First Day

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 2:40 pm on 6th May 1992.

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Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley 2:40 pm, 6th May 1992

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.