I beg to move,
That this House notes the political developments in the United Kingdom since 1979; salutes the right honourable Member for Finchley for the part she has played in these developments; congratulates her upon her leadership of the country as Prime Minister for eleven and a half years and pays tribute to the many fine personal qualities that she brought to the performance of her duties, including, in particular, her integrity, steadfastness and courage; and looks forward to her continued contribution to the political life of this country.
When I entered Parliament in 1983 I scarcely believed that I would be moving a motion such as the one that I am moving today against the background of such circumstances. When my good fortune in the ballot was drawn to my attention, I resolved to speak on this subject in anger and with sadness. Allowing for calm reflection, I am even more pleased that I came to that firm decision so quickly, as I now have the opportunity to put on record something which I hope, in years to come, will serve in some way as a fitting tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher).
At the outset I purposely drafted the motion in terms that both the Labour party and the alliance parties would be able to accept. Whatever they think of my right hon. Friend, to have held the position of Prime Minister for some eleven and a half years—the longest period since Lord Liverpool—is a truly remarkable and daunting achievement, particularly when one considers that in the modern world the pressures of being First Lord of the Treasury are far greater than they were more than a century ago. Indeed, I know well that many Opposition Members admire my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley for the way in which she stuck to her principles throughout her period in office. The Labour party feels that if, during that same period, someone of such firm resolve had emerged from among its number it would not be in the powerless position that it is in today.
I very much hope that the House will agree that the terms of the motion allow hon. Members to participate in a wide-ranging debate so that we can closely examine the political philosophies of the parties who send representatives to the House.
I have never thought of the House as a modest place, yet one has only to read The House Magazine to learn how hon. Members reluctantly occupy their present positions. What absolute nonsense! Members of Parliament, by their natures, are pushy and ambitious people, and I include myself in that. The Benches heave with over-ambition, and sometimes it is sad that we cannot clearly recognise our own limitations. In all modesty, I have recognised my own limitations quite clearly.
Political developments since 1979 cannot be explained without examining developments in the Conservative and Labour parties in the years before that historic event. Before doing so, I cannot proceed without commenting in some detail on recent traumatic events. When my party decided that there should be a contest for the leadership, I was horrified and immediately recalled the lines of the song, "That ain't no way to treat a lady." Whatever the collective view of the party, I could not believe that we would embark on a highly public spectacle, with the drama intensified through the television, newspapers and radio. Perhaps I am old fashioned in these matters, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Sir J. Stokes) said, what has happened to chivalry?
The challenge of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley against my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in 1975 took place in entirely different circumstances. The main difference was that we had lost three general elections and had dramatically changed our policies. I can recall sitting a political paper at college which specifically referred to Conservative party U-turns. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup was the Leader of the Opposition at that time, but the recent leadership contest took place while my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley was Prime Minister and after we had won three general elections in a row, which is not a bad record by any standards.
The leadership rules of our party are complete nonsense, and were devised by someone who is not even a member of it. It seems bizarre that a candidate can lose with 204 votes but win with 185. I readily admit that in both ballots I voted for the person who obtained the highest number of votes. I very much hope that my party will take a strong grip on our internal organisation to ensure that the present system is scrapped and that Prime Ministers can no longer be challenged. I make no criticism whatsoever of the personal position of any of the challengers; it is the system that I blame. It is one of the further, more extraordinary conclusions that can be drawn from the years when my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley led our party that she fundamentally influenced the changes in the leadership of the Labour party and yet ultimately sacrificed herself to change the leadership rules of our own party.
Much as I regret recent events, I shall always regard it as a privilege and an honour to have served in two consecutive Parliaments with my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley as leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister. It was because of her that I won my seat in 1983, and since that time Basildon has enjoyed increasing prosperity and improvements in lifestyle.
I wish that I had, even in some small measure, the integrity, steadfastness and courage that my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley has always displayed. At the age of 11, I decided that I wanted to be a Member of Parliament. That was the ambition of a boy living in the constituency of Newham, North-West, which returned the first ever Labour Member of Parliament—Keir Hardie. I did not form that ambition because of parental influence or anything that I read. I had a wonderful home life and went to an excellent school, which, as was quite common at the time, had 50 children in the classroom. My word, how times have changed as a result of the Government's excellent education polices.
I decided at an early age that what was around my local environment was, to put it crudely, rotten, and I looked to blame those who were responsible for running the town's affairs—the Labour party. Everything in Newham was Labour—even the pillar boxes were red. I determined to oppose those in power on the simple premise that, in my short lifetime, I had seen a deterioration in my local environment.
The modernisation of the Conservative party goes back to when the noble Lord Home was Prime Minister. I have always held him in the highest esteem. He behaved most honourably when he was removed as leader of our party. A steady change in the Conservative party took place at the precise time that I became interested in politics. When it is asked, "Which party is interested in a classless society?", as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently asked, the answer is quite clear—the Conservative party. We elected a grammar school boy as our leader. He was preceded by the daughter of a grocer, who was preceded by the son of a builder.
Perhaps it should not be such a surprise that someone with as humble a background as myself should have become a Conservative Member of Parliament rather than a Labour Member of Parliament. There I was, living in a tiny terraced house with an outside toilet and tin bath. My father was an electrician and my mother a dressmaker and tea lady—not quite the pedigree of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with his vaudeville background. There is no doubt in my mind that the election of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with actions speaking louder than words, is clear proof that class is no barrier to achievement in the Conservative party.
I will come to that later.
I have no doubt that Labour is wholly associated—and even obsessed—with class; one has only to listen to some union leaders to realise that. The Labour party believes that the working classes have to be kept in their places. As a Newham boy, I was having none of that.
I want to turn to the development of conservatism and of socialism up to the historic moment when my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley entered Downing street for the first time on 4 May 1979. The defeat of Winston Churchill in the general election after the war will always serve as a salutary lesson, especially in the light of present events. It showed that gratitude can never, and should never, be taken for granted.
The Labour Government introduced massive nationalisation, and state controls and restrictions, thus behaving in a perfectly honourable fashion following their deeply held belief in socialism and in the power of the state. The Labour Government was followed by 13 years of Conservative Government from 1951. Our party pursued our equally deeply held views on the powers of the individual. During that period, a 50 per cent. increase in the standard of living was achieved—a greater increase than had been achieved in the previous half century. Prices were stable, income tax was cut four times, and almost 5 million new homes were built. The economic growth allowed for record improvements in education, in health, in pensions and in other benefits.
Towards the end of that period, Hugh Gaitskell made what will always stand as a courageous attempt to retain pure socialist principles within the Labour party's alternative policy programme. He lost, although his "fight, fight and fight again" speech still strikes a chord with many people today.
The noble Lord Wilson, who formed his first Government in 1954, was the dominant political figure during my early years. History will judge him to be a masterful political operator, although his leadership of the
Labour party meant that socialism untimately lost its relevance and its way. My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley may remember a quotation from a Conservative party conference lecture that she gave in 1968. She said:
What we need now is a far greater degree of personal responsibility and decision, far more independence from the Government and a comparative reduction in the role of Government.
She was far-sighted enough then to recognise the shortcomings of Lord Wilson's Labour Government.
From 1964, the annual rise in living standards, an accustomed and expected feature of the post-war period, slowed almost to a standstill. I make no apology for drawing the attention of the House to how Labour behaved when it was in office.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am reluctant to intervene because I am quite enjoying this individualistic interpretation of history. However, I must point out that the motion could not be broader as it refers to "political developments since 1979". I should have been delighted if the motion had dealt with developments since 1964, but it does not. May we please stick to 1979?
Between 1964 and 1968, the rise in the standard of living averaged no more than 0·5 per cent. a year. In 1966 and in 1967, real living standards fell on average for the first time in living memory. Over the whole six years of the Labour Government, real disposable income had increased on average by scarcely more than 1 per cent. a year compared with 2·8 per cent. in the 1950s. Increased taxation had bitten into real incomes. Under Lord Wilson, taxes had risen at twice the rate of average earnings, yet little, if any redistribution to help the less-well-off had been achieved. So much for Labour promises then.
Does my hon. Friend recall, as I do, a television broadcast made by the noble Lord Wilson in 1967, at the time that the pound was devalued? Lord Wilson said that the pound in people's pockets would not be devalued. Will my hon. Friend reflect on the honesty of that Government? On the one hand, they claimed that they were protecting the pound in the citizen's pocket while, on the other, they were destroying the economy and the wealth of the nation.
I wholly agree with my hon. Friend. It was from that point that socialism could withstand little examination by the general public. That is why, during the 1979 election campaign, we were right to demonstrate, by using shopping baskets, how people could not buy as much food for their money as a result of the Labour Government's management of the economy. With the growing strength of the unions, a once great nation began to move down the path of decline until the country was transformed under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley.
That path was interrupted by a Conservative Government led by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup between 1970 and 1974. He came to office pledging to change the course of the history of this nation, and he certainly achieved that. He inspired my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley to embark on her radical programme, which transformed the fortunes of this nation in 1979.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) said recently that our membership of the European Community had been coloured by our not having been one of the founding members. That is obviously true when we judge the attitudes adopted towards my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley by other European leaders. Some commentators have argued that our eventual entry into the European Community was embarked on under largely unfavourable terms for this country. There has been a difficult battle since then to retain British interests within the market.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup had the positive intention to set the economy free and to bring the unions within a democratic framework of law. The Industrial Relations Act 1971 proved unworkable and the point was reached when it became politically impossible for the unions to enter any form of effective agreement on pay with the Conservative Government. By 1973, the trade unions and the Labour party had become similar to Siamese twins.
An extraordinary decision was then taken to hold a quite unnecessary general election in which people were asked to decide whether the Government or the trade unions should run the country. If one asks a silly question, one must expect a silly answer. Political chaos resulted arid the Liberal party was even offered a share of government. As Conservative Members have always known, the Liberals are socialists and would work only with the Labour party and with a Labour Government. The record of the Liberal party's action over the past two decades makes that clear.
The public had watched on their television screens trade union leaders going in and out of Downing street. It was at that point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley was inspired to embark on her historic journey. The House will not need reminding of the sordid affair that the Labour party had with the Liberal party between 1974 and 1979, when they shared government. It was the most disastrous time in the history of the nation.
As a result of Lord Wilson's equivocation, the left took over the Labour party completely. We all suffered and were made to pay as a result of the party's small-minded determination to get even in what is described as the class war. The strength of the left very nearly enabled the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) to become Prime Minister. It certainly helped to prevent Shirley Williams from becoming deputy leader of the Labour party.
In government, Labour continued to pursue ineffective and profligate policies. In the first years of the so-called social contract, inflation soared to 27 per cent. and the miners were bought off with a pay increase of 22 per cent. By June 1979, earnings had increased by an average of 26·6 per cent. and weekly wage rates by a staggering 33 per cent.
In exchange for their restored legal immunities and for food subsidies and price and rent controls contained in the first Budget introduced by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), as well as the "howls of anguish" that the right hon. Gentleman promised extract from the rich, the unions delivered nothing. Living standards continued to fall throughout the mid and late 1970s. In December 1973, the real weekly take-home pay of a married couple with two children averaged £70·20 per week. By 1977 it had fallen to £63·10 a week. What a shameful record from the party that has the cheek to lecture us about living standards.
In the late 1970s, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East had to go cap in hand to the IMF asking it to bail us out. Now, lower taxes and ever-increasing expenditure on public services ensure that Britain has a level of growth and prosperity second to none. Ten years on, the Labour party has become the party of decline, the party of the trade unions, the party of the council estates, the party of the industrial heartlands of south Wales, Scotland and the north. In 1979, trade unionists represented 30 per cent. of the electorate; in 1987, they represented only 22 per cent.
My hon. Friend is listing the failings of the Labour party. He is in danger of omitting inflation. Is my hon. Friend aware that, in 1987, the Labour party was selling a wonderful glossy colour brochure for 75p? The other day, however, it was peddling a slimmer volume, with no full colour pictures, at £1·50. Does not that prove that Labour is still the party of inflation?
I intend to leave no stone unturned, and I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall be coming to that.
In 1979, 35 per cent. of all households were housed in council houses. I am delighted to be able to tell the House that the figure has now shrunk to 27 per cent. The conservatism of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley has appealed to all classes in Britain in a way that class-conscious socialism never can. In 1976, my right hon. Friend said:
It is the Conservatives and not the Socialists who represent the true interests and hopes and aspirations of working people.
Since 1979, the hallmark of the Conservatives has been our ability to give freedom back to individuals and to give them greater choice and responsibility in the management of their lives.
My hon. Friend is perhaps not being entirely fair to the Labour party. Does not he agree that it was not unreasonable of the Labour party to oppose the sale of council houses given that, in some inner-London areas, it has lived for years on bribing people with offers of houses or flats to get their votes? It is bound not to want to sell them.
I entirely accept my hon. Friend's strictures. He knows very well from his time at the GLC of the bribery of which the Labour party is capable in housing management. We certainly still suffer from that in Basildon, but we are dealing with it through a programme of housing association involvement.
In education, the Conservative party has given people greater choice in deciding how their children should be taught. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) is absolutely delighted that a school in my constituency of Basildon has become the first grant-maintained school in Essex—thanks, in no small measure, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley.
The number of home owners continues to increase under this Government. I am proud and delighted that the first rents-into-mortgages scheme in England has been introduced in my constituency of Basildon—greatly encouraged by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay.
I am delighted to tell the House that, although Labour rubbished the scheme, hoping for a similar response to that in Scotland, we have had in just three weeks more than 1,000 genuine inquiries about our rents-into-mortgages scheme. That is a success by any standards. We shall continue to encourage and help those people to fulfil their dreams of a lifetime and own their own homes.
In the health service, details have been announced this week of 56 self-governing hospitals. I understand that Basildon and Thurrock health authority is to have its programme looked at carefully in the next 18 months.
It is not just at home that my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley proved herself such an outstanding leader. Her contributions in defence and foreign affairs have meant that Britain is truly respected as one of the great powers in the world today. The nations of eastern Europe have been inspired to shake off the burdens of socialism and take charge of their own destiny. There can be no doubt that the inspiration given to those countries by my right hon. Friend was instrumental in precipitating the events of the past year. Who could have imagined, eleven and a half years ago, the changes that have come about in Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and even the Soviet Union?
What can the Labour party teach us about freedom and choice? Not a great deal, judging by its record. In the past 10 years, Labour Members have voted against every Budget that has reduced income tax and every privatisation measure that has helped to spread share ownership. They voted against the right to buy, which allowed council tenants to purchase their homes. They have regularly voted against the renewal of the prevention of terrorism legislation, which has been essential in curbing the threat posed by the IRA. Make no mistake about it Labour would reverse all the positive achievements of the past 11 years.
My hon. Friend is right to draw my attention to that. I am delighted to announce that this year the number of days lost as a result of industrial action has been the lowest ever. If there were ever a Labour Government—God forbid—they would benefit initially from the achievements inspired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley.
Does my hon. Friend recall the power that trade union leaders possessed under the last Labour Government? Whenever there was a crisis, who should appear on television but Hugh Scanlon or that man Jones; or the one from Wales, Clive Jenkins, who no doubt has been living in the lap of luxury in the Antipodes. They were running the country then.
My hon. Friend is right. In fact, it went further than that. Those people were eventually brought into the Government. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup held an election in 1974, but he asked the nation a most inappropriate question.
The Labour party may dress up its intentions in moderate language and talk about social ownership or public interest companies, but that really means renationalisation. Take away the red rose and we are left with the left flag of full blooded socialism. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) predicted that, if the Labour party won the next general election, in the ensuing economic crisis the party, led by the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock), would move firmly to the left.
There may he certain moderate Members among those who sit on the Opposition Benches, but surveys at the grass roots clearly show that 92 per cent. of Labour party members want higher taxes. Therefore, our spokesmen should continue to come to the Dispatch Box and tell the nation that it can expect higher taxes. They should not be afraid to do that; they should be proud to do it.
I have been listening quietly and respectfully for long enough to get the drift of the hon. Gentleman's speech. Is he not aware that all the recent opinion polls show that if people are given a choice between the possibility of higher taxes and greater spending in areas of social need they are prepared to accept higher taxes? The Labour party is not saying that; the population as a whole is saying it.
I entirely respect the hon. Gentleman's position. He has always been honest in the House about where he stands on these issues. However, I genuinely take no notice of opinion polls.
Given what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, perhaps I can help my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). When the question was put in a slightly different way in the opinion polls and people were asked whether they thought that they were paying too much tax, the answer was always "yes". My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon is absolutely right not to pay attention to the polls. They are contradictory.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we were to follow opinion polls, persumably all Labour Members would, on Monday week, troop through the Division Lobby and vote with me for the restoration of capital punishment. That is what the opinion polls state. Similarly, if we follow opinion polls, Labour Members should also have followed me in the Lobby when we voted on abortion and embryo research. However, politics does not work like that.
I represent a constituency which in some senses could be described as marginal. However, I was not running scared when I read the opinion polls in respect of what has happened in recent weeks. I was all for fighting it out and continuing on with our Conservative policies. I was not the least bit worried about opinion polls. I will explain later why I think that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is wrong, and we will judge at the general election who was right.
Seventy three per cent. of Opposition Members support secondary picketing and 68 per cent. of them support unilateral nuclear disarmament. The right hon. Member for Islwyn still owns a CND badge and he is proud of it, but that sentiment is not reflected in the opinion polls.
There is a view that my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley led us to three general election victories because the Opposition were split. That view is facile. She carried the ground from Labour. She talked to the blue collar workers in terms that they understood. People who were fed up with hard socialism wanted something a little short of that, but they were disappointed.
I accept that the hon. Gentleman may have covered this point earlier when regrettably I was not in the Chamber, but, in the circumstances he has just described, if the right hon. Lady is such a paragon of virtue and a great achiever, why did the Conservative party dump her?
The public were served up with a brilliant maverick in the form of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) when the alliance was established. However, that was followed by sheer opportunism in the marriage and sordid divorce between the right hon. Member for Devonport and the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). They entered the 1987 general election proclaiming that it was time for a change and they heralded a new style in politics. However, when the Conservatives were returned with a majority of 101, the so-called alliance party let the British people down. That party should be ashamed of itself, and we Conservatives will never let it forget what happened.
The hon. Gentleman does not understand what happened. We went into that election as two parties and as an alliance. We promised that we would merge and we did so. it was entirely up to the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) to go off on his own. However, the two parties merged into one solid Liberal Democrat party.
I understand the hon. Lady's position, and of course she would say that. My recollection of events is very different. We all saw on television the closeness between the then two leaders of the alliance, but they fell out publicly the day after the election. They presented a dishonest sham to the British public. They were after short-term popularity to try to collect up the middle ground, but they showed themselves to be dishonest. We will never let the British public forget what you did, whether you call yourself the Liberal party or——
I apologise for drawing you into these matters, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I should move on because I am getting over-excited. The public divorce took place as one of the party leaders stabbed the other In the back.
Whatever people say, they want to vote into office a Government of principle. The Conservative party has been successful in clearly articulating our policies and objectives. That has been re-emphasised under the leadership of the new Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). Others just blow in the wind. One cannot possibly build a party on shifting sand. The Labour party today is a disgrace. It is totally lacking in principles. It always used to be the Liberals who had no policies, but it is now also the Labour party. Whenever Labour Members find a Conservative policy to be popular and successful, they copy it, but they can never bring themselves to be honest and admit what they are actually doing. That is called designer socialism.
While the hon. Gentleman is dealing with the alleged lack of Labour party policy on various issues, will he tell us, because we are unclear about it, the precise Conservative policy on the poll tax?
I shall shortly draw my remarks to a conclusion. [Interruption.] I can be encouraged to continue. The hon. Member for The Wrekin will be very glad to know that I shall deal with Europe, the management of the economy, and the community charge. I dodge no issues.
As far as the Labour party is concerned, whatever the public want, they can have. What a way to present an alternative Government. Today I do not know what socialism as espoused by the Labour party is. Eastern bloc countries have been honest enough to admit that socialism has been disastrous for the fortune of their nations. They have categorically rejected socialism and everything for which it stands. They want no part whatsoever in what the Labour party stands for, and they take their lead from the achievements of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley.
I said that the Labour party has no policies. I now admit that I was wrong, and I stand corrected. It has one policy—and it is very good at it: spending money. Labour Members kid the public that, whatever the issue, they will be able to manage our affairs in such a way that they can spend more money than we are able to spend at the moment. They kid people that they can make their lives better and cure the problems with which we are grappling. They are even dishonest enough to pretend that their spending programme will not mean much higher taxes for the majority of the British people. Nothing has changed in what the Labour party represents.
We judge Labour Members on their record when they were last in office; and they left an appalling legacy in 1979, with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley had so successfully to deal. The management of the economy, our role in Europe and the financial relationship between local government and central Government are all matters that the Conservative party is facing up to and dealing with.
Our present economic policies will substantially reduce inflation and allow my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer eventually to reduce interest rates.
In Europe, everything that has happened until now, including the single market, has been in favour of free trade. In future, though, we will be asked to look at a single currency, which would mean one economy and one Government. I am totally opposed to such an eventuality, as are the overwhelming majority of the British public.
Where does the Labour party stand on Europe? Every year it has changed its position according to how it judges opinion polls. Where do the 209 Labour Members of Parliament stand on Europe? Now that my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley is no longer to be harangued, Labour Members must now tell us where they stand on Europe.
If one is looking for a silver lining to the cloud of my right hon. Friend's departure, commentators will now have to examine the real issues and not put the matter down to what they perceive as the cussedness of my right hon. Friend. The other 11 European leaders will no longer be able to sit on their hands, and they will also have to stand up and be counted. That will be extremely interesting because of what it will reveal about the true relationship between European leaders.
The Government are clearly determined to resolve the mechanics of local government finance. That is why I am so pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo) is responsible for the sensible management of local government finance. Whatever might be said now or in the future, the community charge is a step forward in promoting accountability and the idea of us all making a contribution to the support of local services. That concept is widely accepted. The problem has been the level of charges that has been set and the overspending of local authorities, highlighted by the overspending of socialist-controlled Basildon district council. It is the worst offender in the country. Last year it was 196 per cent. above the standard spending assessment—more than double the performance of any other local authority.
However, the constituency of Basildon, which I represent, is a shining example of the success of the Conservative Government since 1979. It is the most exciting town in the country, with the most wonderful community in which one could wish to live. The town is well placed to meet the competitive challenges that lie ahead of us with the changing face of the world, and of Europe in particular.
On the evening of the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley, I walked down Whitehall to No. 10 Downing street and delivered a letter. What immediately struck me was the visible element of society who were celebrating her departure. Outside Downing street were a group of people who, at the very best, could be described as the worst type of political organisation in this country. That was compounded by some European politicians' ungracious remarks that were later shown on television. Then came word that Saddam Hussein was pleased at what had happened.
If, until then, there had been a doubt in some people's minds, the stark reality of what we had done became clear. The world drew its breath at the departure of my right hon. Friend as Prime Minister. Throughout that period she behaved with dignity. That cannot be said of others. That woman had been, throughout the past decade, responsible for restoring the self-confidence of our nation, meeting people's aspirations, and raising people's views of what they could achieve. She emerged, when Britain was seen as a second-rate nation, to become the most formidable politician in the world—someone to whom the world listened, whether it be in partnership with the American President, or as a catalyst for the end of the cold war with the Soviet Union. For those and many other reasons, I hope that she will continue to contribute to the political life of this country.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley should be seen in the character of the person who succeeded her as Prime Minister. On Tuesday, an historic moment took place when the present Prime Minister and his predecessor were presented to our party. My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon said:
Conservatism will remain a word for economic progress, social mobility and for the individual dignity that is the natural right of every citizen.
That message was made possible and believable thanks to the leadership of the country that was given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley as Prime Minister for eleven and a half years.
The final tribute that anyone could pay my right hon. Friend now is to unite behind our new Prime Minister and to make certain that her magnificent legacy is not destroyed by any socialist entering No. 10 Downing street at the next general election.
I thank the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) for choosing such a wide-ranging subject for his motion this morning. The people in my constituency would think that the hon. Gentleman had been talking about a different country with his descriptions of "social harmony" and "the economic miracle". It might suit Conservative propaganda for the hon. Gentleman to try to convey that message but nobody believes that it is true, and if the hon. Gentleman had any sense, he, too, would recognise the real truth.
I should like to take the opportunity of the motion to debate one change which we have not had in the past decade, but which we need. It is time that we changed the time at which the House of Commons conducts its business. It is time that we moved out of the 17th century and towards the 21st century. It is time that we stopped operating like a gentleman's club and started to operate like a modern, effective legislature. We have a sophisticated industrial economy. We have an advanced parliamentary democracy, yet our Parliament is based back in the times when Members did a bit of farming in the morning, some trading in the City or some work in the law courts, and came into the House in the evening for a spot of dinner and the odd vote. We cannot go on like that. As it is currently structured, the House of Commons is not serving the country and will not be able to serve it well in the future.
Of course, traditions are important and it is important that we remember our history. We are reminded of our history in the pink ribbon that each of us has hanging on our coat hangers to mark where we should hang our swords. We are reminded of our traditions in the costumes worn by the Serjeant at Arms and by Mr. Speaker. There is nothing wrong with traditions and it is important that we remember and learn from our history. However, we must not allow ourselves to be held back by our traditions and some of the traditions in the House are now doing that. We need to change so that we can work more effectively, and one of the changes needs to be in the hours that Parliament sits.
One reason why change is needed is that late sittings deter women from seeking entry to the House of Commons. It is not acceptable that only 6·5 per cent. of Members are women, representing or purporting to represent a country in which half of the population comprises women. This Parliament is profoundly unrepresentative because it is male-dominated. Although the Prime Minister said recently that we fail to recognise the changing role of women in society at our peril, he is quite happy to have a House of Commons that is overwhelmingly male-dominated and to have an all-male Cabinet.
Before the hon. Lady gets too carried away with feminism being the reason why change is required, may I remind her that there are plenty of men among my hon. Friends—and probably among her hon. Friends also—who see changing the hours not as a feminist cause, but as a cause for common sense for all hon. Members?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a growing feeling for change among hon. Members, both young and old, and on the Conservative as well as the Opposition Benches. Many of us have come to the same conclusion but for different reasons. The hon. Gentleman and I agree on the issue, but we come to that agreement for completely different reasons.
It is wrong that we have a Parliament that is so unrepresentative of women in society. As men and women lead different lives, it is not acceptable that only the male view is heard in Parliament and that men should make decisions that affect women's lives.
There are many reasons why women do not come into Parliament. Many find it difficult to be selected by their party for winnable seats. I do not underestimate the problem facing women who seek to become Members of Parliament. There are barriers all along the way and one is the hours that the House sits. I know that many excellent women who I feel could easily be selected for a parliamentary seat and whom we need in the House, but who will not put themselves forward for Parliament because the hours are difficult to reconcile with family life. People should not be forced to choose either to represent people in Parliament or to have a family life. We should change the parliamentary hours so that we can have normal people as Members of the House of Commons.
I do not necessarily disagree with my hon. Friend's point about the hours, but should like to take her back to the obstacles that are placed in the way of women being selected by any of the parties. My hon. Friend knows the number of meetings that Labour party activists must attend in order to get themselves selected and I am sure that the same is true of the Conservative party. That is where the discrimination starts and where the obstacles are first erected. I mean this genuinely—I have said it outside the House as well as inside—I believe that because of those obstacles women Members, of all parties, are pound for pound better than the average male Member of Parliament because they have had to overcome so many more obstacles. Surely obstacles outside this place should be removed before the obstacles inside.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that there is discrimination in the selection procedures. However, there is also institutionalised discrimination in the hours that the House works and that deters women. We must deal with both problems.
The hon. Lady knows that I agree with all that she is saying and that there should be changes in the working hours of the House. However, I caution her when she says that Members, their support staff and presumably everybody who works here should be able to have a normal family life—both men and women— because she must remember that there is no way in which those of us who come from a long way away, such as from the south-west or the north of England or from Scotland, can have a normal family life during the week.
I accept the hon. Lady's point, of which I am deeply aware, and hope to deal with it later.
As I said, we need a change in the hours because late hours deter women from seeking entry to Parliament. I am not suggesting that we should have shorter hours simply to allow women to speak up in Parliament. I am simply saying that when we have a choice—as we do—between a night shift and a day shift, why choose to work at night? Why not choose to work during the day?
As well as deterring women, late hours exile male Members of Parliament from their own families. One of the most awful things about this place is that men rise to speak about the family and to talk about the "party of the family" and the "politics of the family" and tell everybody else what they should be doing with their families, yet one of the pre-conditions of entry to this place for most Members is abandoning the family or, in the case of male Members, delegating the family to their wives. People do not want to hear lessons on family life from those who would not even recognise their own families if they could not look at the pictures of them that appear on their election addresses. It is wrong that the hours of the House should exile male Members of Parliament from their own families.
The hon. Lady is making a serious point, as did the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). Canada has opted to restrict parliamentary hours and chosen not to sit during the evening, but that has not done anything to help the problem because Members come from so far away and, of course, the distances are even greater in Canada. I should like to go along with the hon. Lady's objectives and I hope that she will say something about how we can achieve them rather than simply saying that we should meet during the day.
I am dealing at present with why we need change. I shall come later to the changes that we might consider, and there are various proposals to examine. We need change because night sittings deter women from seeking entry to this place and because they exile men from their families.
We need change also because this place should be more businesslike and more effective. The later the debate, the lower the quality. The Chamber at 10 o'clock, at the end of an important debate, has a definite after-dinner atmosphere. Few hon. Members can claim to be at their best trying to debate issues at 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning.
The hon. Lady is making general points with which most hon. Members would agree, even if we are among those who are here on the mornings—Fridays—when the House sits early. I regard the most important task of Parliament not that of turning out legislation but setting and reflecting the agenda for the nation. The most unfortunate aspect of speeches being made after about 5 o'clock in the evening is that they are not reported, apart from the occasional paragraph here and there. I imagine that the hon. Lady will deal with that during her remarks.
The hon. Gentleman makes a helpful point, and I promise to deal with it.
We should change our hours of sitting because the nation cannot properly be represented by Members who become boss-eyed workaholics because they start at 9.30 in the morning and work through until after midnight. I am not suggesting that Members are necessarily swanning it and relaxing in the mornings and simply working in the evenings. Many Members work extremely hard here and claim that as a virtue. "I am the Member of Parliament who represents real free enterprise because I do a 24-hour day, seven days a week. I never take a holiday because I am always working." One can hear it being said. Or some of my hon. Friends may argue that the ion of a good socialist is a person who works 24 hours a day, seven days a week and who never takes a holiday.
Those sentiments describe a person who is not normal. They represent someone who has lost all sense of perspective and who cannot see the wood for the trees. We do not want decisions about the future of the nation and society being taken by people who have lost contact with normal life and who have turned themselves into boss-eyed workaholics.
Adjournment debates provide an important opportunity for Back Benchers to choose subjects that particularly affect their localities and to have the relevant Ministers present to deal with those issues. Unfortunately, such debates occur at perhaps 1 o'clock in the morning, if one is lucky, at about 11 pm, by which time anybody with sense is either relaxing or asleep. Back Benchers are denied the opportunity of debating constituency issues at a reasonable hour, when their local press or television stations might take a closer interest and when their constituents might be told what has been said on their behalf. No purpose is served by forcing such debates to take place late in the night, thereby undermining the parliamentary opportunities available to Back Benchers.
It is expensive to run the House of Commons late into the night. I calculate that in the previous Session sittings after midnight added £250,000 to the cost of running Parliament. Ask the public how they would prefer to see that amount of Government money spent, either on keeping the House of Commons sitting from 2.30 in the afternoon until the small hours or on other items, and I am sure that they would reply, "Spend it on keeping an additional ward open in our local hospital", or "Spend it on a new roof for our local school." Let those who want to maintain our present crazy system of sitting hours justify it, rather than the other way round.
My hon. Friend makes the interesting point that the burden of proof should rest on those who wish to maintain the present system. In view of the intervention in my hon. Friend's speech to the effect that men would approve of the changes that she is advocating, it would help if the men present today came out and began campaigning with us for change. I accept that some male Members support us, but it would help if male Members in all parts of the House gave their support so that this will not be seen as a campaign being conducted mainly by women.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. As she knows, one of the most outspoken people in favour of change, to whom I pay tribute—because of illness he is unable to be here today; I trust that he will be back next week—is the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). I like the idea of the Father of the House working to bring about change in the mother of Parliaments.
I wish to consider the arguments against change and to strip away their unreality. It is said that we cannot: have change because Ministers must be in their Departments in the mornings. The whole business of Government would grind to a halt if Parliament began at 9.30 am, it is said, because Ministers would not be able to do their work properly.
I am in the House every day and I never see Ministers sitting on the Government Front Bench except when the business in hand relates to their Departments. So that argument is a sham and a nonsense. Ministers can work in their Departments while their ministerial colleagues do their own business in the House. It is rare to see Ministers here at, say, Question Time, other than when the questions relate to their Departments.
It is argued, next, that morning sittings of Standing Committees would be interfered with if the House sat earlier. Under the present Administration, as soon as a Standing Committee is constituted it is faced with a sittings motion to permit both morning and afternoon sittings. Immediately, therefore, hon. Members must choose between being in the Committee or in the Chamber. One must organise one's working day around that.
If all the members of a Committee were concerned with the business taking place in the Chamber, they could move to have that Committee adjourned for a particular morning or afternoon sitting. Or if only one or two members of the Committee were involved, they could make a pairing arrangement to enable them to attend the Chamber. It would not be difficult to arrange our affairs in a practical way if we wished to have change. So the time at which Standing Committees meet making change impossible is another sham argument.
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point about Standing Committees sitting mornings and afternoons. Not many hon. Members serve on afternoon Committees and the Benches in the Chamber are quite empty later in the day. So hon. Members who are not on Committees do not seem to come here anyway, which reinforces her point.
I am grateful for that reinforcement of my argument.
A pernicious argument that is adduced against change is that it would interfere with the activities of hon. Members who have outside interests and other jobs. It is ludicrous to suggest that one can be an effective Member only if it is one's second job. One does not say when visiting the doctor, "You cannot have your feet on the ground. You cannot treat me well and diagnose my ailment because this is your first rather than your second job. Why do you not have outside interests and a second job?"
The job of a Member of Parliament should be his or her first priority. Those who want second jobs can have them, but they should take second place to the work that they do here. If they want to do evening or weekend work, let them do it, but the idea of making the House sit in the evening and at night so that hon. Members can work as barristers in the law courts, as merchant bankers or company directors, is absolutely outrageous. Members of the public want their Members of Parliament to represent them.
The idea that one does not know what is going on in the real world unless one is a barrister is nonsense. Is it in the robing room of the Old Bailey that barristers discover the real interests of the country? Is it in the directors' dining rooms in the City that people learn to keep their feet on the ground? I do not think so. They would be much more likely to have their feet on the ground if they worked a normal day in the House of Commons and did what everyone else does in the evenings and at weekends.
Earlier, I asked the hon. Lady not to make her argument into a feminist cause. May I also ask her not to make it a Labour party cause.? Her catalogue of other jobs sounded like Conservative jobs and surely she would accept that there are hon. Members from all parties who like to have second jobs, so it is a non-party point, and one with which I agree.
I have already paid tribute to the fact that the Father of the House has been a leading light in trying to get our hours changed, and he is, of course, a Tory. It is true that, unfortunately, some Opposition Members are against changing our working hours because they have other jobs. However, the overwhelming weight of people not wanting to change the hours because of other jobs comprises Conservative Members.
Another argument against change is that it is allegedly just a measure to suit London Members. Approximately 20 per cent. of Members of Parliament have constituencies within commuting distance of Westminster. Let us be truthful—many other Members do not live in their constituencies, but have brought their families to be with them in London, so change would affect them too. Therefore, the idea that change would affect only a tiny handful of London Members is not true.
The hon. Lady argues her case extremely well, but there are people like me who cannot possibly go home to their wives in the evening because their wives are busy. My wife has interests in and around the constituency and thought it best to bring up our young family there. We could not afford to buy a family home in London. That applies equally—or probably even more so—to Labour Members. If the hon. Lady's suggestion were to extend the period that I and others who live away from London had to spend in London, it would definitely be a non-starter because it would destroy our family life. If we were here nine, 10 or 11 months of the year, it would be hopeless, and that idea is completely out of court.
I am better off working until 10 pm or 11 pm here in order to be able to spend more time with my family at weekends and during the recesses. Goodness only knows what mischief male Members would get up to if, because their wives were not here, they roamed the streets in the evening—that would not apply to me, I hasten to add.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. While I greatly respect the hon. Lady's contribution, our debate is supposed to be about political events since 1979. The hon. Lady is dealing extensively with matters that have not yet taken place and so are irrelevant. I should like to get on with the subject of the debate.
I have looked at the motion carefully and it is fairly wide. I had some doubts myself about whether the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) was correct to pursue the argument that she has chosen, but have decided that it is reasonable. I looked at the motion's wording carefully and think that, at present, she is in order, and I am sure that she will stay in order.
I take the point of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). I was seeking to put my comments in context. It is disappointing that after 11 years of a woman Prime Minister, we have not seen any of the changes that would make Parliament more representative of a society in which more than half the people are women. I am not trying to abuse the Standing Orders of the House and believe that what I am saying is in order.
I do not believe that changing the hours would be a measure to suit only London Members. In addition, I do not accept the argument that it would take away from the Opposition the chance to wear down the Government by forcing late sittings because that argument works both ways. When the Government have been worn down by the Opposition, the Opposition have also worn themselves down. I have yet to see any substantive evidence that the direction of Governments has been changed by everyone wearing themselves out. There is evidence that some Members think that it is hairy and macho to be able to say, "I was up all night, three nights running." But most people to whom Members say that, do not have a clue why those Members think it is so clever. It is an entirely internal matter, which is not understood by people outside the House.
Another argument against change is that it did not work when Crossman tried it in 1967. That is because the sitting never started with questions and there was also the opportunity to filibuster. The scheme that he started involved morning sittings carrying on from the tail end of the previous night. I do not think that the Crossman experiment should stop us trying to make changes again.
The final argument, which has also been raised by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell), involves Members saying, "What would I do if I was not here in the House of Commons?" That argument has two parts: first, what would I do? Secondly, what would my wife and constituents think I was doing? In answer to the second part of that argument, I recommend that we keep the Library and Dining Room open so that hon. Members could be in either of those two places. Therefore, those Members who found that, without evening sittings, they fell apart, could go and seek comfort with each other in the Library or the Dining Room of the House.
I shall deal briefly with some proposals for change. The best option would be to operate like any other business or enterprise and have a working day from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm, as is suggested under Labour's plans for the Scottish Assembly. If that change were proposed for Monday to Friday, I know that it would be a problem for out-of-London Members, particularly those from Scotland, Wales and the north-west who do not have the option of being with their families or at home in the evening. We can consider different alternatives. Many other European legislatures have a different sitting pattern for a Monday to reflect the fact that at the beginning of the week people are coming from further away than on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. I shall suggest two proposals: first, we could have Monday as now and——
Order. The hon. Lady is pushing her luck with me now. It is one thing to deal with general principles, but when it comes to proposed hours of work, I must draw the line.
Would it be possible for the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) to consider the last line of the motion, which looks forward to the continued contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher)? Perhaps if we adjust the working hours to suit my right hon. Friend, we may see more of her in debates. I hope that that might be a suitable subject for discussion.
I have been sitting patiently listening to the hon. Lady's speech, a great deal of which I agree with. However, both she and I, and indeed the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), are London Members. I understand entirely the considerations that she mentioned about allowing people representing constituencies outside London to spend more time with their families. Both she and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West will know that in London we spend a great deal of time at meetings—party, residents' association and tenants meetings—that take place all evening, every evening and most mornings as well, certainly in my constituency. I am always having to perform a balancing act between being here and being in my constituency, as I am sure is the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman). The problem that I would face is that without the reform, mentioned by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, of the way party politics are organised being taken in conjunction with the reform of this House, my working hours would not change, because my place of work would just transfer to the constituency. That might be of benefit, but it would not give me more time with my family.
It is always difficult to balance home and work and to balance one part of work against another—but late-night sittings are ridiculous. We should make the House more businesslike and work normal hours and then try to sort out other matters around that.
There is nothing immovable or God-given about our hours. I reassure hon. Members that the pillars of the temple will not fall down if we change those hours. It will not mean the end of society as we know it; civilisation will not crumble away. It will be all right.
I said all this to an hon. Member who is deeply opposed to changing our hours and he said, "We are not going to do it. You will be an old woman, Harriet, before it happens." We are not prepared to wait. Why should we still wait for the House to move into the 21st century?
It is time that we were more businesslike and more representative; it is time that we had procedures that were understood by people outside the House as well as by us.
We heard a powerful speech by the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), which included much food for thought. I am glad that the Dining Room will be kept open so that I can contemplate further changes there. My only problem is that I am told that my best speeches have been made after midnight. That is probably because so few people were there to listen. I am not sure how well I would fare if I were called to speak at lunchtime, but the hon. Lady made some valid points about an issue which will continue to attract more interest. The Leader of the House listened to her entire speech, which was an important signal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) gave us a splendid tour d'horizon. I learned a lot from his speech and remembered much at his prompting. Having heard his history of the period before 1979, I find it unsurprising that we have had Conservative Governments continuously since then. The horrors perpetrated by the Labour party in the 1960s and 1970s should never again be visited on this country, and I am sure that the incredible ability of the Conservative party to renew itself from within will ensure that we continue in Government throughout the rest of the decade and into the year 2000.
The most remarkable achievement of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was the transformation of Britain's international image. It was said of Winston Churchill that he found Britain with a lion's heart and gave it a lion's roar. The same could be said of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley, who transformed this country domestically—by spreading wealth—and internationally in the most dramatic fashion. That transformation owed much to her courage, determination and vision. The House is rightly glad of the opportunity that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon has given it to recall that transformation with pride and pleasure.
It was highly significant that the last great act that my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley performed as Prime Minister was to end the division of Europe which had existed since the second world war. The conference on security and co-operation in Europe treaty in Paris signalled a victory for the values that we hold dear—the rules of law, democracy, freedom to think and to travel, freedom of the press. That triumph was embodied in the treaty that my right hon. Friend signed in Paris and it signalled the collapse of post-war communism, which did so much harm to all those living on the other side of the iron curtain. History will record all this as a remarkable tribute to my right hon. Friend.
Much of the reason why the signing of the treaty became possible was the steadfastness that this country showed during the 1980s, especially in defence, to ensure that Soviet communism knew that it could never win. So the Soviet Union therefore imploded, bringing freedom for the peoples of eastern Europe.
I like my hon. Friend's imagery. The Conservative Government were not prepared to be seduced into easy answers when faced with difficult problems, and they were prepared to deploy Cruise and Pershing missiles when the threat from the Soviet Union was at its greatest. I do not have time to go into the full history of the period—I merely wish to show how strongly we have played our part in international politics throughout the 1980s, the reward for which has been the ending of the division of Europe, with the possibility of freedom for people who never believed that they would have the chance to experience it.
This has afforded the Conservative party a wider sense of pleasure. I remember a Polish politician who had been in prison under the old communist regime telling a Conservative party conference that when Solidarity and other organisations started to campaign for change in Poland they realised that socialism could not be reformed but had to be removed. The changes in Europe, especially in the past 12 months, have brought about the triumph of liberal social market economics, which give freedom for the individual and the company rather than state control and direction. That is a victory for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley can take considerable credit.
There has been a dramatic domestic transformation since 1979. Wealth has been spread and has grown at such a rate that people who never expected to be well off or o own material assets, who never dreamed of attaining the standard of living that they have today, have done so in ever-increasing numbers not only in the south-east but in every region.
The wealth of the British people has trebled since 1979. Between 1981 and 1988 the value of personal sector physical assets rose from £400 billion to £1,130 billion. The value of personal sector financial assets rose from £340 billion in 1981 to more than £1,100 billion in 1989. That increase in wealth has spread right across the community. Part of the proof of that is the increase in the number of people owning their own homes. It is also to be found in the fact that 11 million people are now share owners—more than the number who are members of trade unions. That transformation has widened the horizons of many people and given them something that they themselves can enjoy and then pass on to their children so that wealth creation and distribution will continue.
There have been dramatic improvements on the economic front. From 1981 to 1989 the United Kingdom had eight successive years of sustained growth averaging more than 3 per cent. That is to the benefit of everyone in Britain and I believe that growth will shortly recover again despite our current economic difficulties. The economies of the United Kingdom and Spain have grown faster in the 1980s than the economies of all the other major European countries. The United Kingdom is no longer investing less than other countries. Growth in business investment since 1980 was second only to that of Japan among the G7 countries. That is a remarkable achievement, given that in the 1970s Britain was always at the bottom of every economic league table. I lived in Paris in the mid-1970s and I remember people almost pitying me because I was British. Now when we travel abroad people know that we are from a country which has pulled itself up by its bootstraps, got its economy going and will quickly get over current difficulties.
The standard of living has improved and the take-home pay of a married man on average earnings with two children has increased by more than 30 per cent. since 1979. Over the same period there has been a dramatic improvement in industrial productivity. The Government can take pride in those achievements, which have benefited people in all walks of life all over Britain. When the history books are written, I hope that it will be made clear that my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley played her part in leading Britain to better times.
I have said that most people have benefited since 1979. I shall now deal with the concept that everyone in society must benefit if we are to build on our successes. The hon. Member for Peckham commented on how Conservative Members often talk about the family although they are kept from their own families by their work in the House. I shall talk to my wife about that this evening and hear her views. My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley said:
Government apart, the strengths of a civilised nation depend on the natural authority of the family, the school, the Church and our great institutions. It is when that authority weakens—and it has weakened—that nations turn to the power of the state".
To some extent the sense of community that is so important to our country has declined in recent years. That has not happened only under the present Government—it has been declining since the end of the second world war. We are facing many serious social problems, but they have not been created just by the present Government, who in many cases have looked at them more sympathetically than any previous Government. The idea that the social problems afflicting Britain could have been caused by Thatcherism has rightly been rejected by many independent people, including Charles Murray, who says in his book, "The Emerging British Underclass":
The increases in crime extend back to the 1950s, and the slope in the graph in violent crime steepened most conspicuously in the late 1960s, long before Mrs. Thatcher came to power. The acceleration in the illegitimacy ratio was taking off in 1979 and was nearly as steep as it would ever get by Mrs. Thatcher's first full year in office. It is hard to credit that Mrs. Thatcher's influence on fertility behaviour among single young women occurred within days of her election.
That refutes the often repeated Labour party jibe that we created social problems which did not exist before.
The problems in our society can be solved only by a partnership between Government and active citizens—I do not have time to define that phrase in full, but in short it means people who take an active role in their communities. In the past 11 years we have done much to strengthen community ties and bonds. Sometimes I regret that we have not given enough attention to why we have been doing that. We may have over-stressed some reforms in the context of the efficiency that they would bring to the surface, and perhaps we have over stressed the impact such reforms might have on the individual alone rather than their help in assisting him to play a part in his wider community.
Some of our reforms should be seen more as assisting the development of communities. For example, we have assisted community development by reinforcing the notion outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley in her recent Pankhurst lecture that parenthood is for life, which embraces the proposal that fathers should be made to honour their maintenance commitments to single mothers. We have made parents more aware of the consequences of their children's behaviour and of the implications of their actions in bringing up children, through attendance at court hearings and liability to pay fines, costs and compensation orders incurred by children who become young offenders.
The Children Act 1989 provides a framework for the protection of children. In 1990–91 the Government will be spending £10 billion on a range of benefits for children. That represents an increase of 25 per cent. since 1979. There are key areas which will ultimately lead to a strengthening of community relations. For example, we are encouraging parents to become more involved in the management of schools by devolving budgets to schools so that they can be more responsive to the interests of the community in which they are situated. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can take personal credit for that as a result of his work as Secretary of State for Education and Science.
The national health service trusts—which are not opting out of the NHS—should be seen as a way of giving back to the local community influence on the way in which the local hospital is run. We often hear constituents bemoaning the fact that they have lost the much-loved small community hospital with which they grew up and upon which they depended. The new self-governing trusts are another way of looking at community hospitals. Those hospitals can be well equipped and of a size which enables them to cope with modern acute medicine. People can start to take pride in them because they know that the red tape which previously interfered with the way in which hospitals were run has been cut and there will therefore be greater responsiveness to the needs of the community, the doctors, potential patients and community health councils. The medical professionals in the hospitals will also have a greater involvement in their running.
The debate about National Health Service trusts is in our minds at the moment because of recent announcements. They should be seen not just in terms of increasing efficiency but in terms of supporting and developing community relationships and of strengthening the identities of the community and the people within it. There are other areas in which the Government can take credit for helping people to identify more with the community. In the short time that I have been in the House, I have tried to do much to encourage employee share ownership which is now established as an important issue. Employees who own shares in the company for which they work have a greater identity of purpose and, ultimately, if the company is successful the employees have a greater likelihood of capital gain and therefore a real sense of wealth creation. That is an important Conservative principle. Wealth creation is valid in itself, but it is morally acceptable only if it leads to widely distributed rather than to a narrowed base of wealth ownership.
The Conservative Government can do many other things to build on what we have achieved. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said, we have to continue our work in the inner cities so as to give people there greater hope, not just in terms of environment, buildings and housing, but in terms of educational opportunities. Inner city problems are serious. Unless we tackle them, they ferment other problems which problems are impossible for Governments alone to deal with.
The Conservative Government understand that they cannot help people or remove social problems simply by diktat. That is a form of social engineering which the Labour party wishes to pursue. The Conservative Government have shown, through the measures that I have outlined this morning, that they understand that the way to deal with social problems is by encouraging people to work together to help others in the community in which they live, and that policy has been followed by successive Conservative Administrations. To do that, people have to have the freedom to spend money as they wish, which means a preference for lower taxation. Government resources must be distributed at the lowest possible level in the community, such as schools and hospitals, rather than being directed from above.
We have also to ensure that the people who are most in need get assistance not only from the Government but from the people living in the communities in which they are suffering. People in need will be helped only by a partnership between Government and active citizens. That vision of the future has gone throughout the 1980s under my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and has been taken up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), who wishes to have an open and mobile society. That is the vision of all Conservatives.
To achieve our aims, we must give people sufficient opportunities, not just to pursue selfish aims but to enable them to do things for other people such as build communities so that people have pride in what is around them. By doing that they will ensure that our communities are cohesive, stable and happier. In those circumstances. I have no doubt that we shall build on what we have achieved in the past decade with another decade of Conservative Government.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) on allowing us, with this panegyric to Thatcherism, to look at the past decade. Although his notion is somewhat naive and unrealistic, it gives me an opportunity to acknowledge freely the achievements of the former Prime Minister, first in becoming Prime Minister, and her courage, but not the policies with which she led the country over the past decade.
The hon. Gentleman talked about people being stabbed in the back and the politics of the alliance party. Whatever happened during the merger of the two alliance parties, if there were knives used they were rubber knives compared with the lethal knives used to stab the former Prime Minister in the back. Like the rest of the country and the world, I watched in astonishment as this was done to a Prime Minister who only two months before had received a tremendous ovation for 10 minutes at her party's conference. Suddenly, she was gone. The Conservative party has done an extraordinary thing that will not soon be forgotten.
I accept what the hon. Lady is saying, but there is a difference between our parties. If she were to engage my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) in a private conversation, the hon. Lady would know that my right hon. Friend is telling us to unite behind our new leader. The alliance parties stabbed one another in the back and the parties were destroyed as a result. That is not the case with our party.
I do not want to get into an argument about the alliance parties. As I said, we have emerged strong and united. We are the only party in the House of Commons that is united on the main political questions of the day. The Tory party should watch itself. We shall see how united it remains after this abrasive contest.
The motion deals with the political developments of the past decade. We entered the Thatcher decade with inflation at 10·3 per cent. and we are entering the 1990s with inflation at 10·6 per cent. Unemployment was rising then, and it rose to unprecedented heights before falling. Now we are facing rising unemployment again. We were enjoined to get on our bikes to seek jobs, and many did. However, they were often unable to take their families with them because of lack of housing. With high mortgage rates and high inflation, the encouragement of easy money and the plastic card, the feeling was that those who were successful were the ones who mattered. All that has contributed to the breakdown in family life and the increase in single-parent families.
The nationalised utilities were turned over to the private sector. Instead of real competition in the market place, public monopolies were substituted by private monopolies.
I was astonished at the way in which the Government attacked every aspect of society. They went for education and the teachers, who became desperately demoralised. They went for the health service, and not just the doctors but everybody who worked in it. They went for the community as a whole with the poll tax. Instead Of building on good will, they destroyed the good will of many workers. It is sad that doctors and consultants nearing retirement age, but with perhaps five years to go, want to get out early because the health service has been destroyed.
As a Scot, I naturally mention Scotland. This eulogy to Thatcherism, as the hon. Member for Basildon must know, does not apply in Scotland. The Government did one or two things in Scotland with which I agreed. However, we must never forget that the Conservative party paid the political price of its policies, with the result that it was reduced to a rump of only 10 Tory Members representing Scottish constituencies. No amount of change at the top will rectify the betrayal of the Scottish people over the past 10 years in a number of areas.
The Thatcher years began with the repeal of the Scotland Act 1706. The great betrayal was that the former Prime Minister promised that, if the Scottish people voted no in the referendum, the Conservatives would devise a better form of devolution. The hon. Member for Basildon said that he would never let the people of this country forget about the Liberal alliance. The people of Scotland will never forget and will never forgive the betrayal of that promise. The majority of Scottish people voted yes to the setting up of a Scottish assembly. However, despite the Tory love of the first-past-the-post system and majority rule, that promise was disregarded. I wonder whether the former Prime Minister reflected on that as she saw herself being pushed aside, despite the fact that she was the candidate who received most votes in the Tory leadership contest.
We believe in a property-owning democracy and we agreed to the sale of council houses, but we were not led to understand that they would not be replaced. Therefore, homelessness in Scotland rose from 7,493 in 1978–79 to the staggering figure of nearly 29,000 in 1988–89. In 1981, the number of English homeless people was 70,000. By 1989 it had risen to 126,000. That does not fit in with the eulogy of the former Prime Minister's achievements during the past 10 years.
After 10 years of Conservative government, there is a real housing crisis in rural areas of Scotland and, I believe, in rural areas of other parts of the United Kingdom. Few houses are being built in those areas. Local people have been priced out of the inflated housing market. Consequently they continue to leave rural areas in increasing numbers. Low-cost, affordable housing is not available to them.
Many people argue that the problem in rural areas is that tight planning regulations prevent cheap houses from being built. Is the hon. Lady in favour of a relaxation of planning controls?
In my experience, that is not a problem. The problem is that district councils do not have the finance to build low-cost, affordable housing. The planning regulations do not prevent the building of houses for local people.
The forcing of the poll tax on the Scottish people a year in advance of the rest of the United Kingdom was the beginning of the former Prime Minister's ultimate downfall. The rest is history. It is unfortunate that hon. Members did not listen when the poll tax was foisted on the people of Scotland, totally against their will.
The Government have failed over the years to use their political clout to support the Scottish steel industry. Time and again the industry has proved its ability by breaking productivity records. How little the Government care about the Scottish steel industry is shown by the fact that they are prepared to see it disappear altogether. British Steel is displaying unprincipled and corrupt practices, the likes of which I had never expected to witness. We have reached the stage of trying to prevent Ravenscraig from being dismantled by mothballing it until, at the least, we can find a buyer to take it over. British Steel, however, does not want competition. It appears, too, that the Government do not want British Steel to have any competitors. The order books at Clydesdale Tubes are bursting at the seams; the firm is turning away orders. The lack of investment in the mills, however, means that they are running at only half capacity.
The most significant political development of the last 10 years has been the setting up of the Scottish constitutional convention. The Government's unfortunate and arrogant refusal even to acknowledge the wish of the majority of Scottish people to look after their own affairs spells continued disaster for them in that part of the United Kingdom. I do not understand why the Government cannot see that and why they do not listen to the arguments. They appear to be blind to what is going going on in Scotland.
The starting point of the convention was the claim of right. It privides a firm foundation and is firmly committed to the Scottish understanding of sovereign power emanating from the people. It rejects the belief in the absolute sovereignty of this place. Members of the convention come from all walks of Scottish life, including the political parties, with the exception of the two extremes —the Conservative party and the Scottish National party. Nevertheless, members of both parties serve on the convention.
After 18 months of deliberation, we reached agreement on the principles of a fair electoral system. The convention rejected the first-past-the-post system used for elections to this Parliament, which has led to minority Government after minority Government coming to power to govern the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of its people. A Scottish parliament would not go down that road. It would adopt a system whereby the seats won more accurately reflected the votes cast for each party.
The convention spelt out a defined range of powers and responsibilities. It did not shirk the need for revenue-raising powers. Without them, a Scottish parliament would be merely a talking shop that was not subject to the financial discipline that is so essential. The accusation that the power to vary income tax rates would lead to additional tax burdens on the Scottish people and that therefore all business would flee the country is so much nonsense. What Scottish Government would do that to their own country, business and economy?
Agreement was reached on single-tier local authorities and on the powers of a Scottish parliament. The Liberal Democrats played an important role in the work of the convention. Its conclusions go a long way towards our goal of seeking federal government in a United Kingdom.
That has been discussed. We believe that that will be a matter for decision here. However, it would be no problem for my party. Without doubt the number of Scottish Members of Parliament who would have seats in this place would be reduced. That would be good. I certainly would not accept that Scottish Members could not vote on the Manchester Sewers Bill, or whatever, or that English Members could not vote on Scottish matters. I foresee us looking after our domestic affairs but sending representatives to this Parliament, which I hope will evolve into a federal parliament, and voting on United Kingdom affairs. We are quite happy about that.
Do the Liberal Democrats believe that the numbers in Scotland should come down to reflect the electorate in England and Wales? The Act of Union gives extra seats to the Scots. Would her party support a disproportionately large electorate for Scottish Members because they would not have to concern themselves with English and Welsh legislation?
The hon. Gentleman is asking for much detail on the reform of boundaries, and so on. The land mass of Scotland is equal to half that of England and Wales. I do not want the Scots to try to dominate this Parliament. What a difference it would make to hon. Members if Scottish matters were discussed in Edinburgh. They would have plenty of time to go for dinner or could go home earlier because the Scots would not be making a fuss and going on about legislation all the time. I would look for and welcome such a change in the procedures of the House.
It disturbs me that we cannot get through to Conservative Members what we are saying. The Minister is probably an anglo-Scot. I know that he went to Merchiston Castle school in Edinburgh, which is a very good school. He should have some understanding of the aspirations of the Scottish people. Why do the Government welcome the freedom attained by eastern European countries and the Balkan states but refuse Scotland the right to govern herself while remaining a partner in the United Kingdom? The Government may say, "We do not want you as a partner", but then they should say so. Liberal Democrats say that we should like to remain a partner in the United Kingdom. Hon. Members should not be so dismissive. They should look closely at the scene in Scotland. They might not know what is going on there, but they should think deeply about what is likely to happen unless they respond.
The Prime Minister said that he would listen, and he spoke of people having pride and dignity. He and his Government should understand that the demand of the Scottish people will not go away. It is extraordinary that a country such as Scotland, which has its own legal and education systems, does not have its own legislative forum. Its position must be unique in the western world. We want the space to grow and to develop our own talents and to decide our own destiny and political future while remaining a useful and equal partner in the United Kingdom. I do not think that that is too much to ask.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) mentioned the possibility of a devolved Parliament in Scotland. As an onlooker, it occurs to me that, 300 years after the Act of Union in 1707, a devolved Parliament would inevitably lead to tensions and, ultimately, to a separation of our two countries, which would be a tragedy. We have been through so much together. We are inter-married, we have conquered empires together, have defeated dictators together, have a single currency and live within almost a single island. Tensions would inevitably arise. Give politicians a talking shop and, as we have seen with the European Parliament, they soon want power. If Scotland wants to go down that road, that is for her to decide, but that is how it would inevitably end.
The hon. Gentleman says that it is inevitable that Scotland would seek total separation from the rest of the United Kingdom, but that is to deny what happens around the world, particularly the western world. All the successful economies are based on a federal system of government and devolved power to the nation states or provinces. They all work successfully. The Scottish people do not want to cut their links with the United Kingdom, but I warn Conservative Members that unless they are prepared to listen they may be pushed down that road.
I disagree with the hon. Lady, although I hear what she says.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this morning because I wish to pay tribute to a most remarkable Lady—my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). I met her only once, albeit briefly, before I was elected, to have the normal candidate's photograph taken. In 1979, when I was learning all about socialism, I fought the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Something that gave me a few extra votes against the monumental pile of votes that are cast for the hon. Gentleman was that I had a photograph taken with my right hon. Friend.
There was another interesting development in that campaign. The hon. Gentleman lived at a place called Skinner's hall and the Liberal candidate lived at Skinner's street. They could not get away from the idea that they were fighting Skinner. I remember the photograph with the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). I do not think that it helped at all in my mining constituency. I look forward to the next general election and the hon. Gentleman sticking up a photograph of the right hon. Member for Finchley in Stockport and losing his seat.
That is unlikely to happen, but it is nice to see the hon. Member for Bolsover at the Dispatch Box. I have enormous respect for him. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley, he knows his mind and he is not afraid to speak it, unlike many Labour Members, and no more so than the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who tried to pretend that his party is united on Europe, knowing very well that behind him it is split virtually 50:50.
The second time that I met my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley was in the summer following my election in 1983 when, as with many new Members, we were invited to No. 10 with our wives. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), who introduced the motion so ably, is nodding. It was a swelteringly hot day. My wife, Susan, and I were greeted by my right hon. Friend and Denis Thatcher. After about an hour, all the men were standing in a certain way because it was so hot and the ladies were dabbing their brows. My wife said to me, "Just look at that woman." The Prime Minister looked as though she had just walked straight out of the shower, despite her having had a busy day. There was not a bead of perspiration, unlike everyone else in the room. My wife said, "That is will power." She has certainly had will power ever since and especially in the past few weeks. She has shown extraordinary will power, and I know that Opposition Members respect her for that.
When we went to No. 10 Downing street, my right hon. Friend showed us the Cabinet room. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is the only Member present today who has served in the Cabinet room.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley showed us the great oval table and the places where various members of the Cabinet sat. She said, "This is where I sit", and we all dutifully looked at the place. She then said, "Behind me is a portrait of Robert Walpole. He was Prime Minister for 21 years. Now there's a thought." She has no 't made her 21 years as Prime Minister, but she has made eleven and a half years. I have no doubt that we shall stay in power for 21 years—until the turn of the century—thanks to the way in which she dealt with the leadership battle last week. Several of my hon. Friends have touched on that point.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley was elected leader of the party in 1975. I make no apology for the fact that I am a Yorkshire man who represents a seat on the other side of the Pennines. Yorkshire men were doing very well in 1975. Harold Wilson, who was born in Huddersfield, was leading the country. Geoffrey Boycott was born in Yorkshire. If only he had been born in Lancashire, things might have been very different for Yorkshire cricket. Then there was Arthur Scargill who was also born in Yorkshire. They were three great pillars of the establishment.
Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley could not do much about Geoffrey Boycott and Yorkshire cricket has not recovered, but she has certainly done something about the two other men. In the 1970s, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx said that Labour was the natural party of government. When I was campaigning furiously against the hon. Member for Bolsover, people said that socialism was inevitable, that it was spreading throughout the world and that there was no way in which the trend could be reversed. But my right hon. Friend has reversed the trend, not only here but throughout eastern Europe and elsewhere.
Arthur Scargill was riding high at that time because he had just brought down the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). Arthur Scargill thought that he was unassailable; and he tried again in 1984–85 during the miners' strike. There were many faint hearts throughout the country and in industry; there were even a few faint hearts among Conservative Members. My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley defeated Arthur Scargill through her will power. He had to be defeated because he thought that force could overcome the democratically elected Government.
I was one of the few Conservative Members who went to see the picketing at Orgreave. it was an extraordinary experience. Watching the scene on the television in the warmth of one's home, one could not appreciate what was happening. A pall of evil hung over that place. There were 2,000 policemen and 4,000 others, many of whom were not miners. The troublemakers were trying to destroy democracy in this country. It was a remarkable period in our history and no one but my right hon. Friend could have achieved that victory. It was a victory not for our party or for the Government, but for democracy.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to sum up the legacy of the past 11 years during which his right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was Prime Minister, he should consider this maxim. The former Prime Minister has been stabbed in the back by her own people and has been turned out in the night like a wounded dog. Arthur Scargill is still in office.
Her memory and her achievements live on. She will go down in history as the greatest peacetime Prime Minister this country has ever seen. Arthur Scargill will go down in history as a miserable and abject failure.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley became Prime Minister in 1979, it seemed that the decline of Britain was inevitable. She arrested it by one simple action: she put trust in the people. She trusted them to buy and to run their own homes. The Labour party said that council house tenants could not be trusted to look after their own houses.
My right hon. Friend insisted that industry took responsibility for industry. She made it clear that the days of subsidies, of bailing out companies and of debacles such as Upper Clyde Shipbuilders were over. She trusted industry to run its own affairs. Before the hon. Member for Bolsover intervenes, I must say that it is a pity that we have not done the same with the farmers. If we had done so, we should not have had the debacle in the negotiations on the general agreement on tariffs and trade over the past two or three days. My right hon. Friend also put trust in trade union members to run the trade unions. We no longer see trade union leaders parade as the great leaders of our nation.
My right hon. Friend has privatised our nationalised industries. Even as recently as last year, when water was being privatised, people said that it was impossible. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) pointed out that a survey showed that only 2 million people were in favour of water privatisation, but that 5 million of them applied for shares. As my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) said, there are more shareholders in this country than there are trade union leaders.
I will give way in a moment.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) has said that he wants an open society— a society of equal opportunity in which everyone has a chance. The foundations for that society have been firmly laid by my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley. Her memory will live on, and we should all be grateful to her for all that she has achieved for this country.
I did not realise that the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) had finished—I thought that he was giving way to me. In fact, he has given way, but on a slightly more permanent basis than I had thought. I had intended to ask him about the transformation to a share-owning democracy that he believed that the blessed right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) had achieved, but I now have the opportunity to speak for myself. It is not surprising that many people have applied for shares in electricity, because the shares have been undervalued. People will be able to make a lot of money very quickly. I do not think that that is a good deal. If one offers people buckets of money, one should not be too surprised if they grab them with both hands. That is what happens if the Government undersell the assets—people will obviously realise that they can make a lot of money.
The hon. Member for Stockport implied that people were dedicated to a share-owning democracy, but the statistics show that the vast majority of the increased number of shareholders—there has certainly been an increase—own shares in only one company. That does not seem to represent the ideal of the share-owning democracy. Most of the people inovlved in the privatisation shares get in and get out as fast as they can, making as much money as they can at the expense of the rest of us. I do not regard privatisation as handing the assets to the people. In fact, it means taking the assets away from all the people and handing them over to a smaller number of the people at the expense of the great majority. Few people in my constituency or my borough have been able to take the opportunity to make money from undervalued assets. Under the Government. the percentage of shares owned by the institutions has increased while the percentage owned by individual shareholders has gone down.
The logic of the hon. Gentleman's position is to seek massive renationalisation. Is that what he wants?
You, Madam Deputy Speaker, will know—as few others do—that I have recently been elevated to the Front Bench. I understand that certain responsibilities come with aspirations to high office, but I have my own personal views and I shall express them—having made it quite clear, in case the leader of my party is listening or reads Hansard, that they are not the views of the Labour party as a whole. I would certainly renationalise—in most cases, without compensation. Involvement in capitalism may bring gains, but one has to accept that fingers can get burnt. Some people will have been able to make a fast buck, but others must accept that a risk is involved. The Leader of the House asked me my opinion and I have given it. I stress once again that it is my own view and not that of my party. Personally, I would renationalise every one of the public assets that have been so shamefully sold off.
I accept that we are hearing the hon. Gentleman's own views and not those of his party. An employee who takes shares in his business may sell them at a profit or he may keep them as a mark of his long-term commitment to his firm. Would the hon. Gentleman take shares back without compensation in the latter case? Would he apply his policy to the shareholders, owners and employees of National Freight and to the 80 per cent. of Thames Water employees who have shares in that company?
Once again, I emphasise that I am expressing my own opinions and not my party's policies. I am talking hypothetically because it is unlikely that I shall ever be leader of my party or persuade it to accept my views. One would have to approach each of the privatised assets somewhat differently, just as one would have to approach shareholders differently. In certain cases, compensation would have to be paid. If a Labour Government pursued such policies, it would probably be right for that Government to repurchase shares. Share prices go down as well as up, and when things go wrong in an industry the shares can be purchased cheaply. In respect of an individual whose only source of income was shares—perhaps the proverbial widow in Wolverhampton who owns a small number of shares—one would expect decent compensation to be paid. The hon. Gentleman involved me in an interesting discussion although, as we are talking so hypothetically, I wonder whether it is worth my taking the time of the House.
The hon. Gentleman is refreshingly frank. Perhaps he will be similarly frank about the number of his colleagues in the Labour party who would support his views on renationalisation without compensation, as I am sure that the electorate would like to know whether that view is likely to prevail after the general election.
I am, indeed, refreshingly frank—that is probably why, in party-political terms, I am such a lousy politician. One of the things that I dislike about party politics is that one so often has to subordinate one's personal opinions to a policy with which one does not agree so as to present a united front. I believe in speaking my mind, even though what I say may not convey a great deal to anyone and even though I usually say it at great expense to myself. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that those who share my views are a minority in the Labour party, confined to the campaign group. As I said recently, the campaign group and the left of the Labour party have not been doing very well. I was recently appointed official stretcher-bearer when the campaign group decided that it needed such an office. The hon. Gentleman will certainly not get any comforting statistics from me to suggest that I am expressing the opinions of the vast majority of people in the parliamentary Labour party, because I am not—I remain very much in the minority.
Having been to tally diverted from what I intended to say, I return to the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his luck in the ballot and apologise to him for having missed the first part of his speech, especially as I understand that it was the most interesting part. The terms of the motion are suitably sycophantic—so much so that I have submitted the whole text of his motion to Private Eye for consideration for the award of the order of the brown nose. I am convinced that I shall win the £10 prize—if I do, I will go halves with the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman has been steadfast in his support for the previous Prime Minister. When the right hon. Member for Finchley had become as popular as the bubonic plague in the rest of the country and in her own party, the hon. Gentleman was like the boy who stood on the burning deck—prepared to be consumed in the flames to stand by his right hon. Friend in her difficulties. I commend the hon. Gentleman for his steadfastness. His support for the right hon. Lady has never wavered. In the end, he found himself in the minority, although I take his point about the votes because the Conservative party never got round to holding a third ballot. It is fortunate that the Conservative party can change its rules so readily—when it comes to standards and practices, there is nothing that the Tories will not change at the drop of a hat.. Although the hon. Gentleman was prepared to stand by the right hon. Member for Finchley, however, many others in his party were ready to dump the pilot overboard and did just that.
Never before has anyone deserted at such a critical time, and with such a perverse effect on his own career—if the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) had held his courage just a little longer he might have been PPS to the new Prime Minister. But that is politics for you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will have the chance to climb a little further up the greasy pole than I have in due course, or perhaps he and I are both losers.
Before we allow Conservative Members to confer a sainthood on the right hon. Member for Finchley and erect a shrine to her, we should examine the reasons why the Tory party dumped her, because that is what it did. The Conservatives dumped her because it was generally considered in the party—certainly in the parliamentary party—that the Tories stood no chance of winning the next election if they kept her. If they had thought that they could win the next general election with her, they would have stuck with her. Nothing concentrates hon. Members' minds more than the thought of losing their seats, and enough Conservative Members in marginal seats were convinced that they would lose those seats at the election, so the right hon. Lady had to go.
Even if there were a desire to dump the leader of the Labour party—I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is not—we could not change our rules. We are unlike the Conservative party in that respect. The leader of the party is elected with the support of all wings of our movement, the majority of Members of the parliamentary party and the majority of delegates at conference, which means the trade unions as well as constituency activists. There is, in any case, no desire to dump my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—why on earth should we want to do that? My right hon. Friend forced the former Prime Minister to resign by cornering her. It would be absurd to contemplate moving against our leader. The difference is that we know that we are going to win with our leader, but Conservative Members knew that they were going to lose with theirs. That is why they dumped her.
For the benefit of those who do not know all the Labour party rules, is not the real reason why there cannot be an effective contest for the leadership of the Labour party the fact that it takes six months for the process to work? There has to be a special conference and all the rest of it. I do not want to trespass out of order, but this point comes within the terms of the motion. Is it not also the case that in 1983, when the present Leader of the Opposition was chosen to lead his party, 203 Labour Members voted—101 against the right hon. Gentleman and 102 for him? I admit that that is a majority, but it is nothing like so good a majority as my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) had a few weeks ago.
Yes, but in 1983 my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) was not the party leader. He was one of the candidates. The Conservative party dumped its leader who had been there for 12 or 15 years—I cannot remember exactly how long, but it seemed like a lifetime to me and to many people in this country.
The right hon. Member for Finchley led her party to three victories. The hon. Member for Basildon made that point because he is one of her staunchest devotees—so staunch that in his speech he was prepared to try to rekindle her image for us as a wonderful person who made a great contribution. If that is so, why did Conservative Members dump her? All the accolades from the hon. Member for Basildon cannot camouflage the fact that she was dumped as a successful leader of the party. Conservative Members know that what counts in politics is not what one has achieved in the past but what one will achieve in the future. Conservative Members knew that they could not win an election with the right hon. Member for Finchley and her policies, so they dumped her.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman. He has only just joined us, but I am sure that he has something useful to say.
It was my own fault for giving way to someone who had literally just walked into the Chamber. Had the hon. Gentleman come in just a couple of minutes earlier, he could have joined in the discussion on that very subject. Perhaps I should send him a specially annotated copy of Hansard on Monday so that we can have a private discussion about it elsewhere.
Another reason why the right hon. Member for Finchley was dumped is that she had become arrogant, autocratic and out of touch with real people. She was surrounded by people who were giving her the advice that she wanted to hear.
One of the symbols of the right hon. Lady's lack of contact with reality was the erection of those preposterous iron gates—the Nicolae Ceausescu memorial gates—at the end of Downing street. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that when he becomes Prime Minister those gates will go. They are a symbol of the division between the right hon. Member for Finchley and the people of this country—she was so popular that she was not allowed to walk on the streets of London because she was an incitement to public disorder.
The hon. Gentleman is aware that those gates were erected because of the brave stand of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) against the IRA and its determination to try to kill her as it nearly did during the party conference in Brighton. It ill becomes the hon. Gentleman to make such remarks about such a brave and courageous woman.
The hon. Lady makes what she thinks is a good point. The gates have been there for just 18 months, but the former Prime Minister had been there for 10 years. I am not averse to all the protection in the world being provided for our political leaders, including those of the Conservative party. I have no desire to see anything unpleasant happen to them, but there are other ways of providing security. Those gates are ornamental—the place looks like Buckingham Palace. I thought that they were going to have the changing of the guards outside those gates. The right hon. Member for Finchley had delusions of grandeur and those gates are an obvious symbol of that.
The hon. Gentleman is aware that the IRA has stooped to the point of sending suicide cars clown roads to explode outside buildings, killing people who had been tied into the seats to deliver the bombs. The gates to which the hon. Gentleman referred are an attempt to protect the Prime Minister against such dastardly methods.
I have just said that security must be provided. Lamentably and regrettably, in 1990 security for the Prime Minister and leading Members of the Government has to be of an order which we had hoped never to see in this country. I am not arguing about the security angle, but I believe that the monstrosity at the end of Downing street says more about the delusions of grandeur of the right hon. Member for Finchley than about the need for security.
I have a few other things to say about the right hon. Member for Finchley. If the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) finds what I have just said unacceptable, she will find it horrendous when I really get my teeth into the former Prime Minister. The hon. Member for Basildon said that he hoped that the right hon. Member for Finchley would make a political contribution. Of course, she immediately threatened to do that when she said that she would remain as a back-seat driver. Perhaps it has been misinterpreted, hut, if it was, it was also misinterpreted by the new Prime Minister who did not appear over-impressed with such a view.
For the sake of it, and for what it is worth, I can tell the House that I believe that the new Prime Minister, who wants to change a number of policies, will find it necessary to clear the decks as fast as he can. I also do not believe that the right hon. Member for Finchley will come into the Chamber very often, although she may sit here as a spectre. The more the hon. Member for Basildon and others table motions like the one that we are debating today, the more the leader of his party will be aware of her. There is only one way in which the new Prime Minister can deal with that—and with the baggage that she has left him, which he and many other Conservative Members want to dump. That includes the poll tax. The Government must also put more money into the national health service and into education. They can do all that only by calling a general election. I am absolutely confident that we shall have a general election in the spring as the new Prime Minister tries to clear the decks. I hope that we will have one then, because we shall win.
While I profoundly disagree with the hon. Gentleman, I have a great deal of respect for the amount of hard work that he puts in. Therefore, I am sure that he will have taken the trouble to read the speech in which the reference to the back-seat driver was made. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the comment was quoted out of context. The point is that, although my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was leaving the Government, she would be available to ad vise the Americans and President Bush, particularly as they deal with the Gulf crisis. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was aware of that context.
Of course he would not, because I would not give him the kind of advice that he would want to hear. Also I am not the Prime Minister and am never likely to be.
I am sorry if it comes as a nasty blow to my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) to hear me announce that I shall never be Prime Minister, but I recall the fate of various hon. Members who claimed that they would be Prime Minister. I remember Kilroy-Silk walking in and saying that he would be Prime Minister, and look what happened to him—that Kilroy programme is a fate worse than death. More recently, someone else marked it out on the back of a card but ended up as a stalking horse and is now back where he started in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for the Environment. So perhaps history proves that I am more likely to succeed if I say that I am not going to be Prime Minister than if I say that I am. I also happen to be a realist, and I know that there is no chance of it happening.
Perhaps the right hon. Member for Finchley's remark was misinterpreted and I have misinterpreted it again, but that is life. The right hon. Lady will no doubt be writing her memoirs. I look forward to them being remaindered at W. H. Smith very rapidly. She will pass quickly into history, as so many ex-Prime Ministers have. Conservative Members must realise that charisma in politics is usually attached to the office and rarely to the person. Like other ex-Prime Ministers whom I shall not mention, the right hon. Lady will quickly pass into history and become yesterday's woman. There will be an afterlife, as the hon. Member for Basildon has said, but I doubt whether we shall hear a great deal about her after the next election. For all her tenacity and determination, I have always believed the right hon. Lady to be fairly dull and unimaginative—someone who did not give much thought to what was going on. Nevertheless, she had many attributes. She was perfectly equipped as a party politician because she had a great deal of low cunning—not enough to allow her to survive, but she had a lot of grim determination and resoluteness. In terms of intellectual and theoretical ability in politics, however, she had but little of that—which is one reason why in the end so many other European leaders were able to run rings around her. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Yes—one judges a politician not by what a politician says, but by what a politician does. The impact of a politician on history is seen only when one takes a step away from the time when the politician was active. I remember hearing the Prime Minister say many times, "Never, never, never," at the Dispatch Box, and then go to Europe and give way because they out-manoeuvered her. History was not on her side.
I listened with interest to the comment that other European leaders managed to run rings around my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). Will the hon. Gentleman admit that the dramatic changes which took place in respect of the common agricultural policy would not have taken place without the single-minded determination and constancy of purpose of the then British Prime Minister, who forced the leaders of other European countries to cut farm output? Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the French agreed to milk quotas in a sense of good spirit? Was it not because our then Prime Minister forced them to do so?
The right hon. Lady obviously would have had some success with some administrative changes. I am not saying that she was a complete vacuum and that no one took any notice of her. I am talking of the big idea. The right hon. Lady was not able to grasp the big idea. In the end, Europe was her political graveyard because she could not grasp what was going on in Europe. When we talk about all the changes in Europe, we do not have to give any accolades to the right hon. Lady. She just happened to be there at the time. For what she did, developments could have been hindered. She acknowledged that she could do business with Mr. Gorbachev, which is likely to be the most memorable thing that the right hon. Lady ever said. When the history of this most exciting period is written, Mr. Gorbachev's contribution to politics—not the right hon. Lady's—will be seen as the seminal version, the one that changed the history of the world. The right hon. Lady was not intellectually up to that. She had no imagination and no grasp of what was going on. She saw the world from a street corner in Grantham. That was her contribution to wider world politics. The hon. Member for Basildon may not like what I say about her, but I am convinced that her part in history will be a fairly small footnote.
There are not many monuments to Thatcherism, although there are some visible ones not very far from this place. The empty county hall is a monument to Thatcherism. A little further down the river, the ruined Battersea power station is another. The monstrosity of Canary wharf is another visible monument to Thatcherism. There has been no real social or economic revolution in this country in the past eleven and a half years. Things have changed, but they usually changed for the worse rather than for the better. People tend to be more selfish these days—and more violent—and society is certainly far more divided than it was when the right hon. Lady was elected.
The hon. Member for Basildon talked about the economic miracle that we have lived through. You must excuse me, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I must have been asleep as I have not noticed any economic miracle. Constituents in my area of Newham, which the hon. Member for Basildon knows well, may be excused for questioning whether there has been an economic miracle. What kind of economic miracle leaves us with the largest balance of payments deficit in manufacturing trade in our history? What kind of economic miracle leaves us with the highest inflation rate and the highest interest rates in Europe? There is something interesting about that as well.
The new Prime Minister—I hope that I am not misquoting him, as I have been accused of misquoting his predecessor—said that he thought that interest rates would come down when Chelsea wins the championship. The right hon. Gentleman and I are Chelsea supporters and we know that Chelsea has been playing very well recently, but we are well adrift in the league—about 16 points behind Liverpool and Arsenal—so, unless we have legislation to remove those points from the top two teams and to make it illegal for any team to beat Chelsea during the rest of the season, I doubt whether interest rates will come down. If I were asked what I most wanted—if I were pushed into one of my franker moments—I would say that I would prefer to see Chelsea with the championship rather than see interest rates come down. No doubt, for saying that, I will get many letters from irate shopkeepers, business people and others who do not support Chelsea.
If an economic miracle has taken place, why do we look so sick in comparison with the rest of Europe on the indices that I have mentioned? We also still have one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe. That has been camouflaged by 40 changes in the method of calculation. One of the more intellectual members of the parliamentary Labour party, my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice), has just arrived from Chester-le-Street. He will be able to tell me whether I have got it wrong. We have had about 40 changes in the way in which unemployment rates in this country are calculated, so it is no wonder that the Government have been able to camouflage a very worrying underlying real employment rate in this country.
In terms of the social successes of Thatcherism in the past eleven and a half years, a new book entitled "Poverty—The Facts", by Carey Oppenheim of the Child Poverty Action Group, states:
In 1987 over 10 million people, nearly one fifth of the population of Britain were living in poverty measured by either of the most common definitions. In 1979 4·9 million people, nearly one tenth of the population in Britain, were living in poverty defined as income below 50 per cent. average. Between 1979 and 1987 the richest one fifth of society saw their share of total household income after taxes and cash benefits rise from 40 per cent. to 45 per cent. The poorest saw theirs fall from 6·1 per cent. to 5·1 per cent. For the first time since the second world war, the poorest half of the population have found that their share of total income is dropping.
The division between the richest and the poorest is now at its widest since 1886. Whatever Thatcherism may have done for the richest and most powerful in our society, it has done very little for the people whom I represent and for those whom my party primarily represents. It has done very little for those who need support or help. It has done very little for the poorest in our society. They are the people who are delighted to see the end of the right hon. Member for Finchley, and they are the people who will take some comfort from the cover of Private Eye,which I cannot show because we are not allowed to use visual aids, but which states:
'Rejoice, rejoice'—the lady has gone".
Opposition Members are rejoicing—not only for the poorest in our society, but for everyone in society. The quicker we now move to a Labour victory, the quicker we can do something to redress all the injustices of eleven and a half years of Thatcherism, and the better it will be for all of us.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) not only on choosing this subject, but on the way in which he introduced his motion. He claimed only modest ambitions for himself, but he made an entertaining speech with effective and telling points on which I intend to elaborate later.
However, before I address the motion, I should like to say a few words about the speech of the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman), who raised some important points and spoke about them with great passion. I very much agree that we need more women in Parliament. As the hon. Lady correctly recognised, the working hours of Parliament are not the only obstacle to achieving that but I shall not elaborate on all the others because that would take up time that I should like to devote to other things. However, I very much share the hon. Lady's view and hope that more women from all parties will enter the House in future elections.
I am always keen for the House to work more effectively. The hon. Lady raised one interesting example when she said that we could save about £250,000 of taxpayers' money if we did not have quite so many late night sittings. One of the modest changes that we have made this Session is to reduce the number of questions to the Prime Minister that appear on the Order Paper which has, to my astonishment, had the devastating effect of saving £750,000 of taxpayers' money—just from that simple change. I hope that the hon. Lady will join me if I manage to find other ways in which we can save taxpayers' money which do not affect the effectiveness of the working of the House because I am trying to achieve the same objective.
I am willing to consider any proposals about changing our procedures. That is on my agenda, and I shall be considering not only how we should proceed but the way in which we should gather in various ideas about changing our working procedures. Although I shall not go into detail about those systems today, I should like to make three points that are relevant to the debate about hours.
First, as I have said, the Government are always endeavouring to have a more efficient House of Commons. However, it is often the Opposition or Back Benchers who seek to extend the number of hours that the House works each day. I make no complaint about that because it is one of the weapons that is available to an Opposition and to Back Benchers. However, as I said yesterday, we need the co-operation of all Members if we are to make any changes work and if those changes themselves are not to be exploited. Although times have moved on, we must remember what happened in 1967 as a result of the reforms and we must ensure that we do not end up with reforms that do not reduce but actually add to the working hours of the Chamber. I must stress that we need the co-operation of all hon. Members. I have looked at the report of the last Select Committee on Procedure that considered late-night sittings. The hon. Lady knows that that concluded that there was not a great deal to be done.
My second point follows on from the first and relates to trying to get statutory instruments considered upstairs in Committee and at different times of the day from when we normally consider them now, which is after 10 pm. That is a fruitful way of trying to reduce the number of late-night sittings. As the hon. Lady will know because this information was given in answer to one of her own questions, last Session we had fewer sittings after midnight than in the previous Session—60 compared with 77. I hope to continue to improve on that record. One way of doing that is to increase the number of statutory instruments that are considered elsewhere, as we are currently trying to do by setting up a number of European Community Standing Committees. I hope that the hon. Lady and her colleagues will support every action that we take to do that and that they will resist the temptation, which we discovered in others in the exchanges yesterday, of filling up with other things the time that is freed by considering statutory instruments elsewhere.
It might be useful if the right hon. Gentleman looked at the report of the 1977–78 Select Committee on Procedure which, I believe, was the last report to produce some constructive ideas about how the House could sit more sensible hours.
I am prepared to look at all constructive ideas. But some ideas that look right in theory may not work in practice, unless we get the co-operation of hon. Members. That is why I put particular emphasis on the European Community Standing Committee point.
I am anxious to remove the myth—which I know the hon. Member for Peckham does not hold but which is held by some people outside the House when we talk about changing our working hours from 2.30 to, say, 9 to 5—that hon. Members do not start working until 2.30. We acknowledge that a large number of hon. Members—and Ministers, working in their Departments and elsewhere—start early in the morning and work through the morning.
Therein lies a problem facing many people who want to come to this place, and not only women. I refer not only to the hours in the House but to the increased burden on hon. Members, particularly those whose constituencies are well away from Westminster. The result is that the entire weekend is usually taken up working on parliamentary business as well as other matters. The pressures of the outside world and of new developments—not least the implications of European legislation and increasing demands from constituents, who increasingly look to their hon. Members for solutions to whatever problems they have—make our work load intensive. That should be on the record to reassure the outside world that we work in the mornings and to show that, even if we were able to change our hours in the Chamber, problems would still exist for women with families wishing to come here.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Department of Employment and other Departments are encouraging a change in the pattern of employment, away from the traditional 40-plus hours a week. We are also witnessing a change in career structures, showing that the concept of getting ahead by doing more hours than everybody else is not sensible. The right hon. Gentleman has given examples of how we are not in control of our own destinies and of how, whatever hours we work, we shall still be overwhelmed.
The problem is that we have a male pattern of career advance with a pace being set with which women will never be able to compete. We need to be in control of our own destinies, to set our own hours and to do more sharing of work. Perhaps we need more Ministers and more delegated responsibilities in Departments, instead of having the inevitable empire-building and the person at the top saying, "I am absolutely overwhelmed. I must work 24 hours a day, seven days a week or I cannot do my job properly. Am I not marvellous?" It is time that we changed all that. May we have thinking from the right hon. Gentleman along a radical new direction?
I do not want to prolong that aspect of the debate, which is peripheral to the main debate today. I said that it is on my agenda to look at the whole question and that I am willing to hear any suggestions. I accept that there are more flexible working patterns to respond to the needs of modern society in most forms of employment. Looking particularly at the demographic downturn, it will be incumbent on most employers to become even more flexible if they are to get the work force they require.
But there is a difficulty in that context in considering the working patterns of hon. Members. We must consider not only the working arrangements that we apply to ourselves but the demands that are legitimately made on us by our constituents and others. If we could stop the flow of correspondence coming to us, we might make some difference, but that is not within our control.
We do not often have the privilege on a Friday of the presence of the Leader of the House—we welcome him here—and of being able to put arguments to him. If he is prepared to look at those matters, will he, having referred to the flow of correspondence, consider the resources that are available to hon. Members?
It is a crazy system by which, despite our varying work loads, every hon. Member is given more or less the same resources. I am not trying to prove anything by working seven days a week. It seems that the harder I work, the more work I get and the harder I have to work. It is a treadmill and I would like to get off it. I look at my past and at photographs of myself. Seven years ago I had youthful, boyish features. Look at me now. Oh, it was a picture of Dorian Gray. If I had more resources, I might be able to cut down my hours and deal more efficiently with my work load.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will come and talk to me about that. He referred to me being here on a Friday, which is an interesting fact because I am here at the expense of cancelling many constituency engagements. I should now be visiting a school—I have had to cancel my visit to it three times because of parliamentary commitments. That illustrates the point.
I was congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and thanking him for the tribute he paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). I paid my tribute to my right hon. Friend in one of our recent debates, so I shall not repeat it. Today's debate gives us an opportunity to spell out the decade of revival and achievement in this country that we have seen under the leadership of my right hon. Friend.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), because I believe that when the history books are written they will undoubtedly record the years of the 1980s as ones of major recovery for our economy, with a new positive spirit towards Britain's economy at home, its role abroad and many other outstanding results. That record will be a permanent testimonial to a remarkable, and remarkably successful, Prime Minister.
Today we are looking back on the decade of the 1980s—that is what the motion is all about. In order fully to appreciate the change, it is important to compare this decade with the ending of the decade of the 1970s. The Labour party's outdated policies and mismanagement during its last period of government caused the decade of the 1970s to end with poor achievement in economic growth, certainly compared with our neighbours, massive early public overspending followed by massive cutbacks of public spending, together with continued huge borrowing, tax rates that were sometimes at 98p in the pound and were a huge disincentive to enterprise and initiative, constant interference in management, emphasis on state interference and control—we have seen some rekindling of that spirit and approach today—and capitulation to the Left.
We all recall the number of days lost and the damage done to British industry by the record number of strikes. We all recall the winter of industrial discontent. It is no wonder that, at the end of that decade, we were dubbed everywhere the sick man of Europe. I know that memories are short and that it would not be effective to recall the 1970s and the results of the Labour Government when the next election comes because times have moved on. But if we are to appreciate the measure of the achievement of the 1980s, it is important to start by reminding ourselves of the state of the country when we began that decade.
At the top of the list of political achievements in the 1980s, covering our first 11 years in power, is the turnround in our economic prospects. When we took office in 1979, the United Kingdom was at the bottom of the growth league, with the slowest growth rate in Europe. Between 1981 and 1989 we enjoyed eight successive years of sustained growth, averaging more than 3 per cent. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West simply cannot gainsay that. Together with Spain, the United Kingdom's economy has grown faster during the 1980s than those of all the other major European Community countries—faster than France and Germany. The reasons for using the starting date of 1981 is that, during our first two years of office, we had to deal with the overhang and all the difficulties left us in the economy.
Our economic growth is reflected in the big increase in living standards for the people of this country. A figure that is often quoted, but is worth repeating because it puts into context what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West said, is that the average take-home pay in this country—that of a married man with two children on male average earnings—has increased by more than 30 per cent. in real terms during those 11 years.
Those are the bald figures, but aspirations, opportunities, and the ability to do all sorts of things that were not possible for previous generations—to have a better lifestyle and with greater fulfilment—have been realised for millions of our people. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) mentioned the increase in assets owned by many people, so I shall not repeat his figures. Only a Government with the political will to take the tough action needed to reverse years of decline could have achieved all that.
I grant that the rate of inflation is again too high, although it is low compared with what it was in the years of the last Labour Government. It is already clear beyond doubt that the same firmness of purpose that we have shown throughout these years is bearing fruit now. The tight policy stance of the past few years is already working. Whatever easy promises and false hopes are peddled by the Labour party, Conservatives have never pretended that it would be easy or painless to get inflation under control and keep it there. All the elements of our economic policy have their part to play: a tight monetary policy supported by a tough fiscal stance; unprecendented levels of repayment of public sector debt; and firm control of public spending so that additional resources are provided in accordance with priorities.
The underlying strength of the economy derives from and is clear witness to the political wisdom and courage consistently shown by this Government since 1979. We are still showing it. Inflationary pressures are easing, as is clear from the monetary indicators. Above all, it is clear that, when there are signs of overheating in the economy and of rising inflationary pressures, it is this Government who take the prompt, effective and sometimes unpopular action to deal with them—in sharp contrast with the Labour party's record in government and its present policies.
Over the past four years debt repayment has topped £29 billion. In the current year debt repayment of £3 billion is expected, an unprecedented achievement which means that we are clearing up the debts of previous Governments instead of adding to the debt burden that will fall on our children. This will give us the strongest fiscal position of any G7 country apart from Japan.
Firm control of public spending underlines our commitment to the objectives for the medium term of a balanced budget. Since 1984–85 there has been the largest sustained fall for more than 30 years in the ratio of public spending to national income—a fall of more than 7 per cent. Controlling public spending is essential for sound economic management. That is a lesson that the Labour party never learns, and it is emerging clearly from the way in which they approach policy now that the Opposition still have not learnt it. It is certainly one of the factors that has made possible our economic growth and enabled us to put a great many additional resources into key priority areas and to make substantial changes in tax rates over the past 11 years. Increased economic growth, responsible economic stewardship and proper attention to priorities have enabled us to increase resources in many crucial public spending areas, some of which I want to mention to eradicate the impression given in some Opposition Members' speeches this morning.
In the past 11 years we have done more than has ever been done before to protect the most vulnerable groups in society. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) tried to give the impression that we had not devoted enough resources to social security. Total expenditure on social security is up by 36 per cent. in real terms. Average pensioners' real net income—
I shall come to that in a moment.
Average pensioners' real net income is up by more than 30 per cent. and the incomes of pensioners who depend on social security benefits have risen by 27 per cent. in real terms, compared with by 6 per cent. under the Labour Government. Support for people in residential care and nursing homes—they are mostly pensioners—has trebled in real terms, per head, since 1979.
The figures speak for themselves. We are spending more than £1·1 billion in 1989–90, compared with only £20 million in 1979. Since the 1988 social security reforms, we have devoted another £350 million a year, in real terms, to help low-income families with children. Family credit for working families has become more generous, and more families are being helped.
One factor that particularly delights me is that expenditure on benefits for the long-term sick has doubled in real terms since 1979 with many more benefits being introduced and many more people helped. It is not just a question of extra resources because we have increased the incentive to work for pensioners and families on low incomes. More than 70 per cent. of newly retired pensioners have occupational pension schemes, and in many ways greater choice is available to many pensioners.
Such matters give the lie to the Opposition charge that we have not concentrated resources on those who are most in need. We have been able to do that because of the success of our economic policies. The ability to put more public money where it is needed without prejudice to our firm control of the economy demonstrates another political achievement of our economic record. No longer is the long-term health of our country's economy put at risk by short-term political expediency.
All over Britain people and businesses have responded positively to our lead. I shall give some important figures to demonstrate the success of the 1980s. In the three years to 1989 business investment increased by 45 per cent., the largest three-year increase since the war. United Kingdom investment growth in the 1980s was higher than that of any other European Community country except Spain. Total non-residential investment as a share of GDP puts us near the top of the league table of major industrialised countries.
The profitability of industrial and commercial companies last year and the year before was the highest since 1973. The same was true for manufacturing companies, where profitability was over three times the figure at the start of the decade. The rate at which new businesses start up continues dramatically to outstrip business closures, by 1,700 a week in 1989. Why have we had this decade of achievement and success in the business and commercial sector? It is partly because of the setting of the right economic climate and partly because we have set managers free to do what they do best, which is to manage. That is why we have seen a net increase in new businesses of 400,000 since 1979 and why 1·5 million more people are now self-employed. Employment is now at its highest ever level, having increased by 3·75 million since 1983. That rise is greater than the rise in any other European country. Therefore, it is not true to say that we have a higher rate of unemployment than any other European country because our rate is well below the Community average.
Privatisation and wider ownership have helped to foster this sea change in attitudes. The runaway success of the privatisation programme will surely stand out in decades to come as one of the significant political achievements of the 1980s. The very term "privatisation" was coined to make clear the complete break with the failed and discredited policy of nationalisation. It is a backhanded but none the less welcome tribute to our success that the Opposition are now so embarrassed by what remains of their commitment to the renationalisation of privatised industries that they have not committed themselves to such renationalisation. This debate shows that there is a great debate in the Opposition about that matter. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West clearly indicated that he would like to see massive renationalisation and claimed that, although he was not quite in splendid isolation, his was very much a minority view in his party. I do not think that that is true. I think that he was revealing the true spirit and attitude of the Opposition. It is important for the country to note that that indicates what the Opposition would do if they were returned to power.
Some 11 million people—one in four of the adult population—now own shares. Many of them have shares in only one or two companies, but at the start of a great new approach for many people who have never contemplated being part of a wider share-owning democracy it is inevitable that they should start by investing in only one or two companies. Significantly, the number of share owners has tripled in the past 11 years. By any standard, that is a massive broadening of the only sort of public ownership of the means of production which has any real virtue and which carries any weight in a modern, internationally competitive economy. That lesson, it is significant to note, is being learnt painfully but eagerly by all the countries of eastern Europe as they emerge from the long dark nights of socialism.
We are proud of the spread of ownership not just in shares but in owner-occupation—now two thirds of the population. I hope that we shall see it spread a good deal further. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon made some interesting points about the new mortgage schemes in Basildon. There is also the spread of ownership to having one's own pension—not just occupational pensions. I have already said that 77 per cent. of new pensioners already have an occupational pension, and there are also personal pensions. The growth of self-employment and small businesses is another factor in the same vein.
All these factors are extending personal ownership and personal responsibility. They are doing something else to which my hon. Friend referred. The decade of the 1980s will go down as a time of great social mobility. I have much pride in that. I came into politics and the Conservative party with a firm belief in spreading widely ownership, personal responsibility and personal wealth and assets.
I noted what my hon. Friend said about his background in Newham. I come from a coal-mining village in Scotland where nearly everyone—at that time and, to a large extent, still—was housed in municipal dwellings. Few had the aspirations that so many hold now. My awareness of the fact that only the most enterprising were breaking away, and my deep desire to see taking place there what was happening in other parts of the country, with a greater spread of owner-occupation, leading to a more attractive environment for individuals and their families, gave me my conviction about the importance of the spread of ownership.
One of the most commendable events about the 1980s is that we have been able to achieve that spread of ownership but also to have much greater social mobility, and much greater classlessness, because that is what follows from it. The modern Tory party is a good example of a party to which anyone can aspire. We are drawing people from all classes, races and backgrounds in increasing numbers. One of the great achievements of the 1980s is that class warfare and attitudes are now a thing of the past.
Does my right hon. Friend share my pleasure at the announcement that has just come from the Palace stating that the Queen has appointed my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) as a member of the Order of Merit? Is that not a fitting tribute to so courageous a lady?
I have only just been handed the press notice. I am sure that the House will share our pleasure about the announcement. The hon. Member for Peckham spoke of families. We have enormously admired the part that Denis Thatcher played in the past decade. He has been paid a fitting tribute, and I shall read out the press notice:
The Queen has been pleased to approve that the dignity of a Baronetcy of the United Kingdom be conferred upon Denis Thatcher".
We have also carried out industrial relations reforms to ensure that unions remain firmly under the control of their members. We now have a legal framework for industrial relations that ensures that the disgraceful scenes that we witnessed in the dark, dying days of the last Labour Government should never be repeated. The number of stoppages is the lowest for over half a century and the number of days lost because of strikes is a fifth of the average of the 1970s. These bare statistics represent another of our major political achievements.
To hear the criticisms of our achievements in the last decade voiced by the Labour party, one would think that our encouragement of freedom of choice was meant as a substitute for extra resources from the public purse. I have already shown what nonsense that is on our social policies and it is equally true of our health policy. Next year, £32 billion will be spent on the NHS. That is 50 per cent. more in real terms than the Labour Government spent in the last year of office. I do not have time to show all the ways in which these resources are used in the NHS, but they include reductions in the waiting lists, the big increase in the number of patients treated, the extra number of new hospitals, of doctors and of nurses. One of the great achievements of the past decade was the massive priority given to the national health service.
The same is true of education and training. As a former Secretary of State for Education and Science, I should have liked to spend more time on the subject, but I wish to allow other hon. Members to contribute to the debate. Moreover, there has been a revolution in training. British companies, encouraged by the Government and the training and enterprise councils that we have set up, are devoting £20 billion a year to training. That is a big improvement on the achievements of past years. Spending per pupil in schools has increased by 40 per cent. in real terms during the last decade. Moreover, freedom of choice for parents has increased as a result of our reforms. The reform of the GCSE, the technical and vocational education initiative and the national curriculum have led to ever-increasing standards and to many more young people staying on voluntarily at school after 16. They are obtaining ever better grades in GCSE and A-levels. Above all, there has been a massive explosion in the number of young people entering higher education. That is a major investment for the future. It means also that the educational aspirations of many more young people are being fulfilled.
For reasons of time there are many other areas that I shall be unable to cover while talking about the past decade, but much of what I have said can be summed up in the phrase "power to the people". My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon referred to personal responsibility and decision-taking. We are talking about the power to choose medical treatment through the NHS reforms, the power to choose schools, the power to choose how to spend more and more of our individual incomes instead of having the state spend it for us. We are also talking about the power that we have given to people to own their own homes or to take a stake in the company for which they work. We have provided the power to ensure that unions follow the wishes of their moderate members. We have also provided the power, which more and more people are exercising as the seeds of the enterprise culture take root and flower, to start their own businesses.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon briefly referred to what has happened during the last decade in terms of foreign affairs and defence and to the role of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley. I should have dearly liked to go into that subject in greater depth. Recent debates, however, have provided us with the opportunity to deal with those issues. I shall therefore refrain, except to say that I do not believe that the foreign affairs achievements that we have witnessed, the developments in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, or the end of the cold war would have come about were it not for the determination of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley during the early years of the last decade to maintain our defences—in particular, to deploy cruise and Pershing missiles—and yet at the same time to be one of the first to start a real dialogue with President Gorbachev.
That, and everything else to which I have referred, is in marked contrast to the approach of the last Labour Government. Moreover, I believe that we shall find that it is in marked contrast to the policies that the Labour party is developing. I should have liked to spend a few moments on that subject, but I shall refrain from doing so in order that other hon. Members can speak in the debate.
We are beginning to see—we have already seen it this week in the Labour party's policy documents on health and education—that the Labour party has not learnt anything from what happened in the 1970s and the successes of the 1980s.
The two Labour party documents that have been published this week are notable for three characteristics. First, the Labour party rejects so many of the policies that have increased choice, freedom and competition within the state services. I refer to increased choice for individuals—for example, increased choice for parents in education, a choice that is becoming increasingly popular. Secondly, the Labour party would set up more quangos. Indeed, quango, quango, quango is a feature of the Labour party's two policy documents. Thirdly, the Labour party is making promises, promises, promises without suggesting how it intends to raise the finance to undertake those spending promises. The Opposition have been careful to avoid any reference to actual figures. Nevertheless, they are very free with their pledges.
The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. I have counted up the number of new commitments. The Labour party will make exactly the same mistakes as it made last time.
Above all, the decade of the 1980s has been one not only of great positive achievements but of the extension of opportunity and choice to so many people in this country. Only this party and this Government will be able to carry that on in the 1990s.
It would be difficult to think of a motion quite as wide-ranging as this one. Despite its wide-ranging nature, one or two hon. Members have strayed beyond it. I shall deal with the one who strayed further than any of the others—my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman). I am glad that she managed to remain in order because she made several extremely important points about the conditions in this place—points with which I strongly agree—and I am pleased that the Leader of the House agrees with many of them as well.
It is in my nature that I should want to be a little more radical in the proposals. My hon. Friend did not deal adequately enough with the problems experienced by hon. Members away from London. I see no earthly reason why it should not be possible for some debates to be held away from London. I cannot see why this debate needs to be located in this building in the centre of London. Why can it not be held in the regions? We shall no doubt be told that civil service need to attend, that it would cause great expense, and so on, but there are not that many civil servants here today and massive briefing is not necessary for debates of this kind. We must try to be a little less London-based and to move out into the regions. However, that is getting dangerously out of order, so I shall revert to the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess).
I have rarely known a more wide-ranging subject. Having participated only occasionally in a debate such as this, I assume that there must be a clear injunction from Central Office to Tories tabling motions enjoining them to keep off the specific—in other words, "Whatever you do, do not mention specifically what is happening in your constituency; do not mention mortgage rates, the poll tax hospital waiting lists, crumbling schools or any of the other specific things that are happening in your constituency; keep it very general."
I will give way later.
The original motion tabled by the hon. Member for Basildon was simply
To call attention to United Kingdom political developments since 1979.
The hon. Gentleman elaborated on that a little and, so far as I could make out, gave a eulogy or Thatcher memorial lecture. The wording of the motion, as it later developed, basically says that the former Prime Minister liberated eastern Europe, could wrestle tigers and did sundry other things in the past 11 years. That is not true—I can speak with a certain authority on this—and I am delighted to have seen the end of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) as Prime Minister. In saying that, I speak on behalf of a clear majority in the House. It is rare for an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman to be able to claim with authority that he or she is speaking on behalf of the majority in the House, but in saying how delighted I am to see the back of the former Prime Minister, I speak on behalf of my 226 colleagues, the 168 Conservative Members who voted against her or abstained and, say, about 20 Liberals and other parties. More than 400
Members are delighted to see the back of the right hon. Lady, and it is a sound and shrewd judgment. In summary of the Thatcher years, the right hon. Member for Finchley has been merely the figurehead of Thatcherism—a mean-minded philosophy, based on greed and selfishness, which has no moral authority.
During the debate, no grand idea has been put forward by a Conservative Member. Specifics have been mentioned, but there has been no attempt to give the Conservative Government an overall moral justification. I do not have the slightest doubt that when the history books are written, the 1980s will be seen as the shabby years that they were, when so much was wrong in this country. I intend to refer to the specifics of what went wrong and to the demise of the right hon. Member for Finchley. I know that Conservative Members are not too keen on going into details about that, but I see it as part of my duty to do so.
I wish to examine briefly the specifics of the Thatcher years. Let us consider the gap between rich and poor, which has expanded in the past eleven and a half years. Let us consider the growth in homelessness. In the past full year, 120,000 households have been accepted as homeless. That is double the number in 1979. There were 14,390 evictions in the first six months of this year. That is the measure of the gap between rich and poor.
Let us consider the massive unemployment. Such things do not seem to touch the lives of Conservative Members, although even on the Government's official, fiddled figures, unemployment went above 3 million during the 1980s. Let us consider the despair of school leavers. There is no opportunity for thousands of our school leavers to go into a job of which they can be proud and the chances of obtaining an apprenticeship are slim.
There have been attacks on our civil liberties in the past 11 years, of which the most classic and brutal was the denial of trade union rights at the Government communications headquarters in Cheltenham. A shabby bribe was offered to ensure that trade union rights were given up.
Apart from specific attacks on civil liberties, there has been constant denigration of the broadcasting media. I speak with some feeling as a member of the National Union of Journalists and of the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians. Threats came repeatedly from the then chairman of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). There were disgraceful scenes at this year's Conservative party conference when the BBC in particular, which is admired throughout the world and in this country, as all opinion polls show, was attacked by the deeply unrepresentative activists in the Tory party.
I fear what would happen to the broadcasting system if the Government were re-elected. They have already done a great deal of damage through the Broadcasting Act 1990. Central Independent television in my own region announced almost 500 redundancies last week as a direct and predictable result of the Broadcasting Act. That important part of our national life is being damaged under this Government.
What has happened in the past 11 years to law and order—the Tories' own fighting ground? I always take the precaution of bringing copies of Tory manifestos to
debates such as this. It is worth looking at their manifesto commitments on law and order, of which they are usually so proud. The 1979 manifesto contained a proud section called "The Fight Against Crime", in which the Tories said how dreadful it was that the crime rate was going up. In the 1983 election manifesto, the Tories tended to duck the subject because of the failures, and the section was entitled:
Law, Democracy and the Citizen".
By 1987—it took them a long time to get to this stage—the Tories were saying:
We do not underrate the challenge. Crime has been rising steadily over the years…The origins of crime lie deep in society".
One does not often see such profound sentiments in a Tory manifesto. The manifesto continued:
Government alone cannot tackle such deep-rooted problems easily or quickly.
Crime rates have rocketed on all fronts under this Government and we now have the highest prison population in western Europe. That is another area of shame in the 11 years of the Conservative Administration.
I must take advantage of the presence of the Leader of the House, who was formerly Secretary of State for Education and Science, to say something about education. The right hon. Gentleman talks about choice in education. He did not give parents in my constituency much choice when, against all advice and in the face of much pleading, he insisted on establishing a city technology college at a cost to the taxpayer of £8·5 million, which is more than the expenditure on all the other schools in the county put together. Did that give parents choice or create a level playing field? As has happened so often—notably on the Health Service—the Government took no notice of representations from teachers, parents, pupils, churches and local authorities, including one Conservative-controlled authority. The right hon. Gentleman officially admits to having received 91 direct representations from my constituents when he was Secretary of State. Some 85 of those representations argued against the establishment of a CTC. What did the Secretary of State do? He established a CTC. There was not much consultation or choice in that case.
The same is true of the health service. The Government have passed legislation for which they have no mandate. It was not mentioned in the last Tory manifesto. The Government have forced the legislation through and now hospitals are opting out against the expressed wishes of those living in the communities that they serve. Where is the choice in that? What is all this nonsense about freedom of choice?
I am not surprised that the Leader of the House talked so much about the economy. Some misguided people may say, "I know that the Tories don't care much and they are not much good on social issues, but perhaps one has to be a bit rough and tough to succeed in economic terms." Even on the Government's own definition of success, they have been abject failures. I am amazed that Conservative Members should have mentioned taxation. For the average couple with two children, the tax burden as a proportion of gross income has increased under this Government. When the Conservatives came to power, our inflation rate stood at about the European average. It is now twice the European average. The Government must learn to live with statistics like those.
I shall speak rather more passionately about the effect of the Government's policies on manufacturing industry and engineering in the west midlands.
According to column 206 of yesterday's Hansard, taking account of taxation and child benefit, the average family is £58 a week better off under this Government, compared with an increase of less than £1·40 under the Labour Government. That may not be altogether inconsistent with what the hon. Gentleman says but it tells rather a different story.
The hon. Gentleman should check the figures. He will discover that, in 1979, 35·2 per cent. of gross weekly income was spent in taxation. The figure is now 36·6 per cent. That is no great surprise. One cannot double VAT a day or two after coming into office and claim to be reducing the burden of taxation. That is one of the myths that the Government have managed to create.
I have lived all my adult life in the west midlands—Britain's engineering heartland. In 1979, there were 613,000 manufacturing jobs in the west midlands. There are now 385,000. It is almost impossible to secure an engineering apprenticeship. Yet the Government wonder why, when there is an economic upturn, foreign engineering products and manufactured goods are sucked in. That is inevitable. Who would have thought it possible—given that the Government came to power with a huge international trade surplus—that by 1983 Britain. the workshop of the world, would turn around to such an extent that we now have a deficit of £16 billion in manufactured trade. [Interruption.] Conservative Members representing southern constituencies may find that amusing. If the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) represented a constituency in the west midlands, she would not find it funny.
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that as societies and their economies advance, they move from practical manufacturing industries into more financially based industries. We have done that and Britain is the European Community leader in financial services. Japan and America are moving in the same direction. Measuring manufacturing industry as a sign of prosperity is old-fashioned and out-of-date economics.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady believes that priceless engineering skills are old-fashioned and out of date. That is one of many views which place her in a minority in the House and in the country.
All the dreadful things that have happened in the past 11 years might be understandable if we had been uniquely disadvantaged or if something dreadful had happened with which we had had to cope and therefore had to make sacrifices. But the reverse is the case. Not surprisingly, the Leader of the House did not mention oil revenues in his catalogue of the economy over the past 11 years. How different the world would have been if the last Labour Government had had the oil revenues and the present Tory Government had not. I recall the year 1979 with particular vividness. In my judgment, the electors of Lichfield and Tamworth made a particularly silly decision that year and I lost my seat. The economic and political literature in 1979 agreed that because of the predictable oil revenues that were growing year by year, whatever party won the 1979 general election would in all probability win the next one and the one after that. There is no magic about what happened in electoral terms during the 1980s. The Government were saved by oil revenues. Quite disastrously and disgracefully, they have also been saved by revenues from privatisation. In those immortal words, they sold the family silver. There is nothing very clever about that. The 1980s were undoubtedly unique years because assets can be sold only once and, tragically, so many of our assets have been sold at knock-down prices.
Those are the legacies of 11 years of Thatcherism. I am sure that if Conservative Members reflect on them, they will be ashamed. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has gone. The policies have not been changed, but I am pleased that she has gone. I want to reflect on some of the circumstances surrounding her departure which may be rather uncomfortable for some Conservative Members, although I dare say that most of those present today supported the former Prime Minister in the election.
Undoubtedly the past few weeks have been unique in history. As we live through such periods, we often do not see what has happened in perspective. What has happened over the past three weeks—an incredibly short period of time—is without historical precedent. A Prime Minister in peacetime, with a large majority in the House and with at least 18 months before it was necessary to call a general election, has been thrown out.
I checked the dates before the debate. On 13 November the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) made his devastating speech in the House. On 15 November nominations were made for the two leadership candidates. On 22 November the former Prime Minister said that she would resign and by 28 November we had a new Prime Minister. Other Prime Ministers were keen to continue—we are all aware that both Churchill and Macmillan wanted to carry on—but there has never been such a devastating and public rejection of a Prime Minister by her own party.
That revealed a little about the Prime Minister. We hear a great deal about her courage—there is a lot about her courage in the motion. To use her language—I am sure I shall not offend her by using it as she has often used it against us—we discovered that she was frit. She did not have to quit. She could have stayed on for the second ballot. She had the choice to carry on. Some people think that she might have won if she had stayed on for the second ballot. At least she had that option. There is something else that she could have done, but she would have been even more frit of that—she could have called a general election. She could have told the Queen that things had happened beyond her control and recommended that we let the country judge whether she should continue. Clearly, she was even more frit of the electorate than of her own party.
Of course, it all goes back to the good luck of the oil revenue. I have long suspected it of the former Prime Minister, and she has proved it at last. We have heard so much about her guts and courage, but it is dead easy to lead a political party when things are going well. It is incredibly tough to lead a political party when times are bad. As soon as she had a sustained period of difficulty, she went. We shall all be able to judge that in future.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's definition of toughness. Does he accept that the toughest thing of all for any politician of whatever political persuasion is to put the future of the country and of one's party before one's own career? That is exactly what happened. That proves that my right hon. Friend was tougher than the hon. Gentleman will ever be.
The hon. Gentleman shows the common confusion among Thatcherites, which is the inability to distinguish between the good of the country and the good of his party.
Why did she leave? Journalists—with all due respect to all my old friends in the National Union of Journalists—have got it horribly wrong. Did she leave because of the attack by her former deputy Prime Minister? Of course not. Did she leave because of splits in the Tory party over Europe? Of course there are splits in the Tory party over Europe, but that has nothing to do with the reason why she left. Did she leave because of the breakdown of Cabinet Government? There is not the slightest doubt that there was a breakdown in Cabinet Government—we have more than enough evidence of that—but that was not the reason why she left. She left because she was being beaten by the Labour party. [Laughter.]
I will wipe the smiles off Conservative Members' faces with one simple question—and I will give way to any one of them who can answer it. Four weeks ago today, in the small hours of the morning, the result of the Bradford by-election was declared. Does any Conservative Member seriously doubt that if the Tory party had won the Bradford by-election, or even if it had come a good second instead of an abysmal third the former Prime Minister would not still be the Prime Minister? Of course she would. She was thrown out because the Tories saw exactly what was happening to their party. They were being trounced at every test of electoral opinion in the past 18 months, through a series of disastrous by-election results, local election results and the European election. With clinical precision the Tories realised that they had had it. It was because of our success that she went, not because of a cabal of Tory Members.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that if Bradford had gone the other way that may not have happened, but it is worth remembering that Bradford became Conservative because of a split in the Labour party. When Ben Ford stood, the Labour vote was split. We do not regard it as a completely Conservative seat. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to believe that all that was inevitable.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), having seen the results of the first ballot, decided that the wounds could heal if she stepped aside. They have healed, and the Labour party is trying to face the problem that it was some way ahead at some stage but is now some way behind. Its leader is less popular with the electorate than the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) is. The Labour party cannot change its leader. The hon. Gentleman's remarks explain how the Labour party will lose the next election because it is stuck with its leader.
If the hon. Gentleman believes the polls of the last two or three weeks and really believes that we are behind, there is a good solution—he can beg the new Prime Minister for a general election. That is the way to test things, and we would love it. Let us test that belief in a real poll as soon as possible. That is the way to deal with it.
We all know perfectly well that, over a long and sustained period, the Conservative party has been doing disastrously in election after election. I am sorry that the former chairman of the Conservative party is not in his place today because I have debated this with him once or twice before. His must have been the most monumentally unsuccessful period as chairman of the Conservative party because, during his 14 months in office, he lost nine by-elections, numerous local elections and a Prime Minister. That is not bad going for a short period in office. When the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for Education and Science, he was tremendously fond of testing and checking by results and performance. He must be profoundly relieved that those rules do not apply in the Cabinet. He has been promoted, which is what Tories do with failures. Promoting by results is an old Tory doctrine that they apply to every but themselves.
I shall dwell a little longer on the Tory party's electoral process when picking their new leader because it revealed a great deal about the mystical workings of that old political party, which none of us had seen revealed before. The first thing that it showed us was the peculiar position held by the chairman of the party. We are often told that the Tories taught eastern Europe about democracy. Almost any political party in eastern Europe or anywhere else would be staggered by a system in which the chairman of a political party was appointed by the leader of that party and, during the election for the leadership of the party, actively campaigned for one of the two candidates. That is an astonishing electoral system if ever I saw one.
The role of the returning officer is also worth a word. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is more of an expert on Tory mechanics because he stood outside the Committee Room for most of the time, but as I understand it, the returning officer is the chairman of the Back-Bench 1922 committee. Not only did the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) say right at the beginning that he did not think that there should be any election—an odd position for a returning officer—but when one of the candidates won, he appeared to have an emotional breakdown. That is not the neutrality that one expects from a returning officer.
Not only is what my hon. Friend has said about the chairman of the 1922 committee true—the chairmanship of that Back-Bench committee is another of the curious appointments in the Tory party—but when the Tories had the first ballot I did the exit poll and was only three out because I forecast 149. When the result was 152for Gary Glitter, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)—the right hon. Member for Woking was so upset that he took the ballot box into another Committee Room. Has my hon. Friend ever heard of any returning officer in any election not being prepared to face the electorate? The right hon. Gentleman dragged the ballot box from Committee Room 12 to Committee Room 14. All the Tory Members were asking, "What's the result?", and the journalists, the Labour Members and all the rest got to know first. Every Custodian in the House knew the result before the Tory party electorate did. Amazingly, those 372 people turned up for work on two successive Tuesdays just to vote.
Seeing what my hon. Friend made of the Tory electoral process would make extremely interesting reading.
That electoral process revealed something a little more sinister about the Tory party and its operations. I refer hon. Members who have not seen it to a little article in last week's Observer, which may not be much loved by Conservative Members, but which referred to those hon. Members who had supported the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). What sort of party can it be in a democracy when only about 20 of the 152 Conservative Members who voted for the right hon. Gentleman had the nerve to admit that they voted for him? What sort of Stalinism is that in a so-called democratic political party?
We know that the hon. Member who challenged the former Prime Minister last year has been deselected by his constituency party. What will happen to the supporters of the right hon. Member for Henley this year? All are being threatened with deselection in one form or another, and one of them—quoted anonymously in the article to which I referred, and we appreciate why he had to remain anonymous—said:
What I cannot forgive and what I cannot easily convey is the viciousness of the reaction to Michael's challenge.
Conservative Members know what is going on in their constituencies. I was amused to hear the hon. Member for Basildon proudly proclaim that he voted for the former Prime Minister in the first ballot and for the present Prime Minister in the second—what political courage!
I would have thought that, as a journalist, the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) would have known better than to be totally selective in quoting from newspaper articles. Had he chosen any other newspaper and counted up the number of hon. Members who declared for all three candidates he would have discovered that, far from there being only 20 in the context to which he referred, the Conservative party in the House apparently numbered about 745.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) to misrepresent me in that way? I made it absolutely clear as I came out of the room on each occasion—and to the newspapers—that on the first ballot I voted for my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and on the second for the current Prime Minister.
Another courageous knight has declared himself. Clearly, Conservative Members were stunned when the right hon. Member for Finchley resigned. It was no accident, and it is not difficult to explain, why the present Prime Minister won the ballot. His election was utterly predictable. To begin with, he had the block vote of the hard Right. We hear much about factions and groups in the Labour party. One well-organised group in the Conservative party—we have seen it in operation repeatedly—is the hard Right. Imagine what would have happened if the right hon. Member for Chingford had stood as a candidate, as I understand that it was thought repeatedly that he might.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, whose information is tremendous. Who knows how many votes the right hon. Member for Chingford would have secured? The 50 or 60 votes that would have gone to him were clearly delivered en masse to the present Prime Minister. That is indicative of the way in which the Conservative party operates.
I have been generous in giving way, but I must now get on.
Another reason why the present Prime Minister was bound to be elected leader was that the constituency pressure became overwhelming when it became known that the former Prime Minister had declared him as her appointed successor. It was the Tory party's way of expunging its guilt and saying, "Sorry, Margaret." That is why, almost from nowhere, the present Prime Minister took over. He is still blinking in the sunlight. He cannot quite believe what has happened to him.
That is the history of the last three weeks. It needs fleshing out, but Conservative Members have shown their almost awesome ruthlessness in detecting a massive electoral disadvantage, cleansing the party as rapidly as possible and then allegedly closing ranks, although they will find great difficulty when the witch hunts begin in the constituencies. I look forward to articles appearing in The Sun, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express about tightly knit groups of politically motivated people usurping democracy in constituency parties. That is the kind of article with which we are well familiar and which will no doubt be appearing in due course.
We have seen Conservative Members ditch a Prime Minister. Now they have a final job on their hands, which is to start ditching some of their policies if they are to have any chance of winning the next election. Foremost on that agenda—the cheek that they have shown in this respect is awesome—is to find a way of getting out of the fiasco of the poll tax. Having spent the past three and a half years telling us what a marvellous system it was and voting down every amendment that we suggested to try to mitigate it, they have the presumption to come to us now and say., "Please help us out, we do not know what to do about this. We are facing disaster, please give us a hand." They act as though the poll tax were a marginal aspect of Tory policy., but it was central to their last general election manifesto.. Hon. Members should re-read that document—I always have copies of it with me. It states:
We will reform local government finance to strengthen local democracy and accountability … We will legislate in, the first Session of the new Parliament to abolish the unfair domestic rating system and replace rates with a fairer Community Charge.
The poll tax was central to the Conservative election manifesto and dominated parliamentary time for three years. I should imagine that it has taken up the time of all the civil servants in Marsham street as they try to make sense of a nonsensical proposition. It dominated every local authority up and down the country. My own local
authority, The Wrekin, is also wrestling with the problems that it involves. The cost of collecting it in my own constituency is £1·25 million—two and a half times the cost of collecting the rates. It is massively more difficult to collect the poll tax and authorities have to borrow far more money at inflated rates of interest to sustain themselves through the political year.
The poll tax was no marginal policy commitment by the Tory party. It was a failed experiment on a massive scale. It came about because the Government would not listen, but had the arrogance of power. It would be bad enough if the poll tax were an isolated example, but it is not—it is symptomatic of Thatcherism in all sectors of policy. The Government had the arrogance of power, with contempt for opposition and for the weak. We are delighted that the decade of Thatcherism under their former leader has ended and we shall be delighted when the people of this country have the chance to get rid of the current Prime Minister in a general election.
I certainly do not want to follow the example of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) because much of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) covered the essence of reasons that lie behind his tabling of the motion. I am glad to be able to speak on the motion, and to do so more briefly than the hon. Member for The Wrekin, to place on record my profound respect and regard for my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), because of not just her policies and the success of the Conservative Government during the past 10 years, but the personal consideration she gives to her colleagues in the House, a point which is often overlooked by those who do not know her. When I had to retire from the Government as a result of injury, I appreciated her consideration. I suspect that other hon. Members can recall many similar incidents.
Today's Order Paper includes a motion that I tabled regarding the initiatives of my right hon. Friend the present Prime Minister on the reduction of the debt burden of the poorest countries, which I am sure we shall not reach today. I do not want to stray out of order by speaking to it more than in passing because I realise that other hon. Members wish to participate in the debate, and it is only right that they should do so.
It is not without significance that it was under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley that the former Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), and the present Prime Minister put forward initiatives of major importance that led the thinking in the international financial community, the International Monetary Fund and the Paris club on how to relieve the appalling burden of debt on the sub-Saharan African and other countries that do not have natural resources in abundance and have been crippled by not only the accumulation of debt, but the considerable effect of cumulatively high levels of interest on dollar borrowings.
It was a measure of the realism of the Conservative Government in the 1980s and of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her Chancellors that it was this country that took the initiative in putting forward practical proposals for recognising all this. It exemplifies an important part of the contribution that my right hon. Friend made during her time as Prime Minister. She injected realism into the consideration of domestic and international political affairs.
For instance, my right hon. Friend tackled economic problems realistically. It was she who realised that large budget deficits and uncontrolled public expenditure would cause growing economic problems in this and other countries. She it was who encouraged Chancellors of the Exchequer to bring our budget back into balance over time and to acknowledge that an economy performs more successfully when tax rates are lower—and that the yield from personal taxation rises when those rates are lower.
That is a lesson that no one believed 10 or 12 years ago, but it has been proved in this country. As a Treasury Minister I was only too aware that most people did not believe that what we said would come about. But when we reduced tax rates we found an improved energy, efficiency and enterprise in the economy that led to higher yields, which enabled us to devote more public expenditure to essential services. At the same time, they enabled us to lower the tax burden on private individuals to finance that public expenditure.
The realism of my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley was very important for many years in the European Community. Records of the past few weeks have greatly distorted the part played by my right hon. Friend in the evolution of the Community. The summit that discussed the prospects for economic and monetary union showed the Community at its worst. Proposals were brought forward which had not been thought out and Heads of Government were asked to make commitments to ideas that had not been properly explained to them.
Once again my right hon. Friend had the courage—she was the only one who had—to explain that this was no way to take the European Community forward successfully. I vividly recall my personal experience of what happened in the mid-1980s. I had the fortune, or misfortune, to be the Treasury Minister representing the United Kingdom at the Budget Council of the European Community during the critical years leading up to and immediately after the Fountainebleau agreement on budgetary restitution to this country.
At the time the Prime Minister had been arguing powerfully for several years that unless the major imbalance of contributions from which we were suffering was put right, it would serve to undermine the future of the Community. We had a direct national interest in the matter, but it was also in the Community's interest to put it right, because while it hung over us progress could not be made on other matters. It was only my right hon. Friend's persistence and determination which led to an agreement which saved us many billions of pounds in contributions to the Community and which removed from the agenda a running sore that was doing terrible damage to the development of the European Community, to which we belonged and which we hoped would be successful.
My right hon. Friend—I remember many all-night sessions in Brussels when I was personally involved in the consequences of this—pointed out that the common agricultural policy was almost bound, in its then form, to lead to explosive demands on the European Community budget—demands which could not be met from member states' contributions. She also said that it would distort agricultural markets not only in the world but in the Community and that that would destabilise world trade and ultimately lead to the sort of problems that are now being faced in the GATT round. In her recognition of that, my right hon. Friend was years ahead of other Government leaders and she started to campaign for changes which have gradually been introduced, although they have not yet gone far enough.
We should listen to my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley when she talks about constitutional aspects of the Community and the problems of monetary union, a subject that has had much attention in the House recently, and I do not propose to speak about it in detail. However, I should like to make one point. It is easy to draw attention to the obvious arguments about sovereignty. Essentially, it is a political and constitutional matter which comes readily to the mind of professional politicians. However, there is a much more difficult and important issue in the near term, namely, the practical possibilities and implications of economic and monetary union. They have attracted rather less attention in public debate, but it is vital for them to be given more prominence from now on. I hope that at the intergovernmental conferences the Government will do all that they can to draw attention to the fact that one of our major worries, in addition to the one about sovereignty, is that the Community should not embark on a road that is likely to lead to its destruction.
I am far from being an uncritical supporter of the Community, but it is in the interests of all its nations to belong to it and to see it become successful and move forward. Nothing is more likely to undermine it or cause it to split apart than monetary union being brought about prematurely at a time when there is a wide divergence between the economic performance of member states. That would lead to serious rises in unemployment in some of the less developed parts of the Community, and that would undoubtedly give rise to political and international pressures for major transfers of resources from the Community's more prosperous members. Such transfers would place on the Community's budget a burden that it simply could not sustain. Those implications of monetary union have not begun to be considered seriously enough in most of the other member states.
In her typically courageous way, my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley was the first, and so far the only, Head of Government in the Community who had the realism to raise those issues. I hope that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the other Ministers who take part in the discussions will strive for a wider debate in other member states so that these issues may be understood.
Whatever one's views about the desirability in the fullness of time of economic and monetary union, they are simply not practical in the immediate future or even in the easily foreseeable future. When people realise that, we will get a more rational, practical and sensible debate about economic developments and progress in the Community and will be more likely to make a success of it.
I hope that the legacy of realism and creative proposals for the development of the Community left to us by my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley can be taken forward by her successor into the 1990s. It will be a major credit to her if the Community can develop more realistically rather than getting sidetracked by rather weird and wonderful abstract concepts which are the enemy of dealing with its immediate practical problems. I shall end on that note because others want to take part in the debate. I have already come to the conclusion that I shall not have the opportunity to debate my motion, so I am grateful to have had the chance to take part in this debate.
The right hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Stewart) spoke about how the previous Prime Minister played a significant part in the development of the Common Market over the past five years. I do not doubt for a minute that one can see where her footprints have been inside the Common Market, but her role was not the one painted by the populist press. The hon. Gentleman referred to the money that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) brought back from the Common Market negotiations shortly after she became Prime Minister. If anybody cared to look at the amount that we are now paying into the Common Market, he would begin to wonder what happened to those barrel loads of money. We are paying £2·5 billion towards it. When I say "We", I do not mean Members of Parliament. I mean those 50 million or so people in Britain who pay that money so that Britain can be a member of the club called the Common Market, which has been an unmitigated disaster since Britain went into it.
Many people in Britain, especially those in Parliament, have got on the gravy train of the Common Market and go on every possible jaunt. They believe that the Common Market is here to stay and that the Rome treaty will last for ever. What nonsense. In the past 1,200 or 1,300 years, thousands of treaties have been made in Europe. Where are most of them now? In the dustbin. That will happen to the Rome treaty. It is based on the free movement of capital and labour, which preceded the monetarism of this Government and of the American Government headed first by Ronald Reagan and now by Bush.
Let us dismiss the idea that the ex-Prime Minister was doing a great job for Britain in the Common Market. Not only did she not bring the money back, but we have now paid £14,000 million to the Common Market, to be a member. A man can join a miners' welfare in Derbyshire for 4s 4d in old money and get a better return on his cash. Every family in Britain is paying £17 a week to finance the farmers of Germany, France and the rest of the Common Market.
The right hon. Lady said that she was against a European market and Labour Members thought that that was a good idea and that we should vote against it because it would give more power to the Germans and the rest of them in the Common Market, so we voted against it. What did the ex-Prime Minister do? She got her troops together—this was when she used to control them—and said, "We're going to stop those Opposition Members, and some of ours, talking about the Common Market and we'll have a guillotine." She then forced it through. Then she had the cheek to go on television with Brian Walden and all those other patsies and kid them on that somehow she stands up for Britain. It is the biggest load of hypocrisy I have ever seen in my time as a Member of Parliament.
The new bloke? The grey man? He used to be called John Major-Ball. He was so ashamed of his name that he dropped his Ball. Has anybody seen him perform? He was put there because the Tory party got fed up of the previous Prime Minister and decided to knife her and turn her out like a dog in the night.
I have the news here. It has just been announced on the wireless that the Deaconess of Dulwich has got an Order of Merit and he will be a baronet, whatever that is worth. I suppose that it gets him into the House of Lords, with £100 a day tax-free expenses and all the rest of it.
The Prime Minister says that she is against the single European market, yet she hands over even more power to Helmut Kohl and all the rest of them. Then she says that she is against the exchange rate mechanism. She kids all the people who are daft enough to listen to her that she is against that, too. What happens? A couple of her people in prominent Cabinet positions knife her. They tell her, "If you don't accept ERM, we're going to resign." So she brings a podium out into the middle of Downing street, behind those big Ceausescu gates that she had built for protection, and says "We"—note the "we"—"are in favour of ERM." She brags about it. That has been the tale all along—kidding people on. She had the newspapers to back her, by and large, especially Mr. Murdoch and his gang. They met her every so often to have a glass or two of whisky on the side so that she could tell them what to put in the papers the following morning.
That is the legacy of the past 11 years. When I was asked on television what the legacy of the Thatcher years was, I said that she had been sacked and Scargill is still in office.
The hon. Gentleman talks about re-election. When I stood outside Committee Room 12 asking Tory Members how they had voted, the hon. Gentleman was one of those who were very quiet about how they had voted in the second ballot. Why was that? He was after a job from whoever of the three won. He was one of the 500 Tory Members—that inflated number—who were telling every pollster in sight that they were backing whoever might win because they wanted a job and a ministerial car.
In all honesty, the hon. Gentleman ought to recognise that he never asked me how I had voted in either ballot. I should like to place it on record that I supported my political neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), in the first ballot. I stated in the press before the second ballot took place that I intended to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), the present Prime Minister. If the hon. Gentleman were to look at the press instead of indulging in fiction, he would discover those things in advance.
That is the third one this morning who has declared after the event. I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman does not say to the Back-Bench 1922 Committee, "Next time, we want a recorded vote." Every vote in the House of Commons is recorded. Every time we decide to vote, whether for or against the Common Market, or the Budget, our vote is recorded, so that people understand how we voted. It is high time that the Tory party did what the Labour party does and declared how its members vote. That is one change that it ought to make.
Something else has characterised the past 11 years—money for the wealthy. A recent calculation showed that during the past 11 years the wealthiest 1 per cent. in Britain received £26·2 billion in tax cuts, yet the poorest in Britain finished up paying more. That is a real redistribution of wealth. The previous Prime Minister knew what she was on about. When she got her mandate in 1979 she knew that what she had to do was to finance the people who financed the Tory party—to put money into the pockets of the City. That is why we have had a casino economy.
My hon. Friend:
the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) referred to manufacturing industry, which, he says has been decimated. It has. One sector of the economy is not, however, under attack. That is the casino economy. If we walk down the main street in any town or city in Great Britain, we see finance houses, whether they be represented by building societies or estate agents. They are not selling many houses, not with interest rates so high. However, they represent the massive shift in Britain's economy. When we walked down the main street 20 years ago, we saw a different set of shops. Everything has changed. The casino economy is all about allowing people to make money out of somebody else's money.
In his thesis, how does the hon. Gentleman account for the growth of hypermarkets, supermarkets and shopping malls, particularly in the north of England, where the spending power of ordinary people on a Saturday afternoon exceeds that of people in the south because of the prosperity achieved in the north by this Government?
The hon. Lady talks about prosperity. I invite her to go along the Strand after 7 pm or 8 pm when the shops are shut and to have a look in the doorways. When I came down here in 1970, I never walked along the Strand and saw rows of cardboard boxes. I never went to Waterloo station and saw a cardboard city. When people ask me, "What is the legacy of the past 11 years?", I say that we now have a tourist attraction at Waterloo called cardboard city.
That is there because there has been hardly any public sector housebuilding in the past 11 years. In our last year in office, we had 112,000 public sector council houses built. That was not enough in my opinion, but there were times when the figure was higher than that. What is it now? It is a job to get top side of 20,000 in the public sector. Is it any wonder that people are coming down to the city of London on their bikes? The right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), before he took all his directorships, said, "Get on your bike," so they came to London on their bikes but finished up squatting and littered about in doorways. That is the legacy of Thatcherism. She has redistributed wealth to the wealthiest 1 per cent.—her own friends and the same people who have given her the Order of Merit. They have benefited well. The Queen does not pay the poll tax.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, especially as he is in mid-rant. In 1977, 1978 and 1979, I had the habit of going on the soup runs in London with Father John Cusack of the Cyrenians. The hon. Gentleman will probably discover that the needs of people sleeping rough in London have not changed much in the past 100 years.
The hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) says that it was not a cardboard city. It was behind the Savoy and the Regent Palace hotel, at Waterloo and where the soup run starts at Bondway. The hon. Gentleman can see for himself now. We should recognise with some humility that those problems need dealing with and that they existed before.
It stares anybody in the face. The Government can try to fiddle the figures, as they do for the cost of living figures, the balance of payments figures—they will fiddle them before the next election—the dole figures or the housing figures. The truth is that it is staring people in the face, and that is the legacy of the past 11 years.
It is also true in the national health service, where 71,000 beds have gone missing. Why? Because the Government decided that it is better to look after the private system inside and outside the national health service. That is why there are 71,000 fewer beds. That is why, instead of a waiting list of just over 500,000, we now have a waiting list of well over 1 million.
After 11 years, our schools are crumbling. Last year, 50,000 teachers quit the profession because of bad pay and the state of schools. That is what happens when the Government decide to look after the wealthy and forget the rest of the nation.
Tory Members table motions paying a wonderful tribute to the previous Prime Minister. She knew what she was about, and the rest of them followed, except those who got the sack. Nineteen ex-Cabinet Ministers now have 59 directorships between them. They are not too unhappy about the past 11 years. I am talking about only the 19 ex-Cabinet Ministers, but 200 Tory Members have other moonlighting jobs.
I tell my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin that we want something in the next Labour manifesto, and it is quite simple. It is high time that Labour said that when it is elected we shall have full-time Members of Parliament with one job only. That would send some of that lot scurrying for cover.
That might be true, but not of me. I cannot speak for those who are not satisfied with £26,000 a year; I think that it is a lot of money. I cannot understand why people need extra jobs to make a living. There are more than 2 million people out of work. Thousands of young lad and lasses who have left school under Thatcher have never had a job. They have flitted from one employment training scheme to the next slave labour scheme and have been paid £26 or £27 a week. We should encourage young people to vote for Labour. We should say that the next Labour Government will ensure that training will be proper training and that the trade union rates of pay will be applicable to the job.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is curious that so many former Cabinet Ministers resigned so that they could have more time with their families and then immediately took jobs that prevented them from having time with their families?
I do not know about that. I know that it is all about money and I do not get caught up in little cul-de-sacs. If politics in the real world is about anything, it is about changing the system. It is about giving more money to one side than to the other. I have not been elected here to play silly little games. I believe that my job is to represent my class. When the next Labour Government come to power, I want them to redistribute some of the wealth. I want them to bring back the £26 billion that has gone to the wealthiest 1 per cent. and to use it to finance the national health service.
We can all tolerate being shouted at and we can all tolerate party political abuse. However, did I hear the hon. Gentleman correctly? Did he say that he was sent here to represent his class? Is he saying that the constituents whom he does not consider to be of his class are not worthy of his efforts or of his representation? If so, it is a disgrace.
The hon. Gentleman does not know what "class" means. It is not about for whom people vote, but about those who are exploiting and those who are being exploited.
I shall explain to the hon. Gentleman who, as a Whip, is supposed to be quiet. If an old lady in my constituency who might have voted for the Tories complains about a landlord who might have voted Labour because the bedroom window is falling out, it is my job to represent that old lady irrespective of how she voted because she is being exploited by the bosses.
No, I did not. The hon. Gentleman does not know the meaning of the word "class". It is about those who are exploited as opposed to those who do the exploiting. The Tory party represents the wealthy, exploiting class and the Labour party, traditionally, should represent those who are being exploited. It is not a question of whom people vote for. It is not, for example, my job to put more money into the banker's pocket. However, if the banker comes to me and says, "I have never voted for you, Mr. Skinner, but I have to tell you that I have fallen on hard times, I have had to apply for supplementary benefit and this lousy, rotten Government have taken £5 a week off me so I can't make ends meet", he is then a part of that exploited class.
No, I am clear about this; I have always held this view. If the hon. Gentleman had been in the House longer, he might have heard my views before. I have no difficulty in representing constituents who have problems.
My hon. Friend will remember something that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) has forgotten. A former Labour Prime Minister got it right when he made a distinction between those who make money and those who earn it. Is not it true that a graduate of Oxford university—who might be regarded as being of a certain class, even if he has a third or fourth-class chemistry degree—who becomes a teacher in a school may be exploited and that someone who leaves school with two O-levels and who goes into a bank may be exploiting him? This Government have destroyed the teachers' negotiating machinery.
My hon. Friend used to be a teacher, so he knows about that.
Examples of exploitation are to be found in every walk of life and it is the job of Labour Members to represent the exploited. Conservative Members represent the bosses. That is why the new Prime Minister's talk of a classless society is such nonsense. What a joke. Whoever heard of a Tory Member wanting a classless society? If the right hon. Gentleman is to achieve a classless society, he must get rid of the royal family. If he wants a classless society, he must get rid of the House of Lords, yet the Conservatives prop it up; there are four Tory members to every Labour member. I believe in abolishing the House of Lords and I shall be happy to support the Prime Minister if he wants to abolish it. But he ain't going to do it. He is trotting out generalisations which mean nothing.
If the Prime Minister wants a classless society, he must get rid of all the private beds in the national health service. In a classless society, we cannot have tax breaks for the wealthy, or an honours list. In a classless society, we cannot give people the privilege of sending their kids to public schools and have the ordinary taxpayer foot the bill.
In a really classless society, people would keep their money and be able to buy private education instead of putting up with the rotten lousy state stuff in socialist-controlled inner cities. People would be able to buy health care in place of some of the stuff doled out in the state-controlled health service and they would all be properly housed because we would have an effective and healthy private housing sector—something that the Labour party has been opposing for as long as I can remember.
The hon. Lady has spelt out her idea of a classless society. It is about jumping the queue and about privilege. It is about people lining their pockets and leaving people down there in the gutter to fend for themselves. The hon. Lady has made it clear where she stands. In a classless society, she would have trouble looking after the Wimbledon ticket touts because there would not be any. Everyone would have a ticket to Wimbledon. When the revolution starts under the new Prime Minister's regime, everybody will have a ticket to the Henley regatta. It is a joke. It is one of the daftest things that the Prime Minister has said. Mind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he has been in the job for only three weeks so perhaps it was said in a flurry of excitement. The truth is that he will not be able to sustain it.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin about the legacy of the past 11 years. During that period, the education system has lost £3·75 billion and 468 hospitals have closed. The economy is up to its neck in trouble. We were lectured to by a Cabinet full of business men—and one woman—and told that Labour could not run the economy, but that same Cabinet has produced the worst economic situation that we have had since the end of the second world war. Not only did we have a trade deficit of £20 billion last year; the chances are that this year the deficit will exceed the forecast made by the Chancellor in his autumn statement. It will get even worse.
The Government have made invisibles invisible. We have lost every single benefit that we had. The Government used to tell us that we could make £700 million a month on trade in invisibles. They used to tell the workers, "Never mind the deficit in manufactured goods; we can always make it up from the City." All that has disappeared from view after 11 years of what they call "Thatcherism". In addition, companies are borrowing more money today in an attempt to keep their heads above water than at any time in the past 50 years. The present figure for company borrowing is £6,000 million. That is the legacy of Thatcherism.
There have also been more than 120,000 bankruptcies and liquidations over the past 11 years. All that has happened while the Government have had the benefit of North sea oil. The other day it was announced that over the past 11 years more than £100 billion has been created for the Government through the taxation of North sea oil receipts. The previous Labour Government did not have the benefit of that money. When we get back into power, we must use that sort of money not for the rich, the wealthy or the bosses who had a 28 per cent. pay increase last year and a 33 per cent. increase the year before when the ambulance workers were told that they must make do with 6·5 per cent., but to finance the national health service and to give back to pensioners the £13 a week that the Government robbed them of by changing the system of payments for pensioners.
As I said, there have been more than 120,000 bankruptcies and liquidations. Even the Tory party's own blue rosette company has gone bankrupt. Similarly, the County Hall development group, which was to take over the GLC building, has gone bankrupt. It is an ill wind that blows no one any good and I cheered when I heard about that.
Over the past 11 years, people in the City of London have made money for themselves, not for the country. They are now asking us to bail them out. The new Secretary of State for the Environment came into the House the other day and said—and I am paraphrasing him here—"We are in a hell of a mess. Can you bail us out? We've been hammering these people with the poll tax and 14 million of them are not paying. Will you in the Opposition come to our aid?" Some chance. The only way to resolve the problem of the poll tax is to get rid of it, a proposal that was passed by the Labour party executive recently and has now become Labour party policy.
When the former Prime Minister came to power, credit represented 45 per cent. of take-home pay once national insurance and income tax had been subtracted from average income. For every £100 earned by the ordinary person, £45 went on credit. We must remember that the former Prime Minister told us that if a Labour Government were elected, they would borrow. That was their maxim. After the past 11 years, the average earner now pays out 87 per cent. of his income in borrowing and credit. So much for all that talk about borrowing.
The Thatcher Government preached to people not to borrow, but the country is awash with credit. That is the legacy. I believe that that problem will haunt successive Governments for a long time to come. There has also been much talk about shares and this property-owning, share-owning democracy. When the former Prime Minister came to power, pension funds and private institutions held 60 per cent. of the wealth in shares. The Government and overseas investors owned 10 per cent. and 30 per cent. was owned by private individuals. After all those so called privatisations, the figures have hardly changed except the percentage owned by private individuals has fallen from 30 per cent. to 20 per cent. A few more people have the odd share here and there, but the general situation has not improved.
In a way, I suppose that I am pleased with the motion because it gives us a chance to put the record straight. People ouside have had a bellyful of Thatcherism. People must understand that the new regime is no different. They represent the same class interests that the hon. Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) represents. He represents the interests of the bosses and the wealthy. I represent another interest—those who are exploited. Under the new regime, now that they have shuffled the pack, things will be the same as before. There will be no concessions to the poor. I challenge the Treasury Bench-now that the Government are talking about consultation—to ask Labour Members to help to formulate the next Budget. If it is all right for the poll tax, let us formulate the Budget. Let us have consultation and let us tell the Government what we shall do with the Budget. Let us tell them that we shall take the £26 billion that has gone to the wealthiest 1 per cent. Let us tell them about taxation, VAT, and the run-down of our schools and our health service. Let us tell them that we want to spend another £5 billion, £6 billion or £7 billion on those who must use those services. What a great opportunity. If we are in the business of consultation, let us have it right across the board.
We know what the Labour party means by consultation on the Budget. I seem to remember that, when Labour Members were in office, they let the last two or three be written by the International Monetary Fund.
I was around at the time—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was. I was one of those who did not support that. The Prime Minister of the day should have said to the IMF—I tell the hon. Gentleman because he does not seem to understand—"Look here, we have some North sea oil revenues round the corner. We have a lot of collateral and we are going to use it, so don't tell us what to do." I would have said to Mr. Witteveen, or whatever his name was, "Sling your hook, we will look after our own affairs." I would say the same to Helmut Kohl now that the Tory Government have got into bed with the rest of them, with the ERM, EMU, the single currency, and the central European bank. It applies to everybody—I would say the same to them.
Helmut Kohl is not a socialist. He has just been returned with a majority, with the help of his Free Democrats, for another four years. The British people do not want to be dominated by the German Bundesbank. Do not worry about that. I would say the same to Witteveen as I would to Helmut Kohl and all the rest. I do not take kindly to the idea that, somehow, this nation is not big enough to stand on its own two feet. I know what we need to do to make sure that we win votes and keep them for the future, and that is to ensure that we keep our promises to the people and the class we represent. We must say to them that we shall take money out of the pockets of the rich and finance the health service, look after pensioners, start building houses again, and look after the education system. Conservative Members tell me that socialism has dropped off the end of the agenda, but there are lots of things to do. If only we cleaned up the cardboard city, which is a legacy of the Government, we would make a start.
I am not too bothered now that the 11 years have gone. I am a socialist, and a socialist has to be an optimist. I am concerned about the next 11 years. I want to make sure that when we formulate our plans and put them before the British people, they are capable of getting support from the British people for the 11 years that it will take for us to clean up the mess that the Tories have left, and that they provide benefits for our people.
After that socialist rant in which the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) failed to justify why droves and droves of his so-called class, to which he somehow lays claim, managed to vote us into power three times in a row with a massive majority, which no Opposition Government have ever achieved in his lifetime or in mine, I can tell him that we know perfectly well where people see their best interests being protected—and that is with the Conservative party, not the Opposition.
My right hon.:
Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), whom we are discussing, led the country to three magnificent Conservative victories. I had hoped that she would do the same again, but matters turned out differently. However, I shall not go over that again.
We are here to talk about my right hon. Friend's great personal qualities, which are so well recognised outside the House by the public that many people are still grieving for her loss. My right hon. Friend was not only the leader of our Conservative party; she was the Prime Minister and a great international figure. We should continue——