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Industry and Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:05 pm on 21st November 1994.

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Photo of John Horam John Horam , Orpington 8:05 pm, 21st November 1994

I am one who argued recently that the legislative programme contained in the Gracious Speech should be both short and well considered. It is certainly short and, at first glance, seems also well considered, but the devil is in the detail of such matters, as we have learnt from experience over the past couple of years, so whether in the longer term we shall take that view I cannot say, but at first glance I am pleased by what is in it.

I favour a short programme because the over-large programmes that we have had over recent years have undoubtedly led to Acts being put through which have had to be considered and reconsidered and which have not always led to the most felicitous results. I am thinking, for example, of legislation that established the Child Support Agency, the two criminal justice Bills, which had to be revised, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the poll tax and so forth. The reason why we had that adverse result is quite simply that we tried to load on to our existing systems in the House an over-weighty, complex system of Bills, which it has not been able to take.

As someone who has had to spend the past eight years earning his living outside the House, and welcomed the fresh air of private business, I have been astonished by the inefficiency of our procedures, and also by the fact that there has been so little change. If one lives in the market outside the House, the fact of life is continual change. Our legislative procedures have changed hardly at all. I regret that.

We now have some good news. There is the Jopling Committee report, which, I believe, hon. Members on both Front Benches are working out with a will. I hope that we shall see some results from that in the not too distant future. I also hope that they will then follow through with some changes in our legislative procedures. They have the blueprint in the Hansard Society's report, which came out about 18 months ago and which set out very clearly the sort of criticisms that all of us make about our procedures. I hope that those criticisms will be noted and changes implemented.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) is raising the report aloft. I hope that one day he will raise it aloft in triumph, as we Back Benchers force the Front-Bench Members, but particularly the Whips, to come out with some radical proposals in that area, and then we can live up to our best instincts. The fact is that, if we had a privatised Chamber competing with us to produce legislation in a more efficient manner, we should be out of business and all of us would be unemployed. I am sure that, unless we changed our ways, we simply could not cope with the procedures that a private sector Chamber would have thought sensible over the past 10 years.

The second reason why we should keep a short legislative programme is that one does not have to have a large number of Bills to be radical. That is especially so when the important thing is to bring down the level of Government expenditure and start reducing taxes once again. The position is abundantly clear. At present, general Government spending takes about 43.75 per cent. of our annual national income—only a fraction less than in 1979. I expect my right hon. and hon. Friends to improve on that, and to lower the figure by £5 billion or so; but I think that they should exceed what inflation and unemployment levels will allow them to do anyway, and make further cuts in public spending. I believe that that is the only way in which we can make sensible progress in invigorating industry and lowering taxation. Both the Institute of Directors and the CBI have called for precisely such action in their Budget recommendations; I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor has listened carefully to what they have said.

If my right hon. and learned Friend is looking at areas in which we can cut public expenditure—which he will naturally want to do—he need look no further than the Institute of Directors' charter for Government spending, which sets out a 25-year programme for reducing the total. Like the institute, I do not believe that we should reduce public spending in every area; indeed, in some areas we need to increase it. The problem is the relentless rise in the total, particularly as a percentage of our national income. That is intolerable.

As many of my hon. Friends have pointed out today, we have achieved a number of triumphs in the past 15 years. We have had a superb success with privatisation, which the Opposition have largely accepted; we have had a superb success with trade union reform, which they have largely accepted; and we have made excellent progress with education and training, which the Opposition—doing one of their usual U-turns—are accepting. If we can cap that with progress in reducing Government spending and taxation—which is, I think, implicit in the appeal of the Conservative party—we shall have increased our success substantially. Our current economic performance is the best that I have ever seen, and I feel that the Government deserve full credit. If they can maintain that performance over the next 10 years—and the approach that I advocate would enable them to do so—they will deserve to stay in power for a long time.

The Queen's Speech includes legislation to authorise the construction and operation by the private sector of a high-speed rail link between London and the channel tunnel. I am particularly keen for that to be implemented in good time, because until the link is constructed, all the trains will go through Orpington. We welcome that in some respects, but we do not welcome the increase in noise, vibration and general nuisance.

Hon. Members will remember all the business about "leaves on the line". To reduce that problem, it was unfortunately necessary to remove all the shrubs, bushes and trees that lay between my constituents' back gardens and the railway line, which has now exacerbated the problems of noise and vibration. The obvious answer is to erect noise barriers, and—owing to the sensible and constructive approach of Bromley council—there are plans to erect such barriers on lines carrying mainly freight. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to reach an agreement regarding lines carrying passengers.

The Government can help my constituents, and many other people in Kent and south London, by improving their proposals for the noise insulation regulations that they are about to introduce. They should extend those regulations not only to new lines, but to existing lines that are substantially upgraded.

With that caveat and hope for progress, I broadly commend the Queen's Speech. I believe that it is one more step towards sensible progress for our country, particularly in economic matters.