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Before I call those hon. Members who are to propose and second the motion on the Loyal Address, it may be for the convenience of the House if I set out the subjects that I understand are suggested for the various days' debates: Thursday 13 November—education and family poverty; Friday 14 November— foreign affairs; Monday 17 November—local government and Scotland; Tuesday 18 November — industry and employment; Wednesday 19 November—the economy.
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.
I am highly gratified if slightly, but agreeably, surprised, to have been given the honour of moving the motion. I am highly gratified because it gives me the opportunity, as my time in the House moves towards its close, to say how much I have appreciated the honour of representing one of the most beautiful, as well as one of the largest constituencies in England — Hexham — for over 20 years — a fine city, Norwich having been unwilling, in 1964, to give me a third term; a misfortune that I am sure will not befall my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her Administration.
For those who do not know it well, my constituency stretches from the outskirts of Newcastle to Cumberland and from the Durham boundary to the borders of Scotland. It is a very lovely part of the world, with a great area of national park, vast tracts of unspoilt countryside, the largest man-made forest in Europe and the largest man-made lake, Kielder water, which at one time caused me a certain amount of controversy. It still possesses some of the characteristics of pre-Reformation England. It was almost one of the last no-go areas in that par of Her Majesty's dominion. As befits a county that was one of the cradles of Christianity, we are very proud of our saints, including St. Wilfrid, who founded Hexham abbey over 1,300 years ago.
In our towns and villages will be found many industries and commercial activities of a varied nature. Our agriculture is as efficient and competitive as agriculture anywhere, and makes an indispensable contribution to our economic and social life and welfare. All my constituents will welcome the declaration in the Gracious Speech, that the Government will work
for continuing reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
provided, of course, that there are higher prices for the farmers who produce the food and lower prices for the consumers who eat it. On that basis, all will be satisfied.
If I am agreeably surprised to be moving the motion, it is because I have been slightly critical from time to time of Her Majesty's Government, and may be so again because, as a Back Bencher, unlike Ministers who are—or ought to be—subject to the doctrine of collective responsibility, I am not. Today, Her Majesty's Ministers are in a buoyant and confident mood, secure in the knowledge that I approve of the policies in the Gracious Speech. I believe that we have a proper balance of monetary, fiscal and economic policies. I have not always thought so in the past. In spite of all our hopes for less legislation, it looks as if we could be kept busy for many months; just how many months all but one of us will have to guess.
Some people might envy Lord Palmerston who was triumphantly elected to this House for the first time in 1807. However, he was not nominated until he gave a solemn undertaking that he would never, under any circumstances, set foot in the constituency—not even at election time—lest he might be tempted to interfere in local matters.
Some things, however, never change. Hanging on a wall in an appropriate room in my home in Northumberland is a speech by a Mr. Rippon who fought Gateshead in June 1832. I though that his speech might give me some ideas for today, and it has. He believed that
the banking system might be so improved as to produce great public benefit.
Therefore, he would have welcomed the promise in the Gracious Speech of legislation to improve the supervision of banks. He
hoped the day was not far distant when justice would be substituted for law.
No doubt that day will be hastened by the Bill to improve the working of the system of criminal justice. He would have rejoiced, as I do and as all of us must, at the Government's declared determination to maintain firm control of public spending. Mr. Rippon wanted
cuts in all superfluous and unnecessary expenditure.
He thought that
pensions should not be paid without proof of necessity to persons such as the mother of the Duke of Wellington.
There is only one thing that is omitted from the Gracious Speech that he might have regretted. During his long oration he drew, according to the reporter, immense cheers for his spirited attack on the Bishop of Durham, whom he wished to see disfranchised and his dean and chapter abolished.
I could make a good case for the fact that the quality of life in the north is, in many ways, better than that in the south, but it can not be gainsaid that many anxieties arise in the north of England. I think that they arise from two main sources: first, the feeling of remoteness from Whitehall, which has been intensified by the centralisation process of recent years which has tended to erode local responsibility and, secondly, deep-seated long-term unemployment. In that connection, I welcome the measures that the Government have taken and propose to take to deal with the problem.
I applaud the steadily increasing capital investment programme in infrastructure, housing, roads and the general environment. That is helped by the higher revenues generated by lower rates of taxation. If I may be a little controversial, that is entirely different from the position under a Labour Government when the reverse took place and there was steadily falling investment in real terms. At Question Time not long ago, I noticed that when that was explained to the Leader of the Opposition he said, "Nobody believes it". People had better believe it, because it is true.
No region has benefited more from direct Government aids and subsidies and the social and regional funds of the European Community than the north-east. However, in the final analysis, regional aids and subsidies are no substitute for local initiative and general improvement in the economy. Indeed, sometimes the aids can distort the disparities in the regions. We all, north and south alike, benefit from the lowest level of inflation for two decades, from a time, incidentially, or perhaps coincidentally, when I was a member of the Government.
The way in which the interests of the north and south come together is demonstrated by the Channel Tunnel Bill, that will be brought again before the House. The Bill is already generating large orders for the north, and it will enable the trade of the north to be carried out more effectively and competitively. I congratulate the Government on their determination, as declared in the Gracious Speech, to work
to remove barriers to trade
both in the Economic Community and on a worldwide basis.
If economic policies are important, foreign and defence policies are vital. I am sure that the House will commend the Government's efforts during our political cooperation, which I know are not always easy. The House will recall St. Willibrord, who stepped forth from Hexham in the seventh century to convert Luxembourg to christianity. This great event is celebrated every year with a sacred dance, which goes roughly one step forward and two steps backwards. This is sometimes thought to be a typically European dance.
All great plans are long term and patience is often required, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have found in trying to get agreement, and largely succeeding, over such matters as international terrorism and drug trafficking, the control and combating of which we must be glad to see accorded high priority in the Gracious Speech.
It is important that the Government have a commitment to a constructive European policy that embraces the European Community, NATO, the Council of Europe, our old partners in EFTA, and the Western European Union. Political co-operation is necessary, especially in the context of defence and security. Here I believe that the Government's policies are firm and clear. Hadrian's wall runs through my constituency—a stark reminder that great empires and civilisations rise and fall. I believe that history proves, that strength is the road to peace and that weakness leads to war. In a world as dangerous as ours, I believe that it would be folly unilaterally to abandon our nuclear deterrent. There is no safety or security for any of us in a policy of narrow nationalism or neutralism. Those who are anti-American or anti-European serve neither the cause of peace nor that of freedom; there should be no doubt about that.
Finally, I commend to the House some of Mr. Gladstone's observations in the debate on the Address in January 1881. For Parliament, there was a shorter working week in those days, and a shorter working year, which was probably to the advantage of the country as well as that of Members. He described the Speech from the Throne as being a
convenient, decorous, a dignified method of meeting between Sovereign and people and of initiating the business of the Session.
He added a rider. He said that if the speech
was made the subject of lengthened debate and diversified amendments in this House it would in fact be no better than a public nuisance.
I am sure that the House, especially right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, will bear that wise injunction in mind as the debate proceeds.
I second the motion. I must say that in doing so, with the helpful advice of so many wise colleagues ringing in my ears, I feel as I imagine Zsa Zsa Gabor's fifth husband must have felt—I know what is expected of me, but I am not sure whether I can make it interesting. I am conscious that it is a great honour, which I share with my constituency, to second the motion.
However, I am equally conscious of just how fortunate I am to be here at all. Standing for the first time as a candidate in a marginal seat is an experience, I imagine, shared on both sides of the House. I have no doubt that what happened to me will not be unique. I remember, after the very pleasurable event — certainly as far as I was concerned—of June 1983, going on the inevitable round of constituency parties. People came to me and, almost to a man, said, "Congratulations. We never thought you would do it." They always managed to say it in the tone of voice that implied that, if they had thought I would do it, they would have been a darned sight more careful about picking the candidate.
From a fairly extensive survey of previous seconders' speeches, I have detected a custom—I imagine a recent one — for hon. Members in my position to wonder aloud, as self-deprecatingly as they can, why this honour might have befallen them. I immediately rejected all the conventional criteria. It was obvious that none of them fitted my case. I was left with only one explanation, it seemed to me, that had any merit at all. I asked myself how many other hon. Members have had it said so often to them, "Would you buy a used car from this man?" and indeed with such profitable results.
It is a pleasure to second the speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). The House listened with great interest to his wise words, not least because, without doubt, he is one of the most distinguished proposers of the Loyal Address in recent years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] He is also, as I am sure the House will know, the only Member this century to have had the honour to propose the Loyal Address this year and to have seconded it, as he did in 1957. My right hon. and learned Friend quoted amusingly from his namesake in 1832. He will forgive me, I hope, if I quote briefly from his own speech nearly 30 years ago. On that occasion, he said:
Ever since 1945, when I first became a member of a local authority, there has been general agreement on the need to reorganise local government, but certainly no unanimity on the form that it should take. However, I am glad that this nettle is now to be grasped." — [Official Report, 5 November 1957, Vol. 577, c. 13.]
No doubt, the House will join me in being happy that, after 29 years, he can now release his aching hand from the nettle.
I am sure that the proposal to improve the basis of the payment of rate support grant will be applauded by the majority of hon. Members. Few Conservative Members will not have had personal experience in recent years of the capricious effect of grant settlements on their own authorities. Hon. Members will recognize—this is far more important—that both logic and equity dictate that the spending or saving policies of councils should be the primary mechanism by which rates go up or down.
With this in mind, the House will surely approve the implementation of the Green Paper proposals for local finance reform in Scotland. I wonder how much this has been borne in mind by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but the proposals will bring welcome relief there, particularly to those who live alone and to those in the most insidious of all traps—the poverty trap—between life on benefit and life on a marginal income where all the allowances attendant on unemployment and supplementary benefit no longer exist. There is too uncomfortable a co-relation between living alone and personal poverty, which is all too clear from the research in the Green Paper, and which is sufficient justification for change.
I have the honour to represent the historic and unique city of Oxford, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction, whom I am pleased to see in his place. My hon. Friend and I represent seats with individual qualities—that which is historic and perhaps best known to hon. Members is represented by my hon. Friend. What makes Oxford unique, at least among university cities in this country, is that beside the university and to the east of the Cherwell lies a busy midlands industrial city with a closer association with the motor industry and, as it happens, with all that is best in the National Health Service than perhaps with Arnold's "dreaming spires".
I know that in my constituency a warm welcome will be given to the commitment to "firm monetary and fiscal policies" which will continue the upward trend of economic growth. There will be equal pleasure at the expressed determination in the Gracious Speech to remove barriers to internal trade in the EEC. In Cowley we are still smarting from the inequity of importing arrangements for vehicles between Spain and the United Kingdom.
Oxford is inevitably a city associated with education. The Oxford polytechnic, at least, is firmly quartered in Oxford, East. I take this opportunity to applaud the Government's recent help for polytechnics which will enable mine—a line and, I believe, still undervalued institution—to continue to expand its valuable work. None the less, I doubt that any measure will commend itself more wholeheartedly to hon. Members, at least to Conservative Members, than the notice in the Gracious Speech of the intention to repeal the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965. It must be transparently obvious to any objective observer that the present Burnham committee arrangements are profoundly unsatisfactory. I know of no industrial logic that would determine a pay structure quite apart from the consideration of working conditions. Whatever the outcome of the present negotiations, a more coherent framework has to be established for the future of our most valuable national resource—our school children.
On perhaps a more minor, but certainly equally welcome scale, some less charitable observers have suggested that one of the few good things to have happened in Oxford since I became its representative in Parliament is that Oxford United has moved from the third division to the first. Of course, success does have its problems. I remember what happened in the old days. I shall not say that attendances were large, but it was one of the few places I know where they used to read the crowd over to the team. Now things are very different and, in all seriousness, spectators at Oxford, as elsewhere, will be heartened by the proposals to modify the system for the control of fire risks and improvements in safety at sports grounds so that the appalling tragedies of Bradford and Heysel may never be repeated — we hope — in this country.
A great deal more in the Gracious Speech could be commended, but I am conscious of the good advice that I was given with that note of menace which hon. Members who have been in this position will know would be unwise to ignore—"Keep it light; keep it uncontroversial; but, whatever you do, for goodness sake, keep it short." I shall leave further commendation and observation to others. Suffice it to say that the commentators here and abroad looking for clues as to the length of this Parliament may have noted a vigorous, constructive, exciting and, above all, full programme before us in this Session. I warmly commend it to the House.
I am sure that I carry with me the huge majority of the House in warmly congratulating the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris) on the excellence of their speeches in moving and seconding the Loyal Address. I confess to having an especially soft spot for the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham. I am not alone in that, as the reception that he received this afternoon showed.
The right hon. and learned Member for Hexham has many endearing qualities, not the least of which, as we have again heard, is his mastery of the colourful turn of phrase. He always employs that to good effect, at no time more so than during this debate last year, when, commenting on what he perceived as a welcome change in the Government's economic policy position, he stated with considerable felicity:
There has been no U-turn — the Gadarene swine did not have to make a U-turn, only a change of direction." —[Official Report, 13 November 1985; Vol. 86, c. 627.]
That remark was certainly instructive, as was the rest of the fine speech of the right hon. and learned Member. He went on to demand "lower interest rates"—hope reigns eternal — and to commend "consensus", all of which suggests strongly, as he mentioned, that it was not obedience that provided him with the good fortune to move the Loyal Address today, but that it was his talent and distinction which commended him to whoever arranges these matters.
The ability, talent and distinction of the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham has been obvious throughout his entire career. But a few years ago a wild rumour circulated that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was to be proposed as a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative party against the Prime Minister. It occurred to me then that he was a most unlikely contender, since his abiding characteristic seems not to be the ambition to be a leader but a consistent refusal to be a compliant follower. That is to his eternal credit. We all regard that as an attractive quality, although I must say, with a vested interest, that I prefer that quality to be demonstrated by Members on the other side of the House rather than those on my side of the House.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman drew our attention to Wellington. I cannot forebear to say that his decision in 1975 not to follow through his distinctive contribution to the Conservative party by joining the Front Bench team of the right hon. Lady, the newly elected Leader of the Conservative party, must have had something to do with his perspicacity and his understanding that a leader not dissimilar to Wellington, had been elected. Wellington was reported to have said that he had given his orders to his Cabinet and then complained, very irritated, that they insisted on coming back and discussing those orders.
I have a special reason, in addition to the contributions made by the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham, for finding this task of congratulating him especially pleasant. He will not recall that he was the first hon. Member to whom I spoke during the debate on the Loyal Address in 1970 a short time after I had been elected to Parliament. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was then Minister of Technology and I was a few-days-old Back-Bench Opposition Member. I interrupted him, convention forbidding, even before I had made my maiden speech, and asked him a question about industrial training. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, with his customary courtesy, gave me a dazzling reply. I recall him saying that he would come to that later in his speech. Of course, he did not. He had no intention of doing so, but it was a lesson for me and I have not forgotten it. From that position as Minister of Technology, and following the sad death of lain Macleod, the right hon. and learned Gentleman moved on to become Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and was charged with negotiating Common Market membership. How things have changed since the time when the Chancellor of the Duchy was busy securing entry into the EEC until today, when we have a Chancellor of the Duchy securing entry into the BBC! I am sure that all those distinctive contributions and many others made the right hon. and learned Gentleman a most appropriate mover of the motion. We thank him for his speech and for the contributions yet to come.
During his three years in the House, the hon. Member for Oxford, East has amply demonstrated that, somewhat like the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham, he has a certain independence of spirit which has been manifested on several occasions in this place. Indeed, those manifestations have not been limited to this place. I note that the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Labour Club at Oxford university from 1964 to 1967 and then chose an interesting method of demonstrating that he had completely finished his education by joining the Conservative party.
I do not know whether it was independence of spirit or a more fundamental reason that led the hon. Gentleman to make what is probably history's most expensive visit to the lavatory in February 1984. The hon. Gentleman nipped out in the middle of a budget meeting of Berkshire county council, of which he was deputy leader. During his absence a budget vote was called, with the result that by 43 votes to 42 an excellent Labour party motion to spend £300,000 more on the education of the rising fives was carried. I would like to think that it was a call of conscience, not of nature, but the hon. Gentleman told the press:
This sort of thing happens all the time with a knife edge majority",
and I cannot help wondering where the knife edge came to rest following that incident.
That is precisely what I was about to refer to. Looking at the curriculum vitae of the hon. Member for Oxford, East it appears that he was born, or possibly schooled, to a certain excitement for he is one of the alumni of the famous Liverpool Institute. That school has attained justifiable fame partly, I presume, because of the education it afforded to the hon. Gentleman, along with the schooling of Mr. Paul McCartney, the distinguished musician, and Mr. Peter Sissons, the distinguished journalist—
I was coming to that — my hon. Friend's brother-in-law, a distinguished judge of character—
Among the other alumni — I do not know whether they are contemporary—are the dietary expert, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) and, not least, the renowned public relations consultant Mr. Derek Hatton.
Merely to breathe the air of the Liverpool Institute must have been an invigoration in itself, and this afternoon, as on other occasions, the hon. Member for Oxford, East has done it full justice. We shall try to do justice to measures in the Queen's Speech—
My hon. Friend should not worry. No one else will talk to the chairman of the Conservative party, so he must talk to himself.
There are some measures in the Queen's Speech that we warmly welcome. We will naturally give all our support to action to combat international terrorism and drug trafficking and we hope that the vigorous effort referred to in the Loyal Address will include the restoration of the 900 customs officers that the Government have taken away during recent years. Naturally, too, we will endorse measures to improve the safety of sports grounds and standards of conservation, just as we shall continue strongly to support the Anglo-Irish agreement.
Some measures, however, are bound to meet with great hostility. Among them will be the proposal to abolish domestic rates in Scotland and replace them with a poll tax, which will impose new charges on every member of the community, no matter how poor. Obviously, too, we shall be resisting the attempt to repeal the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 because it will not have the effect of beneficial reform, but will inflict maximum damage. To prevent that, I ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science to withdraw his threat to dictate a settlement, to end his attempt to set teacher against teacher and to allow negotiations to proceed for a durable and widely supported bargain. The right hon. Gentleman consistently protests that he has at heart the welfare of children—the 95 per cent. of children who attend maintained schools. He can manifest that most clearly by changing his mind about the repeal of the 1965 Act.
The proposals concerning the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965, like much else in the Queen's Speech, bear little relevance to the real needs of the nation. That is obvious from the references to economic policy in the Queen's Speech and it was obvious in the autumn statement last week. That statement was a public relations gambit, not a public spending strategy. In the short term it appears to have persuaded the wet element in the Tory party that it was a U-turn, and the dry element that there was no deviation. The truth, of course, is that the increases announced by the Chancellor were all either unintended — such as the local authority overshoot arid the consequences of spreading poverty in the country—or unavoidable—such as public sector pay that is already committed. All those inadvertant and involuntary increases were made to look as though they were deliberately intended, with the Chancellor awarding himself medals in the battles against reality that he had already lost.
Not surprisingly, the Chancellor claims that all will be well if a few gambles come off. There are some very big "ifs"—for instance, if there is no overshoot in local authority or social security spending next year, when there have always been substantial overshoots because of the drift in social security spending, especially during these years of higher unemployment; if the Chancellor can hit his target of economic growth of not less than 3 per cent. —that is almost solely the Chancellor's forecast, as no one else offers the prospect of our achieving 3 per cent. growth next year; if there is no rise in unemployment, despite the fact that absolutely nothing was done in the autumn statement, announced in the Gracious Speech or provided at any other time to stop the year-on-year loss of jobs. If all that happens, if the growth is right, if there is no rise in unemployment and if there is no overshoot, there will still be a monstrous manufacturing trade deficit, which contributes to a balance of payments deficit. As the Chancellor explained, it will be all right if only the currency movers ignore that deficit and keep the pound nice and steady so that pressure is not imposed on interest rates.
If we go through the statement, we find that like so much else of the Government's economic policy it simply does not come together. It is a set of speculations that has no justification on the basis of the Government's record.
There is very little evidence for any possibility of the Chancellor's assumptions being right, so we cannot regard them or his plans with any confidence. For the sake of the jobs, businesses and homes that depend on the Chancellor's assumptions being correct, we wish that his optimism was justified but his forecasts at the time of the Budget in March are a testament to the invalidity of his means of forecasting what will happen next year. His forecasts of output, export growth and manufacturing production were all ridiculously wrong, as he himself testified last week. The most worrying and revealing detail of the autumn statement was the Chancellor's confession that his March forecast of a £3 billion manufactured trade deficit was wrong and that this year's deficit would be nearly twice that figure — at least £5½ billion more manufactured goods bought from the rest of the world than we sell to other countries. That deficit will be the worst ever, but the Chancellor has admitted that it will rise still further to a crushing £7½ billion the following year—and that is probably an underestimate, too.
The cumulative reasons for that situation are all too obvious. The highest interest rates in our history and a complete failure to invest oil revenues properly have left this country weakened and exposed to intensifying competition in all world markets. In just six years Britain has lost a 22 per cent. share in manufactured trade in the world market and 32 per cent. of the home market to imported manufactured goods. That has all contributed to a situation in which nearly 4 million people in this country want to work but are without work.
Against that background, at the Mansion House a month ago the Chancellor berated industry, City institutions and financial markets for suffering from what he described as the "most virulent form" of the "national ailment" of "short termism." The point was well and rightly made, although it was made very late, but how can the Government expect the private sector to take a longterm view of anything when the Government themselves are so clearly committed to short-term expediency in everything that they do? So long as we have this hand-to-mouth Government, that is how things will continue. That is why they are such a disaster for an economy which must become more productive far more quickly if it is to survive as a recognisable manufacturing and selling economy.
Britain needs, and must have, a long-term industrial policy for the recovery of manufacturing industry, with access to investment on the same basis and with the same institutional support as in our main successful competitor economies. We must have investment in human skills, in education and in training and investment in research and development that is commercially viable, all of which are essential to give this country a long-term secure industrial future. Unless we follow that long-term course to strengthen our industrial base, we shall continue to decline as a productive nation and the legacy that we hand to our children will be one of increasing failure, insecurity and poverty. [Interruption.] No one should neglect that, despite the ignoramuses on the Conservative Benches who wish to avoid reality, because it is certain to be transmitted to every area and community in the land, and the earliest and greatest victims will be those who are already the poorest and most powerless in our society.
Since 1979 we have witnessed a growth of poverty through unemployment, low pay and disability unparalleled since the war. In 1979, there were 6 million people in Britain at or below the supplementary benefit level of income. In 1986, there are 9 million people at or below the supplementary level of income.
In the families of those who are poor, there are no fewer than 2 million children who simply cannot enjoy the freedom, or make the visits, or wear the clothes that other children enjoy. There are 2 million children who must again face a jumble sale Christmas.
I hear Conservative Members moaning and groaning and being dismissive, but they must know that that is the condition of millions of our fellow citizens. Even if they have no social contact with those millions of poor people, they must conduct surgeries and do constituency work which makes them understand the hopelessness and weakness of people who are thrust into and kept in such dire poverty.
When, against that background, we hear the Prime Minister saying that the freedom and well-being of the family is her starting point, we cannot but agree—as any reasonable and decent person must—that that is a decent priority, and one to be sustained by people of all parties. We then have to ask where is the well-being and freedom of those who have to endure such prolonged poverty on such very low incomes. Where is their real freedom?
Where is the choice that the Prime Minister is always telling us about — the choice without which talk of morality, as she rightly said, is just so much talk? Where is the choice when people cannot make any meaningful choice about what clothes to buy, about heating bills to pay, about diet and about the transport that they can take?
Where is their well-being, their freedom and their choice? Are they in the Prime Minister's calculations, or have they been locked out? Have they lost their citizenship because they do not have the power of ownership, which now so frequently equates with the rights of citizenship?
Those meaningful choices must be part of the objective of any Government. Some people know the hopelessness, the depression and the exhaustion of those who simply cannot afford to buy the things which make the difference between mere existence and a tolerable life. Surely hon. Members on both sides of the House must take a different view of the Government's policy of continuing to depress living standards and to impose extra means tests on those who have virtually no means.
The questions, "What of their freedom and well-being and where is their choice?" are being asked all of the time. It is not just the poor who ask that question. It comes repeatedly from people who are not poor and who are not even in danger of being poor. In this country, because it is Britain I believe, there is a consensus against poverty, against unemployment and for meeting the bills of common needs.
Every independent measure of public opinion testifies to the strength and breadth of that consensus against the injustice and deprivation of poverty. It is not a consensus that is based on emotion. It is based on a deep and rational sense that a country in which so many people are sorely and helplessly poor is a country lacking in basic justice, a country so divided that it is not at peace with itself.
That is the consensus of decency in Britain, and it is not to be despised, to use the Prime Minister's words, as the "lowest common denominator". It must be acknowledged as the highest common opinion in this decent country—an instinct shared by people of all parties and of no party—by people who are realists and who understand that poverty disables, disgraces and defaces the country and its democracy. Those people know, after seven years, that the Government will not follow any systematic programme for production and that they simply do not believe in distribution with justice. That is why, whenever the Prime Minister gathers the courage to face the country, she will be called to account and soundly beaten.
I join with the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris) on proposing and seconding the Loyal Address. They did so with great humour, great eloquence and distinction.
I was very pleased indeed when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham agreed to propose the Loyal Address. We knew that we would hear from him a speech which we enjoyed enormously, and we did, in all its parts. He ranged extremely widely from his historical research to his great experience of regional aid; and, of course, he negotiated our entry into the Common Market. But I was interested that he also said, that he was pleased to take part in the Council of Europe, which has a wider and larger membership. We fully support everything that he said about the defence of the realm.
We thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his historical research. I suspect that he will find it regurgitated in many after-dinner speeches, as tends to happen when these treaties come up. He spoke about Palmerston's reluctance to go to his constituency. There was a time when my right hon. and learned Friend was standing as a candidate for the London county council. He was taken very ill at the beginning of the campaign and was unable to take any part in it. He was subsequently returned with the highest Conservative swing in London. I hope that not too many people will follow his example in that respect.
It was good to see my right hon. and learned Friend in such buoyant and vigorous form today and we are grateful to him for the skill and wisdom that he has brought to a generation of post-war politics.
I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East, who spoke deeply about education. We know from what the Leader of the Opposition said that his education was remarkable and we are sure that it enlarged his experience in many ways. We shall, of course, take to heart his comments on and references to the needs of our schools and the potential of our schoolchildren, especially given his constituency background. We thank him very much indeed and congratulate him once again on his contribution.
I noted that at one stage the Leader of the Opposition compared me to Wellington. I am very grateful to him. Wellington won many famous victories, particularly in defence of Britain, so I should like to think that his comparison was rather apt.
I found it difficult to find my way through the right hon. Gentleman's rather rambling speech. I notice that he was very critical of our manufacturing performance. I remind him that manufacturing output has risen by 10 per cent. overall since the 1983 election—[Interruption.] Yes, it is going up and up and up, and doing very well. Since we were returned by the people last time, manufacturing output has risen by 10 per cent. overall. How hon. Members loathe good news.
What is more, manufacturing investment grew by 5·5 per cent. in 1985. Manufacturing productivity has increased each year since 1979 at an average rate of 3·5 per cent. a year. Manufacturing export volumes are at record levels. Manufacturing profitability is at its highest level since 1973. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman acclaim those who take part in our manufacturing industry and who are doing so well with that excellent record?
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the assets from North sea oil and their investment, and he did not seem to approve of it. I remind him that overseas assets have gone up from £12 billion in 1979 to £80 billion now—an excellent record. I remind him also that, in spite of what he said about poverty, Britain enjoys a higher standard of living now than it has ever known, and when he speaks of those unfortunate to be on supplementary benefit, I remind him that supplementary benefit is way above the levels of the previous Labour Government.
The Gracious Speech sets out a full programme of legislation for a Session. We shall be introducing a wide range of measures and building on the successes that we have already achieved. Those measures and policies are further to strengthen our economy; to encourage wider ownership; to improve the education of our children and young people; to care for those who need help; to conserve and improve the environment; and to protect our people from crime and the fear of crime.
Every Gracious Speech under this Government has stated our commitment to prudent financial management, and this Gracious Speech reaffirms that commitment. The right hon. Gentleman had something to say about public spending, and so have I. Public spending as a share of national income will continue to fall, as it has done since 1982. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on Thursday,
Nevertheless, even as recently as the debate last Thursday some of the Opposition claimed that the Government's achievements were built almost solely on North sea oil. Yet, in spite of the dramatic fall in the price of oil, we enter this new parliamentary year with good prospects for growth, exports, investment, for low inflation and a more promising outlook for unemployment.
Opposition Members give only a grudging welcome to the fact that inflation is down to 3 per cent. and is set to stay low. Obviously, we want to see it lower still. Opposition Members do not seem to welcome the prospect of 3 per cent. growth next year, showing the increasing strength of the part of the economy which is not related to oil, which of course is most of it. Next year's 3 per cent. growth will be the sixth year of growth at close to that average level. Since 1981 Britain's economy has grown faster than that of France and Italy, and a little faster even than that of Germany.
The Opposition do not like the fact that employment has grown by more than I million jobs since 1983. It is the growth in new businesses and new jobs which really offers hope to unemployed people.
The Opposition cannot bear the fact that the nationalised industries are now less of a burden on taxpayers. The losses at British Steel alone were many hundreds of millions a year when we took office. Last year, British Steel made a profit; and people like to work for an industry that makes a profit.
Total investment is at record levels. That is another fact which does not fit the prejudices of the Opposition. It is forecast to rise still further next year. But there is one fact Opposition Members simply cannot stand and that is the ever wider spread of ownership among the British people. That is flatly against the spirit of the Labour party's clause four and its objective of extending the powers of the state and increasing Government control over people's lives.
Under this Government there are 2·5 million more home owners now than there were when we took office; the number of accounts in building societies has increased from 31 million to 52 million since 1979; some 1·5 million employees are sharing in the success of the businesses in which they work; and share ownership has doubled since 1979. That is just a start. Millions more people are considering buying shares in British Gas.
Next year, British Airways, Rolls-Royce and the British Airports Authority will follow British Gas into private ownership. Personal equity plans start in January to encourage small investors to own shares in business on the basis that their dividends and capital gains will accumulate free from tax.
Labour Members cannot stand this spread of ownership, which has come about under Conservative Government. They dislike the independence from Government that it brings to all our people. The despise the wealth creators. They look for every opportunity to undermine the people who do so much to create our national prosperity. The Opposition want to take power back from managers and workers and give it back to the union bosses. They want to put penal taxation back on the shoulders of those who lead the way to growth and jobs. They want to put newly privatised industries back in the hands of politicians, and to compel nationalised industries to put people back on the payroll regardless of whether or not there is a job for them to do. Always back—back to the very policies which nearly broke Britain. Those are not the policies that Britain needs or wants.
Ours are the policies which are creating efficient industry and commerce, which is the only basis for sustained advance.
As the Gracious Speech says, a Bill will be introduced to abolish domestic rates in Scotland. We are determined to reform the existing system of rates and local government finance. The reform in Scotland comes ahead of that in England and Wales because Scotland has suffered a revaluation, with all the hardship which that entailed.
The present system is unfair. It is unfair on domestic ratepayers since on average only one in two local electors pays rates, and in some cases—Liverpool and Lambeth, for example—the number is fewer than one in five. And it is unfair on business ratepayers who are at the mercy of high spending local councils.
The rate support grant system has become so complicated — for example, involving 68 different indicators—that voters can see no clear link between the rates they pay and the quality of services they receive.
The Government's proposals provide a clear solution to these problems. The new community charge will be payable—at least in part—by all local electors; and our proposals for controlling business rates will protect businesses from the ravages of high spending councils.
We shall also reform and simplify the system of grants from central to local government. Local government will gain the stability that it needs and local councils will be made more clearly accountable to their electorates. Indeed, one sometimes wonders to whom some councils are accountable.
It was three Labour councils—Haringey, Lambeth and Hackney—which invited Sinn Fein representatives and gave a platform to terrorism. It is some Labour councils which seem more interested in lavishing ratepayers' money on anti-police propaganda than in helping the police to protect local people from drug pushers and muggers.
It is in Labour council chambers that we see the tactics of bullying and intimidation—as in Southwark and Camden last year, and in Haringey only last month. That is what today's Labour party is really like when it is in power.
The hon. Gentleman is aware that some people receive a total rebate of rates and under the new community charge there will be a major rebate but people will pay something on the community charge which we believe is right.
The Gracious Speech refers to legislation on teachers' pay and conditions. The Opposition have said that they will oppose the legislation that will come before the House. For the past two years the teachers' unions have been campaigning for higher pay, and some of them, but not all, have been using the disruption of children's education as a weapon.
My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Scotland have set out for the teachers' unions and management a package which offers, first, a clear definition of their duties and responsibilities and, second, substantially higher pay for teachers with greater rewards for better teachers and head teachers. The pay proposed is fair and reasonable, indeed generous. The duties and responsibilities are those which any conscientious teacher could reasonably be expected to fulfil.
I hope that the employers and teachers will take this opportunity to put the profession on a much firmer footing, with better pay, a new career structure and proper terms and conditions.
The right hon. Lady spoke about the offer of a package on wages and conditions. Is it not equally the case that in Scotland the Main report offered a package which the Secretary of State said was indivisible and from which the teachers could not pick and choose? However, he did pick and he did choose.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State accepted virtually the whole of Main. He staged its benefits—the wage and salary increases—in a way that most people regard as reasonable. In Scotland, that would mean a 30 per cent. increase over about two years. In England and Wales, it is about 25 per cent. over 18 months. Most people in Scotland would accept the reasonableness of staging the increases.
Part of the problem we face in England and Wales arises from the very structure of pay negotiations. Pay is negotiated under one set of arrangements and terms and conditions of service are negotiated under another. As the Gracious Speech makes clear, we shall introduce legislation to repeal the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 and to introduce new arrangements to settle teachers' pay and conditions of service within the resources available.
This legislation will tackle a long-standing problem. There is now a real chance to make a great advance in education performance, and to restore to teachers their standing and prestige in the eyes of their pupils, parents and the community as a whole.
Does not the right hon. Lady realise that the teachers are in the midst of negotiations with their employers? In the midst of those negotiations the impatience of the Minister was such that, having issued a diktat a fortnight ago, he said that the negotiations were a waste of time and that he would veto anything coming out of them. That attitude is not acceptable to any of us, let alone the teachers.
As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the negotiations had dragged on and on. In Scotland there had been the Main report. There was danger of disruption. My right hon. Friend told the House of his very generous offer. He said that the money would be made available on the conditions that we had always maintained, that there would be a reasonable career structure for teachers in order to keep the best teachers in front of the classes and to make certain that the better teachers were paid more. He also said that it would be dependent upon what we have said for a long time, a proper definition of duties and conditions of service. In spite of saying those things for a long time, we find that the negotiations have not come to a fruitful conclusion. My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Scotland laid before the House their plans for a fair and generous offer.
Is it not a fact that when this Government took office the teachers' salary structure was 13 per cent. below Houghton and that the result of the offer that is on the table is that teachers will be 10 per cent. above Houghton?
I understand that my hon. Friend's figures are correct. I am grateful to him for pointing that out.
The centrepiece of the legislative programme in the Gracious Speech is the Criminal Justice Bill. In the battle against crime, Government must provide the necessary level of resources and ask Parliament to give the police and the courts the powers they need.
The Government have provided substantially increased resources and more were made available in the autumn statement. This Bill will represent a further strengthening of society's defences against the criminal.
No, not at the moment.
The Bill will have three main themes. First, it will build on the foundation of the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 and give the courts greater powers to confiscate the proceeds of all other types of crime from which substantial gains are made. It is unacceptable that criminals, after serving a prison sentence, should be able to live comfortably on the proceeds of their crime.
Second, it will strengthen the jury system by abolishing peremptory challenge, a facility now clearly open to misuse and against the interests of justice.
Third, the Bill will contain far-reaching proposals to help the victims of crime. For the first time, it will give victims a statutory right to compensation for serious injuries. And by allowing children who have been the victims or witnesses of sexual or violent attacks to give evidence to a court by way of a television link, it will make it more likely that the perpetrators of these horrifying crimes are brought to justice.
No; I want to reach the end. of this section, please. It is a very close-knit argument.
Like many others, I have been appalled by the terrible cases of child abuse. Crimes against children fall to depths of evil which place them in a category of their own. Together with so many others, both inside the House and outside, I have long supported the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and long hoped that as time went on the need for its work would fade away. Alas, the need is as great as ever.
Everything the Government, the police and the courts can do to bring the offenders to justice, and to stretch out a helping hand to their victims, will of course be done. But we as citizens and neighbours must be ready to respond ourselves to signs that a child may be in peril arid need help.
The Criminal Justice Bill will show that we are resolute in our commitment to increase the protection given to the citizen, and I believe the help for victims and the tougher penalties in the Bill will be welcomed throughout the country.
Since the right hon. Lady has spoken about the Government's concern for victims, will she explain why the changes in the criminal injuries compensation scheme will reduce by 28 per cent. those who are eligible for criminal injuries compensation?
The right hon. Gentleman must wait for the Bill in order to discuss these matters.
Additional money has been made available to enable this scheme to come into operation.—[Interruption.]
The significance of Reykjavik is that, after many years of talking about arms control, there is now a prospect of major arms reductions—provided that the Soviet Union does not make agreement on all arms control measures dependent on others accepting the constraints it wants to put on the strategic defence initiative.
The next step is to negotiate specific and detailed agreements—agreements which take account of the West's vital concerns: with balance and with effective verification.
The Government would support the conclusion of an intermediate nuclear forces agreement, which would set limits on medium-range nuclear missiles or even eliminate all such weapons in Europe and the western Soviet Union. But such an agreement must be accompanied by credible and effective verification; strict limits on Soviet SS20s in the Far East; and by agreement on how to deal with shorter-range nuclear missiles, of which the Soviet Union has many more than NATO — and it is worth remembering that large areas of Britain are within range of those weapons.
An agreement on INF weapons would be a vindication of the policy of firmness; a policy in which this Government gave a lead and in which they were supported by Britain's allies — but not of course by Labour Members. Their only policy is one—sided disarmament. If we had followed their advice, if we had not stationed cruise and Pershing, there would have been no question of getting rid of the SS20s targeted on Europe.
The Government also welcome the commitment at Reykjavik to seek agreement permitting 50 per cent. reductions in strategic nuclear weapons, subject again to strict verification. That would meet our long-standing aim of preserving deterrence at lower levels of nuclear weapons. But while the Warsaw pact retains its massive superiority in chemical and conventional weapons, and while the basic causes of conflict between East and West are undiminished, we shall continue to rely on nuclear deterrence for Europe's defence.
The right hon. Lady has said that she would support a 50 per cent. cut in all strategic nuclear weapons. Would a 50 per cent. cut, which as she rightly says would change the whole shape of things, be the sort of deep cut which she has told us many times would justify putting British nuclear weapons on the negotiating table?
If there is to be any question of that for strategic ballistic missiles—I hope that there will be — it will have to be subject to effective verification. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, that will not be easy to attain. However, I hope that it will be attainable. When we get there we will consider the other question. I must make it clear that I believe that Britain must continue to maintain its independent deterrent at a necessary minimum to make it effective. There is no point in us giving up all our few nuclear weapons for the Soviet Union only to keep even as many as half of what it has now.
Yet, the Labour party would have us give up not only Britain's own nuclear weapons but the protection given by the American nuclear umbrella. Let me quote the Leader of the Opposition, speaking on 28 September:
If we're not prepared to use the weapon system ourselves we certainly wouldn't be asking anyone else to jeopardise themselves by the use of that nuclear weapon. I think it would be immoral to do so.
What the right hon. Gentleman means in plain language is that a Labour Britain, alone in the NATO Alliance, would have no answer to nuclear blackmail. Labour Members go to great lengths, indeed absurd lengths, to fudge the truth about their policies. When their defence spokesman—
When Labour's defence spokesman was asked whether, in the light of some of the comments of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). the Labour party's policy on nuclear weapons was multilateral or unilateral, the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) said:
Well, these are long words, aren't they, and Denis is a bit of an intellectual. I try and avoid the words multilateral and unilateral.
I bet he does! Let me remind him what "unilateral" means. It means giving up our nuclear defences while letting the Soviet Union keep its nuclear defences. That is the way in which the Opposition would undermine Britian's security.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is doing everything that he can to stop one getting across what Labour policy is on defence.
The truth is that one cannot be a loyal member of NATO while dissociating oneself from its strategy. And no one knows that better than the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who said in 1983:
There is an inherent inconsistency in saying we will remove all foreign bases from this country while we have the NATO commitment in our policy".
I agree with that. The truth is that one cannot expect others to stand by one unless one stands by them. The truth is that the United States' commitment to Europe would be fatally weakened by a Labour Britain contracting out. The truth is that the Opposition's policies would lead us inexorably down the road to a fearful and a fellow-travelling Britain.
Let me remind the right hon. Member for Leeds, East of what he said in 1981. He was asked what he would do if Labour adopted a policy of unilateral disarmament. He replied:
I would fight to change the policy before the General Election and if I failed then I wouldn't accept office in a Labour Government".
Is that still the position of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East? Or has he joined the unilateralist bandwagon that has swept to control the Labour party with the Leader of the Opposition holding the reins?
This Government know where their duty to our country lies. We have a duty to keep Britain's defences strong; a duty to our allies in NATO; a duty to keep faith with our armed forces of whose superb professionalism and dedication we are so proud. We shall continue the modernisation of Britain's conventional forces.
We shall maintain our independent nuclear deterrent and we shall ensure that the NATO Alliance is able to continue to play its indispensable role in defending freedom.
We on this side of the House know, and the country knows, that strength is the surest foundation on which to work for peace. There is only one party in Britain which is united in support of a clear and strong defence policy for Britain.
The hon. Gentleman shows that he does not begin to understand the policy of nuclear deterrence. That explains a lot about the Labour party's unilateral disarmament policy.
The proposals for the coming year carry forward our programme for encouraging enterprise on which the new jobs depend, for a wider spread of ownership, for rolling back the powers of state, for providing effective care for those in need, and for supporting the institutions which uphold the law. This Government will press ahead with all those policies in the coming year and, Mr. Speaker, in the years beyond.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a long-standing convention in this House that hon. Members give way to other hon. Members who wish to intervene during their speeches. Although the House will understand why the Prime Minister is frightened of allowing my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) to intervene—
If anyone doubted that we were heading towards a general election, the election speech which we have just heard from the Prime Minister should dispel those doubts. I join the other leaders in commending the right hon. arid learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and the hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris) who opened the debate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was, for many years, my constituency neighbour across the English-Scottish border. The Boundary Commission removed me from that position, and how he has decided to remove himself from the House by not standing at the next election. He will be sadly missed by all hon. Members because, as the Leader of the Opposition said, he has been warmly appreciated for his contributions in many different roles over the years.
We shall look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Oxford, East in future—if he is still a Member of Parliament. That is extremely doubtful, given the way in which the Government have messed about with the motor car industry and the fact that the Oxford, East seat is a marginal one. Nevertheless, we enjoyed his contribution as warmly as we did that of his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham.
Reference has been made to the by-election which will take place tomorrow. Obviously, anything that we say in this debate will be too late to influence anyone's votes. I say, quite bluntly, to the Government that I have spent some time in the past few weeks in places such as Prescot, Kirby and Cantril Farm, and my overwhelming reaction both to the Gracious Speech and the Prime Minister's rhetoric this afternoon is at the sheer monumental irrelevance of it to the everyday problems that people face in their own communities.
Of course there is some valuable legislation in the programme. Of note is what the Prime Minister said about the proposed criminal justice legislation. Parts of that measure will have our support. The proposals for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime are those which we have put forward for many years. No doubt we shall find many other items in the Government's programme—if we ever get to them—such as the conservation of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, which we can warmly welcome.
I shall not give way.
The general message from the Prime Minister and the Government's programme is quite clear— the Government intend to continue to ignore the dark shadow of the lengthening dole queue, the increasing disparity of opportunity between the north and south of this country, the crumbling infrastructure of Britain, and our decaying housing stock. The Speech does not address itself to any of those problems.
I think that we are entitled to ask the Prime Minister when the section on education in the Gracious Speech was drafted. It is quite extraordinary and inflammatory to threaten to introduce centralised legislation for teachers' pay and conditions while the ACAS negotiations are in progress. Most people are extremely worried about their children's prospects being ground between the upper millstone of the Government's consistent meanness, financially, to education and the nether of the disruptive tactics of rival teachers' unions. The current talks should receive every possible support. Every effort should be made to achieve success. I am not sure that the section in the Gracious Speech will help in that respect.
The hon. Member for Oxford, East referred to the proposal for rates reform. Scotland will be the guinea pig. I notice one characteristic about Conservative Members' enthusiasm for the proposals. It is that the enthusiasm is greater the further they are from Scotland. There was quite evident enthusiasm in Oxford, East this afternoon.
The truth is that we in Scotland are faced with a poll tax which is called the community charge. For the benefit of hon. Members from south of the border, I shall explain that the difference between a poll tax and a community charge is exactly the same as the difference between Windscale and Sellafield. It is exactly the same. The people who will be worst hit by the proposal are the unwaged elderly and the unwaged young who at present are not always liable for rates charges. The alliance will continue to press for a re-examination of the Layfield committee's recommendations and for a substantial reform of the system of local government finance in its entirety. We shall resist the poll tax, under whatever name it is introduced, when the proposal comes before the House.
Another obvious characteristic of the Gracious Speech is that almost all its proposals are such that they can be dropped at any time the Prime Minister chooses to go to
the country. Instead, they can reappear in the election programme of the Conservative party. I take, as an example, the sentence in the Speech which the Prime Minister read:
My Government will maintain firm control of public expenditure, so that it may continue to fall as a proportion of the Nation's income and permit further reductions in the burden of taxation.
That is the key part of the whole programme. It is an election programme, not a Government programme. It is odd that over the past seven years there is no record of stressing the virtues of public investments, no question of borrowing to improve the state of the country and no tackling of the problems of the dole queue. Yet, at the same time, private borrowing is at an all-time record.
The Gracious Speech uses the phrase:
firm monetary and fiscal policies
However, we all know that there is a river of credit£3 billion a month—flowing through every high street and shopping centre, promoting a retail trade boom. Instead of investment and exports, we have consumer spending and growth in imports. I am told that one credit card company promotes its product by referring to the credit card as a "flexible friend". I believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is seeking to apply that description to himself. It is certainly the mainstay of the Government's pre-election boom. I warn the Government that I strongly believe that the credit explosion is being closely followed by the debt fallout. Reports from every citizens advice bureau in the country suggest that the proportion of problems that people face through personal debt are dramatically on the increase.
That is not happening just through the credit card system. In 1979, the building societies repossessed 2,500 houses through mortgage default. By last year the figure had increased to 16,900, and the figures for the first half of 1986 show that we are on course for the repossession of 20,000 houses this year because of mortgage default.
There is a strange contrast in Britain now between private credit—financed profligacy and public parsimony. That is the hallmark of the Government's economic policy, and nothing has been changed by the autumn statement which was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week. The public budget of the Department of Trade and Industry was cut by £160 million last year and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that the Department's budget is now to be increased by £20 million, but we must remember what happened in the previous year. Of the package of £4—7 billion of extra spending which he has paraded before us for next year, only £1 billion will be directed to capital investment, and it is capital investment which is so desperately required.
When this Administration's record is examined dispassionately, it will be seen that one of the greatest changes to emerge is the absence of equality of opportunity. For the 16-year-old school leaver or the 18-year-old college leaver, the chances of a good life, in terms of housing, employment and the society in which he lives, depend increasingly on whether he was born in the north or the south. Nothing in the Gracious Speech seeks to tackle that.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that public expenditure next year will amount to £148 billion, and that of that sum over £22 billion will be capital expenditure? Does he agree also that any economy that spends just over 15 per cent. of its total expenditure in the form of capital is doing extremely well?
I do not think that our economy is doing extremely well. The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) is merely quoting the same figures as myself but in a rather different way. I am complaining that the proportion of total public expenditure which goes on current expenditure is excessive when compared with capital expenditure, and that has been true of the Government's performance all the way through. If we look for examples of wasteful public expenditure, surely the hon. Gentleman must recognise that the greatest waste is the massive cost of the dole queue.
No, I shall not give way. I must get on because I promised to make a short speech.
We should be considering the basic programmes of communication that we require to reduce the north-south divide. This is not the time to be cutting public support for British Rail or failing to implement the proposals of the Confederation of British Industry and others for a great programme of motorway expenditure.
This very week the CBI has called for an industrial strategy, two words which are never allowed to pass the lips of the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is a great difference between the programme and commitment to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister adhere and that which manufacturing industry and others outside this place want to see. The key difference is that the Government, as is stated in the Queen's Speech, are determined to head towards a standard rate of income tax of 25p. We would all like to pay less tax—I would like that as much as Conservative Members—but the reality is that the public are increasingly questioning whether that is the right social priority. What is the point of paying less tax if the outcome is less public expenditure, more difficulty getting relations into hospital, more difficulty in obtaining decent quality school books and, as I have said repeatedly, no effort to tackle the problem of endemic unemployment, especially for those who have been without a job for more than five years, a problem which has increased enormously in the past few years?
No, I shall not give way again. I am making a short speech.
During the next four days, my right hon. and hon. Friends will continue to advance our alternative plans based on a document whose publication we announced a few weeks ago entitled "Partnership for Progress". When the document was published we went into some detail about our belief that there is a need for an incomes strategy and that there is a need for greater emphasis to be placed on employee participation, and not merely on general share ownership, which we applaud. There is a need especially for participation in the profits of companies. We have put forward our proposals for constitutional changes that will increase the effectiveness of government.
All these policies were dismissed in a memorable editorial that appeared in The Daily Telegraph, which claimed that the alliance wants Britain to emulate Italy. There are some features of Italy that we want to emulate. For example, Italy's growth rate has consistently outstripped ours, and Italy has more doctors per head of population than we have, and more cars per head of population. Over the past 25 years its gross domestic product has risen from 54 per cent. of ours to 85 per cent. That is the sort of success that we would like to emulate.
It is significant that Italy's unemployment is lower than ours. Indeed, unemployment throughout most of the European Community is lower than ours. The editorial that appeared in The Daily Telegraph, to which I have referred, shares with the Government a suffocating complacency about the state of Britain. I believe that the Government have misjudged the country's mood. The mixture of short-term boom and tax cuts may tide them over a few weeks or months, but in the long run, Britain's long-term future and the failure of the Government's policies over their seven years in office will be the criteria by which this Administration will be judged—and the Government will be found wanting.
I shall be brief, as was the leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel). As the first Back Bencher to contribute to the debate following the Leader of the Opposition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal party, I wish to pay homage to the mover and seconder of the motion, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Norris). I have listened to many debates on the Loyal Address and this one provided one of the best duets that I have ever heard. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend. I am only sorry that my right hon. and learned Friend will not be with us in the next Parliament.
I wish also to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition, who I am sorry to note is no longer in his place. The first 10 minutes of his speech were brilliant, but after that he trailed off and his arguments were demolished completely by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. If only the right hon. Gentleman had adopted the terms of an early-day motion which I introduced in the previous Session, which sought to restrict speeches to 10 minutes, he would have made an admirable speech. Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman trailed off and his speech became one without a theme.
The Leader of the Opposition failed entirely to address himself to defence, which is the most important subject in the Queen's Speech. The reason for that is obvious; the Labour party is divided on defence. The preservation of peace and national security is of the utmost importance and I am so pleased that, as usual, it has been given priority in the Speech. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with the issue extremely well. She said on Monday at the Mansion House that as long as there is a possibility of any war we must retain the independent nuclear deterrent. She explained that that must be so until there is a balanced and verifiable agreement between the major powers. As my right hon. Friend said, we must remember that the everyday relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States is different geographically from our relationship with the Soviets.
That could mean that the United States may wish to see its defence policy make a slight turn, but that little turn must not deprive us of our independent nuclear deterrent.
I am glad that the guarantees which we have given to Hong Kong, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, whose sovereignty carries with it important Antarctic rights, have been reiterated in the Gracious Speech. The Government have taken a great lead in eradicating international terrorism and Britain deserves much credit for our attacks on drug abuse and on the general terrorist scene. We have been the leaders in these moves and we should be proud of that.
I believe that the education system needs overhauling and that the responsibility of teachers to children and parents is of the utmost importance. That responsibility is as important as the pay structure, but the pay structure should be adapted to ability, qualifications, and the results achieved by their pupils.
The object of education is to train people for future jobs. There are very few schools in which this training is undertaken. The other day, I went to a school in my constituency where there were lathes and special equipment for lifting cars. The sixth form class was devoted to technology and to teaching young people skills which fit them for modern industry and technology. We are in a new society and we require different training. It is up to the teachers and the Government to take the lead and make sure that young people are educated in the type of skills that they will require when they leave school. I am sure these combined measures will achieve that object.
This country is endeavouring to become, and will become, a property-owning democracy. The first leg is house ownership. That is an important matter. A house is the biggest single asset that a normal family acquires.
It is equally important that people should have a share in businesses. Wealth will be spread and people will begin to realise that there is a difference between capital and income. That will be difficult to do. They can become capitalists and investors, just as the wealthier classes can. This is the big beginning of a capital-owning democracy in which everybody has a say.
Mr. Speaker, I have touched on many things. I promised you that my remarks would be brief, but I wish to emphasise the importance, first, of our social structure which will be altered by a property-owning democracy and, secondly, the important alliance with our NATO allies and our commitment at all times to be able to defend our country. Whenever these changes occur, whatever they are and whatever the offer may be, we must ask whether we will be put at a disadvantage. If they put us at a disadvantage, we must throw them out immediately. We must always remain strong. Our first duty to the nation is security and the security of future generations.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn), who made his customary defence of the Government whom he supports. The Prime Minister vigorously denied reports that the Gracious Speech was limited in scope, thereby leaving her freedom of manoeuvre in regard to calling the next general election. Reading through the Queen's Speech, one can hardly believe that we live in a Britain with 3—2 million people unemployed. That figure is taken from the official statistics but it is generally recognised that the figure is heavily doctored and that the real unemployment figure is far higher.
The Prime Minister defended the Government's privatisation policy. The Gracious Speech, in part, states:
Action will be taken to further privatisation".
I am nauseated by the mass advertising extravaganza to sell off British Gas. The Opposition have repeatedly stated that British Gas is a highly profitable, publicly owned industry and should remain so. After the second world war, before steps were taken to make it part of a centralised corporation, it was a run-down old-fashioned industry. Since then, through large-scale investment and the discovery of offshore natural gas, it has produced vast quantities of energy for the nation. It has contributed large sums to the Exchequer. Indeed, the Government have artificially jacked up prices paid by the consumer. To sell it off, as the Government are about to do, can best be described in Lord Stockton's immortal words. It is like selling off the "family silver". What is more, it can be done only once.
How many jobs will these privatisation measures create? The answer must be, precious few. The Prime Minister publicly stated last week that steel was now a target for privatisation. I represent many steel workers. The privatisation of the steel industry would be a retrograde step, particularly bearing in mind the industry's history. Under private ownership it suffered from a lack of investment.
The Gracious Speech states:
Legislation will be introduced to provide further financial assistance to support the coal industry's progress to commercial viability and to enable fair representation of the workforce".
Presumably, this passage relates to some sort of statutory recognition of the so-called Union of Democratic Mineworkers. There have been suggestions that this legislation is to be rushed through the House. Such a move will only exacerbate difficulties in the industry. The National Union of Mineworkers is a perfectly good union which meets the requirement of a single union for the industry. The encouragement of a breakaway scab union is highly provocative. It is a case, too, of history repeating itself.
I ask the hon. Gentleman to be seated for a minute. I have a fair amount of experience in the mining industry, as the hon. Gentleman will realise in a moment. The original Spencer organisation, which also stemmed from Nottingham, was driven out of south Wales largely as a result of a stay-in strike at Nine-mile colliery in Monmouthshire in the late 1930s. I am proud that both my grandfathers, my father and my mother's brothers all worked at that colliery. The newspapers are full of reports of remarks by Sir Robert Haslam, the chairman of British Coal, that the coal industry is also to be considered for privatisation. First, of course, it has to be a profitable enterprise.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Thousands in my region would object strongly to his reference to members of the UDM as scabs. In the hon. Gentleman's opinion, what is undemocratic about people seeking to belong to a union which belongs to its members and not to a demagogue?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's definition of trade unionism is a little different from mine. I assure him that I have a background in a mining community which goes back a long time.
The first step, before this attempt at privatisation, is to make British Coal a profitable enterprise. Moves in this direction are not unconnected with what is happening to south Wales coalfields at present. It has been decimated almost beyond recognition. Now we are threatened with further job losses. Last week, a group of us, including my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, met leaders of the south Wales miners. They clearly portrayed to us the way in which the coalfield was administered—through national diktat. They told us that there was no longer a safe pit in south Wales and that perfectly good seams of coal were left unexploited when investment to exploit those valuable resources was needed.
In south Wales we are witnessing a dissipation of our national assets. South Wales coal is first-class but I agree that sometimes geology does not fit in with British Coal's strategy. For example, British Coal has a tendency to exploit one face at a time whereas our pits need alternative faces to safeguard against encountering a fault. However, demoralisation is rampant in the south Wales coalfield. Miners—even those in good pits—are inclined to say, "Close us down and give us the redundancy money." What a way to run a basic industry, perhaps the most important one in Britain.
The Margam project has been dangled, year in, year out before the eyes of the south Wales miners. But we need a go-ahead, the authorisation of the necessary investment, to make this project a reality. Investment is the key to Britain's future—not selling the family silver. We need investment in real jobs. One in seven of the unemployed is a building worker, yet 5·5 million houses are urgently in need of repair. Surely it is the Government's task to do something about that, but the Government's record in housing is appalling.
We need, likewise, to ensure that investment funds stay in Britain instead of going abroad. We need to invest in skill through a high-quality education and training system for men and women of all ages. It should be constantly in our minds that every time we create a new job we turn a claimant into a taxpayer — a wasted life into a productive one. The Labour party is saying that investing in ow people is the best way forward for our people.
I welcome the Gracious Speech in the belief that it continues the thrust of Government policy endorsed by the electorate in the 1983 general election and builds on the fundamental changes in the direction in which our society is moving consequent upon the choices made by the people in the 1979 general election.
As a United Kingdom delegate, I applaud the references already made in the debate to the important work of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union. My brief contribution is directed, however, to that ever-present and ever-intriguing phrase
Other measures will be laid before you.
Parliamentarians know from experience, sometimes bitter, that often this results in the most significant part of the
legislation in the coming Session. I shall confine myself to two suggestions as to what those measures might contain. I shall not be tempted further because I am particularly aware of the need for a minimum rather than a maximum legislative programme.
In the previous Session, I introduced a private Member's Bill — the Animal Welfare (Royal Commission) Bill—which, regrettably, with time in the House ever at a premium, did not proceed far enough. Although the Government should be congratulated on their bold initiative in piloting through the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, I believe that there is a need to gain an informed and independent view so that the facts rather than the fictions of all aspects of animal welfare can be ascertained. This could be successfully achieved via a Royal Commission, which I am sure would be welcomed in my constituency, as it would in the rest of the country.
In the current Session, 1 intend to introduce another private Member's measure — provisionally called the Gypsies (Control of Unauthorised Encampment) Bill—which I fear may suffer the same fate. If this proposed legislation were taken over by the Government, real action rather than unreal words could be the consequence, and further congratulation would then he well deserved. A great number of people — many of my constituents included—believe that the rights of law-abiding citizens have been sacrificed in the interest of law-breaking itinerant travellers, and that that imbalance must be redressed.
My welcome for the Gracious Speech would be even more enthusiastic if these two important subjects could be—literally—acted upon. My only regret is that, having raised the matter of my continuing representation of Welwyn Hatfield in the House, and in view of his dedication to the affairs of the Chiltern Hundreds, the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) has missed my comments.
My first reaction on listening to Gracious Speech was that it could be summed up as "keep taking the medicine". However, as medicine is normally aimed at the recovery of the patient, that expression is hardly appropriate. "More of the same poison" might fit the bill, especially as the prognosis for recovery is still grim.
The Government say that they
will work for new agreements on arms control and disarmament.
That will not happen if the Prime Minister can throw a spanner in the works, as shown by her remarks the other night at the Lord Mayor's banquet. She fired a shot across President Reagan's bows over the Reykjavik talks. The reality is that, if President Reagan and Gorbachev decide to arrive at an agreement, the United Kingdom Government's statements will not be taken very much into account. No doubt the Prime Minister's views on disarmament are like her views on sanctions against South Africa—she will stand for a "teeny weeny bit"
It was interesting to hear the Prime Minister's non-answer to the question of the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) about the deterrent preventing war. He postulated that Russia was poised to pounce on us if we withdrew, and he was given no answer to his important question. I have never been and I am not now under any illusion about the system of government in Russia, but I do not believe that we have kept them at bay for 40 years simply by having a nuclear deterrent.
The Gracious Speech states that the
Government will make vigorous efforts to combat international terrorism and trafficking in drugs.
That is sheer hypocrisy. With the severe cuts in Customs controls, the preventive effect has been lost. Those cuts occurred when the figures for drug addiction and smuggling were rising considerably. It is estimated that at peak times at Heathrow the ratio of searches to passengers has been reduced to 1:400. It is essential to employ sufficient staff to deal with smuggling in the best way. I could not help a wry smile at hearing in the Gracious Speech the words,
a continuing reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
My reaction was, "What, again?" If I were here until the turn of the century and the EEC still existed I am sure that in the Gracious Speech of that date the Government would still intend to reform the common agricultural policy. That policy has reached the lunacy, of which we have heard lately, of farmers being paid for not growing crops.
Legislation is also promised
to settle school teachers' pay, duties and conditions of service within the resources available.
The words "within the resources available" are ominous for the teaching profession. They show the low priority given to education by the Government. I hope that teachers in Scotland, England and Wales will continue their fight for justice and a fair deal.
The Gracious Speech states:
For Scotland, Bills will be introduced to abolish domestic rates".
Everyone will agree that the current rating system sometimes metes out rough justice and contains unfair elements and anomalies. But the poll tax — a name disliked intensely by the Government, but whose dictionary definition describes exactly what they intend to impose—would be even worse than the rating system. No system can be devised which would avoid screams of anguish, but overall a system based on income tax would be the fairer solution.
The Gracious Speech refers to the Government's proposals
to reform the administration of marine pilotage.
We know that since 1979 the word "reform" has been "Thatcherspeak" for "reduction." The implications for marine pilotage are extremely dangerous. It is believed that the Government intend to give power to local authorities to reduce the compulsory areas where pilotage is necessary, just at a time when those areas should be increased. There are cargoes on the seas now which are highly dangerous to humans and the environment. Recently, a Danish coaster with a cargo of poisons coming to the United Kingdom sank off the Dutch coast. The entire vessel and its cargo had to be raised in double-quick time or an appalling environmental catastrophe would have resulted. The manning of ships has been reduced. Ships' captains have less time to sleep because of the quick turnround. At a time when pilotage is needed in dangerous estuaries and harbours, the Government propose
to reform the administration of marine pilotage.
The Gracious Speech contained no proposals to revive the Merchant Navy. That is a glaring omission. Nor was there any mention of plans to reduce unemployment—another glaring omission.
I was amused by that part of the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon) in which he said that no part of the country had received greater assistance in regional aid than his constituency. I was amused because the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who has just entered the Chamber, told me during a debate two weeks ago that no part of the United Kingdom has received more assistance in regional aid than Scotland. We were attacking the Government's record on that.
The present level of unemployment should be sufficient to sink the Government. They make the assumption that the country is prepared to live with such unemployment. They may be sitting on a boiler with the safety valve tied down.
The Gracious Speech also promises more privatisation and competition, although it is hard to imagine what competition will arise from the privatisation of the gas industry. There is also mention of the property—owning democracy. Many of the British Telecom shares and those of other privatised companies have already landed with the institutions and the big investors.
The entire Speech was a great disappointment because of the measures that it contained and because of the omission of matters that should have been included.
It is always a pleasure to follow in debate the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), but I do not agree with his views on the Gracious Speech, which was excellent; and the Prime Minister's speech was absolutely magnificent and welcomed by us all. I was especially glad to see from the beginning of the speech that, as a nation, we still intend to capitalise upon the respect and good will which we have enjoyed throughout the world and to play our part in foreign affairs on a world scale. I was also happy to learn that we shall continue to search for solutions to problems in the middle east. As one who spent some time in Palestine at the end of the British mandate, I am sorry that it has taken so long for those solutions to be forthcoming.
There are two matters contained within the Gracious Speech to which I shall devote my remarks.
First, I welcome the statement towards the end of the Gracious Speech that:
Measures will be proposed to bring up to date the arrangements regulating oil and gas installations and operations.
On 9 December, in Ringwood in my constituency, a public inquiry will be held under the auspices of the Department of Energy to consider plans submitted by British Petroleum to build a pipeline from its Dorset oilfield at Wytch Farm to a tank farm at Hamble on Southampton water. That investment at Wytch Farm is currently worth £265 million and the oil reserves in two reservoirs amount to 230 million barrels. That is a substantial oilfield by any standards and we all welcome its existence.
However, the oilfield is situated in Dorset on a coastal site alongside the largest natural harbour in Britain at Poole—it may even be the largest harbour in the world—and alongside the harbours at Portland, Weymouth and Wareham. Some of my constituents who live in those places might properly argue that oil should be loaded on to vessels and taken to its market. However, British Petroleum has decided that it wishes to build a pipeline across my constituency through a heritage area and across the southern part of the New Forest — although that part of it will run across private land. It will be a major engineering work which will last for some time and cause considerable upheaval.
Sadly, the proposal in the Gracious Speech is not likely to be implemented in time for the inquiry on 9 December. ask my hon. Friend the Minister to take note of my remarks. As I stated, the inquiry will be held under the auspices of the Department of Energy. It is planned to run a pipeline through a sensitive environmental area—one about which the former Secretary of State for the Environment stated four years ago in an addendum to the south—west Hampshire structure plan:
There will be a strong presumption against development in connection with an appraisal programme for the extraction of oil or natural gas in the perambulation of the New Forest.
In a further letter explaining the addendum, he stated:
'Development in connection with extraction' is taken to Include development in connection with the transportation of oil and natural gas.
That makes the land which has been chosen an area in which the Secretary of State should have a special interest. Therefore, I am asking the Secretary of State, through my hon. Friend the Minister, to pass a message to the Department of the Environment, asking that its representatives also he present at the inquiry. Ideally, representatives of the Department of Transport should also be present since there is already a rail link between Wytch Farm oilfield, the tank farm at Humble and the oil refinery at Fawley, at the mouth of Southampton Water.
This is an urgent matter for my constituents who live in a lovely part of the country that is internationally famous, internationally respected and enjoyed by people from throughout Britain and the world. If it is possible for the inquiry seriously to look at the environmental problems rather than to be a rubber stamp from the Department of Energy, it will be worth attending and worth following with interest, but without the presence of the Department of the Environment — who put the addendum to the structure plan into the paper—and the Department of Transport, it will in all probability be a somewhat empty exercise.
My final comments relate to that part of the Gracious Speech that refers to the rating system and to legislation on the remuneration of teachers. When the present Secretary of State for Education and Science was Secretary of State for the Environment, he introduced a Green Paper on the rating system. I well remember asking him if the then teachers' dispute did not make it crystal clear that local authorities could not fund teachers' salaries on their own and that therefore it would be much wiser to take teachers' salaries away from local government altogether and to place them on the central Exchequer.
The right hon. Member for Western Isles talked about the fairness of income tax. I agree that it is probably the fairest tax of all, whether we like it or not. The present teachers' dispute, which is a continuation of what has existed for two years, has thrown into even sharper focus my concern about the ability of local government to run the teaching service and to pay the salaries. Indeed, part of the problem at Coventry, Nottingham and elsewhere has been that no one really knows who is paying the teachers. There is total muddle and confusion.
Teachers' salaries are one of the largest items of local government expenditure. We were told by the Prime Minister earlier that a large number of people pay no rates at all, yet everyone enjoys local services. Of course I can see the attraction of a community tax, but I can also see the difficulties and pitfalls in keeping track of itinerant individuals who move from one local authority to another, not to mention the enormous bureaucracy that will inevitably be required to collect this tax. We had the same difficulties with dog licences, and thankfully they have now been scrapped.
A much swifter and surer way of reducing the problem of rates is to end the fiction of local education control. For my constituents, Hampshire county council at the castle in Winchester is more remote than Elizabeth house in York road. It is total rubbish to think that somehow my constituents have direct control over the negotiations on teachers' salaries as a result of the present system.
I hope that at this late stage it will still be possible for the Government to reconsider this matter and to recognise that if at one stroke we want to remove some of the burdens on the ratepayers and to spread the load more fairly so that it is paid for by a much wider group of individuals, we should take the whole cost of teachers' salaries out of the local government exchequer and put it on the national Exchequer. If that is done, we shall begin to see some sense. We are already hearing about changes in the relationship between the local education authorities, the schools, the parents and the Government. Surely this is an appropriate moment to do it, and I very much hope that we will see sense.
This will probably be the last Queen's Speech of this Government, and I am sure that many people throughout the country will say, "Thank heavens for that." I certainly hope that it is the last, because I would welcome the earliest opportunity to get rid of the Government. I am sure that many people would agree with me wholeheartedly.
On looking through the Gracious Speech, one detects an air of smug complacency that belies the present serious state of crisis in the country. One would never guess that 4 million people are unemployed—the highest level of unemployment ever recorded in this country. We also have the highest interest rates ever recorded and the highest ever recorded deficit in manufacturing trade. Indeed, if it were not for North sea oil, this country would be down the plug hole completely. We have now reached the ludicrous position where the Government seem quite content to pay £22 billion a year out of the Treasury to bolster up an everincreasing dole queue. Surely it is only common sense to invest that kind of money in the creation of real jobs for the unemployed, be it in industry, important services such as the NHS, education, construction and so on. Instead of this common-sense solution, we have had seven miserable, lean years.
Last week we had a mini Budget, which some people called a mini U-turn. It certainly smells somewhat of election bribery. If that is what it was meant to be, I do not think that too many people will be fooled because it is another case of too little, too late. Much more radical measures are required to regenerate the economy and to get our people back to work.
However, the economy and unemployment, important as they are, are not the only crises to beset the people of this country at present. There is also the crisis in our schools, to which several hon. Members have already referred. For well over two years the teachers in Scotland campaigned for an independent review of their salaries. At last, in the spring of this year, the newly appointed Secretary of State for Scotland set up an inquiry, although not exactly the type that the teachers wanted as it was an inquiry into their pay and also their conditions.
The Secretary of State chose the people to conduct that inquiry under the leadership of Sir Peter Main. As a result of that inquiry, the Secretary of State has failed to deliver the principal salary recommendation within the time scale proposed by Sir Peter Main and he has tried to justify it. In other words, the Secretary of State appointed the referee in the dispute, the referee came out with his decision and the Secretary of State is now attempting to move the goal posts in order to cheat the teachers in Scotland out of a reasonable settlement.
Last Saturday I attended part of the special general meeting of the Education Institute of Scotland — the largest teachers' union in Scotland—which was called to discuss this latest turn of events. There are some here who think that some teachers are mindless militants and radicals, but a fair cross-section of people attended that special general meeting, and the EIS is one of tile most democratic organisations of which I have ever had the privilege of being a member.
After a very reasoned debate there was a unanimous—and I repeat unanimous—decision to recommend rejection of the Secretary of State for Scotland's offer, mainly because he had failed to deliver the main salary recommendations within the time scale proposed by Sir Peter Main. The matter now has to go to a ballot of all members of the EIS, but the result is fairly predictable. I believe that there will be an overwhelming vote in favour of the recommendation that was passed unanimously at Saturday's meeting of the EIS.
Where do we go from here? I certainly do not recommend that the Secretary of State for Scotland should copy the bad example of the Secretary of State for Education and Science—who, if negotiations fail, has threatened to impose a solution, even by legislation if necessary. If the Secretary of State for Scotland thinks that he can impose a "Baker-type" solution on Scottish teachers, he has another think coming. The Opposition will fight any such measure tooth and nail.
The Secretary of State for Scotland should consider the matter very carefully. The only reasonable option open to him, if he is a fair man, is to tell the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to stump up the money to ensure a fair deal for the teachers—otherwise there is a very serious risk of continuing disruption in our schools. The children have suffered too much already. Teachers do not like taking the sort of action that they have had to take so far. However, they feel that they have no option because of the intransigence of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Sadly, the Tory Government—especially Ministers in the Scottish Office—seem completely oblivious to the crisis in virtually every classroom in Scotland—a crisis that may well worsen in the weeks and months that lie ahead. Perhaps part of the reason why Ministers in the Scottish Office are oblivious to the crisis in education, which they have precipitated, is that their children are not affected. As I understand it, only one Scottish Office Minister is the product of a local education authority school — the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. MacKay). His faith in local education authority schooling for his children is so great that he has recently moved them to an independent fee-paying school. That shows the Scottish Office Ministers' lack of faith in the education system for which they have ministerial responsibility.
Scottish Office Ministers are an unrepresentative bunch. During the recess a new member was added to the Scottish Office team—Lord Glenarthur. I had never heard of him and from conversations with some Scottish Tories it would appear that they had never heard of him either. They wondered where he had come from. Apparently he is an old Etonian Guardsman — a remnant of the Tory aristocracy in Scotland. A man of such impeccable background and experience is, of course, well qualified to look after the problems of Scotland. As I understand it, he was in charge of the English prison system before he was moved to the Scottish Office—since when the Scottish prison system has been in absolute chaos, like everything else in Scotland for which the Government have responsibility.
Ministers in the Scottish Office are completely out of touch with people in Scotland because they are not representative of them, they are not accountable to them and they were rejected by the vast majority at successive general elections and local elections. They have no mandate to govern the Scottish people.
The sooner a democratically elected Scottish Assembly is set up, the better.
The Minister is wrong. The very vocabulary "state school" shows that he is out of touch. They are local education authority schools in Scotland—they do not belong to the state in the centralised definition of state. Education is administered mainly through local education authorities rather than the state.
I know that the Minister may, unlike me, want central control of the whole education system with state domination. Certainly his counterpart south of the border has come out with the ludicrous proposal to set up new technology schools in some of our large cities. There is a possibility that that idea may be copied in the Scottish system. These schools would not be locally accountable. They would be an attack on the principles of comprehensive education.
It would be turning the clock back to set up so-called elitist schools, catering for a minority of pupils, when Ministers should be ensuring that there is adequate investment in an education system that caters for all our children, irrespective of their ability or whether their natural inclination is to go into science, technology, the arts, recreation or indeed all aspects of education—following in the Scottish tradition of a balanced education rather than the very biased system that would come about as a result of the Minister's proposals.
I am a fair man. Every time a Queen's Speech is published I read it patiently, looking for something good to say about it. I looked very carefully at this Queen's Speech, particularly at measures that affect the people of Scotland. It states that a Bill will be introduced to abolish domestic rates in Scotland. Some people may say that it is an excellent idea to abolish all domestic rates. I am the first to admit that there are unfairnesses and anomalies in the existing rating system in Scotland. I have taken up some of these matters with Scottish Office Ministers. However, before we applaud the abolition of the rating system, we must consider what will replace it. The proposed community charge or poll tax—call it what we will—will have even more unfairnesses and anomalies. A millionaire living in his castle will pay only a quarter of the charge imposed on a working-class family of four poorly-paid workers living in a council house. Where is the fairness in that? I fear—indeed, I am certain—that the Government's proposals will be even more unfair than the existing rating system. There is a great deal of merit in a local income tax system — it is far fairer than the Government's proposals.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in the last Parliament, when the Conservative-dominated Select Committee on the Environment considered alternative sources of revenue for local authorities, every witness appearing before the Committee rejected the poll tax and the Committee entirely rejected such a concept as unfair and unjust?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House of that. I shall wait patiently for Conservative members of that Select Committee to vote against the nonsensical legislation to be introduced by the Government.
Looking again for something to applaud in the Queen's Speech, I at last found something to which I could give qualified support. We are told that for Scotland a Bill will be introduced
to reform the enforcement of debts due under court orders".
As the Minister knows, I have long campaigned both within and outside the House for the abolition of the iniquitous practice of warrant sales in which sheriff officers can come to poor debtors' houses, virtually knock down the door and subject people to the humiliation of a street auction of their belongings. There is no justification for that. In recent years it has, perhaps, been a dying practice due to pressure in this place and elsewhere, but even the threat of such humiliation is a very severe punishment for debts which in most cases amount to less than £100.
If the Government propose to abolish warrant sales, I say three cheers to that. I fear, however, that they will go for the wishy-washy proposal of the Law Commission which, having studied the matter for about 15 years, finally suggested that the sale should take place in a sale room rather than in the debtor's back yard, so as to preserve some anonymity. That is not enough. We should go the whole road and abolish for ever a barbaric practice that has caused untold misery and humiliation for countless poor people and their families.
If there is any resultant unemployment among sheriff officers in Scotland there is one house I should like to see them visit to evict the present occupant and all her belongings. Let them come down to No. 10 Downing street because she has caused such misery and havoc for so many poor families that the sooner we are rid of her the better.
As an English Member representing a seat in the midlands, I am scarcely a specialist on Scottish affairs, but I was delighted to hear that one of the new Ministers for Scotland was a Guardsman educated at Eton. In my view, there is no better qualification for Ministers than to have been to Eton and served in the Guards. I wish that we had more of them.
I commend the Gracious Speech for the strength, energy and commitment of the Government, who deserve another term of office, especially when one compares their policies with those of the Opposition parties, whose high taxation and inflationary spending would soon bring the country to ruin.
In foreign policy, the nation's standing is very high and I know from personal experience that our Prime Minister is greatly respected everywhere, particularly in Europe and in the United States. I believe, however, that there are dangers in the Reykjavik summit, because if we had to abandon all our intermediate range nuclear missiles we should soon be at the mercy of the vastly greater conventional forces of the Soviet Union and its satellites. We could not abandon the British Army of the Rhine and our allies in Europe by depriving them of these essential weapons.
In my view, our partners in the EEC have been slow to follow our lead against terrorism. Indeed, I sometimes despair of some of our partners. Greece seems particularly unco-operative, both in the EEC and in NATO, and Spain looks like being tiresome about our fishing rights around the Falkland Islands. If Spain is thinking of sending an armada to that part of the world she should remember what happened to the last one in 1588. Now that these new boys have joined the club, they should learn how to behave.
Amid all the complications of the middle east, the Government should do all in their power to support the moderate Arab states and, above all, resist the sinister growth of Moslem fundamentalism.
At home, terrorist activities unfortunately continue in Northern Ireland. I do not believe that we can place much hope in the Anglo-Irish agreement, as one cannot govern a democratic country indefinitely without the consent of the majority. In my view, all parties should be encouraged to play their part in this place and more steps should be taken to give Northern Ireland a greater say in local government affairs.
The Government's main economic purpose is gradually succeeding in making this country more competitive in industrial performance. In my own part of the world, in the west midlands, I am glad to see definite signs of further industrial activity, especially new companies starting up and making a go of things, but the great surge in imports to satisfy the high street boom shows how far we still have to go to satisfy customers at home as well as overseas.
I am sorry that future decreases in taxation may have been prejudiced by the Government's increased spending announced recently. In a democracy, Government spending is extremely difficult to control, especially in the year or 18 months before a general election. In my view, there is no substitute for lowering taxes, especially on the lower paid, so as to increase the incentive to work, to invest and to engage in risk-taking business. I hope that the Government will not forget their earlier belief in this vital sector.
I welcome further privatisation to achieve the more efficient running of our industries and to enable more people to own shares. I also welcome the further steps being taken to enable people to buy their houses and flats. I wish that we had the courage to repeal the Rent Act and to use property that is now locked up so that people seeking jobs could move to the south and south-west where there are many vacancies.
I hope that the teachers will prove themselves worthy of the very large increases in pay now being offered to them. In my view, the universities have not done very much to deserve their extra money. They seem to dislike the Government, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in particular, and they seem appallingly feeble at insisting on free speech on their campuses. If ever there was a treason of the clerks, that is an example.
I am also disappointed that the BBC charter is apparently to remain unchanged. My main charge against the BBC is that its patriotism is so faint and feeble. There is apparently not one John Bull in the whole vast organisation. One could scarcely imagine the French putting up with such an anaemic public service channel.
I welcome the small steps that have been taken to improve immigration procedures and to make more countries subject to visas, just as we are subject to visas when we go abroad. Here, we have had the usual bleat from some of the bishops of the Church of England who, instead of urging their clergy to preach the Gospel, to help free us all from sin and to try to fill the empty churches, seem to concentrate almost entirely on some new word "racialism".
Crime and violence continue, unfortunately, to increase. I therefore welcome the new Criminal Justice Bill and the provision of extra police, the high police pay and the building of more prisons. I wish that the death penalty could be restored and that young thugs could be given corporal punishment, but police and punishment are not everything. Better moral teaching in the home and in the school are the key, and I should love the Government to do more to encourage that.
In spite of our shortcomings, the Government are pulling us round from the all-time low of 1979, following the appalling winter of discontent. I believe that this is still a marvellous country to live in. It has such long and deep historical roots. We have such a Christian background to our national character and our race is so civilised, kind and tolerant. We have much to be thankful for, even if in this place, with so much confrontation, we sometimes fail to count our blessings.
At any moment, I expected the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) to suggest that convicts should be deported to penal colonies in Australia. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Perhaps I should not encourage such ideas amongst Conservative Members. He spoke about our country and its advantages. I would remind him that many of the advantages that we have gained, such as being civilised and having a strong political democracy, have been achieved by campaigns and agitation over centuries, which were strenuously opposed by Members of the House of Commons who would have shared the hon. Gentleman's point of view. If I may say so, progress has been made despite the hon. Gentleman.
There is not much doubt in the House that the decks are being cleared for a summer or autumn general election. We should not forget what happened in politics in the six months after this time last year—the Westland affair and the raids on Libya, for example. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next six or eight months.
The threats and bullying of the BBC by the chairman of the Conservative party were not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. Although it is denied by the Prime Minister and the chairman of the Conservative party, he has acted as a senior member of the Cabinet. It was silly of the Prime Minister at Question Time last week, and previously, to try to compare the right hon. Gentleman's complaints against the BBC with those of a private citizen. There is no possible comparison, and she knows it very well.
The Government and, for that matter, the chairman of the Conservative party are not concerned about how the BBC reported the raid on Libya. That is the least of their anxieties. They want to force the corporation on to the defensive. They want to soften it up. If they manage that, they will turn on the commercial broadcasting authorities. They want to soften up those organisations for the pre-general election period and for the election itself. Most people in politics and those who write editorials, including those who write for the Conservative press, know that full well.
One thing is clear—the Conservatives are not taking public opinion with them in their attacks on the BBC. It is interesting also to note that, at a meeting of the home affairs committee of the Conservative party last week, to which about 15 people turned up — I can only go by press accounts as I cannot attend the meetings—if there were any voices in favour of what the chairman of the Conservative party did, they were very muted. One report said that nobody spoke up for his actions and another reported that only one of the 15 believed that he was right. Apparently most of the members said that he was going over the top. We shall see how opinion in the Conservative party develops on that issue.
Last week, we had the Chancellor's autumn statement. We know that a pre-election consumer boom is being planned. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge complained about some aspects of that statement, but he must understand what was being said and why there is to be a boom of sorts up to the general election.
The Gracious Speech states that the Government's firm monetary and fiscal policies will be pursued. No doubt that is true. Indeed, that is part of our complaint. It emerged, however, last week that such policies need not be applied too strictly in the six or eight months before an election. My right hon. and hon. Friends and I are aware of the foremost need to revive manufacturing industry and of the absence of any policies, or even any intention, to do that. There is no sign of Government economic policies being successful or leading to a revival in manufacturing, which is essential if we are to do anything about decreasing unemployment.
Statistics comparing the past seven years show what is happening. The index of United Kingdom manufacturing output has fallen nearly 7·5 per cent. during the past seven years. In Japan, manufacturing output increased by 28 per cent. and in the United States it increased by 13 per cent. in the same period. Manufacturing output has increased in most OEDC countries.
In the same period, there has been an almost unbelievable 60 per cent. increase in the volume of manufactured imports and a rise of only son-re 15 per cent. in manufactured exports. In our constituencies, those statistics are reflected in heavy unemployment. That is why our people's employment prospects are constantly undermined. Unemployment has increased dramatically in the west midlands since 1979.
Since June 1979, there has been a reduction of just under 25 per cent. in manufacturing employment. What about the west midlands — the heartland of the engineering industry? There, manufacturing employment has fallen from 986,000 to just over 700,000—a fall of some 29 per cent.
It is therefore hardly surprising that, in the travel-to-work area that I represent, whereas unemployment was running at 5—1 per cent. in May 1979, it is now above 17 per cent., and has been for the past few years. In the Blakenall ward in my constituency, unemployment is above 30 per cent. That is the scale of the problem, and it is largely the result of the Government's economic and fiscal policies.
The Confederation of British Industry is in a pre-election mood as we know. There is no criticism of the Government from that quarter, but only a couple of weeks ago it forecast a loss of another 8,000 jobs in manufacturing between October and January next year. What will happen after January? Is there any likelihood of a reversal? It is hardly likely. Neither is there any optimism in industry generally. The Prime Minister hardly mentioned unemployment. One would not believe that there is mass unemployment and that we have suffered it for most of the time the Government have been in office. Unemployment is a subject which, as at the last election, will not he mentioned too much by Ministers nor by the right hon. Lady herself.
Part of the problem has been the amount of money that has gone overseas. One of the Government's first measures was the abolitiion of exchange controls. Over £96 billion has gone overseas in the seven years since the Government took office.
I have given statistics and tried to explain what has happened in the west midlands and in my constituency. However, what worries me is that a growing number of poorer people, the unemployed and especially young people, are undoubtedly becoming alienated from society itself. They do not identify with society, often do not want to vote, nor be considered a part of the body politic. The Government must take some responsibility for what is happening in that regard.
The Government have made life very easy for many speculators and spivs, who are making large fortunes. What they have not done is to carry out policies which do anything to secure employment for those without work. They have undermined the employment prospects of many people in this country, and not, of course, only in the west midlands. I have told the House before, and make no apology for returning to the subject, that what is so sad is that a person is unemployed not for a few days or a few weeks, but for years.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, Central (Mr. Merchant), with his wife and child, is apparently living for a week on the income of an unemployed person. Are we supposed to congratulate him? Perhaps at the end of the week he will be a little wiser than he was before. He is only going to do that stint for a week and knows what will happen at the end of the week. He will return to a relatively large income, which I do not think is based only on the parliamentary salary, and to his home. What about our constituents who are unemployed not just for a week or for a few months, but year in and year out? They know that if they are in their fifties and if there are no substantial changes in economic policy their chances of ever being able to work again are almost nil. What about those people? They are not likely to look with much satisfaction on a Tory Member of Parliament living on an unemployed person's income for seven days. Many will consider that that makes a mockery of the plight, deprivation and hardship that they and their families have to face.
The accusation against the Government is that so many people are unemployed for such long periods. How annoying and humiliating it is for the Government to give the impression, as they did last week — this applies particularly to several Tory Back Benchers—that a large number of unemployed people do not want to work. During the exchanges last week on the private notice question to the Paymaster General I said that when there was a vacancy in Wolverhampton near my constituency over 500 people started to queue up from midnight onwards. Does that suggest that people do not want to work, and that there is any satisfaction in being on the dole, week in week out, month in month out, and year in year out? There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of those who arc denied the right to work want to work.
We need a very different kind of policy. We need policies that we are not likely to get under the Government. The Government can be complacent and can look at the opinion polls, for what they arc worth, and can see that certain polls show that the so-called alliance parties—which I have never taken very seriously—are not doing very well. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] Indeed, where are the Social Democrats and the Liberals?
The Government should reflect on the fact that there has been a substantial shift of opinion in the country since the general election. Unfortunately, many people—my party paid the price for it—gave the Government the benefit of the doubt, saying, "They haven't been long in, you can't blame them for everything". Further, there was the Falklands, and so on. However, many people are now not willing to give the Government the benefit of the doubt and know full well that so many of our economic and social problems come from policies which can only do—and have done—immense harm.
When the election comes that shift in opinion will remove many Conservative Members from the House. I hope that it will produce a Labour majority so that the first Queen's Speech of the next Labour Government will start to put right so much of what needs to be put right, to start revitalising manufacturing industry and to give hope to the unemployed. Although we shall not solve the problem overnight—nobody believes that we will—we shall pursue policies that will mean that a growing number of unemployed people will once again he able to take employment and to earn their living. That is what the Labour party wants, and what we shall be fighting for when the election comes.
In the light of certain remarks by the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) about a north-south divide, I am pleased to be the first Member from the north-west to take part in debate in this new Session. The forces which bind our country together are much greater than those that divide us, notwithstanding the remarks by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick).
I am pleased that the Prime Minister chose to devote such a large part of her speech this afternoon to the twin issues of overseas affairs and defence. Indeed, those issues were reflected in the Queen's Speech earlier today. I should like to remind the House of a statement which Her Majesty made in Her Speech:
I also look forward to visiting Berlin in May during that city's 750th anniversary year".
I count myself fortunate in having visited Berlin on a number of occasions and several lessons can be learnt from the experience of the lives of people in that city.
The first and the most vivid and dramatic is the wall, the lights, the barbed wire and the stark impression of what a totalitarian society means for people in east Germany. Visitors to west Berlin can observe this not always at first hand, but across the wall.
Secondly, perhaps less vivid and dramatic but none the less real, is the clear way that the United Kingdom Government do business with the Soviet Union on a day-to-day basis, affecting the lives of millions of citizens of the two Germanies. The fact that Germany is governed by a four-power agreement, often painfully negotiated and arrived at, is a signal demonstration of the only way in which it is safe to do business with the Soviet Union. Embarking on the sort of policies which were outlined by the Labour party at its conference spells out great dangers for our country.
Her Majesty also said:
My Government will continue to attach the highest importance to national security and to preserving peace with freedom and justice. They will maintain the United Kingdom's own defences and play an active part in the Atlantic Alliance. My Government will work for new agreements on arms control and disarmament. They will seek greater co-operation and trust between East and West and work for progress at the Vienna Review Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe.
There could be no greater contrast between those words and the policies which are now put forward by the Opposition. Indeed, if the Labour party conference is anything to go by, the Labour party is unfit to form the next Government of our country.
Never before has a British political party launched such a frontal attack on Western policies for security and arms control, surrendering the British nuclear deterrent, expelling NATO nuclear forces from Britain, and rejecting the United States nuclear umbrella. Those policies would start a chain of events in Europe and the United States which would be utterly beyond our control. They would increase and not diminish the risk of war. For years, that was the view of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), but alas it is no longer his view.
The nuclear balance has kept the peace in Europe for 40 years. The more seriously that Mr. Gorbachev takes the Leader of the Opposition's chances of gaining power, the less he and the Soviet Politburo will feel obliged to negotiate balanced arms control agreements. He already has some experience of the Labour party's new negotiating
stance. When the Leader of the Opposition went to Moscow with the right hon. Member for Leeds, East he told Mr. Gorbachev that if he removed 3 per cent. of his missiles they would abandon 100 per cent. of our deterrent and if he refused they would still abandon 100 per cent. of our deterrent. That is an almost complete reversal of the celebrated remark by Mr. Harold Brown when he was Defence Secretary in President Carter's Administration:
When we build, the Soviets build: when we stop building, the Soviets still build.
I do not believe that at the next general election, which may well come some time towards the end of the new Session of Parliament, the British electorate will support a party which will adopt those kind of policies for the United Kingdom. A great change has taken place in the politics of Britain on those issues in recent years. Previously there was a bipartisan agreement between the major political parties about the need to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent. Indeed, it was a Labour Government who took the original decision to go nuclear. The previous Labour Government took several controversial and expensive decisions about maintaining the nuclear deterrent. That bipartisan agreement exists no more. It will be the task of the Government and of the Conservative party to spell out to the electorate in each and every constituency what that means in terms of Britain's safety and security in the future.
Let me deal briefly with the impact of recent pronouncements and events on the policies of the Social Democratic and Liberal parties. The Liberal party conference showed the alliance to be nothing more than a fiction. The word "alliance", if ever it were appropriate, can no longer command any credibility whatever, certainly in constituencies such as my own where the Liberal party has traditionally had considerable strength.
The key point to emerge from all the to-ings and fro-ings and comings and goings of recent weeks in the Social Democratic and Liberal parties is that because the Russians are developing their own anti-missile system, with some parts already installed, and probably a special defence initiative of their own in research and development, Polaris is becoming less and less powerful. Therefore, in that key respect, the Liberals would accept a deterrent as long as it is not effective. What chicanery. If the Liberals really believe that they can command the confidence of the electorate at the next general election by advocating such a policy, they have another thought coming.
Secondly, the ability of the Soviets to detect and destroy ballistic missile submarines is improving and we shall need better submarines and missiles with greater range to give them more searoom in which to hide. That, too, is a powerful argument for Trident.
I have no doubt whatever that during the coming Session of Parliament those issues will come increasingly to the fore and may well finish up by dominating a large part of the next general election campaign. If that is the case it will be solely because the Opposition parties have abandoned the traditional posture which they have adopted for decades and it is the Government's duty to press forward with our policies and to make a clear statement to the electorate—one upon which I believe that we shall win.
I want to refer to one matter which is mentioned in the Queen's Speech and one which is not. I start with the one which deals with the rights of private tenants. As I understand it, that announces the Government's intention to introduce legislation to put into law the recommendations of the Nugee committee on the rights of private holders of long leases on flats, maisonettes and tenement blocks. That legislation is long overdue.
I have constantly pressed for a reform in the law to give the holders of leasehold flats rights akin to those conferred upon the owners of leasehold houses by the Labour Government's legislation in 1967. Labour Members have continuously said that if the Government proposed to legislate on the subject they would have our full support, and I am glad that, I hope partly as a result of the pressure which has been put upon them by the Labour party over so many years, we shall see that legislation coming forward early in the new Session of Parliament.
So far, so good. I believe that the proposed legislation will deal largely with the Nugee recommendations, particularly involvement by tenants in the management of their blocks of flats, and will give them I hope, the first option on the purchase of the freehold when it comes up for sale by the present freeholders.
However, the Government need to go much further than that in expanding the rights of those who have leasehold flats. Two particular matters are long overdue. The first—it is becoming more and more urgent— is to give the leaseholder of a flat or maisonette the immediate right to extend the period of that person's lease by 50 years. That right exists for those who have leasehold houses. In that context, I should say that that is not a right which is exercised often because most people prefer to buy the freehold and that is the sensible thing for leaseholders to do. However, that is not possible for the individual owners of a leasehold flat, so there is a great necessity to give them that right which has been enshrined for almost 20 years for house owners.
That will overcome some of the growing problems, particularly in London, of those whose leases of flats are now nearing an unexpired period of about 50 years. There are many blocks of flats where people are finding it increasingly difficult to dispose of their leases because of the short mortgageable length of the lease that is left. The way to tackle that problem is to allow them to extend that term.
I have had examples in my constituency, some not far from where I live, of people having to pay extraordinary premiums to private landlords in order to obtain a short extension of their lease to make it saleable. There is no real equality of bargaining power between a freeholder and a leaseholder in that situation and it is time that Parliament stepped in and gave such people the right to extend their leases in the way that owners of houses have enjoyed for almost 20 years.
A second, even more important, reform is needed and that is to give tenants of leasehold flats collectively the same right which belongs individually to the owner of a leasehold house—the right collectively to acquire ,the freehold and to acquire the right to manage the blocks where they live. That should not merely be an option where the freehold is disposed of by the landlord; it should be a right which the majority of leaseholders can exercise in order to enfranchise collectively the block in which they live. It is the nature of our land law—that needs reform as well—that they cannot do such things individually.
Other matters need to be contained in the coming Bill as well. We must introduce a legal code which removes the anomalies and uncertainties that exist in some leases. Let me mention a few briefly. Often leases have unsatisfactory arrangements for insurance. Sometimes there is no obligation upon the landlord to insure. Sometimes the landlord will not produce a policy of insurance, or it will be for an inadequate amount, or it will be placed, advantageously to the landlord, in an agency without giving the tenant a free choice of insurance. Sometimes the choice is wrong. Sometimes the basic arrangements for insurance are wrong. That needs to be corrected by having a legal code which is applicable to every leasehold flat.
Secondly, there are frequently leases where an inadequate responsibility is placed upon the landlord to look after the structural parts of the block. Often leases are silent about the landlord's responsibility to repair the roof, to deal with the drains or foundations or to deal with other common parts of a block of flats. In every such set of legal arrangements there should be an obligation upon the landlord to undertake those structural and management responsibilities, subject, of course, to reimbursement by each leaseholder of a fair proportion of the expenditure which is involved. It should not be left to negotiation on inadeaquate leases to try to get deeds of variation, often at great advantage to those involved on the professional side and sometimes at the cost of excessive premiums paid to landlords. A code should regulate the relationship between landlord and tenant. Landlords should be obliged to enforce the leases of all leaseholders in the same block so that if one leaseholder neglects his flat and, for example, allows water to pour through into a neighbouring flat or creates excessive noise, subject to giving proper security for the costs of enforcement, the landlord would be under a legal obligation to enforce and regulate the leases in the block. That legal reform should be included in the Bill mentioned in the Queen's Speech.
The removal of a tenant's obligation to obtain a licence to assign is long overdue. Sometimes an excessive fee is charged for giving that licence. Generally the practice is that one can freely assign the lease of the flat and that should be the general right of leaseholders.
The Government have given council tenants the right to buy at a discount and this House has given lessees of leasehold houses the right to buy the freehold, so we should give the collective right of enfranchisement to the owners of flats and maisonettes in the private sector. That is long overdue.
The Queen's Speech talks about the rights of private tenants, but it is high time that we allowed the right to buy to exist, not merely for long leaseholders of flats or maisonettes, but for those with short-term tenancies. They are akin to council tenants. They occupy their flats which are often in a bad state of repair and in need of improvements. Their landlords are often not able to cope. Not all landlords are wicked, but some of .hem are extremely so. I have a massive file of complaints about wicked landlords. Not all are wicked: some are plain incompetent.
One way to get investment, improvements, and repairs in housing is to give the right to acquire a flat or house to the existing statutory tenant, except where the landlord is not an absentee landlord, but has let his home in order to work abroad. That happens with civil servants, and people working in the Foreign Office and in industry overseas. In those circumstances it is absolutely right that if one lets one's home temporarily, one should be able to recover possession when one returns. But in cases where an absentee landlord invests in a property, the right to enfranchise should be extended to private tenants, of whom there are not many left.
We need to establish a housing tribunal which would bring together the rights of tenants which are dealt with in county courts and magistrates' courts. It would be much better to have something akin to an industrial tribunal with exclusive jurisdiction over housing matters. That would make the assertion of tenants' rights in practice much easier. There is oa strong case for having a conciliation officer serving that tribunal in the same way as a conciliation officer serves industrial tribunals. I would extend the right to go to that housing tribunal to council and private tenants. There is no good extending rights unless enforceability is also extended.
A further reform of tenant law affects, not only residential tenants, but business men who are tenants. It is about time that the House abolished what is known as original lessee responsibility and I hope that we shall have an opportunity to do that in the legislation in the coming Session. I have met a number of small business men in my constituency who have been driven to distraction when, perhaps 20 years after a lease on premises was granted to them and 15 years after they assigned that lease, during which time they had no further interest in the property, a landlord has enforced liability for repairs, rent arrears and other obligations against them, the original lessees, on the basis of privity of contract.
A business man may have leased a shop 20 years ago. His business may have expanded and he may have assigned the shop, so someone else has been responsible for repair and rents. It is iniquitous that the present landlord, who may have had no association with the original lessee, should have the right to enforce an obligation against him. The original lessee has no moral responsibility for the state of the premises and reform of the law in that respect is long overdue. Many business men and private tenants would welcome such a change.
I said that I would mention one matter contained in the Queen's Speech and one which was not. I now turn to a matter which is close to my responsibilities in this House and to my duties as a constituency Member of Parliament—the inner cities. It is extraordinary that the Queen's Speech is silent on one of the greatest challenges to the security and quality of our urban life. It is extraordinary that a subject which has been discussed at length by the commission of the Archbishop of Canterbury and which appears regularly in our newspapers, sometimes as a result of conflagration, is not mentioned. The inner cities are a challenge to the quality of the lives that many of us lead.
I have found growing disintegration in the quality and stability of the community that I represent. I shall give one or two examples of how bad the position is. It is made worse by the stark contrast between the excesses of wealth in one part of our city and the great deprivation and degradation in other parts. The Government will endorse the City and give support to the big bang, but they seem to ignore the whimpers and problems of the inner city only a few miles away.
I was amazed to see in the last Manpower Services Commission statistics that the number of unfilled vacancies at the Brixton jobcentre was one. Perhaps I should congratulate the Government because that is a massive improvement on the previous month when there were no unfilled vacancies. I suppose that one could say that the Government had a fair improvement from nil to one unfilled vacancy. However, before I congratulate them, I must say that the position worsened at the West Norwood jobcentre where the unfilled vacancies decreased from two one month to one the next. Therefore, the one vacancy gained in Brixton was offset by the one vacancy lost in West Norwood. In those circumstances it is extraordinary that the Government talk about people being unwilling to work. That is one sign of the problems that exist in our inner cities.
I have heard the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) talk deprecatingly about the position in 1979. In 1979, unemployment for the whole of my borough stood at about 7,000. Now, seven years later, after 18 changes in the method in which unemployment statistics are collected, none of which have increased the figure, unemployment in Lambeth has increased by more than 400 per cent. For every one man or woman unemployed in 1979 more than four are unemployed now. That is another sign of the degree of disintegration in our inner cities. The figures for my borough are little different from those of other inner cities with great problems of deprivation.
One can put it another way, and perhaps this is even worse. The total of 4,000 unemployed youngsters in my constituency—again, this is typical of almost every depressed inner city area—is equivalent to two years' school leavers. It is as if nobody, in two years of leaving school, is able to get a job. I have put the figures in that way because some go on to college and get jobs when they leave. Nevertheless, unemployment among our youngsters is extraordinarily high.
Other social factors, such as homelessness, are important. Part of the reason for the increase in homelessness is the Government's cut in the amount of money that local authorities can spend on housing — typically, across the country, it has been a cut of about two thirds. Another part of the reason is the pressure of poverty on those looking for a home, which means that they are restricted to the local authority, as the possibility of buying a home has been excluded for them. I am told by the leader of my local authority that we are spending on housing people in bed and breakfast accommodation about what it would cost to build 1,000 permanent homes which, in the long term, would make our community more stable, provide work and eradicate the scourge of homelessness, which is another contributing factor to the disintegration and destabilisation of the inner cities.
Almost every week I get letters from people who tell me that the problem is not just that they are without a roof over their head, but the indignity that they suffer from living in bed and breakfast accommodation. For example, last week I had a letter from a woman who, each day, has to take three children from King's Cross to different schools in my constituency and then collect them and take them back home, when she is living on a pittance.
Often, the choice of accommodation for a homeless person is restricted. People go into homeless accommodation for perhaps two or three years, the children settle down at school but then they are uprooted because there is no available accommodation in that area and they have to move to another part of London or another part of the borough. That is another example of the way in which the community disintegrates under the pressures of poverty.
Destabilisation is shown clearly by the way in which crime has escalated. When I last visited the chief superintendent of Brixton police station he told me that this year, the number of street robberies was up by 80 per cent. We have had seven years of a Tory Government, of clichés about law and order and of repeatedly increased expenditure on the police and criminal justice, but in one year alone, we get an enormous rise in one of the most frightening crimes of all, street violence. That is one of the results of the criminal damage of the inner city areas, of which the poor are always the victims. Usually, it is the poor not the rich who are the victims of crime.
One could give a catalogue of distintegration, of the way in which families sustain less and less, and inner cities start to create their own negative momentum. In the Queen's Speech, I hoped to see something that addressed itself to one of the major problems of the way in which our civilisation works. I wanted to see something that puts the commitment back into the inner city, instead of continually penalising those who at least try to relieve the conditions, such as local authorities. We need something that goes beyond the impermanence of the gimmicky schemes proposed by the Department of Employment or of many of the projects that come out of the inner city partnership. We need a mainstream long-term investment in our inner cities because from that will flow a personal commitment to the inner cities. Unless the people who live there, and the future generations that will be brought up there, can have a personal commitment to the inner city, a policy based on the expenditure of money cannot succeed. Here we have a major problem facing our conurbations, but not a word is said about it in the Gracious Speech.
I know that in some sectors, the Government have not been afraid to write off for private profit where necesssary, such factors as debts and commitments. To enable British Airways to be put up for sale, a considerable amount of debt and commitment were written off for private purposes. The omission of any mention of this matter from the Queen's Speech is an example of writing off people for the private prejudices and purposes of the Tory Government.
Both the hon. Members for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) have raised the problem of unemployed people and whether they are genuinely seeking work. I agree that unemployed people are seeking work and the difference between both sides of the House is our view about what policy should be pursued to get unemployed people back to work. As to whether we think that the unemployed want work, I should point out that we do think so and we are designing policies to ensure job opportunities.
I agree with the hon. Member for Walsall, North that the Queen's Speech is very much tied in with the autumn statement. Both hang together, and the aim of the Government in the Queen's Speech must be to boost performance and co-operation in industry, always remembering that the main task is to bring down its high and unacceptable level of unemployment.
We must recognise and talk up, rather than talk down, the important constructive changes that have taken place in industry over the past few years. Both the Employment Protection Act and trade union reforms have done a great deal to improve the status of the individual employee. In his autumn statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said that he wants the economy and manufacturing to grow by between 3 per cent. and 4 per cent. respectively next year. By that, he is also saying that he wants management to seek from the work force greater adaptability as industry takes advantage of the export opportunities for which he is looking. I agree.
It is right and proper that we should be looking for adaptability among the work force, but that requires a better response from management. The past few years have given concrete examples of management and unions working together. The most recent is the important speech by Mr. Laird, the general secretary of the Amalgamated Engineering Union to the CBI conference. These words are worthy of quoting. Mr. Laird said:
My union wants companies to be successful and profitable. It encourages members to identify with the company that employs them and advocates single status for blue and white collar workers. It wants to see the status of manufacturing industry enhanced, with technicians and professional managers not only paid much more than lawyers or their like but also further up the social scale.
The overwhelming majority of the Conservative party would agree with Mr. Laird's sentiments. If what he is saying, and what his union is in favour of, comes to pass in other parts of industry, we shall get that sustained increased growth and performance in the economy.
Therefore, I welcome a good omission from the Queen's Speech. No more trade union legislation is suggested for this Session, and no more is necessary for the time being. Industry needs a period to settle down and to absorb what has been passed in the House in the past 10 years because it has made a solid framework for improved industrial relations and co-operation, and for a better opportunity to succeed in the aims of the autumn statement with higher manufacturing output and economic growth.
I particularly welcome two parts of the Queen's Speech. The first is that part which says that the
Government will continue to promote…the education and training of young people.
I tie that up with a handout attached to a parliamentary answer only a week ago from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. He told us three important things about increased expenditure. He said:
planned local authority current expenditure would total £12,850 million in 1987–88, 18·8 per cent. more in cash terms than planned for 1986–87".
In other words, there will be that much extra for the next financial year. He continued:
there would be an extra £95 million for university recurrent and equipment grant in 1987–88 than in 1986–87;
there would be an extra £39 million for the science budget in 1987–88 over 1986–87.
Those are positive actions by the Government to do what they must do—keep the education service in a good state.
In this long parliamentary answer the Minister said three other things upon which I should like to comment. No Secretary of State for Education can avoid the
difficulties of surplus school places in local authority areas. What should be done about those? My right hon. Friend said:
My Department will issue towards the end of the year fresh guidance on 'the opportunities for further improving the quality of provision.
To me that means that when a local authority is considering closing a school which already has good provision, high standards and strong parental support and interest, it should stop at once and wait for the fresh guidance which the Secretary of State says will be issued by his Department before the end of the year.
In the part of the answer that deals with non-advanced further education the Government say:
the plans allow for a higher proportion of 16 to 19-year-olds, in particular, to attend college.
Those are the plans for next year. That answer is welcome with just one proviso.
Later on in the section on non-advanced further education the Minister says:
The Government's expenditure plans assume that the number of lecturers in NAFE will continue to reduce by 3 per cent. annually,…depending on student numbers.
I think that student numbers will continue to rise because the improved standards and better curriculum in our schools will inevitably create a greater demand for going on to college, whether it is an advanced further education or a non-advanced further education college.
Speaking about advanced further education my right hon. Friend said:
I have made available a further £15 million for selective allocation in support of initiatives of high priority,". —[Official Report, 6 November 1986; Vol. 103, c. 488–9.]
That money is for local authorities and if a local authority finds that it is facing difficult local economic circumstances, such as we are facing in Bedfordshire—I shall come to that in a moment — that money should go quickly to the local authority so that it can provide new and imaginative training schemes and courses in advanced further education that will respond to changes in the labour market. I welcome that extra £15 million on top of what else is to come, but I hope that it will be carefully channelled to those authorities facing difficulties because of changes in the employment market.
I welcome the end of Burnham as the negotiating body for teachers' pay. Before the Government construct something better in its place—there must be something better — it is vital that a steady stream of outside industrial advice is given to the Government so that we can have a better negotiating system for teachers' pay.
I should like to mention two problems in my constituency because this is the first chance that I have had to raise them since July. Since July we have had the announcement, alas, of more heavy job losses at Bedford Commercial Vehicles in Dunstable. About 1,500 jobs are programmed to go on top of the hundreds of job losses that were announced earlier in the year.
This disastrous downturn in employment would never have happened if the General Motors-British Leyland merger talks had been successful. To me successful means that there would have been a proper place for the Dunstable truck plant. One matter is vital in Dunstable—the importance of gaining the renewal of the military contract which I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and his Department are now considering. The renewal of that contract is vital for Dunstable and the surrounding area.
The management of General Motors must now do two things, given the serious unemployment that we are facing. First, it has to raise morale in Bedfordshire. The management must explain and get across to the work force the extent of the company's commitment to Bedfordshire and what it will do in Bedfordshire over the future years. To do that properly General Motors top brass in Detroit must meet the trade union representatives from the Dunstable and Luton plants. The meeting must take place either in Detroit or here and the management must sit down with the trade unions so that the trade unions can get across to the General Motors management their worries about Bedfordshire and future employment in the truck and car industry. General Motors management must get across to the trade unions its plans for the county.
There has been a long history of co-operation and help by the Bedfordshire work force at Dunstable and Luton for the General Motors management. That must be built upon and not undermined. Only top level talks between management and unions will start to allay the fears and worries of many of my constituents. Given the sort of problems that I have outlined I have to use the opportunity of this debate to make three or four suggestions about what can be done to help my area in view of the severe setback at Bedford Commercial Vehicles.
The rate support grant is mentioned in the Gracious Speech, which says that the Government will
improve the basis for the payment of rate support grant in England and Wales.
I hope that that means that the proposal for Bedfordshire will be altered, because what is proposed puts too great a burden on Bedfordshire ratepayers, both domestic and commercial. I do not want to go into all the amazing byzantine complexities of how the rate support grant is calculated, save to say that Bedfordshire's debt charges on schools are not sufficiently taken into account. In order to make it a more attractive county for industry, we must avoid alterations in the rate support grant which send rates through the roof. I make a special plea to the Government to think again on their RSG proposals.
We need sensible state spending projects for Bedfordshire. First, we need one of the new city technology colleges. I know that Dunstable, Luton or Houghton Regis are not cities but together they make a city in population terms. They should certainly qualify for one of my right hon. Friend's colleges.
Secondly, I ask the Government to bring forward the starting point for the community hospital at Leighton Linslade. There is not a town in the south of England with a population like Leighton Linslade of over 30,000 which does not have some form of hospital. A hospital for Leighton Linslade has been planned and promised for years and I urge the Government to make an early start on it.
Thirdly, given that we have a truck and car industry, we need urgent action to get bypasses started. I am thinking of Leighton Linslade but Dunstable needs a bypass as well. When one considers the amount of wheeled goods pouring out of our factories, one realises that as a county we should be top of the league for bypasses.
The autumn statement, with its emphasis on an increase in spending, especially on education, should be seen, not as a U-turn, but as a sensible swerve. The greater and sensible emphasis on increased state spending in key areas like education and health show that the Government are more than demonstrating their commitment to have good public services. Very often a small swerve can avoid big trouble, and if the Government need to make another swerve and further increase state spending in certain areas I urge them to make it, because the one in the autumn statement is a good one.
We need more than a swerve to solve the problems facing Scotland. For the people of Scotland the Gracious Speech is a non-event and the only good thing that I can say about it is that it is a pre-election speech. When one looks at the attendance in the Chamber one realises that most hon. Members have gone home to organise the election campaign. I forecast that there will be a general election on the first Thursday in May to coincide with the English local government elections. That election cannot come soon enough.
The proposals contained in the Gracious Speech will do nothing to solve the problem facing my constituents because the problem facing them and most of the people of Scotland is unemployment. I have had to listen to English Members who are beginning to realise that there is an unemployment problem in their constituencies. We have faced that problem since 1979. In my constituency, one out of every three men is unemployed. Long-term unemployment is a very serious problem, and the proposals contained in the Queen's Speech will do nothing to solve it. Even if there were to be an upturn in the economy, those aged between 45 and 50 who have been unemployed for two years would never work again. After a long period of Conservative government, that is the future that faces them. We need more than the swerve to which the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) referred. We need a revolution.
The Prime Minister said today that Scotland will be lucky in that the Government intend to carry out a rating reform experiment there. The rating system, which is based on property valuation, is to be abolished and a poll tax, or community charge for the domestic ratepayer, is to be introduced. This Government have never considered Scotland in the past. Therefore my constituents are asking why the Government intend to carry out this experiment in Scotland. My constituents believe that they should beware of the English when they bring gifts.
The Government should carry out a rating reform experiment in the south of England. They intend to carry out the experiment in Scotland only as a pre-election gimmick. The Government know that the experiment will fail. They also know that very few Tory Members of Parliament will be returned, irrespective of the results of the experiment.
The Government should introduce rating reform covering the whole of the United Kingdom. Every part of the country should be able to take advantage of this, the greatest thing since sliced bread in the Government's programme. The Prime Minister said that Scotland had been singled out because of the Scottish revaluation. That is correct. However, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who is a former Minister, knows that many people, including myself, appealed to the Government not to implement the revaluation, because it was wrong to revalue Scottish property when the last revaluation in England and Wales was in 1973.
Why do the Government give the benefit of revaluation only to Scotland? Why do they not increase the 1973 revaluation of property in England and Wales and bring it up to the 1986-87 valuation level in Scotland? They will not do so, because they know that it would result in the same disaster in England and Wales as happened in Scotland. Why should Scottish ratepayers pay rates that are based on 1986 values when English and Welsh ratepayers are still paying rates that arc based on 1973 values? Whenever Scotland receives a gift we are suspicious, because since 1979 all that the Government have given us is unemployment.
The Government should introduce rating reform that covers the whole of the United Kingdom. That would result in increased property valuations in England and Wales and in very few Tory Members of Parliament being returned to this House after the next general election, just as there will be very few Tory Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies after the next election, including the hon. Member for Eastwood. This is the last Queen's Speech to which he has listened as a Member of Parliament. He will not be hack again, because Scottish people have no faith in this Conservative Government.
I am disappointed that the Government have not introduced legislation to implement the Warnock committee's recommendations. Both the Prime Minister and successive Secretaries of State for Social Services have given guarantees that, after consultation, the Government would introduce legislation to implement the recommendations. The Warnock committee's report dealing with embryo research was published in July 1984. Its main recommendations dealt with the establishment of a new statutory body to license and inspect new techniques in infertility services and research involving human embryos.
Despite pressure from Members of Parliament, who, in their turn, were under pressure from large numbers of their constituents, the Government said that it would be wrong to rush ahead and reach hasty decisions about the implementation of the recommendations, that a consultation period was required and that the period of consultation should be completed by the end of 1984. Despite those consultations and the Prime Minister's promise that there would be legislation, there is no mention of such legislation in the Queen's Speech for the 1986–87 Session of Parliament.
Since the Warnock committee reported, two private Members' Bills have been introduced. The Unborn Children (Protection) Bill in the 1984–85 Session of Parliament was introduced by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), while the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill in the 1985-86 Session was introduced by the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves). On 21 October 1986 a ten-minute Bill was also introduced—the Unborn Children (Protection) (No. 2) Bill. Despite the successful introduction of those Bills, the Government have proposed no legislation to take the matter out of the hands of individual Members of Parliament, urged on by pressure groups. The Government must introduce legislation on a subject that is too serious to be left to private Member's Bills or ten-minute Bills. The matter cannot be left in the hands of scientists. Government legislation is needed to control their activities. A framework of legislation must be created within which research scientists must operate.
Because of the lack of proposals in the Queen's Speech to solve unemployment and because the Government do not have the courage to introduce legislation to implement the Warnock committee's recommendations, I shall vote against the motion for the adoption of the Loyal Address at the end of this series of debates.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) will excuse me if I do not comment upon his speech. I should like to make two points that relate to the Queen's Speech. The Prime Minister referred this afternoon to the Criminal Justice Bill. In Gilbert and Sullivan's "Trial by Jury", at the outset the Usher sings to the jurymen:
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not want to give him cause to regret having said that!
The usher continues:
For over a year, I have repeatedly urged the Government to take action to amend the law. I was delighted that on 9 July the Home Secretary announced that he intended to include a proposal to deal with this matter in the Criminal Justice Bill, which was announced today.
In Crown courts, each defendant can challenge three jurors without giving any reason whatsoever. That is called the right to peremptory challenge. Thus, in a multiple trial with four defendants, there can be 12 challenges. With eight defendants, there can be 24 challenges. Defence counsel, acting together, can continue to challenge and remove jurors until they get a jury which is broadly to their liking. That makes a mockery of the concept of a fair trial in a Crown court. Juries are supposed to be selected at random. Historically, the right to peremptory challenge existed to remove bias. Now it does the opposite. It is used to introduce bias, a bias towards acquittal. Therefore, it is a distortion of the legal process.
There is a great deal of support in the House for the change which the Home Secretary proposes. On 9 July, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle) said:
many of us strongly support the maintenance of the jury system as embodying the right to trial by 12 of one's fellow citizens, we do not believe that the defendant should have the right to decide who those 12 should be? … it is possible to manipulate the system by attempting to obtain a jury that the defendant believes is favourable to his case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) said:
It is all too evident that in such trials it is possible to engineer distortions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg), who has since been appointed a Minister in the Home Office, said:
the majority of those who practise in the criminal courts think that the practice of peremptory challenge has given rise to wide abuse".
it cannot be right to adjust the composition of a jury because a defendant—or more than one defendant—does not like red-headed men, or people with black faces, or people who read the Daily Telegraph. To adjust juries on that kind of ground is simply nonsense.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) said:
the right to peremptory challenge … on occasion can only call into doubt the integrity of the jury system".
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) said:
The acquittal rate is far too high. At Snaresbrook it is 58·2 per cent. and at Leicester it is 50·5 per cent.… something has to be done to get more properly representative juries".—[Official Report, 9 July 1986; Vol. 101, c. 308.]
That view is not unanimous. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) has been completely honourable and consistent in his opposition to the proposal, as have a number of Labour Members. However, it must be said that the opposition to the abolition of peremptory challenge comes mainly from three types of people—first, criminals; secondly, those who, on the whole, rather like the idea of guilty people being acquitted, and that includes some Opposition Members; and, thirdly, a minority of barristers and solicitors. The measure is right. I hope that it will go forward quickly. I hope that the Criminal Justice Bill will be read a Second time soon, by which I mean November and not December. I hope that it will be on the statute book by Easter. There is no time to lose either on this or on getting the maximum age of jurymen changed from 65 to 70 years.
The Queen's Speech refers to the need to expand the economy to increase vital services. All hon. Members would include the National Health Service in that definition. I thank Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Security for any part they have played in helping recently to save St. Mary's hospital, Hampton, which was threatened with closure; for the decision last year to reopen St. John's hospital, Twickenham, for psychogeriatric use, for which there is a great need; and for saving, the year before, the Teddington memorial hospital.
I draw attention to the general hospital which many of my constituents use, although it is outside its boundaries—the West Middlesex university hospital. That hospital is due to be completely rebuilt in two phases over the next 10 years. This will be of tremendous benefit to the western side of London.
I remain concerned about the provision of health care in the short term and medium term. There are long waiting lists. The Secretary of State for Social Services announced last week the provision of extra money to ease the waiting lists. I ask that part of those funds be directed to the benefit of patients awaiting treatment at the West Middlesex hospital. The waiting lists for some major orthopaedic operations is one year or more. Many of these are hip operations. There are two consultant orthopaedic surgeons—Mr. Raine and Mr. Duff. They have applied for a third colleague whose appointment has been approved by the North West Thames regional health authority. Frowever, the district of Hounslow and Spelthorne has said that it is unable to provide funds for the post to be filled before April 1988. I hope that the injection of new funds will make much earlier provision of the post possible. There are also waiting lists for ear, nose and throat and other operations.
The waiting lists at the West Middlesex hospital are exceptionally long because of the large number of emergency cases brought in. They are the second highest for any hospital in the Greater London area. The emergency cases result partly from accidents and partly from acute illnesses.
Two special factors seem to apply to the West Middlesex hospital. First, there are many main roads nearby, including the M4, and the casualty rate affects emergency hospital admissions. Secondly, the West Middlesex hospital is near an ambulance station which is the end of a shift point for ambulancemen. Therefore, if ambulancemen are shortly to go off duty, it suits them to take emergency cases to the West Middlesex hospital rather than to other equidistant hospitals. The large number of emergency or trauma cases brought in means that those patients in urgent need take up so many of the beds that fewer waiting list patients can get in; and some have to wait far too long. As well as affecting those patients directly, there are indirect effects on the status and standing of the hospital. The range of conditions treated is reduced and that undermines training and teaching potential and eventually the university status of the hospital.
The length of the waiting list is also augmented by the shortage of nurses. That is a Londonwide problem, in which salary is one factor. Salaries have been increasing by 7 per cent. annually, which is more than the rate of inflation. But increasing numbers of trained nurses are attracted by the higher salaries that are paid for nursing abroad. In Australia, for example, there is a system to persuade and attract nurses to go there. Nurses are attracted also to other occupations in the United Kingdom that pay higher salaries.
Salaries, however, are not the only factor. Accommodation in London is expensive. Partly because of that, too, there are now 650 full-time nurse equivalents when there is an establishment of 800 nurses at the West Middlesex hospital. The 150 gaps in the establishment are being tilled partly, but only partly, by agency nurses.
I hope that the Government will ask the Hounslow and Spelthorne district health authority to reconsider reinstating disused accommodation for nurses within the grounds of the West Middlesex hospital. This is not due to be demolished for six to eight years. I know that not every nurse wishes to live on the campus—great many do not— but there might be some who do. If the accommodation were restored so that it could be used for another six or eight years, it could reduce the shortfall in the number of nurses working in the area and reduce the length of patients' waiting lists.
This will take some time to bring about and I ask that the Government, as a short-term emergency measure to reduce waiting lists; provide funds to encourage the district health authority to take some unused capacity for orthopaedic and other patients needing operations at the Royal Masonic hospital, which is a privately run charitable hospital not far away. The delay in orthopaedic operations seems to be due not so much to the shortage of nurses as to a shortage of orthopaedic surgeons in the short term.
I welcome the Gracious Speech from the Throne. It shows the Government's continuing commitment to policies which, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told us this afternoon, have resulted for the first time since the war in sustained growth, low inflation, an increase of 2·5 million in the number of home owners and in public spending declining as a proportion of national output. These are major achievements that have eluded every Government since the war, and I believe that we should be proud of them.
We have the greatest reforming Conservative Government this century and we need to continue to pursue a radical approach to make Britain more democratic, more free and more liberal in the classic Gladstonian sense of the term, rather than the pseudo-Socialist liberalism of the party which now bears the name of the Liberal party. In the classic wording of the Queen's Speech, we are told that Estimates will be laid before us.
It is in taxation that the greatest reforms are still needed. Taxation can be considered, however, only in conjunction with social security reform; it cannot be considered alone. The two systems need to be integrated to make them work.
Why is that? Every opinion poll shows the importance that is attached to reducing unemployment, and I do not believe that the way forward lies in more spending on infrastructure. If that policy can be justified in economic terms, so be it, but there is no evidence to suggest that in today's capital-intensive civil engineering industry it is possible significantly to reduce unemployment merely by spending more on infrastructure. We need more roads and better roads, and we need also more spending on the sewerage system, but we cannot assume that that spending will reduce unemployment.
The way forward does not lie either, as the Labour party believes, in increasing existing benefits, and I stress "existing". Such a policy would make the unemployment and poverty traps deeper and more intractable than they are now.
The way to reduce unemployment, which I believe is the greatest problem that faces the nation, lies in reforming both the tax and social security systems to encourage the enterprise society. The greatest problem facing the nation lies in the way in which millions are ensnared in the unemployment and poverty traps by a means-tested benefits system which ensures that for many married men with children it does not make sense to take a job.
We must start to consider fundamental reform, and I make no apology for being radical. I do not suppose that the reform will come next year or even in the following year, but eventually we shall have to consider a reform that entails paying a basic benefit to ensure that the age-old problem of poverty is abolished. This will be done by ensuring that a basic cash benefit that is non-means-tested and non-taxable is paid to all citizens. Over and above the basic benefit that is paid to all citizens, tax would be levied at one rate without any tax reliefs. I accept that that would be a fundamental and radical reform, but it is one that we may be forced into eventually.
Such a reform would not be a move towards a shirkers' society. On the contrary, by simplifying the two systems of tax and social security there would be an explosion in new job opportunities. There would be no disadvantage in taking one or more part-time or full-time jobs, as there is under the present system. I accept that there would be victims of such a reform, and that these would be the poverty and unemployment traps, which would be abolished straightaway, and the civil servants employed in the social security system who are trying to administer about 40,000 regulations. Such a system could be devised which would be fiscally neutral. It would not be extravagant—I would not suggest it if it were, or if it entailed necessarily an increase in public expenditure. I am fully committed to the policies of reducing public expenditure as a proportion of total output.
There has been a great deal of criticism of such a reform because it is said that it would result in an increase in public expenditure, but such a view is based on the mistaken and outmoded myth that we still have two quite separate societies, one being formed by a group which pays taxes and contributes to the system, and the other by a group which receives benefits and needs to be supported by the state. I do not believe that we still have two such societies. To a greater or lesser extent, we all receive benefits and we all pay taxes. For example, we all enjoy child benefits or tax reliefs. The time has come radically to examine the entire system.
If a system of the sort that I have outlined were introduced, it could lead to many opportunities that are now denied us as legislators, apart from encouraging thrift and enterprise, reducing the number of regulations and making the system much simpler to implement. For example, the reform that I have outlined would make the abolition of the rating system, which we all accept is iniquitous, far easier to bring about in political terms. We could incorporate within such a reform a widening of the community enterprise scheme. Eventually, inactivity or unemployment as a concept could be abolished if we extended the community enterprise scheme so that all our citizens are offered education, training or a job. If no job is available and work on a community scheme is offered, and is refused, I do not believe that generous benefits should be made available, as they are under the current system.
If the greatest need for reform lies in the need to reform the taxation and benefits system, we must consider also the possibilities of reforming the entire taxation system as it relates to both private medical insurance and private health care. If we were prepared to consider a radical reform, we could encourage many more people to opt for private health care and the private education system. At present, these are not options for ordinary people, who have to pay for private health care or private education from taxed income. If we had the courage to reform the taxation and benefits systems, we could look far more practically and positively to education voucher systems and private health insurance schemes, which hitherto have been denied us. There are many exciting reforms that we can look to with the coming Conservative Government. They are Conservative "reforms" in the deepest sense of the word. They are progressive, caring and compassionate.
The Queen's Speech rightly began by considering the Government's commitment to peace through strength. Certainly, even if there is no public enthusiasm for Labour's unilateralism or public interest in the fudge and mudge of the Liberal party, there is still considerable public concern about slow progress towards multilateral disarmament and towards cheaper yet still effective defence systems. We now have to look beyond the Trident system. I do not question our decision to buy the Trident system. In any event, it would be far too late to go back on that decision. I ask the House to look beyond the Trident system— beyond the 20 years that that system will last.
I do not believe that such a review should eschew high technology. That is not an option, given the nature of the Soviet threat. We must start planning to move away from fewer and more expensive weapons systems. Inevitably, the Royal Navy will have to develop into a small-ship convoy and coastal protection service. The Royal Air Force will have to develop into a small, agile fighter-missile defence force. The Army will have to move towards greater reliance on Territorials and individual defence. In the post-Trident age, our nuclear deterrent will inevitably have to be dominated by stealth low-cost cruise missiles. In the post-Trident age, SDI will render ballistic missile systems obsolete. All sorts of decisions — long-term, radical and important—have to be taken in defence spending. We cannot carry on beyond the next five or 10 years by maintaining existing commitments that the defence budget will not support.
If defence is of vital concern to us as a nation, so, of course, is law and order. The Government need to consider some reforms and make further moves. First, given the epidemic of burglaries across the nation, there is a need to bring in automatic custodial sentences for burglary. Secondly, justice needs not only to be fair — I stress "fair" — but speedy. We must follow the American example and bring in more 24-hour magistrates courts and appoint more stipendiary magistrates. Thirdly, greater effort needs to be made to recruit first-class brains into the police force.
Privatisation is given a generous mention in the Queen's Speech. There is no need, in a third-term Conservative Government, to avoid considering for privatisation every nationalised industry or part of every nationalised industry. Privatisation does not simply promote greater efficiency but it widens the real public ownership of British industry. That is what wider share ownership entails. It could also finance the tax and social security system reforms which are so necessary and which I have outlined.
The Government have revolutionalised social attitudes, but much still remains to be done to create a caring and compassionate yet progressive and enterprising society. To the extent that the Queen's Speech furthers that process, I fully support it.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who made an interesting speech. I shall refer in a moment to some of the points that he made relating to public expenditure and taxation. though I take a rather different view from him on some of these matters.
The Gracious Speech outlines the Government's programme in what is likely to be the last Session before the general election. Although I regret it very much, I suspect that, during the next 12 months, electoral considerations and not substance will dominate the proceedings of the House. The legislative programme in the Gracious Speech appears to be lighter than usual. This is warmly welcomed. I hope that the Government will not be tempted to take too much advantage of the sentence in the Queen's Speech:
Other measures will be laid before you.
It has an ominous ring, as those of us who have served in the House for a long time are only too well aware.
During the 16½ years for which I have had the honour to be a Member of this House, most of the legislation that we have passed has failed fully to achieve the aims of its authors. Much of it has resulted in a great deal of extra work and confusion to those people outside the House who are affected by it, without many compensating advantages to them, or, indeed, to anyone else. I wish that ambitious Ministers would sometimes remember this. It might have more effect on them if they reflected on the fact that the promotion of Bills does not necessarily result in their promotion in the Government. Very often the contrary is the case.
I welcome the proposed legislation to improve the working of criminal justice and, in particular, the proposals relating to juries. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) mentioned this at some length. There is no doubt that in recent years, there has been considerable public concern about juries. I hope that the proposed changes will bring about greater fairness and greater reassurance to the public.
I also welcome the proposed legislation concerning the remuneration of teachers. This is long overdue. It is more than 20 years since the inadequacies of the Burnham system were recognised when Sir Edward Boyle was Minister of Education. There is no doubt that a new system is needed. It is nonsense for pay to be negotiated between teachers' unions on the one side and local authorities on the other, as the paymaster, the Secretary of State for Education and Science looks on from outside. It is an absurd way to determine salary levels. To the best of my knowledge, it happens in no other sphere, and I do not know how it could conceivably work in this sphere. The disruption in education during the past two years has been the inevitable consequence of such a crazy system. I do not know exactly what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has in mind. I hope that he will consider setting up a statutory body to determine teachers' pay. Such a system has worked very well for other professions in this country.
Whatever the arguments may be about the quantity or quality of legislation, the main domestic issue facing this country is the level of unemployment. It still stands at well over 3 million, as it has done for several years. The current level of unemployment is socially divisive and economically wasteful and is unacceptable to reasonable people. Therefore, the reduction of unemployment should be the first priority of any Government in this country. To that end, I welcome the proposals in the autumn statement, but only as a small step in the right direction.
Given the modest changes proposed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I found last Friday's media criticism astonishing. Whatever else his proposals were, I do not think that they were electioneering. They were so modest. If there is a criticism of my right hon. Friend, it is that he acted with excessive caution on this occasion. I should have liked to see him going much further. We can make a real impact on unemployment only if total effective demand in the economy as a whole is increased. That means a higher public sector borrowing requirement. Since my right hon. Friend made no proposal to increase the public sector borrowing requirement, his measures must be judged as conventionally responsible. Equally, their impact on unemployment is likely to be limited. Of course, my right hon. Friend will have an opportunity to be more daring in his Budget, and I hope that he will take this opportunity—but not, I hope, with tax cuts.
A year or two ago, I was indifferent about whether the economy should be stimulated by increasing public expenditure or by cutting taxes, although I probably had a slight preference for the latter. But that was when the balance of payments was in healthy surplus. Then it seemed to me that we could take some risks that tax cuts might result in higher consumer spending on imports. There was, after all, a substantial balance of payments surplus to act as a cushion. But today that balance of payments surplus is fast disappearing. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is forecasting a £1·5 billion deficit next year.
The fact is that we can no longer take the risks inherent in tax cuts because of the further strains that they might place on an already weak balance of payments position. Now we have to confine measures to stimulate the economy to those public expenditure projects where the import potential is low or, better still, non-existent. I hope that, when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has his second bite of the cherry in his Budget he will further increase public expenditure. This seems to be the only safe way to increase the demand for labour and so start to reduce unemployment.
Mention of the balance of payments leads to consideration of the importance of manufacturing industry, and it is vital that the Government should recognise how crucial the manufacturing sector is to our balance of payments. Their figures show that, whereas 80 per cent. of manufactured output is internationally tradeable, only 18 per cent. of service sector activity is. It is therefore clear that, if we are to have a healthy international payments situation, we must have a strong competitive manufacturing sector, but I am afraid that the recent history of manufacturing gives no cause for comfort.
First, manufacturing output rose fairly steadily from 1945 until 1973, but from 1973 to 1975 it fell back steeply. It rose a little between 1976 and 1978 and then between 1979 and 1982 fell back steeply again. Since 1982 it has risen. But the alarming fact is that manufacturing output today is not only lower than it was in 1979 but lower than it was in 1973—13 long years ago. I ask the Labour party to remember that because, however much it may criticise the Government about manufacturing output during the past seven years, it was pretty awful as well when Labour was in power.
My second point concerns the balance of trade in manufactured goods. Until 1983, this showed a healthy surplus. Since then it has been in deficit which, with the decline in oil revenues, is very worrying. Thirdly, although there has been a welcome increase in investment in manufacturing industry in the past two years, manufacturing investment is still lower than in any year since 1963, with the exception of the very low levels achieved in the 1981–83 period.
Of course, this sorry tale is not just the Government's fault. The behaviour of management and of trade unions has often left a great deal to be desired, but the Government can act to help strengthen manufacturing industry, and I hope that they will do so in the coining Session.
First, manufacturing industry has undoubtedly suffered from the general deflation of demand in recent years. The deflation of domestic demand, especially for the new products and the products of capital-intensive industries, has resulted in higher unit costs, and so higher prices, and, as a consequence, sales at home and abroad have suffered. Clearly, higher public expenditure would be helpful to manufacturing industry in this context.
Secondly, manufacturing industry has undoubtedly suffered from the high interest rate policy in recent years. The effect has been to place a heavy burden on those who borrowed money to invest and to benefit those who put their profits and savings into fixed interest securities. Lower interest rates would encourage investment by reducing its cost and would have the added advantage of not helping maintain sterling at a ridiculously high level. Both ways, manufacturing industry will benefit.
Thirdly, manufacturing industry has suffered from the exchange rate policy. Sterling has been at too high a rate in relation to other currencies. The result has been to make British manufactured goods uncompetitive at home and abroad, to discourage exports and to encourage imports. In addition, the volatility of exchange rates has been damaging to the expansion of trade. The answer to this problem—industry has been demanding this for some time — is for Britain to join the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system at a correct level. This would remove much uncertainty for the manufacturing sector when trading abroad, to its great advantage. I hope that the Government will act quickly in this respect.
Manufacturing industry has suffered from the lack of a clear industrial strategy, such as they have in Japan and France. I believe that the Government should undertake consultation with industry, trade unions and other interested parties with a view to developing an industrial strategy. This could be done through the National Economic Development Council. Such a strategy would show everyone the direction in which the Government thought manufacturing industry should be developing. I believe that this would result in a better performance by British industry. I hope that that will be one of the Government's main objectives in the Session ahead. It is vital for this country's future.
I cannot go down many of the avenues followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox), but I shall pick up what he said about education and the proposals in the Gracious Speech to remove from the statute book the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965.
The House was subjected to unfair and disgraceful remarks by the Opposition about the Conservative party's attitude to education. The Conservative party, of all parties, has fought and will always fight for quality and high standards in education. The Conservative party, above all other parties, has cared for the welfare of children and their sound education and been concerned with their preparedness to face life. It is disgraceful, utterly unworthy and unacceptable that such concerns should be questioned by the Leader of the Opposition. His comments were made at a time when the Government are offering teachers a pay increase of 25 per cent. over 18 months. This means an increase of £40 a week for many teachers and £60 a week for many others. If I were in my old job, my salary might even rise to £32,000 a year. The increase is therefore not so bad.
The comments by the Leader of the Opposition and other Labour Members suggest at times that the Labour party's role is somewhat mischievous and unhelpful. The Labour party has not stood behind the pressure to produce an urgent settlement, although there has been terrible trouble in the schools for two years. The Labour party has always seemed to be on the wrong side of the argument and against the children's interests by encouraging division. The Labour party is still doing that and it is time that it stopped.
The Government have decided to repeal the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965. In 1965, when that legislation was passed, I was a teacher and senior housemaster in a comprehensive school in King's Cross. I had been teaching since 1957 and I had taken part in various pay campaigns for the teaching profession. I remember especially a campaign which took place when Sir David Eccles was Minister of Education.
In many ways he was very good but we did not consider that he was finding enough pay for teachers. We entitled a memorable campaign, "More shekels, less Eccles". It achieved some success because the Minister recognised the virtue of our case, just as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has recognised the virtue of the present teachers' case. The deal which he has offered puts teachers back on the Houghton levels of 1974 in terms of the retail price index, although not in terms of average earnings. Nevertheless, that is movement in the right direction and it is warmly to be welcomed.
A legal settlement of the teachers' pay difficulties has been made before. There was tremendous turmoil in the teaching profession during one of our campaigns. Finally, the Government of the day imposed a legal settlement. It was not popular, but it sorted out the problem and teachers got on with the job.
There has been a steady deterioration since the introduction of the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 by a Labour Government. I thought then that the Act was mischievous and I am now more convinced than ever that it was. Until then, the teachers' attitude had always been to say, "I am a professional. It is part of my job as a professional to prepare my work, mark my books, and attend parents' meetings and speech day. As a teacher I want to be where my pupils are."
From 1965, when this lamentable Act was passed separating pay from conditions of service, a new attitude crept in towards the duties that I have mentioned and others such as the training of teams, being out on a Saturday morning with them and coming back in the evenings to meet parents, to run a concert or produce plays. After the passing of the Act, teachers began to say, "I think I had better be paid for these extras." Then they began to talk in contract terms. It is historically traceable and provable that the Act led inevitably to the trouble of today.
In 1968, as a result of the Act, dinner duties became voluntary. I do not say that they should be compulsory—a teacher should have a dinner hour like everyone else—but teachers always accepted that they had a duty to dine with pupils or to care for them in some way at lunchtime once a week or once a fortnight. In 1968, that went out of the window. The National Union of Teachers was firmly against dinner duties, although it said in the same breath that children must be offered lunches in schools. It argued both ways on that. From that point in 1968 an atmosphere developed in which teachers considered that they were doing the head, the school, the parents and the pupils something of a favour if they attended speech days, prize givings and other such occasions. Some of my colleagues began to consider that such occasions were not part of their duties and privilege.
Since 1968 one can pinpoint the times at which trends and pressures towards payment for extra duties have occurred. After 1969, for example, teachers were given a free lunch if they did lunch duty. It was not really a payment and little money was involved, but they no longer performed lunch duties without a free lunch. That became established.
The present tragic dispute has lasted for two years and must be ended. With your long experience of schools, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wonder which schools you consider to be run best. Do you agree that they are the schools in which the head teacher is important and the governing body strong and able to give good leadership? Many—perhaps most — maintained schools come within this category. It is certainly a principle by which almost all independent schools achieve their successes.
At a time when 3·25 million people are unemployed and jobs are available all over the country, school leavers lack the qualifications to fill them. There is a massive mismatch between the qualifications that children can obtain in schools and those needed for the jobs available. In my constituency many high technology jobs are available but the pupils coming out of schools do not have the qualifications to enable them to take advantage of those jobs. That is the challenge that we face.
More power must be given to heads and to governing bodies and power must be taken away from local education authorities, which seem to have become slower and slower at improving their schools. In many cases, they are more interested in politicking than they should be. Since May 1986, my borough of Ealing has had an appalling record of politicking in schools. Any settlement of the current dispute that is put to the House or finally achieved must reward heads, deputies, good career teachers and those with heavy responsibility as well as encourage all teachers and give them an adequate life remuneration.
It is well known all over the country, and it cannot be repeated too often, that Ealing council is attempting to force schools to teach that homosexuality and lesbianism are more valid than heterosexuality. Teachers are appointed regardless of sexual orientation. Whatever the council says, that must mean that if teachers are invited to apply for jobs regardless of sexual orientation, perverts and sexual deviants will apply for and will be appointed to those posts. It is no wonder that parents are outraged and worried.
We have looked to the ruling councillors on Ealing council and to a councillor who is also a vicar, the rector of Greenford, for a lead on this matter. What does he do? He endorses the council's entirely anti-Christian policy. It is strongly suggested that teachers who do not accept the policy will be dismissed or that they will not he appointed. The policy is not acceptable to Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Jews or any other followers of the great religions. The people who follow those faiths have a right to have their views respected. The councillor who is also a vicar has recently blessed a lesbian wedding or union. He considers that that is right. So it has been of no use to look to the local church for a moral lead. Instead, it has supported Ealing council's perverse and perverting policies.
What will we get out of it? We are told by the Labour councillors that rates are expected to increase by between 50 per cent. and 100 per cent. this year. That is in the first year of the council's term. During that period, inflation will be about 3 or 4 per cent. and people's pay rises will be low. That rate increase will hit people hard. It will also hit firms hard because their rates may double. That will mean putting people out of work. It is disgusting.
My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands and other hon. Members mentioned unemployment. Ealing is fortunate to have unemployment at 6 per cent. below the national average and I shall do all that I can to maintain and improve that figure. Recently I have been able to initiate the Ealing enterprise agency which has had no fewer than 120 inquiries in its first two months of existence. I believe that it will lead to many more jobs.
Besides its perverse school policies, Ealing council is ruining the environment. Wherever there is a blade of grass, it seeks to build a council house. People in my constituency are now involved in a huge defence of the environment against this Labour authority. National Labour politicians may talk about care for the environment, but they do not mean it. When put in power nationally, they do the same as is being done in my constituency. They do not care a damn. They are grossly hypocritical.
In various places in my constituency there are allotments, and at present I can think of three on which the Ealing Labour council is seeking to impose council house development. Those allotments will be taken away from people who have tended them for years and have grown vegetables, flowers and so on. The fact that in one case the allotment is surrounded on all sides by private homes does not matter. People were summoned to a meeting at 2.30 in the afternoon—so much for a council that is interested in the processes of consultation.
It is the sort of thing about which the Leader of the Opposition and his colleagues are interested. The right hon. Gentleman is keen to have a good image on consulting the people, but working people were invited to that meeting at 2.30 in the afternoon to consider a development that will ruin their environment. Three people turned up, and that is recorded by the council as a favourable meeting because they voted two to one for the proposed development. The following day 90 people turned up at 6.30 in the evening—still much too early, as the meeting should have been attended by 500—and they voted 89 to one against. That was recorded as an "against" meeting, but was set against the "for" meeting which had voted in favour of the Labour council's proposal.
It is no wonder that people do not trust the Labour party in Ealing and across the country. As the great prophet said, "By their deeds they shall know them. Do not worry about their words, the red to roses, the smiles, the laughing, or the chucking of children under the chin, just watch what they do and then you will know."
The same people were invited to a further consultation meeting because of the row that I and others kicked up. It was suggested that the third meeting should take place at a time and on a date to be agreed between the residents concerned and the council, but there was no consultation as to the date and time of that meeting. The people received a letter last Friday night telling them that they were to be at a hall on Monday evening, again at the inconvenient time of 6.30, and that there was no possibility of changing the time.
In the event, 160 people turned up, but the press were not allowed in — one could not have anything as democratic as the press seeing what was going on. That is the sham that exists in Ealing. Out of the 160 who attended, 160 voted against. The Labour party both nationally and locally had better take account of this, because the opinion polls will shortly show that rather than being 4 per cent. behind it is 44 per cent. behind.
The Labour council in Ealing has also barred The Times, The Sun and other international Murdoch newspapers from its libraries since it came to power, although it has put in Gay News and all that sort of thing. It was eventually taken to court and lost the case. I understand that the council will be seeking to have its High Court costs paid by the tax and rate payers. I suggest that those legal costs should be paid by the Labour party, and as he is a resident of Ealing, the leader of the Labour party should make his contribution. No doubt he voted for that council, and he has never spoken out against any of its policies. We are still waiting for him to do so.
We have trouble in Northolt from an unwanted Hayes bypass development that was imposed by the Labour GLC. That other dictator, Livingstone, imposed that upon us when he was at county hall despite massive protest meetings in my constituency. The turmoil and mess that that has created is appalling, with mud all over the roads, gaps in the pavements and so on. The life of my constituents is becoming a misery and is unsafe in every way.
It is clear that the people of Ealing—particularly the people of Ealing, North — want no truck with the Labour party. They want no more of the sort of cant and hypocrisy that we have heard today.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), but I hope he will forgive me if I do not enter into a discussion about the allotments in Ealing or the other matters pertaining to his borough. However, it was a great delight to hear him inform the House on education matters, on which he has a wealth of experience and wisdom. It was a pleasure to hear him put forward his point of view in such a reasoned manner, in stark contrast to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery).
I shall come to education in a moment, but at the outset I should say that I very much welcome this Queen's Speech, particularly its commitment to contain public expenditure. It seems that Labour Members who have spoken today are in a great quandary. They do not know whether to attack the Government for not spending nearly enough on public expenditure — saying that the Chancellor's autumn statement last week did not go nearly far enough — or for spending so much on public expenditure that they have broken all their promises and are creating a massive election boom.
It does not seem to have got across to Labour Members that the Government are able to announce this reasonably modest increase in public expenditure because they have been successful in keeping inflation down, and in achieving record growth and high productivity.
The Labour party wants to borrow between £24 billion and £28 billion to finance its policies, although it does not say exactly what it will spend the money on. However, it wants to make that massive borrowing, and to heck with the consequences for inflation. The Labour party does not seem to grasp the fundamental fact that we can have this additional increase in public expenditure without increasing borrowing by a single penny.
When I went around my constituency at the weekend, many constituents told me, "We are delighted to see that you are able to find some additional extra resources to spend on those things that we hold dear, to sort out the problems in education, to spend more on the roads, to spend a bit more on the Health Service and on our infrastructure. We are delighted that you are able to do these things without increasing borrowing or taxation." I have every hope that come the Budget next spring —contrary to what many commentators are saying—we shall see further reductions in taxation, because I do not believe that last week's autumn statement has precluded the possibility of the Chancellor both increasing public expenditure and cutting taxation.
The message is now slowly getting across — and in recent weeks we have seen the articles in The Times and The Daily Telegraph—that if we cut taxation we do not decrease the amount of money available to the Exchequer, but increase it. That message will get through to the public within the next few months. Conservative Members will certainly make every effort to put that message across—that when taxation goes up it stifles enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit, we add to the brain drain and get less money into the Exchequer, but when taxation is cut the Government at the end of the day gain more revenue as well as achieving more initiative and entrepreneurial spirit.
I would now like to consider education. I am delighted that at long last we are to scrap the ridiculous Burnham negotiating machinery. For some considerable time many of us have thought that it was a nonsensical charade to have teachers' pay negotiated in one committee and terms and conditions of service negotiated under a separate organisation. It is not possible to divorce the two. The removal of the Burnham machinery will be welcomed in many quarters.
On the wider issue of the current teachers' dispute, it is extraordinary that when the Government say that they will finance a massive pay increase for teachers— 16·4 per cent. next year in addition to the 8·5 per cent. earlier this year — and in return insist only on the 19 terms and conditions of contract which all good teachers, certainly the vast majority of teachers and head teachers in my constituency, fulfil, will continue to fulfil and believe are an integral part of the job, they are accused of being provocative and of interfering in the delicate negotiations. That is nonsense. If the Government are accused of being provocative by offering such an increase before the negotiations started in Nottingham, what can be said of the trade union leaders who, two nights ago, said that they would turn the classrooms into an industrial battlefield? If that is not a diktat or provocative action, I do not know what is.
The vast majority of my constituents welcome the Government's initiative on education. We want our teachers to be well paid, and better paid than they are now. However, there is no question of accepting some of the terms and conditions hammered out at Coventry or those which, I believe, have now been accepted at Nottingham— terms and conditions that completely compress differentials and give no incentive for the better teachers to pull ahead and earn more. Those conditions are not acceptable to the majority of the people.
We want our teachers to be better paid, but at the same time we want appraisals, rising standards and the terms and conditions laid down specifically in the contract. It is regrettable when conventions that have been followed for centuries are broken. Over the past two years the conventions that have applied in the teaching profession have, I suspect, gone for good. When those conventions have gone, the only thing to replace them is a detailed contract that ties down, clause by clause and line by line, all the duties expected of teachers, who are professional people.
It would be better if we did not have to impose terms and conditions and if teachers, like the professionals they are and have been in the past, would continue to undertake the duties professional teachers expect to undertake, which parents expect them to undertake and which all hon. Members expect them to undertake. If the conventions have been shattered, we have no option but to suggest that they be incorporated into terms and conditions of contract.
If the Labour party opposes us on the education issue, it is backing the wrong horse. The public will not take kindly to the Labour party following the employers' side in these negotiations — a side dominated by Labour-controlled councils which this weekend have been caught trying to cobble together a charade of an agreement.
A major breakthrough has been announced on the news tapes tonight. Apparently, the Labour employers and two of the trade unions have reached an agreement. The two unions have used their sheer weight of numbers to force the breakthrough and have ignored the fact that the other four teaching unions have said that they will have nothing to do with the agreement because it does not give the teaching profession the new structured salary that it desparately needs.
No doubt we shall hear on television tonight and read in the press tomorrow that the wonderful employers and the trade unions, after four days of negotiations, have come up with the perfect solution and that only the Government are being an obstacle to peace and stability in our classrooms. We know that that is nonsense and sheer hypocrisy. Let us begin to expose the myth that the Secretary of State for Education and Science is the only obstacle to peace and stability in our schools. That is absolutely not true. The Labour party know that and I do not think that it will be able to con parents into believing that.
When I was in my constituency last weekend many of my constituents told me that they were delighted that we had taken the initiative. They know that we must put through our very generous offer on education. The teachers want that, the parents want that and our children need it.
On Scottish rates, I agree with the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Lambie) who suggested that England should have the same proposed rating measure. I desperately want such a measure for England. I regret that, because of various technical reasons, about which we all know, connected with rating revaluation, we cannot have the measure working in England as quickly as in Scotland. Let there be no mistake about it, the rating system is iniquitous and unjust. It is simply not good enough for Opposition Members to say that there are a few small anomalies and some unfairness. The whole system is unjust and cannot be defended. It should he scrapped as soon as possible. I will take great delight in voting for the measure, initially for Scotland. It will give me great pleasure, when the Tory party is returned after the next general election, to vote in support of a similar system for England and Wales.
I am very pleased with the measures announced in the Gracious Speech on criminal law, as far as they go. I know that the House has already made its decision clear on capital punishment. I do not think that there will be a vote again in this Parliament on that matter. That is a source of regret. I was participating in a by-election when the vote was held in the Chamber, and if I had been present I would have supported it. I also regret the fact that the vast majority of the people in this country want to see the ultimate deterrent, but the majority of Members of Parliament do not. However, if we accept that that is the democratic decision of the House, we are under a fundamental obligation to ensure that there are deterrent sentences that actually deter so that we do not release on to our streets some of the vile and vicious criminals who have been released in recent years.
I would like the proposed Criminal Justice Bill to incorporate a measure relating to minimum sentences. I am tired of hearing constituents telling me time and time again that we promised tougher sentences, but we have not provided them. I can answer that we have passed all the laws that allow for tougher sentences and have voted through powers to allow minimum 20-year sentences and life imprisonment for a host of crimes such as rape, armed robbery and serious drug trafficking. If those sentences are not being imposed by the courts, I as a Member of Parliament cannot take responsibility for the decisions of Her Majesty's judges.
The time is right for statutory minimum sentences for certain categories of crime. After all, some motoring offences such as drink-driving are considered to be so serious that, irrespective of the level of fine, there must be a statutory minimum ban of one year. We give the judges and magistrates complete discretion as to the the level of penalty they may impose in such cases, and no one wants to restrict that discretion. Therefore, it must be acceptable to say that, for example, society and the House regard rape as such a serious offence that, irrespective of whatever maximum sentence the judge wishes to impose, we expect that in all cases there should be a minimum sentence of five years, seven years or 10 years—or whatever the House decides is right. I hope that that measure will be included in the proposed Criminal Justice Bill.
I regret that two items are not included in the Queen's Speech. One is the reform of licensing hours in England and Wales. I note that the Gracious Speech states that other measures will be laid before us, but I accept rather reluctantly that as this is possibly the last Session before a general election, and following our experience earlier this year with the Sunday trading legislation, it might not be entirely prudent for a Government to embark on a course of reforming the licensing laws in England and Wales. It might, however, be worth while for the Government to indicate that they will give the green light to any Back Bencher successful in the ballot and wishing to bring forward this essential legislation.
A review of gipsy site legislation is also long overdue. The present situation simply cannot continue. Almost every other month Cumbria county council or Carlisle city council puts forward a proposal to build a site in some part of my constituency. 1 have the greatest admiration for local councillors who succeed in defeating proposals for their areas, but as my constituency covers all theirs, wherever the proposed site then moves it will still be my problem. I do not object to that. I volunteered for the job and that is one of the slings and arrows that one expects to suffer. Nevertheless, my constituents do not expect to have to suffer continual fear and have continual battles each time the county council proposes to locate a temporary, transient or permanent site. Every other month a new batch of constituents have a proposal inflicted on them so that most of the constituency is affected at one time or another.
This is a matter of great interest and concern to my constituents in Hampshire. Does my hon. Friend agree that the present legislation compounds rather than solves the problem? We are no longer dealing with an idyllic Romany minority and by holding out the option of official sites we are actually encouraging people to pursue a way of life that is counter to the interests of the overwhelming majority of our constituents.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was speaking euphemistically when I said that the legislation should be reviewed. I meant that large chunks of it should be scrapped. My hon. Friend is right to say that the present law compounds the problem. I have no objection—and I believe that my constituents have no objection—to the establishment of sites for genuine Romany gipsies, if there are any to be found these days, but in our part of the M6 corridor near Carlisle and the Scottish border we object to paying through the nose in rates about £250,000, which seems to be the minimum required these days to put 15 toilets and some tarmac roads on a piece of land. That may be because council labour is used, so perhaps the construction of gipsy sites should be privatised and contracted out. Our objection is to providing so-called gipsy sites for itinerant Scottish and Irish tinkers who contribute nothing to the community and have to be kept separate because one cannot mix Scottish tinkers with Irish tinkers and one cannot mix either with genuine gipsies. That serious problem must be addressed.
With regard to defence, it is of great concern to many people, especially people of my generation who have never had to fight in a world war and have no experience of a world war in Europe, that the stability and peace that we have known for the past 40 years may be becoming more fragile than ever before, due to the stance adopted by the major Opposition party and by the Liberals. Nuclear weapons have kept the peace in Europe for 40 years. The right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) does not believe that it is nuclear weapons that have stopped the Russians invading western Europe and making territorial advances. How naive can one get? One has only to consider Poland, Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Would events there have happened as they did if those countries had had nuclear weapons and been able to stand up to the Russians? Those events were proof positive that countries which do not possess a nuclear deterrent are in no position to deter foreign aggression.
Does anyone seriously imagine that the Reykjavik summit or any of the preparations for it would have happened if we had taken the crackpot advice offered by CND in 1969 and in the 1983 general election to lay down all our arms in one grand, magnanimous and suicidal gesture? We were told that if we took cruise the Russians would never negotiate. We took cruise, western Europe has taken Pershing, we have modernised Polaris by accepting Trident—and the Russians have come to the negotiating table with the largest ever offer on arms reduction. The tragedy is that in the next 12 months, when we are on the verge of securing those agreements, it must be in the minds of people in the Kremlin that in Britain, the second largest partner in the NATO Alliance, there is a possibility of a Labour Government who would get rid of Trident and cruise, close down our nuclear bases and refuse to accept the American nuclear umbrella in Europe, which would shatter the NATO Alliance.
Why should the Russians bother to negotiate in those circumstances? In the 1950s, when the West unilaterally denounced chemical weapons, the Russians continued stockpiling them, not back in Russia, but on the East German border facing our troops in western Europe. If our nuclear weapons are unilaterally thrown away rather than reduced through mulitilateral negotiations our troops in western Europe could face an onslaught from Russia and the Warsaw pact and be powerless to prevent it.
The Opposition parties seem not to have grasped the fact that it is not just nuclear war that we want to prevent. Our nuclear weapons also prevent a conventional war from starting in Europe, and that is as essential as preventing a nuclear holocaust. When the Opposition put their proposals to the electorate, as they have been forced to do since their party conferences, we shall see how much the electorate trusts them on defence. The electorate will tolerate many things from the Opposition but people will not tolerate their national security and their very lives being threatened by policies which are nothing short of dangerous.
In Cumbria I shall have the splendid opportunity of fighting the next general election against candidates whose parties oppose almost everything that Cumbria does. The Liberals and the Labour party want to close Sellafield. They want to close the Trident construction yard, which is also in Cumbria. That would destroy not only our defences and our nuclear industry but hundreds of thousands of jobs, and it would put 50,000 people out of work in Cumbria alone. That is why, whenever the election comes, it will bring not only a Conservative Government but many more Conservative Members from Cumbria.
I shall not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) in his fascinating and wide-ranging review of the Gracious Speech, which was a tour de force worthy of a good barrister, but I echo my hon. Friend's endorsement and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) of the efforts made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to improve the quality of teaching in our schools. Both my hon. Friends gave instances of maladministration, bad teaching and bad organisation of teaching and stressed the underlying benefits and good sense of the Government proposals.
I appreciate the difficulties that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North must face in having the Leader of the Opposition living in his constituency, but I hope that he will not bequeath the right hon. Gentleman to my constituency as I already have the previous Leader of the Opposition and the present Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs living there—perhaps it has something to do with schools for their grandchildren.
I wish specifically to endorse two elements in the Gracious Speech and to draw attention to one omission. The first element that I should like to endorse most emphatically is the Government's recommitment to work for peaceful and fundamental change in South Africa, in consultation with our partners in the European Community and with the Commonwealth.
Great Britain has a crucial role to play in talking to all parties and encouraging talks involving all parties in that troubled sub-continent, and in helping South Africa, the South African Government and those who are interested in reforming the present system to achieve reform as peacefully as possible so that democracy can one day come to that country.
That is the Government view and it is reflected in a group that I and some colleagues started in the previous Parliament called Conservatives for Fundamental Change in South Africa. There are many Conservative and Opposition Members who firmly support the Government in their endeavours, through leading the EC, the Commonwealth and the economically strong nations, especially the United States and Japan, which were not mentioned in the Queen's Speech.
The second element that I welcome are the proposed improvements to the basis by which rate support grant is paid in England and Wales. It is fairly common knowledge that my constituency, which is in East Sussex, has been extremely badly done by in regard to rate support grant for many years. It appears that Ministers do not fully appreciate the needs of many of our constituents, especially the need for care for the elderly, although it goes without saying that we have equal needs in the education of the young.
It is certain that Ministers have not appreciated fully the difficulties that are experienced by a largely elderly population who must cope with the increased cost of living, including increased rates, to say nothing of making a contribution to depressed inner cities, as the Government required of the shire counties last year and are asking for again this year.
I am not arguing against the job that the Government are undertaking to help inner cities, but the funding should come from general tax, not rates, especially when people have such difficulty paying rates. It seems that no proper consideration has been given to east Sussex for its good housekeeping and adherence to Government guidelines for many years. It is not a good reflection on the Government's analysis of circumstances that they are now suggesting an absolute cash reduction of £300,000—not a large sum, but it is still crucial—in rate support grant to east Sussex in 1987–88.
I and my colleagues from east Sussex hope most sincerely that the Secretary of State has listened to what he has been told and that, this year, he will reconsider the sum of money that he is making available.
I should like to welcome also the Government's adherence to activities aimed at increasing the efficiency of industry and of the economy. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher), the Minister. I do not know whether he can detach himself from the Whip for a moment—I know how important Whips are in all of our lives—but my hon. Friend should be congratulated on the magnificent job that he has done almost single-handedly to improve design in industry, which permeates throughout, it. The Government have many feathers in their cap, and some are more visible than others. This is one, and the Government, and my hon. Friend in particular, can take pride in it.
I said that one thing was missing from the Queen's Speech. There may be others, but I have noted one especially. There is no mention of constitutional reform to improve our democratic parliamentary system. Some people would like the Government to plan some reform of the composition of the Upper House, probably along the lines of Lord Home's report. It is argued that if that cannot he achieved in a suitably short time—it would almost certainly be a long and complicated process — there should be some entrenchment of the Upper House pending reform of its composition. In our democracy, it is crucial that, as the Executive draws its power from its majority in this House, there is some brake on it in the other House. If we take that brake away, or if the proper operation of the second House is put in jeopardy, our democratic process is put in jeopardy.
Many of us would like the Government to pass a simple Bill of Rights, probably picking up on the European Commission of Human Rights, thereby affording British people protection against the British Government in a British court rather than forcing them to go to a European court with European judges, although there are British judges among them. That is a long overdue step which made some progress in the other place in a previous Parliament. I would have hoped that the Government might have taken that issue under their wing for this session, but I hope that they will consider it for the future.
I also hoped that the Government might have considered further improvements of our democratic system of elections. Electoral reform is no fad subject of today. We have come a long way in the past 150 years. At the beginning of the 19th century, 184 of the 203 English boroughs operated under some form of patronage, which was dominated by 208 patrons, including two members of the royal family and 101 actual or prospective peers. Contested elections were rare—fewer than one quarter of political contests were fought. The county seat of Nottinghamshire went for 110 years without any electoral contest.
Although the right to vote was at a discount, the right to be bought was not. In 1811, the Duke of Norfolk spent a quite incredible £91,475 to outbid his rival patrons for the seat of Horsham. I hope that, for that sum, he got a Member of Parliament as good as my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern). All of that was before the Reform Act 1884. Even recently, the process of electoral reform has continued. Plural voting in university seats was abolished in 1950 and voting at 18 was introduced as recently as 1979.
The House has followed the process of constitutional reform for many centuries. It is now time to match those quantitive reforms with qualitative reforms. Electoral reform is no cure-all for the economic, social and political problems of the country, but it is certain that any lasting cure for any of those problems — the present Government have done a pretty good job of effecting cures for many of those problems—must require a move away from pendulum politics, each Government feeling compelled to undo much of the previous Government's work simply because it was done by that previous Government, not because of a qualitative assessment of what should be kept or removed.
There are various reasons for electoral reform. They must be a blend of the practical and the ideal. I shall not go through them all, but will draw attention to a few. To achieve stability between one side of the spectrum in politics and the other, it is helpful to have a bias towards strong government and therefore towards single-party government, even though there are 11 parties in the House at present. However, there should not be a bias to the extent that one party has unlimited power, or what has been described as an elective dictatorship, with considerably less than 50 per cent. of the vote supporting it. That must be one of the major thrusts for reform of our electoral system.
Another major reason for the need to reform our electoral system is to provide in Parliament a proper brake on Executive power. That is in no way undercutting the ability of a Government to do what the electorate has elected them to do. It does not discourage radicalism if it is well placed and desired by the electorate. One of the effects of electoral reform, and of making government more representative of the electorate, would be to diminish the influence of special interest groups which are coming more and more to the fore in our political system. We have only to look across the Atlantic to see how immensely powerful such groups are in the United States.
Electoral reform is also needed to provide a greater degree of national unity. Hon. Members may have seen recent newspaper reports of the Scottish National party threatening to boycott Parliament in order to promote devolution which, according to all the evidence, the Scots do not really want. If there was better representation by, for instance, the Conservative party in Scotland and, in the same way, if there was better representation by the Labour party and the other Opposition parties in other parts of England, there would be greater cohesion in the political machinery of government and greater support from the nation as a whole. It is a peculiar system that gives no representation to the Conservative party for its sizeable minority in the great city of Glasgow, and no representation to the Labour party in most of the southeast of England.
It is worth drawing to the attention of the House and reminding my hon. Friends especially that any Government voted into power is now voted in on a knife edge. In 1983 the Conservatives were voted into power by only 15 to 20 per cent. of the votes in the marginal constituencies. That represents a minuscule 3 per cent. of the overall electorate. If that narrow margin of votes can provide the Conservative party with its overwhelming majority in the House, it can equally, by a swing of very small proportions, provide the Opposition with an equally overwhelming majority. Let us be wary of that.
My hon. Friends and I have another reason to be wary. In 1983, even though our number of seats increased, the share of the total vote for the Conservative party decreased. I hope that in the ensuing years that swing has been reversed again, but if it has accelerated, whatever happens in Cumbria may be felt in other parts of the country as well.
Our present electoral system also provides — this point is directed especially to my hon. Friends — an immensely firm platform for the Labour party to relaunch itself. The Labour party has historically been stronger in its own heartland than any other party and has been so for many years. Whatever the upturn in support for the Liberal party or the Social Democratic party, those parties only run second to Labour in 49 Labour seats and therefore cannot have much hope of gaining many victories at Labour's expense. Our present first-past-the post system of electoral government means that Labour could be returned to office with an overwhelming majority of seats in Parliament with only 31 per cent. of the national vote. It needs less than a quarter of the vote to remain the second largest party.
I hope that those statistics draw to my hon. Friend's attention the tenuous nature of power for any party in this country. There is a risk of the Government losing power to the Opposition and of seeing all the achievements of the past 10 years, and perhaps of the next 10 years also, gurgling down the drain.
I tell my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench that for the good of stability and proper democratic processes the Government should devote their thinking to methods of improving our electoral system. For the good of our Conservative party we must seriously set about preparing plans for improving our electoral system. The Government should be showing a stronger lead than has been evident so far and I am sorry that that lead was not given today in the Queen's Speech.
Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) about electoral reform, a subject about which I know little, it is worth repeating a story I heard when on a visit to Nicaragua not long ago.
I was there as one of the unofficial observers to oversee the elections which were taking place. I was told that they had scoured the world to look at the different electoral systems and that they had rejected the British system because it was patently and manifestly unfair. As I arrived to attend that election I heard that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary had made a statement to the House that those elections in Nicaragua were unfair.
That reflects the view that the rest of the world has about our system. None the less, I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes on electoral reform. Our form is the most democratic, since it gives the electorate a manifesto upon which to vote.
I welcome the Gracious Speech, which contains a full programme of legislation and gives the lie to any suggestion that the Government, now in the fourth year of their second term, have lost any of their steam.
The Gracious Speech mentioned road programmes, or at least programmes which relate to transport—for example, the Channel Tunnel Bill and the Bill to authorise the construction of a third crossing of the Thames at Dartford.
In the Gracious Speech last year there was a commitment to the environment and today's speech contains a commitment to the conservation management of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.
However, the speech lacks commitment to the road building programme and to the environment, especially to the need to build more roads to bypass villages. Neither is there sufficient commitment to any sort of control over the planning processes that have to be gone through in order to build such roads.
In my constituency it is proposed that the M42 should go from the south to the north, straight across my constituency, linking the south-west below Birmingham with the M1 motorway. The M42 has been built as far as Appleby Magna but the next section has been held up because, although the inspector held an inquiry, he failed to produce a report and we are now seeing a slippage of about six months. That is not good enough for my constituents. A major three-lane motorway, bringing vast amounts of traffic from the south-west, narrows to a two-lane minor trunk road. The people of the village of Measham have to put up with that traffic which goes on to Ashby de la Zouche, creating two-mile traffic jams, and thunders through the little village of Breedon on what is virtually a single-lane road.
It is most unfortunate that the planning process has not been considered sufficiently and that such situations are allowed to develop. It is also unfortunate that more money is not being made available for road building. The M42 is being built in two stages but both should be built together so that there is not a four-year gap with traffic travelling on narrow roads, but rather a two-year gap with the sections from Appleby to Ashby and from Ashby to Kegworth being commenced immediately. A terrible environmental blight is occurring and I can see no way out unless more money is spent on that road this year.
The Gracious Speech refers to legislation being introduced
to provide further financial assistance to support the coal industry's progress to commercial viability and to enable fair representation of the workforce.
Mine is a coalmining constituency in which some of the mines have closed down. It is an area of mining decline. Although the National Union of Mineworkers was quite strong in Leicestershire during the miners' strike, the miners worked throughout. The Union of Democratic Mineworkers started in Nottinghamshire and at first did not gain much ground in Leicestershire because the leader of the NUM there, although he had successfully kept the miners out of the strike, was against joining the UDM. However, it is interesting and significant that it rapidly gained strength after starting off in a small way in Ellistown. The miners there rapidly joined the UDM and the NUM now represents a significant minority and the UDM the majority. The UDM now has the union office and the NUM has to operate outside the pit. That shows that the Leicestershire miners were not satisfied with the NUM, that they are a moderate and orderly work force and have a respect for law and order.
The Bill will enable fair representation of that work force. At the moment there is fair representation save for the fact that there has been a witch hunt by the Labour party of members of the UDM. Time and again one hears reports of members of the UDM being expelled from local Labour party committees and kept away from Labour party meetings simply because they are members of the UDM, not the NUM.
That witch hunt and the way that it is being conducted is dreadful. It is dividing family from family and people from their community. It is a symptom of the way that the Labour party is going. The Labour party cannot see the UDM as a moderate union. It looks on the NUM as the only representative of the coal miners and that is manifestly not right. It is also an illustration of the unhealthy relationship between the unions and the Labour party—that close relationship that the Labour party cherishes. The relationship between the UDM and the NUM shows how unhealthy that relationship is to a great political party.
I have spoken before of the need for industrial expansion in north-west Leicestershire. One aspect of industrial expansion there is the use of Coal Board land and premises that are no longer required now that the mines are being closed down. The Whitwick mine is in the heart of Coalville in my constituency. It is ideal land for industrial development. The industrial development plan for Coalville has two phases and the location for the second phase is the most ideal site for expansion. There is a great need to utilise that land properly. We should obtain full reports on its disposal and use the land in the way that is best for the area, not for the Coal Board.
After all, the Coal Board has benefited greatly from the area. It has taken the coal and put up its slag heaps. Large areas are subject to subsidence and cannot be used for many years, if at all. The Coal Board has a duty to give something back to the area from which it has benefited. The Coal Board is doing a great deal. British Coal Enterprise Ltd. has successfully sponsored, financed, advised and helped many businesses being started in my constituency and we are extremely grateful for that. However, the Coal Board should accept that the extra land at Whitwick needs a comprehensive plan. It cannot be developed piecemeal and the Coal Board should join British Coal Enterprise Ltd. in obtaining reports on and finding the best way to market the land for the greatest industrial benefit of Coalville.
At the moment, the reports that I have seen of Coalville's requirements show that there is a need for medium-sized premises for rent rather than outright purchase. Certainly there needs to be a great deal of input from the Coal Board. The land should not be sold off piecemeal to individual developers.
Another aspect which comes within the same ambit is that of Oakthorpe. We have all heard about that village where there is an underground fire and we have heard the horrendous tale of potatoes being dug up already baked. I am grateful that the Coal Board has already spent £2 million on trying to stop the fire, but there is a need for a great deal of work to be done in the village to restore confidence in it and to rebeautify it. That requires the sort of money that is not available to the district council. I hope that it will be declared a general improvement area.
It is interesting that there is absolutely no legislation to cover the sort of emergency help that we require or to provide immediate compensation for the victims of natural disasters. One must look for a peg on which to hang financial help and at present that can be found only on the general improvement area peg. I hope that what I have said about Oakthorpe is taken on board and that the Government recognise, as they have done so far, the need for additional money to beautify the area and restore confidence in the village because without that help it would surely die.
I welcome the Gracious Speech and shall certainly support the legislation in it.
I warmly welcome the proposed measures in the Gracious Speech, as I am sure do the majority of my constituents. My main anxiety is about two items which are not mentioned.
In Basildon we are particularly pleased that there will be legislation to promote further competition to secure the greater efficiency of local authority services and to improve the basis for the payment of the rate support grant settlement in England and Wales. For many years Basildon has been a high-spending authority, levying high rates, whereas Essex county council has been financially prudent. For that reason I think that I speak for all Essex Members when I say that we are not at all happy with the present rate support grant settlement for Essex. It is unfair in the light of that county's spending pattern and we trust that the proposed legislation will remedy that. I warmly welcome the proposed legislation to abolish domestic rates in Scotland and we look forward to it being extended to England, particularly in relation to reform of the business rate.
My constituents are delighted to learn of the construction of a third crossing over the Thames at Dartford, since increasing traffic congestion has made that particular journey insufferable. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is sitting on the Front Bench. I am sure that when she had responsibility for that matter she was most helpful in encouraging the Government to introduce the legislation that will be considered this Session.
On the subject of journeys across the water, I have visited Gibraltar twice this year. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) is present. He provided excellent leadership to one of our delegations there. I am sure that I speak for him when I say how delighted the Gibraltarians will be to learn of the Government's stated commitment to stand by them. However, it was a great pity and a mistake to remove our guard from the border this year. That did not exactly help morale.
I am disappointed to see that two items are omitted from the Queen's Speech. The first is a blank tape levy. The present laws on home taping are unenforceable and I hoped that a royalty would be proposed. Audio blank tape manufacturers are all foreign and the present system is destroying jobs. The music business is extremely important for jobs and exports and it is the duty of the House to stand by it.
My second disappointment is the lack of any mention of pro-life legislation. On 13 December an all-party group of Members of Parliament will have a private audience with the Pope. We shall present him with an illuminated scroll signed by as many hon. Members as possible, congratulating him on his stand on pro-life issues. What a pity that when we meet him we shall not be able to tell him about legislation that the Government will introduce this Session.
Two Bills have been introduced, one by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and one by my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves), which would have controlled research on embryos. There were two decisive votes in the House, so I am surprised that the Government felt unable to act on them. I do not understand why this Government and all previous Governments have felt that they must remain neutral on the subject. Parliament is about providing legislation to help people sustain their lives, so if Parliament is not about life, I do not know what is.
How on earth we can justify spending millions of pounds on the National Health Service, which seeks to save life, and the present legislation on abortion, which provides for the destruction of life, I do not know. It is a great disappointment and an outrage. However, I note that the Gracious Speech says that other measures will be laid before the House. That one sentence gives me hope and I look forward to those two measures being introduced this Session.
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Lightbown.]