First Day

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 3:01 pm on 6th May 1992.

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Photo of Mr Neil Kinnock Mr Neil Kinnock Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 3:01 pm, 6th May 1992

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 KenWho 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—