Orders of the Day — The Constitution
Mr John Cryer (Hornchurch, Labour)
I congratulate the new hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Morgan) on his confident and forthright speech. I did not agree with all of it, but it was a good speech, and I am sure that he will make many more contributions—as, I hope, will all new Members.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate on the Gracious Speech. As many hon. Members on both sides of the House will know, my father was a Member of the House for many years, first for Keighley and then for Bradford, South. They may not know, however, that after the February election in 1974 he was the first new Member to make his maiden speech. He got in immediately on the Wednesday afternoon, under the advice and guidance, you will not be surprised to hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).
My father was a fine parliamentarian and, more important, a fine socialist. I am grateful for the fact that I had his inspiration and guidance for many years, and I wish, as I am sure many other people here do, that he was still around. He would have had a great contribution to make, and he would have been thrilled to see the glorious victory by the Labour party on 1 May. He would have regarded that as a fine result.
Unlike my father's constituencies, mine is in east London. Many people in Hornchurch originate in the east end of London, and take great pride in those roots. The constituency elected a Conservative Member of Parliament for 18 years, but I am glad that its people have now elected me as their Labour Member, and I think that Hornchurch will remain a Labour seat for many years to come.
Many people in the area depend on two sectors of the economy—small and medium businesses, and the banking and financial institutions of the City of London. People who depend on both those sources of work have been hurt over the past eight or 10 years.
Canvassing during the campaign, I met many small business men and women who had been brought to their knees by the policies of the Conservative Government. One, who said to me, "Quite honestly, I was a Thatcherite in the 80s," was a builder with his own business, and, having talked to him for 10 minutes, I would say that he was on the verge of some sort of breakdown. He was up to his eyes in debt, with all sorts of problems, and was starting to wonder what would happen to his family, his house and his business over the next two or three years.
In the City, too, there have been massive job losses, comparable to those in the mining and steel industries in the 1980s. The people who go to work from Hornchurch into the City of London have suffered enormously.
The other aspect of life in Hornchurch that suffered greatly under the policies of the previous Government is health. Oldchurch hospital is in Romford rather than Hornchurch, but people go there from all over the borough—and just after Christmas we saw the obscene spectacle of ambulances queuing up outside that hospital, unable to get inside because there were not enough beds or doctors to treat those patients. I personally know many constituents who have had to wait on trolleys in some pain in corridors in Oldchurch hospital because there were not enough doctors to see them.
I am glad to see that the new Government have placed a moratorium on hospital closures. I should like to see more than that. I should like a guarantee to be made that Oldchurch hospital will remain open for many years to come and will have sufficient resources to treat the people of Hornchurch, Romford and Upminster. My two new hon. Friends the Members for Romford (Mrs. Gordon) and for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) will join me in hoping that.
The debate today is on the constitution. The Gracious Address contained a number of measures which I very much welcome, such as legislation for a new authority for Greater London, which is an important measure, and reforms to the House of Lords—personally, I would close it and turn it into a cafeteria, because that is all that it is really good for.
Another element, which was touched on earlier, is the role of Europe, which will impinge enormously on the role of the constitution. If we go down the path of the Maastricht treaty, the effects will hit millions of people across western Europe and Britain. For instance, the convergence criteria will mean billions of pounds of cuts. It will also mean the transfer of enormous powers from London to unelected, unaccountable bankers sitting in Frankfurt or Bonn, who will then make the decisions for us. That is something that I cannot tolerate.
I was elected to this Chamber to defend universal benefits, free and universal health care, jobs and living standards. If we go down the path of Maastricht, we will not be able to defend those sorts of things in Government. The issue of Europe was brought up on the doorsteps all the time, for a number of reasons. People are becoming genuinely worried about what a single currency might mean for the economy of this country and other countries in western Europe. There is also a feeling that we had the wool pulled over our eyes many years ago.
In 1975—I was only 11 years old at the time—we had a referendum in which Harold Wilson, the then Prime Minister, said that we should stay inside what was then the Common Market for two key reasons: first, because we would have a veto on all policies that we did not want and, secondly, because there would not be an exchange rate mechanism which would be a threat to jobs and living standards. Both those assurances have gone out the window. Mrs. Thatcher signed the Single European Act, which gave up much of our veto, and then we became members of the exchange rate mechanism, which we had to leave in fairly shameful circumstances. Extraordinarily enough, although the ERM undoubtedly attacked our manufacturing base and sacrificed jobs in the name of monetarism, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), was desperate to get back inside the ERM once again, presumably to sacrifice thousands more jobs on the altar of monetarism.
A referendum is the right way to proceed on the single currency. I am glad that it is the policy of the Labour party to follow that through. When we come to the House, we carry 60,000 votes or thereabouts. We have one vote, but it is on behalf of 60,000 people. It is a block vote, which is a bit unfashionable these days. When we cast our vote, it has a certain power. If we talk about altering that power in any way, the people of Hornchurch and every other constituency have a right to some role and say in that change. That is why I support a referendum on the single currency. It is absolutely the right way to proceed.
I pay tribute to three Members of Parliament who have given me a great deal of guidance and help in the past two or three years. Certainly since I was nominated to stand for Hornchurch, which was a great privilege and honour for me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and, most of all, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover have given me great help and guidance.