Social and Economic Situation

Part of Orders of the Day — Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 8:53 pm on 29th June 1987.

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Photo of Mr Simon Coombs Mr Simon Coombs , Swindon 8:53 pm, 29th June 1987

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) and the remarks that he made at the beginning of his speech about the two maiden speakers who preceded him, even though I can follow him in nothing that he said afterwards. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (M r. Redwood) are different from other hon. Members whom they have followed in the debate, but they are none the worse for that. Both of them spoke in kind terms about their predecessors, both of whom will be much missed in the House, particularly Sir William van Straubenzee, who was a friend to many Conservative Members.

We come fresh from a general election that was dominated as never before by media coverage. It was described to me as being rather like the Olympic games coverage that is normally shown on television, with only one race at the end of the fortnight, and that was the 100 metres. Despite that, the electorate stayed firm throughout the proceedings, the debates and the hustings. I wonder why the media concentrated so much on the possibility of a hung Parliament when hardly any opinion poll in the whole of the three and a half weeks suggested that it would be.

The polls generally were extremely accurate, but some were highly questionable. I hope that the Government will look at the need to maintain standards among those who publish opinion polls. I invite them to ask the Market Research Society to propose the standards and then to legislate to make it an offence to publish polls that do not conform to them.

My constituents welcome the Government's concern for the inner cities. They ask the Government not to allow any indulgence in labels. Parts of Swindon, my constituency, has 30 per cent. male unemployment. Areas such as Pinehurst, in the central part of the town, has prostitution problems, and those who go in pursuit of prostitutes cause great harassment to the people who live there. The people in the central area were pleased to welcome the Home Secretary when he visited them. They hope for legislative action on the abuse to which I referred.

I commend to the House the national business rate, if only because it will help the businesses in my constituency which can look forward to the possibility of an 11 per cent. reduction in the rates that they will pay—a saving of £3·5 million. I urge such companies to regard it not as a windfall but as the seedcorn for future expansion and job creation. We wish to see unemployment in Swindon go down beyond the 3 per cent. improvement that took place last year. Swindon will lose its competitive advantage. Therefore, there is a need for strong marketing of the town's natural attractions for industry. The work force must be made ready for employment opportunities.

I hope that in time industry in Swindon will welcome and help with the possibility of a city technical college and that a free hand will be given to the technical college to be out of the control of the local education authority. I hope that we shall see further moves to get all young people into training schemes when they leave school and that we shall make the dole no alternative to young people.

Already we have good links between companies and schools in Swindon. W. H. Smith has set a lead in the constituency in the link with Hreod Parkway school, and others must follow. This important start must be built upon.

The word "built" leads me to say that another aspect of the Queen's Speech which should be welcomed in the House is the move to create more private rented housing as an alternative to the Socialist council monopoly on rented housing that disfigures too many parts of the United Kingdom.

The debate has been about the divisions within the United Kingdom, but the major division now is between those in the private sector and those in the public domain. When one tries to explain the principle that one can spend only what one has earned, those in private enterprise understand because they have grown up in such a culture. It is much harder to explain it to those who are dependent upon the state. I know that because before I became a Member of the House I worked for the state in a nationalised industry. I recognise that, even today, after the Government have moved about a third of public industry back into the private sector, four out of the six largest employers in my constituency are still in the public sector.

Nowadays most strikes are in the public sector. We can carry on explaining the message to those people or we can speed up the rate at which we shrink the public sector. That is the way to get rid of the divisions that still exist in our society, and, in so doing, we shall get rid of one of tile last remaining reasons for voting Socialist. That is the task to which the Government should set their hand. I hope that, at the end of that process, which may not come in this Parliament but which will undoubtedly come under Conservative Governments in the future because the Labour party is now unelectable, those of us who regard the United Kingdom with pride will not have to listen to the national anthem being booed at sporting fixtures in some parts of the United Kingdom.

I wholeheartedly support the proposals in the Queen's Speech.