Political Developments

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:22 am on 7th December 1990.

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Photo of Mrs Ray Michie Mrs Ray Michie , Argyll and Bute 11:22 am, 7th December 1990

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.