I beg to move,
That this House affirms the overwhelming need to improve the quality of life of millions of citizens in the United Kingdom by pursuing progressive policies for creating more jobs, expanding the National Health Service, increasing investment in housing and schools, and providing higher pensions; contrasts these objectives with the hidden agenda of the Conservative Party in relation to the extension of value-added tax, further contraction of health and social services, the imposition of a workfare scheme for the unemployed, and an accelerated withdrawal of the state from its role as a protector of the weak; and notes that these intentions will be carefully concealed from voters during the general election campaign, since their implementation would be seen as compounding the misery and widening the social divisions already inflicted upon the British people during the last eight years.
The House will have noted that a motion in the same terms appears on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). I am pleased to have won a place in the ballot because it means that I shall set the agenda in the House for the next three hours. That gives me the opportunity in the dying days of this Parliament to draw attention to the damaging and debilitating demeanour of this Tory Government that has diminished the quality of life for millions of people in our land. My winning of the ballot gives me the opportunity to present some of the alternative and progressive policies that the Labour party will be presenting in the forthcoming general election. Those policies will enhance the quality of life for our citizens and give hope for the future based on fairness and freedom rather than greed and injustice.
It is clear that the Prime Minister and the Conservative party and its cronies think that they will easily win the forthcoming general election. They are wrong.
I am sorry to intervene at this early stage in the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I wonder whether he will be telling us during his speech why it is that the lowest quality of life and the deprivation that has ensued over the past four or five years has been mainly in Labour local authority areas—in fact, essentially in Labour local authority areas.
Mainly because Conservatives just do not care about such areas and tighten the screws on them. I shall be dealing with such issues.
The Conservative party is wrong if it thinks that it will win the next general election easily. It may have the media and the bandwagon-inducing opinion polls sewn up and it may have an on-tick mini boom strictly for the duration of the election to try to fool the voters, but it will be unable to hide the truth.
There are already millions of victims of the Government's policies. There are 2·5 million families in England alone who are living in seriously substandard dwellings. There are 3·5 million who are unemployed. There are 4·5 million victims of recorded crime—in reality, there are over 8 million such victims. The total has increased by 50 per cent. as this allegedly law-and-order Government have steadily and increasingly lost control. There are 17 million people living in, or on the margins of, poverty. There are 10 million pensioners who have lost about £9 a week because the Government broke the Labour Government's pension rises formula. There are 50
million or more who rely solely on the National Health Service and who have seen it being eroded. A further 'Tory term in government would not be more of the same; it would be much worse. As William Keegan wrote in The Observer on 3 May,
At the very least, those who have paid the costs are entitled to share in whatever gains there prove to be in the end.
That is not the Government's attitude. A vote for a third term of Tory government will be regarded as a ringing endorsement of a policy to bash the victims even harder.
Let us be blunt. Another Tory Government would mean more factory closures, more hospitals being shut, more people left to rot on the dole, more made homeless and more condemned to poverty. This would happen in all sorts of ways and it is only right that the British people should know what is in store for them in the Tories hidden manifesto. For a start, there will be large rises in value added tax. The Conservatives said in 1979 that they had no intention of doubling VAT, but when they came into office they increased it immediately from 8 per cent. to 15 per cent.
In my view, VAT will soon be increased to 25 per cent. if the Tories are returned to office, and it will be harmonised with the EEC. That is what the Prime Minister's representative at the EEC, Lord Cockfield, is pressing for. That means VAT on food, children's clothes, shoes, heating and newspapers. It could mean as much as an additional £10 a week on the average family's bill. Especially hard hit will be the low taxpayer or non-taxpayer. He will pay a greater proportion of his income in taxation while the rich will pay less. Such a rise in VAT would inevitably increase inflation.
There has been a fracas at the European Parliament about it. Lord Cockfield has suddenly gone silent about it, but he has let his intentions be known. He favours harmonisation, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer made similar statements in The Guardian in February. I can give the hon. Gentleman the relevant date when I have resumed my seat. The Chancellor has talked about expanding the base for VAT, and that is one of the likelihoods.
There will be big increases in rents—probably as much as £12 a week for council tenants. Such increases will give the green light to private landlords to follow suit. As existing controls are weakened, Rachmanism and thuggery will re-emerge to scar the face of private landlordism.
Mortgage payers will witness a speedy return to high interest rates. Such interest rates have been the hallmark of Tory economic policy outside election periods. There will also be a new poll tax. However, the Conservatives have already increased rates for every family by £4 per week as a result of cuts in rate support grant and penalties imposed on local authorities and their ratepayers. In my borough of Waltham Forest, £40 million has been stolen in that way. On top of such penalties the new poll tax will mean additional charges of £4·17 for an average family and £6·32 for a pensioner couple.
The hon. Gentleman may wish to make a comment, and I shall give him and his hon. Friends an opportunity to intervene if they are prepared to justify how a couple relying on a state pension and who live in a small home in my constituency must pay at the same level of rates as the Prime Minister and Denis in their fortress in Dulwich. Can they justify that? They are keeping quiet because it is unjustifiable.
Prescription charges have gone up twelvefold since 1979. That shows that there is no limit to Conservative callousness to tax the sick. A third Tory term will mean an extra £4 a week to cover the cost of school meals for a family with two children. Water rates have already increased unnecessarily above the rate of inflation, but they will rocket even further if water is privatised and run for profit.
Charges for buses and trains will also increase as the impact of privatisation and the halving of subsidies is felt. The electricity and gas industries will make up for holding back this year. They have kept their prices down AS their contribution to the Conservatives' election efforts. However, in the earlier years of the Tory Administration their charges went up above the rate of inflation and hurt a lot of pensioners in the process.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for missing his opening remarks. I wonder whether he can explain what he is doing for his constituents who are suffering the imposition of a 62·8 per cent. rate increase. That increase is exceeded only by that of the long-suffering people of Ealing, who have faced a 65 per cent. rate increase. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, when I was leading a march of some 4,000 people demonstrating against Ealing council's disgusting behaviour, there were also marches being held in his constituency? This is a serious state of affairs. Pensioners and disabled people in my constituency are continually in tears because they cannot pay the council's horrendous demands. Is not the position he same in his constituency?
The hon. Gentleman was obviously not present when I spoke of the £40 million stolen by the Government as the result of cuts in rate support grant and penalties imposed on local authorities. I can prove that figure because I have a letter from the borough treasurer quoting it. I can give the hon. Gentleman a breakdown of that £40 million. When the cut in rate support grant was mooted in the House, I called for the Secretary of State for the Environment to do something to give back some of the money. He refused and displayed a callous indifference to the problem. That is the reality.
It is no good the hon. Member for Ealing, North (M r. Greenway) or his hon. Friends pretending to be the champions of the ratepayers in my borough or in Ealing when the Government have stolen such sums of money. The Government are charging ratepayers £1·64 for every £1 spent by local authorities.
I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question clearly and I will not give way.
The nation faces increased charges, and a 2p reduction in income tax pales in comparison to the pounds that will be taken from people in meeting their extra bills. The greedy stand to gain if the Tories win. The richest 5 per cent. of the land have already been given an extra £3·6 billion a year. That is only a start. A blind eye will, once again, be turned towards selfish, anti-social speculation and big City fraud. The majority of people will be allowed their rights under the Tories only if they can afford to pay for them. Such is the Tory dream. It is a nightmare for the rest of us.
There will be a further rundown in the state education system. Vouchers will be introduced to speed the creaming off of resources and the school closure programme. On 8 May, The Independent referred to a recently issued Department of Education and Science circular which said that, by 1991, the authorities must close about 2,000 schools. Teachers and parents will be treated with even more contempt than they are at present. The majority of children will be confined to a less than fair start in life. Students will be given loans instead of grants. Higher education will be put further out of the reach of many youngsters because of the cuts.
Further cuts are planned for the local authorities and other public providers. Community care for the elderly, for people with disabilities and for those who would otherwise be institutionalised will become a myth. Such care will be rationed and will not be available in many parts of the country. Home helps and meals on wheels will not be provided.
Resources for the National Health Service will be cut and it will become more dependent on charity for life-saving equipment. Rail and bus routes all over the country will face the axe. The National Health Service and the health of the nation have been seriously damaged by the Conservative Government. More than 220 hospitals have been closed. The availability of hospital beds has fallen by more than 10 per cent. There has been a quicker turnover of patients. Patients are thrown out of hospital before they have received proper treatment and there is now a higher level of readmissions. Hospital waiting lists have increased by 14 per cent.
The National Health Service also faces a severe nursing crisis because of poor pay. On 1 May, the Yellow Advertiser, my local paper, referred to the nursing crisis and said:
Health chiefs fear the increase, which is above the rate of inflation, may be just a flash in the pan"—
that is all too true—
and not enough to attract more nurses to the district.
It reported that Waltham Forest has more than 700 vacancies for nurses on its books. Low rates of pay and working conditions have been blamed for these shortages. That paper fears that if staff problems get worse the quality of service given to patients could be badly affected. Operating time has already been restricted because of the shortage of theatre nurses. Before last week's rise, a fully trained staff nurse with three years' experience was earning £20 or £30 less than the national average.
It is no accident that Britain has gone to the top 'of the poor health league of countries in the industrialised world. We are at the top of the league for deaths from heart disease and Britain has a high incidence of cancer. The Tory rundown of the NHS is out of step with the needs of our people.
In addition, a number of independent reports have clearly stated the cause of the unnecessary deaths and incidence of ill health in Britain. The Church of England report "Faith in the City" and the Black report found that the most important determinants of ill health were poor housing, particularly in the devastated economies of the inner cities and the bleak housing estates of the outer cities, unemployment, and poor nutrition. There was evidence that poor families are forced to cut down on food to make ends meet. There was also evidence that a dangerous environment, particularly because of a lack of suitable play areas for children, leading to road accidents is the main cause of death among young people.
A report was produced by the Health Education Council, but it was stifled by the Government just a month ago. It contained damning, conclusive evidence against the Government. The poorer one is, the less healthy one is. The situation has got worse under the Government. People in lowly occupations are twice as likely to die before retirement than professional people. The babies of fathers who have unskilled jobs run twice the risk of stillbirth and death before their first birthday. The children of poor parents have lower birth rates, shorter stature and poorer health. Unemployed people have poorer health than those who are in work.
Last Friday, the BMA's science and education board working party produced a report on deprivation and ill-health. It was quoted in detail in The Independent. It stated:
Unemployment, poor housing, and low incomes are causing a substantial amount of ill-health for millions of people in Britain.
It went on to state:
Inequalities so severe as to give rise to pronounced effects on health seem to us indefensible.
That was stated by the BMA, not a politically-biased body.
The newspaper went on to outline the main factors:
Housing. Homes which are damp, cold and insanitary directly cause illnesses; overcrowding causes stress and anxiety which can lead to mental illness.
Unemployment. The paper reports 'clear evidence' that unemployment is associated with higher mortality rates, and that unemployed people are more vulnerable to self-destructive behaviour, ranging from suicide to drug-taking. School leavers who went on the dole were found to have worse mental health than fellow-former pupils who found work, and… some psychiatric illness is directly caused by unemployment.
Low income. DHSS figures show almost nine million people were living at or below the supplementary benefit income level in 1983.
The Government fiddled the later figures. They are substantially more than that. The article went on:
The unemployed and pensioners, in particular, find great difficulty in getting good housing and healthy food. They are forced to buy the cheapest and least nourishing foods and their children are reported to suffer under-nutrition, stunted growth, and health problems brought on by obesity"—
it is an obscenity—
caused by fatty food.
Other areas of deprivation affecting health are poor education, which reduces an individual's chances of getting a better income, and racial discrimination, which forces people into accepting poorer housing and income.
The report went on to urge that more money
should he spent on housing, financial support for low-income groups, health education and reorganising the NHS so that it was more accessible to the deprived.
The Government will have to answer to that report in the general election. It will certainly become an important issue.
I am concerned about diet. I have raised the matter before in the House. I presented a petition for action for a healthier diet. It is well known what is induced by a poor diet. Factors include excess fat, sugar, salt, lack of fibre, and food additives. Those factors have been put on record by medical experts, but the Government have done nothing. They have not even introduced the most minimal labelling. They are in the pockets of the farmers, the sugar industry and chemical companies. That is why the Tories are incapable of tackling that cause of ill health.
To improve the health of the nation, we need action that only a Labour Government can provide. We need preventive health measures to combat the causes of ill health. The report referred to low incomes, high unemployment, bad housing and poor environment, improved diets with higher nutritional standards, informative food labelling, and fewer additives being allowed, and health education being set up in a realistic way to help to promote a healthier lifestyle.
We need a charter for women's health so that there is a computerised call and recall system for screening breast and cervical cancer in every health authority area. The results of such tests should be properly conveyed to the women concerned. Every woman should have the right to a regular check-up. Labour will promote a network of well woman clinics, more family planning clinics and increased access to women doctors.
We should improve family doctors' services so that we can reduce the size of doctors' lists and ensure that they have more time for in-patients. We should encourage local family health care teams so that family doctors, nurses, health visitors and other professionals can work together in the community. Above all, there should be at least 3 per cent. investment in the NHS each year so that we can fund the repair and replacement of outdated hospital buildings, cut waiting lists, and train and recruit more doctors, nurses and other health staff to improve treatment and pay them better than the current nurses' poverty wages. That programme is in stark contrast with what the Tories have done for the health of the nation.
The number one issue in the general election will be unemployment. The Tories will try to avoid it as much as they possibly can, but the truth is that they cannot—they will not—reduce unemployment. They may reduce the figures. So far, there have been 19 figure fiddles. About 500,000 unemployed people are no longer accounted for. If elected, the Tories will probably abolish the unemployment register and replace it with a vague employment census. For them, the advantages would be that the unemployed would officially no longer exist.
I have referred to the likelihood of the introduction of United States-style workfare schemes. Does the Minister wish to give way?
I shall gladly do so in a moment.
The United States-style workfare schemes could include ending teenagers' rights to supplementary benefit, stripping the DHSS or so-called services of any welfare duty towards the unemployed and imposing work tests, including forced labour for thousands who register for the dole. It would be conscription by any other name—conscription to training schemes—otherwise they would lose their benefit. From there it is a short step to "no work, no dole" schemes, even though there is no work.
How many times do we have to tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Employment and I have said repeatedly in the House and outside that we have not the slightest intention of introducing a workfare scheme? All hon. Members can put their hands on their hearts and say that the hon. Gentleman is simply scaremongering.
I wish that I could believe the Minister. We must read the small print in such matters. The country and the House have been misled before. Ministers have said, "We have no intention of introducing such a scheme at the moment." [Interruption.] Yes, they have. Of course they have no such intention at the moment because there will be a general election and they do not want their plans to be rumbled into the open.
There is no work for many who suffer. The number of people out of work is seven times greater than the number of vacancies. Workfare will cut jobs for other workers. The BBC's "Panorama" programme found that, in one United States town, 12 out of 16 people working in the local police station were workfare placements, including a workfare cop. The "Panorama" programme also showed that workfare undercuts wages quite substantially.
The hon. Gentleman has been more than generous in giving way and I hope that my interventions are not upsetting him. Why is it that in large areas of London—Labour-controlled local authority areas—up to 30 per cent. of males under the age of 24 are unemployed, yet the capital is overflowing with work opportunities and many employers cannot get people to work?
The hon. Member obviously did not listen to what I said. I had just made the point that the number of people out of work is seven times greater than the number of vacancies. That is also the case in the capital. In addition, the Government have forced down salaries to such a low level that people cannot afford to work for those poverty wages. People would be thrown into even more poverty on those wages.
The Government may introduce some sort of workfare scheme, even though they may not call it that, aimed at making people work off benefits—for example, do unpaid socially useful work in return for social security payment. But the cost of enforcing and administering those schemes is far more than the social value of the work done. Such schemes contain little or no training and give no help to persons to find permanent jobs.
Workfare workers are also forced to do dangerous work or lose their benefits. Similarly if they leave a job because of race or sexual discrimination, or refuse a job because it does not fit in with their child care arrangements, they could also lose benefit. They have no employment rights. If the Government move in any way in that direction, that would be a terrible and retrograde step. I believe that the Government will do that.
We need proper jobs and good basic training instead of such schemes. The country knows that Labour has the best policies to create jobs and to tackle unemployment. We are committed to creating more than 1 million jobs in the first two years of coming to power. The key to job creation is investment in industry to boost the manufacturing that has been so savaged by the Government so that we can again have quality goods made in Britain and an investment bank to halt the flood of money that is going abroad. Under the Government £96 billion has gone abroad.
Labour is committed to direct state investment in jobs by central Government and by municipal enterprise, and investment in construction so that we can build homes, hospitals and schools and rebuild the nation's infrastructure—its roads, railways and sewers. We are committed to investment in the community to help people in the NHS, education, transport, social services and child care. That is a much better programme than any phoney workfare scheme that the Government will put forward.
The hon. Gentleman is complaining about outward investment. I take it that he would be very happy to welcome inward investment from other countries into the United Kingdom. How can he welcome inward investment while at the same time not allow outward investment?
The speculative movement of hot capital does nothing but close down factories. I want to see that £96 billion invested in jobs in this country. The money is needed for that. Labour has the best policies to create jobs. I hope that some of my colleagues and comrades will mention the other progressive policies we need and that Labour offers. We need peace in our schools and higher quality education. We need to build and improve homes for people, not have the relentless dilapidation and homelessness which the Tories' 70 per cent. cutback in housing has produced. We need to improve the standard of living and quality of life of pensioners. We need to stop the 40,000 unnecessary hypothermia deaths which occur every winter because of high fuel costs and poverty in retirement.
We do not want nuclear expansion and our countryside desecrated. We do not want property speculation allowed in our green belts or in our inner cities. We want clean air and clean beaches. We want an end to lead in petrol. We want Britain to adopt international standards to control and combat acid rain so that our forests, rivers and seas are protected from irreparable damage. Under the Government we are the dirty men of Europe in terms of pollution.
Those are just some of the policies that a Labour Government would implement to improve the quality of life for millions of our fellow citizens. Those policies derive from better quality values for a better quality future. Contrast that with the "get rich quick, make a quick buck" approach of the Tories as illustrated by their one-off sales of national assets such as British Telecom and Rolls-Royce. What value has the quick buck when people live blighted and shortened lives because of deliberate neglect in the provision of public services? The few bob made by the Rolls-Royce shareholders will not stop many of them perhaps dying unnecessarily early from heart disease because the Government will not act, or suffering from cancer because of inadequate environmental controls, or suffering from kidney disease because the NHS is underfunded. That few bob will not stop people being part of an increasingly nasty and divided country. Those people may become victims of rising crime as a consequence.
In the article in The Observer of 3 October, William Keegan said:
The Conservatives promote the worst instincts in individuals and society. They have taken a positive delight in nurturing selfishness and greed and have made 'care' into a dirty word.
That is the case. The Tories have poisoned values and ideals, which leads to a poisoned environment and a poisoned society. Labour offers a better way forward and a better quality of life. Sensible people will vote Labour.
I do not think that many of us will read Hansard tomorrow after hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) without a real sense of wonderment because it is obvious that he does not live on the same planet or in the same world as any of us. It is a world and a planet that he wishes existed because it is only on a planet such as was described by the hon. Gentleman that his wicked schemes and the wicked ways that he seeks to impose on the British people would ever have a chance of succeeding.
I remind hon. Members of what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) on 5 March 1987:
You have no policies that the country needs or wants. You know that our policies are needed and wanted. Your only hope is to pretend that those policies are other than what they are. You deceive no one.
The hon. Gentleman, in that catalogue of grotesque distortions and in that fabric of innuendo and shambles, tried to perpetrate on the House a Goebbels-style exercise in black propaganda. Even on the day that a general election has been announced, it was a disgraceful speech by any standards, even by those of the loony and militant Left which he represents. It was a contemptible speech on a matter of great concern and importance. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman has the nerve to make such a speech when he represents thousands of constituents whose local authorities have just imposed a 62·8 per cent. rate rise upon them.
The other night 8,000 people marched on Waltham Forest town hall to express their utter contempt and real anger about the fact that the hon. Gentleman and his cronies should have sought to impose a rate increase. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman has the nerve to come here and lecture my hon. Friends on the provision of care and services, because he will sting every family in that constituency with a 62·8 per cent. rate increase. His nerve is beyond comprehension. His constituents must be praying for release from the long nightmare of Socialist ideology being suffered by those in Lambeth, Brent and Waltham Forest.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of Waltham Forest and its rates rise, may I ask him whether it would not be more helpful to the House if he told us exactly how much money in rate support grant has been removed from the London borough of Waltham Forest since 1979? I understand it is about £40 million. Does he not agree that if that money had not been removed from the ratepayers of Waltham Forest by his Government, the very large rate rises that have been imposed to pay for the services that are needed by the people of that area would not be necessary? Those who marched on Waltham Forest town hall would be better employed marching on the Department of the Environment in Marsham street.
The answer to every point made by the hon. Gentleman is no. The hon. Gentleman paints a view of Britain that is fanciful beyond words. He parachuted from cloud-cuckoo-land into this Chamber today and, like so many of his hon. Friends, he parachuted from the sort of dream world that he occupies with a number of others. They are divorced from the realities of life, and as they chew the barbed wire of Socialism they would do well to reflect that the people of Britain will not be conned in the next few weeks. The arguments will be clearly laid before the people and they will have the opportunity yet again to reject the dreadful and wicked programme proposed by the hon. Member for Leyton. He knows quite well that that programme would do nothing to resolve any of the serious problems that remain to be dealt with in some of the inner city areas.
It would be folly for us to claim or to think that everything in the garden is lovely and that everything is perfect. Of course it is not. It will be no part of the Conservative party's case at this general election to say that we have resolved every outstanding problem, but the foundations are well laid for the resolution of all the serious problems that this country faces.
No, I will not give way.
It is because we have so many difficulties to overcome that we approach them with common sense and real compassion and not with the dribbling, whining crocodile tears of the Opposition or the lunatic meanderings of the absurd Left.
The main topic of this debate is the quality of life of our citizens. Like the power of a nation, the quality of life depends upon the primacy of economic success. [Interruption.] It does not depend at all on where one was born.
The record of growth in the United Kingdom is outstanding. It is one of the highest in the world. Britain has topped the European Community league table for growth since 1982. In the 1960s and 1970s our growth rate was the lowest of all the major European economies. Since 1980, the growth in United Kingdom manufacturing productivity has been the highest of the seven major industrial countries. In the 1960s and 1970s it was the lowest.
Manufacturing output has increased by 10·5 per cent. since 1983 and over the same time manufacturing investment has increased by 20 per cent. I am well aware that to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) and to his friends on the more absurd Left of the Labour party these figures are meaningless. To the hon. Gentleman they show no measure of success and no increase in prosperity. They show no raising of the conditions of the people throughout the length and breadth of Britain. However, they are facts that cannot be denied and we cannot be asked to be partial about the facts.
As I say, manufacturing investment has increased by 20 per cent. That is a triumph and should be wholeheartedly welcomed by the Opposition. The real take-home pay of a married man on average earnings with two children has increased by 21·6 per cent. since 1978–79 and by 18·3 per cent. since 1982–83. Growth in the non-oil economy is forecast to be 3·5 per cent. in 1987. Despite the fall in oil revenues of £7·5 billion from their 1985–86 level, in his 1987 Budget my right hon. Friend the Chancellor was able to announce a £2·5 billion programme for a cut in taxation, with the basic rate of income tax falling from 29 per cent. to 27 per cent. I have no doubt that the electorate will view with interest the fact that the Opposition parties voted against that cut. At the same time the Chancellor managed to produce a £4·75 billion increase in public spending in priority areas such as the National Heal' h Service, about which we have heard little commendation from the Opposition. He also announced a £3 billion reduction in the public sector borrowing requirement.
Before the last election, I recall that the right hon. Gentleman who is a great magician with the language, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), said that no British firm could be certain of remaining solvent over the next two years. Like so many of his forecasts and like so many of the forecasts made by his right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook who has taken to the kind of magical forecasts that we used to hear, they have ceased to have any credibility. It is a case of he who cries -wolf"' last. They have gone on crying wolf but nobody believes them.
As I have said, it is no part of our case that the situation is perfect, but gigantic strides have been made in the modernisation of British industry. Wherever one goes in the United Kingdom and whereever people of good will choose to analyse and look and want to see, they will see a real renaissance in the power of Britain as a manufacturing country. They will see it as a country to which economic success means primacy, and that is deeply important to the interests of all our people.
I shall now turn to the National Health Service.
I listened with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman said about the Government's economic record. Why did he not refer to unemployment, to the decline in manufacturing industry and to the loss of jobs in that industry, and why did he not speak about the deficit in manufacturing trade?
I hope to come to those topics, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman can contain himself. I know that my speech is moving along at some speed, but I intend to detain the House for some time yet. I hope to come to some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman and to answer them, I hope to his complete satisfaction. However, because of his request and before dealing with the National Health Service I shall happily deal with industrial relations and employment. [Interruption.] We talk about these things in different ways, but employment means jobs.
I say again to the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr Fatchett) something that I know he finds hard to understand. Economic success pays for all the wonderful services that we provide for people who in many ways are extremely unfortunate. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that I share many of his concerns about the high level of unemployment. Unemployment will never be cured by a backward-looking economy that is wallowing in the slough of a Socialist despond. Unemployment will be cured for ever only by a vibrant, growing economy that is expanding, has confidence and is capable of garnering to itself all the new opportunities, ideas, horizons and investment that will create the new jobs that we shall badly need in future.
Let me make some specific points about unemployment. In March 1987, unemployment stood at 3,042,000—11 per cent. of the working population. That was an increase of 156,000 on the June 1983 level. Unemployment has fallen by nearly 180,000 in the past eight months. That is the fastest drop since 1973, and it is an important step forward. It is very good news, and I know that Opposition Members will welcome it.
Unemployment is definitely on the decline. However, we shall never resolve the problem as long as uncertainty hangs over the country about the possibility of a Labour Government ever again being elected. They would destroy the economy, bring back high inflation and demolish the fabric of improvement for the platform from which we are taking off for economic recovery.
Employment has risen by over 1 million since March 1983. That increase is greater than those in the European Community countries combined. It sticks ill in the gullet of Opposition Members not to congratulate the Government on the real progress being made on unemployment, although we are taking into account that we still have a long way to go.
I know that my hon. Friend is a well-read man. No doubt he has read the recent OECD report, which analyses employment rates in different OECD member countries. Will he remind the House that, for the first time in OECD statistics, the British unemployment rate is now below that of the French? That is a further indication of the progress that we are making on employment.
It is kind of my hon. Friend to remind the House of that important figure. There is no doubt that we have made gigantic strides, for which the Opposition have not given the Government proper credit. Of course, that does not mean that there is not a tremendous amount of ground to cover, but we are past the foothills of dealing with the unemployment problem. We can now see the horizon, and the opportunities that lie ahead.
It is interesting to note how much self-employment has grown. It has increased by more than 750,000 since June 1979. I suspect that the increase would be even larger if all the figures were completely accurate, and if we were not so conservative in our accounting. Youth unemployment has fallen by 120,000 over the past two years and, as my hon. Friend pointed out, the percentage rate is much lower than the EEC average. Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England stand not at 30 per cent., but 13·7 per cent., 18·6 per cent. and 15·7 per cent. respectively. Unemployment is falling in all regions across the United Kingdom.
I must repeat that it is no part of my case that the work is finished yet. This is a serious matter which is of. great concern to the Government, as is evidenced by the enormous amount of work that they have done. Even having regard to the partiality, and the requirement for partiality inherent in our system, it is a pity that the Opposition do not work together more with the Government to bring about a reduction in unemployment. But, as I have said, the first precondition for fuller employment is for the economy never again to be run by a Socialist Government. We all know of cases—there are two in my constituency—of major foreign-owned corporations delaying substantial inward investment in this country until they are positive that there is no chance of a Labour Government being returned.
Let me now deal with the smears—I can describe them as nothing less—and the black propaganda—I am sorry; I must not use the work "black"—of the hon. Member for Leyton about the National Health Service. What he said really proved to all of us beyond peradventure that the hon. Gentleman is, frankly, a bit barmy. He talks of enormous hospitals being closed, but he does not mention the new hospitals that have been opened. He did not mention that between 1978–79 and 1985–86 there was an increase of 31 per cent. in real terms in capital spending on the NHS. It fell by 31 per cent. under the stewardship of the last Labour Government. That is a contemptible record. It does not lie in the mouth of the hon. Gentleman to criticise the Government about the enormous increases in expenditure on the NHS, which needs continuing high expenditure of public money, and a real commitment to improved management so that a better service can be delivered to those who use it.
My hon. Friend may wish to note that, as a direct consequence of the courageous decision to close a small hospital in my constituency, it has been possible to find no less than £35 million to invest in the district general hospital. That means that my area will now have a teaching arm of the NHS, which would have been inconceivable if the campaigns led by the Opposition to keep the old hospital open had succeeded.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has cited only one of the many examples that all of us could give of the prudent and sensible management instilled into the NHS. However, we shall need to go a great deal further to provide better hospitals, better services and better paid people in the hospitals to give the patients those better services. It is interesting to recall that only recently the Labour party, in its relentless drive for an Italian-style marketing campaign, was unable to find an empty hospital ward to photograph in London. It had to scour London before it eventually found one.
I shall stick to the point about the NHS being safe and everything going marvellously. Although there has been a slight drop in the waiting list in my area, it has been calculated that it would take 34 years to clear it. Is that a good record? I should have thought that it was appalling.
It is not for me to comment on the management of the National Health Service in Sheffield. However, I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will make sensible, practical and comradely suggestions to those who run the service in Sheffield to find a way of ameliorating the sad position there.
I have prefaced everything that I have said by pointing out that it is no part of our claim that everything is perfect. How could it be, in such a vast organisation? However, to portray the NHS as the hon. Member for Leyton did is to insult those who provide the service, those who work in it and all of us who pay for it. It is a terrible condemnation of the Opposition that they cannot fight the election without immediately embarking on an appalling campaign of black propaganda to run down an NHS that has been transformed beyond all recognition.
No fewer than 100 new hospital schemes are planned for completion between 1979 and 1989. That is a remarkable number. Notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman's black propaganda, total expenditure on the NHS has increased under the Tory Government from £7·75 billion in 1978—the last year of Labour Government—to £18·9 billion in 1987. It is beyond me how he can pretend to make a credible and comprehensive case when those figures alone are taken into account. They constitute an increase of 26 per cent. in real terms, and expenditure is planned to reach nearly £20 billion in 1987–88. I only hope that the hon. Gentleman's constituents, when they come to make up their minds by themselves in those quiet boxes, will remember that when the last Labour Government were in power they cut capital expenditure by 31 per cent. across the board. That is a disgraceful record. There are 70,000 more doctors and nurses than there were in 1979 and 4·5 million patients are being treated. Since 1979, nurses' pay has increased in real terms by 23 per cent.
The quality of life must depend on the economic success of the country. The primacy of economic success has enabled this Government to pay a dividend in the form of substantially increased public expenditure in the priority areas. That is how it should be. Public money must be directed to those areas where it is truly needed, including the National Health Service. It can be no part of our case that all these matters have been happily resolved and that unemployment is not a serious problem. Everybody wants unemployment to be greatly decreased. No Government is doing more than we are trying to do to resolve the unemployment problem, but it will be resolved only by allowing industry and the economy to flourish, prosper and expand. That will produce a higher and more agreeable quality of life for all our people.
I shall not make as grand or as long a speech as that of the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames). Since I became a Member of Parliament in 1983 I have heard the Government praise themselves for their management of the economy. The hon. Member for Crawley referred to the Government's economic success. However, economic success in Sheffield means that well trained and skilled engineers and steel workers will never work again. They are having to sell their homes because they cannot afford to keep up their mortgage payments. They have invested their working lives in the economy of this country. Many of them also risked their lives for the safety of this country in the 1939–45 war.
Rates have always been said to be the real problem. That point has been made more than once in Standing Committee on subjects such as social security and local government, but the fact that industry has not been given proper Government backing has been a major factor in the closure of factories. The unit costs at British Steel in Sheffield were just as high as those in Rotherham, which has a much lower rate. Therefore, it cannot be argued that rates are the main issue. Industry's energy costs have never been subsidised to the same extent as those of our foreign competitors. However, the Government ignore that fact for their own political purposes. Industry in Sheffield has been sacrificed for economic expediency, with the result that our proud and skilled workers will never work again.
The economic success that has been praised by the Government has led to an estimated 4 million children living at starvation level. Millions of families do not live any better now than some of them did in the 1930s. Those who are struggling to bring up their families walk past miles and miles of dereliction. Apart from the fact that they are on the scrapheap, the factories in which they used to work have been bulldozed in Sheffield and elsewhere in the north, as well as in the midlands. Is that economic success? The Government say that public expenditure has increased, but we are spending more on unemployment and crazy employment schemes than we are on industrial investment. When the Opposition come to power, we shall certainly invest in industry.
I do not understand how the Government can hold their heads up high and say that they have helped the National Health Service. The hon. Member for Crawley said that the Government are proud of what they have done for the NHS, but nurses tell me that they are disillusioned and fed up and that they are doing their best under very difficult circumstances. When I went to one hospital to talk to the nurses, I wanted to have my photograph taken with them—which any Member of Parliament would do in his constituency—but the nurses could not come out of the hospital; the health authority did not like the idea, because of the pressure that central Government are putting on the NHS. Everybody is frightened to death. Dictatorship by central Government is becoming a real issue and a fact of life.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) referred to the low standard of housing. Since the war, 96,000 council houses have been built in Sheffield. Many of them need to be repaired, but that is impossible because grants have been cut. That is reducing the quality of life of those who depend on local authorities to provide housing for them. That is not an act of God. It is the act of a Government who do not care about those who need to be cared for. They no longer care whether there is suffering, or whether the housing is bad. They have written off certain groups of the population because they are not politically useful to them. They look after the City and their rich friends. They do not give a damn for those who really need help.
The Labour party may be accused of being impractical, but when I am on the hustings I shall say that the Labour party is the only alternative to the Conservative party and that it is the only party that is prepared to stick out its neck and defend the defenceless.
The elderly have worked all their lives and made great contributions to the economy through their taxes and their rates. Many of them fought for and defended their country. After having brought up families, they are now worse off than they have been for many years. If the Government do not believe what I say, I must live on a different planet. In Sheffield, there is among the elderly poverty of a kind that has never been known in my lifetime. It has been brought about by the deterioration in the level of pensions and other benefits. The elderly no longer have the privilege of decent and cheap transport. The social services are under tremendous pressure because of the cuts in local authority grants. The cost of caring for the elderly is increasing but the ratepayer has to pay for it. Sheffield's administration will continue, however, to take the Government's brickbats. We are prepared to stand by our record, and people will make their views known in the ballot box. Sheffield's record was vindicated in the local elections, and I hope that it will be vindicated in the general election.
It is unusual for me not to prepare a speech, but I did not have to do so on this motion. I know what has happened in the past few years. The people whom I represent were once very proud, in the sense that they had decent homes and provided for their children and their own parents. Now many are on the breadline and suffering. If they have jobs to go to, they are frightened of losing their jobs. They can no longer speak their mind for fear of losing their jobs. That is not democracy. That is economic pressure put upon people who have only the Labour party to represent them and fight for them.
s As a Member of the House and prospective parliamentary candidate, I refuse to compromise in any shape or form on this matter. We are a rich country; the problem is that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. In some parts of the country I see yachts and affluence; in my constituency I see poverty. There is no moral justification for that state of affairs and the only way out of it is to look after those who need help instead of filling the coffers of the City and the rich.
The hon. Gentleman should wait to hear what people have to say before intervening from a sedentary position.
As I was saying, the hon. Member for Heeley described a country that I did not recognise. For example, the hon. Gentleman must know—I know because I have a much larger than average pensioner population in my constituency—that the majority of pensioners no longer depend on the basic pension but have incomes from a variety of sources. Some of the money comes from the taxpayer—for example, in the form of assistance with housing and heating—and that is how it should be in a caring society. Those in need should have public funds targeted towards them, and that is exactly what the Government have done during the past eight years.
We have been a prudent Government in that we recognise that there is a limit to the extent to which we can tax people without adverse effects. We know that if we spend above prudent limits, raging inflation will result and we will have to borrow money. In what happened under the last Labour Government we have marvellous evidence to convince us of that. For example, some of us remember vividly the winter of discontent. The debate is about the quality of life. What quality of life could there be when we were not even burying our dead? Those are our memories of the last Labour Government. It was not a Tory Government but that Labour Government who savagely cut expenditure on all local services. They savagely reduced National Health Service expenditure and abolished many of the expenditure programmes. That was our inheritance.
We recognised that, unless we were prudent, we could certainly never be caring, because one can be caring only if one has the resources. We set about generating those resources. The hon. Member for Heeley talked about his lifetime. I cannot recall in my lifetime a Chancellor of the Exchequer being told before a Budget in which areas to reduce his expenditure—because he was going to give back taxes. In the past the chat has always been about the areas in which taxes will increase, not about the areas in which they will fall. That is what is new. We can be prudent and we can be caring which is important because we now have the resources.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), in his magnificent speech, said that the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) had parachuted into the Chamber from cloud-cuckoo-land. As one who knows a little about flying, may I suggest that parachuting is a risky business, particularly with a parachute that is not viable? The hon. Gentleman's programme is neither viable nor realistic and he must know that. When the flaws in one's parachute are exposed, one hits the ground with a terrible thud, and that is exactly what will happen to the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party at the next general election, when the flaws in their programme are examined and exposed.
My feet are always firmly on the ground. The Labour party is very keen to have its programme thoroughly examined. We only hope that the press will examine it fairly and recognise that it meets our people's needs.
The hon. Gentleman is wise to say that he will keep his feet on the ground. The evidence that he has presented suggests that he does not do his research carefully enough or conduct his pre-flight operations properly. In all flying, the end result of that is a crash and that is the likely outcome of the hon. Gentleman's programme.
I remind the House that I am proud to represent part of highland Scotland. Hundreds of thousands like to visit highland Scotland on vacation and I hope that they will continue to do so because they are vital to our economy. Many of them, on seeing what we have in our part of the country, say, "My goodness me! I like this." They try to come back and, more important, many of them decide to stay, and we welcome them. That would hardly be our experience if there was anything in our quality of life to deter them. Or could it be that we have lovely mountains and scenery and splendid fishing and recreational facilities? I think not. We have many of the other things that go to make up the quality of life. For example, the Tayside part of the Health Service must be about the finest in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) and I know that because we were both customers last year. We were both critically ill in ward 11 of Nine Wells hospital in Dundee. At the time we tried not to tell anyone but it is no longer a secret so we can now tell the public at large just how ill we were. As a result of the dedication and motivation of the nurses, doctors and all the other staff at Nine Wells hospital, the hon. Gentleman and I are living examples of the effectiveness of the Health Service. I deplore those who knock our Health Service. Rather than going in for all this theoretical nonsense, they should find out for themselves by sampling at first hand just how good and dedicated are the staff of the National Health Service. The Health Service is in fine hands, and I am delighted with the quality of the staff.
As I said, we are a prudent and caring Government—caring, because we direct aid towards those in need. [Interruption] I notice that some Labour Members find that humorous. I remind them that during the last eight years we have introduced measures to help the disabled and have given pensions to those of an age at which people previously did not receive them. We have deliberately targeted those in the greatest need and have brought in new measures to help them. I am not afraid to stand on a public platform in my constituency or anywhere else to defend my Government's record. From the shambles that we inherited from the Labour Government, we have produced a quality of life of which I am proud.
When the hon. Gentleman is on that platform, will he tell the people who are listening that Conservative Members were whipped in here on a Friday morning to vote down a private Member's Bill that was to help the disabled much more than they are being helped at present? Will the hon. Gentleman tell those people that the Conservative party did that?
I have no difficulty in answering that question. If the hon. Gentleman was here then—I am sure that he was—and if he had listened to the debate, he would have heard the Minister say that we applauded the introduction of those measures and that we would do what we have always said we would do and fund them as and when we judged that the resources were available. Those are exactly the policies about which I was talking—prudent and caring. We do not promise things and not deliver. What we promise, we deliver.
The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) knows that he is a member of a party that made promises and did not deliver. The Labour party made promises in 1974, but two years later had to go to the IMF and had to renege on its promises. That is why the Labour Government cut the Health Service and local authority expenditure and why we inherited problems. The Labour party has always had plans and policies that it cannot implement. The history of every Labour Government has been one of making promises and plans that they cannot implement. If a Government are prudent and caring, they tell the people the truth. They say, "Yes, we want to help you. Yes, we will help you, as and when we make sure that the funds are available." More important, we have made sure that the revenue implications of our measures can be met. Any fool can make promises if he thinks that he will never have to deliver.
I am not ashamed of the quality of life in the part of Scotland that I represent and I am not afraid to stand on a political platform to defend it. Our local schools are splendid. Our little village schools have a long record of which we are proud. They have produced some of the finest citizens and the best scholars. There is no doubt that we should continue to nurture what is important—the wealth creators.
One of our great difficulties has been the failure of the Opposition and others to recognise that we are living in a period of change which is almost as great as the change that occurred during the industrial revolution. The old smokestack industries which were labour-intensive are disappearing world wide, and we must face that fact. It has had to be faced not only by the steelworks in Britain but throughout Europe. It is interesting that our steelworks are competing with and beating the opposition because our productivity is better, because the essential decisions that will make them function effectively and profitably in the world have been taken. Even the Swedes, who are noted for their caring attitudes, recognised that they could no longer have shipyards and therefore had to close them.
What we are living through is not unique to Britain. It is the same throughout the industrial world.
I shall give way later.
We must recognise that jobs can and will be created in different industries because the employment of the future may be different. I mention my constituency because tourism is the largest single employer there. It is important that we recognise that many of the jobs of the future will come from the service sector. That will call for enlightened thinking by planners who will have to recognise that we are not living in an age when all the jobs are in the old-style mills and factories. I often think that, if we had planners then, we would never have had mills and factories, because they would never have allowed them. But now the planners are trying to keep them, which is interesting.
We must take the attitude that the service sector will provide jobs. The attitude of planners must he constructive. I hope that the problems in the county town of Forfar will not be repeated elsewhere. The local planning authority in Forfar is telling one of the local garages that it cannot have the standard Nissan sign displayed on the garage. About 40,000 outlets in the United Kingdom display that sign, but the Forfar garage cannot. That type of nonsense will destroy jobs. That attitude must be changed.
We are living in a period of great challenge. The challenge to the Government is that they must continue with their same prudent and caring policies—prudent policies on expenditure and caring policies in channelling expenditure towards those in greatest need. Only in that way will we ensure that there is not a tax burden that cripples the wealth creators and that will make it impossible for us to fund all the programmes that we would like. Effective taxation means that we are getting so much money from value added tax and corporation tax. That is the direct result of effective, prudent policies.
I should like to return to the hon. Gentleman's earlier point that industry has to change. It has had to change throughout the world, and I do not think that any Opposition Member disagrees. But we are concerned about the rate and percentage of change. Of course, the steel and engineering industries had to modernise and, to some extent, reduce their size, but the rate of change has been disastrous. With the Government's co-operation, 50 per cent. of steel jobs in the European Community have been lost, so the Government's policy has been unfair in that sense.
It is only because we did all the right things in time that our steel industry is where it is. My fear is that the British steel industry could have gone the same way as the Swedish shipyards. That probably would have happened if we had not taken action in time. Anyone who has been involved in management knows that difficult decisions are not easy to take and that, if one delays taking them the business may have to go into receivership. We are faced with that type of problem throughout the United Kingdom. I welcome this debate. I invite anyone who doubts that we have a fine quality of life to stay in north Tayside and he, like me, will be delighted with it.
This is an opportune day to examine the Government's record over eight years. I am not concerned with hidden agendas. The Government's current record is enough of an indictment. We have seen over those eight years the position of the least well off in society getting progressively worse while the better off have thrived. Glib protestations and carefully chosen statistics from the Conservative Government will carry no conviction with those unfortunate people who are on the receiving end of their policies. We see the declining standards in the National Health Service. Three hospitals have closed in my area and none has opened. The number of beds has been dramatically reduced, even though demand for them is rising. Waiting lists are getting longer.
Social services have declined. Old people lack essential care. Although it is true that many pensioners have incomes in addition to their state pension, many have not. A number have only a miserly additional pension and, in many respects, that leaves them the worst off. They are precluded from the many additional entitlements from which they would benefit if they had the state pension. Often those people are the poorest pensioners.
Crime in inner cities and in most of the country is on the increase. Conflict in the classroom continues and children's education is still being used as a political football. The Government—and in London the Inner London education authority—have presided over a calamitous period in state education, with standards falling, teaching morale at an all-time low and children leaving school ill equipped to take advantage of the limited opportunities that are available.
On the issue of children in the area of the Inner London education authority who leave school badly equipped, during her speech will the hon. Lady address the fact that ILEA spends more money per child than is spent in any other part of the country? How can it do that but get such awful results, compared with Tayside highland schools?
Order. I remind the House that there is a limited time for this debate. Hon. Members who have already addressed the House, as well as those who are trying to catch my eye to intervene, make it more difficult for me to call other hon. Members who wish to be called.
I shall reply briefly to the comment of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). It seems that ILEA spends a vast amount per head on administration. However, the evidence of that expenditure is not seen in the schools, nor in their results. Therefore, I endorse the sentiments of the hon. Gentleman's question.
Unemployment in this country remains at more than 3 million, in spite of the endless massaging of the figures. That is what has been achieved during the eight years. The Conservatives now ask for another term to put things right. One may wonder how long they need. The Government have embarked on a policy of sacrificing our long-term economic revival in the interests of a short-lived consumer boom. Those in jobs, especially those in the south-east, are benefiting from increased standards of living. But at what price?
Our share of world trade in manufacture has fallen from 12·4 per cent. in 1979 to 9·6 per cent. in 1986. Our manufacturing trade is in the red. Last year's deficit of £5·8 billion was the worst ever. Manufacturing output is still 4 per cent. below its level when the Tories came to power. We are failing to take advantage of the opportunities that new technologies offer. We are not investing nearly enough in skills, or in research and development.
Let us take a closer look at the ways in which the quality of life has been affected during the past eight years. We should make no mistake that many of the worst areas are those, such as mine in Greenwich, where people are caught between an uncaring Tory Government and an extreme Left-wing Labour council.
Unemployment has been the blight of this Government, but, in spite of the protestations of Conservative Members, something can be done about it. Unemployment is not a fact of life with which we must live, nor something over which the Government have no control. It is realistic to tackle unemployment and the alliance's claim to reduce it by 1 million in three years is a realistic and sustainable programme, based on economic expansion and regional regeneration. Our programme involves a job guarantee for everyone who has been out of work for a year or more and includes specifically the creation of 750,000 jobs over a three-year period through building improvement programmes. When we have housing shortages and when houses are in appalling repair, it is ludicrous to have building workers who are unemployed. That makes no sense.
We are also committed to creating new jobs in the health and caring services. In all, we plan to create 60,000 such jobs. The job release scheme will be expanded. Under it, elderly men, if they so wish, are entitled to take early retirement at the age of 62.
A capital programme for housing, roads and urban renewal makes sense when much of this country's infrastructure is in decline. People are unemployed and week after week, month after month, vast payments are made on the dole. We are paying people to be unemployed, but our country is crumbling and there are jobs to be done. That makes no sense, and the people know that.
What about poverty? We have heard that some Conservative Members do not recognise some of the pictures that are portrayed from these Opposition Benches. I share the views of Opposition Members because I see that poverty in Greenwich and know that it exists. If any Conservative Members wish to come and have a look, I shall be happy to show them that poverty.
In 1979, 11·5 million people were on or near the poverty line. That figure is now more than 16 million. Therefore, one third of the population live in poor families. I see such families struggling to make ends meet, pensioners who cannot afford to turn on the heat, and parents who cannot afford to feed their children adequately. I am shocked by the damp and appalling housing conditions and by the constant colds and bad chests suffered by children. Many of us would expect those conditions to have gone with the Dickens era. However, they have not, and there are plenty of such examples in Greenwich. I expect that many parts of the country are considerably worse.
The alliance is committed to tackling poverty and to improving the lives of those people. That involves giving them more money because they must have a reasonable standard of living. We have a programme to increase benefits for the poor, for old-age pensioners and for families with children. We accept that most of that money must be targeted to the poorest people who need it the most. We are not rich enough to give it to everyone—we wish that we were—so there must be an element of directing it to the most needy cases. Our commitment to higher pensions for old people——
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I share—as I am sure we all do—her view on the ideal operation of targeting money to the most needy, but how can we do that without building up the existing problems of the poverty trap?
I shall say a little more in a moment about the way in which that can be achieved. The alliance is vitally concerned about the poverty trap. There are several circumstances in which it is clearly in people's interests to remain unemployed rather than to take a low-paid job. If they receive a small additional sum from another source—as is the case with pensioners who have a small additional pension—they are precluded from many benefits which would make their lives considerably better. Benefits must be withdrawn on a tapered basis so that nobody will ever be worse off by being employed than by remaining unemployed. That would make nonsense of the incentive to work.
I shall detail briefly the alliance's plan for increased pensions. As a basic, we would offer——
The hon. Lady has made a strong indictment of the Government's policies on jobs and poverty. May we conclude that in the case of a hung Parliament there is no way in which the alliance would support the Conservative party?
The hon. Gentleman will understand that as a relative newcomer to this Parliament I cannot single handedly give a complete commitment on behalf of the alliance. However, I give a personal commitment, in the event of a hung Parliament, to working towards tackling unemployment and alleviating poverty. I hope that Labour Members will join the alliance in pushing for these measures.
I can understand that the hon. Lady cannot singlehandedly commit the alliance because that is left to only one other person. However, from what she has said, is it fair to construe that there is no way in which she will work with Conservative Members?
No, that is not a fair construal. The hon. Gentleman asked me specifically about jobs and poverty and I answered in terms of jobs and poverty. I think that this discussion is outside the sphere of the debate.
I now return to the quality of life. I should like to talk for a few moments in a little more detail about the National Health Service because Conservative Members have commented on it in considerable depth. The Government say that they are spending more; but everyone knows that hospitals are closing and that waiting lists are getting longer. Both facts are true. However, we must accept that the growth in demand is exceeding the increased investment in the Health Service. People are living longer, so we have more elderly people to care for. The average cost of caring for somebody over the age of 75 is eight times the cost of caring for someone between 16 and 75. Therefore, the budget would have to increase by 1 per cent. just to take account of the increasing number of elderly people in our population.
Obviously, the NHS must bear the cost of some of the improvements that it has made. Technological improvements, services and treatments are often expensive. Hip replacements, for example, are costly, but they are available and make a dramatic improvement to the quality of a person's life. Therefore, the denial of them is callous and intolerable. In Greenwich and many other parts—I can speak with some authority as before being elected to this place, I was a researcher and took part in the Central Office of Information survey into the NHS—people make the same point about operations, such as hip replacements, saying, "If I could pay for the operation, I could have it within two weeks, but on the NHS I may have to wait four years." We are talking about elderly people living in misery which can be alleviated by a straightforward operation. While they are waiting, they are often immobile and at the mercy of relatives or social services, so people are having to pick up the bill to enable their lives to continue until they are made mobile and self-sufficient. It does not make sense.
We are living at a time when modern lifestyles—stressful and poverty stricken—place a heavy burden on the NHS. I cannot give any statistics, but certainly if the quality of housing in Greenwich was improved and damp was eliminated, the number of children being admitted to hospital with chronic asthma and bronchitis would fall dramatically. Many women in chronically overcrowded houses, perhaps with an unemployed husband. and under extreme stress are constantly at the doctor's for valium or other sedatives when what they need is a better standard of life. All they need is a decent home. The stress that they suffer as a result of that deprivation sends them and their families straight into the arms of the NHS. It is a never-ending circle.
Does the hon. Lady agree that private medicine is a drain on the NHS and takes resources away from those who cannot afford to buy their way past the hospital queues? Does she further agree that it would be logical to remove pay beds and privatised services from NHS hospitals and bring back direct labour? Would that be alliance policy?
Clearly, if private facilities within NHS premises act as a drain on the NHS they should be eliminated. In some cases private patients bring in more money and that cannot be ignored. Some authorities rely considerably on money from private patients. That being said, I would strive for a position where the NHS provides the service that people need at the time when they need it, not four years later than they can get it privately. While I would not oppose private medicine as a right if people want to opt for it, I would prefer that they opted for it for the luxurious optional extras than for basic necessary treatment to alleviate misery.
Before the hon. Lady leaves the Health Service, an important point must be cleared up. I understand that the alliance has calculated that we must spend 2 per cent. above the rate of inflation to deliver an adequate Health Service. Is she aware that the Government have delivered 3 per cent. above the rate of inflation in the lifetime of this Parliament? Therefore, it sounds as though the alliance, far from caring and providing more resources, would cut health spending.
Not at all. We have a commitment to increase spending on the NHS over and above what the Government are spending because that is clearly inadequate.
Clearly, we cannot improve on the service without spending more money. The United Kingdom spends fewer of its resources on health than any of its neighbours or any similar country. We in the alliance are committed to a higher level of real expenditure on the NHS. We shall place particular emphasis on preventative care, community care and promoting healthier lifestyles.
Much of what the NHS is doing is not its prime responsibility. It is picking up the pieces caused by poverty and other problems.
The hon. Lady has been extremely kind and patient with the House. She has catalogued many expenditure programmes to which she says the alliance is committed and she said that she was a researcher. This is not a trick question, but has the alliance specifically calculated what the increase in direct taxation or corporation tax would have to be to fund those programmes?
The alliance has a thoroughly costed menu which has been audited and will be published tomorrow. It has been produced according to the Treasury model and will be available for hon. Members to scrutinise.
We in the alliance are talking about a 2 per cent. real increase over and above what is being spent. We are committed to a pay increase for NHS staff whose wages or salaries have fallen further behind since 1979. We are aware of the Government's recent moves over nurses' pay and we, like many others in society and the nurses themselves, regard that with cynicism. We are talking about 60,000 new health and social services jobs.
The NHS is in a crisis and will decline to the point of collapse unless something is done. The Government with the commitment that they claim to have cannot stand with their hand on their heart and say to the people of Greenwich, "The NHS is safe with us." They will laugh in Greenwich.
The state of housing is a national disgrace, despite the claim in the 1983 Tory manifesto that
Our goal is to make Britain the best housed nation in Europe.
The collapse of public spending on house building since the Conservatives came to power has resulted in record numbers of homeless people and of others trapped in overpriced, inadequate, privately rented accommodation, while a further sector are trapped in council homes which are either too small for them or desperately need repair and improvement. In many parts, including Greenwich, only those who can afford to buy have any choice of housing and, in the south-east, few can afford to buy as house prices soar.
In the main, Labour councils ignore the desire of ordinary people for choice and control over their homes. Labour councils share with the alliance the commitment to more investment in housing, but they are insistent that it should go to local authorities for more council homes. They pay lip service to tenant power but in reality they are afraid of it as something that they cannot control. At present in Greenwich the Labour council is trying to replace tenant associations with tenant associations of their own placemen which are headed by council appointees on a salary. Clearly this is not a genuine reflection of the tenants' voice, particularly when tenants want to challenge the authority that is providing their homes and which is, in effect, their landlords and which is making a poor job of it.
Our commitment is to provide everyone with a decent home and a choice. We support home ownership and the right to buy. We support people's right to rent and we are committed to a greatly expanded rented sector by creating a new partnership housing sector which would involve working with banks and building societies and combining public and private money, as has been done successfully in other countries, to provide a large number of homes to rent that are managed by housing associations. We should not go back to days of Rachmanism and private landlords.
We are committed to investing in local authority housing to get council houses in a decent state of repair. At the same time we would give tenants the right to manage their own estates to give them control over their homes. Their current feeling of complete helplessness in their damp, overcrowded conditions leads to despair and anger and they recognise that neither of the two old parties has been able to tackle their housing problems.
What about crime? The Conservative manifesto of 1983 said:
already street crime is being reduced and public confidence improved in some of the worst inner-city areas.
What has happened? Crime of all kinds is increasing. House breaking and car thefts are becoming commonplace. Vandalism is running riot. But perhaps the most worrying aspect of all is the dramatic rise in crimes of violence, which often include the use of weapons. Until we tackle unemployment and social deprivation and get more policemen back on the beat, the Tories' claim is just pie in the sky.
The quality of life in this country is declining, especially for the old, the poor, the children and the sick. Those people are at risk. The Government have had eight years to tackle the plight of those people, but have failed. Will the country give them another go? I doubt it.
I agree with the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) who proposed this motion; it is a huge tragedy, a cost to the nation and a calamity to many individuals that we have so many people out of work. It is worrying that there are so many thousands of houses that are substandard and that we are unable to provide comfortable homes for people to live in. It is distressing that there are so many people waiting for relief as they care for others or as they seek medical treatment for themselves. It is little short of scandalous that so many of our children leave school after 11 years of compulsory education with nothing that society reckons as valuable. It is appalling that Britain lags so far behind our major competitors in the quality and quantity of industrial training.
I gathered from his speech that the hon. Member for Leyton shares my concern for these issues and for the many people whose lives are nowhere near as good as we would wish them to be. There is no division in this House about the importance of these matters. Where the division lies is in what is best to be done about them.
The solution of the hon. Member for Leyton and his hon. Friends is quite simply to raise taxes and spend the money not on jobs in industry, but on jobs in central and local government; raise rates and hope that neither business nor the people with initiative and drive will leave for more providently run authorities.
When the money runs out, as it always will, a Labour Government can always borrow. It does not matter if, as a result, inflation rises. It does not matter if, as a result of that, the savings of pensioners become valueless and the value of their pension constantly lags behind the price of what they need to buy. Why does it not matter? It does not matter because in the end there will always be the chance to borrow from the International Monetary Fund. Why should a Labour Government care that when they go to the IMF to bail them out they are diminishing the total pool of resources available to the poorest countries in the world—to bail out a country which is incapable of being one of the most developed in the world?
Conservative Members have a different view as to the road that we should follow. What do we believe in? We believe in making it possible for British companies to take on the foreign competition and win. It is always tempting to take money from the temporarily successful and give it to the failures. The longer that we do that the longer it takes the failures to look at their standards and improve them. While Jaguar received subsidy its cars broke down. Now that it does not, its cars beat the world, and because of that Jaguar takes on more people and the unemployment figures start to fall. The best news for the unemployed is not that Government subsidy is to be increased; it is that last month over 50 per cent. of the cars that were sold in this country were made in Britain. That is the Tory approach to unemployment.
Why are there so many substandard houses? The reason is that they do not belong to the people who live in them. That is why we have pushed forward with the sale of council houses. When people own their own house they set their own standards. When things go wrong in their house they mend them. They no longer have to wait, sometimes for months, before even a window pane is fixed. That is what we have done in Rochester-upon-Medway, which is one of my local district councils. We have sold more houses per head then almost any other local authority in the country, so it is of little surprise that we doubled our majority in last Thursday's elections.
Of course we need and want more health care, but it is because we have spent so much on health that we can now achieve miracles of curative medicine that hitherto were undreamed of. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) was quite right when she said that, in effect, our problem in the National Health Service is that of managing success, when more people live longer and when people who would have died of their disability live, not only into middle age, but into old age. Of course that puts a huge demand on resources, but that is one of the reasons why the Government have introduced, for the first time, an income for carers.
What about education? It is typical that in education the Opposition should still concentrate on destruction rather than creation. They propose the abolition of private schools. Why? Because they work. Never mind that they suck money into the education system. Never mind that they reduce the size of state sector classes. They do not breed people who expect to be clients for the rest of their lives. That is why they have to go.
The Opposition propose the abolition of grammar schools. Why? Because they are hugely popular with parents, employers and children. They do not breed people who expect to be clients for the rest of their lives. That is why they have to go.
The Opposition would do better to give priority to dealing with schools that do not work, not those that do. The most expensive education authority in Britain, as we have already heard, is Labour-controlled. For all that money, does it provide a standard of education that is higher than anywhere else? As the hon. Member for Greenwich said, it does not. It runs schools from which every year thousands of children escape with nothing that employers, parents or children value. But we take a different view. We look first for an education that parents want. That is why we have given parents more choice of schools, more control over their local schools and more information about how their children are doing at school. We also want better teaching. That is why we have sought assessment of teachers so that they can do their vital job more effectively. That is also why we are planning better training for head teachers.
It is open to the hon. Gentleman to use the private health service any time he wishes.
We are taking more responsibility for head teachers, although the teaching unions do not want it. There can be nothing more derisory than the fact that the teaching unions are voting against the allocation to professional people of the kind of responsibility that in any other profession the professionals are glad to accept. That is a wonderful commentary on the poor state to which the National Union of Teachers has sunk. We believe in improving education, not in spending more money on education bureaucrats.
The Opposition worry about training but they want to suck money out of companies regardless of the companies' state of health and process the money through yet another centralised bureaucracy to lay on training programmes devised by central Government. Some Government expenditure is, of course, necessary and it is interesting to note that the Conservative Government in the United Kingdom spend as much on training as any of our competitors. It is United Kingdom companies which do not do so. We could argue for ever about why United Kingdom firms take less interest in training than, for example, German firms, but the fact is that United Kingdom firms regard training more as a cost than as an investment. If that is so, they must be making a profit before they will expand their training. That is why I welcome the growing profitability of British firms. As with all our other policies, we can expect far more progress from profitable companies than from companies debilitated by a swollen, theory-ridden central Government.
I share the concern of the hon. Member for Leyton. He was right to bring these matters to the attention of the House. The next four weeks will determine whether we go on attacking these problems from a position of growing strength and success or whether we return to a Government wonderfully strong on rhetoric but pathetic on delivery. Of course we have not finished, but we have made a fine beginning. When the next Government come in, I and many of my hon. Friends will be looking for more and better community care, more and better houses and more and better jobs, and we shall be looking with confidence that they will be forthcoming.
It is appropriate that we should today be debating a subject on which the country will make its choice in exactly one month's time. Having drawn third place in the ballot, I have no hesitation whatever in committing an act of plagiarism and endorsing the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). I have tried to think what the quality of life means for my constituents and how to measure that which is worth living against the drudgery of a life that has not much quality about it.
I believe that the quality of life includes a number of elements, although this is by no means an exclusive list. Above all, it must mean living in freedom from the curse of poverty, freedom from having to choose how to live on little more than £30 per week—a sum that many people regard as appropriate for a meal for two in a medium-class restaurant. Quality of life means not having to choose whether to spend money on food, on heating, on a pram for the baby or perhaps on new clothes or shoe repairs. At least a quarter of my constituents have to make that kind of awkward choice every week. A skill is required to manage on social security which many of us do not possess. It is particularly galling for people to have to go cap in hand to the DHSS to ask for single payments to replace a bed, to obtain surgical boots or to cope with the arrival of a new baby. Many people in my constituency do not have freedom from that kind of poverty. Quality of life means not just freedom from poverty but a little luxury—being able to go on a holiday, being able to afford to travel and occasionally to buy some new clothes and live it up a little. I look forward to a time when that quality of life and freedom from poverty will be available to more people.
Quality of life means living in dignified housing to which one is proud to bring one's friends rather than in a home that is draughty, in poor repair or riddled with condensation. In my constituency, as a result of a two thirds drop in the amount of money available for housing investment, that freedom is denied to people in both the public and the private sector. The problems of damp and disrepair and of homes that cannot be properly heated are experienced as much by poor owner-occupiers as by council tenants.
Quality of life means decent medical care and good health. We have suffered a number of closures, not just of hospitals but of operating theatres. For example, the recent closure of the orthopaedic operating theatre at Dulwich hospital has put an end to hip replacement operations there.
Quality of life means freedom for our children to look forward to a good education and training appropriate to a job that is reasonably highly paid and involves the exercise of skill. Quality of life also means security—freedom from burglary, theft of one's vehicle or attack on the street. It means living in surroundings in which the town environment has style and dignity and the countryside has beauty. Travelling around the country recently, I have noticed the tattiness of the sides of our roads, the litter on the streets and the dereliction alongside railway embankments. It is a disgrace, and Richard Branson and his gimmicks have done nothing to improve it.
The hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) said that the Opposition were exaggerating and that we were living on another planet. My borough of Lambeth has gone to the trouble of commissioning an entirely independent organisation—the firm of Nathaniel Lichfield—working in conjunction with the Centre for Environmental Studies, to chart what has happened to the quality of life in the borough since the Tory Government came to power. These figures have been provided not by a partial borough council but by an independent auditing organisation. Between 1979 and 1984 the average standard of living of the 96,000 households in Lambeth as measured by gross income fell by 5 per cent. after allowing for inflation. In the same period—we have not been able to measure up to the present time—average incomes in the country as a whole rose by 4 per cent. before tax and just over 1 per cent. after tax. In other words, my borough has suffered a sharp decline in incomes compared with the rest of the country. That increase in inequality has been largely due to the dramatic increase in unemployment. In 1984, 45 per cent. of households in my constituency had incomes below £4,400 without London allowance. In other words, nearly half the population was living at or below the poverty line. Between 1979 and 1984 the lower income households experienced a 10 per cent. decline in income before tax and the poorest 10 per cent. of the population suffered a decline in income of 15 per cent. over that period.
The largest drop in income has been among independent households, including those of single-parent families, and many of those hardest hit have been black members of the community. The total balance sheet for households in Lambeth shows that it would have required an extra £1,350 per household in the period 1979–84 to compensate them for the loss of income. The total loss of income to the local economy during that period has been £125 million.
I have only been able to give figures up to 1984. If the present economic and fiscal trends continue until 1991 the audit forecasts that there will be a further loss of income of £1,900 per household relative to the income of the average household in Britain. That represents a further reduction of £180 million in the combined income of all households in my borough. That is the audit's independent assessment of the years of Tory Government. It also independently charts the decrease in the housing investment programme of 64 per cent. in my borough over the same period, the reduction, in real terms, of 45 per cent. in rate support grant, and the cut in inner city partnership moneys this year. Such is the independently charted history of the Tories in Government in my borough, and worse to come is forecast.
What have the eight years of Conservative Government meant for the quality of life in my borough and constituency? They have meant depression, dereliction and division. They have meant the few rich getting richer and the poor stunningly poorer, with almost half of them living at or near the poverty line. Most of the population bear more taxes despite their poverty—a greater burden of VAT, of rates and of other charges upon their income. They have meant a 400 per cent. increase in unemployment, which has particularly hit the young, the school leaver, the college leaver, minorities and women. Half of the population has been excluded from affordable housing of a dignified standard. Crime has been escalating, as the underlying causes of crime grow worse. Those years have meant that hospital operating theatres and other hospitals have been closed. They have meant the Health Service walking on a tightrope without a safety net; and the impoverishment of most people and services financially, and, socially, of the whole community—because no one is immune from the consequences of economic blight wrought by the Tories.
We have been racked by riot as well as poverty, and there are no signs of hope until the Government are turned out of office. We have had no tax handouts for the community, no spoils of privatisation and no bonuses from North sea oil. All we have are forecasts of more and worse, together with the poll tax, which will bring a blight on our community.
Our future lies only with a Labour Government who care for the entire community and who put people before the Tory beggaring of the community. The quality of life in my borough depends on ending the Tory policies that have cast a shadow over the constituency that I represent. I know that the people of my borough cannot wait for an improvement in, quality, and cannot turn this Government out soon enough.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) who has talked about the problems in his borough. If he looked over his shoulder at the neighbouring borough of Wandsworth, he would find that people there do not have anything like the problems of the people in his borough. He might scratch his head and ask himself the reason. On one side of the boundary there is a Left-wing Labour authority and on the other, a prudent, sensible, caring Conservative authority. That might have something to do with it.
Excuse me for getting carried away, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but we live in exciting times. We also live in sad times. About 80 of our colleagues will, of their own free will, not be rejoining us in a few weeks' time. These are sad times, too, because the Labour party, which for so many years has given signal service to our society, is now poised on the precipice of terminal decline. That is a turning point in our history.
The utility and relevance of the Labour party are exhausted. It is in a dreadful state; it is leaderless; we do not hear any more of the dream ticket about which we heard some time ago. The party is riven by factions. Where it is prominently in power in the country, it is controlled by the loony Left. Such Labour Members of Parliament as are returned after the election will, in the majority, be of the loony Left, and the party is now fatally undermined by that final, racist obscenity and absurdity—the crisis over black sections.
The Labour party—I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are a member of it—is facing the big drop; and, faced with it, all it can come up with is the big lie. The myth-making factory has been working overtime.
I have very little time.
Of course, there are problems in the Health Service and we shall do more about them. However, the Government have increased expenditure on the Health Service, in real terms, by more than a quarter, whereas, whatever the Opposition wanted to do during the last Labour Government, the reality was that the International Monetary Fund put a block on their plans. They had to cut off their programme and reduce expenditure on the Health Service. We have improved and increased expenditure, but the Opposition were not able to do so. We have heard about waiting lists. In my constituency, and in those of most hon. Members, waiting lists have come down during the past few years. Let us have the truth about that.
There have been great problems and scandals about housing. I, and many hon. Friends who have been campaigning during the local elections, have been knocking on doors in areas that were run down and decrepit eight years ago. We have seen how the houses there have been improved, and how the environment, furnishings and fabric have been improved. We have seen how much better off our housing stock and the people who live in it now are. There has been a great improvement in my constituency, and I am sure that that is true of many other parts of the country.
There are problems in housing—again, largely in Labour local authority areas in which there are massive, maladministered estates and in which the local authorities have not even collected the rents. In some parts of London one fifth of the rent remains uncollected. No wonder that those authorities do not have the cash to improve the properties, to deal with the plumbing, to deal with the damp and the problems in which people are living. Is it not absurd that in precisely those authorities' areas homelessness exists side by side with empty houses? Is it not absurd that many of our citizens are trapped in homelessness while many others have houses that they want to make available for rent, but, because of past fears about the possible policies of a re-elected Labour Government, they have not put those houses back on the market? People are willing to help, but they are blighted by Socialism.
There is also the great myth about the cut in manufacturing industry. It has been booming—productivity and manufactured output have been growing during the past few years. Let us put the issue in perspective. If manufacturing output is not as high as Opposition Members want it to be, we have been getting oil from the North sea as well. How does one do that? One uses the same skills and machinery. Why is manufacturing industry on one side and oil on the other? Add the two together and there has been a massive increase in national output.
British Airways has been one of our most successful industries. It comprises people who build the airports and maintain the aircraft, people who fly and manage the aircraft and people who manufacture them. Why are the Opposition obsessed only with the people involved in manufacturing industry? There is a whole realm of activity that creates wealth in the country.
Of course. In front of every artefact and exhibit there will be someone standing as an attendant. Of course, there is no unemployment in Bulgaria. There would not be any unemployment in this country in those circumstances, but what poverty! What a way of life! What a way to run a country!
As my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) said, the reality is that the average pensioner has seen an improvement in his standard of living that has been even greater during the lifetime of this Government than that which has been enjoyed by the person in employment. I understand that the Opposition are planning to give vast amounts of money to pensioners. We have had this before. When this happened when the last Labour Government were in office, the International Monetary Fund came in and the payment of the Christmas bonus had to be stopped. It is no good talking about plans that cannot be delivered. That is deception. That is not the way to carry on.
Then we have this myth about the north-south divide. That is nonsense. Does the House realise that unemployment in Halifax is less than it is in Hastings? Unemployment in Berwick-upon-Tweed is less than that in Brighton. Unemployment in Northampton is less than it is in Southampton. There is a divide, and it is the one that I have alluded to. There is a divide between those areas of the country that are dominated by Socialism in local government and those that are prudently run by the Conservative party.
If we look at the unemployment statistics that the hon. Gentleman is asking about, five out of the 12 constituencies in the country with the highest levels of unemployment are in greater London. Greater London is awash with work. Employers are crying out for people to do jobs, and people will not take on those jobs. The problem in London is not a problem of unemployment. It is a problem of unemployment culture, and it is brought about by the Socialist authorities who produce those dreadful housing estates which they maladminister. They produce this dreadful education which inculcates attitudes of despair, irresponsibility and dependence. The jobs are there and the people are not taking them. They have been prepared by Socialism not to take those jobs.
There is a problem in this country. It is a problem to which we shall address ourselves during the general election campaign. It is the problem of Socialism.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) on initiating this important debate and on the cogent, honest and constructive way in which he moved the motion.
The quality of life is important to Opposition Members as it is to the majority of the people, and it has fallen drastically since the Government were elected eight years ago. There are 6 million people who live in families which have been out of work for 12 months. These people are not statistics; we are talking about potential wage earners who have families, and their quality of life has fallen. Millions of pensioners have suffered since this Government changed the Labour Government's social security legislation, which stated that pensions should increase in line with the rise in earnings or the rise in prices, whichever was the higher. The Government have stolen £11 billion from pensioners by changing social security legislation.
The Government have created or encouraged low pay and 6 million are receiving low wages. Their pay is lower than the decency threshold that was laid down by the Council of Europe. If low pay creates employment, there should be no unemployment in the northern region, which has some of the lowest pay in the United Kingdom. With the introduction of their Wages Act 1986, the Government have helped the spread of low pay by abolishing the Truck Acts and curtailing the activities of wages councils.
The Government argue that those who are highly paid will work harder only if they are given incentives and that those who are in receipt of low pay should be penalised to make them work harder. That is why the new managers in the National Health Service have been given a £60 a week bonus on their £30,000 salaries to make them more efficient. At the same time ancillary workers who are earning about £60 a week have been penalised by the introduction of privatisation. The Government believe that that will make them work harder. Under this Government one person's incentive is another person's poverty trap.
On south Tyneside, the area which I represent, there are 7,000 on the housing waiting list. If there are 7,000 applications, there are 7,000 families in need. This year the south Tyneside local authority will be building 26 houses. That is the result of the Government's decision to cut the housing investment programme allocation. Mr. Deputy Speaker, you were a Department of the Environment Minister when I was chairman of the South Tyneside housing committee, when 700 houses were built in a year. In 1978–79, there was an HIP allocation of £14·9 million to cope with price increases and the rate of inflation. To maintain that level of spending would require an HIP allocation of £27·9 million this year, and south Tyneside received only £4·8 million. As I have said, there are 7,000 applicants on the housing list.
I recall a time when it was possible to walk across the Tyne from ship to ship. Ships were being repaired and others that had only recently been launched were being fitted out. The only ship now in our region is hardship. There is hardship for the thousands who are out of work, for the thousands of pensioners who have had their pensions reduced by the Government, for young people who are leaving school with no prospect of employment, for the thousands who are waiting for houses, when local authorities are not being given the money that is necessary to enable them to build houses, and those who are in the long queue waiting to go into hospital for operations. Hardship is the only ship in the northern region or on the Tyne nowadays.
My hon. Friends have referred to what the next Labour Government will do. We arc determined to ensure that every family will have a decent home. We shall improve the quality of housing and the number of houses built. We shall ensure that new houses are built by providing councils with the necessary moneys to build, to repair and to carry out maintenance and improvement works.
The next Labour Government will deal with the massive increase in crime by providing crime prevention grants to all tenants and home owners. We shall extend the victim support scheme and reverse the cuts that the Government have imposed on the criminal injuries compensation scheme.
We shall work towards achieving universal provision of nursery education for all three and four-year-olds. We shall reduce class sizes and provide greatly improved equipment for schools. We shall create a two-year foundation course in education and training for all 16 to 19-year-olds. We shall open up higher and further education to a far wider cross-section of the population.
We shall assist pensioners by raising the weekly single pension by £5 and the married pension by £8. We shall introduce a winter premium of £5 a week to help with the cost of fuel bills for pensioners who are on supplementary benefits. The full state earnings-related scheme will be retained. We shall invest in improved health care, meals on wheels, home helps and social services.
Government Members will want to know where the money will come from. They say that there is no money available to do these things but the reality is that there is plenty of it. It is costing £20 billion to keep 3 million on the streets. It costs £1 billion a year to maintain the EEC food mountains. It costs £600 million to flog off cheap butter to the Russians. The cost of Trident is £10 billion, and that money is being spent in the event of those well-fed Russians attacking us. That is the sort of thing that we have had from this Government. Those who live in the area that I represent have been losing out while others have been prospering.
Since the Government were elected, top directors and executives receiving £70,000 a year or more have been given tax handouts of £19,100 a year—some £370 a week. At the same time the people that my hon. Friends and I represent have been suffering. There is plenty of money around but the trouble is that the Government have given it to their friends. We shall ensure that the next Labour Government look after our people.
It seems that whenever I contribute to a debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am limited to about three minutes. I found myself in that position last Friday.
I listened carefully to the hon. Members for Crawley (Mr. Soames) and for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). I have listened to them before, especially the hon. Member for Northampton, North, who confines himself to attacking the Labour party. He never advances any Conservative policies. He talks about being a member of a caring Conservative party. It is not caring and he is certainly not caring, especially in the light of what he had to say this afternoon.
My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) made a first-class contribution to the debate. His various arguments went home one by one as he spoke on behalf of his constituency and the nation generally.
The hon. Member for Crawley reckoned that my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) dropped in from cloud-cuckoo-land underneath a parachute. At least he dropped in, and at least he understands the realities. The hon. Member for Crawley merely stood up in cloud-cuckoo-land, and that was reflected in his speech. The hon. Member for Crawley is not aware simply because he lives in the stockbroker belt—he comes from that belt. He does not understand poverty.
We who live out in the sticks know what poverty is about. I know—I was born into it. I see it in my constituency and it bothers me that the Conservative Government are not prepared to move in the right direction. I hope to God that when the electorate get the opportunity on 11 June they will kick the Tories out. Let us have a Government who will do something for those people who need help. For the past eight years the Government have helped their friends—they have poured money into the pockets of the rich and pinched it from those who need it.
In my constituency there are elderly people living in three-bedroomed houses—widows and single pensioners—when they should be in a flat or a bungalow. The end result is that young married people cannot get accommodation. However, the money is there. My local authority has not built any bungalows or flats for elderly people since that lot on the Conservative Benches came into office. When we get into power we aim to change all that in the interests of those people who need accommodation.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) that the elderly people of this country have made their contribution. Those people fought in the last war of 1939–45, some fought in the war of 1914–18. They offered their lives to the nation, but look how the Tories are treating them. We shall put that right at the first opportunity.
In my constituency the pits have been closed down, but nothing has followed. Young lads go on to the dole queue because they cannot get work. The Conservatives talk about caring, but my health authority has a mile-long queue of people who want hearing aids. People are living longer and longer and we are getting a larger elderly population, but, at the same time, there are cuts in health services. The end result is that the elderly are suffering because they cannot get the things that they need—one of them is hearing aids. This will continue while that lot on the Conservative Benches are in power.
I asked the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) whether he would tell the electorate about wheeling in Ministers on a Friday to vote down a Bill for the extension of services for the disabled. Not long ago that happened again when all the Ministers were wheeled in to vote down the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) to provide free television licences for pensioners who have given their lives for this nation. That Bill was voted down. The elderly people will remember that. Indeed, they told me about it in my constituency. It has sunk in.
I could go on and on, but time does not allow. It would be unfair to the Front Bench spokesmen, who intend to reply, if I were to continue. However, I believe that some hon. Members are greedy. They take more and more time to put forward their proposals and the end result is that people like me who sit on the Back Benches do not get the opportunity to make a contribution. Our contributions are important for those whom we represent.
We have had a lively and interesting debate. I suspect that that is appropriate, given what the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) called the exciting times in which we live.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) not just on his success in the ballot, but also on his foresight in proposing such a motion on the day when the Prime Minister announced the date of the general election. It was almost as if my hon. Friend had had private talks at Downing street and knew which motion to put before the House. I also congratulate him on the way in which he introduced the motion. He enabled the House subsequently to enjoy a wide-ranging discussion.
We have heard from a number of my hon. Friends and each of them demonstrated a deep concern and a deep knowledge of their constituencies. It is not surprising that they have been elected as Labour Members of Parliament, and it will be no great surprise to see them all back in this House after the election on 11 June.
The hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) entertained us all in his normal style. I found his speech a passable impression of a parody of a Member of Parliament. It would have been useful if, during his speech, he had referred to some of the harsh economic facts that I put in front of him. Unfortunately, the central office script and the clichés it contained did not allow him to extend his brief that far.
The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes), who is no longer present in the Chamber, made a balanced speech in what was her valedictory contribution to the House. The hon. Lady sat demurely upon the fence, and never answered the question that will be crucial in the next month. On which side will she jump? On which side will the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), the leader of the SDP, jump? On which side will the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel) jump? The hon. Lady said she had an easy answer to that question: she was too inexperienced and too recent a Member of the House to offer any suggestions. I believe that the electors of Greenwich and the electors in every other constituency have the right to know the answer to that question. Will the alliance jump for the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition? Will that be the choice? If so, how will they make that choice? It is a clear choice and we need a clear answer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leyton discussed how the quality of life in Britain has deteriorated. My hon. Friend will recall the definition of poverty used by the Church in the "Faith in the City" report. They characterised poverty in three ways—lack of money, lack of dignity and loss of rights. I believe that, judged by those three criteria, the Government have increased poverty, impoverished our people and, as a result, impoverished this country.
A number of my hon. Friends have pointed out that there are now more than double the number of people living on supplementary benefit than was the case when the Government came to office in 1979. Each of them faces the difficulty of managing his or her affairs. Very often they face the humiliation of making an application to the local Department of Health and Social Security office. They are not treated in the same way as the Government have treated the City swindlers on the question of VAT. Some of my hon. Friends noted a report last week that stated that the City had been able to slip £1 billion through the VAT loophole. There is one rich law for those in the City and one poor law for those claiming supplementary benefit. Those of my constituents and my hon. Friend's constituents who are making claims for single benefits find that they are missing out on the essentials of life because of the Social Security Act 1986. Not for them the treatment given to the Government's rich friends in the City of London.
The biggest single factor in the increase in poverty is the increase in unemployment and the increase in long-term unemployment. We are about to have a June election. I suspect that one of the reasons for that is that we are all aware that the long-term prospect for unemployment—on non-massaged figures—is that it will continue to rise. The House does not need to take my word for it. It can take the word of the Oxford Economic Forecast for the United Kingdom, an independent organisation that published figures last week showing an anticipated increase in unemployment during 1987, 1988 and subsequent years.
The Government say, "We have tried". The hon. Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said that it was a great problem and the hon. Member for Crawley said he was deeply concerned. The Conservatives claim they have tried for eight years, but during that time unemployment has trebled. One of two conclusions can be drawn from that statement. Either the Government are shedding crocodile tears and have no concern or sympathy for the unemployed or they are simply incompetent and do not know how to handle Britain's economic affairs. Perhaps it is a mixture of both. They are insensitive, they are unsympathetic, but, above all else, they are incompetent.
In 1980, the Prime Minister said:
We are reaching the trough of the recession and it will start to turn down towards the end of next year.
At that stage, the unemployment figure was 1·6 million. The figures have subsequently been massaged, but the level of unemployment has doubled. If the economic recession was turning down in 1980 and the Prime Minister was right, what has happened subsequently is an unrivalled record of incompetence in the history of democratic government. The Government have offered no hope and no future for many of our people. They have placed a whole generation in some areas of the country into a situation in which they have little to look forward to, little in terms of skills and little in terms of prospects. That is the damage that the Government have caused. That is why the quality of life has been reduced for many people.
My hon. Friend also talked about the loss of dignity that has occurred for many of our citizens—a loss of dignity that impoverishes the quality of life. We as Members of Parliament see that loss of dignity day in, day out in our constituencies. More than 1 million people are on housing waiting lists. The elderly are living in totally unsuitable accommodation. Young families in my constituency are living in high rise blocks with no possibility of moving or transferring into suitable accommodation because the Government have cut housing investment programme allocations to Leeds by more than 66 per cent. That is the Government's record and that is the loss of dignity that is involved.
The Government talk about the elderly. They talk about the problems in the National Health Service. They talk about youth training schemes that lead nowhere and further reduce dignity. Such talk comes from a party that espouses the rhetoric of opportunity. The Government tell us time and again that they are the party of opportunity. Where is the opportunity for the elderly people in my constituency who, this winter, will decide whether they can afford to put on their heating? Where is the opportunity for the young unemployed people who have had no work and no prospect of work? Where is the opportunity in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon)? He talked about what has happened to basic industries in his constituency. The only opportunity that the Government have fostered and encouraged is the opportunity for a small number to do well on the backs of the vast majority of people. On that criterion, the Government have also impoverished and weakened our society.
Let me consider the third matter, the loss of rights. The Government have indulged in an unprecedented attack on civil liberties and on democracy. Let us consider the list since 1983. There has been the loss of the basic right to belong to a trade union at GCHQ.
I shall not give way. We are short of time.
For 18 million people in the metropolitan counties and the Greater London area there has been the loss of a fundamental right to vote. Who would have believed that a democratic Government would come to the House without embarrassment and take away that major and important right? They have taken from nearly 400,000 teachers the fundamental democratic right to negotiate with their employers. In the Wright and Westland affairs they have shown themselves to be obsessed with secrecy, making sure that each and every decision is taken behind closed doors and is not subject to democratic accountability.
We have been told that if the Prime Minister is fortunate enough to win a third term of office the Cabinet is to be dried out. All the remaining wets in the Government are to disappear. In this morning's issue of The Independent, Anthony Bevins states:
no one crosses Margaret Thatcher and gets away with it.
It is no wonder there has been an attack on democratic rights. In this Prime Minister, we have somebody who believes in a centralised authoritarian approach to government. That is the record so far—an increase in real poverty, a loss of dignity and a loss of democratic rights for our people. What will happen if the Government have a third term?
My hon. Friend mentioned many of the hidden items in the Tory agenda. For instance, there is no denial of the increase in VAT. We know that the Prime Minister quite happily talks about a poll tax. From figures, we know that in a city such as Leeds, for instance, poll tax will discriminate and divide. It will enable the rich to pay less and the less-than-well-off to pay more. The figures in Leeds are simple. Some 27 per cent. of electors, concentrated mostly in Tory areas, will pay less, and 73 per cent. of the electorate will pay substantially more because of the poll tax. As the hon. Member for Northampton, North said, these are exciting times.
During the next month, the Labour party will make sure that it is able to bring the arguments to the British electorate. We shall say to the electorate that the Government have divided and impoverished our society in a way that nobody would have contemplated eight years ago. It has created a crime-ridden, bitter and cynical Britain in which the values of care and mutual help are denigrated and in which a "get-quick" approach, regardless of the consequences, is exalted.
Over the next month, we shall offer the vision and hope of a different Britain, in which the young accept their responsibilities for the elderly, the employed for the unemployed, the healthy for the sick, and the strong for the weak. Our appeal will be unashamedly for the moral ground. Only by developing a sense of moral purpose for our country can we marry efficiency with social justice, lessen division and conflict and improve the quality of life for our citizens. It is only because Labour offers such a vision of the future that we can look forward to a Labour victory and make 11 June liberation and freedom day for our people.
As the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) said, it has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. He listened, as I certainly have, to the speeches that have been delivered this afternoon. If he were honest, he would have to admit that the contributions from the Opposition side have been woefully inadequate, whereas, despite the fact that I shall be biased, I must pay a warm tribute to my colleagues, whose contributions have been of a high standard. The debate has had such an impact on me that when next I am given an opportunity to vote on the televising of Parliament I shall vote for it. If the nation had heard the contributions to the debate and what was said by my hon. Friends, even the Opposition would give us a bye in the general election. That is a fact, not hypothesis.
The quality of life means different things to different people. The motion moved by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) focused on a few elements. They were jobs, the National Health Service, investment in housing, schools, and pensions. We have heard from other hon. Members what they consider to be important in determining the quality of life of our citizens. Of course, all such matters are important. Everyone is concerned, and rightly so, about health, housing, education and perhaps, above all, about their ability to contribute to society and to earn their livelihood in employment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said, there is no debate about such basic truths. That is not the debate. The real debate is about two matters. It is about what role Government—any Government—can and should play in determining the quality of life of its citizens. It is about the Government's record in the areas in which they have a role. It is a record of which I am proud to speak today. In his excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) made it clear that, like every other nation, our economic prosperity and, therefore, our quality of life depend on the goods and services that we produce.
There is no short cut to prosperity. Prosperity is based on the skills, talents, enterprise and sheer effort of millions of individuals. It follows the creation of wealth. Wealth creation means selling goods and services in the open market, both at home and abroad, against fierce competition, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent suggested. To sell abroad means not just getting price and quality right, although that is vitally important, but convincing customers overseas that we can deliver on time and to specification.
Under the last Labour Government, we lost that reputation. United Kingdom industry became a by-word for strikes and bad industrial relations. What price the quality of life then, I ask the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie)? That period has now passed, but it could so easily return in the disastrous event of a Labour Government being elected. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) stated, the true role of Government is to create the conditions which allow wealth creation to flourish. This we have done. We have halted the runaway growth of public spending, while spending more on key priorities such as health, law and order, and education. We have cut Labour's penal rates of personal taxation and we have abolished others, such as the national insurance surcharge, which was not even mentioned by Labour Members. We have abolished Labour's tax on jobs. We have cut Government borrowing and have taken giant strides towards driving inflation out of the economy. We have significantly encouraged enterprise and the growth of small businesses, about which, again, we did not hear a single word from Labour Members. There is a good reason for that. They do not understand enterprise and small firms. They never have. Enterprise and small firms were not included in their last manifesto. I hope that they have woken up to the fact that they will have to include them in the manifesto that they will produce shortly.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley said, there is much more to be done. No one would be so arrogant as to assume that it has all been done. There is an awful lot to be done. But what the Government have already achieved is now showing results. Our economy is now producing more than ever before. We have had the longest period of continuous growth since the 1973 oil price rise. [Interruption.] During the 1980s, we have grown faster than any other major European country—a sharp contrast with the 1960s and the 1970s when the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason) was in power. I do not think he has anything to shout at from his sedentary position or from any other. Manufacturing output has grown for the past six years and during the 1980s our growth in manufacturing productivity has been the highest of the seven major industrial countries.
Rather than recite all the favourable indicators that we are now seeing on investment, competitiveness, profitability, the creation of new businesses, overseas assets and bank lending rates, perhaps I could endorse the latest Confederation of British Industry survey, the most optimistic survey for many years, as recommended reading for Labour Members who doubt what I have been saying.
I shall now address a few points that have been raised as quickly and precisely as I can. The hon. Member for Heeley talked about trying to create more jobs. He talked about what the Labour party would try to do, what would be in its manifesto and about I million new jobs. The Government have done precisely that already, and they intend to continue to do that. There have been more than I million new jobs since March 1983 and vacancies are 25 per cent. higher than last year.
The hon. Gentleman says, "Paid jobs?" He and his hon. Friends continually refer to the fact that it is wrong for the self-employed in this country to be taken out of the unemployment count. Does the hon. Gentleman have the guts to tell someone who is self-employed that he is not doing a serious job? He might just get a dusty answer. He would be the last person to know anything about self-employment and enterprise.
Employment has grown for 15 successive quarters—the longest period of continuous growth for almost 30 years. Employment growth since March 1983 is higher than in the rest of the European Community combined. It is important that we get this message across, and over the coming weeks we shall do that. Unemployment has fallen for eight successive months by nearly 180,000 and is now at the lowest level since September 1984. Unemployment seasonally adjusted has fallen by 25,000 per month on average over the last six months, which is the fastest fall since 1973, and faster than any other industrial country.
The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) referred to fiddling of the figures. She, along with other Opposition Members, ought to be reminded that the last change in March 1986 was to remove substantial over-recording of people who had already left the count. It was a once-and-for-all change well before unemployment started falling. One of the changes we have made is to take those people who were regarded as being self-employed out of the unemployment count. Why should we not do that?
In view of the criticism we have received about the level of unemployment now falling and the success of Government measures over the past eight months, my right hon. and hon. Friends could be forgiven for suggesting that perhaps Labour Members did not want to see the fall in the level of unemployment, that they did not want us to succeed and that they are upset about the fact that we have succeeded.
The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), who talked about the quality of life, ought to be reminded that when the Labour party was last in office a married man with two children on average earnings had an increase in real take-home pay of only half of 1 per cent. Under the Government there has been an increase in real take-home pay of nearly 18 per cent. since 1979. Someone similarly placed on half average earnings has had an average increase of 15 per cent. compared with an increase of only 4 per cent. under Labour. What price quality of life under the Labour Government?
Since 1979, resources for education have reached record levels. In 1986–87, education spending totalled £16 billion. Spending per pupil increased from £895 in 1979 to £1,065 in 1985, an increase of 19 per cent. in real terms, compared to a fall of 1·6 per cent. between 1974 and 1979 when the Labour Government were last in office.
I say to the hon. Member for Leyton that all responsible political parties should be concerned with improving the quality of life of all citizens. I stress the word "responsible" because any responsible party elected to Government would regard as its first and principal priority the defence of this nation and of its people. That must be the first priority. Compared to that, everything else comes second. If we do not have a credible defence policy, it is futile to talk about the quality of life or even life itself. During these coming weeks, we shall highlight the differences between ourselves and the Socialists, and between ourselves and the alliance on the issue. We shall also highlight the difference within the alliance between the SDP and the Liberals on the subject.
The second priority for any responsible Government must be to create the right economic environment in which industry can succeed. Governments do not create wealth, but people in industry, trade and commerce do. That point seems to have been lost on the hon. Member for Leeds, Central. It is vital that we build on the success achieved. Our gross domestic product is at the highest level ever in our seventh successive year of economic growth. This is the only way that we can produce the necessary money that we need to see spent on improvements in health care, pensions, housing and schools to continue to improve the quality of life for all. It is demonstrably daft substantially to tax out of all existence those industries and individuals whose enterprise provides that money at the end of the day. Yet both the Socialists and the alliance make clear that they intend to do just that. They never learn. The last Labour Government, propped up by the Liberals, presided over a stagnant economy in which industry simply could not provide the wherewithal for that Government to spend on improving the quality of life in the nation.
Even with the disgrace of borrowing from the International Monetary Fund, they had to impose massive cuts in the Health Service capital spending programme. They decreased teachers' salaries by 13 per cent. in real terms compared to the increase of 27 per cent. that we have given during the period that we have been in office. That stagnant economy meant that they were able to increase pensioners' net income by only 0·6 per cent. a year in real terms, compared to the increase of 2·7 per cent. under us. They even had to resort to withdrawing the pensioners' Christmas bonus, a particularly mean and spiteful thing to do and not worthy of any responsible Government. I do not know——