries the Labour Government. They are in for quite a spectacular shock on polling day.
§ 5.1 pm
§ Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel). I did not agree with his concluding thrust, but I know him to be a distinguished parliamentarian and an advocate for his constituency. He defends his constituency and I appreciated the overall content of his speech.
I am happy to support the Gracious Speech. I very much like the Atlee-esque first sentence:My Government will continue to pursue its central economic objective of high and stable levels of growth and employment.I have no doubt that those are the very words that the great Mr. Attlee put in his party's election manifesto as long ago as 1945. With a little more luck, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister will have stable levels of growth and employment.
I welcome the measures to combat crime, assist the national health service, develop our schools, tackle social security fraud and give us the chance to get rid of hunting with dogs. As a Welshman, I look forward to the Government setting up the children's commissioner for Wales—not before time—and I very much like the elliptical phrase in which Her Majesty's Government say that they arecommitted to making devolution in … Wales work—amen to that
My remarks will relate to the economy, British manufacturing and the steel industry in particular. My constituents at Shotton steelworks are anxious about the weekend boardroom coup in the Anglo-Dutch Steel Company, which is now named Corns. The joint chief executives have been sacked, the finance director has been replaced and the chairman—a one-time Shotton steelworks works director—has assumed control. It looks like a particularly bloody coup. What are the implications for the Shotton steelworks in my constituency, where about 1,200 men and women are employed?
Shotton was once a mighty 15,000-strong integrated steelworks. Then we suffered Europe's greatest ever redundancies. We now need to know the implications for Shotton steel workers of the boardroom changes in Corus.
44 The Times—still a newspaper of record—speculates that up to 8,000 steel jobs will be lost in the new year, and that a plant will close in Wales or on Teesside. It refers to unrest among shareholders, but that unrest is as nothing compared with the unrest among steel workers in Britain. I do not want Shotton steelworkers sacrificed on the altar of short-term shareholder selfishness. I do not want the British steel industry sacrificed and truncated because shareholders are bullying the board of a company that is the consequence of an ill-conceived merger.
The Times refers to the fact that no redundancies are predicted for the Dutch side of the merger, nor have any Dutch redundancies taken place. However, we in Wales and in Shotton have suffered job losses, and they are currently taking place. The sacked chief executive, John Bryant, was a popular, successful, accessible, courteous and distinguished one-time director of the very Shotton works that I represent. He is, to boot, a Welshman. I suspect that he was given the black spot because he was no longer prepared to ask British, Welsh or Shotton steelworkers to yield further redundancies and suffer more closures to placate shareholders. John Bryant must know in his Welsh guts that if Wales and Britain want to retain a viable, seedcorn foundation industry, this is a case of so far and no further. A line must be drawn in the moulding sand.
I worked as a labourer at the Shotton work's No. 2 blast furnace and my late father worked on the production line, as did my grandfathers, one of whom was a peripatetic steelworker. That shows my huge bias to the steel industry and the steelworkers in my constituency—a bias that I have always had and will always have. I support my steelworker constituents 100 per cent.
If Britain is to retain the shreds and shards of a one-time manufacturing greatness, Britain's steel industry must be saved. If we let go now, Britain's steel industry will be finished, dead, broken and irretrievably lost. I do not like the idea of a boardroom having the power gravely to injure that strategic industry. The board of Corus must halt its slide to ruin. There are social consequences and there are the requirements of a modern, medium-sized west European state to retain a sizeable steel industry.
What is the point of a sea-based nuclear deterrent force and a large standing Army if there is no steel industry? Steel is strategic. Steel is greatness. A nation is nothing without a foundation industry such as steel. Without it, the rest is posturing. That is my view garnered during a few years in this honourable House.
The good thing is that, at the drop of a hat two weeks ago, the Prime Minister saw a group of his Back-Bench Members of Parliament representing the steel industry, of which I was one. Does Sir Brian Moffat, the Corus chairman, have ice in his veins? Surely he will not metamorphose into a Sir Ian McGregor figure. We do not want that. It cost £400 million to form the new company, Corns. That sum spent on the merger should have represented £400 million of investment, not retrenchment. British Steel and Corns have made huge, multi-million pound investments abroad, but there have been large-scale redundancies here. We do not need any more closures, and we certainly want no more redundancies. All the steelworkers in my constituency tell me that they have had enough.
Although since denationalisation parliamentarians have had much less influence than the dreaded market forces, in less than 15 months I have taken three Shotton 45 deputations to Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry, the Treasury and the Welsh Office. We were well received; the problem is that Corns puts the short-term before the long-term needs of our nation's economy.
Shotton steelworkers are well served by the current director, Andrew Page, and by the convenors at Shotton: Robert Butt of the Transport and General Workers Union; Jim Mullins of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation; Mike Parkinson of the craft unions; and Arthur Davidson of the GMB. When they came to Westminster, they spoke with dignity, insight and great responsibility. They represented their work force well and I backed them then as I do now: 100 per cent.
I want the board of Corns to draw back. It is inconceivable that the steelworks of Shotton and Wales must suffer more redundancies. The problem is that morale is low. I want morale raised, not driven to the ground. We have given our blood to the industry and now we want back some loyalty and some investment from the company. What measures can be taken to restore the morale of Britain's steelworkers, who feel neglected and frustrated?
The merger between the Dutch and British steel industries has spawned British steel redundancies, but not Dutch job losses. Welsh steelworkers break every production record. They do everything that they are asked to do, and they do it well, but their reward so far is redundancies every year and compulsory redundancies this year. Responsible and dedicated union leaders are now at their wits' end. They are not irresponsible, militant or anti-social; they are the most positive and co-operative union leaders I have ever known. They are responsible and honourable, but they are at their wits' end.
I notice that far eastern and east European countries are now penetrating with a vengeance the British home market. That cannot be good. The strong pound and weak euro impose a huge premium against our exports, and energy costs are sky high. Something should be done about that. The question that my constituents are asking is: what can be done to help the most productive workers in Europe? May we please have special, additional European funding of the current redundancy payments? We used to have such payments until the previous Government abolished them in the mid-1990s.
While my steelworkers lose their jobs, I have the impression that our steel competitors in some parts of Europe cheat. They do not obey the regulations as the British industry has done and does. Enough sacrifices have been made in the British steel industry. Enough have been made in the Welsh steel industry and certainly at home in Shotton. I have no doubt that the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales will raise his voice on behalf of the Welsh steel industry. He has a duty to do so, and I am sure that he will. I expect also that he will mention the high importance of Shotton steelworks in north Wales, as well as that of Llanwern in the south.
Those are my brief remarks. I hope that something can be done to assist the steelworkers of Britain and Shotton.
§ Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire)
This is the third time that I have had the privilege of following the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). It is, therefore, the third time that I have heard him wax lyrical 46 about Shotton steelworks. I feel almost that I know the inside of the furnace and have come to feel its extremities physically—and quite right, too. My only criticism of the excellent speech that he made on behalf of his constituents concerns his reference to Mr. McGregor, as he then was.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
Many people, of whom I am certainly one—my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) seems to share my view—believe that, without the intervention and management of Mr. McGregor, painful though it was at the time, the British steel industry would no longer exist. It was cumbersome, completely uncompetitive and far too large for the marketplace. Unlike steel industries in other countries, our industry was saved. That included the works in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside.
The Queen's Speech heralds a Session of Parliament in which only two important events will occur before the general election. The first is the Budget and the economic circumstances that surround it. The second, which will happen quickly, is the announcement of the terms of the treaty of Nice and any ratification process that the Government involve themselves in. In response to a question that I asked two weeks ago on the Floor of the House, the Foreign Secretary said that he intended the treaty to be ratified quickly. We will have to see how soon that occurs, but certainly the treaty of Nice will feature in this Session. I want to concentrate on those two events, which are the only important aspects of a pretty bland Queen's Speech.
The Budget is fairly predictable. It will be a give-away, soft-talk, soft-soap, electioneering Budget. We could all write a Budget for this Government on their terms, although it would be the opposite of what a Conservative Government would produce. However, we can understand its parameters and do not need to spend much time considering it. What is interesting are the economic circumstances that surround the Budget and which will be affected by it. Those are less predictable. We have high, although not peaking, interest rates and a wobbly stock market, which did well yesterday and, I am told, has done quite well today, probably on the back of what has happened in America. However, people's confidence, as expressed through the stock market, paints an uncertain picture. In addition, unemployment is beginning to return in certain sectors.
Under those circumstances, I would have thought it natural for interest rates to come down. The Treasury Committee, of which I am a member, probes that subject when the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the governor of the Bank of England appear before it. However, although there are uncertain and, from an economic point of view, worrying signs in the economy, there is also an extremely loose monetary policy, as the Bank of England's inflation report dramatically illustrates. According to its front page, most monetary supply figures are roaring ahead. The growth rate of notes and coins has increased to 8 per cent. in the past 12 months. M4—the normal measure of monetary supply—stands at 9.1 per cent. and will probably rise to 10 per cent.
The vast explosion in monetary growth is especially reflected in consumer lending, which is exploding. The combination of monetary supply and the loose fiscal 47 policy that the Government are employing for obvious electoral reasons—which no doubt will be confirmed in the Budget—gives rise to an argument for higher interest rates when lower interest rates might be right for the current economy. The economic prospect is one of stagflation.
In attempting to work out how that will emerge, a good indicator has typically been the American economy, which must be worrying the Government. We all know that the most recent quarter's growth figures were half those of the previous quarter. The American economy seems to be slowing down. Even Mr. Alan Greenspan, with whom the Treasury Committee had a meeting a few weeks ago, has publicly said and made it clear—although he always speaks obliquely—that, after being extremely bullish about its economy and, in particular, the new economy, he is becoming concerned. I suspect that that is of great interest to this country. If Mr. Greenspan is becoming concerned about the American economy, it is probably about time that others became concerned. There is an element of self-fulfilment.
On a read-across between the American economy and the British economy, it is clear that America has 40 per cent. higher productivity. It has massively better productivity rates. France has 20 per cent. higher productivity rates than the United Kingdom and the German rates are about 10 per cent. higher than here. We are lagging—
§ Mr. Purchase
Would the hon. Gentleman like to attribute the causes of the low productivity figures for the United Kingdom as opposed to those of the United States? Could they have anything to do with two decades of under-investment in British capital structures?
§ Sir Michael Spicer
That is an interesting question. I promise the hon. Gentleman that I will shortly make my remarks directly relevant to it. Last week I asked the Prime Minister about productivity. There seems to be some uncertainty in the Government's mind about what is going on. I asked:Why have productivity rates fallen so sharply—this is partly the answer to the question of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase)—
since the right hon. Gentleman took office?These productivity rates are not inalienable.
The Prime Minister said:I am sorry to have to tell the hon. Gentleman, but productivity—not productivity rates—
§ Sir Michael Spicer
I have taken the liberty of sending it to him as a pre-Christmas present.
On page 3, table 1.1, the Prime Minister should read "Trend labour productivity", and read down a column headed "Actual" and then go to a line that reads "1990–97", where 2.1 per cent. appears. That was a period when the Conservatives were in government, as it happens. That period was chosen by the Treasury, not by me. For 1997–99, there is a fall to 1.6 per cent. The forecast is 1.9 per cent. The figures published by the Government last month show that productivity rates have been falling since they took office. I cannot do better than quote direct from table 1 in the Government's publication.
The situation is serious. I am coming closer to the question of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East. In a way it is almost a text for what I want to say about the contrast between the Conservative Government and the Labour Government. So worried are the Government about productivity falls that the Chancellor of the Exchequer organised a seminar in his house, No. 11 Downing street. Well, it is not his house because he has not lived there, but it is the house that he is meant to live in, and the house to which he can invite others to attend seminars.
The seminar took place on 15 November, about the same time as the publication of the Treasury document, a copy of which I sent to the Prime Minister as a Christmas present in advance. People were asked to attend the seminar and present the answer to the conundrum, which is why productivity rates were rising slower under a Labour Government than the rate at which they had been consistently rising under a Conservative Government.
Mr. Irwin Stelzer is a distinguished American economist who often writes in The Sunday Times. He is politically unbiased, which is presumably why he was invited to the seminar at the Chancellor's house to give a speech on what should be done about productivity rates. He made two points that the House should know about, the first of which is contrary to the way in which the Labour party goes about things. He said:There is, of course, a danger when governments take an interest in microeconomic policy—which is about productivity—they tend to tinker in the belief that a bit of taxation here, a bit of tax relief there, a subsidy or two, regulatory intervention, some exhortation, and none-too-subtle pressure on business leaders can produce the productivity gains they seek, in the places they think most important.Such programmes are generally counterproductive. Not so a vigorous competition policy.He gave five or six examples of what he thought the Government should be doing, and he ended that section of his speech by saying:Effective competition makes regulation unnecessary.By that he meant economic regulation—the right hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) talked about more regulation, and I think he meant non-economic regulation. That comes closer to explaining the difference between what happened under a Conservative Administration and what is beginning to happen under this Labour Administration.
49 The Queen's Speech has some verbiage about trying to do more to make regulation less burdensome, but the Labour Government have introduced a brand new type of economic regulation. Labour Members should be pleased about that because, as I and others have said several times, it is socialism by the back door. What the Government have introduced is not so much the minutiae of regulatory bureaucracy and burden, but a political regime.
All the regulatory Bills that the Government have introduced, including the Utilities Bill—I must declare an interest as President of the Association of Electricity Producers—have a clear and common characteristic in that the regulators are not now so concerned with competition. That is what Conservative regulation was about—we included a sunset clause so that when there was true competition the regulation subsided. However, the Labour Government have included many of their political objectives in the regulations.
For instance, the Office of Telecommunications is concerned not necessarily with competition between telephone companies and suppliers of telephone equipment, but with total coverage. The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets is concerned not with competition, but with fuel poverty. In fact, much of what it is doing is anti-competitive: it is working against competition.
The Financial Services Authority is concerned not so much with competition in the City of London, but with social banking. The concern is with income distribution. That might be a laudable objective—I am not arguing for or against income distribution—but it is one of the Government's clear political objectives, and it is being built into the legislation as an objective of regulation. It has nothing to do with competition, productivity or economic prosperity, but everything to do with socialist ideas about the distribution of wealth. That is a matter of extreme concern, and is fundamental to our understanding of how, deep down, Labour is destroying the economic prosperity of the country.
§ Mr. Bercow
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Is he aware that 18 months ago it was estimated that as a result of Government regulation the average small firm was facing an additional annual cost of £5,000? Does he agree that that is a matter of particular seriousness when we reflect on the important fact that 99.6 per cent. of businesses in this country employ fewer than 100 people, that they account for about 57 per cent. of the private sector work force and that they generate two fifths of our national output?
§ Sir Michael Spicer
My hon. Friend's figures are bound to be correct. He does not have to wade through masses of paper, as I do to make sure that my figures are correct. It is right that he should cite those serious figures.
In the Queen's Speech, the Government outline their proposals for a new anti-regulatory body. It is important that regulatory costs and burdens are dealt with, but I do not trust the Government to do so. The ability and willingness of industry to invest is being disastrously affected by the fact that, through the regulatory regime, the Government are introducing a new form of socialism by the back door, with clear political objectives.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
I invite the hon. Gentleman to join in. This is a good debate. My argument is that socialism 50 is incompatible with investment in the free market, so it is incompatible with higher productivity rates. Despite all the wonderful seminars that the Chancellor is organising in his house, and all the aspirations and weasel words, if we are faced with socialist policies, it is whistling in the wind to hope that productivity rates will start rising.
Every time we have had a socialist regime for any length of time, productivity rates have gone down, whereas in the last 10 years of the Conservative Administration, especially in the early 1990s, productivity rates were rising rather fast, as a result of the fundamental reforms that were taking place.
A further reason why, under a socialist regime, productivity rates cannot and will not rise fast, whatever the Queen's Speech may state to the contrary—whatever Her Majesty may have been commanded to say to the country—is taxation. In some ways, I do not understand why the Government say that they are not putting up taxes. If I were sitting on the Government Benches, I would say "Dream on" to someone such as myself, who said that taxes were going up. Surely that is what a socialist is in business for—higher taxes and higher spending. That is what government is about, for a member of the Labour party.
I do not understand why there is such denial of taxes going up. I should have thought that it was a matter of great pride for a socialist Chancellor to say that he was putting up taxes and expenditure. That is indeed what he is doing. Every time the figures emerge, and every time he appears before the Select Committee on the Treasury, he will not explain why taxes are going up or whether he thinks that that is good or bad. I do not understand why he will not answer. I should have thought that that was part of the objective.
The facts are clear. I am reading from an outside document, but I could also read from the Government's own figures. The average percentage of GDP taken by taxation in the last five years of the premiership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), from 1992 to 1996, when taxes were already higher than I would have wanted, was 34.5 per cent. Under the present Prime Minister, the average percentage so far is 36.9 per cent. That represents an increase of 7 per cent.
No one can deny those facts. It is extraordinary that the Government try to argue anything different. That is extraordinary in terms of their own objectives and philosophy and in terms of the facts.
We have to answer the question of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East. Two absolutely clear-cut matters are relevant, and they will be changed by no Budget or Queen's Speech during the rest of this Parliament. An increasingly political regulatory regime is operating against the interests of industry in this country and against the interests of investment, and there is rising taxation. Those are the two features of the present landscape. It is vital for the Opposition to get that across as the general election approaches and for us to nail down the figures so that people understand that productivity and the fundamentals of the economy are beginning to slow down and crumble. I hope that there will be a major debate about that between the two parties during this Session and as we approach the general election.
51 Another issue will play a part in our proceedings.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
No, not euro, although the euro is part of the issue. I refer to the treaty of Nice. I am not a clairvoyant, and much false mystique surrounds that treaty, but one or two clear points are beginning to emerge. It appears that, in several crucial areas, the veto will be thrown in. I shall name some, although I should be delighted if hon. Members got up to say that I was wrong. It is clear that the veto appears vulnerable in terms of our legal system—that is, corpus juris—the charter of rights and tax harmonisation, although the Government say something different in that regard. I shall return to that in a moment.
The flavour of the week—I want to ask the Minister a specific question about this—is that the regime involving a veto on centralised taxation to compensate countries that have suffered under the euro has already been agreed. My understanding is that that regime was agreed by Finance Ministers last week. If the Minister says that I am wrong, I should be delighted, but I suspect that he will not.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
Well, if the Minister would like to join in, this is the time to clear up a few things. I might be making wild, extreme and alarmist suggestions, but I suspect not, for the same reason that I voted 42—perhaps it was only 41—times against the Maastricht treaty.
I have always believed that under a single pricing system, which is what a single currency is, there is bound to be an imperfect market for labour across that market. That is bound to be the case because Portuguese people like living in Portugal—I do not blame them—Greek people like living in Greece and, on the whole, British people like living in Britain. There is, therefore, no such thing as a perfect market for labour. On the whole, Greek wages are paid in Greece and Portuguese wages are paid in Portugal. However, under the single currency, we have seen the emergence of a pricing system that is largely set by the fastest mover and which is, therefore, largely set by northern Europe, especially Germany.
Under such a system, it is not surprising that Greek people feel increasingly narked about the situation. It is very unpleasant to live in certain parts of Greece or Portugal or in southern Italy and to be paid Portuguese or southern Italian wages, but to have to pay German prices for everything. People will get a bit miffed about that, so a new idea has come up, as has been clear for years that it would: a compensatory taxation system for shifting resources from northern Europe to the southern parts of Europe. That is inevitable. In our debates on the Maastricht treaty, many of us spoke about that at length and, on many occasions, deep into the night. We tried to persuade our Government that a single currency would inevitably involve a new form of massive taxation, which would cripple and harm the industry and peoples of northern Europe. Such an arrangement would not help, because compensatory shifts of money, as we have seen in our own country, do not compensate for market forces as they are supposed to. Everyone becomes a loser in such circumstances.
52 If the Government have agreed to a compensatory taxation regime, as I suspect they have—the Minister looks quite happy about my saying that—
§ Sir Michael Spicer
Well, at any rate, he is guessing that I am probably right.
If the Government have indeed agreed to such a regime, it comes as no surprise, but it certainly leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. I suspect that this will be a major feature of the giving away of the veto at Nice, and it is an enormous problem.
What is absolutely predictable—because it is built into the treaty—is that there will be more movements towards a federal state of Europe. As The Sunday Telegraph said at the weekend, victory will be defined by how little movement there is towards such a federal state; it will never be defined in terms of retrieval of powers. The acquis communautaire is safe, for the time being—until someone gets to grips with the treaty and shakes it out—but what I have predicted is inevitable. Anyone who argues somehow that the movement is not one way is being at best disingenuous and at worst deceptive.
Does my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) want me to give way?
§ Sir Michael Spicer
Those who think we are being forced to move towards a federalist Europe—those who believe that the euro has everything to do with a Government of Europe, and who worry about trends towards centralisation, loss of democracy and instability—must conclude that only one political institution in this country is capable, first, of calling a halt to those trends and, secondly, of retrieving some of the powers that have been lost in agriculture, fisheries and perhaps certain aspects of trade. Many people do not even realise that, despite all the talk of an alternative to the North American free trade agreement, that is impossible while the treaty of Rome remains in its present state.
The only party capable of dealing with all that is the Conservative party, and people are going to have to recognise the fact. I do not think even the sceptics in the Labour party—I hope that we are about to hear from one—really believe that it is possible to do more than slow down the process. On reflection, I can think of one or two Labour Members who believe that, but they shall be nameless: I will not blow their cover now. Anyway, they represent a very small minority. They are certainly not mainstream.
The Labour party is at best in the business of trying to tinker with the process and slow it down. Basically, Labour goes along with the setting up of a federal state, and we are coming very close to that. What Lord Denning called the onrush of a tidal wave down our rivers and estuaries—Roman and European law taking over from our own law—is virtually upon us. It has been tested in our courts: the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 started that, and 53 it has continued apace. Anyone who thinks that what I have said is rubbish should look at what is currently emerging even from our own courts.
Labour will never save the country from itself. Only the Conservative party can do that, which means—I say this with some feeling—not only accepting that we must call a halt, but accepting the need for retrieval of powers and, ultimately, renegotiation of the treaty. Were I interested in a federal state of Europe, I would go home and keep quiet because most of it is in place. The dynamics are there. The acquis communautaire will sort a lot of that out. The Court will sort a lot of it out. The Court settles cases in terms of a move towards a federal Europe. It has never judged a case's merits other than in terms of a move towards a federalist system because it has to—the acquis communautaire tells it to. That is the basis on which it makes its judgments, so, if left to itself, the process will carry on apace.
If I wanted that, the best solution would be to sit tight and to wait for it to happen. To some extent, the intergovernmental conferences are just becoming confirmatory procedures for a process that is going on apace.
That issue and that of the economy are two vital concerns not only of Parliament but of the country. I am convinced that my right hon. and hon. Friends will be able to draw the country's attention to the enormity of the dangers that are inherent in what is going on in Europe—dangers to economic well-being through high taxation and high regulation and to freedoms of democracy. The country will inevitably look to the Conservative party to save us from both those dangers.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
The hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer) said that he had followed my right hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) on a number of occasions and that he had heard a fairly familiar story. Over the years, I have followed the hon. Gentleman on a few occasions and many aspects of his speech today were fairly familiar, too, particularly the European aspect and the wonderful, rosy, competitive capitalism that he espouses—the belief that it has been a wonderfully economically efficient arrangement.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that the constituency and communities from which I come and represent were the subject of capitalist experiments on at least two occasions in one century. The first put 65 per cent. of the people in my community out of work. That was neither social justice nor, for that matter, economic efficiency. It was not democracy or freedom.
The second time that such experiments were tried on us was during a prolonged period in the 1980s. There was a difference, but the fundamentals were still the same, as were the consequences: prolonged periods of economic inactivity for far too many people. Far too many people in my community were idle in the 1980s.
I charge the previous Administration not with meanness but with profligacy. Rightly, the difference between the 1930s and the 1980s was that in the 1980s welfare benefits were available. The consequence of the hon. Gentleman's rosy competitive capitalism at that time was burgeoning benefit costs to pay for idleness. That has been my communities' experience of the capitalism that he preaches.
54 The hon. Gentleman came out with a nice epithet—that socialism is incompatible with investment. Capitalism is incompatible with social justice and economic efficiency. In fact, it leads to high unemployment and idleness, which are economically inefficient and socially unjust.
Sadly, I will not be with the hon. Gentleman for future debates on European Community Bills because I have decided to stand down. Therefore, this is my last opportunity to take part in a Queen's Speech debate. Like him, I noticed the absence of a European Community Bill in the Queen's Speech. I suspect that Nice will produce such a Bill, but it will be introduced not in the current Session but in the next one. Therefore, I shall miss the opportunity of debating long into the night with him. I do not know what my record on Maastricht is, but I think that I, too, had a pretty good voting record over that period.
I have had the privilege of serving in the House for 33 years. For nearly 30 years, I represented the constituency of Merthyr Tydfil, which in 1983 became Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. Over the past century, I am only the fourth Member to represent Merthyr Tydfil. Since 1929, I am only the third Member to represent Rhymney, my two predecessors being Aneurin Bevan and Michael Foot.
We have just been celebrating the centenary of the election of Keir Hardie. It is pity that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) has left the Chamber. Had he been present, I would have confessed that in October 1900 Keir Hardie won—as the second Member in a two-Member seat—because of a rather informal Lib-Lab pact.
If he were in the Chamber, I would also have reminded the Leader of the Opposition of the experience of the Conservative candidate in the 1900 election, who did not turn up in time to submit his nomination papers. The principal reason for that was not a lack of courage but the fact that he did not seem to know where Merthyr Tydfil was. He thought that he was taking a train to the constituency, but did not realise until he was outside Middlesbrough that he was going in the wrong direction. However, I am sure that Conservative central office has improved its efficiency at least in submitting papers on time.
More than one hon. Member has dipped into "The Ashdown Diaries". I confess that I have dipped into them, too, but only very briefly. If the diaries are accurate in reporting his remarks, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister seemed rather wistfully to wish that the type of Lib-Lab alliance that started at the beginning of the 20th century had survived, so that the progressive forces in British politics could have remained in the majority. I would advise him that that alliance did not survive because the then Liberal party was completely incapable of expressing the needs and wishes of the working people of the constituencies that I and so many other hon. Members have represented. That party's policies were incompatible with the nature and needs of the working people and the working class of that day, as they have been for most of the past century.
I believe that it was an academic who said that what the Liberal party could not do was to express the politics of the dignity of working people. I think that nothing gives greater dignity to working people than a decent job.
55 I therefore note with special appreciation the opening words of the Queen's Speech—that the Government's central economic objective ishigh and stable levels of growth and employment.I have repeatedly heard Ministers and other Labour Members express their desire to end boom and bust. I represent communities that understand boom and bust all too well. The Merthyr Tydfil of 1900, when Keir Hardie was first elected to the House, was part of a tiger economy. Its population and economy were growing fast. Within 20 years, however, that economy went from success to one characterised by destitution. The whole economy imploded, throwing 65 per cent. of the working population out of work. No one wants that boom and bust to return.
After that boom and bust—contrary to what the hon. Member for West Worcestershire said—the Government intervened in macro and micro-economic policy to create in my community a manufacturing society that did not exist before the 1930s. They created a range of job opportunities for those who did not migrate but remained in the community. Government and state action recreated the economy of south Wales into the form in which it has remained since the second world war.
There followed the period that the hon. Member for West Worcestershire thought was so wonderful—the miserable and painful recession of the 1980s and early 1990s. Although that recession—unlike the one in the 1930s—was ameliorated by benefits and state support, it was equally miserable, degrading and, in many ways, dignity destroying. Economic inactivity led to great resignation and fatalism among almost a whole generation of those whom I represent.
Only since 1997 have we started to break through that fatalism and resignation, with micro-economic measures—which the hon. Member for West Worcestershire seems to despise and a Conservative Government would attempt to abolish—such as the new deal, the minimum wage, the working families tax credit, employment zones and education and training programmes. The Government are at least breaking through the fatalism and resignation of the 1980s and early 1990s—that there were no jobs and that life was to be lived only on benefit. I listened to the hon. Gentleman extol the virtues of competitive capitalism, but his comments do not ring true when I consider the experience of the communities that I represent.
I welcome very much references in the Queen's Speech to improvements in education and training. I hope that hon. Members will agree that one of the most astonishing features of talking to many young people of 16, or even in their early twenties, is the discovery that they are illiterate and innumerate. Although free state education has been provided for the best part of 60 years, we have high levels of illiteracy and innumeracy. In the past few years, however, the Government have begun to deal with that combination. They have given people hope and have started to give a bit of shape to their lives.
Public expenditure, which is one the few redistributive instruments left to the Government, is now being rightly and properly used in the health service, for children's commissioners and to deal with the problems of crime and the economic requirements of our communities.
56 The hon. Member for West Worcestershire asked for a debate, and he is going to get one. I do not believe that so-called supply-side solutions to regional economic problems will be sufficient to solve them. I do not believe that the combination of education, training and tax credits that is offered in the United States will work in resolving the continuing structural problems facing our regional economies. Five years ago, I would never have forecast that I would now be representing a community in which most jobs are in call centres and a meat factory. There has been a complete transformation. Our economies do change.
I fear, however, that regional economies—like the global consumer society and its goods—are becoming disposable. As the products that we produce fall out of fashion or can be made more cheaply elsewhere, we shall again—we have already done so once since the war—have to face the task of recreating our regional economies. We have to learn lessons, and not only the type that we have already learned in the new deal and in the education and training programmes of the past two or three years. It will be no good simply to educate and train people; we will have to be active in job creation and in the new regional employment-creation scene.
Such an economic approach is supposed to be old-fashioned, but I suspect that it will come back into fashion in the 21st century. I do not think that the models that we follow today are the only ones. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House are attracted to the American model, but the American economy is a continental economy. It has great mobility, on a scale that neither the United Kingdom nor Europe has seen except by compulsion in the 1920s and 1930s. I agree with other people that the sclerotic European economy is not necessarily the model to follow in dealing with regional economic structural change.
The Welsh nationalists, and many other nationalists, are very attracted and enticed by the Irish experience. However, I think that that experience is almost incomparable with ours. The Irish experience is of a first industrial revolution. We live in an almost post-industrial society, and the issue for us is how to regenerate an industrial manufacturing society.
I have been looking for alternative models and possible ways of learning from others—we should not be ashamed of making such a search—and I have found an interesting alternative from a most strange and alien country. Recently, I had the pleasure of making a visit—which I have declared in the Register of Members' Interests—to Taiwan. It is an island economy and its first industrial revolution was built on T-shirts and trinkets. I recall one of my youngsters coming home with a Welsh love spoon that had been made in Taiwan. That exemplified the character of the Taiwanese economy. The Taiwanese built their first industrial revolution on a range of cheap, easily produced goods that were developed for the western market. About 15 years ago it dawned on the Taiwanese Government that an economy that depended entirely on that generation of manufacturing had no future, so they planned an alternative manufacturing economy.
As I am sure the hon. Member for West Worcestershire will be aware, the Taiwanese Government are not a left-wing outfit; they represent a liberal, right-wing, basically autocratic society. The Taiwanese Government sat down with their small and medium industries and their economic institutes—they invest in economic institutes— 57 and planned an alternative manufacturing society. Through industrial and applied research they built what is now the third largest manufacturing economy in IT goods. The Taiwanese economy has progressed from T-shirts and love spoons to scanners and computer equipment. That happened not by accident or by some natural competitive process but as a result of planning of a type and character that we have foresworn for so long.
Regional economies such as south Wales, which faces the problem of having to recreate its manufacturing sector, could take a lesson from Taiwan rather than from Ireland or many of the so-called European motor regions. It could work, but I do not see us thinking or planning in that way. I do not see us doing such a thing in Wales. I am sorry to say that we have been obsessed with the process of objective 1; we have created a plethora of local partnerships rather than trying to create the industrial and science parks that generated 90,000 new jobs in IT in just over a decade in the Taiwanese economy. I would like us to think and plan in those terms, which are completely contrary to the way in which the hon. Member for West Worcestershire would like us to think and plan.
In my speech so far I have indulged in what is the essence of being a Member of Parliament under the present system—speaking on behalf of my constituents and my constituency as a single Member representing a single seat. In that context I am pleased that certain proposals are absent from the Queen's Speech. I am glad that no further constitutional changes are proposed and that there is no suggestion of any more fanciful franchises that might undermine the concept of the single-member seat, which is the peculiar quality of British representative democracy. I have been here for about 30 years and I hope that my predecessors also spoke with passion about the needs of our community, from which we draw our strength and authority.
I am not denying that each of the constitutional changes that have been made in the past three years of this Parliament has been justified—devolution and the human rights legislation were certainly justified. Europe, too, has developed and we each have our perceptions of that. Sadly, there has been no continuation of the bonfire of the quangos and agencies. Although it might not have been intentional, the changes have been made one by one and we have not counted the sum total of the consequences for the way in which this place works. For example, increasingly large sums of public money are being spent outside the purview of even the Public Accounts Committee as a result of the curious combination of next steps and semi-detached agencies spawned by the previous Government and, I fear, perpetuated by ours, which is leading to a lack of proper scrutiny.
We have been through a phase of modernising the House—and rightly so. There must be a more efficient way to work and to use our time. It might have made our lives more comfortable, but I wonder whether it has also made the Government's life more comfortable, and it is not our job to make any Government comfortable; rather, it is our job to make them uncomfortable. I fear that in some respects the combination of changes has—to borrow a phrase from my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister—gutted the role of the House. Therefore, I hope that we will not proceed too much further without understanding the consequences of what we are doing to this place as it has been a privilege to attend it.
58 I should like to illustrate that by one further reference in the Queen's Speech. It statesA draft Bill will be published to improve the transparency of export controls and to establish their purpose.I wish that the language were not so opaque. I think that it means that there will be a draft Bill—but, sadly, not a Bill—to implement the Scott recommendations on arms licences and to deal with brokering and licensed production of the type and character that the four Select Committees that I had the privilege of chairing have been recommending strongly and continuously since they were established.
The past three years have proved interesting. I pay tribute to the fact that there is far greater openness than ever before. The European Union code, the criteria on arms sales and the annual report on strategic export licences represent a major breakthrough in openness and transparency. I wish only that the Government had decided to make a Bill to implement the Scott recommendations a priority for this Session. I hope that we still have time to do that because we rightly exposed the previous Administration on these issues. We have a legislative debt of honour, which we should repay this Session.
We do not need to wait for legislation before taking another step forward in transparency and openness. If we are to improve the transparency of export controls, I suggest that Ministers accept the unanimous recommendation of the four Select Committees that form the quadripartite Committee that is scrutinising arms licensing and agree to prior scrutiny, so that instead of conducting post-mortems on arms sales, which lead to controversy and can sometimes damage the reputations of Governments, we have the opportunity of prior scrutiny and we can all be better informed by a more transparent system. I should like to see both those measures in place before I leave the House.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, may I say that I am very sorry to hear about his impending departure? Although I completely disagree with most of his speech, I admire him very much on many issues, including Europe. Will he give us his thoughts on the treaty of Nice?
§ Mr. Rowlands
There is no treaty yet, but if there were I would apply the same criteria that I applied to Maastricht and Amsterdam—a critical scepticism of the processes and the details. Sadly, I suspect that I shall not be here to do that. Despite all the changes that have been made, it has been a great joy and pleasure to be in the House for the past 33 years and I hope that my successor gets half the pleasure out of it that I have.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)
It is indeed a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). Although I did not agree with everything he said, like my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer) I agreed with many of the sentiments that he expressed at the conclusion of his speech. In any case, I recognise that he made a forceful speech on behalf of his constituents and I am sad that this is the last Queen's Speech on which we shall hear him speak. I also enjoyed the speeches of the right 59 hon. Members for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), as well as those of my hon. Friends the Members for West Worcestershire and for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel).
I do not propose to follow the two previous speeches, which concentrated on Europe and the merits of supply-side capitalism. I should like to concentrate on the subject of law and order, which occupies a prominent part of the Queen's Speech.
Today has been splendid. I very much enjoyed the pageantry earlier, and there have been some thoughtful speeches in what has been a very good debate. However, given the extent of the advance briefings and early dissemination of information to newspapers, the debate has not focused on the Queen's Speech itself. The message from the Government—the spin, if I can use that word—was that they clearly wanted today's main theme to be a crackdown on threats to law and order. Government Front Benchers have made a co-ordinated effort in that regard, and even the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland today made his contribution about yob culture.
However, I heard the message from the Government with a sense of deja vu. I wondered where I had heard about anti-social behaviour and disorderly conduct before. One does not have to go far back into new Labour history to discover that, at election time, the subject of law and order is taken off the mantelpiece, dusted and given great prominence.
Two principal subjects—disorderly conduct and child curfews—seem to lie at the heart of the Queen's Speech, and I am sure that the newspapers, television, teletext services and so on have not got it wrong when they put those matters at the head of the Government's agenda. Taken together, they are said to represent the Government's attack on what has been called the yob culture.
Where have we heard such language before? I turned my mind back to the beginning of this Parliament, when the Bill that became the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was debated. The Home Secretary gave a moving speech on Second Reading about how perception in his constituency had changed. In the early 1990s, the bulk of the Home Secretary's constituency casework had to do with housing complaints and social security. He told the House that, after the early 1990s, more and more peoplecame to me complaining of intolerable anti-social behaviour, of harassment and of intimidation. Much of the trouble was caused by children and young people who were out of control. The criminal justice system appeared to be incapable of enforcing decent standards of public behaviour on children and adults alike.The Crime and Disorder Bill was the Government's answer to the problem. The Home Secretary concluded by saying:The Bill will make a real difference to the quality of life of people in this country. It will equip the criminal justice system better to serve and protect the public. It will help to restore the self-confidence of communities to demand and secure decent standards of public behaviour from everyone. I commend the Bill to the House.—[Official Report, 8 April 1998; Vol. 310, c. 370–79.]If the Government's principal Act in this regard is already in place, why on earth is more legislation being introduced more than two years later'? Both before and after the previous general election, the Government told 60 us that anti-social behaviour was one of their main themes. Why do we need more legislation now, given that the wonderful Crime and Disorder Bill was going to transform society?
§ Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
The major innovation to arise out of the 1998 Act was the community partnership. Police all over the country say that those partnerships have had an impact on crime. In my constituency, and across Barnsley as a whole, community partnerships have helped to reduce crime significantly.
§ Mr. Clappison
It is easy to talk about community partnerships, but difficult to measure the results that they achieve. I do not doubt that what the hon. Gentleman says about his constituency is right, but the perception is that crime has increased. There is a debate about whether the statistics show that crime is on the increase for the first time in six years, but is not the fact that the Government complain about the yob culture problem the most powerful proof that the policies are not working and that there is a crime problem?
My constituency is, by and large, a quiet place. We have a lower crime rate than many other parts of the country, including—possibly—the constituency of the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham). However, the fear of crime is uppermost in people's minds. My local authority in Hertsmere commissioned a survey of public opinion to determine what people were most worried about so that local service provision could be improved. To its surprise, crime came way before any other issue in people's minds. They were frightened of crime and worried about the absence of police on the streets.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned community partnerships, which have existed for two or three years. With all respect to him, the results of the Hertsmere survey show that it is difficult to measure whether they have been a success. He will recollect that the two flagship provisions of the 1998 Act—the measures announced today cover much the same ground—were the anti-social behaviour order and the child curfew order. As I recall, the former was contained in clause 2 and the latter appeared in a clause that came soon after.
How many anti-social behaviour orders have been made? We can measure their success in tackling crime as we know how many orders have been made. In the 18 months since they came into force, barely 100 such orders have been made in the whole country. The last time I asked, only one anti-social behaviour order had been approved in the whole of Hertfordshire. Perhaps the person involved was responsible for all the problems and incidents worrying my constituents, even though he did not belong to the constituency, but somehow I doubt it. Other people may have been anti-social as well, and I suspect that the problems that they caused were not addressed by the anti-social behaviour orders.
Why are so few orders being made? It is possible to speculate. It would have been better if the Government had listened to what the magistrates told them before they implemented anti-social behaviour orders. Magistrates said that they were unsure about the great deal of legal uncertainty surrounding the orders and that they were not given sufficient guidance on their use.
61 It would also have been better if the Government had stopped and considered the police force. Implementing anti-social behaviour orders requires a lot of time from the police, local councils and other agencies in the criminal justice system. The orders were designed to move the frontiers of policing, but the Government have presided over a decline in police numbers at a time when the police are hard pressed and often lack the resources to deal with crimes much more serious than those covered by anti-social behaviour orders.
That is a recipe for achieving very little, and very little is what has been achieved. Anti-social behaviour orders have not fulfilled the Government's high expectations. The Government's reaction has oscillated between trying to claim that the orders have been a success and, when that proved impossible, trying to find someone to blame for their lack of success. They have blamed local authorities for not following the guidance, they have implicitly blamed the police and they have even had a go at the Opposition by saying that we opposed the orders in the first place. We did not—we just said that they would not be much use, and that has turned out to be the case.
In his latest response, the Home Secretary seemed to combine the two approaches. He said that the orders had been a success, but he blamed others for the fact that they had not been as successful as he had wanted them to be. However, although I would not mind more anti-social behaviour orders being made to tackle anti-social behaviour, I doubt that they would match the scale of such behaviour in this country. That is what troubles so many constituents, and it lies behind the yob culture that the Government have described.
One thing to be said about anti-social behaviour orders is that compared with the child curfew orders in the Crime and Disorder Act—not the headline measure of the Queen's Speech—they have been a rip-roaring success. We can measure how much use child curfew orders have been—they have been no use because not one has been imposed.
Home Office Ministers tried to argue that the fact that the courts had powers to impose curfews was such a deterrent to young people and the under-10s that it was a beneficial result in itself. I do not think that that can be argued with credibility, not least because the existing curfew order depends on the assumption that the under-1Os are causing all the problems. The 1998 Act allows local authorities to impose curfew orders on the under-10s in their areas. We warned the Government that this was likely to prove ineffective.
I hate people who say, "I told you so." In any case, this is not rocket science: it hardly requires great socio-economic knowledge to realise that most problems of disorder are caused not by under-10s but by older children and teenagers. During the passage of the 1998 Act, we proposed an amendment to allow precisely what the Government have now put in their legislative programme. We proposed that a curfew order should include older children and teenagers up to the age of 16. The Government told us that that was an odd suggestion for the Conservatives to make and that there was no need for it because the child curfew order had been carefully designed. The curfew order was not carefully designed; it was not well thought out. It would have been better if the Government had listened not just to the Opposition 62 but to everyone else who had tuppence-ha'penny worth of common sense and knew that the curfew orders were likely to be a failure.
What about the orders that are the headline item of the Queen's Speech, or certainly in many of the briefings? It is proposed that curfew orders will apply to young people up to the age of 16, which the Government specifically opposed two-and-a-half years ago.
There are two points to be made about the proposal. The first applies to the anti-social behaviour orders and was quite rightly made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). Enforcement of the orders will require a substantial increase in the number of police officers. Such orders will be a significant additional responsibility for the police. There simply are not enough officers to enforce such an order. They have a difficult enough task fulfilling other more serious responsibilities.
Having enough police officers is not simply a question of the Prime Minister admitting that police numbers have gone down but saying that they will go up in future. The state of the police force and its morale are such that it is proving difficult for police authorities to recruit additional police officers even if they have the resources to do so. The police have recently made the controversial suggestion of lowering the entry requirements for the police force. That illustrates the underlying problem—the difficulty of recruitment. It is not a question of the money that the Government claim to be spending, but of the effect on police morale during the Government's tenure.
The second point about curfew orders was raised by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy). Imposing curfew orders has significant implications for civil liberties. We should not impose curfew orders in the way the Government envisage, without a word of caution about civil liberties. Curfew orders mean a severe restriction on the liberty of perfectly innocent young people to go about their lawful business in areas where such orders are in place. I do not know why the Under-Secretary of State for International Development is smiling—perhaps he thinks that I will oppose curfew orders. I will not, but we must recognise that there are civil liberty implications which could have long-term consequences.
§ Mr. Robathan
Will there not have to be some form of judicial process before a curfew order can be put in place; or can it be done, as my hon. Friend believes, by an order from the police?
§ Mr. Clappison
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We will have to wait and see the detail of the Bill. The Minister shakes his head—I will give way to him if he wants to make a contribution.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes)
I would do anything to liven up this debate. I was merely smiling because the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) was nodding sagely. It is unusual to see him do anything sage, so I was enjoying it.
Conservative Members do not need to speculate or imagine how curfew orders work; they just need to come to Scotland and see how successful they are.
§ Mr. Clappison
The Minister will not be aware of this because he was not a member of the Committee 63 considering the issue, but we suggested exactly the same thing during the Committee stage of the Crime and Disorder Act. The Minister then in charge of the Bill said that that was wholly unnecessary, although I cannot remember the exact reasons that he gave. It is a shame that the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office is not in his place, because he was on the Committee considering the Bill and voted against our amendment to increase the age limit for curfew orders; yet he is now proposing, as a wonderful panacea for all our ills, something that he voted against in Committee two-and-a-half years ago. I will say no more on that because the hon. Gentleman is not here, and it would be unfair to do so. However, we gave the Government that advice, and it was completely ignored.
There is a serious issue of civil liberties here. We must look carefully at the circumstances in which such an order is made and the wider effects that it might have. I am simply counselling a word of caution. It troubles me to say this, but I agreed with some of the points made by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West. I also agreed with some of his comments on another part of the Queen's Speech, the proposals to restrict the right to trial by jury. I drew some comfort from what he said and from his concern for civil liberties. That is a proper concern for Liberal Democrats, and it is shared by Conservative Members.
With respect, my problem with the Liberal Democrats is that what they say in criticising Government measures and what they say in defence of civil liberties would be far more convincing if they stopped acting like a pressure group within the Government and started opposing them. Instead, the Liberal Democrats criticise the Government, make fine noises—as they did about the Freedom of Information Bill, which is not an entirely dissimilar piece of legislation—and then, when push comes to shove, they cave in and let the Government have their way.
§ Mr. Bercow
A few moments ago, my hon. Friend talked about the causes of crime. Does he agree that one of the causes of crime in this country is the Government, specifically in the form of the Home Secretary telling the House on 24 July that the level of crime is for the criminals to determine? The early release scheme—the so-called home detention curfew scheme—has, in its first 22 months, released 27,000 prisoners, typically after they have served only half their sentence.
§ Mr. Clappison
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. It is interesting to juxtapose the reference that he made to the Home Secretary and the level of crime being for the criminals to determine with what is in the Queen's Speech. The second paragraph says that the Government will focus on cutting crime. Given what my hon. Friend has just said, perhaps the Government know more about the intentions of criminals than we have been given leave to suppose.
§ Mr. Clappison
I will give way in a moment. As a rider to what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said, it is very risky for any Government to 64 promise to cut crime by legislation. Without knowing the details of the legislation or its antecedents—of which there are many—I would be wary of any Government making such a promise in a Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. Heath
I could not let the hon. Gentleman's reference to the performance of the official Opposition during the deliberations on the Freedom of Information Act 2000 pass without reminding him that the only amendment voted on when the House considered the Lords amendments was opposed by the Liberal Democrats, by certain Conservative Members and even by some Labour Members. However, official Opposition Front Benchers chose to summon all their courage to abstain on the crucial issue of freedom of information.
§ Mr. Clappison
The hon. Gentleman has the advantage over me in that matter. He was, perhaps, more closely involved with that legislation. However, there seems to be an enormous gap between what the Liberal Democrats have said and what they have achieved. They will be judged on their complete failure to obtain any of the constitutional changes that they wanted, including changes to the electoral system. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have been had, and the sooner they stop allowing themselves to be had and start behaving like a proper Opposition party, the sooner it will be possible to take their fine words more seriously.
I spoke about civil liberties a moment ago. There was a tradition in the Labour party of being concerned about civil liberties, and there still is in many quarters. However, it is a hallmark of new Labour that it sees a trade-off between civil liberties and law and order. New Labour thinks that talking tough about civil liberties is as good as fighting crime. Diminishing civil liberties does nothing to assist the fight against crime. It merely diminishes the historical liberties and rights that we have inherited from former generations and former Parliaments, and which we should do our best to defend. A good example of that is the right to trial by jury.
A few weeks ago, the Home Secretary was pictured at Runnymede reading the Magna Carta. I hope that his eyes strayed sufficiently far down that document to see that trial by jury goes back as far as that. It is one of the important principles of our legal system. We have that on the word of the Prime Minister. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was right to quote the Prime Minister's saying that it was unsatisfactory to leave the right to trial to be determined by magistrates more often than by the individual. I speak from memory, but I believe that the Prime Minister has in the past described this as a matter of principle.
I can say with greater certainty that the same proposals that the Government now wish to force through—having ignominiously and rightly been defeated in the House of Lords—came before the House at the end of the previous Parliament in the debate on the Narey report, whose provisions formed the basis for the first Bill on this matter. At that time, the then shadow Home Secretary—now the Home Secretary—described them as wrong, short-sighted and likely to prove ineffective. We look forward to hearing the Government's defence of the Home Secretary's position. They will have to do better than the response of Government Front and Back Benchers to the opening speeches, which was, "What about Scotland? They do not have the right to trial by jury in Scotland, so we do not need it in England."
65 I am always careful not to say too much about the Scottish legal system, as it is completely different. However, when the Home Secretary denounced the proposals as wrong, short-sighted and likely to prove ineffective, he knew full well what the position was in Scotland and chose, with that knowledge, to denounce the measures that he now brings before the House.
Nothing has changed since February 1997. The Home Secretary has acquired no additional knowledge about the right to trial by jury. He has, however, made a complete volte face on what many of us—including the Prime Minister, in the past—regard as an important matter of principle. It is a great shame that this provision has crept back into the Queen's Speech. It ought to have died a death of shame, in view of what the Government and their spokesmen have said about it in the past. I hope that everyone who cares about civil liberties, including many Labour Members who have taken a principled view on the matter, will oppose this wretched provision as much as they have done in the past.
We are told that there are to be measures to improve education in our inner cities, particularly in secondary education, with the creation of more specialist schools, urban school reform and improved teaching in the early years of secondary education. We shall want to see the details, but I am sure that everyone shares the objective of wanting to improve education in the inner cities.
I am concerned, however, by the rather casual attitude shown by the Government, today and in the past, to the recruitment of teachers. We shall not be able to meet any of these high-flying objectives if we do not have the teachers to teach the children. A vast amount of public money is to be spent on recruiting learning mentors, but they will not be teaching children. They will be talking to them about their problems, possibly about many things that parents would normally regard as their own prerogative. Learning mentors may or may not help children with their problems, but they will not be teaching them. They will not be able to assist the children to acquire the skills and expertise that will be needed to produce the highly skilled, highly equipped work force necessary for the technological society of the future.
The Government have failed most conspicuously to recruit teachers of technological subjects, especially maths and science. The Home Secretary said recently that there had been meltdown in the teaching recruitment system, in that insufficient numbers of qualified graduates were coming forward to teach children, especially in technological subjects. However, the Government said at the time that everything was going according to plan. The Home Secretary said there had been a problem earlier, so the Government introduced teacher bursaries, golden hellos and a graduate teacher programme to get people into teaching who would otherwise not enter the profession.
What has happened since those measures were introduced? If one considers all the measures that the Government have described as the answer to the teacher recruitment problem, one can see that the Government have fallen well short of their targets for recruiting teachers, especially in maths and science. In those subjects, the number recruited is way below the number in 1996–97, at the end of the Conservative Government's term in office. In that year, 1,740 graduates were recruited 66 to teach maths; this year, the Government have succeeded in recruiting 1,390—roughly one third below the numbers needed.
Given the elderly structure of the teaching profession, the figures are also bad news for the future of our schools. Schools in some parts of the country are putting children on to a four-day week. Even while the Home Secretary was saying that the problems were behind us because the Government's policies were successful and they were increasing the number of teachers, the Evening Standard reported that theeducation department head of schoolshad warned London schools that more Government intervention was needed withco-ordinated strategies for dealing with shortages which threaten the ability of schools to provide a full week for their pupils.Anyone with a connection with teaching in London and the south-east knows that it is desperately difficult for schools in the area to recruit the teachers they need. That is true in many other parts of the country, but in London and the south-east schools have had to recruit teachers not only from Australia and New Zealand but from all over the world. Some of the teachers recruited do not even have specialist subject qualifications, but it is still hard to find enough teachers.
The Government have tried their best, but their policies have failed—by their own standards and by those of the previous Conservative Government. Despite all the talk of education, education, education, there will not be enough teachers to provide it. It will not do for the Government to spin and spin; what matters is delivery. It does not seem that the Government will deliver on education—their policies have been tried and have failed. If they fail on that, the country will fail in many ways.
There has been much advance spinning about the provisions in the Queen's Speech on law and order, education and many other matters, but, by introducing them, the Government admit that they have failed to deliver in the past. It is highly unlikely that those provisions, even if we wished them well, would deliver in future. The Queen's Speech is a triumph of spin over delivery—the country is having the wool pulled over its eyes just before a general election.
§ Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)
I promise to be brief and to the point and not to spend as much time as Opposition Members bemoaning the Maastricht treaty that was signed by the previous Conservative Government, not the Labour Government.
In this place, there are many ups and downs. I have just experienced the quickest up and down of my political career, when the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer) talked about creeping socialism under the Labour Government. My heart rose and I was getting very excited until I remembered that the hon. Gentleman was a member of a Conservative Government who, in a decade, drove the whole of our economy and our manufacturing base into the buffers of bankruptcy. If he still cannot understand that Tory policies do not work, he cannot understand our policies either, so I went down when I heard him, rather than someone who understood the subject, talking about socialism.
I welcome the contents of the Loyal Address. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), I am probably making my last speech on 67 a Loyal Address as I shall be retiring at the next general election—with no regret, although there have been good times and bad times. However, since the previous general election, conditions in my constituency have improved considerably, as they have done throughout the United Kingdom.
The economy is much stronger. There are more jobs—many of which replaced those lost because of the disastrous policies pursued by the Conservative Government over a decade. There are many jobs and training opportunities, to which Conservative Members have referred. How on earth can they bemoan the lack of skills and training after what they did? It is unbelievable. I would not have been able to sleep at night—but I am not a Tory, so I suppose that is all right.
Tremendous progress has been made, although I have criticisms of my Government, as is well known. People can already see the fruits of what has happened since 1997. In Sheffield, we have nearly completed a new women's hospital, which will serve the whole region. We have been pressing for that for at least 20 years. It could not be built sooner because public-private finance could not be raised; the project was failing for ages. Thank goodness a brand new women's hospital in Sheffield will be built using public funds. I am extremely proud of that. Even if nothing else had happened in Sheffield, that would be enough, but of course there have been many other measures.
The Loyal Address is not a complete package. We could do more on certain matters. However, there are opportunities for growth and I hope that the economy will grow even stronger. The so-called north-south divide is a little confusing. Obviously, there are pockets of poverty in most areas; parts of London and Kent are as poor as parts of Yorkshire and Scotland. Even though I come from the north, I think it is misleading to keep beating the drum of the north-south divide. We need a planned strategy to overcome that problem; I believe that we shall achieve that in the long term—unlike the hon. Member for West Worcestershire, who does not believe in any interference whatever and hopes that things will work out by pure luck.
We must remember that the Labour party was born of the need to change the economic system and to bring about social change with fairness and equal opportunities for all. Our movement started with the trade union movement. That is how we formed the Labour party and the first Labour Government, who were elected to achieve precisely those aims. I hope that we shall continue on our present path, although we can always do more.
We must not lose touch with the people whom we represent; we must keep listening. Although I do not think that we shall lose touch, the problem remains. The Conservative Government lost touch and they finished up in the wilderness. The Queen's Speech will help to ensure that the Labour Government do not do so. However, there are some difficulties that we shall need to look at in the future.
I welcome the fact that the Queen's Speech includes proposals on long-term care. As I have reached the age of 65, I had better declare an interest in the future funding of long-term care. Our family have experienced the trauma and problems when old people become ill— 68 through no fault of their own. Most of us are living longer and that is a strain, especially on families who are bringing up children and caring for elderly people. So I am absolutely chuffed—if I can use that word in Parliament—that we are addressing that matter.
I attended the first parliamentary Labour party meeting after the 1997 general election—a historic meeting. I asked, "When will there be a Bill banning hunting with dogs?" The Bill is in the Loyal Address; the measure has arrived and we are proud of it. I am sure that the vast majority of people in this country will thank us and will welcome it.
On the global economy, as someone who—like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development—has been active in the Jubilee 2000 movement, I have been campaigning for a better deal for people in poor countries. Proposals in the Address offer a step forward. We all talk about having peace, but we shall never achieve world peace while there are massive differences in opportunity, wealth, care and so on. There will never be world peace until we get rid of global poverty and those differences.
Our Government should be congratulated on what they have done and on what they intend to do in future. We should also congratulate Jubilee 2000, Oxfam and all the other organisations which, in collaboration with the Government, have tried to set up a system that would help. No one claims that the system is perfect, but it is a massive step forward compared to what existed in the past.
We have all heard the horror stories about the dreadful actions of private security firms—wheel clamping and things of that nature. Strangely, The Star in Sheffield yesterday carried a story headed, "Clampers demand gold tooth payment". It reads:Cowboy car clampers demanded a woman motorist's gold tooth as payment in Sheffield, the RAC revealed today.Can you believe it? It is a true story and the motorist was not very chuffed. She had her three-year-old daughter with her and the clampers then said, "Okay, we'll hold your daughter while you get the 60 quid from the bank." Thank goodness the Government are now doing something so that we can prevent such shocking behaviour.
There is a lot of spare land, which is privately owned, near the old maternity hospital in Sheffield—the Jessop hospital for women. Unscrupulous dampers would hang around there waiting for people to park on the ground. Usually, it was an emergency—the wife was having a baby almost on the spot. The husband would park in the first space and go to the hospital. He would be clamped and have to pay £50 to get the clamp off. That sort of activity is disgraceful and should be stopped.
I said that no Government should get out of touch and I hope that this Government will not do so. I do not believe that they will, mainly because our feet are more firmly placed on the ground than those of the previous Administration. Only two aspects of the Administrations are similar. When the Opposition were in government they had 40 or 50 rebels who caused all sorts of problems, but they had channel tunnel vision and focused on Europe and right-wing, narrow European issues, which finally destroyed that Government. We have 40 or 50 rebels who rebel on a variety of matters and 69 contribute to the rich tapestry of political life. That is what it is all about. Those rebellions are not narrow and right-wing. Those rebels are reminding the Government—
§ Mr. Michie
I am sure that the Whip knows—he has lost some hair since I stood up.
I am merely reminding the Government that we have to keep in touch with our electorate and with reality. Labour, with all the rebels, will win the next election—first, because of our manifesto commitments, many of which have been carried out; secondly, because we are still progressive and are helping people in need; and, thirdly, because when we rebel, it is for good causes and good reasons. That will not only save this Government, it will save the Labour party as well.
§ Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie). I do not know him terribly well, but I understand that he has shown much independence, at which he hinted. I am sure that he is a good chap; I think that my Whip is assuring me that that is the case. I show some independence from time to time. It was a pleasure to see an old-style socialist from south Yorkshire and I wish the hon. Gentleman well in whatever he ends up doing in retirement. I hope that he will not be in the care home to which he referred in the too-near future.
My speech will be brief because the Queen's Speech is extraordinarily thin—indeed, it is transparent. It is a pre-election Queen's Speech. There are a few eye-catching measures, which the Government hope will be populist, as well as some tidying-up measures, but there is not too much to rock the boat. We know what we have to look forward to in the near future—non-stop electioneering from the Government and, almost certainly, an election in May. They may be sorely disabused of their confidence in how well they will do in that election.
There is a lesson for us all, and for the electorate in particular, in the Government's promises. The £200 winter fuel payment has been mentioned. We all know about it and the pensioners all know about it. However, when the payment is delivered, I wish that the Government would attach a copy of a letter that I received from the Secretary of State for Social Security, dated 9 November, entitled, "Pension Credit". It says:From next week, we will increase the winter fuel payment, which is set at £150 for future years, by a further £50 for this year only.Clearly, that is an electoral bribe. Sadly, not enough people have cottoned on to it yet.
§ Mr. Clapham
In the Barnsley constituencies, 42,000 pensioners will benefit from that £200. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if the Conservatives came to power they should stop the payment of that allowance?
§ Mr. Robathan
I am sure that the 42,000 pensioners in Barnsley would prefer an increased, steady income. We all like getting £200 in our hands, but I suspect that pensioners would like to receive larger payments throughout the year so that they could adjust their spending according to their means. I am saying that the 70 42,000 pensioners in Barnsley who know that they are getting £200 this year should be told that the Government do not intend to repeat the payment next year should they be re-elected.
The provisions in the Queen's Speech—and the forthcoming Budget—are designed to garner votes. The March Budget will be unashamedly populist—it will be buying votes. Many of the measures in the Queen's Speech will not reach the statute book. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley referred to legislation on hunting with dogs. It is almost certain that that Bill will not reach the statute book in this Parliament. The Government know that—indeed, they have so designed it for their electoral purposes.
I shall examine a few of the measures in greater detail. The first is the ban on tobacco advertising, which was the subject of a private Member's Bill in 1993, although I cannot remember the name of the Member who introduced it. I thought the measure sensible. I am passionately anti-cigarette smoking. The day before the Bill was introduced, I was telephoned by people from the tobacco industry—I had been entertained to dinner or lunch by them not long before—who asked me what I felt about the measure. I said, "You don't seriously expect me to alter my view because you gave me lunch." I did not alter my view and voted against tobacco advertising. However, my view has changed—but not because I have had another lunch or two. I do not believe that the Government should determine what everyone does with his or her time. I think that one or two of the hon. Members who are in the Chamber like to smoke, but perhaps not. If they want to smoke themselves to death, they are adults and they are allowed to do so.
§ Mr. Purchase
Will the hon. Gentleman pursue the logic of that view? If he accepts that smoking is exceedingly harmful to those who smoke and to those who have the misfortune to inhale secondary smoke, as I am sure he does, but says that people should be free to smoke themselves to death, would he legalise other substances—cannabis among them—on the basis that people have the right to kill themselves with hard or soft drugs?
§ Mr. Robathan
The hon. Gentleman has a good point, he will be surprised to learn. There is a logic that says that one should be free to do everything. I do not subscribe to that view. If some latter-day Raleigh were to bring back nicotine or addictive tobacco from Mars, I am sure that we would prefer it not to be released on the open market to ensure that people did not get addicted to it. I have two children and I desperately hope that they will not take up cigarette smoking. Occasionally, I smoke a cigar. I do not want smoking to flourish. My logic is that if adults want to smoke, it is up to them, and the nanny state should not rule on the case.
Furthermore, we have been here before. We were going to ban tobacco advertising in sport. Will formula one definitely not be allowed to advertise tobacco? There was an interesting sideshow in 1997 and 1998, when formula one, which had subscribed a great deal of money—£1 million—to the Labour party, was allowed to keep its exemption. Will the Minister clarify that matter? Apparently not. My mother has smoked for 60 years. It is up to her if she wishes to continue to smoke. I have always criticised her for it, but she should be allowed to do so if she wishes.
71 The second point that I wish to touch on briefly is the housing Bill—more particularly, the buying and selling Bill. I am not entirely clear from the Queen's Speech how that legislation will be drafted, but we have heard a lot about the compulsory seller's pack. Estate agents and a surveyor have told me that such matters are not as easy as they seem. Most hon. Members have probably endured the hassle of buying and/or selling properties, which can be extremely frustrating. However, before we introduce further legislation and greater regulation, we should consider whether it will be effective. It is highly unlikely that any hon. Member would rely on a surveyor's report from the seller of a property. I would want to see my own surveyor's report, because the seller's surveyor will inevitably produce a report that is more attractive; otherwise he or she will not get much business in future.
I am not sure whether the provision to charge council tax on second homes will be included in that Bill, but as someone who pays one and a half council taxes—I suspect that many hon. Members do—it seems that the purpose of a local tax is to pay for locally delivered services. That is what we are told when we receive the sheets from the district or, in my case, county council; they tell us how the money has been spent. There was something about no taxation without representation in the American revolution, but the point is that people cannot fully use the services provided in both places. For example, children can go to school in one place only. It is profoundly wrong in principle to tax people twice when they can use only one load of services. They can use half the services, but it is not right in principle to tax people twice.
§ Mr. Purchase
The hon. Gentleman attempts to enunciate an important principle. However, the point is not that children are educated in one place, but that there is a range of local government services—not least the fire brigade, which most people would expect to come out whether they were at the premises at the time, or whether they lived there permanently or half-time. The council tax is perfectly reasonable and fair. Where two sets of services are available, they have to be paid for. A further point is that in local government elections—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. I am aware that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) will seek to catch my eye later. If he has that opportunity, he may make his points then.
§ Mr. Robathan
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East makes an important point. I am astonished that there is any common ground today. My point is that it is fair to pay half the council tax in a particular place if people live there for only a small part of the time. For example, if people use a cottage at weekends, they will create only a certain amount of rubbish, which is taken away by the council refuse collection, paid for by the council tax. That applies to a raft of issues.
As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel) said, this is not just about fat cats. I fear that some Labour Members think that we are talking about rich people who have two houses. Soldiers 72 may have to keep houses empty for whatever reason—perhaps they are posted abroad—or they may use them only at weekends when they return from their postings. It is not reasonable to expect them to pay the whole council tax, but I am sure that the measure will be pushed through.
On criminal justice, there was a lot of talk earlier this year about drunk teenagers being marched off to cash machines, and curfews will now be extended to teenagers, but no curfews for under-10s have as yet been put in place. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) mentioned the important issue of police time. The people who should be responsible for curfews on 16-year-olds are not the police or the courts, but the parents. The Government should support parents and the family, rather than putting people on curfews if they misbehave.
We would not have had such a discussion 50 years ago because families were much more likely to stay together. All children knew who their parents were and lived with their father as well. Sadly, too many children, and too many children in trouble with the police, do not know where their fathers are, or are the product of broken homes. Anyone who visits the magistrates courts will know that that is the case. Unfortunately, the Government would prefer social workers or the police to interfere, but most people believe that it would be better if families were more stable, and we should use public policy to achieve that. The talk of curfews will be vacuous and headline catching, but there will be little useful substance to the proposal.
The hon. Member for Heeley looked forward—not that avidly—to the proposals on long-term care. We should consider the facts about long-term care homes. I have been contacted by many of the owners of such homes in my constituency. Of course, they have a particular position on that matter. However, I understand that 15,000 care beds have been lost in the past year or 18 months—a staggering number. The people who would have been in those care homes have gone elsewhere. Many of them have gone into hospital.
Care homes are closing because of discriminatory legislation and too much bureaucracy. Regulation might be well intentioned, but it might state that bedrooms, especially those in listed buildings, are not big enough. People might like those bedrooms, but they are not allowed to use them. Many small, independent care homes find that they are being discriminated against, which is why they are closing.
I am delighted that the Government have come round to the view that they wish to get rid of a great deal of regulation, but most Conservative Members will believe it when we see it. I shall mention two cases. A brewer in my constituency told me that there had to be a basin behind a bar in one of his tied houses. The inspector who came round told the landlord, "You have got to have a basin in here to wash things." The landlord said, "There isn't room." He was told that the basin could go anywhere, so he stuck one on the ceiling. Apparently, that satisfied the regulations and the inspector, even though glasses could not be washed up in it.
My point is that the Government have piled regulations on small businesses, as everyone in small business knows. I fear that the Government's conversion to getting rid of 73 regulation will be judged on how they deliver, and they have not yet delivered much. The proposal is more about spin than substance; it is a showboat.
One or two of my hon. Friends disagree with me about hunting. I know that the hon. Member for Heeley disagrees with me because he said so. I do not hunt; I can hardly ride, but I have attended meets. I have never hunted on a horse, although I have been beagling once or twice. For those hon. Members who do not know, beagling involves running or walking. Hunting does not occupy the minds of the great majority of British people. Those involved in hunting care passionately about it because it is their sport. Those—a smaller number, I suspect—who are anti-hunting, are saboteurs, or who join the League Against Cruel Sports also care passionately about it.
The vast majority of people in this country do not especially care. The proposal will not catch a lot of votes. If one asks the public, one will probably find that they have a general antipathy towards hunting, as they visualise a poor little furry creature being chased around the countryside. However, their votes will not depend on the issue. I fear that the Labour party is deluding itself if it believes that the issue will be a vote catcher.
I go to schools in my constituency and talk about hunting. Although the area is relatively rural, most of the young people are ill-disposed towards hunting. If one asks them whether they like watching football, many answer yes—although, incidentally, most of them do not. However, they would agree that it would be pretty stupid to wander around the streets of Leicester with a football shirt pulled over a pot belly, waving a scarf. I would not want to do that, but I see no reason why somebody should be banned from such activities if they do not impinge on anybody else's liberty.
Similarly, if people want to spend their Saturday afternoons cavorting around the countryside on a horse and breaking their necks, that must be up to them. It cannot be up to us to decide. Unless something is so awful or cruel—the Burns inquiry did not find that fox hunting was especially cruel—it is not for us to use our privileged position adversely to impinge on other people's rights.
§ Mr. Bill Michie
No one is saying that people should not ride a horse and break their neck. As the hon. Gentleman said, that is entirely up to the individual. Labour Members object to the cruel way in which an innocent animal is savaged, with the blooding of children and all the rest of it. That sort of thing is wrong. If people want to ride a horse, they can—indeed, they can fall off if they want—but it is wrong to hunt wild animals.
§ Mr. Robathan
I suspect that the hon. Gentleman and I are not likely to agree on this point. He said that it was wrong to hunt and to put blood on a child's face. I do not especially like that practice, but is he seriously suggesting that we should legislate because, due to some bizarre tradition, huntsmen wish to blood children's faces? That is a bizarre suggestion.
As regards cruelty, of course we are not discussing an especially pleasant way of dying, but death is not pleasant. As the Burns inquiry found, fox hunting is more palatable than many other methods of pest control. Foxes are pests. If the hon. Gentleman believes that foxes should not be controlled, that is fine, but he should talk to farmers in my constituency who are concerned, for example, about the piglets that they lose to foxes.
74 It is sad that we are concentrating on what the Government consider to be a vote catcher, rather than on the real issues and the crisis in the countryside. Farmers' wives come to see in me tears because their farms are going bust. Farmers are committing suicide at an appalling rate and are making constant losses. There is no money in agriculture, for a number of deep-seated reasons. The Government, however, are not going to do anything about that.
Some people find it genuinely depressing—I do not know whether they include Labour Members—that, during the recent fuel crisis, when farmers and others were demonstrating, at least two Labour Members said, "I don't particularly mind. What about all the miners who were put out of their jobs? There was no public sympathy for them." These are not tit-for-tat issues. I do not view all miners as Labour supporters or all farmers as Conservative supporters. One should be concerned about the humanity of the matter. More to the point, the management of the countryside affects everyone in the country greatly. I fear that the comments made by some Labour Members were vindictive and petty. I hope that none of them now present wants to intervene on that point.
The Government have the agenda. The hon. Member for Heeley mentioned hunting with dogs at the beginning of his speech. Also, there was the proposal for section 28—which, I am glad to say, is not coming back. Indeed, it is a peripheral issue. I was vociferous in opposing the Government's plans for the abolition of section 28, but it says a great deal about the mindset of the Government and of their activists and supporters that they should pursue at such great length the removal of section 28 from the statute book. The issue does not exercise the great British public, although, if they were asked, most would back the Conservatives.
The need to ensure that the education standard spending assessment is sufficient to fund the education of all children—a significant issue in places such as Leicestershire—has not been touched on, although it was mentioned in the pre-Budget statement. I am delighted that the Government seem to be moving on the matter. There is talk of floors in the SSA, but I hope for delivery rather than merely the few words that have been uttered so far.
The Queen's Speech contained nothing on transport. I find that pretty strange, as congestion is increasing on our roads—which is not new—and there are problems on the railways. People keep blaming those problems on privatisation, but I disagree entirely. The railways have been getting better, not worse, since privatisation. It is only recently that people have lost confidence in them, partly because the system has been criticised so much by the Government, among others.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer) spoke about the Nice summit and the treaty that might result from that. I do not want to cover all the ground that he covered.
§ Mr. Robathan
My hon. Friend encourages me to pursue that point, but I do not want to do so.
Most Opposition Members would love greater debate on Nice. Instead, it was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. Let us have a debate on the euro, which is 75 currently doing extremely badly. I for one do not want it to fail, although that may happen. I want it to prosper, as I want my European partners to prosper. Indeed, it would be bad for this country if it flopped and went bust, which could happen. I do not want it to be a disaster. However, let us have a debate on whether this country should join the euro. We all know what people feel; they do not want to be part of the single currency.
The euro or single currency is, of course, a political step. Everyone on the continent knows that. Every time the euro is discussed there, people talk about it being a political step and a move towards a more integrated Europe or, to adopt a much-used phrase, an ever-closer union. We should put to the vote the question whether the people of this country want to be part of an ever-closer union.
The European army has been much discussed in the past few weeks and will be mentioned at the Nice summit. We were told that it would not undermine NATO. Then along came William Cohen, who said that it would undermine NATO and that it would make it a "relic". There is much sense in greater co-operation with our European partners and in using our equipment and procurement methods better. However, the history of joint procurement with our European partners is not a happy one; indeed, it is pretty abysmal. There is no evidence of our European partners wanting to spend more money on defence. The French have been trying to split Europe and America on defence since 1968, when they left the military structure of NATO. There is no evidence to suggest that their motivation is changing.
We must understand that our experience and national interest are not always the same as those of Europe. Indeed, they are not always the same as those of America. Let us consider the current French policy on Iraq, as opposed to that of the Government, which I support. I wish that I could remember what the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), called the behaviour of the French. Anyway, he was not impressed with the French policy on Iraq, and neither am I. Very often, our national interests differ markedly in security terms from those of some of our European partners.
The Session is likely to be short. After the Queen's Speech, there are a few days to Christmas and then a few months before the calling of the general election. Vacuous and unworkable plans will be trumpeted. Some of them, such as the child curfews, will create many headlines. There will be a lot of spin and no substance. There will be display and showboating; it will all look marvellous, but there will be no delivery, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) pointed out earlier.
Experience of the past should influence our judgment. In Europe, experience of our partners' behaviour, the ever-closer union and the move towards integration should determine our view of the Nice treaty. The Government, with their promise that things can only get better, have raised expectations dramatically. I go to schools where teachers, who thought in 1997 that a bright new dawn was coming, tell me openly how disappointed they are. I go to hospitals where doctors—many of whom 76 we might have assumed to be Conservative voters—thought that they would receive so much more from Labour. They have been gravely disappointed.
We have had over-regulation and interference. Above all, people outside the House do not believe what the Government say. I hope that those people will come back to the Conservative party. The opinion polls suggest that they are not doing so, but we all know that such results can change. Labour Members should remember that the Government's record reveals a great deal of display and no delivery—spin, not substance. I firmly believe that the Conservative party can win the next general election. Opinion poll results do not seem to favour that outcome but, from the experience of the past three and a half years, people should know never to trust the Government again.
§ Mr. Ken Purchase (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I am privileged to take part in the first day of debate on the Queen's Speech. There have been some excellent and entertaining contributions. The hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer) kept Labour Members in stitches for some time. I accept that he has a point of view, which he puts across with good humour and good grace, and it was a pleasure to be in the Chamber for that.
I especially want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who gave an excellent speech in every respect. It was erudite and informed, and a magnificent swan-song—although I regret that it is a swan-song—on his last Queen's Speech. His understanding of his constituents provides a role model to which we should all aspire.
Let me refer to the first few words of the Gracious Speech. Every party in the House shares the Government's intentionto pursue its central economic objective of high and stable levels of growth and employment.Those are warm words and we must give effect to them. Most importantly, as the hon. Member for West Worcestershire said, productivity in this country has been poor since the end of the second world war. We seem unable to match the productivity growth of our competitors and, as world trade expands, we need to be ever more competitive. We cannot afford to languish.
Some gains have been made. We read about greater capital investment but, as I said in an intervention, two decades—if not longer—of underinvestment have had a deleterious effect on the whole of British manufacturing. Some people say that manufacturing is not of great importance because it employs 10, 12 or maybe 13 per cent. of the work force and accounts for only 20 per cent. of gross domestic product, but this island economy must export goods with the high added value of being produced by the craft, skill and hard work of British people. Inevitably, those are manufactured goods and many industries in this country's internal economy depend wholly on their production. Sadly, our machine tool industry has been decimated—I use the word in its mathematical sense—over recent years and we are unable to supply from our own resources machinery with a high level of technical innovation, which has led many nations to economic prosperity.
We have to address those problems. There is no single answer to improving productivity. It is not a simple matter of supply-side economics or education. There are two 77 sides to the equation. Traditionally, it is a case of supply and demand. We have often failed to recognise that demand can and must be stimulated to get the supply side working properly to provide jobs for people who take the time, trouble and effort to become better able and better equipped to meet the needs of contemporary industry and commerce.
I despair when I hear people—again, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire comes to mind—say that our economy can be run on the classic lines of free enterprise and competition as though that is the answer to all our problems. It is not. The idea that we can leave everything to the market is palpable nonsense. The market does not work like that. It has to be aided and abetted by sensible policies of intervention to ensure that demand is being met and stimulated not just in the regions of the United Kingdom, but around the world. If we do not intervene, the market will never provide social justice, and if anyone in the House is not committed to social justice he must ask himself why he is in politics.
The hon. Member for West Worcestershire declared that the Government are being political. I thought about that for a moment or two and realised that I was perfectly sure that politicians come to Westminster to be political and to seek political answers to conundrums that they try to unravel and solve. I feel no shame in being absolutely political in trying to get the very best for my constituents and my country, for Europe and, indeed, for the world. That is an honourable way for a politician to proceed.
To pretend that the hidden hand can do everything for us is not credible. I remind hon. Members that when the hidden hand was relied on absolutely, as it was in the early 1980s, disaster befell us. In my constituency, without taking account of pensioner households, two out of five households had no one in work. Throughout the nation, 20 per cent. of households had no one in work. Nearly two generations of sons and daughters in my constituency did not know what it was to get a job. They became totally disconnected from the process of wealth creation.
I have had the sad, unfortunate and dreadful experience—as, I am sure, have other hon. Members—of constituents coming to me with their giros and asking, "What do they expect me to do with this?" It is usually a woman, no more than 20 or 22 years old, with one or two young children. She is not quite sure who "they" are; on Thursday mornings, someone drops through her letter-box a giro that, as far as she is concerned, could have come from a money tree. She is completely disconnected from the idea that going to work creates wealth that enables people to look after themselves. As my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney said, there is a dignity in having a wage and a good job.
As for the international criminal court, if ever there were two people who should be dragged before such a court for crimes against young people and their understanding of work and wealth, it is two former Members of the House who created a catastrophe for engineering and manufacturing in my constituency, the west midlands and much of the manufacturing capacity of this country.
I do not want to repeat those experiences. A company in my constituency operates in a global market. It was very successful until the past few years, but it has found the global economy exceedingly tough, and Wolverhampton 78 might lose 3,000 jobs in the rubber industry. We cannot afford to do that. We must have measures that enable us to make progress on vital manufacturing jobs. I speak with passion, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. Without such work, honourable and honest working people who want to provide for themselves have little or nothing to look forward to.
The Queen's Speech does not contain a commitment to legislate on housing, transfer of stock and arm's-length companies. When a statement is made, I plead with the Minister concerned to ensure that local authorities that suit their tenants, work hard and generally do a good job are treated no less favourably in terms of capital or revenue support or other opportunities than those authorities that choose, through the will of their tenants, to go into joint stock companies and other forms of tenancy.
Many of my constituents will jump for joy if we can make a reality of the Government's bid to reduce vehicle crime. So many of my constituents have had their cars stolen from their drives, myself included, and cars are broken into. My daughter's vehicle, a motor caravan, was stolen from her drive. We need to work together. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) talked about partnership arrangements, which we need because communities will become involved. We must ensure that people understand the seriousness of allegedly petty crimes.
The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) mentioned the responsibility of parents, and I agree with him whole-heartedly. It does not matter how many policemen and women we have. Although that is important in catching and apprehending criminals, we need to understand what society is about in our approach to those who commit awful crimes by stealing other people's property. I want to see the Government's efforts come to fruition, with a reduction in vehicle and other forms of crime.
A draft Bill is to be published that will be designedto improve transparency of export controls and to establish their purpose.My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone and I served on the Select Committee on Trade and Industry during the arms to Iraq saga. It was clear that successive Conservative Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry cared little, if anything, of where arms manufactured in the United Kingdom, or imported and then re-exported from this country, were going. One Minister, now deceased, made his position clear by saying to his civil servants, "Never mind the niceties and never mind all of these licences. Get on and get things through. If we do not export arms to wherever we export them, other countries will." That has never been a proper and moral position for a politician to take.
We have a great armaments industry, which employs highly skilled workers. It is technologically advanced and produces defence goods for use in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the proper defence of our own state, and in the proper defence of other peoples from those who may infringe their countries. However, we must take measures to ensure that there is proper control and export licensing of the trade. It is a trade of death, and we must not forget that the only thing that comes out of the barrel of a gun is a bullet, which will kill people. We need the products of the armaments industry, but we must ensure that its products are properly controlled in the world's arenas.
79 I was pleased to hear earlier in the year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry set out our plans for greater transparency. The fact that they go further than the Scott report is to be welcomed. The publication of annual reports will give people an opportunity to see what the Government are doing. All men and women of good will will welcome the Government's move towards greater transparency and accountability in the use of the arms industry and in the way in which it aids our export efforts and keeps many people in jobs.
I said that my constituents would jump for joy if we could reduce car crime. Many people throughout the world will jump for joy in the knowledge that we are introducing a measure that will tend to ensure that we can ratify the international criminal court. We must sign up to it. It will have to be ratified by about 60 nations before it can be established. We live in an ever smaller world in terms of communications, interaction with others and the ability to travel. We can girdle the earth, as it were, in only a few hours. It is ever more important that, internationally, we act as a community to ensure that those who commit crimes against humanity, such as we saw in the 20th century and, regrettably, as we have seen so far in the 21st century, do not get away with them. We must act together as good neighbours in the international community. There must be an international court and international law to deal with such acts. They are exceedingly serious and I hope that many other countries will adopt Britain's view and sign up to the court.
It is not a great secret that there will be an election, certainly by May 2002. Who knows, it may be even sooner. It is my hope that much of what is in the Queen's Speech will find its way on to the statute book, not least the hunting with dogs Bill, which I believe will be well received throughout the nation.
§ Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)
It is a pleasure to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase). I entirely agree with most of what he said, particularly his remarks about the international criminal court. The proposal being put before the House for our approval is long overdue.
We heard the elegiac tones of the speeches of the hon. Members for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). I hope that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney will not mind my saying that I found our time together on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs enormously enjoyable. I learned a great deal from his experience and his contributions to the Committee. Indeed, he made a huge contribution. I hope that it will not hurt either his or my reputation too much when I say that there were often times when we agreed whole-heartedly on issues. He will be missed by the House when finally he chooses to retire. I wish him every success in his future life.
The Prime Minister made an interesting slip of the tongue earlier. I hope it survives to the official record and is not corrected. He talked about "all the nonsense from the shadow Home Secretary, most of which we are doing already." Nothing could better encapsulate the problem that many Liberal Democrat Members have with the 80 Government. There is a great deal of nonsense coming from the shadow Home Secretary, and sadly some of it is being bought and acted upon by the Government.
Much mention has been made of my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Paddy Ashdown) and his famous diaries. I have not read the entire book. As usual, I turned to the index to see whether I was mentioned. I am mentioned twice: first, when, shortly before the election in 1992 it was said that I was optimistic—of course, I lost; and again shortly before the 1997 election, when it was said that I looked glum—of course, I won. That is an assessment of my predictive qualities.
§ Mr. Heath
I am delighted to be able to serve my constituents in addressing the issues of the Queen's Speech. However, as a Queen's Speech, it was a considerable disappointment. What a feeble thing it was. It was dejeune and inadequate in many ways. It tried desperately to sound tough and convincing, but when I analyse what it contained, I do not think that there was a great deal.
Yet again the Home Secretary has tried to emulate his Conservative predecessor by constantly introducing gimmicks that make it sound as though the Government are being tough on crime. Those gimmicks almost always come from America. I cannot understand why it is believed sensible to go to the United States of America to learn lessons on dealing with crime effectively. Given the crime rates in America compared with those in Europe, surely there are better role models to use. This indiscriminate curfew is being adduced as the latest panacea to deal with youth crime. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy) that an indiscriminate curfew is a civil liberties issue. Everyone agrees that we should deal with youngsters who cause trouble and should find appropriate remedies, but applying a curfew indiscriminately, whether people are guilty or not and whether they have ever had a criminal thought in their head or not, seems to me the wrong way of going about it.
The same issues arise on the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill, which I thought we had seen the end of but which is coming back again. Social security fraud measures will be introduced. Of course, everyone wants social security fraud to be addressed, but why attack the dependants of fraudsters—their families—rather than the fraudsters themselves? That is not a sensible way of dealing with the problem.
That is not to say that the Gracious Speech does not contain some good measures. Like the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East, I hope that the measures to deal with vehicle crime will be effective. When I was chairman of Avon and Somerset police authority, vehicle crime was a big issue. We diverted resources from other areas to deal effectively with vehicle crime and burglary.
I am extremely pleased that at last the private security industry is to be subject to registration. I campaigned on that issue as chairman of the police authority and through the Association of Police Authorities. I cannot believe that we have managed to allow an industry to develop in which anyone can put on a cap, acquire an Alsatian dog and declare themselves to be a guard irrespective of their 81 criminal record or the way in which they do the job. They are given access to private property and public areas on the pretence that they have authority. It is high time that we dealt with that issue.
Other measures to tackle crime effectively are absent from the Queen's Speech. What a shame there is no measure directly aimed at supporting the victims of crime. What a shame there is nothing to increase the criminal justice system's capacity to do restorative work, so that criminals are brought face to face with the results of their crimes and are made to recognise what they have done to their innocent victims.
Most of all, what a shame that nothing in the Queen's Speech will address the presence—or, rather, absence—of police in many of our communities. That is felt strongly in the rural areas that I represent, not because we have an enormous crime rate, but because crime is increasing and people have an increased fear of crime. They see no police presence, which is very worrying. That is partly as a result of years of underfunding of the police service, and partly as a result of increases in crime rates because police activities have been redirected to other priorities. One can understand that. The big cities act as magnets for police resources because that is where crime is committed. There have also been changes in the way in which the police operate.
§ Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the biggest changes that causes the police not to be on the beat is the power that the previous Government gave chief constables to direct resources? They have chosen to reduce the number of police on the beat and put resources into other activities. That is part of the problem. Until chief constables recognise the need to put police back on the beat, the problem will continue.
§ Mr. Heath
The hon. Gentleman is partly right. Chief constables take those operational decisions, but they often do so for the best of motives. They believe that that is the only way properly to attack the problems of crime. The trouble is that the patrol function is crucial, not so much in arresting criminals but in producing a feeling of security in local communities that reduces the fear of crime. That is often seen as a lower priority.
I would have liked a measure to create retained police officers. I have argued for that for a long time. We are perfectly clear as a society that we should have retained fire fighters to help in rural areas—that is well-established—and we have a retained military reserve in the form of the Territorial Army, but we do not have retained police officers as an adjunct to the regular force so as to use skills properly and to provide a police presence. Such a measure was missing from the Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. Heath
I do not count such measures as gimmicks. The Conservative party has finally come to support a policy that we have espoused for a very long time. I can point to my advocacy of that argument for many years.
The Gracious Speech contains a strange section on the Department of Trade and Industry. It says:A Bill will be introduced to increase the effectiveness of the power to reduce regulatory burdens by removing inappropriate and over-complex regulation.Some may say that we could have done with increasing the effectiveness of the power to reduce opaque language in the Gracious Speech. That Bill is the only measure that the DTI will produce. I hope that it will be more effective than every other Government commitment to reduce regulation—whether from this or the previous Government. It should not cover areas in which regulation is meant to improve the safety of the consumer or the general public, but should deal with areas in which there is regulation for regulation's sake.
I wish that we were taking other measures to help local retailers and local businesses, such as reform of the uniform business rate. It is laughable that the Conservatives propose to give rebates on the uniform business rate because it is so unfair. They introduced it, and we know that it is unfair because of its effect on small retailers.
I should have liked the DTI to address properly the problems highlighted by the Scott inquiry on arms export controls. That point was also made by the hon. Members for Wolverhampton, North-East and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. I wanted the DTI to deal with mercenaries and brokers as well. That is a crucial area. The Foreign Secretary was clear and forensic in his attacks on the previous Government on this issue, so I cannot understand how he has managed to go through an entire Parliament without introducing legislation in this area, or persuading his colleagues to do so.
The Queen's Speech contains no Bill on the environment. There is no consumer Bill, which we were promised. There is no reference to a broadcasting White Paper. There is nothing to address the gross inequalities in the resources provided for public services across the country. I speak for my constituency and my area. I cannot believe that, in the fourth year of a Labour Government, there is still a differential of £1,500 per child per year between what the Government provide for children in our schools and what they provide for children who attend schools in leafy London suburbs. That inequality is unacceptable.
I welcome the fact that the Government have put a floor on the standard spending assessment increases, but I want a floor on the entitlement of every child, so that they get a fair deal and our schools get the capital investment they need to bring them up to an appropriate standard. We should also get the investment needed to deal with the hospital service in our rural areas.
At the last election, we were not told by the Government that things can only get better, but that they would get only a little bit better, and that we would have to wait another five years for anything to happen. Many areas have not seen 83 the benefit. I believe that there are benefits for some parts of the country, but they are not getting through to the south-west, to the rural parts of Britain.
That brings me to my last major point. The week before last, the Government issued their rural White Paper. There is much in it that I applaud. It recognises some of the problems in rural areas and attempts to address them, but the difficulty is that nothing in the Queen's Speech underpins the rural White Paper with action in the form of legislation, or even a mention of intent. We heard nothing in the Gracious Speech, or from the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition, about rural areas and what could be done for them.
I find that extraordinary, given that we face such a great crisis in agriculture and are dealing with services so far below par and so far from the legitimate aspirations of rural areas that we wonder how we will receive the services that we should expect. There is nothing in the Government's proposals to deal with regulation on farming, nothing to introduce an agricultural ombudsman and nothing to deal with the rate reforms that we had been led to expect. Because there is nothing in the programme, there will be no action for yet another year on the problems in rural areas. That is a dereliction of duty.
There are many dogs that did not bark in the Queen's Speech, and there are some Bills that are only too evidently barking. As other hon. Members have said, it is not a programme for legislation; it is a programme to get the Government through to the next election.
I do not know whether it is in bad taste to mention the gunpowder plot in this place on the day of the Queen's Speech, but the Government's proposals are sky rockets, designed to fizzle into the sky with a few crackles and a little noise. However, they will fall to earth, because the Government know, we know and the country knows that most, if not all, the Bills will not reach the statute book. They will be stopped in this House or in another place. The blame will be put on the other place for being reactionary, regardless of the fact that it is now modeled on the Government's own creation, and they could have gone so much further.
That will be the excuse and the argument that is put to the British people. It is not good enough. So much more could have been accomplished in the Queen's Speech, the next legislative Session and the present Parliament. We will be looking for much more action and a little less spin in what remains of this Parliament and in the next.
§ Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), but I think that he will understand why I will not be led down the path that he paved.
A number of good speeches have been made in the debate, in particular that from my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). I agreed with much that he said, especially about the need for more planning in the economic sector. His view comes from the experience of Merthyr Tydfil over the 1930s and the period of the 1980s and into the 1990s. The experience of my constituency is similar to that of his. That is why the Government's economic policies, which have brought stability, are so important.
84 In a constituency such as mine and in an area such as Barnsley, where the local economy is in transition, there is a need for stability. New industry is being attracted to the Barnsley area, which will be helped by the Government's management of the economy.
To attract more industry, the local authority has adopted a visionary approach to the development of its education policy. In the past, much of Barnsley's post-16 education was provided by two major industries—the steel industry and the coal industry. After the crash of the coal industry, it was necessary to re-assess post-16 education in the area.
Education results in the Barnsley area have tended to be well below the national average. Because of that, the local authority introduced a five-year plan about a year ago. The intention is to attain the national average level of achievement by the end of the five years. That means that 45 or 46 per cent. of pupils should gain five 0-levels at grades A to C by the end of the five-year period. That is essential if we are to attract the industry that is required to bring the jobs to the area.
Three years ago, the local authority estimated that we needed 19,000 jobs by 2001, just to bring Barnsley up to the national average level of employment. So far, almost 8,000 jobs have been brought into the area, so there is still a long way ago. That is why stability is needed. The Government's economic package will bring that.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which was an initiative of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, has helped to rebuild some of the communities around Barnsley. Many hon. Members misinterpret the location of the coal industry. It is basically a rural, village-based industry. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust has allowed moneys to be channelled into projects that have contributed to the rebuilding of our communities, helping with community structures so as to create partnerships.
The tenure of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust will come to an end in March next year. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Lock), will make my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister aware of the need to ensure the continuity of the trust. Anyone who believes that the coalfields can be regenerated in three or four years is living in cloud cuckoo land. It will probably take two generations to regenerate those areas.
The coalfields range from Scotland through south Wales into Kent, and the population of those areas is well above 5 million. We must ensure that the necessary opportunities are created for people living in those communities. I hope that my hon. Friend will make my right hon. Friend aware of the need to extend the tenure of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.
At the same time, it is fair to say that this Government have done more than any other to recognise the commitment that the UK owes to mining communities. That is reflected by the fact that only a fortnight ago they introduced the state aid system for the few remaining coal mines. In addition, compensation schemes have been introduced for chronic bronchitis, emphysema and vibration white finger, which will bring about £2 billion back into the mining communities and ensure that we meet the debt we owe to former miners.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), who is not in his place, referred to the Government's approach to crime. He criticised the fact that they have not 85 established a mechanism for issuing anti-social behaviour orders. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 provided the plank for the involvement of the community in dealing with crime. That involves community partnerships, which generally consist of the two main partners—the local authority and the police—and the probation service, the drugs action team and many voluntary bodies.
It was said earlier that the Government have not recognised any of the bodies that deal with the victims of crime. Many victim support organisations sit on the board of the community crime partnerships. If they are not members of the board, they are generally members of the forum, if there is one. I accept that there is a need to establish a mechanism to drive through best practice in crime partnerships. That would ensure that the best that is applied in one part of the country could be applied in another. If we did that, the community nationally would be involved in tackling crime.
The results can already be seen. The Leader of the Opposition said that crime was increasing, but that is not so. I shall rebut his suggestion with an example from my constituency and across the Barnsley borough. I happen to chair the crime community partnership in Barnsley. As a result of its work—from its crime audit to its crime strategy—we have secured a substantial reduction in reported crime. In district D, which covers the town of Barnsley, there has been a fall in reported crime of roughly 35 or 36 per cent. In district E, which covers my constituency—a rural constituency—there has been a 28 per cent. fall in reported crime. Across the three Barnsley constituencies, there has been an increase in detection rates. That is evidence that the partnerships that were formed as a result of the 1998 Act are effective.
It has already been said that the Gracious Speech should have provided for an extension of the rural White Paper. Many of the White Paper's proposals relate to the Government's package, which is leading to a stable economy. In my area, the market town of Penistone, which has little unemployment, is beginning to feel the benefits of the Government's actions. From the White Paper flows an opportunity for market towns such as Penistone to apply, via their projects, for assistance from regional development agencies. According to the White Paper, RDAs will have more moneys available to secure the regeneration of market towns. We are all aware of the importance of market towns to the regeneration of the rural environment. I hope that Penistone in particular and other market towns will, during the next year, apply, via projects or the mechanism that will be set up, to draw down moneys from the RDA to help with their regeneration. That in itself must be good.
Part of the Gracious Speech that has not previously been mentioned, but which is extremely important, relates to the new health and safety legislation. Hon. Members may be aware that earlier last year, the Deputy Prime Minister launched a consultation document, "Revitalising Health and Safety". As a result of that consultation, he produced a response, which will be built on. Health and safety legislation will be strengthened.
The Gracious Speech refers to rail safety, but we must await the Cullen report before taking action in that regard. It is important for road risk to be embraced in the new safety legislation. The construction industry, for example, shows why health and safety legislation needs to be revitalised. Last year, there was a 22 per cent. increase in fatalities compared with the previous year. I am sure that 86 hon. Members will send their condolences to the family of my constituent Shane Ryan, perhaps the latest building site victim, who was killed a week ago last Friday. I understand that his death occurred in circumstances that led the health and safety inspectorate to believe that he may have been dragged into a machine by his clothing.
There is a real need to tackle such problems on building sites, many of which arise through subcontracting. When a larger company subcontracts, and that subcontractor further subcontracts, the result is no accountability down the line. We need to have thorough discussions with all the parties involved—employers, unions and insurance companies—perhaps with a view to developing a procedure whereby all subcontractors must have their health and safety policy in their contracts of employment with the main contractor. That health and safety policy should become part of the contract of employment of individual employees. Doing that would result in greater training and people would be made more aware of the dangers. That approach, and the increased number of Health and Safety Executive inspectors, would allow us to start to reduce the number of accidents on building sites.
Another approach to the problem on building sites would be to have a roving health and safety inspector. Hon. Members will be aware that, as a result of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, the workers safety inspector became a main instrument in tackling safety in the workplace. We need to extend that provision. There should be a roving safety representative who can visit sites in a given area. In many cases, there is no such representative in situ. That, along with the measures I suggested earlier, will enable us to tackle the large number of fatalities and serious injuries that occur on building sites. The new health and safety legislation will be extremely important.
The Gracious Speech mentions a free vote on the issue of hunting with hounds. As one who represents a rural constituency, I can say that most letters I receive call for a ban: I have received very few from people who wish to retain the practice. I describe it as a practice because it is certainly not a sport. It does not have the ingredients of a sport. I think that it offends against decency, and that it is time to call it a day.
Recently, I was visited at one of my Saturday surgeries by a number of constituents who were in favour of hunting. One young man's business is based on the practice, and I well understand his trepidation about the fact that it might be banned; but I believe the rural White Paper will encourage people like him to diversify. The White Paper offers hope. Although the Burns report spoke of a loss of some 8,500 jobs, I think that in the context of the economic policies Labour is following—and, in particular, the context of the White Paper—those who would otherwise be displaced as a result of a ban can be found alternative employment.
The Gracious Speech is a step forward. It gives us an opportunity to build on the blocks already established by the Labour Government. I believe that it will result in a society that is fairer and more equal, in which people will have a better quality of life.
§ Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)
The state opening of Parliament has always been an important occasion in the life of our nation. It is an occasion on which the democratically elected Government of the day set out the legislative proposals for the coming year.
87 Today's proceedings have been extremely sad. We enjoyed the traditional ceremony: I know that some Labour Members are eager to do away with it, and the crowds may have been a little thinner than normal, but I think that, by and large, people enjoyed it. What is happening today, however, is an absolute farce. Every Member must surely realise that none of these Bills will become Acts. This truly is the House of Commons talking to itself, and I think that in time the public's disdain for our proceedings will be reinforced by the farce in which we are all participating.
We have just ended a crammed legislative Session, involving—I think-32 Bills. Many of those Bills were rubbish: they were poorly drafted and ill thought out, and it was left to modest people such as myself to present measures such as the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Bill with the aim of rescuing us from the sorry state in which we found ourselves.
The present Government, with a huge majority, have wasted more than three and a half years. The situation was summed up best by the journalist, who in the Daily Telegraph last week wrote:Labour is completely incapable of getting to grips with the responsibilities of power. The party does not know how to make things happen—as opposed to making them appear to happen.Where are all the Bills that Labour told us we would enjoy in the new Session? Where is the consumer Bill? Where is the alcohol licensing Bill? Where is the urban renewal Bill? Where is the voting systems Bill that was promised by the leader of the Labour party? Where is the legislation to deal with regional assemblies? Where is the housing Bill? Where is the water Bill? Where is the further Bill to reform the House of Lords? Where is the Bill to reform adoption? Where is the Bill to reform our vaccine laws? Where is the Bill to deal with the problems endured by victims, and to give them rights? Where is the communications Bill?
Those are not necessarily Bills that I wanted. They are Bills that Ministers told us we would have, but none of them will become law. We shall have no new legislation until, at the earliest, the 2001–02 Session. The proceedings in which we are participating are a disgrace.
The Queen was told to say:My Government's main Bills for the coming Session will focus on improving public services and cutting crime.That is a joke. She was also told to say:My Government is determined to combat all aspects of crime to protect all members of our society. My Government will introduce legislation to modernise and improve law enforcement by, for example, tackling disorderly conduct. Legislation will be introduced to regulate the private security industry.A Bill will be introduced to cut vehicle crime, reduce opportunities to dispose of stolen vehicles, and extend the time limit for prosecution for vehicle theft.Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime: that is what the Labour leader used to talk about when he was shadow Home Secretary. He used to wax lyrical on such subjects. Now we are being served up garbage about curfew laws. Have we gone barking mad? The fact is that we have not enough police to enforce our present laws. Listen to what the gentleman in charge of the Metropolitan police said last week. He said, "We are 3,500 policemen and policewomen short." Do the 88 Government seriously intend to present a Bill providing for a curfew? Who the devil will police curfew orders? How on earth will the legislation be put into practice? This is tragic.
Every Member of Parliament knows only too well that his or her area is short of policemen and policewomen. I bet that when those MPs go to public meetings, whether they are Labour or Liberal—the two parties are, of course, in cahoots—they wring their hands and say, "Yes, it is terrible. We would like our local chief to have a few more police, but it is all due to 18 years of the Conservatives." One would have thought that, after 18 years in opposition, this rotten Labour Government would have thought out what they would do when they came to power, but they have not a clue about what they are doing. Where is the big idea?
All that we have had are destructive measures. The United Kingdom has been broken up. There was a very low turnout in the poll in Wales, and a low turnout in the poll in Scotland—and we can all see what is happening in Northern Ireland. The Government have destroyed the House of Lords, with no idea of what they will put in its place. They have appointed a lot of Labour apparatchiks in the House of Lords, but they have still been de-seated.
Labour Members say that it is all down to the Conservatives, but that is ridiculous. Labour peers are not turning up to vote on the difficult measures. They could support the Government if they wanted, but they are gutless half the time when it comes to measures about which the general public are not concerned. Every thing that the Labour Government have done has been destructive. On the big issues, they have no ideas whatever. On crime above all, which is what the Labour leader supposedly made his name on, they have let the British public down. I do not think that the British public will be taken in throughout the three or four months' deliberation on those ridiculous curfew measures and such like.
Then in the Gracious Speech we are told:My Government also plans other major Bills and other significant initiatives, particularly in secondary education with the creation of more specialist schools, urban school reform and improved teaching in the early years of secondary education.My Government will introduce a Bill to improve the framework for meeting special educational needs and access to learning for disabled people. During the new Session, my Government will continue to work to improve standards in education.The hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) told us that he was retiring, that the Labour Government had done a magnificent job since they were elected and that things were better in his constituency. They are not better in Southend, West and I do not think that they are better in many other constituencies as a result of this rotten Government. Things in Southend are better since we got shot of the appalling Liberal-Labour council, but, when it comes to national issues, they are a disaster. The health service is getting worse. Education is declining. Our public transport is failing. Crime is increasing. In every aspect, the Labour Government are not doing Southend any good whatever, particularly in education.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) said, the proposals do nothing to deal with the crisis in teacher recruitment. Never mind the health service—we cannot attract teachers at the moment. That is why we have to go to Australia, New Zealand and 89 South Africa to try to get teachers. When we get them into schools, unfortunately, more and more take early retirement.
The pressure that is placed on heads by Labour's target to reduce exclusions by a third is an absolute disgrace. The policy of bribing schools throughout the country to take on and to retain challenging students is having an appalling effect in all schools. All hon. Members know what is going on, but, when they are in the company of the heads, they say one thing and, when they move to another school, they say something else.
No politician and no political party has the answer to the challenges that children present us with. I do not know whether it is puberty, testosterone or whatever, but, out there in our schools, there are a number of young people, particularly young boys, who are making it very difficult for teachers to impart the knowledge that they have.
We all know what is going on in our schools. Those young people are truanting. Then they are suspended and, if the cash bribe from the Government is not taken, they are expelled. Those children are not shown in the official numbers. They are out of the system, yet day in, week out, month in, month out, we find terrible cases that involve young people.
The Government have no answer to that. Someone must come up with an answer soon. Next year will not be good enough. We are failing those children now. Nothing in the Gracious Speech will help any of them. The Government have already acknowledged that the fresh start programme is not successful. In their drive to meet class-size pledges for five, six and seven-year-olds, secondary class sizes—where the real problems are—have risen steadily, so that, in April, there were 22.2 pupils per class.
The policy of inclusion is driven by the experiences of the Secretary of State for Education and Employment at school. My wife's sister has only one eye. She has very little sight in that eye. Her husband is completely blind. They both went to special schools. It did not lead them to the conclusion that the Secretary of State has come to.
In Southend, the period of consultation over inclusion of our six wonderful special schools in the mainstream has been an absolute disaster. It has upset parents tremendously and destabilised children. I am delighted to tell the House that, last week, under the excellent leadership of the Conservative chairman of the education committee, Mrs. Sally Carr, those ridiculous proposals were rejected by Conservative-controlled Southend-on-Sea council.
Then we find out in the Gracious Speech:My Government remains committed to the founding principles of the National Health Service. My Government's NHS Plan showed how it would take forward further reform of health services to improve standards. Legislation will be introduced to support many of the commitments in the Plan, in particular to improve the performance of the NHS. The legislation will also take forward my Government's response to the Royal Commission on Long Term Care for the Elderly.I am a member of the Select Committee on Health, so quite a bit of my time is spent on examining the Government's record on health care, which is a disgrace. Interestingly, when we recently had the opportunity to challenge the Secretary of State for Health, I asked him why it had taken him three and half years to announce the plan and whether it was as a result of the crisis in April. I found the answer unconvincing. The general public will not be fooled by anything in the Queen's Speech on the delivery of the plan.
90 In particular, the Select Committee took evidence on the tobacco industry. Labour promised legislation on that when it came to power, but, after taking £1 million from the formula one gentleman, Mr. Bernie Ecclestone, it has delayed it for three and a half years. Conveniently for its donors, the Bill will probably run out of time and not become law. Mr. Bernie Ecclestone and his sidekick, the son of the former fascist leader Mr. Mosley, gave evidence to the Select Committee on the issue, which we followed up with correspondence. The Government have behaved appallingly. They have been entirely disingenuous with themselves and with their Back Benchers in particular.
After the Gracious Speech, I went back to my office and found my fax machine awash with messages from various health interest groups—such as the British Medical Association—which were somewhat perplexed by the Gracious Speech. These days, the Government do not want to know about the BMA, because it is critical of Government policy. However, in the 18 years in which the Government were in opposition, they were always quoting that organisation, particularly its chairman, because that suited their agenda. Now that they are in government, they do not want to know.
The BMA chairman said:All over the country GPs and hospital doctors are struggling in an underfunded service and the promised improvements seem a very long way off.Those are not my words; those are the words of the BMA, which Labour Members and Liberal Democrat Members used to court.
Commenting on the new public-private partnership arrangements for modernising primary care premises, Dr. Chisholm says:There is not enough detail to know how this will operate. Nonetheless, the intention to improve GP premises, particularly in inner cities, is clearly one we would support. There are many unanswered questions on the detail of NHS Liftwhich the BMA wants to be examined in detail in Committee. However, the way in which this Session is going, none of the Bills will be considered in Committee.
The Consumers Association also has very many inquiries. It wants to know, for example, why there was no mention in the Queen's Speech of community health councils. However, as we heard in the magnificent speech by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, CHCs are a deeply embarrassing issue for the Prime Minister.
The Gracious Speech also states:A Bill will be introduced to enable a free vote to take place on the future of hunting with dogs.Looking round the Opposition Benches, I think that I might be in quite a good position to comment on that measure, as I am one of a rather tidy group of Conservative Members who take a perhaps different view from that taken by the majority of my colleagues. The Government have shown incredible hypocrisy on the issue. They have had more than three and a half years to address the issue. Before they were elected, they told animal welfare groups, "Vote Labour and all the animal issues will be addressed by the Government." Labour has a rotten record on animal welfare issues.
I do not want to mention them by name—and thereby spoil their careers—but two Ministers have a superb record on animal welfare issues. Unfortunately, however, it seems that they do not have sufficient clout when it comes to deciding the programme in the Queen's Speech.
91 Conversely, in today's debate, we have heard only a load of guff. Are the Government finally going to do something about the issue, to stop "all those dreadful Conservatives" from killing foxes? The reality is that the Government's proposal is only a con trick. Labour has done nothing on the issue, and the Bill might not even be considered in Committee. Moreover, if the Bill goes to the other place, the Government will blame the other place for the Bill's failure. However, as we all know, there are one or two very high-profile Labour peers who take a different view on the issue.
The Gracious Speech also states:My Government will continue to work with our partners to shape the future of the European Union. It will work for rapid progress on the enlargement negotiations, and for reform of the institutions of the European Union to prepare them for a wider membership.On the eve of St. George's day 1997, the Prime Minister wrote:Let me make my position on Europe absolutely clear. I will have no truck with a European superstate. If there are moves to create that dragon I will slay it.He is off to Nice today, and he is probably already there. We shall have to wait to see how effective he is in slaying that dragon.
The environment is the last point in the Gracious Speech that I wanted to deal with. I thought that I would be dead by the time that there was permanent climate change. It is only too obvious, however, that the climate—rain, temperature and winds—has changed permanently. However, at last month's farcical conference, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is a member of the Labour party, had the gall to attack a defenceless—and I am sure quite charming—French lady, whereas those whom he should be attacking are his Democrat friends across the big pond. The Democrats are the hypocrites on the issue.
As we all know, Al Gore—the chap who will not accept the democratic result of the American election—made his name on environmental issues. He has made such a name for himself that, when it comes to broking a deal, he says, "No, we can't do anything about our chimneys. They have to continue spewing all their garbage into the atmosphere." Like Labour, Democrats say one thing, but do another.
We will probably have an election next year. I am sure that Labour Members are greatly encouraged by the opinion polls, but I prefer to see what happens in the real polls. The Conservative party did magnificently in the recent European elections and the Labour and Liberal parties were trounced. In the local elections, again the Conservative party did extremely well. I agree with Labour Members that Britain deserves something better and I pray to God that the British people will get rid of this rotten Government next year.
§ Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)
And now for something completely different as I welcome the Queen's Speech. The most important part of the Queen's Speech and of the debate is the reference to the economy. It states that the Government will ensure the continued economic stability that has enabled them to increase the resources available for public services. I share that hope.
92 An extremely interesting feature of today's debate is the fact that, with the exception of the rather quirky speech of the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer), no Opposition Member has drawn attention to the economy. The Opposition want to keep off that territory. They know that it is a no-go area and a no-win issue. I cannot remember that happening in debates on previous Queen's Speeches. When we were in opposition, we would say in every Queen's Speech debate that the Government's weakness was their conduct of the economy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) and I have similar problems in our constituencies, which require long-term stability to raise standards in schools and people's aspirations, as they have been trapped for so long in a downward spiral. They need investment in nursery education and better education to raise aspirations and improve areas. They are still suffering the consequences of the 1980s and 1990s. Only last week, jobs were lost as a result of the shaking out of Kvaerner. John Brown Engineering had been established for more than 100 years. It endured the nightmare of belonging to Trafalgar House, which milked the firm and never invested in it before suffering the consequences of the Kvaerner problem, so we are losing more skilled manufacturing jobs. It is encouraging that youth unemployment and long-term unemployment have been cut, but we need stability to continue to get some optimism in the area. Economic success enables us to strengthen health and education services.
I welcome much of the Queen's Speech. Reference has been made to the international criminal court, which I see as a major step forward. The Government made a major difference at the Rome conference, where they took a positive attitude as a member of the Security Council and said that there had to be an international criminal court. It is important that we quickly ratify that statute.
I welcome the proposal to improve the transparency of export controls and to establish their purpose. If the aim is to control arms sales, I wish that the Queen's Speech said that. In fact, I wonder why it was not said; we should have the political wisdom to see that as a popular measure. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands), who is not in his place, for his role in the quadripartite Committee, which I believe is unparalleled in bringing together four Select Committees to look at that issue and to make sensible proposals. That links up with the wider development issues in the world. Of the 20 poorest countries, about 10 are involved in war or conflict. We and other countries must take a lead over arms control. We will not end those countries' poverty until we stop the conflicts in which they are involved.
I also welcome the statement that a White Paper on globalisation will be produced by the Department for International Development. That Department has made an enormous difference in the development world. It has existed for three and a half years and has produced two White Papers, whereas not one White Paper on policy in that area was produced in the previous 30 years.
The Department for International Development works with the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry on matters such as debt and trade. I believe that it leads the world among development organisations, and that it is something of which we can be very proud.
93 There is one notable absence from the Queen's Speech—it makes no mention of further constitutional change. I welcome that, and wish to devote most of my speech to the matter, as I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to get such change right.
The Queen's Speech contains no commitment to further reform of the House of Lords in this Session. That is not surprising, given that this will probably be a short Session. Such reform must happen, but it is not the priority for constitutional reform, which should start in this place: only after we have reformed the House of Commons should we consider the role of the House of Lords.
We should also look at our democratic relationship with the European Union. A few weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister proposed a new second chamber for the European Union that would be drawn from member states' national Parliaments. The Germans have made a similar proposal for a senate. It would be wrong to proceed with further reform of the House of Lords without considering such proposals as well. In addition, many hon. Members are also seeking decentralisation through regional administrations, and that matter needs to be tackled before we look at the House of Lords.
Smaller issues under the Belfast agreement need to be resolved, especially in terms of our relationship with the Irish Government through the British-Irish Council—or the Council of the Isles, as I prefer to call it. However, Labour Members must stop avoiding the biggest issue of all—the changed nature of this House as a result of devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Therefore, I ask that the House look at the Queen's Speech through the eyes of a Member of Parliament with a Scottish constituency. It contains a major Bill on secondary education, which will apply only to England and Wales. The Queen's Speech states that theGovernment is determined to combat all aspects of crime to protect all members of society.Laws on disorderly conduct will therefore be introduced, but they will apply to England and Wales. The Queen's Speech states:A Bill will be introduced to cut vehicle crime, reduce opportunities to dispose of stolen vehicles and extend the time limit for prosecution for vehicle theft.Such a measure will apply to England and Wales. The speech continues:A Bill will be published in draft to increase powers against money laundering and make it easier to recover the proceeds of crime.That Bill will apply to England and Wales. There will be a Bill about jury trial, but it will apply to England and Wales. Proposed Bills and plans on the national health service will apply to England and Wales.
The Gracious Speech states:My Government continues to attach the highest importance to improving education.Significant changes will be introduced with regard to the learning and skills councils, but they will apply only to England and Wales. There will be legislation on the buying and selling of homes, and it will apply only to England and Wales.
I calculate that about 70 to 80 per cent. of the time of this House in the coming short Session will be spent on measures that apply to England and Wales. A few Bills will apply to Scotland as well. We must accept that the 94 West Lothian question, which my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has asked for many years, has never been adequately answered. I am sad to see Conservative Members nodding. It was unjust that English Members of Parliament inflicted their views on Scotland, and it is unjust that Scottish Members of Parliament should have a considerable say in English matters.
If the reason for having a separate Parliament for Scotland was separate traditions and nationality, the argument applies elsewhere. There are 140 Members of Parliament in this House from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. None of them is from the main Opposition party. At some time in the future, there will be a major constitutional issue. It is better that we should develop our ideas on the issue now, before it becomes divisive.
For many years I have believed that we should become a federal state. I have said that in public in the past, and I wrote an article about it in 1992, so it is not new to me. I believe that powers over the economy, relations with Europe, social security, trade and industry, communications, foreign affairs and international development should be retained here in the United Kingdom Parliament, but that the nations of the UK should have broadly the same powers as the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. Any other arrangement will, in the long term, prove unstable.
That does not affect my colleagues' ambitions, where appropriate, for regional assemblies, which are not about legislation. They are not about the laws for education in Yorkshire or the national health service in Yorkshire, although that might appeal to some Members representing Yorkshire constituencies.
England is much larger than any of the other nations—80 per cent. of the UK's population live in England. However, the interests of smaller nations can be safeguarded by a UK Parliament and constitutional devices on funding. In any case, as I said earlier, the European dimension is growing all the time. We have to take into account ideas such as those of the Prime Minister about direct representation in the second Chamber. When we have decided on the role of this House and are clearer about the democratic element in Europe, we can consider the role of the House of Lords. If we do so now, without dealing with these other issues, we will take the wrong approach.
It is my belief that our modest experiment with Westminster Hall will prove much more significant than any of us have so far imagined. We are already dealing with foreign affairs, European matters and human rights issues much better than we did in the past, when there was no scope in the Chamber for such innovation. Let me give as an example something that goes round in my head all the time. Is it not incredible that in the early 1990s, when 1 million people were killed in the genocide in Rwanda, there was no debate about it in this Chamber apart from two Adjournment debates that I secured? I find that disgusting. Imagine the question: "What did you do as an MP when 1 million people were killed in Rwanda, Daddy?" The answer of the House is "Nothing." The Westminster Hall experiment stops us turning away from such situations in that appalling way.
As the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons and other bodies have said, there is much scope for enhancing the role of Select Committees 95 and changing the way in which Standing Committees operate. In terms of taking one's brain along, serving on a Standing Committee when one is in government is often not a happy experience. Later, we should consider the role of the House of Lords.
Let us allow a decent amount of time for any ideas about a nominated House of Lords to fade away. We mock the state of Florida because of what we see as its flawed interpretation of democracy, but what other country in the world is currently considering a largely nominated, chosen and sponsored second Chamber? Let us put that idea aside.
Our valuable constitutional reform has to stop there. If we keep winning elections with a majority of more than 150, the fact that 140 MPs will be voting on matters that do not affect their constituents will not be a big issue. However, when the Government's majority comes down to 30, 40 or 50, a flawed constitution will be revealed and will have to be tackled. I believe that devolution strengthens the United Kingdom—that is why I voted for it. The Scottish Parliament is already dealing with matters better than we ever have. However, an unbalanced devolution would be divisive, and I hope that future Queen's Speeches will tackle that issue.
§ Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)
It is interesting to follow the analysis of the Queen's Speech by the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington). He referred to what had been left out, following closely the analyses of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) and the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who spoke about the dogs that did not bark.
My analysis of the Queen's Speech is slightly different. The speech is more like a metaphor for new Labour and very similar to the dome: it is full of shiny things on the outside but, when we analyse it, there is not a lot there. I suspect that it will turn out to be as unpopular as the dome.
The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie mentioned our unbalanced constitution. In the late 1970s—when I was working for the right hon. John Smith in the civil service—I listened to many debates on devolution in which the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) pursued the West Lothian question. He was, at that time, the hon. Member for West Lothian. Many hon. Members will remember George Cunningham—the then hon. Member for Islington, South—proposing the 40 per cent. requirement for referendums in Scotland and Wales, which led to the downfall of devolution in the 1970s. Although the West Lothian question was closely debated in those days, not much time was spent considering the role of English MPs for English seats.
Any thought of how to deal with our unbalanced constitution is missing from the Queen's Speech. The Conservative party's proposals have great validity and would provide a sensible way of moving forward. Speaking as a Scot representing an English constituency, I feel somewhat uneasy about Scottish Members voting on matters that affect my constituents and not theirs. This question must be addressed rapidly.
The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie chided Opposition Members for not debating the economy, but a whole day's debate on the economy has been scheduled 96 for Wednesday. Some of us who are saving our fire for that debate are conscious of the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has followed the old Labour path of tax and spend, which will bring the economy to a crumbling halt. At present, his public expenditure proposals far exceed the potential growth of the economy, however productive the Government think they will make it, and will eventually lead to further significant increases in taxation, many of which will be impossible to hide under the label of stealth tax—they will be extremely obvious.
Perhaps the Government are making spending promises that they will not deliver when the imminent general election is over. Today, I heard anecdotally that a health authority had been told that it had a large sum to spend between 16 October and 23 November but that, if the money was not spent, the authority would lose it. However, anyone who knows anything about the health service knows that one cannot spend large sums as quickly as that. Huge sums are being offered, but either it will not be possible to spend them in time, or they will be spent inefficiently. That is a large drawback, especially for the NHS.
Before I focus on the measures that are in the Queen's Speech, I must declare an interest in leasehold and commonhold reform. Although I welcome the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, I am rather sad that the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department has done his stint on the Front Bench on this occasion and has handed over responsibility. I wanted to talk about the leasehold and commonhold reform Bill in great detail—[Interruption.] I realise that as the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department has just taken her place, someone equally as responsible for the legislation is in the Chamber, so if I bore the House on the subject of leasehold and commonhold reform, it is because I have a captive Minister to talk to.
Instead of promising that such a measure would have the slightest chance of becoming law, however, the Gracious Speech merely states:Progress will also be made on the purchase of freeholds by leaseholders, and on commonhold, a new form of tenure for flatowners.Those words send a chill down my spine. They suggest that the Government do not expect to fulfil that manifesto commitment—they claim that it is the one remaining commitment that they have not met, although in fact there are many.
That commitment does not stand the slightest chance of fulfilment. I am especially sad about that because I know that the Lord Chancellor's Department had prepared an extremely adequate commonhold reform Bill before the 1997 general election. It was not the same as the private Member's Bill that I introduced—that was designed to help the then Government to achieve progress in the preparation and introduction of a proper commonhold Bill. When the Labour Government took office in 1997, a suitable Bill had already been prepared by the Lord Chancellor's Department, but this year we are told only that there is likely to be progress on the matter.
I also declare an interest because I am a director of the management company of the block of flats in which I live in Beckenham. Luckily, we hold the management rights so we can administer our block, and we have reasonable freeholders. However, in Beckenham and in my previous constituency, I have come across detailed leasehold 97 problems that need to be addressed. The Government have gone some way towards tackling them in their legislation. I am not volunteering to serve on any Standing Committee. We would never get the Bill out of Committee, even with the new programming procedures, because the detail is horrendous and the Government have not even committed themselves to putting the measure in the legislation—it is all to be done by regulation.
There are many battles still to be fought on leasehold. The glaring omission is that the Government have not had the courage to deal with the problems of people who bought their flats leasehold from the public sector. There are many disappointed people out there who have problems with their leasehold, and I help them where I can. The Government have not had the guts to deal with that problem in legislation, unless the Bill is different from that drafted in the summer. I suspect that it will not be that different.
Public sector leaseholders face real problems. Many of the housing associations with which they hold the leases do not conform to the consultation standards that the private sector has to meet. There are problems with estimates for repairs and with consulting leaseholders. Many housing associations will demand money, almost with menaces, for repairs about which leaseholders have not been consulted—never mind their being offered the right to get their own quotation, which one has in the private sector.
The Government will have disappointed many people who see themselves as natural Labour supporters—people who are trying to better themselves. In the 18 years of Conservative government, we were able to provide for them. They have now been slapped down by their own Government. That is one significant area that the Government have ducked. The other is that they clearly do not expect the Bill to become law in this Session, so one manifesto commitment has been lost.
Long-term care is to be part of a national health service Bill, as far as I can make out. The costs and the definition of nursing care will impose extraordinary burdens and difficulties on anyone providing such care in rest or nursing homes. I am concerned that, given the loss of 15,000 beds in that sector already, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) said, the burden that will be put on homes due to the narrow definition of nursing care will be so costly that yet more beds will be lost.
I understand that the Bill will include elements to reform preserved rights. Many people have such rights if they were in homes before the enactment of the Community Care Act 1990. Their treatment is now not comparable with what is available to people who have come in subsequently. There is a need for preserved rights. What bothers me, however, is whether the Government are prepared to pay local authorities the sums that are required to ensure that people with preserved rights get treatment equal to that which they would have received if they had come into the sector after 1991.
The Government are trying to relieve bed blocking by offering large sums to local authorities with responsibility for social services for this winter. There is no guarantee that next year local authorities will get the money which they are being paid this winter. Some local authorities said that they did not want the cash because they had no guarantee that they would receive it again. The 98 Government are stuffing local authorities' throats with gold, but people realise that that is a cheapskate move to get them off the political hook and that the Government are not prepared to face the problem in the longer term.
We need to explore another element of that Bill with great care. I believe that it will include a provision to abolish community health councils. The community health council in Bromley is up in arms about its abolition. I have huge sympathy with that view, as I used to chair a health authority in the east end of London—the City and East London family health services authority. We viewed the CHC in that area with great respect. It did a very good job, and we knew that there was a real problem if it took up a case. Exactly the same is true in Bromley and in Hastings and Rye.
Not all CHCs are perfect by any means, but their sheer independence gave them respect and rights. With the best will in the world, and however good a health authority or a health trust is, I do not believe that employees will have the same power and authority to investigate as the CHCs have. The Government have certainly lost a lot of friends by announcing the ill thought out abolition of the CHCs. Clearly, the Prime Minister has not thought it through; he changes his mind from one minute to another about whether CHCs will be abolished or whether people are simply being consulted about their abolition.
The Home Secretary's promise to do something about care out of the community for people with personality disorders represents another dog that has not yet barked. Perhaps that issue is too difficult to face, or perhaps he has been frightened by some of the human rights organisations. However, I can tell the Minister that into my surgery on Friday came a gentleman who was begging to go somewhere, but he could not get there because he had a personality disorder. Unless I have missed something, the proposals in the Queen's Speech will do nothing to help that poor man.
We need to worry about another small matter. I understand that there is mention that all doctors in primary care should be on health authority lists. This is obviously the wrong Government to talk to about such matters, but some doctors in primary care are in the private sector and they will wish to know whether they will have to register with health authorities in future. I shall leave that question hanging.
The broad theme of the Queen's Speech is not education, education, education, but regulation, regulation, regulation. I have mentioned leasehold and commonhold. Those proposals will involve regulation. The proposals for long-term care will overburden the sector with yet more regulation. The NHS changes represent yet more regulation, as do the Home Office Bills. On under-age drinking, will everyone under 18 have to have a identity card? If so, will the card be issued by the Home Office or by a charitable organisation, as with the citizens card? However people prove their identity, the proposal will produce more paperwork. The motor salvage regulations will involve more regulation for the industry.
There is a proposal for curfews on children under 16, but a fundamental flaw has emerged about curfews. If they have sufficient manpower, the police may wish to find out whether someone under a curfew is at home, but they have no right of entry to check whether the person under curfew is there. The criminal community will not take long to discover that fundamental flaw in the scheme.
99 A regulatory reform Bill is intended to deal with all that regulation, but I understand that the ability to impose additional burdens where necessary will come under one of its broad headings. I do not think that anybody in business is looking for additional regulatory burdens. Last week, I heard on the radio the chairman of Fuller's brewery reporting on his six-monthly returns, which were, thankfully, in profit. He said, however, that he could have made £500,000 more profit in the previous six months if it had not been for the costs of regulation. Extra Government regulation cost the brewery half a million pounds in six months.
I understand that the regulatory reform Bill will also contain provisions on relieving burdens from everyone except Ministers in Departments when only they would benefit. Do the Government seriously mean, in this day and age, and given the way in which they have truncated discussion in the House of Commons, that burdens laid on Ministers and Departments should remain? Why keep them if they can go? Surely, we are in the business of lightening the work load of Ministers and Departments. Let us get rid of regulation, even if it applies only to them—anything to get rid of red tape. The Government are not a deregulatory Government; they are a regulatory one. Everything in the Queen's Speech will create more burdens.
The overriding aspect of the Queen's Speech is the number of Home Office Bills. It is full of nice, shiny bright ideas to deal with the not so nice problems. One must ask, however, whether those problems would exist if more police were on the beat. Would we need all that legislation if we had more police? How many of the measures would be necessary if the Government created a police force with more officers who could get out and deal with crime? I suspect that the answer would be very few, as the police already have the powers to deal with crime. The Government are trying to hide the loss of 3,500 personnel from the Metropolitan police by producing reams of legislation stating what the police should do. However, if the police do not have the numbers, those aims cannot be achieved and yet more people will be disappointed.
Finally, I should like to deal with tobacco advertising. I spent some time on the Select Committee on Health and listened to the evidence given during the previous Parliament about the effect of advertising on tobacco consumption. The only reliable evidence that I could extract from all the humbug that the Select Committee heard amounted to two points. First, the only thing that stops people smoking is high prices. Secondly, advertising encourages people to change brands; it does not get them hooked.
Many people are becoming hooked on tobacco because the Government are maintaining high duties, which means that it is cheaper for people to go to Belgium and France and smuggle tobacco into this country than it is for them to buy it here. That is much more damaging to people's health than any advertising. Yet again, an advertising Bill is a bit of flim-flam that hides the basic problem: the huge difference in duty between the United Kingdom and Europe, South Africa, eastern Europe, the United States and elsewhere. It is cheaper to bring tobacco into the United Kingdom from practically any other country than it is to buy it here.
100 Is it any wonder that people smuggle? When smuggled tobacco is available and is much cheaper than any that can be bought in the retail market, it goes to precisely the vulnerable groups that the Government hope to prevent from smoking by stopping tobacco advertising. It goes to the young kids, because they are the ones with low budgets. Anybody with cheap tobacco knows how to get round the schools, youth clubs and night clubs. That is where tobacco is smoked by youngsters. We know their reasons for smoking—for example, puberty and lack of self-confidence. The cheap tobacco also goes into rest homes where elderly people get hold of it. It is pushed out through the system, in a way similar to that involved in the distribution of drugs. The increase in tobacco consumption is entirely to do with price and the duty differentials; it is not to do with advertising.
The Queen's Speech looks shiny and bright, but underneath it is full of flim-flam and has no substance. It answers no one's problems.
§ Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East)
I have looked forward to contributing to this debate because the Queen's Speech contains four matters on which I have campaigned for some time. The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) addressed some of the issues on leasehold and commonhold and was right to focus on people who have bought flats and houses from the public sector. That is a major issue. The Bill will be a step forward and will be welcomed, especially by my constituents.
The international criminal court is long overdue. The Government can take great pride in leading the way on that. As for the draft Bill on export controls, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington): if it means dealing with the recommendations of the Scott inquiry, I am all for it.
I also welcome the hunting Bill. It is a case not of whether hunting is right or wrong but of whether we fulfil the trust that the British people have placed in us to abolish it. It is crucial that we deliver on the perceived promise to abolish hunting with hounds. Many people are looking to us to do that. The Bill must not be shunted off into a Committee to die. It must make quick progress through the House in this Session.
Much has been made about the economy and how successful it is. My hon. Friends the Members for Clydebank and Milngavie and for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) talked about their constituencies, which are run down and have high unemployment, and the need for a stable economy. In Milton Keynes, we have low unemployment and high investment, but we also need a stable economy. The Government's economic policies are as important in a high-tech area with high employment as they are in areas such as Barnsley and Clydebank. There are training and skills shortages. The 15-year-olds who go into work with no qualifications need to be educated throughout their lives. We cannot assume that education stops at 16.
I hope that the Bill on special educational needs will address the fact that help for such people needs to go beyond the age of 16. Kids who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia need to be picked up much quicker in the system. I hope that the proposed Bill will tackle that.
There has been much talk about crime. In an area such as Milton Keynes, which has a high rate of stolen cars, the vehicle Bill will be a major step forward. I hope that 101 it will begin to solve the problem. However, it is not just stolen cars that should concern us; we should also be worried about abandoned cars. We shall return to that crucial subject when the Bill is introduced.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Beckenham about the regulatory reform Bill. It is crucial that it is successful. It will introduce important and sensible ways to deal with regulation. I remember the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) promising to burn red tape in the previous Government, but instead they produced more regulations. Every time the Conservatives have proposed regulatory reform, which is shorthand for removing workers' rights and safety measures, they have delivered more regulation, not less. I do not want the Bill to be about deregulation; instead, I hope that it changes the nature of regulation so that it is understandable and simple. We have a fascination with dotting every i and crossing every t, from which I hope we can move away. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which considers about 3,000 measures each year—about the same number as under the previous Government—most of which are unintelligible. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who sits on the Committee with me, nods in agreement. The regulatory reform Bill will give us the opportunity to start the process of transforming regulations so that they are understandable.
We will be able to provide the light touch that will be needed as the economy changes. It is noticeable that the Government recognise that the economy is changing and that the days of heavy industry are over. We must move forward, and a light-touch regulatory approach is the right way forward. One of the key Bills to which I look forward is the regulatory reform Bill.
I welcome the fact that there will be a homes Bill. The word "crisis" trips off the tongue of some Conservative Members. I enjoyed the performance of the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). I did not agree with one word of it, but his performance was entertaining. The word "crisis" also trips off the tongues of editors of certain newspapers. There is a real crisis in housing. People are homeless and the Bill that the Government are proposing will be a major step forward. However, it will require the Government to recognise that major investment in public housing is necessary.
I welcome the proposed seller's pack. As someone who supported for a long time the idea of a housing log, I regret that it is not part of the proposals. The seller's pack and the issues that surround it—the state of houses and surveys to ensure that people know what they are buying—are important. That leads me on to ask what is to be done with houses that are in a state of disrepair. There are many houses, both new and old, in that condition. The issue is one that we neglect at our peril.
Like many others, I regret the fact that some Bills are not included in the Queen's Speech. I should have liked consumer legislation to be in it. I know that the Government will be doing quite a bit through secondary legislation, but I urge them to recognise that consumer legislation is critical and that we need to return to it.
We have been promised a communications White Paper, and I hope that there will be sufficient time for us to debate it. It will be about the changing economy, and it is important that we address the issues. Other issues include civil service reform, regional government and how we equip people for success in the new economy.
102 I suspect that we shall return to the rural issue after the general election. It should be remembered that all the things that we recognise as the legacy of the Thatcher years and most of the key Bills for which they are remembered came about in the second and third terms. In our second term, key legislative proposals will be introduced and I hope that some of the measures that I have mentioned, especially consumer legislation, will be at the heart of them.
I welcome the partnership approach, which is part of the social care proposals. It is not easy to operate partnerships and they are not a panacea for arriving at solutions. However, they can be used to try to break down the Berlin wall between social services and hospital trusts. It is important that we recognise that they need to work together to achieve that.
Like many Members, I am concerned about the future of community health councils. I hope that the Government will listen to the concerns that have been expressed and ensure that the Bill is amended accordingly. Many proposals in the social care Bill, such as direct payments and free nursing care, are to be welcomed. They will be of major benefit to my constituents and to the people of this country generally.
§ Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)
I recall clearly my first job interview. The first question that was thrown at me was, "What are your faults?" I had never been asked that question before, and I was completely stumped. I said virtually nothing, and then said, "This is ridiculous. I must have some faults." I spent the rest of the interview remembering my faults one by one, and throwing them into the conversation. It was hardly surprising that I did not get the job.
I should like to dedicate this speech to the lobby correspondent of the Worcester Evening News, Mr. Nick Cecil, who asked me immediately after the Queen's Speech what it meant for Worcestershire. I was similarly stumped, and scrabbled to think of one or two things. I spent the rest of the afternoon reflecting on my inadequate response. I have now come up with an answer for Mr. Cecil and the Worcester Evening News. I think that there is little chance of any of this legislation reaching the statute book if the election comes when I think it will come, but assuming that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) is wrong about the prospect of any of these Bills becoming law, the answer seems to be local good news: 2, local bad news: 3, local missed opportunities or points: at least 7, most of the rest silly, questionable, pedestrian or platitudinous, but serious national harm: 3.
There are two bits of good news for my constituents. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase), in his characteristically gracious speech—to paraphrase the subject of the debate—said that his constituents were jumping for joy about a number of issues. The only group of my constituents who may be jumping for joy are the residents of Wyre Piddle, who will read with interest and enthusiasm the first paragraph of the Queen's Speech, where the Government talk about an increase in resources available for transport, among other things. Those residents want their bypass, and I hope that we will have that early Christmas present for them next week.
103 The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) highlighted the Bill to regulate the private security industry. I expect that my constituents who work for Group 4 Securitas will also be jumping for joy, because they will welcome such a measure. Group 4 Securitas has its headquarters in my constituency. I say that but it is not technically true, because the gate to its headquarters lies in my constituency but its offices lie in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is sitting on the Conservative Front Bench. It gives both of us pleasure to know that Group 4 Securitas will be pleased with that measure.
Apart from those two bits of good news in the Queen's Speech—one of which is a little speculative to say the least—there is not a lot to shout about in mid-Worcestershire and much about which to be cynical and cautious. Above all, the Gracious Speech betrays the fact that the Government believe their own propaganda. That is a terribly dangerous thing for a party to do. Their propaganda is encapsulated in the spirit of "Animal Farm":Four legs good, two legs bad.It goes like this: "Everything the Conservatives did or proposed to do is bad, everything we have done or propose to do is good." Or to put it another way: "It's gone wrong, it's their fault. It's gone right, it's our achievement". That is how the Government see things.
I was horrified by something the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister's questions on 22 November. He said:The Tories are raising this—the issue of the European army—because they have lost on the economy and on boom and bust, they have lost on public services, which they are committed to cutting—we all know that that is absolutely wrong—and they have lost on poverty, which they are committed to increasing.—[Official Report, 22 November 2000; Vol. 357, c. 303.]That is one of the more shameful things that has ever been said in this Chamber. All Conservative Members came into the House to fight for the interests of their constituents. Hon. Members may from time to time disagree on the means, but not on the outcome. The Prime Minister should reflect carefully on his words. They show the underlying propaganda that lies at the heart of the Queen's Speech.
The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) made a thoughtful speech dealing with some important issues. I did not agree with everything he said, and he was a little premature to assume that we were not interested in discussing the economy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) said, wait for Wednesday.
The first paragraph of the Queen's Speech left me a little breathless. It said:My Government will ensure the continued economic stability.I have news for the Government: they cannot do any such thing. They have done one thing right, for which I give them credit, and that was to give the Bank of England independence. I think that it was an imperfect and incomplete independence, but it was the right thing to do.
The other two factors that have delivered economic stability over the past three years or so are all the various supply-side reforms that we put in place when we were 104 in power and from which the Government have benefited—the generally benign economic conditions that they inherited from us are part of that—and, crucially, the continued expansion of the American economy and the more rapid than expected recovery of the far eastern economies. Those are factors for which the Government can claim no credit whatever. There are now signs of a downturn in the United States, and people on the other side of the Atlantic are speaking of the coming recession. The Government should be very careful about crowing about continued economic stability.
Let us look at the Queen's Speech in more detail. The third paragraph on education may be well-meaning, but it does not read well in Worcestershire, where the county council has just received a shamefully low settlement. It has the lowest settlement anywhere in the country—a 3.2 per cent. increase in resources from central Government, compared with more than twice that in many south-eastern counties.
That scandalous discrepancy will make it extremely difficult for schools in my constituency even to stand still in terms of the quality of service that they provide, when they have paid the teachers' pay increases and met rising demand. The paragraph dealing with education is one that the Government will not be able to read out in Worcestershire with a straight face.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said, all the stuff about law and order is splendid. One cannot argue with much of it, but fundamentally my constituents, like hers, want to see more policemen or policewomen. We do not need more laws; we need the existing laws to be properly enforced. I know from the experience of my own family and the crime that we as a family have experienced in Worcestershire in the past few weeks that the resources of West Mercia constabulary are stretched and that the force cannot cope with the problems that it faces. It is not more laws, but more bodies, that we need.
The Bill to give courts the power to decide whether certain defendants should be tried by jury—in other words, the abolition of trial by jury Bill—is a major local and national scandal. The fact that the Government plan to take away the magistrates courts in my constituency makes matters worse.
The Evesham and Droitwich Spa magistrates courts are scheduled for closure, although no date has been given and consultation has not yet begun. They are to move to Worcester city, well away from the local communities where the crimes occur. That is a travesty of access to justice in my county. The Government are denying defendants the right to trial by jury and forcing them into a court in remote Worcester, rather than in the communities of Droitwich Spa and Evesham. What a shame that is.
The paragraph on the national health service is particularly breathtaking, when I consider the problems faced by the health service in my county. Back in the summer, the Prime Minister said something that made me angry—another shameful remark from a Prime Minister. He said about the Conservatives:They do not understand the health service—they never did.He prefaced that by saying:They would not invest in the health service—they never did.—[Official Report, 27 July 2000; Vol. 354, c. 1264.]Such hyperbole is wrong and monstrous. What is happening at present in Worcestershire shows that the Government do not understand the health service, in 105 Worcestershire at least. The abolition of community health councils may shoot the messenger, but will not solve the problem. I hope that the Government will think again about the abolition of community health councils.
The funding settlement for Worcestershire county council will mean that bed blocking in the hospitals of Worcestershire this winter and next is inevitable. Yes, it is true that a few extra pennies are coming in this year to try to ease the pressure, but the trouble is that care homes are closing because of the regulations imposed on them by the Government, and because of the failure to ensure that they have the fees necessary to pay the increased burdens placed on them.
I am afraid that the health service in Worcestershire looks pretty sick, and all the Government's fine promises are best shown up by the Government's failure to answer some simple questions. In the previous parliamentary Session, I asked how many beds were blocked in Worcestershire's acute and community hospitals. I received punctual holding replies and no substantive response.
If the Department of Health thought that it would escape giving an answer on the record to those crucial questions by not answering them during the parliamentary Session and thus letting the questions fall, it was wrong. I retabled those questions today. I am sure that the Department has already done a lot of work on preparing the answers, so I expect them to come on the first named day, which is Monday next week.
The Government boast about learning and skills councils, which may or may not be good things. I am inclined to think that they are not good things, and that they are the beginning of a process leading to the abolition of sixth forms and the compulsory adoption of tertiary systems throughout the United Kingdom. That is simply wrong. I am particularly worried by the fact that the Hereford and Worcester learning and skills council includes no one from my part of Worcestershire, although four of the 10 members are from Herefordshire, which grossly over-represents that county. One or two members come from outside the county. That council does not represent the two counties it is supposed to represent. I shall watch its work with an eagle eye, and I am exceptionally nervous about the impact of learning and skills councils on Worcestershire.
A lot of time has been spent discussing the Bill on regulation. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome made some splendid remarks as he tried to analyse what, exactly, that paragraph of the Queen's Speech meant. It is certainly convoluted and would not win a plain English award—that is for sure. I know from my constituency experience that local businesses—small, medium and large—are drowning in a tide of regulation. I am the first to say that a lot of that regulation is well meant by the Government. I am sure that the working families tax credit and the minimum wage are well meant, and I am sure that all the other measures affecting the way in which employers relate to their employees are well meant. However, there comes a stage at which one cannot afford all those good intentions, because the burden simply becomes too great.
The example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham of a brewery highlighted exactly what the cost of that regulation was to that company. There comes a limit. Although the Government might say, "This is a 106 good thing", Conservative Members might say that it is not a particularly good thing, but I leave that aside. The Government might continue, "We would like to do this, but we cannot afford to impose such a burden on the private sector." The Government's convoluted promise about a regulatory burden Bill comes ill from them because they have done so much to heap burdens on the shoulders of businesses in my constituency and around the country.
The Bill that concerns me most as a constituency Member of Parliament is one that has been extensively discussed in the debate—the Bill on hunting. I heard what the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, North-East (Mr. White) said, but I remind him of two facts. First, the Government have not pledged to abolish hunting with dogs; they have pledged to have a free vote, which has already been held during this Parliament. He, and the rest of his party, are off their manifesto hook. Secondly, the Burns report has been published. It would be a tragedy if the excellent work done by Lord Burns and his colleagues on that committee were ignored by the House. The report repays the most careful reading, and it does not deserve selective quotation; it needs to be taken as a whole. A careful reading of the report makes it clear that there is no intellectual justification for a ban on hunting.
I commend a document that has, I hope, been sent to all Members of House by the middle way group, of which I am a member and, along with the hon. Members for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), the co-chairs. The report contains a crucial sentence, which I should choose above all others:There is absolutely no point, in animal welfare terms at least, in prohibiting an activity which causes suffering, only to allow other practices which cause suffering on an equal or even greater scale to continue and possibly increase.There are two issues in this great debate—animal welfare and human liberty and freedom—which we must put on the scales. We know that banning hunting will lead to more, not fewer, foxes dying, as rural England's tolerance of the fox disappears. The fox would no longer be there for the hunt; it would simply be shot because it is a pest. Gamekeepers and farmers would pretty well eradicate the rural fox.
I hope that Labour Members will think carefully about the implications. I understand their motivation—some of it is honourable, some emotional and some is probably driven by class envy, prejudice and misunderstanding. They have a variety of motives, some good, some bad. I urge them to look afresh at these issues. I suspect that the Bill will have its Second Reading before Christmas, and I urge them to ask themselves whether they are right. One or two Labour Members, to their great credit, have come to me during the past week and said, "Peter, we have looked at the matter and realised we have got to vote for your middle way option after all, because it will genuinely enhance the welfare of the fox."
§ Mr. Luff
It is for those Members to identify themselves in due course. I shall not name them now, because they talked to me in confidence. I welcome their intellectual honesty.
I am disappointed that the hunting Bill represents the only mention in the Queen's Speech of rural England and Wales—of rural Britain. The countryside is in crisis, and 107 has been for some time. The state of farming is—well, "depressing" is a totally inadequate description. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West who spoke of farmers' suicides. It is terrifying: the state of morale in British farming is awful. It is a shame that the only mention of rural Britain in the Queen's Speech concerns a Bill that will make farmers' suffering worse by taking from them a useful economic service for fallen stock, and also a useful pillar of rural society.
Another paragraph concerns devolution. I urge those who were not present to read the speech of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie, which I considered remarkable. He posed some important questions. He asked why Scottish Members would be voting on a raft of legislation—I think he said that it represented 70 per cent. of the proposals in the Queen's Speech—that had no relevance to Scotland. I suspect that his question will be most sharply focused when we deal with the hunting Bill, because it applies only to England and Wales, and the arithmetic makes it possible that banning hunting in England and Wales will depend on the votes of Scottish Members.
I believe that, in the case of that Bill, every Scottish Member should take a self-denying ordinance and not vote. Separate legislation is going through the Scottish Parliament to deal with the issue, and it will be settled in Scotland, for Scotland. I have no right over what happens in Scotland, and I have no objection to that; but I do not think that Scottish Members in this place should seek to impose their value judgments on my constituents in Worcestershire. Let English and Welsh Members speak for them.
§ Mr. Murphy
Does the hon. Gentleman think that English Conservative Members were right to vote for the introduction of the poll tax only in Scotland, with an English Conservative majority? Were they right, or were they wrong?
§ Mr. Luff
That was a world in which we were a United Kingdom Parliament. We could all vote on each other's legislation and business. We had just one Parliament. The world has changed now; the facts have changed. I am obliged to change my mind, and say that the issue has moved on. It is not possible to go back in history: we are where we are.
Personally, I am not very comfortable where we are. I preferred the status quo ante. Perhaps we should have been more sensitive to the wishes of the Scottish people sometimes—my party would probably have done better in Scotland had it been so sensitive—but, as I have said, we are where we are, and I seriously think that the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) should undertake not to vote on the hunting Bill. It is not just a question of hunting, but I expect that to be the topical issue that will first bring the matter into focus. As the hon. Gentleman said, Bill after Bill in the Government's programme refers only to England and Wales, and I think that only English and Welsh Members should vote on those Bills.
The Department for International Development has, broadly, done a good job. It did a good job in its old incarnation under Lady Chalker, and I considered it churlish of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie 108 not to pay tribute to her as well. The Department has evolved in the right direction, helpfully and continuously. As secretary of the all-party group on overseas development, which the hon. Gentleman chairs, I feel that he and I should pay tribute to what both parties have done and continue to do.
I was pleased to learn of the White Paper on the forces of globalisation. Although I honestly do not know what any Government can do to shape those forces, it will be fascinating to read the White Paper. I plead with the Government, however, as they examine the impact of globalisation on trade, to reconsider their wretched, unthinking acceptance of the inclusion of sugar in the everything but arms initiative. To include sugar in an initiative that allows the developed countries access to the products of the least-developed countries is to do something wrong in the context of something that is otherwise very good.
It is absolutely right morally for us to give the least-developed countries much greater access to British and other European—indeed, western world—economies. It will help them to trade out of poverty. However, including sugar—and, for that matter, rum, bananas and rice, but sugar concerns me most—will have a perverse effect. For one thing, acting too rapidly will add to the woes of British farmers. I can introduce Members to farmers who will lose their jobs, hauliers who will lose their jobs and sugar factory workers who will lose their jobs.
We should weigh that in the balance. Ultimately, it is sometimes right to make a sacrifice if that will alleviate poverty elsewhere in the world; I understand that. However, the tragedy is that the measure as currently conceived by the Government will cost not just British, French and German jobs, but jobs in the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries—the old Commonwealth countries. It could destroy the economies of many West Indian countries. The effect could be to reward countries such as Sudan—which will use the money that it gains probably to buy new arms to further its wretched conflict—and to destroy the economies of our traditional friends, who will then come to the Department for International Development to look for handouts to take them out of their new-found poverty. Therefore, I urge the Government to look at the matter again most carefully.
The Secretary of State for International Development State is an honourable, intelligent and objective woman; I note what she said about the dome, for example. I would like her to look at the measure again, to discard her prejudice, which she seems to have at present, that Conservative Members are opposing free trade—we are not—and to look at what she will do to those economies.
The one serious issue in the Queen's Speech that worries me—it is a national issue, not a local one; it is not about Worcestershire this time—is about NATO. I shall not labour the point, but the United States Secretary of Defence, William Cohen, has let the cat out of the bag in spectacular style in the past 24 hours or so. The Queen's Speech says:My Government will continue to ensure that NATO remains the foundation of Britain's defence and security.The Government have just signed up to something—the putative European army—that will work against the words that the Government put into the Queen's mouth earlier today. I urge them again to look carefully at the messages that we are now getting from the other side of the Atlantic.
109 There are things in the Queen's Speech that are seriously wrong and misguided. The three that I highlight are the abolition of trial by jury, the inadequate attention to the legitimate aspirations of the English in this place—their views are not being properly taken into account and the West Lothian question has not been answered—and the failure to protect NATO. Those three things worry me profoundly. They are serious errors of judgment by the Government, but a lot of the Queen's Speech is not too bad. It is not all together a bad Gracious Speech, but it is woefully inadequate.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
It is possible to make wide-ranging speeches, as Members have, on the Queen's Speech. It has at least 25 paragraphs, some of which might refer to more than one piece of legislation, and Members can obviously raise items which they think should be in the Queen's Speech, so almost anything goes, as long as it is within the general coverage of the Queen's Speech title. However, I shall direct my attention mainly to one item that I am concerned about.
A potential Bill that I wish to see stopped is hinted at in the Queen's Speech and in other Government publications. If it is not dealt with because a general election comes along, I will not want it to appear in the Labour party manifesto and to be adopted following a general election and the return of a Labour Government. Furthermore, I wish that the Government would withdraw from taking action under that measure, as though it had already passed into law—which it has not. It relates to matters connected with the items about continued economic stability, which have been mentioned several times.
I welcome much of what has been done and is to be done within the Queen's Speech to extend economic stability. It is generally welcome. The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) adjoins mine. The favourable comments that he made about the Queen's Speech and about economic stability lap over into my constituency. His points are relevant but, in some of our heartland areas, it sometimes seems that we take one step forward and two or more steps back. That could not be truer than in the case of Clay Cross, which is a part of my constituency's solid Labour heartland. Part of the tradition of "red Clay Cross" includes the fact that it was once known as Skinnerville, when it fought the Housing Finance Act 1972. In the inter-war years, it always returned a Labour candidate, even after the 1931 debacle. At a by-election, Harry Pollitt received 5,000 votes on behalf of the Communist party. Therefore, if there is such a thing as a Labour heartland, Clay Cross is probably it.
In Clay Cross, a perfectly viable pipe manufacturing works has been taken over by a multinational company called Saint-Gobain. The company is in the process of being closed, and its order book is being taken overseas. Even its machinery is being crated up and moved to India and South Africa, among other places. Although it is a viable firm, with 80 per cent. of its output being exported, 700 jobs are being lost in my constituency.
Although the Queen's Speech does not specifically mention the matter, some of the contents seem to be relevant to it. The Queen's Speech states:A Bill will be introduced to increase the effectiveness of the power to reduce regulatory burdens by removing inappropriate and over-complex regulation.110 The mention of such legislation could be a hint that measures described in a document entitled "Mergers: The Response to the Consultation on Proposals for Reform", which the Department of Trade and Industry published in October 2000, will be implemented. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry may elaborate on that matter on Friday. I simply want to get my tackle in first and try to persuade him to move away from inappropriate proposals.
The Government propose that ministerial involvement in merger cases should be minimised. In the foreword to the "Mergers" document, the Secretary of State says:Business will be given more certainty about timetables for decisions. The vast majority of cases will be removed from the political arena.The Secretary of State seems to be saying that business will be given its head. However, surely the political arena is composed of voters, pressure groups and elected representatives. Is not democracy very much about interaction in the political arena?
At Biwater, the community, workers, shop stewards, trade unions, women's support group, district councillors, the three Members of Parliament representing the area and Members of the European Parliament offered substantial arguments explaining the firm's commercially viability. We have made it clear that the firm is a competitor in pipe manufacturing. I believe that competition policy is important to the DTI. Additionally, Biwater is a key exporter. The point, however, is that jobs in the area need to be protected and big communal needs need to be taken into account.
As I indicated when describing the area's history, politics—with a large P, not a small one—are another important aspect of the matter.
In deciding mergers, we must change from a test based on public interest to one based on competition. Proposals to abandon the public interest test and to adopt the competition one should concern Labour Members. In practice, such a move would probably entail amendment of the Fair Trading Act 1973 to remove the Secretary of State's power when deciding whether to refer a proposed merger to the Competition Commission, to consider job losses, export losses and the devastation that would be caused to a community when industry is moved within a region. Yet such considerations enable a proposed merger to be effectively investigated.
The "Mergers" report states:the Government is putting economic efficiency and consumer interests at the heart of the new regime, by focusing decisions more sharply on competition issues.It seems that, if we are putting competition issues and consumer interests at the heart of the regime, consideration of other factors will be downgraded. The paper states:The test they will apply will be to determine whether the merger results in a substantial lessening of competition in a market.In the Clay Cross case, it could be argued that the Saint-Gobain takeover did exactly that as it reduced competition in pipe manufacturing in the United Kingdom, but the next point in the document shows that that consideration can be ignored. It states:Occasionally a merger which results in a substantial lessening of competition may nonetheless bring benefits to UK consumers affected by the merger. In these cases, we propose that the 111 competition authorities should be able to clear the merger (conditionally or unconditionally) if they consider that on balance it should be permitted.Thus, UK consumers will be considered to be protected if a firm in this country is closed down and its operations are moved overseas, so long as there is a global overseas market that benefits UK consumers. That is part of the Office of Fair Trading's justification of the closure of the works at Clay Cross.
How can I be sure that my interpretation of the document and of what the Secretary of State has in mind is correct? I discussed the matter with John Vickers, the Director General of Fair Trading, and he pointed out that the fact that the factory is being crated up and sent to India is not seen to be a material matter in these considerations, as under competition policy the British consumer will be protected by the fact that competition will continue in the international market. This is very worrying, not just in respect of what is happening in my constituency, but on a wider basis as it could affect the manufacturing industry elsewhere.
In the Clay Cross case, six guilty men seem to have been responsible for the takeover being accepted and the closure taking place. Jean-Louis Beffa, the chairman of Saint-Gobain, refused to alter his stance on the matter, even when appealed to by the Secretary of State. Pascal Queru, the head of Stanton plc, which is a subsidiary of Saint-Gobain, was the architect of the policy involving 112 Stanton taking over Biwater, in the hope of rationalising the pipe industry in the UK. However, moving the operation overseas will ultimately be to the detriment of Stanton plc, as it has a foundry in my constituency that is bound to be affected two or three years down the line.
At the time of the takeover, Christian Streifft, the president of Saint-Gobain's pipeline division, said that he wished to conduct a full review of Biwater's operations before finalising his conclusions on the future running of Biwater. That never took place. The closure was announced within 45 minutes of the takeover, so there was nothing honourable about his response.
Another character involved in this deceitful move is Adrian White, the effective controller of Biwater and a close friend of Lady Thatcher, who retains the land. He was obviously involved in a very dubious deal, as the short control of the lease meant that Saint-Gobain would have had to get out in any case.
The final failure has been that of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in not using the 1973 legislation to refer the matter to the Competition Commission because he sees the legislation as a dead duck that he will seek to change in future. The thrust of these merger proposals must be stopped, and we must insist that the Secretary of State acts to defend the public interest. He still has time to send the Biwater case to the Competition Commission, even if it is now a bit late to save the plant.
§ Debate adjourned—[Mr. Jamieson.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.