First Day

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 6th May 1992.

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Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown Leader of the Liberal Democrats 4:03 pm, 6th May 1992

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.