Before I call the proposer and the seconder of the motion on the Loyal Address, it may be for the convenience of the House if I announce the proposed subjects for the various debates. Thursday 7 May, public expenditure; Friday 8 May, foreign affairs; Monday 11 May, privatisation; Tuesday 12 May, environment, local government and education; Wednesday 13 May, the economy.
I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows: Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
Those hon. Members who were in the House back in 1979 may have a short and lingering memory of the Loyal Address on that occasion. It was the first speech that was sound broadcast in the House of Commons, which shows the extent of the changes that have occurred during the past 13 years. On that occasion, I had the great honour on behalf of my constituents in Mole Valley to second the motion on the Loyal Address, and now, some 13 years later, I have been given the extra honour of proposing the motion.
Much has happened in the past 13 years to us all and I must not make this a habit. I suspect that one of the reasons that I was invited to make this speech was that my speech some 13 years ago was followed by 13 years of uninterrupted Conservative rule. Before my hon. Friends are too triumphalist, they should remember that, after 18 months, Mrs. Thatcher's Government had become the most unpopular Government of recent history; she was a one-term Prime Minister of a one-term Government and, according to the opinion polls, which in those days we respected, we were 20 points behind. At that very nadir of the Government's fortunes, Mrs. Thatcher asked me to become a Minister and from then on things looked up, so my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) should watch out.
I begin by congratulating—as I did 13 years ago—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his success in the general election. Some four weeks ago hon. Members on both sides of the House were candidates and, as we ran up to polling day, there were not many who believed that the eventual outcome would take place. [Interruption.] I was one who did, but there were many who did not. The political journalists and the political commentators who now look down upon our proceedings almost to a man and a woman had decided on the Sunday and Monday that we were finished. They wrote our political obituaries; they summoned the mourners; they invited the people to the wake; they even dug the grave. But my right hon. Friend refused to die, and a funeral without a corpse is a glum affair.
All new hon. Members will get to know many political journalists during the course of their political lives in the House, and they will discover that political journalists have no appetite for humble pie, even if it is served at their proprietors' cost in the best restaurants.
One of the things that new hon. Members will come to terms with is the political lobby. As you know, Madam Speaker, that takes place not in the Chamber but in the corridors and other parts of the House. The political lobby consists of Members of Parliament who gossip to other Members of Parliament, who gossip to journalists, who gossip to other journalists, who then go back to their editors, where they gossip again. Then they write their articles which are read by journalists and Members of Parliament as if they were written on tablets of stone. It is the most perfect system yet devised by man for the recycling of rubbish.
Before I come to the Queen's Speech, I have one thing to say to the Leader of the Opposition. We have both been in the House for approximately the same number of years. I was elected in 1968, he in 1970, and our paths have crossed several times, as Back Benchers and Front-Bench spokesmen and in other capacities. Since 1973, he has been the leader of the Labour party and he has conducted himself in that position with great courage and determination and has salvaged the fortunes of his party. I believe that history will be a great deal kinder and more generous to him than many current commentators. I do not know whether he will join us on the Back Benches, but I suspect that whatever role he has will be significant for the future of the Labour party.
The Opposition are going through the process of finding a new leader. I have been through that process on three occasions during my life in the House. It is never an easy process; it is always a bit difficult. But the process that the Labour party has adopted is not so much an election as an exercise in collective group therapy. The purpose of group therapy is to admit guilt and rectify the fault, and I wish the Opposition luck.
The leader of the Liberal Democrats must be a disappointed man at this moment. He hoped to have the balance of power, but he has finished one Member of Parliament down. [Interruption.] I am told that he is one up—
small choice in rotten apples".
He does not have the balance of seats in the House, but no doubt he will argue that he has the balance of votes in the country. [Interruption.] The Liberal Democrats are at it already. They will no doubt be strongly advocating proportional representation during the lifetime of this Parliament. If the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) tries to persuade the British people that that is a better system, I hope that he will explain how it will avoid the problems of Italy which, as a result of proportional representation, has no Prime Minister and no President; or the problems of Belgium, which has had no Government for 12 weeks; or the problems of the local assemblies in Germany where fascists have been elected; or the problems of the German Government where the new Foreign Secretary, as a result of being a member of a minority party, has acquired that office without standing for elective office. Therefore, if the leader of the Liberal party advocates proportional representation, he will find many on the Conservative Benches and, I suspect, some on the Opposition Benches strongly defending our present electoral system.
The hon. Gentleman will have plenty of time to make his points.
I welcome strongly in the Queen's Speech the Government's commitment to continue with the education reforms which I had the privilege to put on the statute book four years ago. The national curriculum, testing, delegated budgets, grant-maintained schools and the expansion of further and higher education must remain the Government's highest priority and be pursued with vigour.
Secondly, I welcome in the Queen's Speech the commitment to bring competition and private capital into British Rail and British Coal. Those Bills follow upon the privatisation of the utilities in the 1980s. I remember taking two Bills through the House to privatise British Telecom and, as a result, the utility had access to the private capital markets instead of depending on the taxpayer.
Thirdly, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on putting into his first Queen's Speech the determination to put on the statute book as quickly as possible a Bill to establish a national lottery. I published the details of that a few days before the election, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage, the new Minister in the new Department, will establish a national lottery as soon as possible, otherwise there will not be much fun for him. We cannot have the circuses without the bread.
Fourthly, I welcome the fact that the Government are to reintroduce the Asylum Bill to deal with one of the most pressing problems that affect western Europe.
Given the range of responsibilities involved, and the outline of the Queen's Speech, there is no doubt that we on the Back Benches will be very busy indeed. Thirteen years ago, I gave some advice to Conservative Back Benchers. I told them that, if they wanted to get on, they would have to find a foothold on that narrow strip of land that lies between rebellion and sycophancy. I must congratulate my right hon. Friends in the Cabinet who have pursued that advice so vigorously.
Let me give some more advice to new Members on both sides of the House. They are naturally proud to be joining the best debating chamber in the world—for this is the best debating chamber in the world—but they will find themselves having to attend many debates that are tedious and not well attended, and to continue to address the great empty green Benches. Then they will meet the parliamentary twins, humdrum and humbug. If they can endure humdrum, and occasionally engage in humbug, they will he the darlings of the Whips' Office and no post will be beyond their grasp. One of them may actually end up as Chief Whip—a post which, according to Sir Robert Peel, required all the qualities of a gentleman, but unfortunately no gentleman would ever accept it. Let me say to my right hon. Friend the present Chief Whip that I expect to be paired a little during this Parliament!
The most important Bill with which we shall deal before the summer recess is the European Bill on Maastricht. The situation in Europe has changed dramatically since my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister negotiated that treaty. At Maastricht, we were the underdog; we were the country that was being bullied. Now the position is entirely different. Since Maastricht, the situation in Europe has been transformed. Britain now has the stablest Government in Europe; it has a strong currency, and we are coming out of the recession. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be able to use those strengths and advantages to secure his vision for Europe —not a federal vision, but a vision of a Europe that draws its strength and vitality from the different nation states. I hope that this Parliament will not see an irreversible shift of power to any Brussels-dominated Government.
Let me say to my right hon. Friend that, when we come back to the House for the next Queen's Speech after the next general election, we shall not find that the powers of the House have been reduced, that its influence has been diminished, and that we are nothing more than a regional assembly. That is not the way forward for the House or for our country, and none of us was elected to bring it about.
It is a great honour for me to second the motion proposed so wittily, ably and brilliantly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker). The honour belongs, however, not to me but to my constituents, who have so generously sent me back to this place to represent their views; and who, with such good sense, have been electing Conservative Members of Parliament for my constituency since the first world war—with one minor lapse of taste in 1945.
I am well aware that, over the past five years, my constituency of Gedling has not been as well known in this place as I should like it to be. I therefore intend it to become, over the next five years, as famous and as celebrated even—perhaps—as Basildon, although maybe not for quite the same reason.
As you will understand, Madam Speaker, I do not usually have the pleasure of being joined by so many of my colleagues on both sides when I address the House. Faced with this task today I took myself to the Smoking Room to seek the advice of a distinguished and senior member of my party. He said, "Don't worry, you will be fine. The motion is nearly always proposed by some genial old codger on the way out and seconded by an oily young man on the make."
I decided to take some further advice and I went to another distinguished member of my party—an ex-Minister. I asked him what I should do. He said, "You will be fine. You come from a political family and follow in immensely distinguished parental footsteps." I said, "Thank you for your advice—father."
I decided not to take any further advice because as I walked down the Library Corridor I met another immensely senior and distinguished grandee of our party. He put out his hand to me and welcomed me to the House of Commons. He said that if I needed any advice in my first few days he hoped that I would come to him. Such is the mark that I have made in the House during the past five years.
But it is at least a contrast to the occasion when Nigel Lawson came to speak in my constituency in 1987 when I was first seeking election to this place as a new boy. He told my astonished constituents that they should re-elect me because I had done such a good job in the House of Commons during the previous five years. I do not think that my constituents have believed a Cabinet Minister since.
My constituency of Gedling may be better known to some of my colleagues as Carlton which was previously represented by my predecessor, Sir Philip Holland, and before him by Sir Kenneth Pickthorn. It lies to the eastern side of the boundaries of Nottingham city and takes in the predominantly urban areas of Carlton and Arnold. I am deeply proud to represent it in this place.
My constituency gets its name from the village of Gedling that traces its origins from Saxon times. It is reputed to have been settled by a Germanic tribe led by an extremely fierce and war-like lady of strong opinions and firm convictions. She ruled over the tribe for many years before being deposed and replaced by a man of milder countenance but of steely resolve. Legend has it that he ruled over the tribe for nearly twice as long as she did.
My constituents welcome the words in the Gracious Speech about the Government's commitment to beating crime and continuing the battle against drugs. However, they feel strongly that more can be done by Parliament, by Government, in schools, within the home and family as well as by the police. My constituents are particularly mindful that many reports, including those produced by the Audit Commission, have demonstrated clearly that police efficiency is mixed and varied across the country. I hope that we can continue to make important progress on crime and I welcome the commitment to doing so in the Queen's Speech.
It is now extremely important that we should have another look at reforming the procedures in the House. The Select Committee has produced an interesting report on the sittings of the House. I do not say that it is the answer and I do not agree with everything in it, but I hope that the nettle that has so often failed to be grasped by Government and Parliament will be dealt with on this occasion. I speak as the father of two young children and, previously, the child of a young father and I hope that this issue will now be addressed.
Finally, whatever the problems and strains in the world around us may be, I believe in the thread of national pride which has run through this United Kingdom. In all humility, I beg to suggest that many of my generation who sit on these Benches are passionate supporters of the United Kingdom. We believe that the people of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are justifiably proud of the differences between them, yet are integral parts of a unified nation fashioned by history over almost 300 years.
If there are better ways of administering that union, and of providing good governance within it, let us seek them out. But in seconding the Loyal Address to Her Majesty I want to stress my emphatic belief that she should remain Queen of the United Kingdom.
I hope that our Government will not allow any event to take place which could weaken that objective, or replace the ties which bind us together with policies which could force us apart.
I begin with the traditional congratulations to the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) and the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) for their excellent speeches moving and seconding the Loyal Address in reply to the Queen's Speech. Clearly, in making their choice this time, the Government Whips decided upon a mixture for that task. They decided upon a combination of exuberance and experience, of smooth with rough, of loyal Heathite with loyal Thatcherite—and all those qualities are conveniently gathered together in the one person of the right hon. Member for Mole Valley.
The right hon. Gentleman is truly a man of many parts. Consequently he has attracted rather more than the usual amount of comment from a variety of newspapers and people who give their views on our parliamentary scene. He has been variously called the Cheshire cat, the vicar of Bray, the "flexible friend", and the "great surfer of British politics". The right hon. Gentleman has absorbed all that —as praise.
My hon. Friend reminds me of one of the most charming interpretations of the right hon. Gentleman. I was here when Martin Flannery—who, sadly, is no longer a Member of the House, but is enjoying a well-earned retirement—said that the right hon. Gentleman was the only man he knew who could strut sitting down.
That remark competes with the saw of Mr. John Cole —an acerbic witness of our parliamentary affairs—that if the right hon. Gentleman represented the future, Mr. Cole had seen the future, "and it smirks". That, too, the right hon. Gentleman took as praise.
The right hon. Gentleman has been described as being able to fall from grace without ever hitting the ground. Mr. Anthony Bevins, who has many friends in all parts of the House, wrote that he was
adept at keeping one step ahead of his own debris.
Certainly, there is some evidence of that. The right hon. Gentleman moved from his position as Secretary of State for the Environment before the poll tax, of which he was a proud architect, caused turmoil behind him. He then went on to the Department of Education, where he made many changes, not the least of which was to introduce training days, known as "Baker days"—more colloquially and colourfully described in the teaching profession as "B-days". My information on that, as the right hon. Gentleman will imagine, is entirely respectable.
From education, the right hon. Gentleman was appointed chairman of the Conservative party, thus proving that the Tory party is one of the few organisations in which movement from education to propaganda is regarded as a promotion.
As his final ministerial resting place, the right hon. Gentleman became Home Secretary. That was within the recent memory of the House, so I will not prolong proceedings by going through the variety of escapades into which the right hon. Gentleman got in that position. To his credit, and despite that immensely busy ministerial career, during those years the right hon. Gentleman has also published four excellent anthologies of poetry. Indeed, his achievements do not stop at that. He has been known to turn a verse or two himself. I have had the good fortune to come across one of those verses. He himself sent it to a national newspaper and I have an example of it here which the House should hear. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will take a certain pride in authorship. I quote:
There was a Sun reader called Ken
Who worked somewhere close to Big Ben.
When he wanted the news,
And some up to date views,
He gave the Sun ten out of ten.
I am pretty certain that, with talent like that, the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give some of his time to writing
a column for The Sun. I am also certain that another Ken, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), will gladly move over and permit the right hon. Gentleman to take his place as a columnist in The Sun.
The hon. Member for Gedling, who seconded the Loyal Address in a very accomplished speech, appears to share some of the attributes of his right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley, who proposed the Address. He speaks of himself as "very dry" on the economy and not so dry on social issues. In his own words, he is "more Amontillado than fino". As he is a wine importer, he should know.
If the hon. Gentleman is getting so much good advice and so many spontaneous approaches from other Members of Parliament, he should be careful in the next couple of months. He may be wandering the corridors one day and one of my hon. Friends may ask if he will vote for him in the shadow Cabinet elections. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should check his availability over that period.
The hon. Gentleman frankly and publicly admits to ambition. Strange though it may seem, that is a rare admission from a Member of the House even though some of the greatest love affairs I have ever known have involved just one politician, unaccompanied. I have no one special in mind. I am certain that to admit to such ambition stands the hon. Gentleman in good stead. I am also sure that, in selecting him to perform the task that he performed so well today, the Whips were tipping him the wink as well as bringing some pride and some pleasure to his old dad, the hon. Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell). I congratulate the right hon. Member for Mole Valley and the hon. Member for Gedling on the way in which they moved the Loyal Address.
I naturally welcome several items in the Queen's Speech, among them the commitments on combating terrorism and drug trafficking, the commitments to undertake further work for the peaceful settlement in Yugoslavia—a tragedy that is staining our whole continent and causing awful pain to the people of the republics—and the pledges to support Community agreements with central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and to continue to assist in dismantling nuclear weapons in the Russian Federation and, we hope, elsewhere should the transfer of those weapons not proceed as smoothly as we hope that it will. Those and other similar efforts will have support from the Opposition.
Clearly, it is right too for the Prime Minister to attend the United Nations conference on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro next month, but it is vital that he use that visit to promote effective international efforts to protect the environment, to foster sustainable development and to fight poverty. If countries such as Britain do not use the conference for those directly interrelated purposes, a unique opportunity to safeguard the planet will have been lost, and no responsible Government—let alone any responsible country—could afford or excuse that loss.
In the Queen's Speech, the Government pledge themselves to sustained growth, and there, too, there is room for agreement. As the Prime Minister said last week:
We need a recovery that is steady and sustainable, not one that recreates the problems from which we are now emerging.
Nobody could—and, surely, nobody would—disagree with that. But, given that we know that the problems from
which we are now—it is to be hoped—emerging, were created by the policies of this Government, we can fairly ask what changes they are now making to ensure that there is no recurrence of the conditions that brought the recession in the first place. What are they going to do differently? What new policies do they propose to pursue to ensure that this time—unlike the period following their first recession—recovery is steady, recovery is sustainable and recovery does not recreate the problems referred to by the Prime Minister?
From the evidence of this Queen's Speech, the answer to the question, "What is new in their approach to the economic issues?" is nothing. There are no changes that will bring sustained and sustainable recovery, because there are no policies that will bring sustained and sustainable improvement in productive performance. There is still—as there was last time, and the Government appear not to learn the lessons—a complete dependence on growth of consumption to lead us out of the recession. There are no proposals to help to stimulate the construction industries out of their worst recession for more than 40 years. There are no commitments to increased and more secure funding for the training and enterprise councils, and the cuts in training expenditure have not been reversed. There is no response to the repeated calls from the Confederation of British Industry and the Engineering Employers Federation for investment incentives for industry. There is nothing in the Queen's Speech that will reverse the reductions in Government support for commercially viable research and development in industry.
Where transport and energy industries—vital though they are—are mentioned in the Queen's Speech, it is only in references to privatisation. What help can that be in achieving steady and sustainable recovery? The privatisation of coal will bring a huge increase in import dependence and, in the coalfields, a huge increase in unemployment. Meanwhile, rail privatisation is being proposed in a country where the completion of the channel tunnel has been put back for want of private finance and the construction of the vital high-speed rail link to the channel tunnel has also been postponed for want of public finance. What help will privatisation he in solving those and many other problems in an underinvested, outdated and congested transport system?
Despite the fact that the Government have no policies to build the sound foundations of sustainable recovery, we heard the Prime Minister claim last week in his speech to the Institute of Directors that
half the world is queuing up for a dose of British medicine.
Can the Prime Minister mean the medicine that has put our country at the bottom of the G7 leagues for manufacturing investment, economic growth and job creation for an unprecedented fourth year in succession? [HON. MEMBERS: "Not true."] The trouble is that it is true: it was true before the election, it is true now and, as long as the present Government are in power, that is where it will stick. What a way for our country to face the completion of the single market and more intense competition at the end of this year. When the Prime Minister spoke of the British medicine, did he mean the policy concoction which has pushed Britain down to 18th of the 24 leading economies in the world measured in terms of output per head of population? Are the other European Community countries really looking—
The Government have run Britain down with their policies. I am trying to build Britain up. The people of Britain want Britain to be built up. They do not want us to be bottom of the league. They do not want us to slip down the international league. They want investment, development and sustainable recovery. They want policies that will bring that about.
Are the other countries of the European Community really looking for what the Prime Minister calls the British medicine when, of the 1 million people who last year lost their jobs in the 12 countries of the Community, 850,000 lived in Britain? Eighty-five per cent. of the increase in unemployment in the Community last year occurred in this country. I do not expect the Government to be exercised by those appalling unemployment figures. After all, the word "unemployment" does not appear in the Queen's Speech. That says a lot about the Government. Some 2·7 million of our fellow citizens are unemployed, but they are not mentioned in the Queen's Speech.
Unemployment and the fear of unemployment are hanging over the confidence of countless individuals, families and households, but the Prime Minister and the Government cannot even bring themselves to mention unemployment in the Queen's Speech. Why are they so coy about unemployment? After all, is this not supposed to be the medicine for which half the world—in the Prime Minister's words—is clamouring?
Apart from being a lethal medicine, unemployment is a very expensive medicine. Its price is not simply measured in terms of personal tragedies and family crises: its price is measured in the costs of unemployment, which are now a major cause of the increased budget deficit of £28 billion to which the Government have so far admitted. Both unemployment and the deficit are forecast to continue to rise.
In the Queen's Speech, the Government tell us that they will get rid of that deficit in the medium term. Perhaps when the Prime Minister speaks later he will tell us how he intends to do that. Perhaps he will tell us how he proposes to fulfil the pledge in the Queen's Speech to balance the budget in the medium term—in other words, in the next three or four years. Does he promise to do that with higher growth? If so, is he pledging now that he will achieve higher levels of sustained growth and lower balance of payments deficits than any ever achieved by this Government, even at the height of North sea oil output? Alternatively, does the Prime Minister intend to balance the budget over the medium term—over three or four years—with higher taxes? If so, which taxes does he intend to raise? Or will the Prime Minister fulfil his promise in the Queen's Speech to balance the budget in the medium term by cutting public expenditure programmes? If that is what he is going to do, he should tell us which programmes he intends to cut.
When the Government can say with such certainty that they will get rid of the budget deficit in the medium term, they must know how they are going to do that. We should be told the answers in this debate. The country should be told the answers now so that people know what they face in the years ahead as the Government, who through their policies have generated a massive rise in the public sector deficit, go about the business of fulfilling their promise —if that is what they intend to do—of balancing that budget.
Perhaps the answers to those questions are not to be found in growth, tax increases or spending cuts. Perhaps they are to be found in what the Queen's Speech describes as the national lottery
to raise money for good causes.
That would not be a very surprising development from this Government.
Opting-out is being extended in health and education. The dependence on fund-raising efforts to buy basic necessities for hospitals and schools is becoming increasingly intense. There is no strategy for combating widening poverty in our country. The Government refuse to invest extra in housing. Unemployment continues to rise. All those policies—every single one of those policies —are making opportunity and care, and for many people even life itself, more of a gamble.
The Government are making the principle of the lottery into a ruling system for society and for the social institutions which serve this society. They are fragmenting the schooling system by opt-outs and dividing it by selection, so that the quality of education becomes more dependent on the fortune of parentage or background or neighbourhood. They are fracturing the national health service into trusts and making it a creature of contracts, so that the quality of health care becomes more a matter of chance for more people.
It is as up to date as the waiting lists. It is as up to date as those doctors who are getting the inside track. It is as up to date as the people who have to wait in pain for the simple reason that they cannot afford to pay for operations—very up to date.
In all those actions, the Government claim that they are somehow "devolving" vital decisions to individuals and to families. In reality, the Government are doing the opposite. In reality, the Government are abdicating their responsibility to individuals and to families. That is the only honest way to describe policies which make no provision for child care or for nursery education, policies which reintroduce the 11-plus and secondary modern schools—something that they always forgo to mention —and policies which mock choice when schools choose pupils and parents instead of pupils and parents choosing schools.
"Abdication" is the only honest word to describe health policies which have no real regard for the health and welfare care of the infirm elderly in our country, policies which perpetually increase prescription and other charges, and policies which make treatment dependent on whether the health authority contract with the hospital stretches far enough to deal with the needs of individual patients.
Those policies are wrong. Their malevolence does not arise from the effect that they have on providers—the "producer interests", as they are sometimes called. Primary school children in classes of more than 30—there are 1 million such childrenßžare not "producer interests". Families who have to care for chronically sick and disabled loved ones at home without proper support are not "producer interests". Women on low incomes who need child care for their children in order to be able to get training and work are not "producer interests".
Those people and many more are all part of the great majority of the British people—the national community —who need good quality, publicly provided facilities. They will not be well served by opted-out, broken-up, pay-as-you-go health, education and social services. Their freedom of choice means nothing when there is little or no provision to choose from. Their freedom of opportunity is spurious when they have to take second-rate treatment in two-tier services. Many people know that already. Many more will tragically come to know it, and as they do, they will see that the Government's promise of choice and opportunity is fraudulent. They will recognise that the Government's commitment to a classless society is a pretence. They will realise that they are a Government who are not worthy of the country.
I join the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) in congratulating my right hon. and hon. Friends on their excellent speeches this afternoon. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) has, of course, starred in this debate before. In 1979, seconding the motion, he called for three things—top priority in the fight against inflation, more openness in Government, and reformed procedures of the House. This afternoon, I hope that my right hon. Friend will hear commitments that will please him on each of those fronts.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley served with flair and distinction in several Cabinets from 1985: first, as Secretary of State for the Environment, then as Education Secretary, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Home Secretary. If I were to single out just one of his achievements, it would be his education reforms. By introducing the national curriculum and asserting the need for national standards, he initiated one of the most significant reforms of the past 13 years, and one that will stand the test of time for many years to come.
My right hon. Friend must be the only Education Secretary to have served in the artillery as an instruct or to the Royal Libyan army. [Interruption.] It was in the early 1950s. Perhaps that experience was a good preparation for his later years. It certainly taught him over many years where to direct his political shot and shell, as we saw again this afternoon.
Among all his duties, as the right hon. Member for Islwyn said, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley has since 1980 found time to publish four anthologies. In view of the publicity given to those volumes this afternoon, I invite hon. Members to buy now while the stocks last. So good are they that I was tempted to make them part of the national curriculum. But my right hon. Friend's modesty in not doing so himself dissuaded me.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) reads my right hon. Friend's books with as much pleasure as I do. There may perhaps be just one poem in them which he does not much care for. In "Unauthorised versions: Poems and their Parodies". my right hon. Friend included Chesterton's "Cider Song". This may well awaken unhappy memories for my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling. I understand that when he was at school he lost a mock election to the SDCP. It was not a forerunner of the party of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown)—at least I think not. It was the Somerset Cider Drinkers' party. I believe that it was a particularly devastating defeat for my hon. Friend.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling has experience of the armed forces, having served in the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus. No doubt that will be invaluable experience if my hon. Friend ever joins my right hon. Friend's Whips Office. But I suspect that he may well be wary of such a posting after an early experience when he should have been in the House for a vote, was in the House for a vote, but could not be found by the Whips. A phone call from the Whips Office was made to my hon. Friend's home. My hon. Friend's wife was out. The babysitter answered and, as she told my hon. Friend on his return, "This strange man rang for you, but I had to put the phone down when he began to talk about whipping." I share with the right hon. Member for Islwyn congratulations for both my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley and my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling on their speeches this afternoon.
For the first time since 1826, Madam Speaker, a Government have been returned to office for a fourth successive term. In the next five years we plan a reforming programme: a programme to return to people more control over their own lives; a programme to encourage and build up the private sector; a programme to improve public services. The Gracious Speech is but the first instalment of that programme in this Parliament.
Our programme is about trusting people and encouraging them to rise as fast and as far as they can—to create, through their enterprise, the prosperity that enables us to take care of others. And we believe in empowering people: in giving individuals more power over their own lives, and the Government less power over people's lives. The power to choose—and the right to own.
So we will widen choice and extend opportunity in education; in the workplace; in housing; in transport. We will continue to reform all our public services, to make them more responsive to the citizen—and to get the best value for taxpayer's money. That way we can improve our services and still leave people more of their own money to spend. Measures to achieve these aims were set out in the Gracious Speech.
Before I turn to the legislative programme, let me mention other matters high on our agenda. I propose to make reforms at the very heart of government. We will sweep away many of the cobwebs of secrecy which needlessly veil too much of Government business.
We shall shortly publish for the first time the full list of ministerial Cabinet Committees, with their terms of reference and membership. We shall make available to the House the guidance on procedure and the conduct of business that has long been sought by many right hon. and hon. Members.
I have also asked my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to identify other areas where there may be excessive secrecy and to carry forward the moves already under way, across Government, towards greater openness.
In a moment.
As part of this open government initiative the Government have concluded that the time has come to acknowledge publicly the continuing existence of the secret intelligence service. SIS is a service distinct and separate from the security service. It provides foreign intelligence and overseas support in furtherance of the Government's foreign, defence, security and economic policies.
The chief of the SIS is appointed by the Foreign Secretary, in consultation with the Prime Minister, to whom he has direct access upon demand. He is responsible for the effectiveness, efficiency and security of the SIS and, in particular, for ensuring that information is obtained and disseminated only for the purposes that I mentioned earlier. The present chief of the SIS, the man colloquially known as "C", is Sir Colin McColl. We intend to introduce legislation to place the secret intelligence service on a statutory basis.
Successive Governments have not commented on matters relating to security and intelligence. The reason for that is clear to the House: it is difficult to comment without revealing, by what is or is not said, information that can have a bearing on the effectiveness and safety of the staff of these services. Therefore, I have deliberately distinguished today between acknowledging the existence of the SIS and commenting on operational information. That is a distinction which the Government will continue to maintain.
The Prime Minister has talked about the necessary accountability and openness of government—reform at the heart of government itself. I am sure that that will be acceptable to the House. However, he has not yet said anything about the reform of the method of government. Given that, as he has rightly said, he has won a fourth term—I congratulate him—but given that this was the sixth consecutive election at which a third or less of the British people have supported the Government and the 14th consecutive election at which fewer than 50 per cent. of those voting have supported the Government, when will we—[Interruption.]
For once I can share common cause with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). It may not happen all that often, which may be a comfort to both of us, but on this occasion I can share common cause with the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps I will leave it at that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley set out clearly the difficulties that many countries in Europe are experiencing with proportional representation. Although I understand the concerns and feelings of grievance of the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), it is not in the interests of this country to have weak government and a Government unable to command a majority in this House.
While I welcome what the Prime Minister has just said—indeed both statements—will he confirm that the security service, unfortunately, will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny? I wish it would be. Can he explain why, if recent articles in The Guardian are correct, some of the documents relating to the Nazi wartime occupation of the Channel islands are classified until 2045? If the Prime Minister is so keen that there should be no secrecy and that people should have confidence in knowing what has happened, should not those documents be released into the public domain as quickly as possible? As for the person who has been named—Kurt Klebeck—
I cannot comment in detail on the hon. Gentleman's point. He knows that that is the position. As I said a moment ago, I have asked my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to examine areas where we may be able to relax the present levels of secrecy. That examination should precede an announcement, but I thought it right to tell the House at an early stage that we intend to conduct that examination, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to leave the matter there for the moment.
I have already put in place reforms to the structure of Government. I have set up two new Departments that will affect the whole fabric of our national life. The citizens charter will be at the centre of the Government's decision-making. Its objectives are to make public services more accountable and to ensure that they truly serve the customers who pay for them with their fares and taxation.
I have therefore also asked my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to be responsible for the citizens charter programme and for the reform of the Civil Service. He will ensure that we set even tougher performance targets and extend further high quality, responsive public services to the individual citizen.
I have also established a Department for National Heritage, responsible for the arts, sports, broadcasting, films and our architectural heritage.
If that is a job application from the hon. Gentleman, may I say that he lacks some of the necessary qualifications. However, I shall bear him in mind when we next have the occasion to meet at Stamford Bridge.
In gathering those responsibilities together in one Department under a Cabinet Minister, I wanted to demonstrate the importance which the Government attach to them and to provide a strong voice at the centre of Government to speak for the needs of our national culture and heritage. That heritage is woven from distinctive strands from all four corners of the United Kingdom. Union is not uniformity. So we will ensure that the individuality of all parts of the United Kingdom is respected. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will, for example, be introducing a Welsh Language Bill this Session to strengthen the position of the language in Wales.
As I made clear during the election, the paramount importance of the unity of the United Kingdom and the union between Scotland and England is clear. I make no bones about repeating that. This Government stand firmly and four square for the Union. We want to see the ties between the two countries strengthened, not weakened, throughout this Parliament.
A great strength of our constitution has been its capacity to accommodate change—to evolve. We shall therefore look at ways in which Government could be more responsive to Scotland's needs. But the Union itself is not negotiable.
Just before the recent general election, when questioned in Scotland about the Scottish constitutional question, the Prime Minister said that he would take stock of the Scottish election result. At the general election, the Conservative party was rejected by three quarters of Scottish voters, who voted for parties committed to the setting up of a Scottish Parliament. If the Prime Minister refuses to accept that interpretation of the Scottish election result, will he do the decent, democratic thing and hold a multi-option referendum on Scotland's constitutional future or is he, in the words of his predecessor, too frit?
The hon. Gentleman glosses over the fact that 62 per cent. of the electorate voted against the Labour party. We entered the last general election with the hon. Gentleman and many other Opposition Members suggesting that the Conservative party would lose seats in Scotland, would have no seats left in Scotland and would dramatically lose votes in Scotland. It increased votes, it increased seats and it increased influence, which is what it will continue to do in the months and years ahead. I undertook to take stock and see what we could do to make the Government more responsive to the needs of Scotland—that I intend to do, but in a way that will not damage the Union, the interests of Scotland or the interests of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman need be in no doubt about that.
I am grateful to the Prime Minister. He says that he believes that there should be changes at the heart of Government and that there should be increased accountability. Surely that should be reflected in his enabling and empowering the people of Scotland to express clearly their views on constitutional change. Why does he not envisage in the Gracious Speech and in the Government's programme such a democratic facility?
I think that, from every part of this country, the constituents send Members of Parliament here to this place to express their constituents' views on all matters. The voice of Scotland is represented on the Opposition Benches and on the Government Benches. In my experience in the House, the voice of Scotland has always spoken up forcefully in all parts of the House for Scotland's interests, which is the way that it should be.
We will take stock of the present position in Scotland and then report back to the House. It is a matter of some importance and we will proceed with it. We are proceeding with it now, and when we have concluded, we shall report back to the House.
We shall also continue our determined assault on the problems of Northern Ireland. The courage of the people of Northern Ireland is undoubted. They have the assurance that we shall not turn our back on their needs. Our overriding aim is to eliminate the evil of terrorism, and to do that we shall make progress on security, and in the social, political and economic spheres.
A further institutional reform is important to the whole House. I refer to the recommendations of the Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) into the procedures debated by the previous Parliament. But I believe that the present Parliament must also discuss them before decisions can be taken. Therefore, we shall make time available for debate and undertake further consultations. I believe, personally, that the time has come for some of our procedures to be reformed, although that is essentially a matter for the House.
Does the Prime Minister understand that his comments on the recent report on the sittings of the House by the Select Committee are most helpful and welcome? Does he recall that previous proposals for change, particularly the Crossman proposal 25 years ago, failed largely because they did not have the support of a broad band across the House? Does he remember that the recent all-party Committee was unanimous in its findings? Does he also realise that many hon. Members would very much welcome Government action that would mean that the changes would take effect from when the House returns after the summer recess?
I believe that my right hon. Friend's points are well made. As I said, we shall consult interested parties on the matter and lay a debate before the House to take the collective view of hon. Members.
May we take it for granted that the reforms that the Prime Minister has in mind in the light of the report of the Procedure Committee and of the idea of giving power back to the people will include scrutiny of the Government by a Select Committee on Northern Ireland, to be set up at the earliest possible opportunity?
That is one of the matters that we will consider, but I can give the hon. Gentleman no assurance this afternoon.
The Government were returned at this election because we spoke for certain great truths. George Bernard Shaw—no Tory he—wrote that
all great truths begin as blasphemies",
and for many years the received wisdom denied many truths: the truth that lower taxes create more wealth for better welfare; the truth that competition produces better
services at lower cost; and the truth that less state control makes for a better state. Those truths are now accepted by the vast majority of people in this country, and the latest election endorsed that process. People voted for greater choice and the freedom that flows from it.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I have given way generously and I would like to make a little progress.
I was referring to the freedom of people to keep more of their own money, to freedom from the fear of inflation and to freedom from state interference and the excessive influence of trade unions—and I refer only to the "excessive" influence of trade unions. Even today, as this debate is being conducted, we are witnessing an extremely important leadership election in which the trade unions wield the largest share of votes. Many of those votes will represent trade union members who voted Conservative at the last general election, as millions of them did. So whoever is elected as leader of the Labour party will rely on Conservative votes to become Leader of the Opposition; when the next general election comes he can rely on Conservative votes to keep him as Leader of the Opposition.
Some unions may not even bother to ballot their members. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) has recognised that inequity—and he wants it changed, but not now, not until he is safely home and dry. To paraphrase St. Augustine, "Give me goodness Lord, but not just yet".
Now that the general election is over we see signs of renewed confidence. Business surveys have immediately reflected stronger prospects. The stock market has risen by over 10 per cent., and sterling has risen to DM 2·92. This week we made the ninth successive reduction in British interest rates since we joined the exchange rate mechanism. The latest cut in bank base rates has already led to a further cut in mortgage rates.
This renewed confidence in Britain flows from the economic policies that we laid before the British people, policies designed to encourage the creation of wealth in Britain and for Britain. We understand that without wealth there can be no welfare and without welfare we cannot discharge our responsibilities.
Later this month we will introduce the Finance Bill to enact outstanding measures from the Budget—
It is worth having another. Like so many Conservative Budgets, this one once more delivered cuts in income tax. Every taxpayer will benefit, while nearly 4 million taxpayers on low incomes will pay tax at the new 20p rate—young people starting out in their careers, many women working part time and many disabled people. Our aim in these cuts is to encourage effort and reward endeavour at every level.
The 20p band shows the way ahead to further tax reductions. We can steadily extend it up the income scale, so that, as and when prudent, more and more people pay income tax only at this lower rate.
Both the Budget and the manifesto made clear our determination to pursue the fight against inflation. Within the framework of the exchange rate mechanism and with the support of sound monetary and fiscal policies we have the opportunity to do as well as and better than our European competitors. Our aim is to restore to this country the security of stable prices, and our plans on fiscal matters are clearly set out in the Red Book.
I am surprised by the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question because he knows as well as any hon. Member that the plans about the change in the fiscal deficit are clearly set out in the Red Book. They are there for the House to examine. They were there before the election and they are there now, and we shall seek to stick to them until we have a balanced budget. The direction is clear. We saw the cyclical rise of the fiscal deficit during the recession, and as we come out of recession that deficit will begin to fall. We have made that entirely clear to hon. Members time and again.
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I have already dealt with that question but the hon. Gentleman clearly does not understand it.
We shall take forward the crusade against overregulation and state interference that stifled free enterprise for so long. We shall resist any pressure from whatever source—domestically or from Brussels—to reimpose handicaps on our industry that we removed one by one in the 1980s. Not for us the interventionism that would put people out of work, with minimum wages and artificial restrictions on working times. Not for us either the damaging paraphernalia of the social chapter.
We shall continue to encourage opportunity in a labour market, free of unnecessary restrictions, and we shall develop the reforms of industrial relations that have brought peace to the workplace. As set out in our manifesto, we propose to introduce legislation to increase the rights of ordinary trade union members, to require proper notice to be given of an intention to strike, and to give every user of public services the right to restrain the disruption of those services by unlawful industrial action. Never again should the people who depend on our public services be held to ransom by illegal strikes.
We shall also extend the benefits of privatisation. It has extended share ownership to millions who would never have dreamed of owning shares before. Millions of workers now own shares in their own industries, and all over the world other countries are now following our lead with those policies. Even the Labour party paid a grudging tribute to our success. Of course, that tribute was the dog that did not bark—the concealment of clause four. The Opposition dare not commit themselves to reverse every privatisation. They would like to, but they dare not. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) would renationalise water and the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) would apparently renationalise the lot—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Clearly, he has support for that. I am grateful to hon. Members—not for the first time.
Privatisation is a great aid to efficiency. It has transformed many loss leaders into world leaders—dead weight to heavy weight—but I am not sure that even a privatised leadership election could manage that trick for the Opposition.
We now propose to return British Coal to the private sector, and we shall introduce legislation to enable the private sector to operate rail services and to encourage competition. At the same time, we shall safeguard the national network of services, and provide subsidy where necessary. We want to recover a sense of pride in our railways and recapture the spirit of the old regional companies.
Industrial relations and privatisation are crucial to our continued economic success. Equally, so is the quality of education. For too long, education reflected the views of professionals to the virtual exclusion of parents. For too long parents found the education establishment more difficult to break into than Fort Knox. In the last Session we changed that. Parents will now receive clear, consistent information about their child's education. Many people regarded that as outrageous; astounding. The truly astounding thing is that it has not always been normal practice. Schools will be inspected once every four years and, under the national curriculum, children will learn a core of essential knowledge to meet the demands of adult life and the modern world.
In just over two years grant-maintained schools have proved their worth. Already over one in 10 secondary schools has balloted its parents on grant-maintained status, and many more now plan to do so. We intend to extend the benefits of self-government. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will publish a White Paper by the end of the summer and an education Bill this autumn.
Our target is to raise standards, widen choice and open up opportunity for hundreds of thousands of children. We shall have a lengthy debate over many days. My right hon. Friend will be returning to this issue.
We also want more choice for local authority tenants and leaseholders. Under a new housing and urban development Bill, local authority tenants will be able to join a rent-to-mortgage scheme. They will have the chance to buy a share in their homes, with mortgage payments no greater than their rent. It should help tenants whose current income is not quite enough for them to benefit under existing right-to-buy legislation. In addition, right to repair will be extended. Leaseholders of flats will have new rights either to buy the freehold collectively or to extend their leases.
The Bill will also implement our manifesto commitment to create a new urban regeneration agency. Too much land still lies idle, especially in our inner cities. Idle land means lost hopes, lost opportunities and lost chances for people living there. The agency will bring vacant and derelict property back into use. It will bring more jobs, more wealth and more hope to our urban areas.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage will introduce legislation to create a single national lottery. Hundreds of millions of pounds will be raised to foster the arts, to encourage sport and to sustain our voluntary bodies. It will provide funding on a hitherto unprecedented scale. It will improve massively our arts and sports facilities. It will help to preserve our heritage and perhaps create new buildings for us to hand on to our children. It will help support the network of voluntary bodies of which this country can be so proud, and with which it is uniquely blessed.
During the next few weeks the House will debate the legislation that is needed to implement the agreement that we reached at Maastricht. At Maastricht, my right hon. Friends and 1 argued successfully for policies debated and agreed by the House. The House endorsed the results on our return.
Shortly after the debate on the Maastricht Bill we shall take on the presidency of the European Community. We face issues that are vital to the health of the Community and the interests of this country: completion of the single market, continued reform of the common agricultural policy, negotiation of the Community's future finances and the first steps towards the Community's enlargement. These are far-reaching objectives and their achievement will involve hard negotiation—negotiation in which, as President, this country will take the lead. I can assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley that we shall continue to argue strongly for our national interests as well as for the interests of the Community as a whole. I agree with him that for the Community to succeed it must stay in tune with the democratic wishes of its citizens. The Community must adapt to those wishes across Europe.
It will fall to the United Kingdom also to manage the Community's relations with the rest of the world. No task is more important than developing our relationship with the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe. The west is now helping them on an unprecedented scale. Britain has led in successfully promoting Russian membership of the International Monetary Fund. We have won support for a stabilisation fund. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has played a crucial role in negotiating these measures to help the Russian reforms succeed.
The survival of fledgling democracy in the east must be the top foreign affairs priority of those of us in the west. It is partly for that reason that Britain has championed the enlargement of the Community. Austria, Finland and Sweden have already applied. I hope that they will join by 1995, and Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia by the year 2000.
One crucial element over the coming year will be European security. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will enlarge on that issue later in the debate. We start with a system of defence that is built upon the continuing American presence in Europe. The Gulf war showed how crucial that presence is to the defence of our common interests.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I wish to make some progress. Many other hon. Members are waiting to speak.
Increasingly, countries that join the European Community will also join the Western European Union, as the European pillar of a common defence effort; but, if the need ever again arose, it would be through NATO that the members of the WEU would defend themselves. Any European country joining the WEU will still look to NATO—including the American presence in Europe—for its defence. That is the reality; it is also good sense.
I was the first Head of Government of the Group of Seven to undertake to attend the Rio summit. I shall go backed by our commitment to the target of returning carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000, provided that others will do the same. We hope to sign global conventions on biological diversity and climate change.
We are continuing to work for agreement in the GATT trade talks. Too much progress has been made to allow the remaining gap to lead to a breakdown. These issues require constant management, constant vigilance and constant diplomatic effort. We shall need all the means at our disposal.
Is there not enough environmental destruction in the world already, without the possibility of yet more? Will the Prime Minister rule out any military attack on Libya—especially in view of the fact that the lawyers acting for Pan Am's insurers now have the gravest doubts about the whole case, and about whether the Libyan state was involved? Even Pan Am's insurers' lawyers are doubtful.
No, I am afraid that I cannot accommodate the hon. Gentleman's wishes and rule that out.
Within the time available today, I have not been able to deal with all the plans that we have set out for this Session, but I have sketched in the majority of the most important. All those plans are geared to maintain a country that is respected abroad and has self-respect at home—a country in which, increasingly, everyone may realise his or her aspirations; a country in which people are able not only to get their feet on to one rung, but to scale the whole height of the ladder if they have the will and the skills to do so. There must be no barriers—no glass ceilings. I do not want people to be "cabined, cribbed, confined" by the action of the state.
This Government have the vision to take the United Kingdom forward into the 1990s. They have the experience, the skills and the competence, and, after the election, they have the confidence of the country. The wide-ranging programme outlined in the Gracious Speech demonstrates that that confidence was well placed. I commend it to the House.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the general election campaign I had an opportunity to talk to a large number of my constituents. Many asked why certain Members of Parliament were in the habit of making frequent sedentary interventions, and were apparently allowed to get away with it.
I am sure, Madam Speaker, that it would benefit the whole House—particularly new Members, and more particularly some of the older ones—if you, as the new Speaker, made a statement at an early stage about the attitude that you will take to sedentary interventions and, indeed, to points of order.
Perhaps I should start by thanking the hon. Member for Stockton. South (Mr. Devlin) for what was—as far as I was concerned, at any rate—a very timely point of order.
I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), who proposed the response to the Gracious Address, and the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), who capably seconded the motion. The latter wishes that he has a future; the former wishes that he did not have a past.
I must confess that I found nothing particularly odd in the right hon. Gentleman's partial and badly informed view of proportional representation. Such views should not surprise us, coming from someone who has been in charge of Conservative party propaganda. I thought it rather odd, however, that the Prime Minister—perhaps providing evidence of a somewhat wicked sense of humour—should ask the right hon. Gentleman to propose the response to the Gracious Address, given that the right hon. Gentleman was responsible for nearly all the real disasters that occurred in previous Government programmes. For my hon. Friends and, I suspect, for many others, almost the most frightening of the Prime Minister's choices in his new Cabinet, as testimony of his determination to have a successful Government, was to commit the right hon. Gentleman to the Back Benches. Nothing could have shown more surely that he is serious about seeking to succeed.
I should like to join the right hon. Member for Mole Valley in his words about the Leader of the Opposition. I do not know whether this is the last time we shall have the pleasure of hearing the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) at the Dispatch Box leading for his party since the leadership election is a few months away. However, if this is the last time, I should like to say that many of us who do not share his views or belong to his party have, nevertheless, looked with great admiration on his leadership of the Labour party. He has done an immense and historic service to his party. In my view, the service extends beyond that to the Labour party to the country at large. By ensuring that his party more nearly matches the mood and spirit of the nation than was the case when he took over, he has strengthened our democracy.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on his election victory. It was a considerable personal achievement in which he is entitled to have some pride. The Government are now entitled to our good will in their task of governing our country, especially if they take the strong action necessary to get the country going again and to get people back to work. A wise Prime Minister would reject the triumphalism that has been evident in some quarters of his party. A wise Prime Minister might reflect on the fact that his victory was won not so much on the basis of enthusiasm for Conservative policies or on the Conservative party's record but out of fear of what the Labour party had to offer. Perhaps the Prime Minister senses that, as he has spoken of a Government who will be gentler in their approach. The tone of his speech seemed to carry that forward. He has told us that he will be more concerned with constructing consensus and more committed to building a nation that is, in his phrase, "at ease with itself". If that is so, the change of style will be welcomed, and my hon. Friends and I will respond to it.
The central question on which the new Administration and the Prime Minister will be judged is this: having been given this opportunity, what does he intend to use it for? We now have the curious spectacle of a Government and an official Opposition who have abandoned their previous creeds—Thatcherism and socialism, respectively—because those creeds made them unelectable, but each has yet to find anything appropriate to replace them.
The Government tells us—it was at the centre of the Prime Minister's speech—that their big idea is opportunity. If that is proved to be so, it is welcome, but we shall need more than words in a Gracious Speech to make that point. For millions in our country, opportunity has died rather than grown in the past 13 years. Where is the opportunity for those in rural areas who have seen their public transport vanish with the privatisation of the bus service? Where are the opportunities for poor students who have seen loans and cutbacks put higher education beyond their reach? Where are the opportunities for the young who crowd into our surgeries looking for homes that the Government have refused to allow councils to build for them? Where are the opportunities for those who live in squalor in our tumbledown inner cities which the Government promised to put right, just as they do now, but then forgot? Where are the opportunities for those who rely on our education system to provide them with escape routes but who now see that system increasingly demoralised, confused and underfunded? If the Government are really to live up to the Prime Minister's rhetoric, and the words in the speech, they will get a genuine welcome from the Liberal Democrats.
I see little or no sign of such a change in the Queen's Speech. Indeed, such signs as there are seem to point in the opposite direction. In the past the Prime Minister has said:
Nothing is more important than education to ensure all our young people have the opportunities they deserve".
I agree, but what does he intend to do about it?
In the Gracious Speech it was said that the Government would raise standards in education, but those are empty words unless the Government are prepared to increase investment in education—which, as a percentage of national wealth, has declined rather than increased over the past 13 years. If the Government are serious about those words, we must ask whether the process will be reversed. It seems that it will not. Indeed, quite the opposite: the election was only a few weeks ago, but already a new round of education cuts has begun. Many councils are now leaving teaching posts unfilled, and others are cutting staff. Her Majesty's inspectors of schools now estimate that nearly half our schools are using inappropriate buildings. In a recent report the Audit Commission tells us that there are £4 billion worth of repairs outstanding to the fabric of our educational institutions, and that after 13 years of Conservative Government one third of all lessons are still unsatisfactory.
I have looked in vain in the Government's programme in the Gracious Speech for a commitment to tackling the problems of underinvestment which blight the opportunities of so many of our children. All that I have seen has been more educational dogma of the sort that has created such damaging innovation fatigue in education over the past 13 years. Now that appears to be spiced with a little personal neo-Victorianism from the new Secretary of State for Education. That will not bring opportunities to education; all that it will bring is more confusion, uncertainty and disruption—and fewer chances and opportunities for those who pass through our education system.
The Prime Minister spoke of opting out and of grant-maintained schools, but neither he nor the Government have answered the question about their long-term aim for grant-maintained schools: do the Government want all schools to opt out?
Indeed, will the Government allow all schools to opt out? The latest information is that opting out is such a good idea that some people will be refused access to it—that some schools will not be allowed to opt out. If all schools are to be allowed grant-maintained status the Prime Minister must tell the House where the extra funding will come from. If that is not to be allowed, is it not true that the Prime Minister's "Opportunity Britain" will tolerate—indeed, will create—a two-tier education system? Those questions must be answered before we know about the progress of the Government's programme.
I fear for much in Britain under this Government. I fear for the cohesion of our social structure, and for the underfunded national health service. I fear that we shall not do what is necessary to put the economy really right in the long term. But most of all, I fear for our education system under this Government. I do not believe that the Government understand what education is about, or the vital importance of investing in education now, for the nation's future.
The right hon. Gentleman has twice criticised the Government for cuts in education spending. I wish that he would check the record. If he did, he would find that since the Government came to power in 1979, spending per pupil—which is what really counts—has increased by 50 per cent. in real terms. Will the right hon. Gentleman please check the record before making such statements?
I take the point, but I make the opposite point to that made by the hon. Gentleman, whom I know to be a reasonable man. Does he recognise that, whereas every other advanced nation has increased the percentage of national wealth invested in education in the past 10 years, ours has been decreased? If the situation is as the hon. Gentleman describes it. how is it that council after council, including my own in Somerset which strives for the best education in the county that it can—I may disagree with its political colour, but I know that it genuinely strives for that—is having to leave teaching posts unfilled? How can that be so if the situation is as good as the hon. Gentleman suggests?
The immediate test that the Government face is the economic test. Some say that the economy is at last pulling out of recession. I hope so. I fear that that will not be of much comfort or immediate assistance to those who have lost their jobs or are in danger of losing them in the near future. Was the Prime Minister wise to sound quite so triumphalist about that in his recent speech to the Institute of Directors? The Prime Minister may deny that. As an event, the speech seemed to have all the razzmatazz of an election rally—a kind of rich man's Sheffield after the event. I believe that the Prime Minister's speech on that occasion will be a rich mine for quotations in the months and weeks ahead as we see how the economy develops. The Prime Minister has grabbed his success slightly before it is firm in his hands or established in recovery.
Indeed. George Younger himself showed a rather clearer and more balanced approach than the Prime Minister did with his euphoria today. The Prime Minister seemed to imply in his speech that Britain's problems were now solved, that the rest of the world was making a path to our door and that there were only sunlit uplands ahead. If that is the Government's attitude, I must say to the Prime Minister that I believe it to be dangerously complacent.
Even if the recession is over—and many business people are far from convinced of that—the underlying weaknesses in our economy persist and it will require sustained and effective Government action to put them right.
I will come to that in a moment.
The recent decline in inflation, culminating in yesterday's desperately needed interest rate reduction, is welcome, even if the process of gettitng there has cost the country so much in jobs, in business failures and in personal misery. If all that pain is not to be wasted, we need policies for sustained low inflation and stable low interest rates. That requires three actions: first, and most immediately, a move to the narrow band of the European monetary system; secondly, a commitment to establish the operational independence of the Bank of England; and, thirdly, ditching the unnecessary and damaging opt-out clause on our entry into the European monetary union. I see no commitment to any of those actions in the Government's programme. Unless the Prime Minister and the Government make those changes, Britain will be condemned in the years ahead, even if there is a recovery now, to plunge once again around the back-breaking cycle of boom and bust which we have experienced twice under this Government—once under the Prime Minister's premiership and chancellorship.
I also see no commitment to the steps that are needed massively to increase competition in our economy, further to stimulate enterprise, to create greater flexibility in the labour market or to give employees a greater stake in the firms for which they work.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He has just clearly advocated our membership of the exchange rate mechanism, and has urged the House and the Government to go into the narrow band. Does he accept that the ERM is both an advantage and a disadvantage? If Germany, through its powerful currency, continues to use only high interest rates rather than increasing taxation in Germany to solve its reunification problem, we shall have growing problems within Europe as a whole and in this country in particular. Will the right hon. Gentleman urge the Chancellor of Germany to increase taxes to contribute to the solution of that country's problems?
The hon. Gentleman gives a very partial view. Anything that one does has advantages and disadvantages. The huge advantage of the ERM and the reason why we should stay in it—and, in my view, move to the narrow band—is that it has imposed disciplines that Britain has dodged for 40 years concerning wage rises and their impact on unemployment. There is now no realistic mechanism for dodging those disciplines. If Britain chose a way out of the ERM and its disciplines, the initial consequence might well be a short-term boost to the economy, but the inevitable long-term consequence would be not lower but higher unemployment.
We might also look in the Queen's Speech, which is supposed to be about opportunity, for some sign of opportunities for women—a reversal in the Government's policies on child benefit, perhaps, or the expansion of nursery provision—but there is no sign of those either. We might look for something giving opportunities to the ethnic minorities, but all that there is, in a year when the number of people applying for asylum has dropped by more than half, is a commitment to the return of the Asylum Bill, one of the worst and most discredited Bills of the last Parliament which—despite Labour's retreats in Committee—will be racist in its outcome even if it is not intended to be racist in its framework.
The Gracious Speech—the Government's programme—speaks of opportunity, but the Government's actions seem to me designed to continue to close opportunities off, as they have regularly been closed off during 13 years of Conservative government in Britain.
There are two external matters that the Government must address this year—the first is Europe and the second is the Brazil earth summit. The Government will know our view on Europe—a divided party and a confused policy drawn up a year ago, more in pursuit of unity in the Conservative party than in the best interests of Britain. Now the Government have their mandate, they can put internal party manoeuvring behind them.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I should like to continue for a while as I want to give other hon. Members the opportunity to speak.
Britain takes over the presidency of Europe at a crucial time, with many European countries facing internal difficulties and many European institutions facing self-doubt. It would be very easy indeed for Europe to lose momentum at this stage. Perhaps that is what some in the Conservative party want—and many in the Labour party, too—but I hope that the Prime Minister will realise that Europe cannot stand still: if it does not go forwards, it will begin to go backwards, and a Community in retreat would be a Community that had dangerously lost its way just when leadership was much needed in an increasingly turbulent and troubled continent. I urge the Prime Minister to combine his courage with what I believe are his true convictions and give a strong lead in Europe, ignoring the voices of his own party and showing that Britain does not have to lag behind in Europe but can give a lead in Europe.
In particular, I urge the Prime Minister to get rid of the opt-out on the social chapter. There is now a new and growing understanding in Europe of the undesirability of recreating, at European level, the old corporatist industrial structures and attitudes that we in Britain got rid of in the 1980s. Britain has a real chance to influence the social chapter in favour of liberal markets, a more flexible approach to employees' rights and a more flexible labour market. I hope that the Prime Minister will take that chance, which is a considerable one for him and for Europe.
We also hear that the Government are at last prepared to consider voting reform for the next European election. Let us be clear that it is one thing for the House to be distorted in its representation by our voting system but quite another to unbalance the make-up of the European Parliament because we alone insist that our system must not be proportional. Unless the Government are prepared to give the people of Britain the same fair voting system for elections to the European Parliament that every other European citizen enjoys, their claims to be the Government of the citizen will be exposed as fraudulent. I hope that the Prime Minister will tackle that as well.
We hope and expect that the Government will take a lead at the earth summit in Brazil. Regrettably, the environment was barely mentioned during the general election, but it is one of the greatest challenges that mankind faces. I applaud the Government's recent, if belated, decision to reduce the period within which we stabilise carbon dioxide emissions, but the target that the Government have chosen is inadequate in the face of the urgency of the problem and still leaves Britain well behind other advanced nations. It is extremely depressing that the commitment to a powerful environmental protection agency, which was given by the Prime Minister and was promised in the recent Conservative party manifesto, finds no place in the Queen's Speech.
Why does the list of things to which aid might be linked not include progress in environmental areas as well as in economic and human rights areas? I cannot see how the Government can claim credentials on environment matters when they duck every tough decision that they have to take in that area.
There are welcome items in the Queen's Speech, but by and large they are small items. I greatly welcome the Prime Minister's agreement to acknowledge the existence of MI6. However, the public acknowledgement of something about which the nation was aware previously is a small item. It would have been a big item if the security services were made accountable to the scrutiny of a Select Committee of Privy Councillors in this House. If the Prime Minister really wants open government in this country, it would have been a big item to ensure that we at last had a freedom of information Bill, but there is no sign of that in the Queen's Speech.
There are other points about the tone of the Gracious Speech. It was inconceivable under the Prime Minister's predecessor that the Government's programme would have included a celebration of a visit by Her Majesty to the European Parliament or a statement in favour of rail transport.
We welcome the Government's commitment to increase rail use and to give private services access to the British Rail network provided that the profits from that are ploughed back into the rail system. We also welcome the citizens charter proposals to make the public service more responsive to the consumer, provided that they are matched by a commitment to invest in public services to improve quality for the consumer.
Behind all that, however, there is no evidence of a Government with a clear set of new ideas for our country. Instead, I see a Government who intend to stumble on after an election that they did not expect to win. We are told that this is to be a Government of opportunity. Britain needs a Government committed to widening opportunity and to providing escape routes for those who are trapped, but that would require investment in education and a commitment to housing. It would require giving greater chances to employees to share in the ownership and success of their jobs. It would require a new boost for individual enterprise and a programme to create greater flexibility in the labour market. It would require giving new chances to women, to ethnic minorities, to the poor and to the trapped. None of that is visible in the Government's programme in the Gracious Speech.
I fear that the Gracious Speech shows all too clearly that the Prime Minister was as surprised by his election victory as were many other people. Having obtained his mandate and opportunity, he has yet to propose a clear idea of how he intends to use it. I am reminded of the famous words of Winston Churchill who, when asked what he thought of a pudding, said, "It has no theme". Nor have the Government.
I should like to thank you, Madam Speaker, for calling me at this early stage in the first debate that you are chairing as Speaker. I hope that I shall be equally fortunate in future in what I hope will be a long and which I know will be a distinguished Speakership.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) on their excellent speeches in proposing and seconding the Loyal Address. I remember the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley in 1979 about the balance between sycophancy and rebellion. He seems to have managed to achieve that balance very well immediately after 1979, and I hope that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling will be equally successful in that respect in the next 13 years.
I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on leading the Conservative party to a fourth consecutive general election victory. Much of the credit for that victory belongs to my right hon. Friend, whose calm, quiet but firm leadership was in tune with the times and whose hopes and aspirations for the future were in line with those of the people of this country. My right hon. Friend now has a mandate in his own right: he can be his own man, and I believe that he will be his own man.
It is as well to remember that many people voted for other than Conservative candidates in the general election. The Conservative party polled more than 42 per cent. of the popular vote, and, in my view, that means that the Government should proceed with caution and restraint over the next few years.
In his first major speech after again becoming Prime Minister in 1951, Winston Churchill said:
What the nation needs is several years of quiet, steady administration, if only to allow Socialist legislation to reach its full fruition."—[Official Report, 6 November 1951; Vol. 493, c. 68.]
Fortunately, we have had no socialist legislation since 1979, but we have had a great deal of reforming legislation in the past 13 years, particularly in the past five years, and it needs time to reach its full fruition. I am thinking particularly of the health and education reforms. With the return of a Conservative Government, the threat of reversing those reforms has now been removed. The aim in this Parliament should be to consolidate them.
I did not say that.
I welcome very much the fact that the Gracious Speech does not outline too heavy a programme of radical legislation. No doubt there will be sufficient in the Gracious Speech to keep the House busy, but not too busy to prevent it from spending more time debating the broader issues of foreign and domestic policy, which are of much greater significance to the future of this country than much of the legislation that passes through the House.
The most important legislation which the House will consider in the coming Session is the Bill to implement the Maastricht agreement. As a passionate believer in the European Community, I welcome that legislation as a further step toward the strengthening of the Community. The Maastricht agreement confirmed the commitment in the treaty of Rome to
an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe",
but, significantly, it added
where decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizens",
thus incorporating the principle of subsidiarity into Community legislation and practice. It is a principle that is widely accepted throughout the Community. It makes it clear that greater unity does not necessarily mean greater centralisation.
The Maastricht agreement also extends the legislative role of the European Parliament. I have never understood the attitude of opponents of membership of the European Community who criticise its lack of democratic accountability but, at the same time, are opposed to strengthening the European Parliament. Elected Parliaments are surely about democracy or they are about nothing. I understand that the Maastricht legislation will be introduced in the near future. I hope that it will have a trouble-free and speedy passage through the House, particularly as it will either immediately precede or coincide with Britain's presidency of the European Community.
Although Britain is not committed to joining a single currency under the Maastricht agreement, it is obviously desirable that we should do so. If we are able to do so, it is essential that our balance of payments problem should be resolved as quickly as possible. The current account of our balance of payments has now been in deficit for more than five years. The deficit peaked at more than £20 billion in 1989. It is estimated at £6·5 billion for this year. Although that is an improvement on 1989, it would be wrong to conclude that we can sit back and assume that the balance of payments will right itself in the next few years.
During the past three years economic growth has been strongly braked back. The economy has been in recession. In a recession the current account of the balance of payments improves. Imports of raw materials and manufactured goods fall, or at least stop rising. Firms with short domestic order books are forced to be more active in export markets—no bad thing in itself—and exports rise. Lower imports and higher exports combine to reflect a smaller deficit, or even a small surplus, but as soon as the economy starts to expand again the process goes into reverse. That has happened too often in the past to assume that it will not happen again this time. On top of that there is the fact that, although the reduction in the deficit is welcome, the deficit is still too large for an economy which is in recession.
The length of time that our current account has been in deficit and the size of the deficits suggest that there is something fundamentally wrong with the exchange rate and that the value of sterling is too high in relation to other currencies. As a consequence, British exports are dearer than they should be and therefore more difficult to sell overseas, while imports are cheaper than they should be and therefore easier to sell in this country.
In such circumstances, a downward adjustment in the value of sterling is both necessary and desirable. Of course, we are now in the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system and our freedom of manoeuvre is limited. I have supported British membership of the ERM for many years and I was delighted when we joined in 1990 when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Membership means that, for 60 per cent. of our trade, British importers and exporters enjoy the advantage of reasonably stable exchange rates. Importers know what they will pay and exporters know what they will be paid.
That is particularly advantageous for the manufacturing sector. Membership of the ERM is also an important tool in the battle against inflation. It is not just coincidental that the breakdown of the Bretton Woods regime of fixed exchange rates was followed by galloping inflation in Britain and elsewhere.
As one strongly committed to British membership of the ERM, I have no desire to undermine it, but it would have been strange if Britain had joined at exactly the right rate for sterling. Given the size and nature of our current account deficit, there is a strong case for an adjustment in the value of sterling within the mechanism. It would have to be a one-off adjustment. It would have to be made clear that it would not be repeated. Therefore, there would be no reason for anyone to believe that the discipline of the ERM would be undermined.
The adjustment would aim to ensure that sterling was at a level at which the current account of our balance of payments would be in balance in an average year. British exporters and importers would enjoy the advantages of stable exchange rates in their trade with other European countries. Britain would enjoy the benefits of the anti-inflationary discipline of sterling fixed in the ERM. British interest rates could be lower because they would no longer be required to maintain sterling at an artificially high level. The economic prospects for Britain would be set fair for the next few years. We would be in a strong position to join a single currency later this decade.
I would like to touch on one other subject for a few moments—the situation in Scotland. I was pleased that the Conservative party did better than anticipated in the general election in Scotland and that it improved its position compared to 1987. But it got only 25 per cent. of the popular vote, and there is no point in pretending that it was other than a bad result. Although disproportionately large sums of central Government money have been and are being spent in Scotland, there is a great deal of evidence to show that the Government are out of touch with the mood of the Scottish people. Therefore, there is no room for complacency in the Conservative party about Scotland.
Obviously, the election result does not mean that the Government have no right to govern Scotland, any more than the failure of the Labour Governments of 1964 and 1974 to gain more votes in England deprived them of the right to govern England. It is as well to remember that we are still a united kingdom and that all the parties in this House, except for the nationalists, are committed to the Union. Although the Government have a right to govern Scotland, I hope that they will try to understand and respond to the hopes, aspirations and fears of the Scottish people.
I welcome the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this afternoon, but I ask the Government to look again at the question of devolution. I supported the Labour Government's devolution proposals in the 1970s and I have never regretted doing so. I am worried that, if the Government continue to ignore the desire of the Scottish people to have a greater say over their own internal affairs, we may end up with a much more serious problem than we have now. Far from undermining the Union, devolution to Scotland would strengthen it. If the principle of subsidiarity is right for Britain in the European Community, surely it is also right for Scotland within the United Kingdom.
Secondly, I give my thanks and those of my constituents to my predecessor, Sir Patrick Duffy, who as Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe from 1970 was recognised for his diligence on behalf of his constituents and for his expertise, in particular, on defence matters. He was an Under-Secretary of State for Defence for three years during the 1970s, and afterwards he was the President of the North Atlantic Assembly where he did an excellent job ably. During my time as a candidate in the constituency I learned from many of my now constituents of the work that Sir Patrick did on their behalf, and the respect and esteem in which he was held. I am sure that it is right for me today to place that firmly on the record.
Thirdly, I thank my constituents for placing their confidence in me by electing me as their Member of Parliament. I want to serve all their individual interests, but there are also matters of particular and general concern to my constituency to which I shall refer this afternoon and which I hope to pursue in my time in the House.
My constituency is a diverse one. The name Attercliffe comes from the old, industrial part of the constituency, which was the heart of our nation's steel and engineering industry. Unfortunately, that heart is a little smaller than it was and beats a little more slowly than it did; yet it remains an important part of British industry. Unfortunately, unemployment in the constituency has risen two and a half times in the past 20 years. That is of considerable concern. I am determined to direct my efforts towards working with the city council and local industry, which have formed a partnership, to address in particular the twin problems of long-term and youth unemployment.
Workers in Sheffield are proud of their skills, traditions and good industrial relations. It is a tragedy that people who for years and generations used their skills to turn the scrap of this nation into steel and engineering products now see themselves consigned to the industrial scrap heap through unemployment. That cannot be tolerated. It is ironic that, as I begin a new life and career in this House at the age of 42, some of my constituents of the same age fear that they will never work again.
In addition to the old industrial part of my constituency, there are new areas of growth which almost comprise a new town in themselves. There are areas of new housing and young families where education is a key priority. My constituents desire an education service that is comprehensive, integrated and free at the point of delivery. If equality of opportunity and an equal start in life for the children of my constituents are to be a reality, educational opportunity must be available from the age of three, not five. I shall strive to achieve the development and advancement of comprehensive nursery education provision for all who want it.
The growth in new housing by and large is in housing for sale. It is right that people who choose and can afford to have a home of their own should be able to buy, but many people cannot afford to buy or choose not to buy and for them there must be the opportunity of a home for rent. In Sheffield we have a unique partnership scheme with private developers, housing associations and the local authority working together. I hope that I can continue to support and help that development which provides homes for rent for those who cannot afford any other form of home, while recognising the right of everyone, whatever his or her circumstances, to a decent home.
The issues of housing and education are important elements in local government and with my background I must recognise that. Local government is not just a provider of a whole variety of important services. From time to time, I shall undoubtedly draw attention in the House to the poor revenue support grant that the city of Sheffield gets. Opposition to the low amount of grant has come from all political parties on Sheffield city council together with the chamber of commerce. No doubt I shall return to that in future.
Just as I believe that local government services are important, I believe in the principle of local democracy, local accountability and subsidiarity. The best government for our people is conducted as close as possible to those who are governed. We in this House should recognise that the principle and value of local democracy is an important counterforce to the extremes of centralisation. I hope to argue that case in future.
In addition, the work of our local councils is of value and importance. People do not simply make a sacrifice on a voluntary basis for nothing. Many of our local councillors give up their time and that of their families on behalf of their constituencies and councils in the furtherance of local democracy and the pursuance of services. Often that effort and contribution goes unrewarded and unrecognised. I hope to return to that issue, which is of great importance.
Finally, I turn to two different issues which affect different members of my constituency. The first is Kashmir. Many of my constituents and their families originated in Kashmir. It is right that the House should place on record its concern about the atrocities, violence and confusion in countries such as Yugoslavia and the various states into which in the past few months it has broken up. It is right that we have condemned the atrocities and supported the principle of self-determination. Many of my constituents have relatives in Kashmir who fear for their lives. My constituents are worried about the atrocities and the abuses of civil rights there. I hope that we can have a debate on how to deal with that, so that we can place on the record our concern about those problems, and I hope that we can eventually return to the United Nations resolution passed more than 40 years ago that Kashmir should also have the right to self-determination.
You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may not know that I am a member of the most exclusive club in the House of Commons. Its president is my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley); the chief supporters are my hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) and for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie); and the team manager is my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton). I refer to the House of Commons Sheffield Wednesday supporters club and wish to be the first hon. Member to place on record my congratulations to Sheffield Wednesday on bringing European football to Sheffield for the first time in 20 years.
As I wish to offend neither my constituents nor my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), may I also place on record my appreciation of Sheffield United's rapid rise up the table in the second half of the season. I look forward to renewed duals between the teams in the Premier League next season.
On a more serious note, I was unfortunately present on that terrible day when the disaster occurred at Hillsborough. I recognise the important work carried out and proposals made by the Taylor inquiry. I also recognise that in football, as in so many other matters that will come before the House in the next few years, we must have regard to proposals that are made in Europe. Nevertheless, if we are serious about taking account of consumers' views, the views of football supporters must also be considered when the House looks at the final proposals for football ground safety.
I was pleased that the new Secretary of State for National Heritage said the other day that he was willing to listen again to arguments, especially on all-seater stadiums, about which I have serious doubts. I shall wish to return to that issue in the future.
I conclude my first contribution in the House with those comments, as that issue consumes most of my time outside the House. I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for letting me catch your eye, and hon. Members for their courtesy in listening to me.
I, too, congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your elevation to high office. I hope that your burden will be lighter as a result of the private Bill reforms that were passed in the last Parliament.
I also have enormous pleasure in congratulating the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts). His predecessor, Sir Patrick Duffy, and I entered the House together 28 years ago. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that all his colleagues felt great affection for him. The hon. Gentleman's speech has shown that his constituency of Attercliffe has chosen a worthy successor. Having listened to his remarks, I hope that we shall hear plenty more from him in the years ahead.
It is clear from the Gracious Speech that much of this Session will be devoted to matters relating to Europe. Indeed, Her Majesty said that not only will legislation be introduced but that she will visit many of the major European countries during the next year. Europe is now suffering grave political instability, partly because old regimes are coming under new pressures—I am thinking particularly of Germany—and partly because other countries, such as our French neighbours, have found that the operation of their socialist Administrations have caused great economic difficulties. The fact that the last Prime Minister of France, Mrs. Edith Cresson, lasted only 10 months is evidence of that. Belgium has a deep political problem, with the old difficulties between the Flemish and Walloons re-emerging once again, and Italy has just had another general election.
It is therefore extremely important that the House looks carefully at every step on the way to further European integration. It might not be unreasonable to suggest that, given the changes that have taken place in the past three years, the whole concept needs to go back to the drawing board. The Europe of today grew out of the concept of Mr. Monnet's idea of a balanced community—states of approximately the same political and economic weight. However, the re-emergence of a united Germany has clearly upset that balance. One day, Germany will not only be the largest member state, but will probably have the strongest economy and currency.
The Gracious Speech says:
My Government will pursue, within the framework of the exchange rate mechanism, firm financial policies designed to achieve price stability and maintain the conditions necessary for sustained growth.
I recognise that that will be an extremely difficult task. We are currently members of an exchange rate mechanism in which the bench-mark currency is that of one of the countries in the greatest difficulty. It could be argued that the concept of choosing the deutschmark as the bench-mark currency should be reviewed and that we should not always be left with the same single European currency.
Mr. Delors has chosen this time of imbalance to escalate the argument for creating within Europe a separate European Government. I believe that most hon. Members would reject that concept. I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox), because he is committed to the concept of a united Europe. Too many hon. Members, because they consider themselves "bien passant" with the concept of Europe—they have exchanges with friends in Europe and go there for their holidays—seem to believe that Europe is one country. It most certainly is not. As I explained in my speech on the Loyal Address last year, I have a home in Europe and many friends tell me of their worries and problems. Listening to their concerns, I realise that Europe is not one happy family but a group of countries, each with its own aspirations and determined to get the best possible deal for itself. Our future lies within that concept of what General de Gaulle described as "Europe des patries".
Later in the Gracious Speech I note a reference to the Maastricht treaty and I recognise how careful we must be in our approach to that legislation. Many people in Europe are nervous about the Maastricht treaty. People in France, Germany and elsewhere are far from satisfied that we should proceed in that way. After all, we talk about the convergence of economies. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in a brilliant speech earlier, spoke of his hopes for the widening of the Community and the new countries that might join by the turn of the century. But if we are to have that convergence of economies hinted at in the Maastricht treaty, we must be frank and admit that substantial amounts of money will have to be paid by the richer countries to the poorer countries in Europe to bring about that convergence.
The people of this country have still not fully understood what that real convergence could mean and the price that would have to be paid. Without that convergence, the concept of a single currency is meaningless. I do not believe that that convergence is possible and, therefore, I do not believe that the single currency will follow. The single currency would not be in the best interests of the people of Europe.
Of course, I understand the argument advanced that it would be convenient for business people to be able to move around within the Community without having to change their money from one currency to another. That is a matter of great importance, and I believe that the British Government's concept of the hard ecu is better than the notion of a single currency operated from a single, central bank somewhere in Europe, which removes this country's ability to manage its own affairs. People used to laugh at the words, "loss of sovereignty", but if we cannot issue our own money, we have no control over our destiny. I cannot believe that it is right to adopt that approach without seriously considering what we are doing.
I listened to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and was as confused by him today as I was during our last debate on the Gracious Speech. He talked about joining the 2·5 per cent. band of the exchange rate mechanism in one breath and of reducing interest rates in the next. Does he not realise that the straitjacket of the 2·5 per cent. band would have made even the modest reduction in interest rates announced by the Chancellor yesterday almost impossible? We need the freedom of the 6 per cent. band if we are to be able to take the actions necessary to bring this country and others in the Community out of international recession. While we may be devoting much time to Europe in the next 16 to 18 months, there is no doubt that we need to proceed with great caution.
The Gracious Speech also stated:
Legislation will be presented to facilitate the work of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions.
No one could be more anxious than me for a swift conclusion to the commissioners' suggestions based on commonsense solutions. But I shall mention a matter affecting my district. Part of my constituency includes the perambulation of the Crown lands of the New Forest. It is perhaps appropriate to mention that today, the day on which Her Majesty read her speech from the Throne.
Those Crown lands are what most people would call the New Forest. They have always been retained in one constituency, as that gives the Member of Parliament for that constituency—of whichever party—the opportunity to argue and negotiate with Ministers about the help required to protect that unique national heritage.
In 1983 the parliamentary commissioners reconsidered the demography of the district and, as a result, decided to make alterations to the constituency boundary affecting that perambulation. As a result of evidence that I gave to a local inquiry, the commissioners' report, Cmnd Paper 8797—1 of February 1983, concluded:
The assistant Commissioner accepted that the whole of the historic area of the New Forest should be within one constituency.
On 6 February 1992 the boundary commissioners published proposals for the parliamentary constituency boundaries in Berkshire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. In those more recent proposals—to which the passage in the Gracious Speech refers—they go back on their word and divide the perambulation into two seats.
I have nothing against the concept of two constituencies in that part of Hampshire, based largely on population. However, it is ironic that the Isle of Wight, which has 101,000 electors, is not being touched—I shall put that matter to one side. But if we are to facilitate the boundary commissioners' actions, we must hope that the legislation contains a clause to ensure that the commissioners stick to the guidelines to which they agreed in 1983 and which were based on community interest, rather than divide a region of such national and international importance between two parts of the parliamentary system.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is coming to the New Forest on Monday to participate in the opening of a new committee designed to help protect the district—the New Forest committee—which will ultimately have statutory powers. Its headquarters will be in Lyndhurst which is regarded as the capital of the forest but, if the proposals are accepted, the rest of the Crown lands would come under another constituency.
The Gracious Speech has set out an exciting programme for this Session of Parliament. Many matters to which we shall return are part of the heritage that this Government have inherited from their predecessors. For the past 13 years we have mapped out a road for Britain—rolling back the frontiers of state monopoly and control, and giving freedom to our citizens. The result of the general election is clear in that it shows that the people of this country broadly suppport those objectives. I warmly welcome the Gracious Speech.
May I first congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment to high office. I am sure that in the years ahead you will play a full part in ensuring fair and effective debates in the House.
The Gracious Speech contains a number of items with which I agree, such as the measure relating to terrorism and drugs. However, there are quite a number of items which I would rather had been left out. I particularly resent the further attack on the trade union movement contained on page 3, where it states:
A Bill will be introduced to improve further the law on industrial relations.
That is a further attempt to weaken organised labour in this country.
The second item on page 3 states that the coal industry is to be privatised. The Conservative party won the general election and some might say that it is perhaps to be expected that the Conservative Government will turn the heat on their traditional enemy—the miner. The immediate post-war Attlee Government nationalised coal mines in 1947. Owing to the failure of previous coal owners to invest in the industry, that measure was long overdue. It was intended to bring harmony where bitterness and long-standing grievances prevailed, and was not without success. There was much modernisation of the industry, greater efficiency, and, until recent years, better industrial relations.
I am sure that privatisation will result in many pit closures and thousands of job losses. As the Rothschild report and others made clear, the industry in south Wales is already just about wiped out. It was not so long ago that we had pits in abundance in south Wales.
The mining valleys of south Wales have long provided a great sense of community, but mining is a hazardous and arduous occupation and there are many who will not regret its passing. Nevertheless, the Government are being short-sighted. Coal is a vital part of our indigenous resources. Admittedly, the seams may now be a little more difficult to work, but we have hundreds of years of supply under our feet. As an industrial nation we need large supplies of energy, and to rely increasingly on imports is not very wise. The price of those imports will invariably rise and eventually we could be held to ransom. The increased financial burden will have a grievous effect on our already worrying balance of payments.
North sea oil is in decline. From experience we know that imports of oil from the middle east can be problematic, not to mention the associated massive price variations. Nuclear energy, as a source of fuel for civilian purposes, has proved a disaster financially and is highly questionable from an environment point of view.
Over the years, despite the many pit closures and the general rundown of the industry, the old coal owners continued to extract their pound of flesh in compensation payments, which certainly had a gravely detrimental effect on the finances of the old national coal board. Ironically, under the Government's new plans, it will inevitably be the taxpayer who will bear the brunt of the burden of the future rundown of the industry. I refer to historical liabilities for subsidence, pit closure costs, concessionary coal for retired miners and their dependants, and pension payments. The Government's plans are misguided and short-sighted, and they should think again.
As for economic policy as set out in the Queen's Speech, I must point out that Britain has legions of unemployed people. Month after month the total increases. Like a tap left running, unemployment is waste. The cost in financial terms is tragic enough, but the social and human costs are of even greater consequence. Unemployment plays its part in the ever-escalating divorce rates, in child abuse and child neglect, in wife battering and even in death rates, which have been proved to be directly related to unemployment in certain areas.
Any person or organisation suggesting that the mounting crime rate has little to do with unemployment needs to think again. The return of full employment should be a principal objective of every major political party. It is no longer the down and outs who are the unemployed, or the unskilled labourers. People of all classes are becoming increasingly subject to the fear of unemployment and the personal and family problems that it unleashes.
The economist Keynes is back in vogue: we need to stimulate demand and to build up our industrial capacity to meet that demand.
The EC surely has a vested interest in drastically reducing unemployment. Our chronic balance of payments deficit shows that the exchange rate is out of line. Other countries seem to be in the same boat as ourselves vis-a-vis Germany. If the problem is not tackled, social tensions could arise throughout Europe. Extremism will come to the fore as it did in the 1930s, and the recent events in Los Angeles and other American cities give grave cause for concern.
If we do not realise the folly of present policies, the tragedy waiting to happen will be on our very doorstep. The Prime Minister has given us his text—a nation at ease with itself. How can it be, given mass unemployment? It is a contradiction in terms. The proposals in the Gracious Speech will certainly not solve this great problem.
The Gracious Speech does not mention the reorganisation of local government in Wales. Perhaps that is included in
Other measures will be laid before you";
but there is a good deal of anxiety in Wales about this matter. The reform of local government in Wales has quite a history. In the late 1960s the Labour party had a good plan for reorganisation. It was based largely on the two-tier principle, but with an amalgamation of many of the smaller urban and rural authorities. The counties would have remained. At the same time, the plans realised the benefits of unitary authorities, and Cardiff, Swansea and Newport would have retained county borough status.
Unfortunately, the plan did not see the light of day in parliamentary legislation. The then Secretary of State for Wales, now Viscount Tonypandy, was prevailed upon by his Cabinet colleagues to wait for the Redcliffe-Maud report, which was in the process of deliberation. In the event, it was the Redcliffe-Maud recommendations that were largely implemented by the incoming Conservative Government of 1970—not only in Wales but in the rest of the country. The cost was astronomic, and I venture to suggest that at the end of it all we had a worse form of local government than before.
Now it seems that the process is to be gone through again. This time the Secretary of State for Wales has said that the system will be based on unitary authorities. In Newport we welcome the proposal that the borough council will be the sole unit of local government, for that is what the people of the town desire. Newport has the resources to carry out the necessary functions. I pay tribute, however, to Gwent county council, which has been an excellent local authority. It is served by good officers and staff and its elected members are of a high calibre.
I want to draw two aspects of local government reorganisation to the attention of the House. First, the power of local government has been eroded by central Government. The Government came badly unstuck over the poll tax, but the diktat of the Treasury now predominates. For example, schools are being encouraged to opt out although the costs involved are much higher than for local authority schools. Many other local government services are being handed over to private enterprise and a deterioration in services seems to be the hallmark of that development. The whole thrust of the Government's approach is detrimental to the interests of the people that local government serves. It undermines the whole principle of local democracy in Britain, which was once admired the world over.
I regret the absence from the Gracious Speech of any plan to create an elected assembly in Wales. With unitary authorities, some of them fairly small, the need for such an assembly is ever more pressing. What is happening in Wales is little short of colonial rule with the Secretary of State for Wales, who represents a Cheshire constituency, playing the part of Governor-General. Quangos proliferate and more seem to be in the pipeline. Their members are appointed by the Secretary of State and are responsible only to him. Wales needs a healthy dose of democracy, which an elected assembly would provide. I hope that during the Government's term of office the people of Wales will come to appreciate the need for an elected assembly to fill a vacuum that has existed for too long.
I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment to your high office. I am sure that you will order the business of the House in the best interests of every Member and that Back Benchers especially will have your protection. I think that we entered the House about the same time and have served for many years, although I have more grey hairs than you.
The penultimate paragraph of the Gracious Speech states:
In Northern Ireland, my Government will continue their efforts to eliminate terrorism through resolute enforcement of the law, combined with progressive economic, social and political policies. They will promote the re-establishment of stable institutions of government within a framework of positive relations with the Republic of Ireland.
I welcome that statement in the speech from the Throne and the fact that the Prime Minister has confirmed the Government's intention to be resolute in the elimination of terrorism. The House will be aware that there is a new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. When he arrived in our Province he said:
Terrorism will be defeated. We cannot tell when but the time will come when this evil will be ejected from our midst —pray God never to return … The entire Government from Prime Minister downwards is committed first and foremost to the defeat and elimination of terrorism from whichever quarter from within the community it may come.
Those are strong words and they are welcomed by the entire right-thinking community in Northern Ireland, but to give them validity there must be definite action. The spiral of appalling killings in the Province at the moment becomes more and more horrendous as 1992 advances. That demonstrates that the security policies of successive Governments have not succeeded.
Already this year 47 people have been killed. We are not yet half way through the year but that figure represents more than half the total number of people killed in the Province last year. Since the current violence began in 1969, 2,999 people have died in Ulster. Those are sobering figures. Last year, 86 people were killed. Not content with the bombing of military targets and police stations, the terrorists have gruesomely demonstrated their desire to murder civilians and security personnel to bring about their hideous objectives. There have been horrendous killings of innocent mothers and children and of people going about their normal business. Such a sad and terrible litany of killing and mayhem shows that the Government must put their resolution into action, and such action must be shown to be eliminating terrorism.
I look forward to a change in some of the security policies that have so evidently failed. The supply of oxygen must be taken from the terrorists so that at long last it will be made clear to them that men of violence have no place in our society and cannot achieve their goals. I remind the House that the Government submitted to those men of violence when they signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Concessions as a consequence of violence encourage greater violence. Sadly, we in Northern Ireland have reaped the whirlwind of the Government's concessions to violence.
As the House may know, talks about the future governance of the Province have recommenced. I am sure that the House wishes those who take part in the talks well. They will not be easy because there are many problems and difficulties. At the last meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference on 27 April, the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that Her Majesty's Government would
rise from the table still reaffirming that Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom as long as the majority living there wished it.
I welcome today's statement by the Prime Minister that he is prepared to defend the union of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. As that statement is implemented, it will go a long way towards showing the terrorists that they will not win. Two years ago the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said:
Although the constitutional question has often seemed central to matters in Northern Ireland, I turn to it now in the hope of putting it to one side. We regard the position as clear. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom in national and international law. It is part of the United Kingdom because that is the clear wish of the majority of people of Northern Ireland. There will be no change in the status of Northern Ireland unless or until the majority of people there want it. That seems unlikely for the foreseeable future. I believe that most people in this House, and I number myself among them, would wish to see the Union continue, but the principles of democracy and self-determination mean that the people of Northern Ireland must themselves be the final arbiters.
By virtue of its constitution the Republic of Ireland has since 1937 also claimed sovereignty over Northern Ireland. We do not accept or recognise that claim, which has no basis in our law or, equally important, in international law. That claim is, I know, seen by some in Northern Ireland, and in
other parts of this country, as a major stumbling block to the development of constructive relationships. I do not regard it as helpful."—[Official Report, 5 July 1990; Vol. 175, c. 1140.] I welcome that statement, and its reaffirmation by the new Secretary of State.
The House should be aware that when the talks were called an agenda was drawn up and agreed to by all the parties. The House will be aware also that there are three strands to the talks. The first strand is the constitutional politicians of Northern Ireland, the parties that they represent and the United Kingdom Government. The second strand is the constitutional representatives of Northern Ireland, Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland. It is to deal with the implications of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in regard to the relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic and the attempt that underlies the talks to get a new agreement to replace the former one.
I regret that southern Ireland has publicly acted in bad faith. On 27 April, after the most recent meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference, Mr. Andrews, the Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic, had this to say about the talks:
We come with our agenda, they come with their agenda and we discuss both agendas".
Yet all the parties to the talks had the agendas put before them and were asked to say yea or nay. Why does the Irish Republic want the change? Mr. Andrews said that the legal basis of Northern Ireland's constitutional position within the United Kingdom was the Government of Ireland Act 1920. He said that that Act must be put upon the table, as it were, and that it must be negotiable. He asserted that it was on a par with the claim that is set out in articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Republic's constitution that the Republic has jurisdiction over Northern Ireland as part of Her Majesty's kingdom.
As a representative of the people of Northern Ireland in the House, I wish to make it clear that the Government of Ireland Act is a legal Act under which Northern Ireland stands as part of the United Kingdom. It makes no claim against anybody's territory. It states simply that the six north-eastern counties of Ireland remain part of the United Kingdom. However, the Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic tells us that the Act is on a par with an illegal claim—not only is it illegal, it is immoral and criminal. Whenever an IRA man takes a gun and shoots a police officer, a soldier or a civilian he justifies that act by saying that he is trying to achieve the objective that is set out in the constitution.
The former Secretary of State said that the talks would take place
without the dilution of United Kingdom sovereignty on the status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) said:
the harsh reality is that whether or not Unionists have the academic right to a veto on Irish unity, they have it as a matter of fact based on numbers, geography and history and they have it in the exact same way as Greek or Turkish Cypriots have a factual veto on the exercise of self-determination on the island of Cyprus.
Yet the Foreign Minister of the Irish Republic, at this late stage, is prepared to impose another agenda, not agreed. I am glad that the Prime Minister said today that the Union is not negotiable. My hon. Friends and I, my colleague the leader of the Ulster Unionist party, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), and other Northern
Ireland Members on the Opposition Benches will not be at any table to negotiate the Union. That is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, and only for them. They spoke once again in the general election, and they spoke rightly. The House should examine the voting figures in Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland voted for Unionist candidates in a way that straddled the religious divide. Roman Catholics vote for the Union as well as do Protestants. That should be put firmly to the House.
I have taken the opportunity to put grave matters before the House so that hon. Members will be aware of the difficulties that we face in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, Members of both Unionist parties are determined to do their best at the talks, within the agenda that is agreed, to help to bring stable government to Northern Ireland, a fair and stable form of government which means that everyone who wants to live in peace and to exercise his civil and religious beliefs will find the fullest opportunity to do so. It is to that goal that we are dedicated.
I am concerned with two other matters that appear in the Queen's Speech. First, there is the proposed lottery Bill. My view about a national lottery is well known. I do not think that any Government should say that they cannot finance what needs to be financed without the turn of the wheel of fortune. I do not believe in that. I believe that the Government have a responsibility to find a way properly to finance the causes that need to be financed. I have made my position clear in the House before.
As for the Maastricht treaty, I was rather amused when the leader of the Liberal party said that we must all conforms to a single system of election in Europe. None of the European countries conforms to a single election system. For instance, I am elected to Strasbourg on the basis of a different system from that on which I am elected to the House. I am elected on the basis of STV. That stands not for Scottish television, but for "single transferable vote". People say that that is not a fair system; they say that there should be a list system, or a combination of constituency and list systems. Europe has not perfected its system. When it has produced the perfect system, then it will be time for us to follow the same route.
My views on Europe are also well known. I am greatly disturbed by what is proposed. I heard someone say in the House that the European Parliament should have greater authority, but the European Parliament is not like this Parliament. In that Parliament, we have no Executive, and no Government responsible to that Parliament. We have Mr. Delors, who thinks that he is the new Napoleon and that he will rule Europe by diktat.
Those of us who have sat in the Strasbourg Parliament —and I have sat there for 12 years—know that the system there is altogether different. There, we have no Government; we have no authority. All legislation in Europe emanates from the chosen few in the Commission. I see that Mr. Delors now wants to destroy the Council of Ministers as well. He will put his hand to anything to get his way. It is time for the House to say to Europe, "Set your house in order."
It would be a strange irony, would it not, if a referendum in the Irish Republic brought down the Maastricht treaty? If that happens, as it may well do, where will Maastricht be? It will be buried in a Sadducee's grave, from which there will be no resurrection.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech so early in the debate on the Gracious Speech. Let me take the opportunity also to congratulate you on your election.
First, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr. Allen McKay, who has retired after 14 years in the House. He was first elected in 1978 as the Member for Penistone, and from 1983 onwards represented Barnsley, West and Penistone. During his time in the House, Allen was a tireless fighter for his constituents. He set a high standard of representation, a standard that I intend to continue. He is well respected in the constituency, and by his former colleagues in the House. I am sure, therefore, that the House will want to wish him and his wife a long and happy retirement.
In view of the contents of the Gracious Speech, I now wish to deal with the problems that face many of my constituents. Since the early 1980s, my constituency has witnessed the closure of five collieries and two major workshops. The knock-on effect on the local engineering industry and on small business generally has been devastating. With little in the way of industrial diversification in the three Barnsley constituencies, we have lost about 20,000 pit jobs over the past decade. That does not take into account the multiplier effect on other industries. In the circumstances, the local authority has done well to hold the community together and to start to attract new industry to the town, but more needs to be done. The authority's efforts over the past few years have been set back greatly by the poll tax and the reduced grant allocation, and we now learn from the Gracious Speech that the Government are to privatise the deep coal mining industry. That is a retrograde step for mining communities, and for miners and their families.
Britain's mines were transformed by the credit of state backing after being rescued from neglect and brought into public ownership in 1947. Since the "Plan for Coal" in 1974, more than £12 billion has been invested in the mining industry. The industry went through a second technological revolution in the 1980s, and the miners have increased productivity from 2·4 tonnes per man shift in the early 1980s to an astounding 6·14 tonnes. That, by any measure, is an enormous increase.
That astounding record has been achieved through a combination of investment, skill and hard work. Now, the miners are to be rewarded bitterly for their pains, and private owners will gain the benefit of the enormous investment in the deep coal mining industry.
The recently published Rothschild report on the commercial viability of a privatised coal industry suggested that only a dozen or so pits would survive privatisation. That forecast, however, may well be optimistic. Some experts now predict that British Coal's next contract with the generators may leave room for only five or six pits. If that happens—as seems likely—Britain will become dependent on imported coal; it will increase its balance of payments commitment by roughly £3 billion per annum; we shall face increased energy insecurity: there will be an expansion of opencast mining; and we shall witness a vigorous "dash for gas". That is not good for Britain. Moreover, privatisation will, in my view, threaten good mining practice and health and safety standards. We need only look at the trend in the 160 or so private pits which already operate in Britain to see that that contention is supported.
Another point in the Gracious Speech gives me cause for concern, because it further threatens industrial democracy. I refer to the proposal for more industrial relations legislation—a euphemism for a further shackling of the trade unions. Over the past 13 years, there have been seven major pieces of such legislation. The trade unions have become the most tightly regulated voluntary bodies in British society. The record of the trade unions in Britain shows that they have done more than any other institution to improve the quality of life of working people. More legislation to restrict their activities will encourage unscrupulous employers to fragment the work force and push down pay and conditions. That will undermine attempts to establish Britain's competitive position as a producer of high quality goods.
I feel sure that the agricultural sector in my constituency will welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the proposed introduction of legislation to promote improvements in agricultural marketing.
It was with great disappointment that I noted no mention in the Gracious Speech of the Government's intention, in keeping with the recommendation of the Select Committee, to introduce legislation to guarantee a pension to the pensioners robbed by Robert Maxwell. In addition to the guarantee for the Maxwell pensioners, all pensioners need legislation to protect them. The fact that the trust law is insufficient has been shown clearly. It is a serious omission and one that I hope that the Government will look at closely with a view to introducing such legislation. I know, from looking at the Gracious Speech, that many of my constituents will be severely disappointed.
Before congratulating the hon. Member or Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) on his maiden speech, I wish to congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on assuming your new office as Deputy Speaker. I know that you were born and schooled in Bedfordshire and the entire county will be delighted. The Gracious Speech said that we will get a move on with changing the parliamentary boundaries. It could be that the county may be entitled to a sixth parliamentary seat. I am not saying that you will necessarily cross over from Northamptonshire, but one never knows how these matters will work out. I am sure that I speak for many in Bedfordshire when I congratulate you on your assumption to the Deputy Speakership.
It gives me great pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone on his maiden speech. The House greatly appreciated his tribute to Allen McKay and all that he did in the House, particularly the way in which he argued for the coal industry. We listened with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's comments on the coal industry. Speeches on the industy always strike a deep chord in the House and we look forward to hearing from the hon. Gentleman as the legislation on the future of the coal industry proceeds.
I noted with interest the hon. Gentleman's comments on the Government's plans for further reform of industrial relations. He said that the matter needed to be looked at carefully and I agree with him. There is an increasing management response to the legislation and we shall have to wait and see how it works out. As I have said, the hon. Gentleman's comments about industrial relations and the coal industry were appreciated by the House and we look forward to further contributions from him.
I welcome the tone of the Gracious Speech and the policy themes set out in it. I welcome the commitment to improving public services through the citizens charter and the commitment to raise standards at all levels of education. I especially welcome the part of the speech which says that the
Government are committed to increasing the role of the railways in meeting the country's transport needs.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman)—I believe that he is a neighbour of yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker—has been reconfirmed in his ministerial duties with responsibility for public transport and the railways. He will know of my interest in reopening the Dunstable to Luton line for passenger traffic. It is nice to know from the Gracious Speech that the role of the railways is to be given increasing importance in meeting the country's transport needs. Following from that is the commitment to introduce legislation to allow private sector money to become involved in running our railways. Anything that improves the quality of public services is to be welcomed and the Gracious Speech strikes the right chord there.
I wish to raise a matter of immediate concern to my constituents—it was touched on by the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone—and that is the future of the Maxwell pension fund. Mr. Maxwell owned Waterlowes printing plant in Dunstable and Sun printers in Watford. As a result, in my constituency there are a number of ex-employees and widows who are dependent on a Maxwell pension. Many have given a lifetime of skilled service to the printing industry. Some have been told that their pensions might not be paid after the end of May. That is causing immense anxiety and distress. I understand that there is to be a lobby of Parliament in early June and I hope that by then we may have heard about the Government's thinking on how to handle this distressing matter. If the present situation is not enough to worry about, some of my constituents have just received a note, with no explanation, saying that their Maxwell pension is now being paid not by the Maxwell Communication Corporation but by the Mirror group.
This entire wretched saga is the unacceptable face of capitalism writ large in Bedfordshire. There has been a history of industrial co-operation in my constituency and so many of my constituents have given a lifetime of service to the printing industry. I hope that the Government will make an early statement about what can be done to help people who, in good faith, put so much of their incomes into pensions and are now facing great anxiety.
I welcome yesterday's interest rate cut as a further step towards getting us out of recession and difficulty. However, as the Government recognise, it will not stop unemployment from continuing to rise in the immediate future. That puts an increasing burden on the training and enterprise councils as the number seeking training is bound to rise. Just before the election, the Government made the welcome announcement of additional funds to finance the introduction of employment action and high technology national training. The Government pointed out that funding for this financial year will be greater than that for the financial year which ended on 31 March, but there are further problems. It is recognised now that if the number requiring training under the guarantees exceeds the contract levels, the position will be reviewed and the onus will not fall exclusively on training and enterprise councils. The Government recognise that TECs cannot be expected to enter into an open-ended guarantee for youth and adult training when their funds are finite. The Government have made the welcome statement that they will review the position. It needs to be reviewed now because, alas, the number of people seeking training has risen and will continue to rise until unemployment starts to fall.
The Conservative party and the Government made a welcome commitment in the manifesto by saying that popular schools which become over-subscribed will be given extra funds to allow them to expand. That is a generous and bold commitment as it implies that there will be Government funding for increased running costs and capital costs. I hope that the Treasury will smile happily at what is a considerable potential increase in state spending. If that leads to an acceleration in the number of schools opting out, will those opted—out schools be buying back from local education authorities the support services that the local education authorities now provide? I refer to curriculum back-up, peripatetic music teachers, curriculum support and outdoor activities. That is an important administrative and financial detail. As soon as the Government can say more about it, that will be welcomed, but the commitment to spend more where schools are meeting increased parental demand is thoroughly welcomed. I hope that there will be no hesitation or worry by the Treasury about meeting that valuable and welcome commitment in our education service.
I shall also mention the Government's plans for testing at seven, 11 and 14. I fully support testing at seven, but it has got off to an uneven start. However, it is essential as a first guide to a child's progress at school. Testing at 11 is not yet with us; we are told that it will be with us by 1994. Testing at 11 is a little different, because we now have —thank goodness—a welcome variety in the changing of the age at which children move on to middle and upper schools. Some children change at eight, some at nine and some at 11. Those who change at nine go to middle schools which cater for children up to the age of 13, where the curriculum is wider and greater opportunities are provided. Those who change at 11 go straight on to their upper school.
It will be difficult to get a clear picture of testing at 11 because so much depends on what sort of school a child is in. For children attending middle schools for the 9·13 age range, testing can be useful. Corrective action can be taken between the ages of 11 and 13, when the child will leave the school. However, if a child is moving on at 11 because the local education authority makes the change at 11, corrective action can hardly be taken in that school. It is asking quite something to tell the new upper school to start acting immediately on the basis of a test that a child took at the age of 11 in a previous school.
Diagnostic testing is useful and can be helpful, but we cannot imagine that it could be applied uniformly throughout the state education system, because of the different patterns involving the age at which pupils move on to upper schools. The Government, rightly, want variety and greater choice in education, so that is a potential problem for them.
With regard to testing at 14, when a child reaches the age of 14 he or she is getting close to the GCSE exam. Rightly, the Government have invested much money and political capital in trying to make the GCSE exam system work properly. Although I am not opposed, just like that, to testing at 14, I do not want anything to interfere at that age with a child's progress towards the GCSE expectations. We do not want children to lose their confidence because of a test at 14, nor vital teacher time to be taken away from the essential preparation for GCSE, which is taken at 15 or 16. I do not oppose the concept in principle, but the Government will have to go into considerable detail, and exercise great caution, before moving ahead on testing at 11 and 14.
This is the second time since the war that a Conservative Government have been returned with a majority of about 20. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) mentioned what the then Prime Minister—Mr. Churchill, as he then was—said about that during the debate on the Loyal Address on 6 November 1951. My hon. Friend quoted one part of Mr. Churchill's speech; I shall quote another, which is relevant to this Parliament:
What the House needs is a period of tolerant and constructive debating on the merits of the questions before us without nearly every speech on either side being distorted by the passions of one election or the preparations for another."—[Official Report, 6 November 1951; Vol. 493, c. 68–69.]
I believe that the 1951 Parliament took that advice to heart, and proceeded in a constructive and orderly way. I hope that this Parliament will do the same, 41 years later.
It falls to me, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to congratulate you and your two colleagues on your election today. We wish you well. I trust that, unlike your predecessor, you will not have the duty of showing me the red card on occasions—although no doubt I deserved that when it happened. I shall take care not to transgress.
I also congratulate the hon. Members for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) and for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) who have made their maiden speeches today. They will feel better having got those speeches off their plates. I am sure that what they said struck a note with all hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I shall refer to some of the details of the Queen's Speech before moving on to the general political setting in which we in Plaid Cymru feel that they should be viewed. We heard the Queen's Speech of a Government who were tired before the election, and are even more tired after the election. They should now be recharging their batteries in opposition, but as they have come back into government, there are not many signs of new thinking in the Queen's Speech.
Some of the detailed proposals will cause worry. Given our memories of years gone by, it would be surprising if the proposal to privatise the coal industry did not cause worry for us in Wales.
The railway system in Wales appears to be being pared down, especially the services between London and Holyhead, as what appears to be a preparation for privatisation. We are worried about those proposals, too.
The Queen's Speech refers to standards of education, but those standards will not be improved unless substantially more resources are provided. We are aware of the Government's tight financial position, and unless they are willing to raise taxes, they will not be able to put the necessary resources into education.
We are concerned, too, about the work of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions. If that is to give the Conservatives 20 or 30 more seats, do we face the possibility of perpetual Conservative Governments, against the will of the people in Wales and Scotland—and, indeed, much to the dismay of people in many parts of England.
The proposal for a national lottery causes us some worry, too. Many of my friends in the voluntary sector, such as those involved in disability politics, are worried about the possible loss of income if a national lottery is introduced.
We now have a heritage Minister, but it is far from clear how a Minister for the so-called national heritage, in a United Kingdom context, will interact with the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland who have specific responsibilities for those two countries.
The Queen's Speech refers to community care. In less than 12 months' time the full implications of community care will be with us, and a considerable amount needs to be clarified to enable local authorities and health authorities to live with those implications. We hope that more will become clear in the next few days and weeks. Action is needed.
There is lip service to the environment, too, but our worry is that it is only lip service. Clearly, a drastic shift in approach is needed if the environmental tragedy facing not only Britain and Europe but the rest of the world is to be averted. The Government must go to Rio with a positive plan, a commitment and a willingness to co-operate with the countries that have been thinking, worrying and acting to try to meet the challenges.
We would all welcome changes to the leasehold system to help leaseholders, but that appears to be almost the only reference to housing, although housing in Wales, and in many inner cities, is in considerable crisis. This Parliament should give much greater attention to housing, and we should start this year.
Of course, we welcome the reference to a new Welsh language Act, but we shall not comment on that until we know its contents. It could represent a significant milestone, or it could mean nothing. We shall seek, at the very least, for the proposals of the Welsh Language Board to be the basis of such an Act. In particular, we shall see whether there will be a right for people who so wish to have education through the medium of the Welsh language available within a reasonable distance of their homes.
In an all-Wales context, there is as much missing from the Queen's Speech as is contained in it. In particular, it had been expected that there would be legislation on local government in Wales—the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) mentioned that a few moments ago. Only last week the Secretary of State for Wales gave an assurance that the new structure of local government in Wales would be operational by 1994. If no legislation is mentioned in the Queen's Speech, that is impossible. The Government should spell out their thinking.
If the Government intend to go back to the drawing board, to examine the implications of their proposals and to take on board some of the criticisms of the counties and the districts, if they have seen the need to consider the government of Wales in terms not only of local government but of creating democracy at the all-Wales level, securing control over the numerous quangos that run our everyday lives, and making the Welsh Office answerable, we welcome the delay. But local government needs to know where it stands because not only the future of the services but the prospects for the employees in local government are at stake. The Government need to spell out exactly what their timetable is and what their intentions are.
Aspects of employment are missing from the Queen's Speech. It is difficult to see how the Queen's Speech could have been put together without addressing the central question of unemployment which is such a cancer in so many of our communities, not least in the old industrial areas of Wales, in the old slate-quarrying areas of north-west Wales, in south-west Wales and in the industrial valleys of Glamorgan and Gwent.
The Maastricht content of the Queen's Speech will be the subject of considerable discussion. There is a need to ensure that we in the countries of Britain develop systems that mesh into the models being developed in continental Europe and that the principle of subsidiarity is applied in relation not only to the United Kingdom vis-a-vis Europe, but to the position of Wales, of Scotland, of Northern Ireland and, no doubt, of the regions of England with regard to Britain as a unit.
A central question still has not been answered. We expect clarification from the Secretary of State for Wales about who will represent Wales on the committee of the regions which stems from the Maastricht agreement. The right hon. Gentleman has denied this week that he will be the representative there. One can understand that he may not feel that he has the legitimacy to be there. He did not face the Welsh electorate at the general election, he does not represent a Welsh constituency, and he has no mandate to speak for Wales. If he has now accepted that, and if he will, as an interim step, allow representatives of the Welsh district and county councils to represent Wales on the committee of the regions until we have an elected all-Wales body, at least a shred of daylight is coming into the deliberations.
I come to the central question in our approach to the Queen's Speech and to this Parliament—the question of democracy in our country and of mandates to rule. It was interesting to listen to the Prime Minister's comments earlier this afternoon. He quoted George Bernard Shaw when he said
'all great truths begin as blasphemies'".
It seems to be blasphemy here to talk of changing the relationship and the nature of the relationship between the countries of these islands. Yet until we get a change in that relationship, we shall not get the system of government which gives real democracy to Wales, to Scotland and to the people of Northern Ireland.
It is interesting to note that the Government are apparently willing to talk now about creating an elected assembly or executive in Northern Ireland as one of the possibilities while denying that possibility to the people of Scotland and to the people of Wales who, in the recent election, overwhelmingly showed their support at the ballot box for parties that advocate a move in that direction.
The Prime Minister spoke this afternoon about the need to adapt to the democratic views of the citizens across Europe. There is also a need to adapt to the democratic views of the citizens in the countries of the United Kingdom. In constructing a consensus, to which the Prime Minister referred, there is a need to ensure that consensus exists in Wales and in Scotland on the future government of our country. There is a need for change.
The Government do not have a mandate to rule in Wales. They have only 30 per cent. of the vote in Wales. In the 1987 general election, the Conservatives had eight seats in Wales; after the recent election, they have six seats in Wales. Plaid Cymru has four seats. We accept that we do not have a mandate to govern, but the Conservative party certainly has not either. The Liberal Democrat party has one seat, and Labour has 27. Clearly, what the people of Wales want in terms of government has come out of the general election. I wish that there had been 27 Plaid Cymru seats, but that was not the case. Clearly, the election was not a mandate for the Government. They do not have a mandate and they should not rule our country. They should not put policies to Wales which have been rejected by the Welsh people through the ballot box.
The election was good for Plaid Cymru. We gained a fourth seat, we almost gained a fifth, and we increased our vote by more than 20 per cent.
I pay tribute to some of the former Welsh Members who are not with us in this new Parliament. My colleague Dafydd Elis Thomas was Member of Parliament for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy for 18 years until the election. The loss of Michael Foot will be felt by hon. Members of all parties. There were Keith Raffan, who became a bit of a rebel in his own party, and Sir Anthony Meyer, who caused quite a bit of controversy and who painted his own picture of the Welsh scene.
We also note that Ian Grist is not with us. Although the political implications of that may inspire mixed feelings, he certainly made a considerable contribution as an individual. We no longer have here Geraint Howells, whose seat we gained. We had considerable respect for his contribution to the House as an individual. We no longer have Richard Livsey who served Brecon and Radnor with such distinction while he was here. The losses of John P. Smith and Huw Edwards will be felt heavily in Wales because they were already making considerable contributions. Our party welcomes our hon. Friends the new Members for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis), who is a Member of Parliament with the support of the Green party, and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd).
Some 70 per cent. of the electorate in Wales voted for parties that wanted some sort of elected Welsh democracy. They wanted policies that met their social values, the economic circumstances of Wales, and the needs of the communities as reflected in the election. The democratic process in Wales appears not to allow the people of Wales to get the sort of government for which they voted.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland saying that the people of Northern Ireland must be the final arbiters. Given the stark contrast between the election results in Wales and Scotland and the overall election result in Britain, there must be some way in which the people of Wales and the people of Scotland can also be the final arbiters on what we need in our country.
Given that in recent years the Prime Minister—I am glad to see him on the Front Bench now—and other Ministers have referred to the 1979 referendum, the time has come for us again to have a referendum—for the people of Wales and the people of Scotland to have a multi-optional referendum in which the options, including the status quo, would be put and in which the Government would let the people decide. If the Prime Minister and the Government believe in democracy, that is surely something that the Prime Minister must be willing to facilitate. If we are to move forward to a new relationship—a happy relationship—within these islands, it must reflect that diversity of aspiration within these islands. If our systems cannot adjust to that, something is seriously wrong. Until that adjustment takes place, we in Wales will not get the sort of government for which we voted and which we need.
At the beginning of the first Session of a new Parliament, there is an inescapable air of renewal. There is renewal in the occupancy of your chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I congratulate you sincerely on your appointment to it. There is renewal of the representation of so many seats, and we have already heard some good maiden speeches today. There is renewal of some of the legislative casualties or consequences of the previous Parliament, there is renewal of energy and ideas, and there is renewal of hope for the future.
After 13 years, the Government have been granted another glad, confident morning. The challenge will be to ensure that that gladness and confidence are carried through to evening and then, after 17 or 18 years, through to a new dawn beyond that.
We have heard a Queen's Speech in which part of the manifesto on which we fought the general election has been set out for legislative attention. I add my own personal manifesto for this Parliament for the benefit of the people of Portsmouth whom I represent.
First and above all, the revival of the economy is the most crucial ingredient for jobs and prosperity for the maximum number of people. Profitable businesses create jobs and in the south, nowhere more than in Portsmouth, the recession has been felt hard, combined as it has been with large increases under the uniform business rate system. Welcome as was the freezing of the increase for this year, I urge my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider it again for his 1993 Budget, depending on how economic prospects for businesses, especially genuinely small businesses, have improved in the meantime. In addition, a genuine resolution to screw inflation down to zero and to keep it there must be maintained this time. In this Parliament, let the Government bring back to this country the inestimable benefits of sound money, stable prices and confidence in the value of savings and investment. Such a policy will bring in its wake lower interest rates, which, combined with lower taxation, will bring to Portsmouth, as to the whole country, the expansion in jobs that is required to lick too-high unemployment and secure increases in living standards beyond those achieved in the heyday of the 1980s.
Included in that increase in living standards, I should like to see more pensioners. One of the strongest messages that we met on the doorsteps where the fight was hottest during the general election campaign—and Portsmouth was one of those places—came from pensioners with small occupational pensions in addition to their state pensions or with a modest amount of capital, who made certain remarks about Government policy. They do not readily recognise the justice of the welfare state as they compare their position with the position of pensioners who qualify for income support and all the attendant extra benefits that that eligibility unlocks. They do not see that it was worth all their savings and effort, and they frequently ask me, "Why did we do it? We can see no benefits at this stage in our lives." They cannot without reservation appreciate the advantage of owning their own home. The capital invested is unrealisable because they want to stay in their home for the rest of their lives, which is a reasonable ambition for most people, but that unrealisable capital value is held against them for the purposes of claiming benefit, even if they do not have sufficient income to carry out repairs and maintenance work.
The answer lies in a greyer area being devised at the margins, a much higher capital disregard and the creation of steps in and out of benefit rather than a sheer wall dividing those with benefit from those without, suddenly and all at once. This Parliament, and the Ministries involved, must address that as a matter of urgency. The taxation of small occupational pensions is also resented.
The Government must continue to lower income tax bands as well as income tax rates. Once the 25 per cent. band has gone in favour of a 20 per cent. band for all, let us aim for a 15 per cent. band. Let us also continue to raise thresholds. I look forward to millions more people—pensioners prominent among them—being taken out of tax altogether and to many more being taxed less than they are at present by the end of this Parliament.
I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to a Bill to extend choice and diversity in education. I want to see concentration on an improvement in primary education as well as education at the secondary stage. I also want to see increased opportunities for nursery schooling. What can be done in Wandsworth ought to be made possible in Portsmouth and elsewhere in the country.
In that connection, it is crucial that Portsmouth should be allowed to break free from the county structure of local government. Portsmouth should be given the opportunity in education, as in social services, planning and so much else, to enjoy unitary status and once more to run its own affairs, as it did before 1974. I urge the Government not to backslide in their commitment to restoring to cities such as Portsmouth the choice once more to govern themselves at local level. Expectations that they may be able to do so have been raised high, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Local Government and Inner Cities need only come to Portsmouth—they are welcome to do so at any time—to know how warmly welcomed such a reform would be and how eagerly it is anticipated.
I want to make a few remarks about housing. Portsmouth will soon be a university city. The number of students attending the polytechnic has expanded by thousands in a very few years. Unfortunately, student accommodation on campus has not expanded to keep pace with that development: it should, and at prices that students can afford. The Government must address that question. It is one of the factors that illustrate the topsy-turvy nature of housing-for-rent policies over so many years. Some streets in Southsea and Portsmouth are now dominated by students occupying in multi-occupation what should be family housing. In the meantime, families are accommodated in digs.
I guarantee that that is the case in great polytechnic or university cities throughout the country. The reason is the operation of the rent Acts and the fact that local authorities and housing associations will never be able to provide enough homes in the public sector to make up for the poor operation of the private market. If private landlords were allowed to, and were given incentives, they would once more provide homes for families, and the topsy-turvey character of the housing market would be corrected. But with rent Act protection barely affected by the creation of shorthold tenancies—welcome though that development is—they never will, and the curse of the irrational distribution of homes will continue to cast a blight on so much Government achievement in other directions. We must address that matter urgently in this Parliament.
My hon. Friend is on an important point, and, as a former housing Minister, I feel strongly about what he is saying. Whereas even five or 10 years ago 50 per cent. of housing was in the private rented sector, the figure is now down to about 5 or 6 per cent. Is not the central issue the landlord's return on investment—in addition to the protective or anti-protective measures to which my hon. Friend has referred?
Yes, and the return on investment must therefore be made better for those who let to families than for those who let to other members of society, particularly students. If we can get that right, we shall get the provision of shelter right, just as we have got the provision of clothing and food right. This is very much a matter for investment decision, but we could do more to help and the Government should certainly address the matter afresh.
I was pleased to see the commitment in the Queen's Speech to leasehold reform, which has long been sought by many of my constituents and pressed by me and by many of my colleagues, who will also welcome it. At last, we are addressing the problem, which has been with us for many years.
I also welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to British Rail. The lines to Portsmouth and the rolling stock used on them are long overdue for improvement and are often commented upon by visitors and compared with those in other parts of the country. I want to see the same dedication concentrated on such improvements as has been brought to bear on road links, and I am pleased by the positive nature of what is said in the Queen's Speech. I look forward to the delivery of such improvements in the coming years.
Crucial decisions remain to be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on naval matters that directly concern Portsmouth. Top of my list—it has always been top of my list—for resolution is the future of the Fleet Maintenance and Repair Organisation. Fleetlands across the water is now a self-managed defence support agency. It is that status that I have continually sought for the Fleet Maintenance Repair Organisation. I did so in the last Parliament and I do so today, at the earliest opportunity in this Parliament. We require as early a decision as possible: the continuing morale and efficiency of the work force relies upon it. Let us have a decision which gives the work force a future, which is right for the times and which will enable us to seek and gain a work load to guarantee the FMRO's continuing role in serving the Royal Navy.
I have set out some of my ambitions for this Parliament and for my constituency. I have done so in the context of a Gracious Speech containing the promise of measures which I have no doubt will benefit the country as a whole.
First, let me congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on being in the Chair. I have the distinction of being the first hon. Member whom you have called since you took up that office, and I wish you well.
It is a moving experience for any hon. Member to come to this place and make a maiden speech. I hope that it will not cause offence if I claim to have perhaps greater justification than most for being moved on this occasion. It is 30 years since I first visited this place and that visit was the genesis of my ambition to become a Member of Parliament. Since I was 12 years old, I have longed to be able to come to the House of Commons and, in trying to realise my ambition, I have fought five general elections. I think that that was matched by Madam Speaker, who had to fight many general elections before she came here to represent West Bromwich, West. I hasten to add that I do not covet the Chair.
The priceless privilege of becoming a Member of this place was given to me by the men and women of Thurrock. My constituency has a long river frontage which stretches from the boundary with London at Purfleet round to East Tilbury. It has a wide variety of geography and industry. It has agricultural areas, but predominantly it has riverside industries. I regret that the port of Tilbury was recently privatised, just prior to the general election. However, I have told the new management that I hope that it will consider me a friend of the port of Tilbury because I want to see it thrive in the competitive market that it faces. My constituency has two power stations and a heavy industrial sector along the river frontage.
My constituency also contains many good men and women of Essex who, I believe, have been unfairly criticised in the popular press as being somewhat insensitive people. I can testify that the men and women of Essex, and particularly of Thurrock, are deeply caring people who wish to see the best public services and the most caring society that can be established in the United Kingdom for their loved ones, their families and for other people. That is evident to some extent by the fact that they voted for the Labour party at the general election.
In all seriousness and if I may be candid, on the morning of 10 April, no doubt like many of my colleagues, I received a great shock and a grave disappointment. I confess that I was feeling greatly down and I almost tried to find out how to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds after the great surprise and disappointment of the election result. However, I was sustained by my wife and family who have encouraged me throughout my political activities and by friends in the Labour party and the trade union movement to whom I pay tribute today.
Many of us received an uplift, however, when we came to the Chamber to elect Madam Speaker, and I shall remember that occasion as long as I live. It was an historic occasion, when the House of Commons was at its best. The fact that the outcome of the debate was uncertain added to the interest and historic nature of the occasion. I am proud to have been in the Chamber when Madam Speaker was elected and I need not apologise for the fact that I believe that the election of Madam Speaker gave me and my hon. Friends a great lift.
I wish now to follow a long-established tradition in this House and to say some nice things about other people. I welcome that tradition and I am pleased to refer to Mr. Tim Janman, who was my predecessor as Member for Thurrock. By his own definition, he was a member of the radical right. According to his lights, he prosecuted that belief with vigour and during his time here he was a diligent Member of Parliament. I wish to refer also to two other predecessors—Dr. Oonagh McDonald, and the late Hugh Delargy who died within the precincts of this place in 1976 and will long be remembered here and in Thurrock as a very fine constituency Member and a great parliamentary character.
I have fought five general elections and have always had good relations with my opponents. I fought Sir Nigel Fisher, the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), on two occasions in 1974 for the seat in Surbiton. I fought John Moore in Croydon, Central and the new Minister for Health, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), who, on a personal level, I have been able to wish well, although I have given him notice that I shall do battle with him on a number of issues relating to my constituency.
It is fair that I should also refer today to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I believe that the Labour party owes him and his wife an immeasurable debt. I believe that, in time, the country will also recognise that debt. My right hon. Friend has done a great deal to provide and promote a loyal Opposition in Parliament and I deeply regret his notice to resign the office of Leader of the Opposition. By July 1 hope that the press will be able to say honest things about him—something which the press has avoided for many years.
The tradition is that one does not trespass into hard political issues in a maiden speech, but there are one or two things in the Gracious Speech that are directly relevant to my constituency. The Gracious Speech claims that the Government will promote quality in the national health service. Unhappily, many of my constituents will find that somewhat surprising and cynical. We have had to endure the closure of the accident and emergency department at Orsett, which has resulted in enormous queues and long waiting times for people in pain and anxiety at the alternative accident and emergency department a long way away in Basildon.
If I have been charged with one thing by my constituents it is to press the Secretary of State for Health, the local health authority and the new trust to remedy a wrong perpetrated on my constituents 18 months ago by the closure of that accident and emergency department. That decision was extremely foolhardy, it is causing my constituents great pain and anxiety, and I intend to press the Government about that at every opportunity.
The Gracious Speech also refers to the privatisation of some rail services. When I referred to my constituency, I omitted to mention the fact that my constituents have to endure the so-called misery line between Fenchurch Street and Southend via Tilbury. That line is a scandal, with clapped out rolling stock and signalling. No privatisation or other Government action can alter the fact that there must be a major injection of public funds if there is to be a proper rail service for my constituents and others in south Essex. I give notice to the Treasury Bench that I intend to raise that issue at every opportunity.
The Gracious Speech also refers to improving industrial relations. Two things flow from that Government claim. First, the Government intend once again to attack the trade union movement. No doubt they believe that that is a fine and macho thing to do, but there is a danger that the Government will greatly diminish the opportunity of individuals to have their basic rights at work protected. Those rights have already been eroded and the few residual rights against unfair or arbitrary dismissal will effectively disappear if such legislation reaches the statute book.
Secondly, dockers were dismissed at Tilbury during the last Parliament. They followed the correct procedure of prosecuting their case at an industrial tribunal. They won at that tribunal and were awarded reinstatement and compensation, but the port of Tilbury and the Port of London Authority have not complied with those orders of reinstatement. It is a travesty of justice for the Government to claim to be paragons of virtue in promoting the rule of law. I challenge them to legislate to ensure that people will have their industrial tribunal awards implemented swiftly. I do not believe that they will do so, but the Secretary of State for Employment really must address that point as it is a matter of natural justice.
The Prime Minister referred to the widening of the European Community, and specifically referred to the admission of Poland into the Community by the end of the decade. I welcome that. However, Her Majesty's Government are not doing enough to help people in the former states of central Europe to promote their fragile democracies and economies. In my time in the House, I shall try to raise their interests, too. It is a scandal that people in Poland must wait and almost beg for visas for admission into the United Kingdom for legitimate reasons —in particular, students of English. Again, I hope that the Government will tackle that issue with some expedition —to right a wrong.
The Government have won four general elections in a row. They must now consider, as Opposition Members consider, the need to reflect on how democracy in the country and in the House can be extended and promoted. I consider the existing voting system to be indefensible. I go no further than that. I have an open mind on alternative systems, but I hope that the House will reflect upon the need urgently to consider whether we should have an improved voting system at the next general election.
We must also have regard for the need continually to ensure that this place checks the Executive. I was concerned to read in the press that there could be some shilly-shallying or delay in setting up Select Committees. As a new Back Bencher, I hope that there will be no delay and that Select Committees will be set up with the utmost expedition. As Back Benchers, it is our duty to check the Executive. That is an important weapon at our disposal to promote the best interests of our constituents.
Hon. Members could be complacent about our democratic institutions. I hope to play a small role as part of a loyal Opposition. I have said how disappointed I was on 10 April, but I repeated to myself over and again part of Winston Churchill's maxim, "in defeat, defiance". I intend in my small way to contribute to promoting a loyal Opposition to criticise, cajole and expose the deficiencies of the Executive and prepare, I hope, for a general election in perhaps four years' time when it will be our turn to form a Government.
Hon. Members need to be certain that our institutions are continually updated so that we promote and speak on behalf of our constituents. There could be complacency, but I hope that there is not. I am reminded of the words of Lord Hailsham, who referred to the dangers of parliamentary dictatorship. I hope that hon. Members, and in particular Conservative Members, will have regard to that point. We must ensure that our Westminster traditions are continually updated so that democracy can be promoted and sustained in the United Kingdom. I am privileged to have the opportunity to participate in that process over the next four years.
I have no difficulty or hesitation in congratulating the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) on a witty, able, fluent and independent-minded maiden speech. Most hon. Members, including myself eighteen years ago, wait two or three months before making a maiden speech, but the hon. Gentleman has got his maiden speech off his chest at the first available opportunity, and he has done extremely well.
I also congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on rising to your high office. Had the Chairman of Ways and Means still been in the Chair, I would have made some jokes about tennis. As I do not know whether you play tennis, I shall pass by that matter and move straight to the meat of my speech. However, you will need very good neck muscles to move your head from side to side, as happens on the tennis court.
It will come as no surprise to the House that I welcome enthusiastically the bulk of the Queen's Speech. I judge it by the criteria by which I suspect that many of my hon. Friends will judge it—that is, by what it does for individual motivation. Contrary to most Opposition Members, I believe that society is no more and no less than the sum of the individuals within it. I therefore welcome, for instance, the references to increasing the individual's respect for the rule of law. That is in part a matter of proper sentencing policy. It is a matter in part of spending money on the police force. Perhaps it is a matter of divide between the two sides of the House, but it is also very much a matter of the rhetoric of and attitude towards personal responsibility. A crime such as joyriding is as much a matter of the responsibility of the parents of young people and the young people themselves as it is, as so often claimed, of society. I certainly welcome the aspect of the Queen's Speech referring to law and order.
Equally, I very much welcome those aspects of the Queen's Speech referring to the encouragement of individual motivation and of removing distortions in the economy. One of the major facets of motivating individuals is that they should have confidence in the means of producing and distributing goods within the economy. That is why I very much welcome the proposed measures for privatisation.
As a former Minister with responsibility for coal and electricity, I shall say one thing about coal privatisation. When I was in Government, I lost the battle to privatise the coal industry much earlier. I still think that I was right about that. There were arguments which prevailed against what I was saying, but the coal industry would have been protected and preserved in a rather better way than it has been within the public sector in the past two or three years. We would have had a new approach to management and marketing. Above all, the industry would have had access to private capital in a way that would have been of enormous benefit to it.
I offer the Government one word of caution. In doing so, I must declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Independent Power Producers. It would be a great shame if, in order to protect coal privatisation, special deals—in particular, secret special deals—were allowed between the coal industry and the large producers of electricity, National Power and PowerGen. If there were secret contracts which were, in a sense, supported by the Government so that the coal industry could be easily privatised, it would be extremely distortive. We need to have more competition among electricity producers and less protection for the big producers of electricity. If the privatisation of coal resulted in further protection for National Power and PowerGen, it would be very unfair.
I now refer to the Government's proposition to introduce a more balanced budget as we come out of the recession. They are absolutely right. Again, it is a distortion for the individual to have excess spending and, therefore, excess borrowing, which has all sorts of detrimental effects on the economy. That is something which we did not have in the 1980s but which we undoubtedly have today.
I hope that the Government's view is correct that as we come out of recession the take from income will be greater and expenditure will be less so that we get the balance right. The longer term problem is that demands on public spending are becoming greater by the day. Taking health as an example, the demands of new technology, new standards of living and an aging population build up continuously and create cumulative pressures for more spending on health.
The Government have only a few alternatives if they are to achieve a balanced budget. Either they say no to some of the increased demands, which will be increasingly difficult; or they raise taxes. Or they increase borrowing, which will mean unbalanced budgets. Or new means will have to be found—no doubt controversially—of funding an element of expenditure on, for example, health. That would mean some sort of mesh of private and public finance for health.
Socialist France goes even further than we do in involving private contribution in certain types of health provision, though obviously not chronic or emergency health provision. We shall have to move more towards such a system if we are to meet the increasing demand for public spending in that sector.
I have said that I agree with and welcome the bulk of the Queen's Speech, but I have reservations on two matters. One is referred to indirectly in the Queen's Speech under the "any other business" section, which says:
Other measures will be laid before you.
The other matter is referred to directly.
The matter referred to indirectly was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his speech. It is the so-called reform of Parliament. Proposals will be put before Parliament for its reform. I agree with what the hon. Member for Thurrock said about the need to protect this Parliament. It is a difficult and complex job because, unlike most Parliaments—for example, the Congress of the United States—our Parliament is not divided from the Executive. It is part of the Executive. It is controlled by the Executive. The Executive exists only so long as it controls the legislature. That is what gives the Executive its legitimacy.
As a result of the constitutional constraints under which we operate, it is therefore difficult for a British Parliament to establish any measure of independence from the Executive. One way in which this Parliament has traditionally exerted some measure of influence and control over and independence from the Executive is through the messiness with which we conduct our activities. It is precisely because we do not always know at what time the House will rise, and because we do not have a push-button, nine-to-five Parliament, that the Executive often have to take into consideration what Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House are saying to them.
It will be of enormous interest to the Executive to move across to a nine-to-five, nine-to-10 or whatever Parliament. It will be welcomed by them. It will make life much simpler to have a "reformed", "modernised" Parliament, which will be far easier to control. I shall therefore watch with enormous scepticism measures introduced to "reform" Parliament and make it far more manageable for the Executive.
The other matter about which I have reservations has been referred to several times in the debate. I understand that the legislation to ratify the treaty of Maastricht will be forthcoming soon. Many of my hon. Friends—and, I suspect, many Opposition Members—have great reservations about the inexorable move towards a federal Europe. There is a great deal of common ground in the House. The question is, "What is to be done?" What perspective should be taken on what is going on?
Some people argue that the thing is breaking up of its own accord. The Italians do not believe in the treaty and do not comply with it. The French have started to debate it in their assembly. The Germans do not like the thought of sacrificing their mark. It looks as though the Danes might reject the treaty in a referendum. It is argued that the move towards federalism is breaking up.
There is another argument that, even if the move towards federalism is not breaking up, Britain has achieved everything that it needs for itself by temporarily opting out.
In considering the treaty, all I can do is to read the print which I see in front of me and which I have been asked to ratify and, therefore, indirectly to sign. When I look at the specifics—the black and white of the treaty—I have certain strong anxieties.
For instance, I am anxious about the new concept of the union citizenship. I know that it is said that, although the union citizen will have new rights over and above and independent of those of the sovereign country, for the moment those rights will apply only to local government elections. But I also read in the small print that through unified voting those rights can be extended once we have set up the concept of a citizen who is no longer exclusively loyal to our country but has a wider loyalty.
I hope that I have not interrupted my hon. Friend in the middle of his main point. Does it not go even further than he suggests? Some four years ago the House was asked to ratify a previous treaty—the Single European Act. It contained various provisions. One was that the rights of workers would be decided by unanimity. That is what we thought. That is what we were told. But since the treaty has been ratified, other interpretations have been put upon it. Whatever my hon. Friend reads into the treaty that he has been reading today, is there not a grave danger that others might try to take the treaty even further and that, whatever the small print, its interpretation by the European institutions will take us down roads that we have not even thought of?
That is right. My hon. Friend's last point about the interpretation of the last treaty is what counts. It is the treaty that we have to go on. We cannot go on blandishments, hope, and so on. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we must judge the thing on its merits and on the interpretation that we think that lawyers will place on the treaty in future days.
My second and more fundamental anxiety is about the concept of a single currency. I appreciate that it is difficult to make a popular issue out of the words "single currency". But the reason why it is of importance both to those who want a federal Europe, including some of my hon. Friends who have spoken today, and to those who are worried about it is that a single currency will necessitate a single economic authority to manage all aspects of the currency, including the fiscal, taxation, expenditure and monetary policies that go with it. It is not merely a question of the convenience of abolishing exchange offices where business men exchange money. It is a fundamental point.
If there is a single currency, there must be a single economic authority and a single economic policy. Throughout history, economic policy has gone to the centre of sovereignty. Civil wars have been fought about taxation policy and monetary policy. That is effectively what government is all about. It is about the taxation and the distribution of resources. If a country gives those powers away to some other power, it has given away the very essence and core of its sovereignty.
The single currency is the written-in objective of the Maastricht treaty. It is even worse when one considers that we are not only setting up an entirely new set of bodies to manage the currency but giving its control to a central bank mechanism which is independent of politicians and the people who represent society. Therefore, there is a double whammy, to use the phrase which loomed large in the general election.
The question is whether the treaty of Maastricht moves in that direction. There is the argument that we have given ourselves the possibility to opt out. There is the point that countries must converge under the current terms of the treaty, terms that are alterable or can be fiddled. The Italians have already said that they would fiddle their convergence conditions. The fundamental question remains: are we, by signing the treaty, inexorably moving towards a single currency or not? That is the question that I must ask myself.
When we come to sign a treaty which sets up institutions—in stage 2 we have pretty well reached the point when we shall set up a European monetary institute, the precursor of a single, economic, banking authority, which will undoubtedly exist whatever the opt-out clauses —we are on an escalator off which it will be difficult to climb. Once we have the institutions, they will have a certain permanency, certainly if they are included in a signed treaty. There will be a self-fulfilling element. They will be magnets drawing us ultimately to a single economy and, thus, a federal Europe. I cannot in any circumstances conceive of a single economic authority without a federal structure with it—a Parliament and all the other trappings of a federal centralised Government.
The treaty of Maastricht is of enormous importance. It is an absolutely fundamental step in the direction of a federal Europe. It is an irrevocable step—and that word is used throughout the treaty. It will be impossible to reverse it. Therefore, the House will hear a great deal more from me—if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or that of your colleagues—as we approach this historic step. There is no way it can be fudged. We must take a view either one way or the other. I am extremely concerned at what I have read in the treaty, and I hope to express my concern in the weeks ahead.
I have listened with great interest to the rather telling statement by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer). We shall long remember the words that he used this evening because he presented a different picture from the continued and repeated protestations of unanimity by Conservative party spokesmen during the election campaign. The real test will come when the House first divides on the matter. The Government's much reduced majority will put the issue well within striking range of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues if they choose to maintain the strength of this evening's protestation.
I must make it plain to the hon. Gentleman: I have just said that I will not give way. Is that understood?
I have already had the considerable pleasure of offering you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, congratulations personally. I should like to place on record my very best wishes for your future success and efficacy in the post that you occupy. I hope that you have a long and effective period of tenure.
The Gracious Speech contains many matters with which we can take issue, and we have a further five and a bit days to discuss it. Besides thanking you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye this evening, I should like to express my regret that I cannot be here when we divide on the Gracious Speech. Sadly, the hardships of the office that we hold in this House require me to be in Italy from Sunday to Wednesday of next week and then to pass on rapidly to Canada. I beg the sympathy of the House when I undergo those tests of tenacity.
I could be here for a fortnight discussing many of the issues raised, but I wish to raise specifically the statement in the Gracious Speech that Her Majesty's Government
will promote sound finance and budgetary discipline.
I shall make two references under this heading.
The first subject has already been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), who made an excellent maiden speech, and was touched on by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel). I refer to the question of pension funds. No one would disagree with the statement that Mirror Group employees and those retired from Mirror Group employment have suffered a hideous form of treachery. It is a source of regret to me that no comment is made in the Gracious Speech on the Government's intention to take an active interest in resolving that pension fund problem.
The matter goes further than that. The whole question of property rights with regard to surplus funds generated by pension funds causes great concern. In the past, several pension funds have assessed the surplus moneys generated by their activities and decided to cream them off and apply them in ways as yet unspecified. We have been unable to determine the manner in which they have been disposed of.
As a member of the national executive of my union I often took part in negotiations on behalf of my fellow members when pension conditions and improvements to pension schemes were negotiated, discussed and settled as a form of deferred wage increase. The maturation of the moneys that were agreed and set aside on those occasions form the property of the members and other beneficiaries under the scheme. To take the moneys and apply them in any other way is a serious form of defalcation. This major question needs resolution. If the Government are not prepared to state an opinion of their own volition, the matter should be subject to judicial review. I hope that the Government will treat the matter seriously and hand it over expeditiously to a judicial inquiry.
My second question bears on yet another form of moral credit rating for finance houses, but in this instance I am referring to banking. It is not only the instance of BCCI which questions the whole trustworthiness of banks at this stage in the 20th century. Other serious questions need to be asked and effectively answered. I am talking about whose interests the banks serve. Does a bank serve the interests of its customers or those of its shareholders? In a wide range of instances the interests of the one do not coincide with the interests of the other. Let me give the House an example and I shall try not to be too long with it.
I shall describe a scenario in which a bank engages in business with another two companies, one of which is a major oil company and the other an electronics company. The three companies form a joint independent company, which does not stand on its own but is funded by the three partners in equal amounts. In competition with other companies, that joint company secures a licence from the Department of Trade and Industry allowing it to operate a telecom network. As that telecom network is not well known, it engages the services of an advertising agency. The advertising agency is given a fixed-term contract with fixed fees, to terminate in 1993. It is required to produce a logo and a registered mark to help the marketing and a marketing strategy so that the operation of the telecom network will be successful.
The relationship continues for some time until the three partners—the bank, the oil company and the electronics company—tire of the toil that they have created and decide that they want to sell it on, together with the DTI telepoint licence. However, while they are looking for a buyer they stop paying the bills to the advertising agency contracted to look after their affairs. That period of default lasts for four months, during which time the advertising agency finds that it must reduce by 50 per cent. the number of its staff, which it had enhanced to service the contract. It loses its credit rating, has to increase its borrowing and reduce the salaries of all its employees. In the meanwhile, its bank reduces its overdraft facilities by a half.
After that four months period of hardship, a foreign buyer is found for the independent company. It is a Hong Kong—Li Ka Shing—buyer, which decides not to honour the contract with the advertising agency. It now has the intellectual property in the form of a logo, a registered mark and a marketing strategy, but refuses to pay the outstanding moneys. In the meantime, the advertising agency is still suffering considerable hardship and is being charged premium interest by its bank on the borrowing needed to keep it afloat. The outstanding money is finally paid, but no question is made of the intellectual property and no settlement is offered for the consequential loss to the advertising agency as a result of all the additional financial charges made by the bank.
The matter is complex and I apologise to the House for having gone on for so long. But the nub of the question is the matter of the bank. Not only was it a third partner in the independent company but it was also the bank offering overdraft facilities to the advertising agency. It therefore had a contractual relationship with the advertising agency while the agency was its customer. Having placed the agency in financial jeopardy, it was also charging premium rates of interest to fund that position of jeopardy. That is a serious abuse of a position of trust and it renders the bank susceptible to being termed "untrustworthy". Any bank that can conduct its affairs in that way must be questioned. I do not refer to its legal operation because I know that the legal niceties of a case can be argued and would have to be settled in court. Rather, I refer to the moral consideration and obligations, and whether banks take full regard of their responsibility to their customers as well as shareholders.
The House will appreciate that the bank, in seeking to gag its customer, which is still fighting for survival, by demanding security of £30,000 on any hearing, was engaging in practices akin to blackmail. It is rather like people entering a game of blind brag with a partner whom they know can, at any time, buy the pot and render them penniless. I remind the House that blind brag, under any rules, is illegal in this country.
What do I suggest is a sensible way to handle such a problem? I have already suggested a judicial review to examine pension funds and the disposal of their surplus cash. In this issue, nothing less than a royal commission would suffice, because the bank in question is Barclays, the oil company is Shell and the electronics company is Philips. If such highly respected companies can behave in that way with an advertising agency like Hook—not only the company but its directors' houses and the jobs of its staff were placed in severe jeopardy—it is about time that the Government put their money where their mouth lived up to their commitment on a citizens charter, and announced a royal commission on those matters.
The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) did the House a great service in raising certain matters and I hope that serious consideration will be given to the problems faced by the Maxwell pensioners and to the behaviour, more and more commonly identified, of some of our banks.
I, too, warmly congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your elevation to the throne on which you now sit. We all look forward to sitting under your chairmanship in debates throughout this Parliament.
I am sorry that I was not called when the Chairman of Ways and Means, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris), was in the Chair because I should like to have been the first Northamptonshire Member to have congratulated him on his elevation, which will be widely welcomed in Northamptonshire. We are proud of the honour that has been conferred on him, and I know that he will be every bit as distinguished as previous holders of that office.
I warmly welcome the Queen's Speech and will be able enthusiastically to support it. If my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is identified with any themes of public policy, they must be the elimination of inflation and the improvement in the standard and quality of our public services. The Queen's Speech underlines yet again his commitment and that of the Government to ensuring that we do not reignite inflation and that we take determined steps to improve the quality and standards of our public services.
Having placed my remarks in that framework, may I make some general points? The first must be directed to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. In the past two Parliaments in which I have sat it has been comparatively easy for the Treasury Bench to ignore substantial criticism and comments from both sides of the House because the Government have enjoyed a handsome majority. Not every point that is raised in the House is party political, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will make a more determined effort than some of his predecessors to draw to the attention of individual Ministers remarks made from all corners. On many occasions I have raised matters in the House and it has subsequently become quite clear that my remarks have not been drawn to the attention of Ministers, as they should have been. Ministers should have a keener interest in what is said on the Floor of the House than has sometimes been the case. The fact that the Government will have to work harder to obtain a majority will, I hope, help to concentrate the mind. A number of Ministers have enjoyed the luxury of not having to take into account criticisms made, not merely by Conservative Members, but by Opposition Members.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will avoid the temptation to reshuffle Ministers constantly. One of the more debilitating consequences of the length of office of his predecessor was the expectation of an annual reshuffle of Ministers. Comparatively early in the parliamentary year, newspapers, often short of news, began to speculate on who would be involved in musical chairs at the end of term and who would lose their position. That had the effect of undermining the work of individual Ministers whose names appeared in the newspapers. It is suggested that the then Prime Minister herself, through her press secretary, was one of those responsible for hinting that various Ministers might not survive the summer term.
I strongly support the new Cabinet appointed by my right hon. Friend. A number of Ministries would benefit if their Secretaries of State were in office for the full term of this Parliament. There is no great advantage in constantly chopping and changing. The Department of Trade and Industry has seldom had the same Minister in charge for 18 months; often it has been less than a year. Some spheres of policy require prolonged commitment from individual heads—for example, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Transport, where no advantage is to be gained from endless games of musical chairs.
I hope that, under the paragraph
Other measures will be laid before you",
the Lord Chancellor will soon bring forward legislation to reduce the maximum age at which judges can retire. I have raised that matter in the House on a number of occasions, but it has not been referred to the Lord Chancellor. When I corresponded with him, it became obvious that he was unaware of remarks that had been made in the House.
The Lord Chancellor has published a paper about lowering the retirement age of judges on which he is seeking consultation. The sooner that he is able to bring the consultation process to a conclusion, and the sooner legislation is laid before Parliament to reduce the retirement age from 75 years to the 70 years that the Lord Chancellor now proposes, the better. I hope that, on reflection, the Lord Chancellor will favour the age of 68.
I also hope that the legislation will explicitly refer to existing judges who may be promoted so that the new retirement age will affect them after their promotion. The great judge Lord Denning, although appointed a judge before the Judicial Pensions Act 1959, was promoted to Master of the Rolls after it but did not have to surrender the requirement to retire at the age of 75. Some of the mischief that occurred because he continued in office beyond that age would have been avoided if, on his promotion to Master of the Rolls, he had been bound by the 1959 legislation.
There are various matters that I have raised several times in the House to which I want the Government to pay closer attention than they have so far been willing to do. There is a need to establish an international court of first instance criminal jurisdiction to deal with cases such as the Lockerbie incident, IRA trials in this country, and the difficulties about extradition. The international dimension of crime which involves drugs, terrorism and kidnapping shows the need for such a court.
An enormous amount of work has been carried out on the subject throughout the world, and although the Government of our country may not be very enthusiastic about it, they will be aware that the Governments of many other countries are. Recently, Germany, Israel, Venezuela and Zimbabwe have expressed support for such an idea. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will be aware of support for the proposal in Italy, India and elsewhere. I was delighted that the matter was recently raised in the Canadian Parliament.
If we cannot have a world court, we should at least have a Community court within the EC so that crimes that cross borders within the Community can be tried at a court that covers all Community countries rather than having to be dealt with through the unsatisfactory extradition process, with all the accompanying problems such as the admissibility of evidence. That idea has been pursued in the United Nations and should be taken more seriously in this country.
The single most important issue facing the world is the future of the talks on the general agreement on tariffs and trade. In the past, those matters have been debated in the House by being parcelled up into agriculture, and the textile, shoe and various other industries that are affected by the GATT talks. The House needs the opportunity to reaffirm its belief in and commitment to free trade, as well as giving support to the Government in the negotiations and making clear to the other Governments involved in the GATT talks the importance of a successful conclusion to the negotiations, not just for this country, but for all our trading partners and the world generally.
During the negotiations that led up to Maastricht, my right hon. Friends were fond of saying that other Community countries must realise the importance of this House, and the fact that the Government would have to be able to carry through the House anything agreed at Maastricht. Precisely the same approach should be adopted to the GATT negotiations so that other countries are aware of the profound and long-held commitment of this country to free trade, and to opening up opportunities for trade and the growth that goes with it, for rich and poor countries alike.
I welcome the commitment to strong defence. In the past few years, the world has become not safer, but more dangerous. Within our own continent we already face difficulties that I know will become worse. The eastern part of our continent is likely to go through a period of high inflation and rising social tensions. That phenomenon will not be isolated to the eastern part of the continent, and is bound to have an impact on those of us who live in the more prosperous western part.
Therefore, we must be cautious about running down our defences. Of course, there will have to be changes and adjustments, modernisation and a rethink about the process of British defence policy in future. That is one reason why it is so necessary for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to spend a long period in office. It would be wrong to imagine that it will be plain sailing for us in this continent; we know how other problems affect other continents, not least the difficulties of famine and AIDS raging through Africa, all of which will have consequences for us.
I raise again in the House a matter about which I have spoken before—dyslexia. I was absolutely overjoyed when, in last autumn's Queen's Speech, my then right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, Mr. Peter Walker, spoke of dyslexia. Fortunately, within education, we are becoming much more aware of the number of children with dyslexia. However, I wish to focus on the fact that dyslexia is not confined to those at school. Many children leave school without being diagnosed as dyslexic whose condition may not be diagnosed until years later and for whom there are no training facilities to enable them to overcome that disability.
I am aware that I am making a special plea for people with a condition in which I happen to be particularly interested; many other handicapped conditions require a similar commitment. I make the plea for those with dyslexia because I have been the only person to raise in Parliament the question of post-education training for people who suffer from dyslexia, for whom there are no schemes at present. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to emphasise the importance of overcoming disabilities of this sort by means of the training programmes that are sponsored in this country.
We must also persist with ensuring that the guarantee of high quality training given to 16 and 17-year-olds is fulfilled. My right hon. and learned Friend the former Secretary of State for Employment—now Secretary of State for the Environment—was fond of outlining how bankable this guarantee was, but I am not convinced that it always was. The new Secretary of State will have to be careful to ensure that the Government's promises are fulfilled at ground level, where all sorts of difficulties may make it difficult to carry out these training programmes —changes of staff, difficulties in finding replacement staff, and so on. I certainly know of a number of constituents of mine who found the Government's so-called guarantee a disappointment, and that cannot be allowed to continue.
I hope that the policies initiated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry during his 16 months at the Department of the Environment will be allowed to continue. I hope especially that the east Thames corridor remains the focus of planning decisions in the south-east and that there will be no return to the M4/M3 corridors dominating everything.
I also hope that the channel tunnel rail link into King's Cross never proceeds. I cannot begin to understand why traffic from the regions, from the north-west, from Scotland, the west midlands and Yorkshire, should come into London. It would seem much more sensible for the railway to bypass London, connecting all the main routes from the regions. That is likely to be considerably cheaper to construct than an urban, probably underground, high-speed railway line through London. I do not imagine for a moment that people travelling from Manchester to Paris on a high-speed rail link will really want to go into London first.
Why not build a dedicated line, as the French are doing, which goes from Rugby, through which every single train from the west midlands, the north-west and the west coast of Scotland must pass, to Peterborough, through which every train from Yorkshire, from the north-east and from Edinburgh must pass; thence down to Stansted airport where—the French have done this, too—rail, air and road transport can be integrated? From there the line could go straight down to the channel tunnel itself. The cost of constructing such a line is likely to be much less per mile than a line into east London.
I welcome the Government's commitment to the rent-to-mortgages scheme, which is likely to benefit many thousands of my constituents. They will welcome the chance of benefiting from it as soon as possible.
I hope that the Government will ensure much more publicity for these opportunities than they frequently have done in the past. I remember the undertaking that all local authorities, for instance, would distribute the tenants charter. Two district councils cover my constituency, one of them a safe Labour authority and the other a safe Conservative authority: neither has distributed the tenants charter, even though it is becoming more and more important. I know from my surgeries, home visits and all the other constituency work that I do that law-abiding tenants face increasing difficulties with problem neighbours. Again and again I find that the peace and quiet of perfectly honest people who may have lived in their homes for a long time are being disturbed, sometimes seriously, because new unneighbourly neighbours have moved in next door or close by. The tenants charter has a number of important things to say—of reassurance and of authority —to those whose peace is being thus disrupted.
The reports of the Audit Commission too rarely emerge into the public domain. They are sent to local authorities, but unfortunately all too often local authorities bottle up the matters internally so that they never come out in the open. I should like all Audit Commission reports relating to local authorities to be sent to the relevant Members of Parliament. They should also go to the press. Moreover, I should like a new institution of this House to be set up. We should form a sub-committee of the Public Accounts Committee, which is our most important and prestigious Select Committee. The sub-committee should look into the Audit Commission's report. With at least 50 per cent.—some would say 75 per cent.—of local authority finance coming from the general taxpayer, not from the chargepayer, taxpayers' money is being spent on a huge scale by local authorities, and this House, as the guardian of the nation's taxes, has a legitimate interest in seeing that what local authorities spend of taxpayers' money receives much more public attention. One of the best ways of achieving this would be to give the PAC a large remit, perhaps by way of a sub-committee, which would enable this sort of work to be done as professionally as the PAC does its other work.
I am sure that it is true to say that I represent more people whom the social scientists would describe as belonging to social group E than any other Conservative Member of Parliament. In more colloquial language, I represent large numbers of people at the bottom of the pile. One of the reasons why I am here, greatly to the surprise of my opponents, is that more people of that sort of background voted for me than my opponents believed possible. I must confess, however, that some of the problems associated with these people are too easily overlooked by Ministers and by the Treasury. All Government policies should be analysed and assessed in terms of their impact on the poorest and most disadvantaged people.
Recently we have read and learnt about the riots in Los Angeles. I have read Sunday's newspapers and the newspapers since then with much interest. The Sunday Times leading article and Lord Rees-Mogg's article in The Independent on Monday were both extremely interesting. Both referred to the racial cauldron which has appeared in so many American cities and which has created an underclass of disadvantaged people. I do not represent many who could be described as having an ethnic background, but I do represent a large number of disadvantaged people. In 1980, about 25 per cent. of children born in the largest town in my constituency were born, to use old-fashioned language, outside wedlock. Today the figure is more than 40 per cent. In some primary schools in my constituency, at least 60 per cent. of children come from broken homes where there is no father. Many Opposition Members will have similar experiences. Inevitably, there is acute instability.
The leading article in The Sunday Times of 3 May makes the point with force, but within the context of the American racial situation. I again underline that what I have to face and deal with in Corby every day has nothing to do with race but has everything to do with people who are at the bottom of the pile and who totally depend upon the state for their income and for all the facilities that make life at all possible for them. The leading article refers to a report by an American professor in a seminal work published a decade ago about the black American family. Perhaps hon. Members will bear with me and eliminate from the words that I am about to read any reference to race and treat them as being about people who are at the bottom of the pile. The words still ring true. The article states:
And finally these people are destroyed by welfare which produced a culture of dependency among single parent mothers, encouraged them to have children they could not cope with, and allowed fathers to escape their obligations." His conclusion was that
the cycle of welfare dependency of single parent mothers on welfare raising children who grew up to produce their own single parent families on welfare was the final nail in the coffin of the black family.
These are all controversial matters, and the last thing that I would wish is to be considered in any way critical of young ladies in these circumstances. I have to deal with many families in which there is no male figure because the men have comprehensively and absolutely walked away from their responsibilities.
I wish to see a society in which it is possible for people to break out of the trap of poverty. Traps are imposed by the welfare benefits system and by low levels of education and, therefore, there are few job opportunities and virtually no possibility of being able to earn sufficient income to enable people to escape the poverty trap. The Government must address that. As The Sunday Times suggested, they must look at the welfare system that is being established in the state of New Jersey to see whether any lessons which will help towards greater social mobility away from the trap at the bottom of the system can be learnt.
Above all, the Government will have to spend more to develop much better education facilities at the bottom of the pile. In that context, my analysis parts company with that of many Opposition Members. More of the same in our education system is not the answer. The comprehensive system which was established in the 1960s has had 30 years to work but does not offer the way out that it should. However, the opportunities provided in city technology colleges and other such places are highly relevant to the most disadvantaged in our society.
It will be necessary to invest heavily in new institutions of education, not in Surrey or in prosperous Hertfordshire, or in the constituencies of the great majority of my hon. and right hon. Friends, but in the towns and cities that need investment in education and in its new opportunities. That is bitterly opposed by many Labour authorities and Labour supporters. They are profoundly wrong. My experience shows that the way to better education is to put abnormal and special facilities in the areas of greatest disadvantage. If that is done, it will offer a ladder out of the trap which presently imprisons far too many of our fellow countrymen. The future for those at the bottom of the pile is not in the extreme shades of colour that some might suggest.
Too many people have no confidence whatever not only in the Government but in local government. My Labour opponent in the general election was good enough to say in our local newspaper that the ruling Labour group on the district council had become complacent and did not realise the extent to which Labour voters had become thoroughly fed up and disenchanted with the low quality public services being provided by that authority. Those were the words of my Labour opponent who expected to win the contest. There is much greater disillusionment with the whole process of government, local and national, than many people are prepared to concede. Such matters will have to be addressed at grass roots level, rather than by imposing a centralised structure, which has not worked and which does not offer the opportunity for advancement.
I am here because many people who have nothing in this world voted for me. They did so because by voting for me they thought that they were more likely to get a way out of nothing than by voting for my opponents. That may be difficult for some people to come to terms with, but it is true. The opportunities provided by a Conservative Government are much greater than those that would have been provided by any other Government.
I welcome the Gracious Speech and look forward to a successful Parliament.
Last week, I was privileged to participate in the election of Miss Betty Boothroyd as Speaker. As a new Member, participating in that vote gave me great encouragement. I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. I am sure that you will preside over the affairs of the House with firm authority and that you will not overlook Back Benchers.
When I considered my maiden speech, I did not think that I should have the opportunity to deliver it on the first day of the debate on the Gracious Speech, nor that I should have to wait 30 minutes to do so, through the longest speech in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) and for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) on excellent maiden speeches. I hope that my own will live up to the expectation that their speeches created.
It is an honour and a privilege to be here and to make my maiden speech in the presence of my wife, without whose complete support and encouragement over the past 13 years in politics I might not have been here. It is a pity that our son Thomas could not be here, but perhaps school is a more important issue for a boy of 11. It is also a privilege sincerely to thank my friends Harold and Ivy Edwards, who are members of the Warrington Co-op party and have supported my political career at every turn for the past 13 years.
In the finest traditions of the House, I pay tribute to the people who represented Warrington, South before me. My immediate predecessor, Mr. Chris Butler, was elected in 1987. At that time, I had been leader of Warrington borough council for two years and we immediately crossed swords over the poll tax. Mr. Butler was ardently in favour of the poll tax and I was totally against it. From that moment, we debated many national issues in the context of Warrington borough council and I pay tribute to Chris Butler for participating in those debates, thus allowing them to be aired in a local context. In one sense it would be hypocritical of me to pass favourable comments on Mr. Butler. We have been political opponents for the past five years and the House will know that in the recently fought general election I was fortunate to have 191 votes more than Chris. However, Chris was joint secretary of the all-party committee on drug misuse and I know that his work as a member of that committee was well appreciated. He also played a full part in the work of the all-party committee on AIDS and made a positive contribution to its deliberations.
Chris Butler's predecessor was Mark Carlisle, now Lord Carlisle of Bucklow. From 1979 to 1981 Mark Carlisle was Secretary of State for Education and Science. He was responsible for ensuring that the Education Act 1981 found its way on to the statute book. It was a far-sighted and important piece of education legislation in the context of the education debate since the turn of the century. The Act removed the stigma of categorisation from handicapped school pupils, replacing it with the recognition that individual pupils should have their special needs assessed individually and that provision for special needs should be based on statementing within the terms of the 1981 Act. It was a superb piece of legislation. It placed on the statute book the recommendations of the Warnock Committee, set up under a Labour Government by the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, Shirley Williams. As I have said, it was a far-sighted piece of legislation. It looked further to the future and was far better than the onslaught on education that we have seen in the past 13 years while the Tory party has been in power. It should be remembered that Mark Carlisle left his job in Mrs. Thatcher's first reshuffle.
The House will recall that Mark Carlisle came to the House in 1964 as the Member for Runcorn. Following a Boundary Commission report, he became the hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South. That was the area which encompassed most of his constituency. He did an extremely good job.
It is traditional for a maiden speaker to say a little about his constituency. Warrington, South is a diverse and physically divided constituency. Running through the entire constituency are the Manchester ship canal and the River Mersey. To the north-east of my constituency are the two parishes of Great Sankey and Penketh. They are physically divided from the rest of the constituency by the ship canal and the Mersey. It is not possible to get to the rest of Warrington, South without passing through the constituency of a good friend of mine, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle), or taking a chance and swimming across the Mersey, which is not to be advised—even though there have been some major improvements in the quality of the water.
Two parts of my constituency, Latchford and Westy, form part of the old and famous Warrington constituency. The House will recall the 1981 by-election. The two areas are separated from the rest of the constituency by the Manchester ship canal.
The rest of Warrington, South is a prosperous area that is both suburban and rural. Attached to it are the 16,000 electors who live in Runcorn. Runcorn is not recognised in the name of the constituency and those people often feel left out. In fact, they played a major part in the election. I thank all those who live in the constituency of Warrington, South, including Runcorn, who voted for me, but I wish to stress that I am here to represent the interests of the constituency as a whole.
I listened to the Gracious Speech this morning in the House of Lords. I should say "in another place". I must get used to the traditions of the House. I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I call you Mr. Mayor. Tomorrow I shall relinquish my position as leader of Warrington borough council, so perhaps I shall be able to break the habit quickly.
When I listened to the Gracious Speech, I was looking for a programme of legislation that would be relevant to the problems that we face in the 1990s. Unfortunately, we have been presented with a programme of legislation which seemingly will produce more of the same. The past 13 years of Conservative rule have been characterised by, first, the feverish accumulation of wealth in private hands. There have been tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor. Privatisation has removed revenues which the Treasury would have received from gas and electricity undertakings and the like. Those revenues are now finding their way into the dividends of private companies. We have seen wage increases for the bosses and price increases for the rest of us. It seems that that will continue if the programme outlined in the Gracious Speech is followed through and finds its way on to the statute book.
The second characteristic of the past 13 years of Tory government has been increases in poverty, homelessness and unemployment. It is a travesty that 12 million people live on or below poverty levels. There has been a 7 million increase since 1979. It is obscene that 3 million children are now living in poverty.
The parishioners of St. James, Great Sankey recently conducted a survey of homelessness. They found that, in Warrington, 600 16 to 18-year-olds were without a home. That stands to be condemned in what we call a modern industrial society. Nothing in the Gracious Speech offers hope to the homeless. There is nothing in it to regenerate the building of housing for rent under the control of local authorities. Local authorities should be able to use their reserves to build housing for rent and to change the accommodation already under their control to accommodate homeless individuals and families.
In Warrington, South, 3,914 people are out of work and claiming benefit. Nationally, 2·7 million are out of work. Those are the statistics after the figures have been revised' 30 times by the Tory Government. If unemployment had been calculated in 1979 by the method that the Tories have now adopted, there would not have been any.
One of the greatest problems in my constituency is that in the Runcorn area, where there are 16,000 electors, 1,418 are unemployed. That constitutes 16 per cent. of the active work force. That is a disgrace. There is not one reference in the Gracious Speech to the way in which unemployment will be tackled.
The third characteristic of Conservative government in the past 13 years has been an arrogant use of power. The Tories have undermined the democratic process. I am gravely concerned about the concept of democracy in Britain. The issue has been raised by several hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Before the general election the Conservative party used all the powers available to it to start a campaign to distort, misinterpret, misrepresent and undermine the policies that the Labour party was putting to the electorate. The Conservative party was aided and abetted by the tabloid press, which no doubt acted in concert with it. The Conservative party was able successfully to undermine the Labour party's message.
I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that democracy is about choice, but that choice should be well informed and accurately informed. That process was deliberately undermined during the general election. I am pleased, however, that we saw the green shoots of democratic recovery appear when we elected the then hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) Speaker of this place. Having heard and read the Gracious Speech, however, I am doubtful whether we shall see the recovery continue.
The Government must accept their responsibility to safeguard democracy. After all, they exercise power in the House. It is their responsibility to ensure that we have a sound democracy. Therefore, they must use their power fairly and even-handedly. I hope that we may look forward to questions from my right hon. and hon. Friends being answered straightforwardly during Prime Minister's questions. More importantly, we need a code of conduct for the press similar to that which applies to television and radio. We must ensure that political debate is reported fairly, evenly and accurately. That will be a major measure to support democracy.
Reinhold Miebuhr wrote "The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness" in 1944. He made the following statement:
Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.
In this Parliament we need sound democracy, not lectures from the Government.
We know that a commission is about to tour the country to examine the prospects of introducing unitary authorities based on existing district council boundaries. That is a sound movement in our democracy as it transfers power to the people at the grass roots. I look forward to a speedy conclusion to the commission's work. I also look forward to a visit to the county of Cheshire in the near future, and to unitary government in the Warrington constituency that I now represent.
My deputy leader on Warrington borough council, John Gartside, promoted the idea of unitary authorities in Warrington 11 years ago. He said then that it would be useful for power to be transferred from the county councils to the borough councils, so that we could exercise power in Warrington on behalf of the people themselves. He was right, and I hope that the commission will reach the same conclusion soon.
An old Member of the House advised me to do three things after my election: to go to the Fees Office and get myself signed on; to make my maiden speech, because life would become a lot easier after that; and to get myself an office. I have done two of those three things—I wonder how long I shall have to wait for the office.
First, Mr. Deputy Speaker, let me congratulate you on your appointment and welcome you to the Chair. A future of long and lonely vigils lies ahead of you, but I hope that your service in the Chair will not be without its lighter moments.
I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) on his maiden speech. He made some generous comments about my former colleague Chris Butler, and I know that my hon. Friends will welcome the tribute that he paid to his predecessor. Chris Butler was an extremely hardworking representative of Warrington, South, and he will be sadly missed by his Conservative colleagues. The warm words uttered by his successor demonstrate the effort that he put into representing his constituency.
The new hon. Member for Warrington, South brings to the House considerable experience not only of teaching but of local government: that was clear from the confidence with which he spoke. I am sure that he appreciates that the patience with which the House listened to his speech did not necessarily constitute an endorsement of its content. Although we are all enamoured of his delivery, he may not receive a silent reception in future, for much of what he said was controversial. I hope that the hon. Gentleman enjoyed this evening's occasion, but he can be assured of a slightly rougher ride next time. For all that, his speech was very good and very well delivered, and I am sure that Warrington, South will have a potent voice in the Chamber.
Now that you are in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have an opportunity to ingratiate myself with a second occupant, in the hope of stacking up favours for the future. We are all delighted about your appointment, and we wish you extremely well. Some hon. Members have served in Standing Committee under your chairmanship. I recall serving on the Standing Committee that considered the Water Bill—I believe that it was the longest Committee stage that we have ever had, and it was certainly the longest since the war. Your chairmanship then, Madam Deputy Speaker, was patently fair but also good-humoured; nevertheless, as right hon. and hon. Members will discover, you are not a lady to be crossed. I have no doubt that the business of the Chamber will proceed very fairly under your wise guidance: long may you sit there.
Let me get all my obsequiousness out of the way. Another person whom I should congratulate—we go back far too many years, man and boy—is my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), who appeared at the Dispatch Box today as a new Minister. I hope that he enjoyed the speeches that concerned his Department.
When Conway stands up to speak in the Chamber, all the chairs change. I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) has arrived. His was indeed a wonderful victory, and I am glad to see that he has left the office that is popularly known as the Stasi—but better known as the Whips' Office—and taken on ministerial responsibilities.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) delivered a humorous speech which was widely enjoyed. He did so competently, as befits a man who has held some of the great offices of state. As I listened, I could not help reflecting that the names of those who have held offices of Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary tend to come and go with history. No doubt my right hon Friend's will be one of those names; but I suspect that the title "Baker days" will long remain. It is a term that all hon. Members with children hear regularly. In my ignorance, I thought initially that it had something to do with domestic science, but I was soon put straight about the purpose of "Baker days". I suspect that my right hon. Friend has left his mark on the education world for many years to come.
I think that my right hon. Friend has also done something more serious. His education reforms will be widely and, I believe, rightly considered to have provided a sound footing for state education. It is possible that the reforms begun by him and continued by my right hon. and learned Friend, the present Home Secretary, will prove to have done more to sound the death knell of second—rate private schools than anything that the class warriors could ever have said or done in the Chamber. Those reforms will, I think, ensure that those who continue to provide education in the private sector must look to their laurels. Evidence in my constituency suggests that— particularly at primary-school level, but also at secondary level—the challenges and competition that are coming from the maintained sector are encouraging and welcome.
Seconding the motion, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) spoke with humour and competence. As he hinted to the House, he is sometimes the subject of envy or jealousy, perhaps because of his youthfulness. Certainly, it will he clear to the House—not only from his speech today but from other contributions that he has made—that talent will out, and I hope that his role today is a sign that he will soon be joining those of his colleagues who form the country's Government.
The campaign that enabled the Government to construct the agenda in the Queen's Speech was interesting. I do not know how much other hon. Members enjoy election campaigns; I have been in politics for 23 years, and I am one of those masochists who find them quite good fun. I do not look forward to them, but, once they begin—especially in a constituency such as Shrewsbury and Atcham, which is an extremely pleasant place to represent and in which to campaign—they are certainly no trial. Indeed, they constitute a very enjoyable and informative process.
One of my main votes of thanks should go to the pollsters. I began the campaign expecting a reduced majority. Halfway through the campaign, I began to realise that my majority would increase, owing mainly to the distortion that the polling organisations were introducing. Experienced canvassers know from the look in the eye of the elector to whom they talk roughly what that voter's intentions are. They know how truthful the elector's response is when he answers the door: they know whether he will support their party or another one. 1 suspect that that is not an experience on which polling organisations can build; thus, in the final week of the campaign, those organisations were able to dominate the election with talk of hung Parliaments and proportional representation. That distorted the opportunity that we had as a nation to hammer out policies in that final week.
The greatest beneficiary was, I think, the Liberal Democrat party. The Liberal Democrats managed to get away with talking about proportional representation without anyone looking at their policies. I read their manifesto in great detail—especially page 39, which promised to do away with mortgage interest relief. That would have cost my constituents who have mortgages of £30,000 or more £68 a month. The Liberal Democrats were never prepared to debate that issue before the electorate with any confidence or courage. The same applies to their tax policy. If their policies had been known, they would probably have received an even greater hammering.
The result of the election is this: my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister continues in his post, and has been able to present the Government's agenda in the Gracious Speech. I think that he fought a very good campaign. It showed what a steady hand he has—a fact that was not doubted by those of us who saw him take over the Conservative party leadership at a time of crisis, not only for the Conservative party, but for a country that faced the unsure outcome of the Gulf conflict. The steadiness of the Prime Minister's hand was proven during that conflict. More important, the electorate understood—certainly this was the message that we received on the doorstep—thatthe Prime Minister was sincere.
When the Prime Minister talks about a classless society, I am never entirely sure how we are to aim for such a goal. At the outset of today's debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) was sitting on the Front Bench. I could not resist the temptation of picturing the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—who is an extremely able man, as well as being very good company; I am sure that everyone will welcome him into the Government—in this context. I could not help but juxtapose his presence with the idea of a classless society. What the Prime Minister means by that in terms of the Conservative party is that class is irrelevant. Those who continue the class battle outside in the country or in the Chamber have got the message from the electorate because, for most of those who do not regard themselves as upper or middle class, class is irrelevant. Like the Prime Minister, I was brought up in a council house and went to a secondary modern school. In those circumstances the class war has no appeal. Most people are preoccupied with getting on with life.
Sadly, life is not equal. I would prefer to be thin and to have hair my wife would wish the same—but I was born to put on weight and go bald. I regret that and it is not fair of God to have delivered in that way. However, life is not equal and we must come to terms with that and do the best we can.
When I stay in London I live in a one—bedroom flat in Pimlico. It is a nice flat in a nice area. It is not the fault of the greater Being, the Government, history or society that I stay in a one—bedroom flat while the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), one of the House's great class warriors, lives in a nice mansion in Holland Park, or that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), perhaps soon to be the leader of the Labour party, has a rather nice country mansion. I do not begrudge them that but I wish that they would not begrudge it to others.
During the next four or five years the purpose of the Government is to get the balance right for the duty that our citizens have towards society through their taxes to provide for society's needs and for those who are less successful. The Government must also create oppportunity for individuals and their families. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's commitment to that is unequivocal. He has shown that by deed. In the Gracious Speech the Government have put before us the proposition to extend council house sales through the rent-to-mortgage scheme. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and those responsible at the Department of the Environment will consider the difficulty particularly facing older council tenants. Obtaining a mortgage is not difficult, but they have a problem in funding the insurance commitment that tends to go with the mortgage for those over the age of 50. I hope that as the House discusses the proposals that issue will be considered.
I must resist the temptation to comment on the industrial relations Bill. I am a former branch secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union. However, since my appointment as parliamentary private secretary to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) I am precluded from making comments on any legislation relating to the Department of Employment. I am not sure whether my appointment is to stop my hon. Friend from diluting his sensible and sound views, but the opportunity to learn from, and work with, one of the brightest Ministers in the Government who is also a friend was too good to resist. Also, I could not resist the opportunity to work with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and her excellent team, which includes my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) and my noble Friend the Viscount Ullswater in another place. It is a vibrant Department with challenging portfolios and I look forward to playing a small part in it.
In the Gracious Speech the Government announced their intention again to put before the House the Asylum Bill. I am glad that that is so because there are problems that will not go away. I regret the fact that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) described the Bill as racist. That is not an honourable term to apply to the Bill and its intention or practice. Lectures on honour are something that we cannot take and do not need from that right hon. Gentleman.
The Bill with which I shall have greatest difficulty is that covering the Maastricht treaty. My scepticism about the European cause is long standing. I was one of a handful of Members of Parliament to defy Mrs. Thatcher's three-line Whip when she was our Prime Minister to vote for the Single European Act. Many have since considered that the powers that we gave to Brussels through that Act and through the limited use of veto should not have been given and, with hindsight, would not be given were the Bill to come before us again.
One of the problems that I and many of my hon. Friends have with that Bill is the realisation that, although we may not like all that it contains, we cannot gainsay the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did a superb job in the negotiations. I believe that his success could not have been achieved by his predecessor. I hope that in our dealings with Europe he will ensure that the growth of the Brussels bureaucracy does not continue. Some of its ideas make some of the madder councils look positively prudent. I doubt whether the Bill will make us citizens of Europe.
I am pleased to be a subject of the Queen rather than a citizen of Europe. Those of us who voted for the United Kingdom to be part of the European Economic Community voted for just that—an area of free trade and free movement of capital, people and goods. The European Commission and too many others have lost sight of that.
Shrewsbury, which it is a privilege to represent, is a historic borough. Last year we celebrated the 150th anniversary of Benjamin Disraeli's time as a Member of Parliament. The borough was also the home of the first Parliament—the first occasion on which peers and commoners sat together. Therefore, it has a special link with the Chamber and what it tries to achieve. Like so many other areas, it prospers along with the nation.
Shrewsbury has a particular part to play in our heritage. We are listed as one of the 12 ancient boroughs with properties of particular historic importance to the country. Some, I hope not many, believe that the role of the new National Heritage Department and the proceeds of the new national lottery should be directed towards the arts. Although that is undoubtedly important, we need to ensure that we maintain the fabric of our historic buildings that play such an important part in making our country special. I hope that the new National Heritage Department will have a broad perspective on how to allocate its resources.
To the outsider Shrewsbury may seem to be an affluent town and, in many parts, it is. However, my constituency contains 120 villages as well as the county town. Many people perceive the farming community to be a well-off sector of society, particularly those who live in towns. However, those of us who represent farmers know only too well that they are running businesses on reduced incomes and that the demands upon them are ever greater. In the Finance (No. 2) Bill I look forward to ensuring that the inheritance tax proposals go ahead so that those who have invested in unlimited companies as small business men and in the farming community will be able to ensure that their families continue that business without the dead hand of the Inland Revenue pressing them too far. That is often one more pressure that many small businesses, of which there are many in Shrewsbury, find all too great. That was proved by the uniform business rate valuations which took place when capital values were unrealistically high and it is one of my fears for the council tax Bill, judgment on which is yet to come.
The Gracious Speech sets a good agenda for the Parliament. It contains many sensible Bills—16 in all. I believe that we shall make steady progress. Perhaps the Government's reduced majority will enable the legislature to exercise better and more effective control over the Executive, and that is no bad thing. All that will be underwritten by a strengthening of our economy with its reducing interest rates and reducing inflation rates so that we shall reach a point at which we are poised to lead Europe out of recession.
The fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was returned to office—it was not expected by the media —was an acknowledgement by the country of his widely known and respected competence. His mission has not been to penalise success—that is what many of my constituents feared about the policies offered by Opposition parties—but to spread success and prosperity ever wider. In that he will have the full-hearted backing of the party and, I believe, the warm good wishes of the people of Shrewsbury and Atcham.
May I be the first new Member to congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment to that position? I rise for the first time in the House with a certain amount of trepidation—not because of the television cameras or the members of the public in the Strangers Gallery but because of the comment of a small boy whom I was showing round this place last week.
I thank my predecessor, Mike Woodcock, for his work in the House, and wish him every success in his new work. He has just published a new book, which I have promised to buy when it is remaindered. I admit to already owning two books by Conservative Members of Parliament, so I shall not buy a third—at least until it has been remaindered.
I also thank Mike for organising the visit of St. Bernard's school last Monday, partly because he made the arrangements, which was helpful, and partly because the visit gave me an insight into the way in which this place works.
To find oneself on one's first day here showing round a party of inquisitive schoolchildren was indeed a challenge. I have also to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) for rescuing me from the mire on that occasion. I congratulate him on his skills as a well-informed and entertaining guide.
The small boy whom I mentioned told me with no equivocation that he did not like Conservatives. His view is in keeping with that of most of my constituents—I thought that he was a young man with excellent judgment. He went on to ask, "But why are they so noisy?" That was another perceptive and astute comment—hence my trepidation, but I am pleased to note that as only six Conservative Members are here tonight the noise will not cause me great concern.
Ellesmere Port and Neston is a constituency of great contrasts—.from rich to poor, from urban to rural, from beautiful landscapes to industrial dereliction, and from environmental perfection to environmental concern. I shall concentrate on that last aspect, and contrast the peace and tranquillity of Ness gardens with the serious concerns about the protection of the environment round the vital petrochemical and related industries.
Ness gardens were the creation of a great socialist—A. K. Bulley who, incidentally, fought the then Rossendale constituency early this century on behalf of the women's suffrage movement. The gardens, which he and his daughter later gave to Liverpool university, now provide a place of great beauty and tranquillity for my constituents and for many thousands of visitors. They also provide the university with important research facilities on plants and their habitat. In this House my skills as a guide have yet to be developed, but I should happily share the experience of the beauty and tranquillity of Ness gardens with other Members of the House.
In contrast, one of the greatest petrochemical complexes in the British Isles is based at Stanlow, and stretches for several miles. It provides much-needed employment and wealth for the area, but inevitably it continually raises environmental issues of great-importance to the local community. I will cite two examples.
Kemira is a company producing fertilisers. Why should it suffer from eastern bloc countries' dumping of products in this country? Those products are manufactured and transported according to standards that we in this country would not accept, and that is not a fair basis on which companies can operate. It is immensely damaging to the environment to allow such unfettered trade. Regrettably, 1 see little in the Gracious Speech to resolve that dilemma.
The prevalence of the free market seems to override environmental concerns. Is it right that toxic waste should be imported into my constituency for incineration? That waste is transported under inadequate trans-frontier shipment regulations. Unwanted waste comes from as far away as Australia. We do not want toxic waste from Australia or any other nation to be imported into this country for incineration. Again, I express my belief that issues of great importance to our nation, and to the planet as a whole, cannot be tackled by using market principles.
In conclusion, I ask Conservative Members to think again about the issues raised in the Gracious Speech—such as anti-union dogma and another privatisation charade. I ask them to drop those issues and tackle the real issues facing my constituents—jobs, housing, health, education, transport and, as I have described in detail, the environment.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me, and I thank the House for doing me the courtesy of listening to me.
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for being a little late; I had to respond to a rather urgent call. I start my maiden speech by expressing my warm personal congratulations to you for being appointed to your present office. I am sure that I have the support of all right hon. and hon. Members in offering you our best wishes in executing your duties in the House. I am sure that you will distinguish the office tha7 you hold.
Today is something of a double whammy—to coin a phrase that was extensively used during the election campaign—for me. It is not only the day on which I am making my maiden speech—all right hon. and hon Members know that that is a day that one never forgets —but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) has just told me, it is my birthday. I have something important for which to cherish this day, and cherish it I certainly shall.
I shall continue my maiden speech by conforming to a time-honoured tradition of the House and congratulate hon. Members on both sides of the House who have made their maiden speeches today. I had the pleasure of listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who made a distinguished and excellent speech, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall), who also made an impressive maiden speech. Unfortunately, I missed the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), but I look forward to hearing him speak in the Chamber on many other occasions.
I gladly comply with another tradition of the House in acknowledging the work of my predecessor in the constituency of Barrow and Furness—Cecil Franks. It is beyond dispute and doubt that Cecil Franks took a particular interest in and paid particular attention to the affairs of the constituency. He was and is a courteous and civilised man who showed great dignity and good humour in his defeat on 9 April. Sadly for him, he is now experiencing some of the difficulties caused by the sudden loss of employment: he shares that experience with far too many of my constituents. I wish him well for the future in his new career outside the House.
I express my admiration and respect for the previous Labour Member for my constituency, Albert Booth. He was a fine Member of Parliament who not only rose to high Cabinet office, where he distinguished himself with rare excellence, but who is fondly remembered in my constituency for his attention to the personal problems of my constituents. Without doubt he will be a tough act to follow on both counts, but I look forward to the challenge of representing my constituents in the House.
Barrow and Furness is a great industrial constituency. Along with other towns and cities of northern Britain, it was once famous for being the workshop of the world. We are the home of Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. which is, without doubt, the world leader in the design and construction of nuclear submarines. VSEL is also a magnificent centre of engineering excellence.
The constituency is also host to many other leading industrial concerns such as Glaxo chemicals at Ulverston and Scotts, the paper manufacturers, in Barrow. There are many other small and medium-sized companies in the constituency which are recognised leaders in their fields. I think especially of Oxley's Developments in Ulverston, Camille Simon in Barrow, and Furness Engineering and Technology Ltd., to name just a few. I am proud to say that the list is long and it provides Barrow and Furness with one of the most skilled and highly trained industrial work forces to be found anywhere in Britain.
Barrow and Furness is also a very beautiful constituency which nestles at the foot of the Lake District, with a wonderful coastline and rugged hills. However, the real asset of my constituency is its people. They are a warm and generous community, and that is especially true of the people of Hindpool where I lived during the general election campaign. They made me and my family extremely welcome, which is an experience I will never forget.
The work force of VSEL have served the nation's interests with great distinction in both war and peace for many generations. We have built up a rare and precious collection of skills and talents, an asset for Britain which is far too important to see frittered away. Sadly, thousands of my constituents are now being forced to live and work under the constant threat of losing their jobs.
More than 5,000 jobs have been lost at VSEL in the past two years and thousands more have been lost outside VSEL. My constituents deserve better treatment. We look to the Government especially to take some of the urgent measures which will help us to get through the next few difficult years. Unless the Government act quickly and decisively, they will experience and he responsible for an industrial catastrophe which will rip the guts out of what is left of the British heavy engineering industry. As we are a manufacturing nation with a proud history of shipbuilding and marine engineering, it is incumbent on the Government to act without delay to rescue my industrial constituency from the catastrophe that I predict.
There are three urgent measures which we look to the Government to act on. Barrow and Furness urgently needs assisted area status and we call on the Government to redraw the maps of assisted area status which have not been changed for almost nine years. It is imperative that the Government look again at the assisted area status maps. My constituency needs a healthier climate for business activity, and such a measure would make a decisive contribution to securing that.
We also urgently need improved transport and communication links with the rest of Britain. I am thinking especially of the A590 and the Furness line. On looking at the Gracious Speech this morning, I and many of my constituents were very concerned about the threat to the Furness line posed by the privatisation of British Rail. We remain to be convinced that privatisation will improve the passenger services to my constituency. Indeed, we are deeply suspicious that the exact opposite will result.
Perhaps most importantly, the VSEL yards in Barrow urgently need support, new work and new orders. We especially want—and ask—the Government to think carefully about accelerating the ordering of the batch 2 hunter-killer submarines. During the lifetime of this Parliament and I hope, with the support of my electorate, beyond the lifetime of this Parliament, I will continue to press the Government on all three counts.
The Government's other policies—on health and education, for example—continue to have a negative impact on the lives of my constituents. Many schools in my constituency are struggling to make ends meet under the local management of schools regime created by the Government. It is becoming increasingly difficult for many schools in my constituency to balance the books, to pay the staff, to maintain the fabric of the buildings, and to deliver the national curriculum which the Government have created. The one simple measure which many of us wanted to see in the Government's legislative programme was a commitment that they would revive the LMS scheme so that the actual salary costs of teachers, as opposed to a notional average, formed a part of the budgetary element. In my constituency, and, I suspect, in many other constituencies where there are schools with an established staff who have reached the top or near the top of the salary scale, it is becoming increasingly difficult for schools to manage effectively the budgets that they have been given.
The Gracious Speech appears to me and to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends to be more an attempt to satisfy the ideological fixations of various sections of the Conservative party than a serious attempt to address the economic and social difficulties facing Britain in the 1990s. Many of my constituents will be disappointed, but probably not surprised, by the contents of the Gracious Speech. In particular, there is nothing in it which holds out the prospect of an early end to the years of unemployment which started in my constituency with the publication of the defence review, "Options for Change".
There is nothing in the Gracious Speech which offers the hope, not only to my constituency but to many others that are dependent on defence-related work, that the Government are seriously addressing the problems faced by such communities. We know, understand and welcome the Government's commitment to review and reconsider Britain's defensive posture and capabilities, but we do not understand the Government's desire, which we condemn, to leave those communities to face the full brunt of market forces.
Communities such as mine, which have worked consistently for the Government for almost 30 years—all the work we have had in shipbuilding and engineering has been defence-related—need the assistance of the Government to make the necessary changes. We need the Government to understand that we cannot simply make that change on our own. If my constituents are left to face the full force of market forces, there will be carnage in my constituency. The Government must recognise and take responsibility for that. My constituents will not forgive the Government if they continue to sit on their hands and to do nothing.
The one question I put to Conservative Members is to ask what kind of management of our economy we have if the Government are prepared to sit on their hands while skilled men and women in Barrow and Furness are turned on to the dole. My response to the question is simply this: a Government who are prepared to see that happen are a Government who are taking the British economy in the wrong direction. We need the skills of my constituents. We need the contribution that they can make to a revitalised British engineering industry. Unfortunately, however, that commitment is lacking on the Government's part.
Let me end my maiden speech by recalling a conversation that I had recently with one of my constituents, a man in his late nineties, who, on 9 April, had made the particularly painful trip to the polling station to vote in person. He had the option of voting by proxy but he chose to vote himself. My constituent reminded me of the very first Labour Member of Parliament elected to represent Barrow. Charles Duncan was elected to the House in 1906. It gives me a measure of pride in my constituents to think that mine was among the first constituencies in Britain to return a Labour Member of Parliament. When Charles Duncan was elected, there were only 29 Members on the Labour Benches. In that respect, my constituents were some years ahead of many of those now so ably represented by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The point of my recollection of that conversation is this. My elderly constituent stopped me in Dalton road in Barrow and told me how proud he was that, nearly 90 years later, Barrow had elected a socialist—a new Labour Member—to represent it in this House. My constituent had lived to see the day, and I have the privilege of being that Labour Member of Parliament. As all right hon. and hon. Members know, it is a rare and great honour to be in the House. For me, it is an even greater honour to represent the people of Barrow and Furness, and I look forward to speaking up for them in the House in the years that lie ahead.
May I be the first Liberal Democrat Member to congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your elevation to your new post. I hope that I shall be forgiven by other right hon. and hon. Members from the south-west for congratulating you on your new position on behalf of the south-west Now that we have no Minister representing a constituency west of Bristol, we must look to you as our principal guide and mentor, and I hope that you will ensure that those from the south-west—the wild west—are given the opportunity to speak. I hope that we shall have the opportunity to catch your eye on future occasions.
I have heard six excellent maiden speeches in today's debate. The last one—from the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton)—was particularly adroit and adept. It was also succinct—an especially admirable virtue to those of us who have been waiting to speak. The hon. Gentleman gave particular emphasis to employment—a matter to which I should like to return—and no doubt the points that he made about his constituents' employment difficulties would be echoed in many hon. Members' constituencies.
It is 18 years since I made my maiden speech from this Bench. It was a long time ago, and a number of right hon. and hon. Members were not even Members of the House at that stage. I well remember the difficulty that I experienced in catching the eye of the Deputy Speaker on that occasion, waiting throughout a long debate and trying to make the right speech for the occasion. Today, we have been admirably well served by the six hon. Members who have broken the ice.
When I made my speech all those years ago, I had the misfortune to be serving in one of the shortest Sessions of Parliament and to have one of the most minuscule majorities—a majority of only nine. I hope that, in this Parliament, I shall have improved on both. Several changes have taken place. Then, I represented the now defunct constituency of Bodmin. I now represent the constituency of Cornwall, North, which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, know well. It is a glorious constituency renowned for the character both of its people and of its places. It has been the popular holiday haunt of many famous Members of Parliament, including one very distinguished former Member of the House, the previous Prime Minister, who I suppose is now caught in limbo somewhere between this House and the other place, although I forget how we properly describe the purgatory between the two.
Sadly, when I spoke on that occasion 18 years ago, the situation was rather more propitious than it is today. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have remarked, the word "employment"—or "unemployment"—does not appear in the Gracious Speech. There are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who, while accepting the special requirements of inner cities, to which the Prime Minister referred in his speech, and which will be reflected in and addressed by the urban regeneration agency, are nevertheless concerned that concentration on the problems of inner cities may mean that insufficient attention is paid to the deep-seated economic problems of the more rural areas of England, Wales, Scotland and Cornwall. I suggest that the hidden needs of many of those communities, rarely as newsworthy as those of the inner cities, also deserve special attention.
I will illustrate that point by referring to some of the circumstances which have changed since, as a very new Member of Parliament, I made my maiden speech just over 18 years ago. I referred then to housing waiting lists and to the homeless in my constituency. Today, repossessions stand at 16 times their 1974 level. In Devon and Cornwall there are more families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation than ever before, and the waiting lists for rented accommodation are simply impossible. Another change is that the mainstay of the local rural economy—the small family farm consisting mostly of livestock—has worse income levels today than it did before the war. That is not a political point—it is a point that has been intelligently and well argued by the special unit at Exeter university.
Thirdly, small businesses, which in comparative terms were thriving those years ago, are now in considerable difficulties. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) referred to the difficulty with the uniform business rate. We very much regret that the uniform business rate has not been pegged at last year's level and is still edging its way up. In parts of Cornwall, 50 per cent.
of holiday businesses are up for sale. That represents a vote of no confidence in what for them has been the last straw—the level and valuation level of the uniform business rate.
As I said, the starkest indicator of change in those 18 years has been the change in the employment pattern. This afternoon I asked the Library to give me the figures for North Cornwall 18 years ago and today. In 1974, a total of 800 people were on the unemployment register—2.5 per cent. of the population. That figure has risen more than sevenfold, to 5,621—nearly 17 per cent. of the total work force in the North Cornwall constituency. More than 3,900 men, or 23 per cent., and 1,600 women, or 9 per cent., are unemployed. Our problem is comparable with some of the worst problems of the inner cities to which the Prime Minister referred. That is a rise of more than 50 per cent. in the last six months, seasonally adjusted. In some journey-to-work areas in the constituency, up to one in three employable men are now without a job. Many of them are young and many of them are long-term unemployed. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said, rural areas are suffering deprivation—often hidden but nevertheless real—in terms of public services and opportunities for their citizens. While we recognise the case and welcome the special attention for the inner cities that will be effected by the new agency, we believe that in the far-flung areas of Britain which require special attention because of deep-seated economic problems and structural changes in the employment pattern we must have regionally based development agencies.
We take some comfort from the fact that the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who served his political apprenticeship close to your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to mine, is well known to be enthusiastic for the concept of locally generated development agencies. We hope that he will carry forward that enthusiasm in his new Department and use it to set up agencies that will be effective in turning the tide of unemployment in areas such as yours, Madam Deputy Speaker, and mine.
We must have areas with integrity and clear identities and with clear similarities of economic problems, opportunities and characteristics. They must have cohesion and a manageable size. They must also have a sense of identity. I hope that some guidance may be provided by the existing agency, the Rural Development Commission, which I had the privilege and pleasure to advise when I was not a Member of this place. The new agency must be deeply rooted in the local community.
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I welcome the tone of constructive intervention which we believe may well be personified in the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. That is surely a far cry from the high tide and heyday of high Thatcherism. We want to ensure that the tone which has crept into ministerial voices is now carried through into action. Words are not enough.
I add my congratulations to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment today. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Tyler) on his maiden speech. It must be a great pleasure for him to return to this place after serving for a brief time in the 1974 Parliament, and a great honour and pleasure to represent the people of Cornwall, North in this Parliament.
I congratulate also my hon. Friends the Members for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) and for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) on their contributions. It was a particular pleasure to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston because when I fought the constituency of Eddisbury in the 1983 general election my hon. Friend was then the constituency chair. We go back rather a long way, as do my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South and I. Twelve years ago we sat in the Strangers Gallery and watched the proceedings and dreamed of the day when we would represent the Labour party in Parliament, though perhaps in more auspicious circumstances under a Labour Government. Nevertheless, we are proud to be here today.
I have the honour and privilege to be the first Labour Member for Delyn. It is a particular pleasure and honour to represent the people of Delyn. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) referred to the five general elections that he fought. I did not have to suffer that ordeal as I have fought only three general elections, although I did fight one Euro-election which was an ordeal times nine. It is a great pleasure to be here today to speak for the people of Delyn, to put forward their strongly held views and to argue the case for Labour party policies in this forthcoming Parliament.
In becoming Member for Delyn, I want to thank my constituents and the many Labour party workers and supporters in Delyn who worked in this election and in previous general elections to return a Labour Member for Delyn. In 1983, Labour secured 14,000 votes in Delyn. In 1987, we secured 20,000 votes. Thanks to the work of the people in Delyn and the many organisations that have supported Labour candidates in the constituency over the years, on 9 April we secured 25,000 votes and a Labour gain for the first time in that constituency.
I would not be standing here as Member for Delyn without the support of my family—my wife Margaret who married a Labour candidate for Delyn constituency, my children Tom, Amy and Alys who, not necessarily of their choice, were born into the political history of the constituency of Delyn—and of my employers. Until last Thursday I worked as a director of RESOLV, the society for the prevention of solvent and volatile substance abuse. That organisation was extremely generous in supporting my candidature as a Member of this place. I hope to repay that by working with my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) and the all-party group on solvent issues to ensure that another voice is added to support action to stop the tragedy of the deaths of 149 young people every year as a result of solvent and volatile substance misuse.
My constituency is in north-east Wales. It is a proud area. The name of the constituency derives from the river Dee and the river Alyn which serve my constituency. My constituency is the gateway to many of the beauties of north Wales for many travellers from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Flint, with its historic castle which was built to keep out the English invaders, is the main town at the south end of my constituency. It is a proud and closely knit town which supports many industries and is enjoying great regeneration. It was hit hard by the appalling job losses at Shotton steelworks, Courtaulds and many other factories during the recession in the early 1980s. It faces hard times now, but with the support of positive action from the Labour party and the House, it will see those times through.
My constituency includes the towns of Holywell and Bagillt. It stretches to the coastal resort of Prestatyn where many people from Liverpool, the city of my birth, have enjoyed holidays and good days out. Mold, the county town of Clwyd, provides many local government jobs. When the Gracious Speech is digested, I shall be interested to see how local government will fare under the Government's future plans. I am extremely worried about how the Government will take forward plans to maintain local government, to develop it and to ensure that its boundaries reflect the needs of local people and the wishes of our communities and that it delivers effective services.
There are also many mining villages in my constituency such as Ffynnongroew, Pennyffordd and Gronant, which support the Point of Ayr colliery. Many beautiful and prosperous villages that form part of the hinterland of Delyn constituency have prospered under the Government who, I hope, in future will secure support for the many people in my constituency who have not prospered after 13 years of Conservative government.
I am fortunate to represent a seat which is a Labour gain. I fought the then hon. Member for Delyn—Mr. Keith Raffan, who retired before the general election—in the previous general election and it would be remiss of me not to mention the good work that he has done for Delyn constituency. We never agreed on many political points, if any at all, but during the six years in which I shadowed him as the Labour candidate, I found him to he a hardworking constituency Member who reflected the views of his party most vociferously in the Chamber and in the constituency and who served the people of Delyn constituency well. He has now gone to pastures new. On behalf of everybody in Delyn, I wish him well in his new job and for the future.
It would be remiss not to mention also the two Members of Parliament who are held in great esteem in my constituency and who served the constituency before the boundary reorganisation in 1983. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) is particularly well respected and well remembered in my constituency, having served as the hon. Member for Flint, East, which covers half of my constituency, for 13 years before the boundary reorganisation. There is not a place in Delyn where my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside is not fondly remembered, fondly known, recognised and applauded.
For many years, the hon. Member for the Flint, West part of my constituency was Sir Anthony Meyer, who recently retired from the House. He distinguished himself by being an extremely good constituency Member of Parliament and a man of particular courage. It certainly takes courage to stand for election when one's party does not support one and to say things that, one year later, many people are only too glad to vote for. I pay tribute to him for the courage that he showed. When the knives are out and when one's back is in the way, one must be extremely careful. Sir Anthony Meyer, who represented the northern parts of my constituency and the town of Mold, deserves the congratulations of the House on his service to his constituents.
The Gracious Speech has much in it that we can appreciate and look to for the future and about which I shall be willing to learn more. However, there is much in it which I fundamentally oppose and about which I have grave concern for my constituents and the future of major services and industries in my constituency. I mention in particular the proposal to privatise British Coal. My constituents who work at the Point of Ayr colliery in my constituency will oppose that proposal. The many people for whom the colliery provides employment in the hinterland of the Point of Ayr colliery will oppose that proposal. Many people throughout the constituency who have no involvement with the coal industry will oppose that proposal. Point of Ayr is fundamental to future employment in the northern part of my constituency. The Rothschild report, which was published in leaked form before the election, indicates quite clearly that under a privatised British Coal the Point of Ayr colliery would be no more. When the opportunity arises, I shall fight that Bill tooth and nail in the House and elsewhere to make sure that the people of my constituency get a fair deal.
It is not a matter of dogma—it is a matter of common sense. We are not talking about, and nor are people in my constituency necessarily concerned about, the ownership of British Coal. The dogma on that matter comes from the Government. We are concerned about good management, investment in the coal industry, investment in decent working conditions for the people who work in that pit, productivity, and support for those people to produce coal at effective, cheap prices. In the coming months, there will be arguments about ownership and profitability. As I have said, I have three children under five. What is profitable today will not necessarily be profitable in future. We have valuable reserves now, but in the future my children and grandchildren will need resources which such a Bill will deny people, allowing them to consider only the profit motive in the coal industry.
I also heard with dismay about the involvement of the private sector in British Rail. In my constituency, there is a great need for further investment in Flint and Prestatyn railway stations and, as my colleagues who represent constituencies in Wales and Cheshire know, the improvements in the Crewe-Holyhead railway link. Privatisation and private sector involvement in British Rail will do nothing to support the improvement of services in my constituency. They will do nothing to invest in the future of rail links to my constituency, and nothing whatsoever to ensure the security of viable, important transport links to Flint and Prestatyn stations. I will oppose such a measure when the opportunity arises.
Like my hon. Friends, I was disappointed at what was not in the Gracious Speech. On 9 April, in Wales, 27 Labour Members of Parliament were elected, compared with six Conservatives, four Welsh nationalists and one Liberal Democrat. I make no quibble about being part of the United Kingdom, because we are rightfully part of the United Kingdom. However, if Conservative Members wish to impose their policies on the people of Wales, they must listen to hon. Members who were elected to represent the Welsh people and who have valid points of view to put forward.
The Welsh Office currently spends more than £6,000 million per year. There are 42 quangos throughout Wales dealing with every aspect of public life in our community. There are thousands upon thousands of investments by the Government in Wales. Yet there are only three Ministers, one of whom does not even represent a seat in Wales. They spend and invest that resource on behalf of the people of that community.
As the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) said, 70 per cent. of the people of Wales did not vote for the Government. I do not ask that you discard your programme. It is your right to implement it. I ask that you simply—
Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a learner's mistake. I shall come back in due course and learn by experience.
Conservative Members have the mandate to run the United Kingdom and put forward their policies in the United Kingdom, but I trust that they will listen closely to those of us who have won seats in Wales and represent the people of Wales. I hope that they will introduce policies for Wales.
I was also strongly disappointed to see no action proposed in the Queen's Speech on the minimum wage, which a Labour Government would have introduced had we been elected on 9 April. It is not a lot to ask that people in my constituency should earn £3.40 per hour. Many people in my area, particularly in Flint, Holywell, Bagillt and Greenfield, earn much less than £3.40 per hour. I hoped that the Government would see fit to introduce legislation to begin to abolish low pay and fall into line with our Community partners, who believe that a minimum wage is essential and valuable.
In the coming months many points will come before the House on which I shall wish to speak. I am proud to be the Labour Member of Parliament for the Delyn constituency and proud to make my maiden speech here today in front of colleagues whom I have known for many years. I am proud to represent the people of my constituency. The Gracious Speech contains proposals which we shall oppose fundamentally and which will affect my constituency drastically. I look forward to the opportunity to vote against them and to the day when we shall sit on the Government Benches introducing the policies on which I was elected on 9 April.
I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to make a speech which some weeks ago people forecast that I would not be in a position to make. But may I first congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. I am sure that I speak on behalf of hon. Members on both sides of the House in saying that we are delighted at your appointment and we wish you well in the next five years.
I congratulate the hon. Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) and, although it was not his maiden speech, for Cornwall, North (Mr. Tyler). I listened carefully to those speeches and I congratulate all those hon. Members on their eloquence, the passion with which they spoke, their concern for their constituents and the great understanding in a short space of time of their constituencies. All I can say is that the 1992 intake is obviously of a high calibre. Although politically I have nothing in common with Opposition Members, I wish them well in the future. On behalf of Conservative Members, I thank them for their gracious and generous tributes to my hon. Friends whom they defeated.
We lost 44 Members of Parliament. As Opposition Members would expect me to say, I held each and every one of them in high regard. It will be remembered and noted that Opposition Members were so generous in their speeches. In particular, I shall miss my friend, Ken Hargreaves, who was the Member for Hyndburn. He was well respected in the House. One could not find a more hard-working Member of Parliament than Ken Hargreaves. He will be truly missed.
Much has been said about the constituency of Basildon. Some have described it as a remarkable win. That is certainly not the case. It was my good fortune that mine was the first marginal seat result to be shown on television. I have received in my postbag letters not only from within the United Kingdom but from all over the world. There were many more remarkable Tory victories than mine.
My victory is due to the tremendous campaign in my constituency. I was supported by Lady Emily Blatch, our former colleagues Cecil Parkinson and Norman Tebbit, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) the Parliamentary Under—Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the former Prime Minister, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, and, to complete a winning team, Henry Cooper. I realise that I am straying somewhat from the main content of the Gracious Speech, but I shall come to that shortly.
Very shortly, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am grateful to each and every one of those who campaigned in my constituency. I am also grateful to the Leader of the House of Commons, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), my hon. Friends the Members for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and for Rochford (Dr. Clark), Sir Bernard Braine and my hon. Friends the Members for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), all of whom brought teams over to help me.
There is no secret about how we won the seat in Basildon. I campaigned on the contents of the Gracious Speech that we heard today, all of which was contained in our election manifesto, "The Best Future for Britain". I campaigned on my record as a constituency Member for the past nine years and on the Government's record. On both counts, my constituents decided to send me back to Westminster and our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Downing street, once again to form a Conservative Government. That is how we won locally and nationally.
In going through the Gracious Speech, I was particularly drawn to the sentence that says:
Britain's minimum nuclear deterrent will be maintained.
How often we listened to lectures from Opposition Members about the defence of this country. At one time, they were against us defending ourselves, and the next minute they wanted us to defend ourselves.
GEC Avionics was in my constituency. Naturally we were glad when perestroika and glasnost led to eastern bloc countries being freed to enjoy democracy, but, as we said time and again, there was a real downside to that for
those of us with defence establishments in our constituencies. Therefore, it was a real disgrace when during the general election Conservatives were lectured about job losses in those defence establishments. We were the ones who warned about that at the time. All along we said what the downside would he. I am delighted that we have reaffirmed in the Gracious Speech that we shall maintain strong defences because at the moment the world is less certain than it has ever been.
In the Gracious Speech, we mention that we shall lay before Parliament the treaty of Maastricht and introduce a Bill to implement it. I was delighted with the agreement that our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister brought back from Maastricht. I believe, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister shares my view, that this Parliament is sovereign and it is fundamental that it should retain its powers of taxation. It is our privilege to have the presidency of the Community in July and I hope that my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary will ensure that we have a strong voice in the next six months.
The Government have said all along that it is essential to retain low inflation and low interest rates. As a result of our membership of the European exchange rate mechanism, those twin goals could be won for ever, so that we shall no longer have to suffer the cyclical development of boom and recession. I was delighted at the interest rate cut that we announced yesterday.
The Gracious Speech also says that the Government
are committed to increasing the role of the railways in meeting the country's transport needs. Legislation will he introduced to enable the private sector to operate rail services.
The House has sometimes heard my hon. Friends and me talk about the Fenchurch Street line. About six months ago we invited the chairman of British Rail to travel with us on that line because the service is disgraceful. My long-suffering constituents have faith that the Government will ensure that, if the management of British Rail cannot provide a good service to the three railway stations in my constituency—Basildon, Pitsea and Laindon—they will jolly well give the opportunity to others to see whether they can better manage that service. I am delighted that we are now joined by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, a fellow Essex Member who shares my concern about the Fenchurch Street line.
I am also delighted that the Gracious Speech says that
Action will he taken to combat crime and promote law and order.
As I said a few months ago, I was delighted that one of the few constituencies to see a fall in crime over the past year
was Basildon. It is my great pleasure to congratulate our local police and the community on their good work in the past year, which has resulted in that reduction of crime.
I was disappointed in the remarks by the Leader of the Opposition, who was most disparaging about the excellent work done by the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), on the national lottery. It is a splendid scheme, welcomed throughout the country, and I have no doubt that it will be a great success. I gently warn the Government that Basildon will put in a bid to have the national headquarters in our town. I hope that we shall have national draws on television, with someone like Joan Collins to pull the winning ticket out of the hat.
The Gracious Speech also says that the
Government will continue to improve the quality of the national health service and community care and their responsiveness to patients' needs.
How sad that, throughout the four weeks of the general election campaign, the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen sought to run down the national health service. We shall never forget their disgraceful party political broadcast. We have an excellent health service, particularly in Basildon. On 1 April, our hospital achieved trust status and the men and women who work there look forward to the successes that we shall enjoy in health care.
I note the sentence stating:
A Bill will be presented to promote the Welsh language." Of course, we Conservatives welcome and support that, but I am gently beginning to wonder if it might not be a good idea to promote the English language.
Just before the Prime Minister decided to hold the general election, I noticed a tendency among Opposition Members. When Conservative Members representing marginal constituencies rose to make speeches in the Chamber, some Opposition Members waved their arms, said "Goodbye" and mentioned that there would be a Labour gain. I make no complaint as I was not subjected to that, but I wonder if I may be given the opportunity, on behalf of my colleagues with marginal constituencies who were re-elected, to say, "Hello, it's nice to be back."
I look forward to the next five years in the knowledge that my constituents decided that their best future would be to keep a Conservative Government and a Conservative Member of Parliament for Basildon. I am immodest enough to say that, on both counts, I believe that they have made the right decision.
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Arbuthnot]
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.