It will be for the convenience of the House to know that the subjects for debate on the Queen's Speech will be as follows.
Thursday 24 October—foreign affairs and defence; Friday 25 October—social policy; Monday 28 October—home affairs; Tuesday 29 October—education and local government; Wednesday 30 October—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.
I first entered the House of Commons in 1970. In some ways, it was another age. I shared a small office in a decrepit building across the road with five other Members of Parliament, divided between the political parties. On one side of me was my right hon. and learned Friend, the current Chancellor the Exchequer; on the other side was the current deputy Leader of the Opposition. Thus, from an early stage in my parliamentary career I discovered the overwhelming advantage of working in the Library. I continue to believe that the Library is one of the best facilities in the House of Commons—I thank my wife for that addition to my speech.
As it happens, I could never quite shake off my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has just arrived in the Chamber. He served with me in opposition and in government, and the story soon got round that, if I could put up with his smelly cigars and old hush puppies—I think I have the adjectives the right way round—I could put up with anything. Another persistent smoker, my right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton), immediately volunteered to join our band at the Elephant and Castle. Then came my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). At least he did not smoke, but he had one distinctive habit: he was the only Minister I knew who, when taking a meeting of civil servants, took off his coat, stood on a chair and invited questions.
Sadly, it must be admitted that the best known thing that I did in the Government was to resign from it. I left to spend more time with my family—[Laughter]. I like to unite the House on such matters. It is extraordinary that, despite all the memorable phrases that I coined over the years on resource allocation in the health services, earnings disregards on social security and so on, only my resignation letter makes it into the "Oxford Book of Political Quotations".
Although I never regretted that decision, there was speculation about why I really left, mainly started by my children. I concede that a small part of it was being worked over by the Opposition in a classic nasty cop/nice cop manner. The nasty cop, if he will forgive the description, was the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). For years, he opposed me on health, social security and employment. He condemned me for everything: for my policies; even for the result of the World cup.
Then suddenly one day the hon. Gentleman was reshuffled and his place was taken by none other than the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). An amazing new tactic was then employed: he started to listen to me. He conceded that I had a point. He even began to agree with me. Those are familiar disorientation tactics, now practised more widely, but at the time they helped do the trick.
I settled happily on the Back Benches, having served the noble Lady Thatcher for 15 years, man and boy, persecuted and oppressed. For a short period before that, I served my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). I was the last Front-Bench appointment that he made, in 1974. Indeed, he was reported as saying, "My God, if it's come to this, I'm off."
Just after the 1992 election, my family came to the conclusion that it was about time that I spent more time with my party. As it happened, the Prime Minister called me in to discuss the chairmanship. "Fowler," he said—we always had this close personal relationship—"I want you to get out there and pulverise them." And that was only our own side that he was talking about. You can imagine, Madam Speaker, what he said about the Opposition.
Less controversially, I want to say that I have represented Sutton Coldfield since 1974, my first constituency of Nottingham, South having been abolished in redistribution. For almost 450 years, Sutton Coldfield stood independent as a royal town. It had been given its royal charter by Henry VIII, together with 2,500 acres of wild parkland, which remains to this day a place of outstanding natural beauty, to be used by its citizens, of whom my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) was once one.
The undoubted benefactor of Sutton Coldfield in those distant days was Bishop Vesey, who was a social reformer of some note. He built and endowed a grammar school, which successfully continues to this day; he provided widows' pensions in the parish, and built more than 50 houses for the poor. He was nevertheless strongly attacked for taking away money from his own cathedral, showing that, even then, it was dangerous for bishops to get too involved in politics.
The local government status of Sutton Coldfield was changed in 1972, but in spite of the fears at the time, Sutton has not lost the exceptional sense of community symbolised by the great number of local voluntary organisations. The problems we have are rather different: we are on the edge of Birmingham and, unless checked, there is a tendency for cities to push outwards, with the result that green belt land is eaten up year by year. The Gracious Speech mentions the preservation of the environment; I hope that that includes the preservation of agreed green belts around our cities.
As you well know, Madam Speaker, political controversy in the midlands is real and heated. However, on one point there is bipartisan agreement: a determination to fight for the interests of the region. I concede that we were a trifle disappointed that the millennium exhibition did not come to its natural home at the national exhibition centre; but we are magnanimous and we wish Greenwich luck. We gather that there is some delay in putting the exhibition together, but, if the commission wants to celebrate the millennium in 2002, that is its affair. We welcome, however, the commission's £50 million grant, announced last week by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage, which will revitalise an area of inner Birmingham.
First, although there may be disagreement on how far they should go, there is no dispute that the Government are right to introduce legislation on firearms. I have heard it argued that all that is required is better licensing; I disagree with that. Last week in my constituency, there was a theft from a car in which a licensed member of a gun club had left two semi-automatic pistols and 140 rounds of ammunition under the seat while he visited a local leisure centre. I cannot believe that that casual approach to gun safety can be remotely justified.
The second set of measures that I particularly welcome are those aimed at crime generally. I believe that the whole country has been moved by the courage with which Mrs. Lawrence put forward her proposals, and that the award for citizenship, announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary in honour and remembrance of her husband, will be welcomed. I hope also that the measures which the Government now intend to enact will attract public support. In particular, I believe it is sensible to provide deterrent minimum sentences for drug pushers who represent such a terrible danger to young people in this country.
Doubtless, all the measures in the Gracious Speech will be fiercely debated in the coming days and months. If I were to sum it up, however, I would be tempted to use the words of a Liberal Democrat who reviewed the 1993 Queen's Speech and said:
It is the speech of a Government determined to change Britain for the better.
Those were the words of the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), who seconded the motion on the Loyal Address. He ended with the memorable words:
So let us go forward with this programme—forward under strong leadership, Conservative leadership and leadership that is working."—[Official Report, 18 November 1993; Vol.233, c.16.]
I would not dream of ending my speech in such a frankly partisan way. I will only say that I count it a great privilege to have served with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I wish him well in the months ahead, and I look forward to his Government's next legislative programme in 1997.
In seconding the motion on the Loyal Address, I pay tribute to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) as well as to the service he has given to the House in government. He is a friend indeed, for as Secretary of State for Employment he ensured that the Isle of Wight obtained its own training and enterprise council. It was also he who first spotted the economic recovery on the Isle of Wight, when, with the assistance of the Secretary of State for National Heritage, he helped to organise, as he does every year, the Seaview regatta. He reported to the Isle of Wight County Press, our island's only newspaper, which was founded in 1884, that the entries for the egg and spoon race were up on the previous year. He said that that was a sure sign that the economy is showing a strong recovery.
That is not the only good news I bring the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He will be mightily relieved to learn that the Liberal Democrat council on the Isle of Wight has decided that the island is not leaving the United Kingdom after all. I know that the Chancellor will want to recognise that act of outstanding generosity on its part with a special mention of the Isle of Wight in his Budget.
The fact that I have been asked to second the motion moved so brilliantly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield has awarded to my constituents the highest honour that Parliament can bestow upon them. I and my family bathe in their reflected glory on this special and historic occasion.
The Isle of Wight has returned a Member of Parliament since the 1300s. This is the first occasion upon which the Member for the island has been called to second the motion on the Loyal Address. The first record of parliamentary activity was in 1377 when one of my predecessors shot the commander of the invading French forces and he did so
with an arrow from his silver bow, through a loophole in the west side of Carisbrooke Castle.
So there we have it: it is all the Isle of Wight's fault, for it was that incident that showed the French just how useful a loophole can be—a lesson they have never forgotten.
When the news that I was to second the motion got out, a House of Commons journalist telephoned me to congratulate me on that wonderful honour. He slightly took the shine off it by asking, "But surely it's usually reserved for brilliant young Back Benchers with a promising career." As a Territorial soldier and a Member of Parliament, and despite my usual modesty, I restrained myself from pointing out to him that one of my predecessors had gone on to become the Duke of Wellington, and no fewer than three of them, Palmerston, Canning and Melbourne, had become Prime Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Certainly, the island's fishermen appreciate that it was another of my predecessors who played a crucial part in defeating the Spanish fleet just off the Isle of Wight. His ship was called Hope.
I am sure that, with his love of books, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister knows that Sir Robert Cotton, although said to have first entered the House for Huntingdonshire, in fact sat for the Isle of Wight for two years previously, and that his vast collection of books led to the foundation of the British library. As the island had the first free public libraries in the country, thanks to the generosity of the Seely family, I just wonder whether it was the Isle of Wight that inspired Sir Robert's collection.
My family and I, Madam Speaker, live in Cowes—where else would you expect to find the Fields? Our house faces down the Solent towards HMS Victory, and past my window every day come the ships carrying passengers to and from the island. As all hon. Members know, there are many legends in Parliament, but I am the only Member of this House who can prove that I really do have ferries at the bottom of my garden.
The motto of our island is "All this beauty is of God". The Isle of Wight is the biggest constituency in the country, with more than 100,000 electors—the original home of the floating voter—and despite the occasional lump falling into the sea, we are told that our boundaries are to remain unaltered. More than half the island is designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Our villages are at the heart of island life, and I am so pleased that the three pillars of village life are to be supported in the Government's forthcoming programme. The village shop will be helped with rate relief, the village school will be helped by the education reforms, which only leaves the village pub. I am confident that the Cabinet's call for Brussels to leave British beer alone will soon be answered positively.
We have a number of award-winning vineyards and two breweries. One of them, Goddards, produces a beer called Fuggel De Dum. It should have a warning that just two glasses of this potent brew can induce bungee jumping and produce such memorable headlines as "Bungee Barry".
The garlic and sweetcorn grown on the island is sold throughout the land. Colleagues may think it appropriate in my case that legend has it that it was an island dog that ate a clove of garlic—the first dog in Britain whose bark really was worse than his bite.
The island is, of course, famous for its dinosaurs—that is, the dead ones, Madam Speaker—and our cliffs contain some of the finest fossils in Europe. Our picturesque island has witnessed the presence of King Charles I, Queen Victoria, Dickens, Darwin, Macaulay, Swinburne, Tennyson and the most dangerous of them all, Karl Marx.
We have the delightful red squirrel, and the island is the only place in Britain where the Glanville Fritillary butterfly is found. Also, although it was thought to be totally extinct, we have the reddish buff moth thanks to a concerted effort involving the island's council. Surely that is an omen for someone in this Chamber. Not only are the reds still alive, but, as we read in the national press, the old red buffers are breeding furiously again on the Isle of Wight.
Tourism plays a vital part in the economy of the island and the challenge that we continue to face is how best to sell the island to the British holidaymaker. With two glorious summers behind us, it should not be a difficult task. We have many promising young sportsmen and women and the annual Cowes week provides a sporting occasion of world renown. The royal yacht Britannia has graced the event for 34 regattas since her launch.
We were delighted with the appointment of Sir Colin Cowdray and hope that he will persuade the cricketing authorities to allow the island to remain independent of Hampshire. The whole island joins me today in commending to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and to the House Mr. Andy Cassell, who won a gold medal for Britain in the paralympic sailing event this summer. Andy Cassell was born without legs and he has inspired many young islanders with his love of and success at sport and we are all very proud of him indeed.
Industrially, we have household names such as Siemens Plessey, GKN Westland and Vickers Trucast, but less well known is the plethora of small companies with world-beating technology. The island has the scientist that put the only British rocket with the only British satellite into space, and all that enterprise is reinforced by more than 70 schools, including the Isle of Wight college, one of whose students came top in the whole of the United Kingdom recently.
Our GCSE and A-level results and Office for Standards in Education reports have put some of the island's schools in the top 10 in the country, and I am pleased that the Gracious Speech promises to continue the educational reforms, for schools represent the real investment of our island in tomorrow's world.
The island has three prisons, and any comparison of my physique with that of Ronnie Barker in the TV series "Porridge" is purely accidental—although the steely-eyed glance of the prison warder named MacKay bears a remarkable resemblance to the new Deputy Chief Whip. The promised crackdown on juvenile crime and the minimum sentencing proposals are especially reassuring to my constituents.
My constituents appreciate that, under our stewardship of the economy, the island has built five new schools, a new magistrates court, a county court, and a new office building for the island's civil servants. We now have our own radio station, new mental health units and a stainless steel clad hospital which has provoked much controversy and hilarity. It has a front porch modelled on one of Madonna's bodices. Proposals contained in the Gracious Speech for care in old age will be welcome news to my retired constituents, who worry in their advancing years.
The island has the only district health authority that funds an asthma and allergy research clinic, so there too the Isle of Wight leads the world in trying to help Parliament find a cure to the so-called sneeze factor.
We have the first unitary authority in the country, and I consider it a personal success that we have the promise today that the law regarding parish councils is to be changed. We were the first county to transfer all our housing to two new housing associations; what a benefit that has been to the tenants.
Living on an island, no speech of mine will be complete without mention of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. All the United Kingdom's inshore lifeboats are built on the island, and the brave men and women who man them are all trained there. How right the coxswain was, when challenged by a holidaymaker as to why taxpayers' money was not used to run the service, to reply, "Why God bless you, no Ma'am. You see, lifeboats is much too important a business to be left to Governments to run." We believe that, because there is not very much that cannot be run that little bit better by the enterprising spirit of our nation's people than by the cloying hand of Government bureaucracy.
It is a daunting task to represent so much beauty, talent, music, art and engineering. This brief exhortation on Britain's garden isle can do no justice to the real thing, so my message is, come and see it for yourselves, as our history shows that all are made welcome.
Let the last word on the Isle of Wight today go to that great parliamentarian of our time, George Thomas, now Lord Tonypandy. One day, he bumped into me in the Corridor of the House. I had the mayor of Medina borough with me as a guest. George Thomas said, in that lovely Welsh accent of his, "You're from the Isle of Wight. Well, you'll never go to heaven, you know." My guest looked shocked, and in truth, so did I. "No, you see, on the Isle of Wight, you are already living in paradise"—and so we are.
Before turning to the Queen's Speech, it is customary to pay tribute to former Members of Parliament who have died in the past year. Today I pay tribute to both Sir David Lightbown and Terry Patchett. David Lightbown was one of the most colourful characters in this place and will be remembered by all. I have some special words to say about Terry Patchett. He and I came to the House in 1983 and he worked tirelessly for the mining communities of Yorkshire. Both men were dedicated workers on behalf of their constituents and they will be sorely missed by all hon. Members.
I turn now to the two speeches that preceded mine. I thought that the speech by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) was a model of its kind, being both witty and amusing. I hope that I will not embarrass him by reminding him of the letter that I sent him when he left to spend more time with his family—something that we devoutly desire on behalf of all Conservative Members after the election. He will recall that in my letter I said that I could think of no worthier motive for ending a ministerial career.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not be embarrassed if I remind him of his reply: he wrote back almost immediately to say courteously that he did not intend to retire from politics altogether. Indeed he did not, as before long he returned as Conservative party chairman—which, I hope that he will not mind my saying, is a rather curious way of insulting his family. I am sure that he found that the job was not easy, but at least he never resorted to the measures now in operation under the right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney).
I understand that the right hon. Gentleman recently wrote a letter asking for donations from people at the special hospital, Crowthorne, Buckinghamshire—otherwise known as Broadmoor. If I were truly unkind, I would say that perhaps we have reached the stage when only the criminally insane would give money to the Conservative party—but I will not do so. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was well received on both sides of the House, and I pay tribute to him.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) on his speech. I cannot say that I have always agreed with his politics, but we do have one thing in common: this time last year, he and I had the identical aim, of getting rid of the Prime Minister. I am sorry to remind him of that—I thought that he skated over it somewhat in his speech. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield and the hon. Member for Isle of Wight can be very proud of their speeches today.
Before turning to the Queen's Speech, I must refer to Northern Ireland, which was mentioned in it. We will continue our bipartisan support of the Government in their efforts to work for a comprehensive and balanced settlement, together with the Irish Government and the parties in Northern Ireland. We shall support the Bill on decommissioning. I add my call to those of others for Sinn Fein and the IRA to take the path of peace. Unless they do, the search for peace and reconciliation will continue without them. They should call a ceasefire immediately and, if the latest threats of a bombing campaign are true, the IRA must understand that neither the House nor any party in it will ever give in to terrorism or the threat of terrorism.
I think that everyone knows—perhaps even some Conservative Members—that we should not be debating a Loyal Address today; we should he having a general election. [Interruption.] I do not know why Conservative Members are not keen on that idea if they are so confident of their position. All the elements are present for an election: a Government who are no longer governing; the civil service in a state of suspended animation, waiting for some decision making to begin again; the parties geared up; and the country wanting to make a judgment Every element is there, bar one—the election itself. Thai is absent for only one reason: the Conservatives dare not call a general election.
If the summer campaign had worked, the Conservatives would have called the election by now. If the tax-cutting Budget works in a few weeks, they will go then. If the next big, deceitful, negative advertising campaign—financed by secret sources—in January works, they will go then. If none of those strategies works, they will wait until May, when our ancient, decent British constitution draws a line and demands a verdict from the people.
How do the Conservatives seek re-election? By that brazen old Tory con trick—they pretend that they who have been in power for 17 years have absolutely no responsibility whatever for the state of the nation that they have governed. Indeed, they pretend that they are as appalled as the rest of us at what has happened. So they tell us, for example, that crime—especially violent crime—is terrible and that something must be done about it. They even tell us that the national health service has been swamped by bureaucracy and that that really must stop. It is a disgrace, they say, that so many of our children are so poorly educated. We must in time, they say, mount an economic recovery that is not knocked off course by economic mismanagement and mistaken public finances.
It is as if the Conservatives had just landed from Mars or as if they had been in exile for 17 years and had returned and discovered how shocking things really were. But who doubled crime to give us, over 17 years, the fastest growing crime rate in Europe? They did. Who undermined the national health service and smothered it with red tape? They did. Who made the economic mistakes of the late 80s and early 90s that now must be corrected? They did. Who gave us an education system in which half our 11-year-olds do not reach the right standards in English and maths? They did. [Interruption.] Oh, it is all our fault. They have been in government for more than 17 years, but it is all our fault.
If our society is torn and fractured—as it is—I ask who in part fractured it? They did. There are causes deeper than any Government in some of the serious social problems that we face, but Government cannot escape responsibility for society's fracture.
They blame it on the trade unions. Seventeen years in office and they never take responsibility for their mistakes.
When the Government cut out dole payments to 16 and 17-year-olds so that some were forced on to the streets, did that not contribute to the fracture of our society? When there are now, in our country today, 120,000 homeless families, does that not contribute to a fractured society? When in the Budget the number of training places for the unemployed was slashed by 40,000, did that not contribute to a fractured society?
When that part of our society that can afford to takes private health care, sends its children to private schools and shuns public transport, because it can no longer tolerate the waiting times, the mixed quality and the degeneration of public transport, does that not contribute to the fracturing of our society? And when we know that after 17 years—after tax cuts followed by tax rises—the average family has seen its tax burden rise, but the top 1.5 per cent. of the population has had its tax burden slashed, does that not contribute to a fractured society? When the old-age pensioner sits in her flat this winter and pauses before lighting the fire because of VAT on her fuel bill, does that not contribute to the fractured society?
A fractured society indeed. But all the fine words of Ministers will not mend it. We will mend this fractured society when those who fractured it—those who said that there was no such thing as society—are no longer governing our society.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way mid-soundbite. He was kind enough to visit my constituency by helicopter not long ago. Did he spend only 10 minutes there because the Labour party in Harlow, almost to a man, voted for clause IV and against new Labour, or was it because we have one of the highest spending, most incompetent Labour councils in the country? Will he come again?
I think that the people of Harlow will pass their verdict on the hon. Gentleman at the next election. They will do so precisely because of the bankruptcies and business failures that the Government have visited upon his constituents.
The Queen's Speech has not even been sold on the basis that it will help Britain. Indeed, it is the first Queen's Speech I can remember that has received more publicity for what has been left out of it than for what is in it. In the words of the Tory central office briefing, it was designed "to embarrass Labour". How pathetic. The greatest ambition left to the Government is to embarrass the Opposition. There is a grant-maintained proposal here, a grammar school there and some law and order measures here and there, but one measure will dominate the Government's legislative programme.
We welcome what has been announced already on gun control. But if we are banning the 160,000 handguns that are now lawfully held, what is the case for leaving the remaining 40,000 at large? If .22 calibre handguns can do damage similar to that which was done in Dunblane, let us have the courage of our convictions. Let the 80 per cent. solution become the 100 per cent. solution, and Parliament will have done the will of the people. Let there be a free vote so that this Parliament, freed from party advantage, can vote the way that it wants.
If that is the position, why is the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) writing to his constituents as follows:
We do not wish to ban all innocent members of the public from owning shotguns and participating in shooting sports"?
The hon. Gentleman continues:
People such as yourself will still be able to own handguns but they must be kept safely under lock and key at properly run centres.
Why is the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) saying that Labour's reaction on guns is hysterical and over the top?
The hon. Gentleman mentions my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton, North and for Hartlepool. I have just said that there should be a free vote so that Members can vote as they wish.
I believed that it might be possible simply to leave handguns in clubs. However, when I spoke to those who had examined the matter carefully, and when I considered the evidence in the Cullen report, I concluded—I believe that most people will—that the halfway house option was not the right way to leave the matter. If we want to take the bold and proper step to protect our people, we should have a total ban. If people think differently—there are some Conservative Back Benchers who think differently from those who occupy the Government Front Bench—that should be their right. Let us have a free vote, and let us determine the issue properly.
The Queen's Speech reflects a Government who see existing as all that they have left to do.
I do not know whether the Opposition or the Government were more worried about that question. It is a pity that the chairman of the Conservative party is not in the Chamber. It would have been interesting to see whether even he would blush at such a question from the hon. Gentleman.
Drift means damage. It means also that the decisions that the country needs to be taken are not taken. The choices that it needs to make are not faced. Drift is not neutral. Drift holds the country back when it is urgent to move it forward. There is drift, as violent crime increases.
Where, in the Queen's Speech, are the Bills on stalking and a register of paedophiles—those Bills that were made so much of in the conference speeches of Conservative Members? Let me make them this offer now: produce those Bills on stalking and paedophiles, as Government Bills, and we will co-operate to take them through the House without delay. It could be done. The Conservatives should stop playing politics and point scoring. It could be done; let us do it, and do it without delay.
I gather that the hon. and learned Gentleman actually opposed them. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has said that we will examine the proposals presented by the Home Secretary—but even the Home Secretary is now changing them. They go one way, then they go another.
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman explain to me why the Government cannot produce Bills on stalking and paedophiles now? It could be done; it could be done perfectly easily; it could be done without delay. But it is not being done, because the Government would rather play politics with the issues than get them through the House of Commons.
Whatever happened to the issue of beef in the Queen's Speech? We drift in that regard as well. A few months ago, the Prime Minister told us that the beef ban in Europe would be lifted by November. Well, we are a week away from November. There is not the slightest chance of the ban's being lifted by November. The cattle cull and the compensation scheme are in confusion; meanwhile, the only responsibility that the Government have rests on the shoulders of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in whom the National Farmers Union has just passed a vote of no confidence.
There is drift on beef, drift on crime and drift on Europe. Let no one pretend that the truce in the Conservative party will hold together. Everything is just being swept under the carpet. [Interruption.] Perhaps we can have an answer to this question. I have just read the interview that the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave "The World This Weekend" two weeks ago. He said that, if the economic conditions were right, he wanted to join the single currency. He said that the test was the national economic interest. We agree with that, but is that the Government's position? Is that the Prime Minister's position? The Chancellor says that there is no insuperable objection, constitutionally, to a single currency; the Secretary of State for Defence says that there is. What is the Government's position? We do not know: we never know. We do not know what their position is, because their divisions are so deep that they cannot make their mind up.
Drift has never been more in evidence, or more damaging, than in the national health service. We can bandy statistics for ever, although I do not believe that the massive rise in administration costs in the health service is in doubt any longer. There are 20,000 more senior managers, and 50,000 fewer nurses. But it is people's experience that counts. Let me tell two stories that I have heard within the last week just from people of my own acquaintance. [Interruption.] Conservative Members do not like to hear about what is actually happening in the national health service.
One story concerns an injured little boy waiting hours in casualty before finally being seen in the early hours of the morning. There is, I am afraid, nothing unusual in that nowadays; the point is the scene in casualty that greeted his parents. Patients under the supposed community care programme were being abusive and sick. A woman waiting to give birth was screaming. People who should have been in beds were lying on trolleys.
The other story is that of a man injured playing football, and taken to hospital with a swollen leg. He waited for three hours, but the consultant was unable to see him. He was told to go home, and that the swelling would go down. It did not. By chance, a doctor friend of his looked in on him. He was rushed to hospital, and, four operations later, he is lucky to have kept his leg. That is the reality of the national health service Tory-style.
The Tories say, "Talk to national health service staff." We do. Those staff are wonderful—at times, they have the patience and commitment of saints—but they are being subjected to pressure that is intolerable and wrong. "Listen to the doctors," the Prime Minister said the other day. We do. According to the chairman of the consultants committee of the British Medical Association, the NHS—[Interruption.] The Tories always deride this as well. The Tories say, "Talk to the people in the national health service," but when we talk to them and give them the evidence, they ignore it. "Close to collapse," were the words that James Johnson, head of the consultants committee, used.
The national health service is being steadily and consistently undermined by the Government. One of the people I mentioned earlier said to me very simply, "If I had the money, you know, I'd go private." Unless change comes, that is what will undermine the national health service, and the only party capable of rebuilding the national health service is the party that gave birth to it.
Those commitments from the Government have been shown to be utterly worthless. [Interruption.] The previous Labour Government spent more on the national health service in real terms than the Conservatives, and if we speak to the people operating in the national health service—[Interruption.] If Conservative Members want to pit their commitment to the national health service against ours, let them call an election and let the people decide.
Another miracle that the Government claim in their record is on the economy. They claim that they have created an economic miracle. Again, of course, conveniently they make that claim just before the general election. My hon. Friends and I remember that they have always claimed these economic miracles just before the general election. Of course the economy is in better shape than it was four years ago, but who put it in the shape that it was in four years ago? Not even the Conservatives can keep the economy in recession for ever.
Yes, inflation and interest rates are lower, but they are lower the world over, and this Government are not running for re-election on the record of 12 months. They have been in power for 17 years, and during that time they have given us the most unstable economy the developed world over: we have growth rates below other European countries; in the world living standards league table, we have fallen from 13th to 18th in 17 years; investment, even now, is less than in any previous economic upswing; manufacturing investment was down in the past year; a million fewer jobs since the Prime Minister took office; and there are 900,000 long-term unemployed. That is not a record of which any Government should be proud.
What about the Government accounts? Any sign of a miracle there? Here is a staggering fact. Up to 1990, when the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister, all the Governments in the United Kingdom's history had borrowed a cumulative total of £190 billion. During his premiership, the Government have added more than £170 billion to the national debt. Given another six months in office, he will have increased the net amount of national debt by as much as all the previous Governments in the United Kingdom's history put together. And they call that a record of economic management of which they should be proud. Some £25 billion a year is spent in interest payments alone, and that is without North sea oil, £120 billion, and the asset sales, £80 billion. They have had chances denied to all other Governments and they have squandered the money. It has gone.
Where has that money gone? Welfare bills have doubled. One in five non-pensioner homes have no one working in them at all, and then, because our money and taxes are paying the costs of economic failure, we have the problems in our schools. More than 1 million children are in classes of more than 30. At GCSE level, the number of pupils getting three good passes is less than half the number in France and Germany. We have the lowest proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds in full-time education or training of virtually all our main competitors. We are 42nd in the education league.
I shall tell the House the sort of Queen's Speech that I should like to see. I await the day when a Prime Minister comes to the Dispatch Box and says, "A Bill will be introduced that ends the chaos of the voucher scheme and provides for proper nursery education for all four-year-olds. It will be a Bill that phases out subsidies to private schools and uses the money to cut class sizes for all five, six and seven-year-olds. It will reform the way our school system works and the training of teachers; introduce new standards for school performance; tackle truancy and discipline and allow schools to take account of children's different abilities but will not return us to the iniquities of the old 11-plus. It will be a Bill that revolutionises skills training, ends the piecemeal schemes and broken promises and gives us the chance of that best educated work force in Europe that we need. It will end the Tory internal market in the national health service and return it to its rightful place as a proper public service." Those are the Bills that we could introduce.
The internal market has resulted in many hospitals improving outpatient facilities, improving comfort for patients, improving waiting times in clinics and … waiting lists. There is no doubt that that has happened."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 February 1996; Vol. 569, c. 1460.]
That is a quote from the Labour Front-Bench health spokesman, Lord Winston, whom the right hon. Gentleman recommended for the Lords.
I do not think that I have heard such a ridiculous intervention in all the time that I have been here. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman cannot even make up the intervention: he has to read it out. Lord Winston has vigorously attacked the Tories over the internal market. If the Prime Minister intends to quote figures about the national health service, he should quote the figure of £1.5 billion extra spent on bureaucracy because earlier this week the community health councils said that it was an illusion that that had brought the better services that he wants.
If we are to have the Bills that the country wants, why not one that not merely ends that Tory internal market but deals with some of the crime issues, bans the sales of combat knives, halves the time that persistent young offenders take to come to court and sets up in every community a proper, statutory responsibility for crime prevention to make our streets safe? The Prime Minister could introduce a Bill for a statutory minimum wage to tackle the worst abuses of poverty pay. He could introduce a Bill that allows the capital receipts tied up in council accounts to be used to build homes for homeless people.
There should be a Bill that has at its heart the belief that it is intolerable in any decent society that half a million young people have no job, no training and no prospect of a job or training and that we will levy the excess profits of the privatised utilities and start to put those people back to work. There should be a Bill that allows the people of Scotland and Wales the chance to determine their own governance and one that gives London, our capital city, its own government, so as to allow it to invigorate and innovate itself.
A real Queen's Speech would give us many more measures. It would present measures to replace the boom and bust of Tory years with stable growth during which living standards would rise for all our people and in which Britain was equipped for the challenges of the future.
The last hope of the Tories is a massive, collective attack of national amnesia. [Interruption.] If he is so confident about it, let him call the election and let us have it decided. As I say, their last hope is a massive, collective attack of national amnesia so that we forget the 22 tax rises, the VAT on fuel, black Wednesday, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the doubling of crime and of debt, the poll tax, arms for Iraq, cash for questions, Scott, Nolan, the business failures, the negative equity, the job insecurity, the waste, the inefficiency and the incompetence of the most wasteful, inefficient and incompetent Government in living memory.
But people will not forget, because they know that enough is enough with these Tories. I say this to the Prime Minister: in his party conference speech, he claimed that the Prime Minister's job was taken. It was his, he said, and it could not be taken away from him. That is for the British people to decide. I do not take it for granted and nor should he—[Interruption.] Let the British people decide.
It is not a battle for a job. It is not about who sits in Downing street or who uses Chequers at the weekend. It should be a battle about a vision of this country's future, and this Queen's Speech shows that the Conservative party has no vision for this country's future. That is why the Queen's Speech to which we look forward, the people willing, is next year's Queen's Speech, under a new Labour Government, to build a new Britain.
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has already generously paid tribute to the hon. Members who have died during the past year. We shall all miss David Lightbown and Terry Patchett. Perhaps on behalf of everyone in the House, I can not only say that, but thank them for their long service, both for their constituents and for their country, in this place.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) on their excellent speeches proposing and seconding the Loyal Address. My right hon. Friend was the Secretary of State when I first joined the old Department of Health and Social Security. I learned speedily that he had both a generous disposition and a very precise mind. Over early morning interviews, often at short notice, on obscure but controversial social security matters, he was always especially generous and insisted that I took all of them. He was Secretary of State for six years before the sheer weight of work in that combined Department led to health and social security, rightly, becoming separate Departments.
More recently, my right hon. Friend joined me throughout the last general election campaign. His role was absolutely invaluable, but it did have one drawback: whenever we were together, people threw eggs at him. I had no idea how controversial he was. When he shouted, "Duck," I thought that it was a warning, but it was not—it was the type of egg. As I told the House, he had a very precise mind.
My right hon. Friend reminded us that he pioneered the practice of leaving to spend more time with his family. After the general election, I invited him to become chairman of the Conservative party. To avoid any dispute, I should like to make it clear that that was expressly not at the request of his family. He is a distinguished journalist and we cannot say that of many. These days, he is chairman of a newspaper group and he will know the old saying: "Never argue with a man who buys his ink by the gallon." I do not, and I congratulate him on his speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight also spoke extremely well. I was delighted—in some ways relieved—to see him in his place, as he has a poor reputation for time-keeping and tends to arrive for any function at the last moment. On one occasion, I am told, he left to join his wife on the Isle of Wight ferry as it left the dock. Breaking into a sprint, he leapt dramatically over open water and landed on the moving deck. As he did so, he turned around to see his wife on the quay. As he was late, she had got off. Undaunted, he leapt back ashore with the fastest recorded U-turn in political history.
Apart from his political career, my hon. Friend once owned a large share in one of Britain's largest funeral director companies. It is often said of politicians that they will always let you down in the end. In my hon. Friend's case, that might often have been literally true. Today, my hon. Friend let no one down, and I warmly congratulate him.
There were two light-hearted speeches to begin, and rather a brazen speech to follow. The leader of the Labour party sought to draw Britain's ills forward with sweeping generalisations about the state of our society.
Of course, but a little later.
Of course I agree with the right hon. Member for Sedgefield that there are many problems to be solved. Some of them, concerned with education and crime, are dealt with specifically in this legislative programme. However, we must examine reality, not what the right hon. Gentleman had to say.
With more people finding work, regional differences in unemployment are declining. Strikes are at their lowest levels since records began. More young people than ever before are gaining qualifications in full-time education and training. More people than ever before own their homes and have a share in a capital-owning democracy. There is new hope and investment in inner cities. Charitable giving is the largest we have seen at any stage in our history. Voluntary work is at record levels, with more than half the population engaged in it. We have created one of the most mobile societies in Europe, giving people the opportunity to better themselves through their own efforts.
There is far more that is good in our society than is bad. We should be glad of that, not take every opportunity to run our society down—as the right hon. Gentleman does. Of course we face challenges, but our job as politicians is to find practical solutions, often to complex problems. To over-simplify matters, as the right hon. Gentleman did, is to deceive and not to engage with the real problems with which politicians have to deal.
Any politician should be cautious about cloaking himself in righteousness. I do not know how the right hon. Gentleman can disclaim, as he has just done, any responsibility by the Labour party for faults in this society when his Labour party has, over the years, consistently championed every fashionable, politically correct cause that has undermined our traditional way of life, and has opposed every measure that we have taken to correct the balance.
It was Labour that banned competitive sport in schools. It was Labour that undermined traditional approaches and sponsored every anti-establishment pressure group that it could possibly find. It was Labour that opposed measures to restore standards in schools through tests and league tables. It was Labour that opposed the freedom of grant-maintained schools and has opposed every measure that we put forward to tackle crime. Labour has also opposed common-sense measures to deal with benefit fraud. I do not think that I am inclined to accept sanctimonious lectures from the Leader of the Opposition.
There was much that the Labour leader did not get around to mentioning. The right hon. Gentleman did not mention the longest run of low inflation for a generation or that unemployment is at a five-and-a-half-year low. He did not mention that mortgages are at their lowest for 30 years. The right hon. Gentleman was not only selective and wrong about our record, but equally evasive and misleading about his policies. There was no mention in the right hon. Gentleman's speech of taking child benefit away from parents of children aged between 16 and 18. There was no mention of the windfall tax that would jack up household bills and destroy the dividends of millions of people. There was no mention of the additional tax just for the privilege of living in Scotland—nothing about that, or about how the right hon. Gentleman's policies would destroy jobs.
When the Leader of the Opposition fleshes out his policies with detail, we might listen with some interest to the right hon. Gentleman's critique of our detailed policies.
On the subject of consistency, does the Prime Minister recall supporting in 1990 the Government's White Paper on minimum determinate sentences, which stated that such an approach would result in more acquittals by juries, and in more guilty men and women going free? Is that not precisely Government policy now?
I shall come quite specifically to that point in a little while, and the hon. Gentleman will get his answer then.
The leader of the Labour party ignored the fact that our economy is now the most competitive in Europe, with exports at record levels, business investment rising and more inward investment than any other country in Europe. Last week, Vauxhall announced plans for a huge new investment at Ellesmere Port—200 new jobs. In August, it was Chiyoda Europe at Bexhill—600 jobs; in July, LG in Newport—6,000 jobs; Lite on Tech in Lanarkshire—1,000 jobs; and Hyundai in Dunfermline—2,000 jobs.
The shadow Chancellor nods his head in agreement. How lucky the right hon. Gentleman is that those business men listened to our record and not to his gloomy prognosis for our country. What we have seen—and what foreign businesses have noticed—is a complete transformation of this nation's economic prospects.
Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on a statement made by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield that the last Labour Government spent more in real terms on the national health service? I have checked with the House of Commons Library. At today's prices, in 1978–79 a total of £23.3 billion was spent on the NHS. In the last financial year, the present Government spent £39.7 billion. Will my right hon. Friend give the right hon. Member for Sedgefield the opportunity to correct that mistake?
That was not, of course, the only inaccuracy in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. If he would like to withdraw that statement, I shall give way to him so that he can do so immediately.
Well, there we are—the inaccuracy must lie on the record in the right hon. Gentleman's name. As I have said, it was not the only inaccuracy in the litany of misery with which he regaled the House.
The Korean semiconductor jobs are very welcome in my constituency, but does the Prime Minister realise that they will be located just two fields away from where British semiconductor jobs were located two years ago? Can the Prime Minister explain why the British semiconductor jobs relocated to a country that has both the minimum wage and the social chapter?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the drift of investment, he will see that there is more coming here than to the rest of Europe combined. It is coming here because of our economic framework, our tax framework, the fact that we do not have a minimum wage, the fact that we do not have a social chapter and the fact that we have less expensive on-costs for employment than any other nation in Europe. If the hon. Gentleman talked to the other European Heads of Government, he would find that they know that and if they could get out of the position that they are in, many of them would wish to do so. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue with the inward investment figures that we have seen.
Our programme will build on the economic success and it will do so in a way that will widen both opportunity and choice.
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a few moments.
Our programme will encourage personal responsibility. It will increase parental choice over schools, and also patients' choices from their doctors. It will give the police new powers to catch criminals and the courts new means to deal with them. It will reform civil law. It has measures to combat fraud in the social security system. It will protect our heritage, our environment and our rural communities. It will provide a legal framework for decommissioning weapons in Northern Ireland. By any yardstick, that is a meaty Queen's Speech, and we intend to carry the programme through in the period between now and the election.
In addition, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will unveil his fourth Budget next month. It will be a prudent Budget: if we can safely cut taxes we will, but if we cannot we will not. I repeat—if we cannot, we will not. Either way, we have a responsibility to spend taxpayers' money wisely.
That is why we will act against benefit fraud. The measures that we have already taken will save £1.5 billion a year, but we intend to save more. Every bit of fraud robs the taxpayer and deprives the genuinely needy of help, and I am surprised that the Opposition Chief Whip scoffs at the thought of cracking down on benefit fraud. We will see where the Opposition are and how keen they are when we come to vote on the distinct measures to deal with the problems.
In a moment—a queue is forming. I know that the Opposition have produced a long list of interventions that they propose to put to me, as someone generously left them on the photocopier. If hon. Members could just shout out the numbers, it would make life much easier. The paper is headed, "Interventions on Major", and I can look forward to questions on Europe, the economy, education, beef, crime, health and other matters. I look forward to finding out whether hon. Members can remember them after the training that they have undoubtedly had from the right hon. Member for Sedgefield.
May I ask the Prime Minister a question of which I have not given him notice? It is a common allegation about the Tory party that it looks after its own first. The Prime Minister has the safest Tory seat in the country, with low unemployment and low crime. My seat has the lowest Tory vote in England, with high unemployment and high crime. Why did the Queen's speech say nothing about achieving a significant reduction in unemployment in areas such as mine?
On the day when a national commission of inquiry into the prevention of child abuse recommended that we need a national register of offenders against children, why did the Queen's Speech fail to mention the register of paedophiles, when all parties in the House would assist the Government in passing it quickly into legislation?
I will return to the hon. Gentleman's second point in a moment. On the first point, as the hon. Gentleman knows, unemployment has now been falling across every part of the United Kingdom throughout the past 30 months, and there is every indication that that will continue. A fall in unemployment is created by the right economic circumstances, a growing economy, low inflation and the lowest possible interest rates. It cannot be done simply by expenditure measures, as we have learnt often enough in the period since the second world war.
That is why I have said that the Budget will be prudent. It will be prudent to ensure continuing growth because in my judgment that is the best way to get the hon. Gentleman's constituents back to work. I wish to see that for social and other reasons, and we shall continue to follow policies which try to put as many people as possible back into proper employment. By proper employment I do not mean artificially created jobs, but genuine jobs with genuine prospects for a long-term future. That is the policy that we have been following, and I agree with the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey about the importance of that.
Before I was interrupted, I was dealing with benefit fraud. We propose to take further measures to deal with that. Those measures will include fines and in severe cases prison sentences for those who deceive in order to obtain benefits fraudulently. We intend to adopt new measures to detect fraud. If the Inland Revenue knows that someone is working, the benefit offices should know also if that person tries to sign on, and in future they will.
We want to ensure that local councils are cracking down hard on housing benefit fraud. Some do, but others are less successful. We intend to set up a fraud inspectorate to make sure that they are doing all they can and to impose financial sanctions if they are not.
We intend to reform the compensation recovery scheme. Millions of pounds are paid out to accident victims each year to cover them before compensation is paid. That is right and proper and no one objects to it. However, when a settlement is reached, it is also right that the benefit element should be repaid to the taxpayer, so we will make two important changes. The compensation that accident victims receive for pain and suffering will remain protected, but we shall make sure that the taxpayer does not lose by requiring a refund of benefits paid out for circumstances subsequently covered by the insurance compensation.
Our legislative programme will also ensure that rural communities share in the benefits of economic success. We intend to give more power to local parish councils to run their own crime prevention schemes or to set up community transport schemes—more responsibility and more power at the most local level.
We intend to help small village shops and post offices, which face difficulties as shopping patterns change. Our Bill will reduce their rates bill by at least 50 per cent. and give councils the discretion to waive up to the remaining 50 per cent.
Let me return to health. The right hon. Member for Sedgefield said a few minutes ago that he would like to see health at the centre of the general election campaign. At the last general election campaign, the Labour party put health, in the form of Jennifer's ear, right at the centre for three successive days, and we received the largest vote that any political party has ever received at a general election. In this legislative programme, we intend to take action to improve primary health care.
I shall certainly examine that situation. I note that the hon. Gentleman supports trusts because they are treating more patients. I am delighted that he sees how successful they are.
The main contact with the health service is through the general practitioner. Over recent years, the service provided by GPs has already improved significantly in most parts of the country, not least thanks to the development of fundholding. The more we can improve the care given by the GP, the more we can relieve the pressure which otherwise would fall on hospitals.
It is far more convenient for patients if they can get their care locally instead of having to travel in some cases to distant hospitals. If patients need physiotherapy or chiropody, for example, why should not their GPs provide it if they wish to do so? If local communities can benefit from a local clinic offering cataract treatment, why should they not have it? I know of no good reason, and we propose to introduce legislation to make that possible.
I should like to make a little progress.
I believe that parents have a right to a bigger role in their children's education. Giving choice to parents is right in itself and it will help to raise standards.
If the hon. Gentleman had his way, there would be no choice whatever: no choice as to where children go to school, no choice as to what sort of school they go to, no choice as to whether parents could see the school's results and no choice as to how the tests would be carried out at that school. The hon. Gentleman would prefer education to be a secret garden for himself and the professionals, with no information for the parents.
We have provided greater information and greater resources. Our education Bill will raise standards by extending choice. Where parents want more selection, they will have the opportunity for more selection in the Bill. I make that point to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), the Liberal education spokesman, who clearly did not know it at lunchtime on television.
Where parents want more grammar schools, they will have more grammar schools, and where they want grant-maintained schools to expand, they will. It is called choice. We Conservatives believe in choice, and we intend to deliver it.
The hon. Gentleman must allow me to make some progress.
We intend to give schools new powers to improve discipline, by allowing new sanctions against unruly pupils and by encouraging parents to take more responsibility for their children's behaviour.
I see that the hon. Gentleman opposes action to help with discipline in schools. I hope that the teachers' unions will note the position that he is taking.
For every pupil in the land, we now spend half as much again, over and above inflation, as in 1979. But spending alone does not deliver higher standards. Lambeth—a Labour education authority—spends more per secondary pupil than any other authority in the country, but it is in the bottom five for performance. Islington's performance is the worst in the country, although only a handful of authorities spend more per pupil. Buckinghamshire—a Tory authority—is one of the 10 best performing authorities, despite below average spending on pupils. So adequate resources are important, but they are not the only ingredient for good education.
Some of the parents have noted it for themselves. Some parents have moved their children from high-spending Islington schools to lower-spending others. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman speaks to parents in the Labour party before he walks into that again.
If education, education, education is a Labour passion, why does Labour not improve education at a local level now? The hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said that Labour controls the education authorities, so why are they not taking the action that they think necessary now? What action do they take? Absolutely none. Instead, we see parents moving their children out of education authorities such as Southwark and Islington and running away from inefficient and incompetent Labour education authorities. The hon. Gentleman is right about one thing: parents know. They know that in too many education authorities the only standards that Labour knows are low standards and double standards. If there are problems in society, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield might look at poorly performing Labour education authorities as one of the roots.
I come now to our proposals on law and order. The right hon. Member for Sedgefield had much to say about that. He seems to know everything about crime except how to reduce it. Labour demonstrates its commitment to action on crime just so long as that action is not something that the Conservative Government are proposing.
The right hon. Gentleman made an offer at the Dispatch Box which I take to be genuine. Both he and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey spoke of the private Members' legislation on paedophiles and stalking.
Will the hon. Gentleman let me continue? Both Bills are in the course of being drafted. Drafting approval was given some time ago. They have never been in the Queen's Speech. They were intended to be private Members' Bills because we judged that the House would pass them speedily. [Interruption.]
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield today offered the House his unequivocal support for a speedy passage through the House for those Bills as Government Bills. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, the Liberal spokesman, offered precisely the same deal. I accept that deal. We were determined to put the Bills through. We shall now get them through, and I hope that Opposition Members will facilitate their speedy passage.
If Opposition Members are concerned about crime, I hope that they will give us the same support on the other crime-tackling Bills in our programme. I hope that they will not eat up time on those two Bills to try to wreck the other Bills tackling crime that we have brought forward. I am prepared to accept that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield spoke in good faith. Since there is no dispute in the House as to the merits of the Bills on paedophiles and on stalking, let us bring them forward as soon as they are drafted and pass them speedily as Government Bills. I undertake that we shall do that.
I do not know whether the Prime Minister has ever tried to take a private Member's Bill through the House. I am not sure that he has. Will he confirm that the first date on which either Bill could be considered—[Interruption.]
Will the Prime Minister confirm that, if the Bills were presented as private Member's Bills, those Ministers who have said in the past two days that that procedure would afford them a quicker passage were not telling the truth, and that only if Government time is available for those Bills will they be able to get through the House before the general election?
To be fair to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not think that he can have taken in what I just said. I said that, in view of the unequivocal offer of support from the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition spokesman, we would bring the Bills forward as separate Government Bills. I shall rely on the Opposition retaining the pledges that they have given. If the measures had been in the crime Bill, which was another option, it would have taken a long time to get them through and they would no doubt have been under consistent attack, for I suspect that much of the crime Bill will be attacked by the Opposition. Now that will not happen on these measures, and I look to the right hon. Gentleman to sustain the support that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has offered to the House.
Let me respond to the Prime Minister and say that I am absolutely delighted that he intends to present Bills containing those measures. The offer that he has just accepted is the offer that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) made to the Home Secretary and which was rejected yesterday. Nevertheless, we are delighted: it shows the country what we can achieve even in opposition.
On certain matters we have always sought to accommodate the Opposition. We have sought, of course, to accommodate the Opposition in relation to delaying Lord Cullen's report. There are matters on which cross-party support is welcome and will be accepted. Now that we have had a clear statement on the Floor of the House, I am happy to accept it, and we will now go ahead.
Let me turn—
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I should like to make a little progress. I have given way to Opposition Members on a number of occasions. I want to turn to other matters relating to crime.
I think that it is a matter of common consent across the House that criminal gangs respect no county or national borders. National and international crime requires a nationally organised system to combat it. So we intend to legislate for a national crime squad, bringing together the existing regional crime squads into a single body to attack serious crime. I believe that that also deserves strong support across the House.
I want now to turn to sentencing. If the public see a fraudster sentenced to five years in prison, they are rightly angry to see him released after serving about half his sentence. Sentences served should match more closely sentences passed. I am sure that the public agree with that, and we intend to provide for it. We also propose to change some of the sentences. We have already increased sentences for serious crimes such as drug trafficking and attempted rape. We will now go further and propose automatic life sentences for anyone convicted of a second serious violent or sexual offence. We intend also to introduce minimum sentences for serious offenders such as persistent house burglars and drug dealers.
We are also looking at new ways to prevent juvenile crime. We intend to publish a green paper setting out some new ideas for consultation within a very short time. Last week, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland set out the Government's proposals for firearms control, following Lord Cullen's inquiry into the tragedy of Dunblane. I know that there are differences in the House on the proposal, but I also know that the overwhelming belief is that the new legislation should be enacted as speedily as possible. That is why we have reached a collective view, as we were invited to do, and we intend to put it before the House in the usual way. The House will then make its judgment.
We undertook a very careful examination of Lord Cullen's report and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have gone farther than Lord Cullen recommended. I rather share the view of the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who was quoted earlier, that many people
will still be able to own handguns but they must be kept safely under lock and key at properly run centres.
The hon. Gentleman took that view, and so, I believe, did the official Labour party until very shortly before the statement was made in the House. I believe that that is the right way to deal with it, but the House will be able to make its own judgment. We shall bring forward our proposals—[Interruption.] We shall bring forward a Bill in the usual way, as I said a moment ago. We have formed a judgment as to what is right, and we shall invite the House and the Conservative party to support that.
I believe that the Prime Minister rightly changed his judgment earlier on a different matter. Will he now reconsider his judgment on this matter and, on this aspect, about which he is right that there may be different views on both sides of the House, allow a free vote so that the House can make up its mind on that basis?
With respect to the right hon. Gentleman, we had already provided drafting advice for those Bills. We did not change our mind. I have accepted the right hon. Gentleman's word that he will facilitate the speedy passage of this measure through the House. That is obviously better than a private Member's Bill. It is not a change of mind. We have made our judgment on what we believe to be the right response to Lord Cullen, and I have just set it out.
We propose also to reform civil law.
If hon. Members will forgive me, I wish to make progress.
Too many people in this country have found their right to justice too often barred by costly and lengthy procedures. If a pensioner is in dispute with a garage about a car repair bill, or a home owner with a builder, they should not expect a huge legal bill for resolving the matter. Our legal system should encourage such disputes to be resolved speedily. With that in mind, we intend to implement Lord Woolf's recommendations for a simplified set of rules in our civil courts—a system of fast-track procedures to encourage settlements and cut costs.
We also intend to act to preserve and improve physical heritage. We intend to introduce a Bill to allow lottery funds to be used to widen access to heritage in many ways. I will not now set them out to the House, but the objective is to ensure that more people can be enriched by enjoying our heritage.
We also propose to introduce measures to enact Lord Donaldson's report following the Braer incident some time ago. Our measures will create wider powers to inspect suspect ships, enforce exclusion zones around accident sites and make those responsible for accidents bear more of the cost.
I wish now briefly to turn to Northern Ireland. Earlier this year, the House passed legislation to allow elections in Northern Ireland as the basis for multi-party talks. That process brought great hope. No one, I think, imagined rapid breakthroughs. This is a democratic process, and I think that we all expected that it would grind along exceedingly slowly.
The IRA and Sinn Fein do not accept that democratic process. They are trying to impose their own terms on the talks. They have not been ready to renounce violence. That is plainly incompatible with joining the talks. They have excluded themselves by their return to violence: it is not us, not the British Government, not the Irish Government, not the other parties in Northern Ireland—it is their own fault that they are excluded from the talks, and no one else's. But the talks will continue without them.
The IRA and Sinn Fein should be under no illusion that they can join the process until they have demonstrated real commitment to democratic and non-violent methods. So even if a new ceasefire is declared, there will have to be more than soft words to convince the Government and, I believe, the House that it does not represent another tactical device, to be abandoned at any convenient moment.
For our part, we intend to go on improving the process of government in Northern Ireland. We will consult on how to develop the Northern Ireland Grand Committee to enable greater scrutiny of legislative proposals, Government policy and Ministers. We also intend to introduce a Bill to allow the decommissioning of terrorist weapons. To encourage the removal of those weapons from the streets, we will ask the House to agree that forensic evidence should not be sought from them.
But let me be clear: there can be no general amnesty for terrorist crimes and there will be none. I cannot look into the minds of the terrorists and predict what they will do, but I know that the road to a settlement will not be easy. We shall do all in our power to promote a lasting peace and to protect the community from their actions. That is our promise, and I both hope for and expect the House's full support in that endeavour.
That will take time to bring about, but I think that it is a worthwhile reform which will deliver better legislation. We have begun to move in that direction this year, with two draft Bills set out in the Gracious Speech. In future years, I anticipate steadily increasing the number of draft Bills brought before the House.
Our legislative programme is a clear and practical set of measures to promote our aim of wider opportunity for all. We believe in choice, in personal responsibility and in opportunity. That thread has run through the past 17 years of Conservative Government. It runs through the current legislative programme in front of us and it will run through our plans and our programmes for the next Parliament also. It is what our programme will achieve this year, and I commend it to the House.
Before observing the usual courtesies to those who proposed and seconded the Loyal Address—as I shall be delighted to do in a moment—I must welcome the Prime Minister's change of mind about the paedophiles register. It must be the fastest U-turn in history, executed even before the Queen's Speech debate has started. What a Government!
If the Prime Minister or any member of his Front Bench team had bothered to approach the Leader of the Opposition or me before the debate, he could have had what he has given way to today. However, he did not want to do that: he wanted to play politics, as he did in his speech. That is a pretty good example of why and how the Government have failed in all sorts of ways, which I shall touch upon later.
I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to those Members of Parliament who have died in the past year, and to the mover of the Loyal Address, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)—who is probably, perhaps definitely, the last chairman of the Conservative party who is viewed with any kind of affection by his party. His speech showed why.
The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field), who gave a good speech, mentioned three of his predecessors who were Prime Ministers. Of course, they were all Liberals. The hon. Gentleman succeeded in mentioning five notable people from the Isle of Wight, all of whom were Liberals, and four of whom he spoke of in glowing terms. Therefore, he will understand why my party, both nationally and locally, is dedicated to working assiduously—leaving no stone unturned—to ensure that he has a long and happy retirement, and that the next parliamentary representative of the Isle of Wight is a Liberal Democrat.
Last year, the Prime Minister told us that the Queen's Speech was a
common-sense, practical programme of traditional Conservative values".—[Official Report, 15 November 1995; Vol. 267, c. 28.]
The year since has hardly provided a ringing endorsement of that claim. Two members of the Prime Minister's party left to join the Liberal Democrats, arguing specifically that the Conservative party has lost touch with the British people's traditional values of decency and fairness.
In May, of course, the British people delivered their verdict on that Queen's Speech, on the Government and on that claim. They voted Conservative councillors out in their thousands, leaving the Prime Minister leading a tiny rump in local government and controlling just a handful of councils. The Conservative party has probably never controlled fewer local councils, and that is a fair indication of the mood of the nation.
Now, in this year's Queen's Speech, we see a programme for next year that reveals the Government in their tormented and twilight days. It is a ragbag of irrelevant measures. Of course, one or two measures will find wide support, including the paedophile register—on which the Prime Minister has now changed his mind; we are delighted about that—and the legislation that will be introduced to control marine pollution and for a national crime squad. That legislation will be brought back, and we will find it possible to support it.
But the programme is evidently—indeed, by the Government's own admission—driven more by what will wrong-foot the Opposition parties than by what is right for the country. Those are not my words, but the Prime Minister's in the Government's briefings in the past 24 hours. What an extraordinary admission. The Government are now acting more like an Opposition than a Government. They have changed their psychology entirely.
The British people are crying out for a message of hope and a strategy for Britain's long-term future, but what they have got is a tactical plan for short-term Tory survival. I have to tell the Prime Minister that it will not work, for two simple reasons—first, because people will not forgot the Government's failures, their bungles, incompetences and broken promises; secondly, because, do what they will, the Government cannot paper over their divisions, hide their sleaze or escape from their record.
The Prime Minister said that to say that was to criticise everything in Britain. What nonsense. He said that there was more good in our society than bad, but we were not criticising our society—we were criticising his Government, and in their record there is far more bad than good. It is not my party but the Tory party that has criticised society so frequently in the past.
Since 1979, the Government have passed 757 laws, yet they have completely failed to solve Britain's deep-rooted and endemic problems. Despite £130 billion from North sea oil and £80 billion from privatisation, since 1979 the British national debt—going back 300 years—has trebled under the Conservatives. It has doubled since the Prime Minister took office.
That £170 billion debt—the John Major debt—was accumulated in six years. The national debt has doubled since 1990, and now amounts to £7,500 of extra debt for every family in Britain. That debt is still increasing under his premiership, by £1,000 a second. We spend more paying the interest on the John Major debt than we spend annually on our police, our prisons and our universities all put together—just to pay the interest on the Prime Minister's debt. But the money from that extra borrowing has not been spent on preparing Britain for the future or improving the lot of ordinary people.
Despite that extraordinary level of borrowing, our national health service is facing a financial crisis. I use the word "crisis" advisedly, and it has been used by many who know the situation in the NHS well. It faces a financial crisis this winter. Beds are closing and waiting lists are lengthening again.
Education has been cut and cut in recent years, and is certain to be cut again to make room for tax cuts. Some 1.25 million children are in classes of more than 31, and that number has gone up by 10 per cent. in the past year alone. One in seven 21-year-olds in Britain now have trouble with basic reading and writing, and one in five have difficulty with basic mathematics. Britain has slipped to a position in the world education league table below China and Argentina, and just above Venezuela.
Hundreds of thousands of people remain trapped on welfare and out of work. Crime has doubled since 1979, and 1,000 homes a week are still being repossessed.
The Government's failures are not revealed merely in figures. The poll tax, rail privatisation, arms to Iraq, cash for questions and the Pergau dam, and much more, add up to a record of incompetence and underhandedness that is probably unparalleled in modern times. This year, we have had perhaps the most glaring example of all—the handling, or perhaps I should say bungling, of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis. Even if we suspend judgment on the mistakes made in containing the BSE epidemic since the mid-1980s, the past seven months have been an object lesson in dither, delay and scapegoatism. There has been blank incompetence.
Of course BSE was never going to be an easy problem to handle, but it did not have to be as we see it now. When the original bombshell broke on 20 March, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) and I told the Government that their first proposals would be inadequate to deal with the crisis. We offered our party's support if the Prime Minister agreed to take decisive action. Instead, and since then, he and his Government have prevaricated. They have temporised, wavered at home and blustered abroad.
Had the Cabinet been in office in 1982, the task force would never have made it out of port, let alone reached the Falklands. The Government seem to believe that BSE stands for "blame somebody else". First, the House was told that it was the fault of Opposition parties. Then it was the fault of the media. Most bizarrely of all, the Secretary of State for Health said that it was the fault of consumers. Inevitably, when all the other so-called alibis had collapsed, the Prime Minister blamed BSE on his favourite scapegoat, which is Europe.
In May, after yet another confrontation with fellow Conservative Governments in France and Germany, the Prime Minister saved his failing Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and appeased his anti-European Conservative Back-Bench Members by declaring his ridiculous "beef war" on Europe. It all ended, as it was bound to, in humiliating retreat.
After the Florence summit in June, the Prime Minister tried to justify his belligerent tactics by claiming that the timetable for the relaxation of the export ban was exclusively in the Government's hands. To prove it, he promised to end the cull backlog and lift the export ban by the end of October. He has failed to deliver either measure. In fact, exactly the opposite has happened. The cull backlog, far from diminishing, has kept on growing, and is growing still. As winter approaches, farmers are left feeding cattle that they should have had compensation for weeks ago. Businesses throughout the industry are going under as a result.
Farmers are suffering terribly. But some people are doing very nicely, thank you, out of the chaos. The Government's decision to privatise the cull in the hands of a tiny cartel of large abattoir groups has meant excessive profits for them, on a scale that even the Government's auditors have declared unacceptable. Those firms have received an extra two months of an undeserved bonus, while farmers, caught in the cull shambles for weeks, have been forced to take a cut of 10 per cent. in compensation payments as a penalty for the Government's failure and incompetence.
Farmers know exactly where the blame lies. The day after they met the Prime Minister in Bournemouth, the National Farmers Union council passed an almost historic vote of no confidence in the Minister of Agriculture.
It is not quite too late to reverse the escalating crisis. First, there must be an agreed strategy to clear up the cull backlog fast, using emergency powers if necessary. Secondly, beef and dairy farmers need more help to see them through the winter and to cope with the consequences of the Government's failures. Thirdly, we need a step-by-step programme to establish BSE-free areas—starting in Northern Ireland and Scotland—and action to speed up BSE eradication where necessary, also on an area-by-area basis. Fourthly, we must set up an independent food safety commission, separate from the Ministry of Agriculture, to restore consumer confidence for the future.
It gives me no pleasure to say that our proposals are almost exactly the same as those that my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall made the day after the crisis broke on 21 March, a full seven months ago. If they had been followed then, a great industry and tens of thousands of farmers would not have been brought to their knees by a Government whom they thought they could trust, and to whom they looked for help. That betrayal felt by farmers is, I believe, now widely felt by others across the nation.
The Government's failures in recent years have given rise to a national mood that is uncertain, unself-confident, even fearful. All the fixed points on which we thought that we could rely in the past now seem to have gone. The Government who ought to be fighting for the people are instead at war with themselves; the politicians who ought to be representing them are instead seen helping themselves. Politics, which used to give a lead and solid things for which to vote, has instead become a thing of soundbites, slickness and spin doctors.
The public are lied to about tax. They are kept in the dark about the true state of the economy. They are left out of the debate on their own future in Europe. They know perfectly well that there are tough decisions to be made, but no one will tell them what those decisions are; they know that there are big things to be done, but no one has a plan to do them. I believe that the public are now desperate for leadership, but the Government will not provide it, and it certainly is not provided in the programme for the next year.
That is the underlying condition that the Queen's Speech ought to address. It might start with the following truths. First, the state of our economy is now good and promising, but—
It is promising precisely because, for the past two years, the Government have followed the policies proposed by my party for the past 10. Let me tell the Prime Minister that, if he goes out into the streets of Britain, people will say, "Yes, the economy is recovering, but that is despite the Government, not because of them."
Before the right hon. Gentleman intervenes, let me make myself clear.
Yes, the economy is promising—of course it is—but that is now being seriously threatened, because the Government's finances are absolutely awful. The national debt is twice what it was six years ago, and, at £27 billion, Government borrowing is twice what we were told it would be two years ago.
There is no room for tax cuts. The Chancellor would now be wise to heed the words of his colleague the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd), who said recently:
I do not believe that elections can be won by reducing income tax against a background of sacked teachers or closed hospital wards. To promise more would be incredible and wrong".
That is the background against which the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are now considering tax cuts.
If the Chancellor does cut taxes this autumn, he will be doing so for purely political purposes, and the British people will see right through it. I must say to the Labour party that, if it cannot find the courage to oppose that, it will be colluding in it—and the consequence, I fear, will be another round of boom and bust, in which the Conservatives once again try to buy votes at the election and leave everyone else to pay the price in higher mortgages, lost jobs and broken businesses.
At least twice in his speech, the right hon. Gentleman has made much of the size of the public debt. What proposals have he and his party to reduce that debt in the short term?
We would not cut taxes. Ours is the only party that voted against cutting taxes in the last Budget, and did so saying quite precisely that, if the Government then cut them, the consequence would be burgeoning public debt. We have been proved exactly right.
Secondly, our education system is now woefully underfunded. As a result, our children's future and our country's future are being blighted. Many things need to be done in education—raising standards, encouraging professionalism in teaching and providing high-quality early-years education for all—but none can be done without more money, and that must be found. If we will not face that, the rest is nothing more than hot air.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why, when the Liberals on Berkshire county council found £5 million that they knew nothing about in the accounts, they would not spend a single penny of it on additional teachers or in the classroom?
I have heard so many of those claims before, including claims against my own county council, all of which were based on complete falsities—and lies, frankly. I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman's question, because I do not know the answer, but I can give him an undertaking—no doubt it is the same undertaking that he would have given when he was a Minister and was asked a similar question—that I will find out and send him an answer.
Thirdly, our health service is facing a crisis this winter. The effects are already evident in bed closures, axed services and growing waiting lists. We need an immediate year-long halt to national health service closures, until a full, independent audit of facilities and needs has been carried out. But under this Government, that will not happen. In the longer term, we need a strategy to cut unnecessary bureaucracy and concentrate on patient care—recruiting new staff, cutting waiting lists and putting as much emphasis on preventing illness as we currently do on treating it. But under this Government and their legislative programme, that will not happen.
Fourthly, our benefits system is failing. It traps people when it should be freeing them. It penalises work when it should be encouraging it. It requires fundamental reform, and that should have happened already, but under this Government that will not happen.
Fifthly, our political system is in a mess. It is out of date and out of touch. It has lost the confidence of the people it is supposed to serve. We must clean up the mess in our politics and bring our constitution and our political system up to date. But under this Government and this programme, that will not happen. It will not even be started.
Sixthly, we continue to pollute our atmosphere, to destroy our countryside, to clog up our roads in a way that everyone knows is unsustainable and that will damage the quality of our life—and, more important, the quality of life of our children. We cannot go on ducking this issue any longer, but under this Government and this programme, we will do just that.
Seventhly, perhaps the biggest decision of all confronting this country—on this perhaps the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) and I will agree—is Europe and the single currency. I see several Conservative Members nodding their heads. Decisions will have to be taken on this, probably within weeks of the next election, but we are not to be allowed even to discuss it, because the Labour and Tory parties are so split that to do so would wreck them internally. That is a monstrous conspiracy against democracy and the people of this country. They have a right to hear this debate and to participate in it.
My party has no doubt that Britain must play a constructive part in the creation of an integrated, decentralised, democratic Europe, and we have no doubt that, if there is a single currency—I think there will be—and if a workable proposition for it is to be made—I think it will be—and if Britain can be a part of that single currency, it should be. But we also have no doubt that the British people have a right to a say in these decisions, and the right way to ensure that is through a referendum.
Those are the things that the Queen's Speech should be about, but it is not. I do not believe in the politics of opposition: of saying what is wrong with the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "No?"] No, I do not, and we can prove it to the Government time and again. I do not believe in saying what is wrong with the Government but never saying what we would do instead, so we have produced an alternative Queen's Speech, in which are laid out the measures that we believe should have been included in this Queen's Speech.
I make no apologies for the non-parliamentary language in it. It is time we got rid of some of the arcane language of this place. Our alternative programme is written in plain English of the sort that ordinary people understand and want to hear from their Parliament.
I make no apologies, either, for the length of our alternative programme. We have done what the Prime Minister says he will do and made it a two-year programme, and if it means that there will have to be shorter summer holidays to get on with it, so be it. I make no apologies for that, either. I see that I have the ready and enthusiastic agreement of all my colleagues on this.
There is much to be done, and it is time to get started. It is time to get the country back on track, to get going again; but, of course, we all know that that will not happen, because the Prime Minister is determined to hang on. No one knows what he is hanging on for, but hanging on is what he is best at. That is what he is happiest doing and it is what he is for. It is what he says to himself in the Downing street mirror every morning. He says, "Another success, John. Another day you have hung on. They have not got rid of you yet."
The problem is that we all have to hang on with him. The Tories will have to hang on before they can sort out their problems in opposition, and they will suffer. The economy will have to hang on while the Prime Minister piles on more debt to pay for tax cuts, and it will suffer. Our children will have to hang on in underfunded schools, and they will suffer. Europe will have to hang on while Britain decides what to do, and Britain will suffer. The elderly and the sick will have to hang on with a health service that can no longer cope, and they will suffer. The country will have to hang on with a tired, visionless, leaderless, toothless, purposeless, pointless Government, and the country will suffer.
It would be an act of kindness to them and to us now to put the Government out of their misery. The Prime Minister may rest assured that, over the next few weeks and months, we shall lose no opportunity and leave no stone unturned to make sure that that is exactly what happens. When it does, we can get down to starting to rebuild the country again.
The remarks by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) about the Government, as he sees them, would be excellent if they were about many Liberal councils throughout the country. Many of them are examples of people who say one thing and do another, who sit on money instead of using it for the right purposes. Many of them use it on publicity, lawyers and campaigning, but will not spend it in the classroom and on the teachers. I know, because I suffer under such an education authority, and I heartily want to see the back of it: I want Conservatives who will spend money in the classrooms, on teachers and on the things that matter.
There was a contest, and it would have been unfortunate if there had been no candidates. I stepped in to help my right hon. Friend by offering him a candidate that he was able to beat.
The Gracious Speech rightly reminded us that big issues are coming up in Europe, which we need to settle with our partners on the continent. I welcome the tone and terms of the Speech on the European issue. It tells us that the Government wish to see a flexible, outward-looking, open Europe, which is a partnership of nations and not an over-governed, over-bureaucratised, over-taxed Europe of the kind that many socialists and some others on the continent would like to create.
I want to see the Government striding purposefully into the chambers of Europe to argue for a Europe that works, which has unemployment as its top issue and says that it must adopt policies that will get our young people and our older people back to work. We must start to reduce the crisis levels of unemployment that characterise the economies of Spain, France and Italy. Almost one person in four are out of work in Spain, and for Italy and France the figure is one in eight.
It is even worse for those who are young and have little training. In Spain, four young people in 10 are out of work. Why? It is because of the policies that are being pursued by many of the politicians on the continent. They would be well advised to see what Britain is doing, to see how, in the past three to four years, we have started an economic recovery.
We have allowed exchange rates to find their right levels; brought interest rates down; allowed the economy to expand; and resumed tax cutting after an unfortunate intervention of tax increase and recession. We are showing them that, if a Government tax less, spend less, regulate less and trust markets, companies, families and individuals, progress can be made, and the crisis of mass unemployment can be avoided.
I welcome two recent statements by leading Government figures. The first was that of the Foreign Secretary, who is now warning our partners in western Europe that the single currency scheme is becoming a cause of division between the partners. Recently, there has been a diplomatic scrap between Germany and Italy over whether Italy might be allowed into the single currency. More recently, there has been another sharp diplomatic exchange between Spain and Italy over whether Italy, and/or Spain or neither will be allowed into the single currency.
The very idea that is meant to unify the European Community is beginning to tear it apart. We all know that many countries will not be able to qualify. Britain can surely warn our partners how damaging such attempts will be, and ask them instead to develop a real agenda, based on the needs of the people of western Europe: an agenda for jobs and less government, that puts people's interests, not those of politicians, first.
The second statement that I warmly applaud is that of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer concerning the Maastricht treaty. The United Kingdom rightly put requirements into the treaty as preconditions for anyone entering a single currency. I am delighted that my right hon. Friends are now saying that we should stick to those requirements.
At the time, Britain thought that they were the minimum requirements, and would have liked more. We agreed them with our partners. Surely it is now up to our partners to agree with us that they must stick to the treaty. Those things were well meant at the time, and anything less than those requirements would endanger not only the economies of western Europe, but the scheme itself, as it would call into question the legality of the single currency that they wished to introduce.
We know that most countries will not meet the requirement that they should have borrowed only 60 per cent. of their national income. Britain, France and Luxembourg are the only countries that are sure to meet that requirement. Why are the other countries kidding themselves that, somehow, the requirement is not in the treaty, or that it does not mean what it says in the treaty? Why are they not trying to meet that requirement? Of course, they cannot meet it, because the recession is still too deep on the continent, and their economies are not growing quickly enough, so they are short of tax revenue and have too many people on benefit. They need to go for growth, and to start to bring their deficits down by encouraging economic prosperity. Their current policies stand in the way.
The Gracious Speech and the Prime Minister's remarks referred to the state of economy and to the forthcoming Budget. I welcome the comment that one of the Budget's priorities will be to continue to reduce new borrowing. At this stage in our economic recovery, it is most important that some of the benefits of that recovery, in the form of higher tax revenues, are used to reduce the new borrowing that we need to make, and the Government are right to wish to be prudent.
I trust that, when the Government consider their public spending plans, they will find that there is scope to get by next year with a smaller increase than the current plans propose. I hope that there will be scope for tax reduction—the Prime Minister left open that possibility—as well as a reduction in the amount of borrowing that we would otherwise have to make.
I think that I said the opposite. I said that tax rebates should be balanced by reduced public spending plans, and that public spending should be reduced even more, so that it could contribute to lower borrowing. In addition, the economic recovery will contribute to lowering borrowing because, as our recovery continues, so more people go to work, pay taxes and no longer need benefits. That is the best possible way of reducing the deficit. We have been pursuing that policy in the past couple of years, and I look forward to more of the same.
In that connection, I should like to make a modest proposal to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I should like him to consider small businesses and their scope for creating more jobs. Many self-employed people find it difficult to take the step of employing the first employee in their growing business. Many decide to keep their business small. They do not want to face national insurance payments and paperwork and value added tax paperwork as they go through the VAT registration threshold and the pay-as-you-earn system on behalf of their employees.
There are about 3 million self-employed people in Britain. If we could persuade even 10 per cent. of them to take on their first employee, it would make a huge difference to the unemployment level.
I should like the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider doubling the VAT threshold, so that small businesses could grow and take on that first employee without the hassle of all the VAT paperwork and expenditure. I should like him also to consider giving a national insurance holiday for a year or two for the first employee taken on by the entrepreneur running his own business, if that employee has been out of work for six months or more.
The tax costs would be modest. Some or many of the jobs generated would be additional, so there would be benefit savings. I have not conducted a detailed costing, but the scheme would be easily affordable within the sort of sums that I have put to the Chancellor concerning public expenditure savings compared with plans, and the general scope of the budget deficit and the budget judgment.
We heard a strange speech from the Leader of the Opposition. He told us that the Government are fracturing our country. He should know about fracturing, because his policies and attitudes are likely to fracture the Labour party. Here is a man who has no single political principle within him, who will change his views as often as the opinion polls and the spin doctors tell him to do so.
Here is a man who is trying to lead his party against its basic instincts. People join the Labour party because they want to tax the rich more and to give more benefits to less well-off people. The Labour party leader now asks us to believe that that is no longer his view—or, therefore, his party's. But could he deliver that, given the nature of the party that he tries to lead?
I will give the right hon. Gentleman a chance to think about that one, because he will need time to do so. Is that still his view, or has he changed to what Labour Members, who can spot his positioning on these issues, will regard as a position of "Next time may be my chance"?
Oh, dear. I stand by what I said last summer. One of the things I said was that we had to reduce taxes, or we would not have a chance of winning the election. I am pleased to say that my right hon. Friends did reduce taxes in the last Budget, and I live in hope that they will do a bit more in the next Budget, so our chances have definitely improved. We have shown people again that Conservatives want to cut taxes, and that, whenever possible and whenever it is prudent to do so, they will cut taxes.
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield made a great deal about education. As the Prime Minister reminded us, the right hon. Gentleman says that he has three priorities: education, education and education. What is stopping him, therefore, from leading his party to success in education? He and his party control most of the important education authorities. He has many Labour governors running the schools. We have voted substantial sums of money to those local authorities.
If they wish to, those authorities can increase the amount of money going to schools out of those huge budgets, and get rid of the people whom their education spokesman says are bad teachers. I believe that he said that there are 15,000 bad teachers. That is more than I would venture, but, if that is Labour's view, why are Labour authorities employing most of those 15,000 bad teachers, and why do they not do something about it?
If the right hon. Member for Sedgefield believes that we need higher standards of reading, writing and arithmetic, why are Labour-controlled and dominated education authorities and their primary schools standing in the way of changing teaching methods, so that children can be taught to read, write and add up properly at an early age? Why did his party stand in the way of compulsory testing and the publication of results? The only way to make progress is for us to know how well or badly those children have done, and for the parents to know, so that they can make choices, influence the governing bodies and demand that action be taken in those schools.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear, there is a relationship between the amount of money spent on education and the results. The relationship is that, if we have a Labour authority, it spends more and does less well. I deduce from that not that we should take money away from Labour authorities, but that they have much to learn about how to run a decent school and a decent education authority.
If the Leader of the Opposition wants the nation to believe that he is a great leader who can deliver, I suggest that he starts right now—today—on education, with Labour-controlled education authorities. I offered the right hon. Gentleman that opportunity a little while ago, when I sent him a letter saying that I would like to write a letter jointly with him to education authorities in Labour-controlled areas. I set out the actions that I thought those authorities needed to take, to raise standards. The right hon. Gentleman did not even do me the courtesy of replying to my letter.
The House will be delighted to know that I boldly went ahead and sent such a letter over my own signature. I pointed out to Labour-controlled education authorities that their leader now says that he wants to raise standards. I offered them a series of proposals, and some of those authorities did me the courtesy of replying. I did not detect in those replies any inkling that those authorities had been under any influence from the Labour leader to raise their standards, or that there was an agreed agenda among Labour parliamentarians, councillors and candidates for raising standards. The right hon. Gentleman should look more carefully at putting his own house in order before lecturing the rest of us.
I understand that it is Labour policy now to demand a complete ban on handguns. When Labour submitted its evidence to the Cullen inquiry, why did that party go for a lesser ban than that which it is now recommending and which the Government are proposing? What changed? Could it be that the Leader of the Opposition is playing party politics? Could it be that he is showing that, if one leads by following opinion polls and focus groups that can quickly change their minds, one can be left stranded a few weeks or months later, when one thought there was firm ground. One can discover that action once thought bold is no longer bold by that test.
I grow a little tired of hearing that Labour is entirely united on the issue of Europe. I see a party in which dozens of right hon. and hon. Members would like to come out of the European Union altogether, and in which another group would like to plunge ever more deeply into a European Union, surrendering many of our powers of self-government.
I see around the shadow Cabinet table a huge divergence of views. Every time that I listen to or watch the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), I see a man who does not want a single currency unless hell freezes over first. Every time I watch the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), I see a man who would like a single European currency tomorrow, preferably before he has any responsibility—which I think he will not get—for the British economy.
Between the two is this great leader who is not able to make up his mind whether he supports the Dunfermline view or the Livingston view—so he says one thing one day and something else another day. The Labour party is deeply divided over Europe, which is why Labour Members refuse to answer questions.
I have a piece of advice for the right hon. Member for Sedgefield. If he cannot make up his mind about a single European currency and wants to do so some time, never or later, why does he not the have the decency to do what the Conservative party is doing—offer the public the reassurance that, if a single currency were ever recommended, the people could decide first in a referendum? The right hon. Member for Sedgefield cannot even make up his mind whether that question would be tested in a referendum or a general election, or whether he could hold a referendum.
The right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East is an ambitious man, who believes that he should be the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He must be the first example in history of a man coveting the office of Chancellor because he wants to give away all that office's powers, responsibilities and duties. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman believes that there is such a thing as a free lunch, and that it is his right to enjoy one every day at the Treasury, while economic decisions about our country are settled in Frankfurt.
Conservatives must campaign long and hard to make sure that the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East never has the opportunity of a free ride in government. We must put it to the British people that the Conservative vision of Europe is the right one. We must put it to the electorate that the Conservative approach to lower taxation and sensible controls on public spending is the right one. We must put it to the public that only a Conservative party and Government could possibly give the lead in Europe, to bring down unemployment, create more jobs, open up Europe to the east and west, and understand the dynamics of change that will lead to the mighty rise of Asia and the Americas over the next two or three decades.
We must not belong to a Europe that shuts itself off from the dynamism of the world economy. We must be strong players in a Europe that is open for business and free to trade with the five continents of the world. I beg to support the Loyal Address.
Whatever anyone may think of the Gracious Speech, it has scant relevance to the key issues now confronting the people of Manchester. As the House knows, I am in my 33rd year as a representative here of my native city; and I take this first opportunity in the new Session to draw attention to some of the most pressing issues facing us.
Saturday 15 June 1996 is a date that will long linger in the memories of Mancunians, and for all the wrong reasons. That was the day the IRA ripped the heart out of our city. Hundreds of people were injured, many very seriously. They now face lifelong disability. Buildings were devastated, homes were lost and businesses, large and small, were dealt a crippling blow.
I vividly remember from my boyhood the effects of the Manchester blitz. The city's reaction to the outrage on 15 June has been as resilient as it was then. If the perpetrators expected anything less than resilience from Mancunians they know nothing, but nothing, of the kind of people we are. The whole city is committed, now as it was in December 1940, to ensuring that, out of adversity, a stronger and more vibrant Manchester will emerge: a city to rival any in Europe.
To capitalise on that commitment, Manchester and its region need quality access to global markets, fast and convenient transport links within the United Kingdom and quality public transport links for moving people within the region. For that to be achieved, we need and deserve ministerial help, and we need it urgently.
In Manchester airport, our city and the north-west, indeed the north of Britain, have a priceless asset. It is our gateway to the world: providing jobs, stimulating investment and promoting tourism. Air transport is a business of the future. To compete, particularly with the major cities in Europe, for inward investment, quality airport facilities are essential to capitalise on the jobs and economic benefits that global business decisions bring. But as of now, in flat contradiction of the statement on page 3 of the Queen's Speech about the Government's continuing support for competitiveness, we are prevented from competing as effectively as we are capable of doing.
Manchester airport, as the House is well aware, is in my constituency; and I have been involved in promoting its growth since the days when the terminal buildings consisted mainly of nissen huts. Now it is a north-west business that can genuinely be described as world class. That is not just an expression of local patriotism or even a statement of opinion. It is a fact, because Manchester airport was officially designated, earlier this year, the best airport in the world. That accolade was awarded by the International Air Transport Association following a survey of 40,000 world travellers. The House may wish to know that Gatwick and Heathrow were ranked 12th and 26th respectively.
Notwithstanding the restraints we want to see removed, the benefits Manchester airport already brings to the north-west are huge and quantifiable. But they can and will increase if quick and positive ministerial decisions are taken on its future. It is now more than 18 months since the public inquiry into the airport's proposed second runway ended and over three years since the planning application was submitted. The uncertainty that protracted planning decisions bring is in no one's best interests.
That is understood by Ministers as much as by the rest of us and I have no wish to understate the importance of their responsibilities, least of all their quasi-judicial role. But delay costs jobs and investment and must be kept to an irreducible minimum. Inevitably, major planning decisions take time and issues both for and against development must be thoroughly considered. But few right hon. and hon. Members will fail to understand the uncertainty now felt by my constituents in deciding their future, and by the airport company in making major investment decisions. It is a process without a clear end date, a process that prevents proper planning.
The airport's single runway is already full at peak periods. Traffic has been turned away, some to the congested airports of the south-east, some to European hub airports: Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam. That is bad for Manchester and the north-west and bad for Britain: yet it will go on and increase until the second runway is built. The economic benefits of the airport's expansion are enormous. More than 50,000 jobs in the north-west are now dependent directly or indirectly on Manchester airport. In less than 10 years, that can double to 100,000 through an expansion of the airport and the construction of a second runway. The airport company needs no reminding that expansion has environmental implications. Indeed, it has put forward an environmental package that our colleagues on the Select Committee on Transport have rightly described as a model for other airports to follow.
It is crucially important that a favourable decision about runway 2 is announced as soon as possible. Only if a positive decision about it is announced before the end of this year can the project be completed by the millennium. Thus I make this plea to the Ministers directly involved in making a decision that the people of the north-west—of all parties and of none—so anxiously await: "Please appreciate that we fully understand your responsibilities, but please do all you can to hasten a positive decision. If it cannot be announced before this debate concludes, then at least please let us know by when, at the latest, we can expect a decision; and meanwhile please join us in leaving no one in any doubt about what is at stake in terms of jobs and economic regeneration in the north-west."
Manchester airport's development is also being held back by the Government's anti-competitive aviation policy in inhibiting our ability to develop as a hub airport. Some international airlines are prevented from starting new services or increasing frequencies from Manchester because of outdated bureaucratic regulations. New services to Singapore, Egypt and Jamaica have been lost and investment by airlines at Manchester airport is prevented because of that bureaucracy. Maintaining artificial restrictions is preventing the creation of thousands of new jobs in an area of unacceptably high unemployment.
By allowing open skies policies from regional airports—which is what my very widely supported all-party early-day motion calls for—the Government could have an enormously positive impact on jobs, without any of the expenditure normally needed to secure overseas investment in our regions. Not to allow open skies policies restrains our potential. That is not only my view or that of Manchester airport. Chris Clifford, the regional director of the Confederation of British Industry in the north west, says:
We support Manchester airport in urging the Government to speed up the open skies process. Regional competitiveness is the key to our long-term success. It would be most unfortunate if lack of action by the Government meant that the north west would lose out in creating so many jobs and generating such a high level of income.
Manchester also has ambitious plans to extend Metrolink, not only to the airport but to the development at Salford quays. Again, the decisions of a planning inquiry and a commitment of funds are delaying the implementation of that vital transport scheme. Investment is coming into Manchester and new infrastructure and new business are being developed. But if we are to go on
regaining our place as one of Europe's major cities, the city of Manchester cannot do everything alone, no matter how much it may wish to do so.
We are one of Britain's great cities that deserves well of any Government. Whitehall's support is needed to repair the damage done by years of economic decline and by one split second of terrorist evil this summer. I am not asking the impossible of the Government, only that they should display the same level of foresight as those who, more than 60 years ago, defied conventional opinion by investing in an airport that became the world's best, and those who, by other brave initiatives, brought honour and renown to our city, the place where Rutherford split the atom, where Rolls met Royce and where the world's first computer was invented. Then we can look to the future with hope and confidence.
I am honoured to speak in the debate on the Queen's Speech. I believe that I have not spoken in a debate of this sort since 1988. I suspect that I shall never be able to do so again, so this is my valedictory utterance in respect of Queen's Speech debates.
I am delighted to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) in his plea for decision making on strategic plans in the great and good city of Manchester. I note that the question of Salford quays is still outstanding. I well remember, when I was a Minister in the Department of the Environment in 1982, coming up to Salford to start the great development in the docks which might lead to the regeneration of that city and of the core within which the great city of Manchester sits. I am delighted that that has been successful. I join the right hon. Gentleman in putting pressure on my right hon. Friends in the Government to resolve the planning issues, in respect not only of Salford quays but of Manchester airport.
I might add, on behalf of the city of Leeds, that the urban development plan for that great city has now completed an inquiry involving three inspectors over 24 or 23 months. We have now been informed that no pronouncement will be made before approximately 1999, which is roughly five or five and a half years before the entire UDP expires. That is not a tolerable situation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) will give a jab to the Department of the Environment in support of earlier decisions on crucial planning in big cities in the north of England.
Today, we heard a speech from the Leader of the Opposition with which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) has dealt impeccably. It is a bit odd that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) seems to rely so heavily on what occurred in 1979, 1983 or 1987—all of which was the big grist to the Kinnock mill during the great election of 1992, which my right hon. and hon. Friends recall so well and which was disposed of by the most emphatic majority of which this party has ever heard.
It is a bit rich for the right hon. Member for Sedgefield to believe that he has only to roll forward the debates used in 1992. That is not the case. In the Queen's Speech we are talking about making significant further progress after a period of government in which there have been enormous changes, particularly in education—a matter to which the right hon. Member for Sedgefield rightly attaches enormous importance.
We have made enormous progress in issues relating to the health service and trade unions and on our relations within the European Community. I welcome the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham, who made clear his belief that we are on the right lines in relation to at least most of those issues.
However, we must take the point a little further. I recognise that in the lead-up to this debate and in recent weeks we have been dealing with violent events. The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe referred to the catastrophic incident involving the IRA in the centre of Manchester.
We must recognise our huge collective commitment and effort—I recognise that we have enjoyed full support from the Opposition—towards pinning back, step by step, day by day and week by week the threat of the IRA wherever it has occurred. In recent weeks, we have seen a substantial achievement in relation to two events in which a significant number of those who planned the destruction of mainland Britain have been put behind bars. We hope that, after the suitable forces of law have been followed, they will be behind bars for a considerable time.
That happened because, under the new security legislation, we have co-ordinated the work of the security services, particularly MI5, in support of work against terrorism on the mainland of the United Kingdom. We must be grateful for the dedication and skills of those people and for the way in which they have been able to co-ordinate their activity with the police. Some signs of improvement are already occurring and we wish them luck.
I hope that you will forgive me for referring to this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but in recent days, if not weeks, we have been subjected to considerable pressure over what the right hon. Member for Sedgefield called the fracturing of our society. I believe that that pressure has been brought about largely as a result of the admirable personal manifesto of Mrs. Lawrence, the widow of the headmaster who was, sadly, killed.
We have a great deal to consider in relation to the fracturing of our society. I do not for one minute discount the real anxiety felt about a number of things that have occurred over a large number of years and that are not easily attributable to any one series of political decisions by any one Government or party. They have come about through a series of changes, which have largely been brought about rationally, but which have certain irrational consequences.
For example, early in the 1970s it was believed that very large organisations were better than medium or small organisations. A great deal of pressure built up in relation to local authorities. It was felt that they should be larger, have more power and attract better quality councillors from industry or other professions. It was felt that they should be able to manage their large individual budgets better. On reflection, in many cases, particularly in areas such as those represented by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and myself, where huge cities emerged—to give them their full title, they were known as metropolitan city district councils—we took the word "local" out of local government.
My constituency of Pudsey is situated between two large metropolitan districts; Leeds, which it does not much care for, and Bradford, which it cares for even less. That has resulted in a feeling of alienation from what used to be the borough of Pudsey. It was founded by Queen Victoria only six months, or was it three, before her demise—the effort was obviously too great. People knew their councillors, who tended to come from families well represented on the Liberal, Labour or Conservative sides. Somehow, things got done. On the whole, the pavements were better looked after, the drains did not often bung up and one did not have to go to Leeds to get them unbunged. There was a degree of association between local decision making and the benefit to the customer, client or citizen. There was an element of pride in citizenship which is not evident today.
The proximity of decision making is an ingredient of which we see less nowadays. To some extent, the idea that big is beautiful is an ingredient in the fracturing of the relationship between citizen and Government. It will not surprise colleagues in the House to learn that I am a believer in the view that small is beautiful—at 5 ft3½in, I have no choice. There is an argument that local authority decision making should be brought closer to people and not further away. The right hon. Member for Sedgefield wants to take it further away with regional governance, for God's sake, when we have enough to do with the existing metropolitan districts and cities.
If we are to take a serious look at where we are in society we must start, as we always should, with the family unit. That is the core of what we represent, what we believe and the way in which we have been trained. It is the core in which our loves, aspirations, ambitions and anguishes are contained. If we are to believe that the family is the core of, let us say, the being in the United Kingdom, we must stop using politically correct terms. If a family is fractured, that link in the chain is fractured. A family should be solidly woven together, whether by the orthodoxy of marriage or under a determined contract between two people to remain living together. Any other alternative must be regarded as abnormal or subnormal.
It is not for me to determine how any other arrangement in the family unit should be described. When marriages are fractured with the frequency that we see now—one in three or one in four—it is not surprising that the traditional virtue of discipline within the family is diluted to the point of indistinction. That is the case in most of the families today where awkwardness emerges.
If family discipline is diluted, what can we do to restore discipline to the upbringing of children? That is a matter that the state cannot reasonably undertake. Of course we are right to say that there is a huge burden on education. There is a particularly huge burden on primary or nursery education because discipline must start there or it cannot be developed later when proper disciplinary systems are applied by academic pressures.
This is a difficult issue. When some families behave in a way that is contrary to discipline, nothing happens in the home. In fact, I suspect—I do not have the figures before me—that a great many of the problem children emerge, sadly, from fractured families and from homes within which there is no semblance of discipline or in which there are activities that positively encourage undisciplined acts.
The family unit strikes me as the core of the argument, but how we turn it into the core of the solution, given the stage that we have reached, I frankly know not. However, policies to strengthen the family must be right, regardless of whether they relate to the ownership and development of assets, property and capital or whether they involve having benefits dependent on the family being a solid unit. That is all well and good, but to develop other, fractured forms of family or families unlikely to last a proper generation, or half a generation, is problematic.
In many parts of Britain—I see that hon. Members from the north-east, as well as from the north-west, are present—the terraced houses that long contained the fabric of working Britain in the urban areas, of which I and many others are so proud, have disappeared. They have been replaced with tower blocks; they have been stood on their heads. Was that an exercise in social cohesion, in family values, in child protection and in creating families who would live one with another and offer help and succour when needed? That is clearly not the case. It was an architectural debacle of mega-proportions—and we are reaping the whirlwind.
The terraced house brought more than proximity: it provided a place for the extended family. Aunts, sisters and grandparents were around. With the mobile markets that we have created, and of which I am extremely proud, people are not confined to, say, Wesley terrace, Pudsey. They can move, and expect to move, elsewhere for fame and fortune. However, without the support of the individual family, there is always a greater risk when problems occur. Equally, without grandparental support, discipline in the family is unnecessarily and unwisely disturbed. That is another element in the mix.
There is one more related theme—I make no apology for raising this—in that our institutions have been fragmented during the past 20 to 25 years. I suspect that all of us, when we became Members of Parliament, determined at the outset that the institution of the monarchy would never really shift and thought that those who preached republicanism were a bit like those in the Referendum party today. That may be a rash statement, but those people were outside the pale of normal political discussion.
However, pressure was building up in the fourth estate—the media—for the monarchy to behave a bit more popularly, to become more exposed to the reality of life and not to remain unseen behind closed doors; and so it happened. A series of events through which we all lived undermined, perhaps, the sanctity of the monarchy; it certainly weakened that institution.
We cannot discuss the family and the fracturing of our society without considering the role models to which society can aspire and from which it can derive a sense of well-being and commitment. I believe—perhaps merely because I am reaching the age at which I should be leaving the House—that the monarchy is a valued institution for that reason alone.
A related problem concerns the press and privacy and what is known in the newspapers as the public interest. What on earth does that mean? When the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and I were on the Privileges Committee, we ground through the case in which the editor of The Sunday Times said that he had been obliged, in the public interest, to employ the subterfuge of using journalists disguised as business men to obtain evidence, because he was unable to obtain it by the orthodox route of examining the questions of the six hon. Members whose names he had been given.
What did "the public interest" mean in that case? If there is a place for such fine newspapers—let there be a place—the public interest should be something in which we have a role, and somebody should define it. Those who offend against the public interest should be treated appropriately and should not simply be reported to the Press Complaints Commission, whose toothlessness is evident for all to see. Our great newspapers get away with paying no value added tax. I wonder what the Chancellor might do on 28 November as, perhaps, a final gesture to my anxiety on such matters.
Let us close that chapter and make a final point. Of course we have problems that reflect a fracturing in our society. Hon. Members of all parties would agree about many of the causes, and perhaps we could offer a collective solution. It is up to the House, as I trust it always will be, to deal with such issues on a rational and considered basis. We should not jump at one, two or three solutions; if the issues are important to us all, we should collectively examine the matter and reach a decision that can be carried unanimously by the House. That is a joyful thought on which to cease.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Gentleman. He talked about valedictory remarks, and I was sorry to hear that, because I appreciate the valuable contribution that he has made to the affairs of the House and as a member of the Government. I did not entirely agree with his analysis of what has brought about the evils in our society. I certainly agreed with him about the family unit, which should be the basis of our society. We are suffering greatly as a result of its breakdown. I should like to remind the hon. Gentleman, however, that successive Conservative Chancellors of the Exchequer have done nothing to help the two-parent family unit; on the contrary, they have tended to discriminate against it.
I have spoken many times in the debate on the Queen's Speech. This year, the speech was truncated because Father Time is at last catching up with the Government. There is much speculation that 1 May will be the date of the next general election, and even on that date the Government will be just about going to the wire, fulfilling the full five-year term.
Over the past 17 years, we have witnessed the collapse of the post-war political consensus in Britain. It is as if the British people had opted for a huge polarisation of income and wealth. There has been a vast increase in insecurity; people are unwilling to walk the streets at night because they are afraid of being mugged by an underclass that has multiplied as a result of Government policy. We may read about such events, but it touches us most when they happen in our own village, town or city—in our own backyard.
A couple of days ago I received a letter on community safety from Mr. Sandy Blair, the chief executive of Newport county borough council. The letter, dated 17 October, said:
You will know that there has been mounting concern over antisocial behaviour throughout many parts of your constituency in recent years.
As a consequence, the Council has taken considerable effort to protect and improve residents' peaceful enjoyment of their homes. In particular, it has taken action to evict offending tenants, intensify other estate management and has introduced an estate's warden scheme.
Notwithstanding these steps, all undertaken in close cooperation with the Police, residents continue to experience problems, particularly as a result of boisterous youngsters, many of whom appear to be under the influence of alcohol.
Residents on the Pont Faen estate have now nearly reached breaking point, many fearful of going out at night and experiencing vandalism in their own gardens.
They presented the enclosed petition to Councillor George Bucklow in the presence of Police representatives at our Liswerry Neighbourhood Committee on Friday, 4 October.
The Council has been asked to pass it on to you by the residents of Pont Faen for your consideration and have specifically asked that you raise their concerns with the Home Secretary.
I shall willingly pass the petition to the Home Secretary.
The youngsters causing all the mayhem are most likely unemployed; some may be still at school; and they will often be from broken homes or one-parent families. It is time that the Government recognised that something must be done. It is time the nettle was grasped. But there is no indication in the Queen's Speech of such action.
By contrast, the shadow Chancellor is determined to tackle the problem head on. He says that the bill for youth unemployment, crime and social decay is reckoned to be no less than £10 billion. That is the cost to us all, and it is too high. Labour's plans to deal with that problem are at the core of its economic policies. The shadow Chancellor's pledge to the British people is that 250,000 under-25-year-olds will be taken off benefit and put into work. That would be most welcome. The finance will come from a windfall levy on the unfair profits of the privatised utilities.
The need to tackle youth unemployment is urgent and it is appropriate that the money needed to facilitate the action should come from the privatised utilities. Apart from their excess profits, executive pay packages rose three times faster than average earnings last year. Consider, for example, Mr. Keith Henry, chairman of National Power. An article on page 2 of yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph says that his
salary package rose by 74 per cent. to £782.555.
Appointed on a basic salary of £325.000 in February 1995 with no previous experience of the industry, he has received a performance-related bonus of £110,000, benefits worth £12,855 and pension contributions of £334,000 in the past year.
That could be described as some lovely gravy. Much of the excess profit floating about in the privatised public utilities can be put to better use. Tackling youth unemployment is very much a case in point.
The Gracious Speech gives insufficient attention to the vexed question of unemployment. The Government seem to treat it, as in pre-Keynsian days, as a cyclical act of God. We need to change the climate of economic thought and ideas.
During the recess, I visited several highly efficient enterprises in my constituency. One factor that they all had in common was that there was hardly a worker in sight. The creed is to cut costs through education, training and investment, raising the output of those in employment in the process. We should be increasingly concerned about the number of people finding suitable employment.
The Government's main aim has been a low rate of inflation. I trust that the next Labour Government will be at least equally concerned about a high level of employment. To achieve that, we shall need a general bias in favour of lower interest rates. We shall therefore need to assess carefully the European implications of such policies. Would lower interest rates find favour with the independent central bank proposed by the luminaries of the European Union?
I make no apologies to the House for spending so much of my speech on the subject of unemployment. It receives little attention in the Gracious Speech, but for me it is very important.
We should be concerned about unemployment not just among young people but among older workers. We are throwing people out of work at the age of 45 or even younger. They could be reliant for 40 years or more on Government support. As a nation, we cannot afford such age discrimination. Our population is getting older. Fifteen years from now, for the first time, Britain's over-50 population will be larger than the 15-to-44 age group. The state will not be able to keep up with the cost of age discrimination. There should have been proposals in the Gracious Speech to tackle the issue. However, I am glad to say that a future Labour Government plan to make age discrimination in employment illegal. Such a measure is long overdue.
Finally, I should like to refer briefly to the missing jobless. Figures compiled by the House of Commons Library show that, across Britain, 573,000 people are missing from the official register. In consequence, the unemployment totals are bogus. Huge numbers of people are without work, even though they have disappeared from the dole. That is merely an attempt by the Government to conceal the truth about persistent long-term unemployment.
There is no recognition in the Gracious Speech of the evils of unemployment and the damage that it has done to British society. There is an urgent need to get rid of this Government of sleaze and greed. They will make way for a Labour Government under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). That Government, I know, will build a juster, fairer, and more prosperous Britain.
It is always a pleasure for me to follow the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes). This is not the first time that it has happened. As he knows, I share his concern about unemployment, although our solutions may be rather different on occasions.
I should like to thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me at this early stage in the new Session of Parliament. I have been fortunate enough to catch the Speaker's eye on the first day of most of the Sessions in the 26 years during which I have had the privilege of being a Member of the House. However, this occasion will be the last, as I shall retire at the general election.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), who entered the House on the same day as me, and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) on their excellent and amusing speeches in moving and seconding the Loyal Address. Both of them obviously have great affection for their constituencies, which is only right because it is on our constituencies and constituents that we depend for our position in the House. I know that that affection is reciprocated by the constituents of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield, whose constituency is very near mine, and I am sure that that is also true of the regard in which his constituents hold my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight. I am afraid that I do not know this at first hand, because I have never visited his constituency, although he extended an invitation this afternoon to all of us to do so. When I retire from the House, I might well take up the invitation.
The Session ahead will of necessity be rather shorter than usual because of the general election. Consequently, the legislative programme is lighter than normal, but it should be possible to get it all on the statute book by spring, when I expect that the country will go to the polls.
I warmly welcome the proposed health care Bill, which will offer family doctors the opportunity to set up super-surgeries offering much wider facilities. In recent years, there has been a considerable extension in the services provided in many doctors' surgeries and the Bill will enable those doctors who wish further to extend their services to do so and to provide facilities which were previously provided by cottage hospitals.
Although I have some doubts about the introduction of yet another education Bill at this stage, I believe that the proposals to deal with unruly pupils are overdue. It is unfortunately the case that one badly behaved pupil can adversely affect the education of two dozen or more well-behaved ones, and this is just not acceptable. Although I hope that the new powers will be used with restraint, I believe that they will be a welcome addition to head teachers' capacity to take appropriate action.
Following the Dunblane shooting and the Cullen report, new firearms legislation is imperative, and there will be an understandable temptation in the House to rush it through quickly. Although there will be time constraints in the new Session of Parliament, I hope that the House will scrutinise the legislation carefully. All too often, hastily introduced and ill-considered legislation which has been introduced after a disaster has failed to achieve its objectives, and sometimes has even been counter-productive. The control of firearms is much too serious a matter for mistakes to be made.
In addition to the Bills outlined in the Gracious Speech, the Finance Bill will be introduced to implement the proposals in next month's Budget. I do not think that the measures in the Budget will have much effect on the economy before the election, because there is a time lag between the introduction of economic measures and their becoming effective, but the Budget will be important as a sign of things to come under the next Conservative Government and perhaps in terms of the reaction of the main Opposition parties.
Unless all previous experience goes by the board, the state of the economy will be the main determinant of the outcome of the election and on that score there is little doubt that the Conservative party deserves to win. Much of the credit for that is due to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Since he became Chancellor more than three years ago, British economic policy has been conducted with great skill, and the economy has been neither over nor under-stimulated.
In the run-up to a general election, there is a great temptation, to which many Chancellors have yielded, to stoke up rapid expansion and then, once the election is over, to slam on the brakes. My right hon. and learned Friend has resisted that temptation and pursued a steady course of controlled, sustainable expansion. As a result, all the economic indicators are pointing in the right direction—a combination of circumstances which is unique in the post-war period. There is steady economic growth. Living standards are rising. The public sector borrowing requirement is falling, although perhaps not quite so quickly as we might like. Unemployment is steadily declining. The balance of payments is healthier than at any time in the past decade, and inflation is lower than it has been for 35 years.
It is obviously very much in the interests of the country that this highly successful economic policy should continue. It is therefore important that the Chancellor should continue with his prudent management of the economy, and that he should dismiss silly suggestions of substantial tax cuts in his Budget—not that I think he intends to do anything else.
Substantial tax cuts would impress no one. They would annoy a lot of people and they would almost certainly have an adverse effect on sterling. In any case, the Government have significant public expenditure obligations. In addition, the people of this country undoubtedly want to see additional spending on health and education. There is therefore no way of imposing substantial cuts in public spending, which means that there is no room for substantial tax cuts. I hope that it will be possible to effect some reduction in taxation, but this must not be at the expense of essential public services or at the risk of upsetting the balance of the economy and promoting an unhealthy economic boom. I have no doubt that my right hon. and learned Friend will refuse to be diverted from the path of economic prudence, and that he will continue to manage the economy with the skill that he has exercised since he became Chancellor of the Exchequer three and a half years ago.
There is no doubt in my mind that the most important issue that faces Britain is our relationship with Europe. I mentioned earlier that I was nearing the end of my time in parliament and, although it was near the beginning and a long time ago, the high point of my career was when the House voted in favour of the principle of British membership of the European Community on 28 October 1971. Of course, since then other occasions relating to Britain and Europe have given me great pleasure—such as the Second and Third Readings of the European Communities Bill in 1972, the Bill to introduce direct elections to the European Parliament in the late 1970s, the Bill to enact the European Single Act in the mid-1980s, and the Bill to enact the Maastricht treaty in the first Session of this Parliament.
Not surprisingly, I am very distressed about much of the negative argument and misrepresentation about Europe today in Britain. The negative argument, which receives a disproportionate amount of publicity, particularly in the Murdoch and Black newspapers, does this country no favours and undermines our influence, both in Europe and in the wider world.
That misrepresentation about Europe is a disgrace to those who indulge in it. We are constantly told by people who were not even at primary school when we joined the European Community in 1973, far less when we first applied to join in 1961, that the organisation that we joined was only something to do with free trade and that it had nothing to do with politics. Nothing could be further from the truth.
When we first applied to join the European Community, in 1961, Harold Macmillan, who was then Prime Minister, said in his statement to the House:
This is a political as well as an economic issue. Although the Treaty of Rome is concerned with economic matters it has an important political objective, namely, to promote unity and stability in Europe-.—[Official Report, 31 July 1961; Vol. 645, c. 928.]
The political implications of our membership were again made clear during the period leading up to our entry into the European Community in 1973. Indeed, much of the debate in Committee during the passage of Europeah Communities Act 1972 was about the political implications of our membership. When it came to the referendum, in 1975, the political implications were again to the fore, especially in the literature distributed by the "no" campaign.
So let us hear less from those Europhobes who are trying to rewrite history to support their case. Some of us were around at the time, and we remember.
The European Community was not just about free trade when we first applied to join, it was not just about free trade when we joined and it should not just be about free trade today. The European Union has a political as well as an economic dimension. How it should develop was not spelt out in the treaty of Rome, and it need not be spelt out today. There is no hurry. It should be allowed to evolve and its institutions allowed to develop to meet the needs and demands of the Union.
That process should not be forced, nor should it be held back. At this stage, no one knows what the eventual outcome should be. It is for this reason that I greatly regret the debate for and against federalism, or, for that matter for or against any other constitutional arrangements. It is premature. It would be much more sensible to allow the institutions in the European Union to evolve in an atmosphere free of dogmatism. I always understood that that was the Tory approach to matters of this nature.
Before I conclude, I wish to say a word about European monetary union and a single currency, which I believe will be with us sooner rather than later. Moreover, I hope that we shall be able to join at the beginning, although—I emphasise this—whether we join should depend on the economic and financial circumstances at the time and the exact nature of the arrangements.
In my view, there are many powerful arguments why membership would be in Britain's interest. First, transaction costs of exchanging currencies in the European Union would be eliminated and transmission costs would be greatly reduced.
I will not attempt to estimate something like that, because my hon. Friend would probably agree that exact estimates of that nature are not really possible, but even if the figure is 0.5 per cent., as my hon. Friend suggested, I should have thought that that was a fairly significant amount.
The second reason why I believe that there is a strong argument in favour of British membership of a single currency is that exchange rate fluctuations would be eliminated within the union, with consequent advantages to exporters and importers.
No. I am not giving way a second time.
Thirdly, a single currency would facilitate the working of the single market and would result in an increase in trade in goods and services. Indeed, a single market needs a single currency to ensure that countries can no longer cheat by devaluing their currencies, and the inability to devalue would have the added advantage of imposing a powerful discipline on Government borrowing, on inflation and on the protection of the value of savings and pensions.
Fourthly, a single currency would be much stronger than any of the separate currencies, and that includes the deutschmark. As a result, the real economy would be much less affected by international currency speculation than it is now.
Fifthly, if we do not join a single currency but others do, the euro is likely to be one of the strongest currencies in the world, and this would mean that sterling would be even more vulnerable to speculation than it is at present.
Sixthly, if Britain stayed out of the single currency, it would be extremely difficult to maintain London as the leading financial centre in Europe.
These are the main reasons why I believe that British participation in the single currency is in principle desirable, although of course the decision whether we join must depend on the circumstances prevailing at the time.
No. I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.
No matter what view one takes on this issue, it is imperative that Britain should play a full part in the negotiations in the European Union that are under way at present, without laying down any preconditions. Only by doing so can we influence the decisions that are taken.
Inside or outside, the single currency will affect Britain, and only if we are involved in the negotiations, and if we have not committed ourselves not to join, can we maximise our influence and so ensure that British interests are fully protected.
A decision now that we would not join a single currency during the next Parliament would negate our influence. In such circumstances, our partners in the European Union would pay no attention to the views and interests of a declared non-player. Far too often, Britain has opted out of negotiations about new developments in the European Union, only to have to live with consequences which did not especially suit us.
I am very pleased that we are not making that mistake concerning the negotiations relating to the single currency. That is why I strongly support the decision of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and of the Government, not to rule out our membership at this stage.
I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Sir D. Knox), especially the last five or six minutes of his peroration on European development and the single European currency, because much in the views that he expressed accords with mine. If I remember, I will try to mention those in my closing remarks.
I chose to seek your eye on the first day of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I want to mention several issues, and after today we are locked into different themes.
First, as a trustee and director of the Lucy Faithful Foundation, I wanted to pass comment on the paedophile register. Now, because the Prime Minister has graciously agreed with the invitation from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) to include that measure in Government business, I must simply record my delight at that news and my wish that we follow it carefully, but thoroughly, through into effective legislation.
Secondly, I am disappointed that it appears that the stalking legislation is being consigned to private Members' business. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am sorry; in that case I am doubly delighted. If I keep this up, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will be carried away with ecstasy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, dear."] Non-narcotic ecstasy, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I consider both those measures thoroughly enforceable, and I am delighted that they will be passed in Government time.
The hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) referred to one measure that I consider to be unenforceable. He commented on reports of my remarks on gun control. His raising of the matter with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition would have been justified if those reports were true, but they were not. Therefore, not for the first time—at least in my memory—the hon. Gentleman has misled the House, knowingly or unknowingly. I am glad to tell the House what I have said about those issues.
First, I prefer to register my huge distress and my grief at the incidents at Hungerford and Dunblane. As a result of Hungerford, I acted as Whip during the Committee stage of the firearms legislation that was introduced immediately following that dreadful incident. I was on the Front Bench when the Government introduced 67 additional clauses during the Bill's final stages. I have followed those issues with some interest and diligence over the years, and the events at Dunblane distressed me every bit as much as everyone else.
Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has estimated that 250,000 handguns are held illegally in this country, and some well-informed commentators say that the figure is twice as high. Whatever the figure, an awful lot of handguns are held illegally in this country. If legislation were the solution, illegally held handguns would not be on the streets.
No mention has been made to date of any increase in police provision or resources to implement whatever changes in law are finally proposed. In those circumstances, any newly introduced legislation would be quite unenforceable. If Parliament wishes to ban handguns, it will do so. It has the power; it simply needs the will to exercise it. However, we cannot let that happen in the belief that legislation alone will prevent another Hungerford or Dunblane, as patently it will not. All sorts of agencies have distorted my words, and I thank the hon. Member for Stockton, South for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight today.
Ironically, my third point relates also to forms of gun control. I am rapporteur of the Defence and Security Committee of the North Atlantic Assembly and, in that capacity, I must write a report about "Partnership for Peace" and its progress. Paragraph 2 of the Gracious Speech states:
My Government will continue to play a major role in NATO's adaptation and in decisions on its enlargement, and to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security".
There is much to be said about that issue, but I shall try to be brief.
As a means of joint consultation, "Partnership for Peace" was plucked out of the air ostensibly to ensure that nations aspiring to join NATO remained patient until their admission. There are 27 signatory nations to date—I understand that Switzerland is close to reaching a decision to join. Of those 27 nations, 11 wish to be members of the North Atlantic Alliance and the others have expressed no preference. The question must be: what happens to "Partnership for Peace" when those 11 countries are accepted or rejected? In terms of European stability and collective security, we must consider the issues very carefully.
The North Atlantic Alliance commits every member to fighting on behalf of another member that is attacked. Any nation that joins the alliance should accept that responsibility and that liability. "Partnership for Peace" seeks to upgrade the abilities and resources of other nations to bring them up to scratch. However, what will happen to nations that are not accepted as members? Of the 27 signatory nations, 16 nations are not interested. Those nations can collectively perform a function and play a role in working towards European stability. Those 16 countries could provide a haven for the 11 nations that might not be allowed to join, enabling them to make a positive and a constructive contribution.
The remaining partnership framework could then be developed and matured to form a lasting organisation, standing in parallel with the North Atlantic Alliance. The alliance would retain responsibility for article V activities—in other words, the defensive military side—and the partnership would add to consideration of and co-operation on non-article V exchanges. If that is to be achieved, it is crucial that Russia remains within the embrace of the partnership framework. That means that we must improve our dialogue with Russia and raise it to levels never before seen. We must give Russia a new role and a new, co-operative vision. If we are successful in that endeavour, we could move towards our ultimate goal.
Everyone on the continent—except the British—views the prospect of the enlargement of NATO and the development of "Partnership for Peace" as a means of securing a surer, clearer and more lasting European integration. We are not talking simply about military capacity, strike capability, troop deployment or standardisation of equipment; we are talking about essentially political and economic rather than military matters. The military side provides the security to allow the political exchanges and the economic exercise to take place.
At this point, my thoughts gel with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Moorlands. This summer, as rapporteur of the Defence and Security Committee, I visited the United States on a military tour. The tour included the marine base at Quantico, the naval base at Norfolk, Virginia, airborne forces at Fort Bragg at Fayettesville in North Carolina, the Nellis air force base at Las Vegas and the naval base at Corunna, San Diego.
It would have been a good trip, had it not been so disquieting, and I shall tell the House why.
I saw evidence—many of our briefings were classified—of a strike capability that was so awesome that one could multiply it by 100 and still not reflect it truly. It was enormous. As we already know, the United States of America has a deliberate policy that will facilitate its ability to conduct a major conflict in central Europe, a major conflict in the Pacific and two or three minor skirmishes simultaneously. That is how it arms itself. It made me stop and think just what we are clowning about at in Europe. Not only is our national budget about 1 per cent. of America's, and not only do we spend half as much in percentage terms on research and development as the USA, but we Europeans argue among ourselves.
I have to put my point as coldly as this: if we do not get our European act together, if we do not concentrate on properly equipping our service personnel, male and female, and if we do not train them adequately, we will be left so far behind that ultimately we will have to become a member or a satellite state of the European Union for defence purposes. All the nonsense that we have heard in the past 12 months about sovereignty, when Frankfurt has determined the level of our pound, is so much hot air. I appeal to hon. Members to take my thoughts seriously. I have thought carefully before putting them on the record, and, for the moment, I rest.
It is now 32 years since I first spoke in a debate on the Loyal Address, after being elected for West Lewisham in 1964. Normally, one would have expected to wait a respectable time after joining the House before opening one's mouth publicly, because in those days new boys were seen but not heard. However, since I had just come from the British Iron and Steel Federation and the Labour Government had put plans to nationalise steel in the Gracious Speech, I was prevailed on to speak rather sooner than I had expected—in fact, a few days after the general election. I see other hon. Members who entered the House then in their places.
During my time in the House, I have contributed to a number of debates on the Loyal Address and I am both surprised and delighted to see the change that has happened in the Labour party. In the Gracious Speech of 1964, we were still in the land of the commanding heights of the economy being captured by the Labour party, and nationalisation, clause IV and all the other trappings of socialism were on the banner. Now, as I come to the end of my parliamentary career with a few months left to go, I can safely say that in my time here I have seen the disappearance of socialism altogether from the Labour party. [Interruption.] Perhaps it is just the Leader of the Opposition who holds that view.
Last year, in a similar debate, I described the Leader of the Opposition as the first Young Conservative leader of the Labour party. The Prime Minister, during our party conference, suggested that the Leader of the Opposition was a Conservative. It is clear that he wants to be a Conservative, because he realises that socialism will not get him and his party elected to government. I just wonder, however, having listened to one or two of the speeches from colleagues—indeed, old friends—on the Opposition Benches, whether the Leader of the Opposition represents all their views.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook). I especially note the remarks that he made about the Hungerford tragedy, which took place in my late brother's constituency. I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that legislation alone will not stop another tragedy taking place in a school or anywhere else. Sadly, maniacs can enact their evil upon us in other ways. They might not use a handgun or a shotgun, but they might pour potassium cyanide into a reservoir and no one form of legislation will be a guarantee against such actions. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me, as I agree with the Government, that we have to react strongly to what happened in Dunblane. I believe that the proposals in the Gracious Speech will be a sensible way forward.
The Gracious Speech covers several important issues. Many are, of course, domestic issues, and I will come to those in a moment. Her Majesty, when she began her speech this morning, referred to the imminent visit—I think it will be in February—of the President of Israel, Mr. Weizman. The Gracious Speech said:
Support will continue for the search for a durable peace in the Middle East.
Some 48 years ago, I left Palestine as a young soldier at the end of the British mandate in May 1948. We left a troubled country behind us at the beginning of the first of a number of major wars in that part of the world. With hindsight, one can question whether the boundaries were right at the time, but in those 48 years attempts have been made to find solutions and sadly, more often than not, they have ended in further conflict.
We are now in a new situation. I add my praise for what Mr. Shimon Peres has tried to do, for the peace initiative and for the Oslo agreement, but I am concerned by what is now happening in that part of the world. The problem is not just a matter of burrowing a tunnel under the Al-Aksa mosque; it is more fundamental: if one wishes to establish peace there, it is essential that the Israelis recognise that the Palestinians will be in a better frame of mind to come to the peace table permanently if their condition of life is improved.
It is in our Government's interest, and that of all the Governments of the world, to ensure that we do something positive to allow the new, embryonic Palestinian entity to have the physical and economic support to change from being the under-privileged underdogs—without jobs or anything to eat, permanently on strike and always turning to terror—into a group of people who recognise the current opportunity for some autonomy in Gaza and the west bank.
I am heartened by the hon. Gentleman's comments. As someone who visited Palestine during the intifada and the peace negotiations—I was also in Gaza city as an observer at the elections—I fully concur with his comments. Does he agree that, if most of the people in Gaza do not have the ability to participate in the economic life of Israel, unrest is fomented and a minority—just a minority—use it to justify terrorism and violence?
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. We are talking of the recruiting sergeant for Hamas and all the other fundamentalist religious groups in the area. We must seek to improve the standard of life for the Palestinian. If that is done, Mr. Arafat and other Palestinian leaders will be able to sell the concept of peace in the area far more easily than if the Palestinian people are constantly under curfew and face all the disadvantages to which I referred.
I hope that, when Mr. Weizman comes to the United Kingdom early next year, those in government and all others he meets will encourage him to move in the direction that I outlined. It is not merely a matter of insisting on security, because security will itself grow from a higher standard of living for Palestinian people.
Much of the Queen's Speech is devoted to important social issues. Europe still rests high on the agenda in the run-up to the general election. I do not have the same enthusiasm as my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Sir D. Knox), but I listened to him with great interest. If we are to make a decision about a single currency, I hope that it will be made, as my hon. Friend suggested, on economic and not political grounds. If the economics are wrong, the single currency will be wrong for everyone.
The concept of belonging to a single currency in the belief that it will never come under pressure is likely to prove a disaster. The exchange rate mechanism was a classic example of believing that, by locking currencies together, we would somehow create a situation in which we could grow together and move away from the problem of speculation, for example. The trouble is that money is a commodity just as much as a bar of chocolate. People will buy it and sell it. As Mr. George Soros proved to us at the time of the ERM collapse, some individuals are prepared to go the full distance and speculate against a currency in the belief that it will either fall or rise.
I do not believe that we shall be any safer in a single currency. The problem that we shall be faced with in that position will be something that affects every nation in the European group. I am less than enthusiastic about a single currency. That is apart from the problems, to which some of us referred in the past, of loss of sovereignty and of control moving away from this country to a central bank, perhaps in Frankfurt.
I am happy with the words that appear on page 1 of the Queen's Speech. The passage reads:
In the European Union, my Government will work for an outcome to the Intergovernmental Conference which supports an outward-looking, economically liberal and flexible Union based on a partnership of nations.
I am happy to live with that. However, as some hon. Members may know, I have a home in France where I spend some time during the summer recess. I talk to my French neighbours and it seems that they envy us our freedom to manage our own affairs. They are finding that the Maastricht criteria are destroying jobs in France. They find also that the artificially high rate of the franc fort, the strong
franc, has created massive unemployment. As we have read recently in newspapers, that has led to strikes and unrest throughout France.
I do not think that there is one answer. We must approach these matters on the basis of what is economically possible for our country. If we can satisfy ourselves on that score, we do not have much to fear.
That leads on directly to the economy. The Government have made it clear over the past 17 years that firm control of the economy is necessary. When I first came to this place in the autumn of 1964, the Labour party came to power, and within a few weeks we were in the middle of a major sterling crisis. I remember the late Harold Wilson explaining to the House that, although Britain's basic economy was strong, we were faced with a narrow crisis of confidence, as I think he called it. The gnomes of Zurich and others were referred to by some hon. Members and by others outside the House.
Confidence is a precious commodity, and it is currently enjoyed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government. There is confidence in economic matters. Our currency is strong, inflation is low, unemployment is falling and we are growing strongly. I am especially delighted by a passage that appears on page 3 of the Queen's Speech about
creating the strongest industrial economy in Western Europe in the medium term and doubling living standards over the next twenty-five years.
Good intentions are not enough, as the Labour Government discovered in 1964, but we have achieved a great deal. Against that background, we must take tough decisions from time to time.
Over 17 years, we have seen something of boom and slump. Some of us can remember the stock market crash of October 1987. Some of us can remember also the Government's natural reaction—it was the reaction of parties throughout the House, which felt that we did not want to return to the 1929 to 1931 period—to take off the brakes to try to create more credit to ensure that we would not fall into a deep slump. That was done without realising, perhaps, that the economy was stronger than we had imagined and that it was not necessary to take such action, which led to boom and bust, inflation and other problems that had to be solved. I believe that the Government's economic policy has proved to be entirely correct. The economy is strong, and that will count in a big way on polling day in the next general election.
I move on to two smaller matters. First, again on page 3 of the Queen's Speech, we are told:
Legislation will be brought forward to strengthen the powers to protect the United Kingdom coastline from pollution from merchant shipping.
Like everyone else, I enjoyed the speeches of the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) and my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field). My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight has the pleasure of representing the constituency that is bang opposite mine. The southern frontier of my constituency is the north shore of the Solent. The northern frontier of the Isle of Wight is the south shore of the Solent. I was interested to learn that my hon. Friend's constituency has more electors than any other—about 100,000.
The new forest—this is one sadness of mine in leaving the constituency—will be cut in half, thanks to the boundary commissioners, forming two of the smallest constituencies. That means that two of the smallest will face the largest. I wish my successors every possible good fortune, but an added sadness is that, for the first time in our history, the perambulation of the Crown lands of the new forest will be split into two constituencies. I fear that that may lead to problems.
As I have said, I am happy about the proposal to strengthen powers to protect the United Kingdom from pollution from merchant shipping. The Solent, the waterway between the Isle of Wight and my constituency, and the area around Spithead and the entrance to Southampton water, is extremely widely used. I used to represent the whole area, including the refinery, when I was first the Member for New Forest. That has now changed. The Esso refinery at Fawley is the largest refinery in Britain and the sixth largest in the world. Shipping movements there require extremely large tankers to discharge contents and smaller tankers to take away products to other parts of the country.
We have been fortunate because we have never had a really serious accident. I pay warm tribute to those who operate on the waterside, to those who operate within the refinery shipping division and to the local authorities for taking such action as they can to ensure that an accident does not happen.
I am delighted to think, however, that the Gracious Speech may produce something more concrete for us. I am 100 per cent. behind the view that the legislation on marine pollution must be toughened up—especially in relation to an area which, among other things, has a double tide, which means that the effects of a major spillage travel backwards and forwards twice as often as along other parts of the coastline.
Finally, let me say a word about the future. It is not likely to include me, because I shall not be here, but in a few months we shall hear another Gracious Speech. Personally, I am confident that it will be promoted by the Conservative party. We have seen the transformation of which I spoke earlier—involving, for instance, a Conservative leader of the Labour party—and Labour is clearly less frightening to the public than some of its forebears. Nevertheless, as a supporter of the kit-car replica industry, an enthusiast who finds the use of such products a pleasant hobby, I know that the industry is based on the manufacture of cars that look very much like expensive Porsches and Ferraris but probably end up with small Ford engines. Although such a car may give its owner great pleasure, it is never quite as good as—or, indeed, designed to be as good as—the genuine article.
I just wonder whether, when the election takes place and the electorate look at the past 17 years and at what we are planning for the next few months, they will not ask themselves, "Why have a replica Conservative party when you can have the genuine article?" Why have a party that has dropped socialism because it realises that it cannot be elected with socialism, when many good, honest members of that party remain but are required to keep their mouths shut? Would it not be better for the electorate to support a Tory party that they understand—a party with clear policies and a clear plan for the future, as set out in the Gracious Speech? Would it not be better, in the words of the soft drink commercial, to drink the real thing rather than the replica?
One of the unusual characteristics of the debate has been the number of hon. Members who have announced that this is to be their last Parliament, and that only a few weeks remain until they leave the House. The four who come into that category are in the happy position of having been able to announce a decision that they have made for themselves. I look forward to a day, some time between now and next May, when a large number of others will join them in retirement, most of them involuntarily and most, of course, on the Conservative Benches. Indeed, I expect that to happen.
Perhaps hon. Members mellow as the years go by, but one of the pleasures of listening to some of the speeches was the fact that I could agree with a fair deal of what was said, particularly the comments of the hon. Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson) about the middle east and the need for us to recognise that the Palestinians must see concrete results from the peace process. I can only say amen to that.
Those of us who are present this evening are probably quite an unusual group, in that we are discussing the Queen's Speech. I do not expect the traffic to be stopped anywhere in the United Kingdom by throngs of people wanting to examine its finer points, and I sense no frisson of excitement across the nation among those who have heard what the Government have in store for us. There are several reasons why that would never have been the case.
For one thing, this is not really a proper Queen's Speech at all. It contains a programme not for a Government who seriously contemplate being in office not just for a full year—that is certainly not possible—but for a moment longer than a point that they vainly hope will arrive: the point at which they can call a general election that they have a chance of winning. We all know perfectly well that what happens to the Queen's Speech will be determined by the opinion polls, and by when the Prime Minister judges that he can call an election that he stands a chance of winning.
One of the many odd characteristics of the Prime Minister's position is that we have been told by all the briefing that we had from the Tory party conference, and by all the spin doctors of whom we keep being reminded, how anxious the Prime Minister is to get to the hustings, get back on to the soap box and go and meet the people. We have been told how he loves elections, campaigning and electioneering. Strangely, although the Prime Minister allegedly loves all those things, he seems desperately anxious to avoid actually pressing the button—for he, of course, is the only person who can ensure that an election will take place.
I appeal to the Prime Minister: if his enthusiasm for elections matches his enthusiasm for Chelsea football club, why does he not announce the election that the country needs so badly? Until he at least has the nerve to face the public, we shall all be in limbo for what could be a prolonged period.
This is an unusual Queen's Speech debate in another respect—and I have attended a number of such debates over the years. The only concrete guarantees of legislation that have resulted from today's debate have been the consequence of an initiative from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The only certainty about the Queen's Speech—the only thing that we know will happen—is that two Bills will become law, both pressed by private Members and repeatedly asked for by the Labour party. One will establish a register of paedophiles; the other will deal with the menace of stalking.
Those proposals were not to be contained in the Queen's Speech. They were to be left to the accidents of private Members' legislation. Thanks to my right hon. Friend's initiative, however, they are to go on to the statute book. This must be the first occasion on which a Leader of the Opposition has announced legislation, or guaranteed its passage, during a debate on a Queen's Speech promoted by the other party.
Let me now spend some moments doing what has been done by one or two Members who are retiring—although it is emphatically not my intention to retire, provided that the people of The Wrekin do the same by me as they have at the two most recent general elections—and take a little trip down memory lane. If the current Parliament endures until the last reasonable date—local election day, 1 May next year—it will be exactly 18 years since the Government came to power, which, as many of us will remember, they did on local election day in 1979. I vividly remember, perhaps as well as anyone else here, the day after that election, or around that time, when the then Prime Minister, now Lady Thatcher, stood on the steps of 10 Downing street and quoted St Francis of Assisi.
I was feeling particularly depressed at the time, because I felt—I believe that my feeling has been vindicated—that: our country and our people were in for a pretty bad time. I had an additional personal reason for feeling unhappy about life, because I had lost my seat. But I thought how inappropriate it was for the most combative Prime Minister in the most aggressive Administration—followed by one of the most divisive series of Governments under two Prime Ministers—to quote St Francis of Assisi to begin with. Is it not a complete political irony that at the end, when the Government totter towards their conclusion, all the debates in society should be about a fractured society, a society more divided than it has ever been? That is the legacy of 18 years of Tory government which started with a quote from St Francis of Assisi.
In this trip down memory lane, can any Conservative Member seriously believe—I appeal particularly to those who are retiring and view these matters with more detachment nowadays—that, in the 1960s and 1970s Britain, our country, was anything other than a more peaceful and less divided country? It was certainly a country with much less crime—let us agree on that. It was a much safer country in which to live. There was much less violent crime. It was a time when young people could leave school knowing that they had jobs. That, more than anything else, is the contract that the Conservative Government will be held responsible for having shattered.
In the 1960s and 1970s—as the Prime Minister should know well, as we are nearly contemporaries and he was trying to make his way in the 1960s, just as I was—a young person who worked at school did so on the basis of a contract: knowing that, if he or she worked hard and did well, there would be a job at the end of it when they left school. Likewise, when they left school, they also knew that, if they got a job and worked hard, if they completed an apprenticeship, training or whatever, they had a guarantee on which it was possible to build a family and a life. They knew that they had the kind of security that would enable them to get a mortgage or pay a rent, to make provision for a family, to bring up children. That was the contract that existed, which this Government have destroyed, and that, as well as many other reasons, is why the Government should go.
I wanted to say, before the hon. Gentleman moved on to the employment aspect, that most modern countries have experienced the same increase in crime over the past two or three decades as this country—regrettably—but he has now gone on to criticise the Government for their employment policy. What would he say to the Governments of France and Spain, for example, which until recently were socialist Governments, whose unemployment problem, particularly their youth employment problem, is far larger than ours?
Why does the hon. Gentleman need to go through the complexities of making comparisons between Britain and other countries, when all he needs to do is make the comparison between Britain under a Labour Government and Britain under a Tory Government? He has only to look at the record, particularly on jobs, under Labour Governments of the 1960s and 1970s. People had jobs and security. There was a predictability to people's lives. Any honest trip down memory lane will show what I am saying to be true, so I shall not labour it any further.
I now refer to two areas that particularly affect my constituency but which were omitted from the Queen's Speech. The first is the health service.
We in the Labour party have often been accused of scaremongering about the health service. We have often used the phrase "privatisation of the health service" and we have been told repeatedly by Ministers—from the party which, let us remember, opposed the very creation of the national health service—that we are scaremongering when we talk about privatisation. But there is one area of the health service that is in practice being privatised—the vital service of dentistry. I will explain to the House what is happening in my constituency, although it is true of many other constituencies. I have heard the matter raised many times, and my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), who is present in the Chamber, has raised it before at Question Time.
A report from Shropshire health authority about the availability of national health service dental services states:
Increasing numbers of enquiries were received by the Health Authority from patients seeking dental care. The help desk is currently dealing with up to 150 enquiries per week. Patients with acute pain are directed to those few dentists willing to see them or to Community Dental Service clinics, patients who do not have urgent need of treatment are advised of dentists who have indicated that they are still able to accept new patients in varying categories. In many instances patients are having to travel considerable distances to obtain care.
The health authority knows that. The community health council knows that, and I know that, as do the parish councils and the district councils, but there has been no response whatever from the Government. The figures are appalling.
According to a Wrekin council report dated 30 September this year, there are now 45 dentists operating in The Wrekin, in 19 practices. Only three of those practices are accepting national health service patients at present. Over the years, as hon. Members will know if they are honest, practices have been actively trying to de-register patients who are currently in receipt of national health service treatment. If that is not creeping privatisation, I do not know what is.
I have made endless attempts to try to get Ministers to try to take action, and I get all sorts of reassuring noises from them. In a letter dated 17 September 1996, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), Under-Secretary of State for Health, said:
I would like to reassure you … that the Government is committed to an accessible and effective NHS dental service for all who wish to make use of it.
They might be committed to it, but they are the Government and it is not happening. That key issue was missed out of the Queen's Speech, despite all the references to the health service.
The second issue, which I shall deal with briefly—again, it is a constituency issue—relates to law and order. The Government's record on this, for all sorts of reasons, is in tatters. There were other omissions from the Queen's Speech, but I am delighted that there will be a Government Bill for a register of paedophiles. I am also delighted that the proposed legislation on stalking will be a Government Bill. I am, however, very sorry that the Government will not allow a free vote on the crucial issue of hand guns.
One policy for which the Home Secretary has consistently argued—it is a classic case of his making a statement at a Tory party conference and then not following through the consequences—is to increase the number of people whom he thinks it right to imprison. Whatever the merits or otherwise of that argument, if one is in favour of it, one should at least provide the accommodation.
Like most of my constituents, I was stunned to discover within the past two or three days that the Home Office plans to build a new prison at Donnington Wood in my constituency, close to housing and very close to a primary school. It is a totally unacceptable location. It obviously has not been thought through properly. The only consolation—at this stage it is important—is that the Director General of the Prison Service, Mr. Richard Tilt, has stated that there will be no question of any decision being made until there has been the fullest consultation with elected representatives and local residents.
I can tell him in advance that the consultation will reveal overwhelming opposition to his proposal. Once again, it is an example of a Home Secretary making a broad policy decision and leaving it to others to implement, without any clear strategy as to where all the new prisons that he is planning will be located.
Having checked with the Library, I find that the bad news for the House is that the last possible date for the next election is not 1 May next year, but 22 May, which is seven months from now. That is even longer than some of us feared, and the starting button might not even be pushed until the very last possible date. Seven months is far too long to conduct a general election campaign, particularly from a Government who cannot possibly fight on their record. They would not dare do that. Likewise, they cannot credibly say that they have a list of proposals that desperately need to be enacted, because the obvious rejoinder is, "If they desperately need to be carried, why on earth didn't you do so in the course of the last 18 wasted years?" Election day cannot come soon enough, and I suspect that this tired Queen's Speech is recognition of the fact that the Government have run out of steam, and in their heart of hearts they want to see the day come soon as well.
One reason why the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) may have lost his seat in 1979 was that, far from the country being at peace with itself, it was on the brink of almost catastrophic civil strife. The pastoral view of the past that he is trying to put before the House is utter tripe and nonsense.
I am very glad to follow my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair-Wilson), who happens to be my mother's Member of Parliament, and I wish to put it on record that she—like, I am sure, everyone else—thinks that he is a most magnificent Member of Parliament, and she keeps on reminding him what a model Member of Parliament should be.
I wish to focus on two references in the Gracious Speech. First, it states:
My Government will promote the further global liberalisation of trade, in particular at the Ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation, and will continue to work for transatlantic free trade in this context.
Secondly, it states:
Fiscal policy will continue to be set to bring the public sector borrowing requirement back towards balance over the medium term. My Government will reduce further the share of national income taken by the public sector.
First, let me address the excellent sentiments on free trade and an outward-looking liberal Europe—liberal in the 19th-century commercial sense. Sir James Goldsmith will not like that.
One of my reasons why I find it hard to come to terms with Sir James Goldsmith's ideas are his views on protectionism. Conversely, I suppose, it was the attack in my book, "Challenge of the East," on his protectionist views and his associated federalist European views, at least when he writes in French, which has presumably prompted him to do me the honour of putting up a candidate against me.
I do not think that it will hurt much, because so far most of the people who have approached me would have voted Liberal or Labour, so it is splitting the dustbin vote, which is no bad thing. I voted 37 times against the Maastricht treaty and over recent years I have voted for a referendum every time I had the opportunity to do so.
I should like to deal with Sir James Goldsmith's arguments at face value. In particular, he argues that the combination of cheap labour and ready access to capital makes it impossible to trade on open terms with the emerging countries of the far east. That argument recurs and emerges in all parts of the House.
Sir James argues as a result of that thesis that we must build a massive wall around ourselves and that, in the case of Europe, that should be accompanied by a common European currency involving rigidly managed exchange rates. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) nods. He obviously agrees and will perhaps join in the debate in a moment. Since, in Sir James Goldsmith's view, the far east is not the only enemy—the United States being the other one—he believes that for good measure Europe should have a single foreign policy and, to go with it, a single defence policy.
The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said that he was horrified on a visit to the United States to see what a successful defence industry that country has. I do not share his conclusions on that. If our greatest ally is effective in NATO in providing for its own defence needs and, in combination, for ours, that is good and not bad. One of my worries about the implication drawn by the hon. Member for Stockton, North and Sir James Goldsmith—that we should try to set up some sort of European army, is that a paper army—for political reasons does not make military sense. The sensible solution is genuine bilateral co-operation between countries that have something to offer each other within the alliance.
I was pleased to see that the Defence Research Administration at Malvern in my constituency does a great deal of genuine bilateral work with the French. That makes enormous sense and it is highly significant, because to a large extent DRA Malvern is involved with air defence, that a British flight of aircraft flew down the Champs Elysees on Bastille day. The idea that we can somehow throw over our alliance with the United States or that we should be concerned about the strength of the American defence force, as the hon. Member for Stockton, North was, is alarming. It is one of the disturbing features in the whole European debate.
I shall now return to the issue of protectionism. Leaving aside the fact that exports from the west to the east have risen in recent years much faster than in the other direction, that 90 per cent. of western investment is within western countries and that our consumers benefit enormously from competitive eastern imports, it is plain that shutting out China would be potentially catastrophic to world peace.
I understand that, at the turn of the century, China will be importing an amount of oil equivalent to the entire North sea production at its peak, and that will have to be paid for in some way. Therefore, the idea of shutting out China as a country with which we should trade is potentially extremely dangerous and could result in China either doing dirty deals with, for example, the Iraqis and the Iranians, perhaps by selling them nuclear weaponry in return for oil, or engaging in some sort of military adventure on its borders to try to create lebensraum on which to try to feed itself. The only alternative is to trade with China.
Leaving even that aside, and the fact that the third world needs to export to survive and that Britain needs free trade to flourish, let us take the protectionist argument head on. The question is, how can countries of Europe make themselves more competitive in the face of massive competition from America and the far east? The answer is the opposite of building walls around ourselves. The tide of economics will cause the first breach in the wall and will sweep it away. That happened to Soviet protectionism, and once it collapsed it left an economic wasteland. The same would happen to us if we were to build trade walls around ourselves only to have them breached by the force of economic circumstances.
What is more, the World Trade Organisation exists to make sure that there shall not be a wall around Europe. Far from building walls, we should break down existing trade barriers and face the challenge head on on the open seas where British traders fare best. That has two consequences in the context of Europe.
First, we need to reverse the process by which costs to industry are increasing day by day because industry has to pay for more non-productive administrative burdens that have been created by further centralisation and standardisation in Europe. Far from further economic integration in Europe being the answer, European nations must be allowed to benefit from the ancient and well tested laws of comparative advantage. From an economic point of view alone, we must reverse the process of European federalisation.
That is partly a process of saying no to further efforts in the direction of further federalisation—for example, at next month's conference which begins in Dublin—although as the third report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs which was published in July made plain, that will be easier said than done.
Secondly, we must clearly abandon any attempt to join a single currency; this requires the re-election of a Conservative Government, who will never join a single currency, not least because they would not wish to activate the referendum that they have promised and which Labour has not.
Thirdly, we must renegotiate the position in the European Union to ensure that our laws, not those of the European Court of Justice, are sovereign. That means dealing with such complicated, but important, issues as "direct applicability", the acquis communautaire, the court's ability to make laws and the sovereign status of those laws.
Once we have re-established that Britain is in charge of her affairs in Europe in terms of protectionism, the question is what should be done next. The simple answer, in terms of the challenge of the east, is that Britain should radically slow down and, I hope, reduce the increasing burdens on her commerce and industry. The average tax take by the so-called tiger countries of the east is around 15 per cent. of gross domestic product. Here the latest comparable figure is 42 per cent. That is the real burden on industry, not labour costs, which in most manufacturing industries have fallen to between 5 and 10 per cent. of total costs.
In Britain, the problems of the explosive demands on state expenditure, which lie at the root of the problem, have been addressed by the Government much earlier than they have in other European countries. For instance, since we took office, the proportion of properly funded occupational pension schemes has risen from 40 per cent. to some 65 per cent. of total pensions. Despite that, the absolute figure for state pensions has risen from around £9 billion a year when we took office to more than £30 billion a year, much faster than the inflation rate.
Throughout the west, as the population grows older and as the demands for pensions, health care and social services explode, the national debt-to-GDP ratio is in danger of spiralling completely out of control. A recent study by the American Congress has suggested that, with present policies, the debt to GDP ratio in the United States will rise from the present level of 3 per cent. to around 300 per cent. in 20 or 30 years' time.
To fund such a level, it would be necessary to take three times everyone's income every year in tax. In the United States, the calculation assumes a dependency population in 20 years' time of around 36 per cent. In Britain, the dependency population at that time will be around 50 per cent, rising from the present level of about 20 per cent., so only half the population will be working to support the rest.
As we approach the turn of the century, that is the true measure of the challenge facing any western Government. It is clearly one that no socialist or liberal Government have the historical or philosophical wherewithal to deal with. The Queen's Speech makes the commitment to reduce further the debt ratio. That must be welcomed, but one must question whether, if there were ever a Liberal or Labour Queen's Speech, that would even be a possibility.
Our relations with Europe and how we pay for the welfare state while reducing taxes are the great problems of our generation.
Would my hon. Friend care to link those two themes, because, in the past 17 years, the Government have taken measures to curb the cost of pensions and to encourage people to have occupational and private pensions, whereas European countries have not? If we were to go into European monetary union, there is a fear, which I think my hon. Friend knows more about than I do, that we would have to share the burden of those countries in paying for their old people?
If one accepts that we would be part of a single currency, coincidentally there would have to be a large public sector budget for various purposes such as supporting poorer countries that would not be able to cope with the single currency's demands. The argument would arise that, under a single currency and under a federal state of Europe, which would go together, in a fair and free market, pensions, for instance, should be comparably funded throughout the European Union.
In those circumstances, it is probable that German taxpayers, who would effectively rule the roost, as there would be as many of them as Frenchmen and British people put together, would argue that there should be fairness in this, and that a budget should be created so that there was an even playing field and so that the Germans did not pay a disproportionate amount of taxes. In those circumstances, British taxpayers, despite the fact that they already had good occupational pensions, would have to transfer funds into a European budget. At least that is a strong possibility and it must be considered before we even deign to think about going into a single currency.
Neither of the twin problems of our relationship with Europe and of how we deal with the welfare state—my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) is right to say that they are linked—will be dealt with by the Labour and Liberal parties. Neither party could ever bring itself to accept, for instance, that welfare support should be given not, as some universal right, but from the basis of need. That means that the Labour party, if it ever came into office, would never be able to produce arithmetic in which the sums added up.
In his speech, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) criticised the Government for still having a large public sector debt. He did not seem to create much excitement on the Labour Benches, but the implication was that the Labour party would do something about the debt.
At the same time, the Labour party says that it will not raise taxes. In his speech, the Leader of the Opposition made commitments towards greater expenditure. It is true that that is what Labour stands for. It stands for spending money at the centre. That is what it is all about. Labour Members looked very glum, during their leader's speech, and I do not blame them. If I were a Labour Member, I would look extremely glum because it has lost direction on these matters. If I were in the Labour party, I would be seriously alarmed that my leader had talked about financial probity and had denied that the Labour party was going to spend more.
Labour Members know that that is what they are in business for—to spend public money. If they were serious about bringing down public sector debt in the context that I have been discussing, they would have to raise taxes substantially. There can be no question about that. The idea that Labour can somehow run an economy with low taxes is meaningless, stupid and is not believed even by Labour Members. That is why, in Britain's interests, the Queen's Speech must be the harbinger of another Conservative Government.
I reject the attack of the hon. Member for South Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer) on my party, but I am always glad to follow him, and I watch with a sense of wonder his European campaign. The best that I can say is that he has a beautiful constituency, a fine cricket team and a lovely county ground.
I support my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in his approach to handguns. I looked in the Gracious Speech for the signing of the social chapter and for the minimum wage. I also wanted my county of Flintshire and my country of Wales to be exempt from the nursery voucher scheme, but that was not to be.
Today, thousands of beef farmers from all Britain, Wales and the Clywd hills in my constituency came to the House. This afternoon, Mr. Terrig Morgan and Mr. Idris Jones of Pwll farm, Treuddyn, and Mr. Kevin Owen and Mr. George Jones of Trimley hall, Llanfynydd, told me of the crisis in the beef industry. They made persuasive points, and I will briefly describe their difficulties.
The price of clean beef has collapsed in recent months, and the farmers urge the Government to implement a temporary guaranteed price system to help to restore market confidence. Also, a severe problem exists in relation to the slaughter of casualty stock under the 30-month scheme, which leads to animal distress and welfare problems. Mr. Morgan told me that, a week ago, one of his milking cows, a Friesian, did the splits in the milking parlour. The vet said that the beast had to be put down, but Mr. Morgan had a problem getting the cow off his premises and to the slaughterer, and in completing the appropriate form and obtaining compensation.
My constituents also told me that there is an immense backlog with the 30-month scheme, with some local farmers having failed to dispose of one animal since the scheme's implementation. That backlog must be cleared as quickly as possible, and compensation must return to the original rate of one ecu, or 83.3p, per kilo live weight. Beef farmers in my constituency are in desperate trouble. I ask the Government to help them as winter approaches.
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfie Ed (Sir N. Fowler), in proposing the Loyal Address, made a charming, humorous and well-judged speech, and the seconder is a doughty defender of the Isle of Wight. I enjoyed the vigour, elan, panache and dynamism shown in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). I was watching the faces of members of the Treasury Bench as my right hon. Friend spoke, and I saw fear, unease, indignation, fascination and even detestation. I knew from their expressions that my right hon. Friend was doing a good job.
One should never underestimate the present Prime Minister. He is a survivor, a determined counter-puncher, a steely performer and a true professional—as one would expect of a British Prime Minister. However, the right hon. Gentleman's speech was sheer electioneering, and did not carry an atom of conviction. It will not be well received in the country.
From my 26 years' in the House, I think that this year's Queen's Speech is opportunistic, short-term and shallow. I thought of Mohammed Ali in his latter years—lying on the ropes, ducking and weaving, fighting for only half a minute and being exhausted for the rest of the round. Likewise pugilistically, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition reminded me of the young Mohammed Ali. He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. He puts fear into the hearts of Government Members. Not for long will the members of the Treasury Bench remain there, and they know it—my right hon. Friend will see to that.
Yes, in opposition.
I was about to say, when I was so inconsiderately interrupted, that I enjoyed the speech of the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood). What a speech. It was saturnine, self-contained and almost stealthy. I remember the right hon. Gentleman as a courteous Secretary of State for Wales whom I found most accessible, if rather bureaucratic. He was certainly detached. He had never stayed in Wales until his appointment to that great office.
He is now a man transformed. Last year, with his breathtaking dare, the right hon. Gentleman electrified the political scene and nearly electrocuted his leader. Today he looks fit, lean and relaxed, yet hungry. He senses the decay among the members of the Cabinet that he once graced. For the right hon. Gentleman, the Back Benches are, like Guinness, good for you. I see the right hon. Member for Wokingham as a more certain, younger, focused challenger—certainly more so than was the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). I see the right hon. Gentleman as a dark-suited, sharp-suited Demosthenes, and he was electioneering as well.
There has been a Conservative Administration since 1979, which is a whole generation and an era in British politics. Those Administrations have enjoyed £120 billion of North sea oil revenues and £80 billion privatisation revenue from the sale of the former public utilities—the family silver, as the former Harold Macmillan once said. Where has that £200 billion gone? It has gone not to Wales or my constituency but elsewhere. It has been wasted, squandered and misapplied. Our nation is in dire need of investment.
Those Conservative Administrations have also overseen the erosion of our manufacturing base. We have no coal industry or shipbuilding industry left to speak of, and the steel industry has been slimmed down. The manufacturing base has all but disappeared. All we have left is the engineering and aerospace industries, and what remains of steelmaking.
Sir Keith Joseph, once head of the Department of Trade and Industry, and Sir Geoffrey Howe, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, were powerful and committed Cabinet Ministers who implemented the policies that denuded Britain of her manufacturing base, to which no thought is given in the Queen's Speech. At least 2 million prime manufacturing jobs have simply disappeared within a few years, and those terrible twins of the economy of the early 1980s, Sir Keith and Sir Geoffrey, allowed that to happen, encouraged by their Prime Minister.
In order to slot this Gracious Speech into the context of nearly 18 years of Conservative government, I also emphasise the auction and surrender of our public utilities—the scandal of our political times. Once the people of my nation owned the Welsh water authority and the thousands of acres of beautiful land therein, but now those acres, that industry, that utility, are in the hands of shareholders, and it is the City of London which decides what shall be in that industry. Once the British people owned the electricity and gas industries, but not now, and I regret that. The wealth of the nation has been squandered—£80 billion for the public utilities.
But, above all, a great social divide has opened up. Socially and economically, there is a chasm between those who are reasonably well off and well off and those who have very little. There is a chasm between the classes which is as obvious and as massive as those permanent, massive and so very obvious earthworks by King Offa and King Wat in my constituency. That great divide is the consequence of nearly 18 years of one-party rule.
What we could have done with those massive revenues that have been squandered. How we could have changed the future of our nation. Instead, the achievement of an era of one-party rule is an underclass, with all the unjust consequences. I have in mind those huge, aging council estates. They are sorry sights, but they are home to millions of our fellow citizens. On those estates there is unemployment, burglary, graffiti, vandalism, drug abuse, car theft, fear, distress, intimidation, poverty and hopelessness. No one can deny those facts. They are the consequence of all the years of these Conservative Administrations. Yet still, the Queen's speech does not address those problems.
It is a scar on our society that there many people have no sense of hope and no future. Our fellow citizens have no hope, and it is this Government who have brought our nation so low. That has to be said before we usher out this dying Government. I regret the poverty, the hopelessness, and the scarring legacies of four Conservative Administrations.
Like many right hon. and hon. Members of all parties, I hold my constituency surgeries conscientiously. They are the best contribution that any hon. Member can make for his people. But those encounters with my constituents are disturbing and worrying. I see the problems of some of the British underclass, and it is right that their dilemma should be spelled out here, in the mother of Parliaments.
I measure the disasters of Thatcherism at my surgeries. I measure the inability of a British Cabinet to comfort, aid, restore and give hope to my constituents and my fellow citizens throughout the nation. There is no hope and no comfort for them in the Gracious Speech. There are no real or lasting jobs. School leavers know that they have no prospect of a real job, particularly those with few academic qualifications.
I wanted today's Queen's Speech to tackle the great divide between the better-off and the have-nots. I wanted to see the beginning of the reconciliation of our people in order to end that divide. It is not good for any of the people of Britain, particularly the rich, for there to be so great a contrast between those who are poor and those who are prosperous. There will be trouble if that chasm remains. I would be the first to say that to end that chasm is a mighty challenge to any Government, but the fact that that chasm has become so great is the responsibility of Conservative Administrations.
To illustrate my concern, I quote from an article in The Sunday Times a week or so ago. It is a review of a book about the poor in Britain, aptly entitled "A Journey to the Edge". Between 8 million and 12 million of our fellow citizens have no great future and no hope for the future. The oil revenues and the privatisation moneys were not devoted to their future; to enhancing the lives of the jobless, the homeless, those who have disabilities, those stricken by poverty or those who are cold, alone or ill.
This substantial review, headed "Always with us", is by Sean O'Brien, a poet, who says:
As he goes, introduced by a network of contacts … he invites people to talk-thieves in Brixton, Somalis in Liverpool, junkies in Glasgow, mental health workers in Barrow-in-Furness, teenagers in Bradford and Salford, kneecapped Belfast joyriders, a hardworking counsellor in the ravaged west end of Newcastle.
Most people are familiar with a lawless housing estate, with aimless teenage glueys on the street, with the unemployed children of the unemployed as they drift away from recognisable society. Originality is hardly the point, though. The sheer extent of civil catastrophe and human waste revealed here threatens to beggar belief.
It is a sobering review. It goes on:
Without a radical transformation of the workings of the state and parliament towards the achievement of the common good we shall soon have not merely two nations but a degree of social disorder which many would have supposed impossible.
Maybe, maybe not, but there is a grave problem. There is a divide which the Gracious Speech does not address, and the Cabinet does not acknowledge its responsibility for the problem that faces an incoming Government.
Those on the Treasury Bench were once described by Mr. Macmillan as "extinct volcanoes". I would say that those on this Treasury Bench have had their day, and must go at the earliest possible moment. The Queen's Speech was truly an electioneering speech, and we should have a general election as soon as possible.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones). I can scarcely agree with a word he said, except for his comments about the wonderful county of Worcestershire. I have had the pleasure of seeing him there and, occasionally, watching cricket with him on the beautiful ground there. I know that there are values behind all that—
I do remember that, and I will always treasure it. [Interruption.] It was against Glamorgan.
The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside was a Member of the House in 1979, when people could not bury their dead, when there was rubbish in the streets and huge discontent. At that time, I was teaching in east London and people would point out to me the mountains of rubbish. The medical officer said that the rubbish must be cleared, and I went to the union on behalf of the people and said, "The medical officer said that the rubbish must be cleared, because of rats and mice and because people's health is in danger." The unions said, "We are the judge of that. We are socialists. We are the Labour party. We are trade unionists. We do not believe that that rubbish should be cleared, and it will not be."
Let us get things into perspective. We must remember events such as that. That is the Labour party in power. I have seen too much of the Labour party's disastrous behaviour.
I am afraid that I must pursue the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside critically for a little longer. He said that the speech by the Leader of the Opposition concerned Conservative Members. He cannot have been aware of the expression on his own face and on the faces of most of his colleagues during the speech. The expressions were a study in disbelief and, at times, deep disagreement. Judging by their reactions, Labour Members obviously felt that it was a vacuous speech with no content. It was a shameful speech, unworthy of the occasion.
I was glad about one thing. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister shamed the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal Democrats into supporting the stalking and paedophile legislation. We now know that we shall have proper co-operation in getting those two Bills through the House.
I will tell the House why I am keen to have that legislation on the statute book. A few months ago, a Labour council located a paedophile opposite a primary school in Ealing. All the parents were up in arms. It was known that the paedophile had been put there by a Labour council—[Interruption.] It is true. It took some doing to resolve the situation, but the paedophile is now gone. That was—
No, I will not.
The Labour council did not take appropriate care. Even when the situation was drawn to its attention, it was not prepared to address the problem properly.
I must declare my great support for the stalking legislation. My constituent, Frances Lawrence, has been stalked, which has been very distressing for her and her friends. I hope and believe that that Bill will stop such distress, for her and others. I welcome the Home Secretary's decision to establish a good citizenship award in the name of Philip Lawrence. That is a fine and fitting memorial to someone who, as a judge at the Old Bailey said last week, was a good man. I cannot say how much those words helped me and Frances and all those who were connected with him.
It was disgraceful that the Leader of the Opposition could not address the question of expenditure on the national health service by the last Labour Government. By today's figures, the last Labour Government spent £23 billion on the NHS, while we spend £39 billion. That speaks for itself. One of the reasons why the speech was so poor is that the right hon. Gentleman went all over the shop in order to avoid answering the question whether any Labour Government, should we have one—God help us—would increase expenditure on the NHS. He could not say, and would not say. We know very well that they would not.
I first met the now hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) in 1968. It was a pleasure to meet him, and it has been a pleasure to know him since then. We met at a meeting of students who were concerned at huge cuts in the NHS by the Labour Government of the time. Jack was the president of the National Union of Students and was speaking at the meeting. The then Labour Member for Rugby was seeking to defend the Government, who were in an impossible situation. They were running down expenditure on the NHS and reducing the number of doctors, nurses and so on.
That is the record of the Labour party in office, and it is no good pretending that that record does not exist. The Labour party today likes to pretend that it has no history. It tries to pretend that it does not have a disgraceful record in local and national Government of letting down the people of this country by hiking up their taxes and wasting their efforts to produce wealth. People both inside and outside the House should start thinking about that.
I can give a serious and modern example of the damage caused by the Labour party in power. A few weeks ago, I was sad to have to say goodbye to the last worker at Lyons Tetley in Greenford in my constituency. The factory was closed and about 2,500 jobs were lost. They were lost because of the actions of Ealing's Labour council, which hoisted up the rates—[Interruption.] Oh, yes. In 1987, rates went up by 57 per cent. and 65 per cent., which meant an increase in the price of everything produced by Lyons Tetley, including Ready Brek, coffee and so on. The local people had all had their rates put up, so they had less money with which to buy more expensive goods. They had a double whammy from Labour.
Over the years, that has meant that the production costs of Lyons Tetley at Greenford have been greater than those in Lyons Tetley factories in other parts of the country. As a result, production has been transferred to places such as Cleveland, where production costs are lower. That is what happens. That loss of jobs is due directly to a Labour administration on Ealing council.
The Labour party talks about its great concern for the NHS, but Ealing's Labour council put up the rates on Ealing hospital by about £500,000 a year. Let us have an end to the silly complacent grinning that we get from Labour people today. There is a great deal to be concerned about historically. I have many friends in the Labour party, but I am sorry to say that there is no conviction in my mind that today's Labour party, from the Leader of the Opposition downwards, has the ability to run better Administrations than it did in the past.
I could mention many other instances of my experience of the Labour party running education. I worked for 23 years as a teacher for London county council and for the Inner London education authority, and I was on the receiving end all those years.
I greatly welcome the promise of a Bill on discipline in schools and related matters. I am concerned that the Opposition, from the Leader of the Opposition downwards, do not recognise their failure in local government to provide a proper education for children that would enhance their life chances. It is a terribly serious matter that children have so little opportunity in Islington, where there has been a Labour administration, with the exception of the period from 1967 to 1970, for 60 or 70 years. Labour must take responsibility. Labour councillors—and no one else—have direct responsibility for the schools.
It is shocking to think that, at Highbury Grove school, which was run so well for so many years by my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) and the opening of which I can remember, there was a children's strike the other day and matters got seriously out of hand. It is serious when the Leader of the Opposition will not send his son to a school in Islington but sends him eight miles across London to the London Oratory school—a grant-maintained school, such as he would deny to everyone else.
Until members of the Labour party hold up the mirror to themselves and give up the complacent self-satisfaction about politics—and about education in particular—that derives from their lead in the opinion polls, and until they begin to think about policy and about what they need to achieve in local government, they will have no credibility.
In 1979, one in eight of our population went into higher education; now it is one in three. People say that the education system is failing our children, but I do not call that failure. GCSE results were better this year than they have ever been. I say that as one who marked examination papers for 25 years, and who has seen some papers this year. I have seen what the children are doing, and they and the teachers should be congratulated instead of being run down all the time by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
A-level results are also better than ever. If they were not, children would not be qualifying for the university places that they are achieving. The basic attainment of children, with certain sad exceptions—anyone who had taught for some time would have to be realistic about that—is better than it has ever been, and that is a matter for congratulation and thanksgiving.
The hon. Gentleman has intervened on other speakers, and I want to make my points. Perhaps I shall give way to him a little later.
I am concerned about the need to address a problem that has persisted throughout my lifetime, and that existed well before: some call it evil, but, whatever we call the manifestations of bad behaviour, we have to work towards tackling such problems all the time. I can remember boys in winklepickers and drainpipe trousers and girls in equivalent dress; then there were teddy boys and girls, mods and rockers, children who behaved violently with bicycle chains, and so on.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North and I were in east London once, at the Oxford university settlement at Bethnal Green, when a whole battalion of young men on motorbikes, carrying bicycle chains, came to that establishment to cause trouble. We went out and dealt with them ourselves—just the two of us. We said, "You just get away. Leave here."
Nothing as pathetic as that. That would not have had any authority. The hon. Gentleman does not realise that there are proper ways of dealing with such situations, which need not be as absurd as he pretends. We certainly addressed the problem, and there was no question of violence against us.
The violence meted out to Philip Lawrence on 8 December last year was a different matter. It is a matter for concern that such a thing could happen. Some schools have, for the moment, lost the will to give children proper religious or moral education. The cost of that failure is high: the death of a good man—as the judge said in the Old Bailey on Thursday—and an inspirational teacher.
To think that a boy of 15 could, in front of his gang, plunge a knife into the heart of a headmaster—perhaps it was for kicks, but I do not know his motivation—is beyond my imagination. I was sad to see that young man standing in the dock. Two lives were devastated by that wicked action. A stroke of evil must have passed through him when he murdered Philip Lawrence. From his demeanour, I believe that he was not aware that it was wrong. Why were not his values such that he knew that it would be wrong to violate another human being, because each human being is made in the image of God, and that life is sacred?
It may be because our religious education has become so watered down. I was shocked when the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority said that it was having difficulty in formulating what might be proper moral or religious education. It is so simple. The ten commandments, consisting of about 144 words, say it all. Throughout my time in teaching, I made sure that the children I taught knew what the ten commandments were—quite a few could recite them—what they meant and why it was right to live by them.
There can be no end of punishments—people can be whipped or have their heads chopped off—after committing a crime, but that will not stop the crime being committed. To stop criminality, people must have the right heart and the right belief, and the knowledge of right and wrong. We have to start that process from the cradle, and take it through primary school and the rest of education.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I know that, like me, he gave long service in the teaching profession. Does he accept that the process of educating a child centres on the teacher's relationship with that child, the head teacher in the school and the ethos that he generates? It has very little to do with the political hue of the local authority or of the Government. What happens in the school and in the wider community are most important. Everything that the hon. Gentleman has said contradicts the theme of the Queen's Speech, which is to hit criminals harder, rather than to develop an educational relationship which teaches people not to become criminals.
Of course we have to hit criminals hard. Punishment is part of the system when people stray. I am saying that we must also make a fundamental effort to educate people in such a way that they have a will to live properly in their relationships with one another. Of course schools are run by heads and teachers, but, unless they are grant-maintained or independent, those schools are run in conjunction with, and under the leadership of, the local authority.
I have sought to avoid controversial matters while speaking of Philip Lawrence, because we all want lo be bipartisan on that issue, but some local authorities, such as the old Inner London education authority, have said that a particular boy or girl should not be pressed in the classroom because they are orphaned or because they have language problems. That denies those children the education they need. That is the problem with the Labour party in local education authorities, as I have found. I must speak as I find.
Returning to the murder of Philip Lawrence, I very much hope that we shall all support Frances Lawrence's efforts in producing her interesting and important seven-point manifesto. She accepts that the manifesto is a matter for debate, but we must keep trying. Society or the world will never reach the point of everything being good and satisfactory. Man is fallen and we have to keep striving to raise ourselves. We can never be satisfied.
To say that any Government have not brought the moral standards in education to a level at which we can forget about the issue is to misunderstand the problem of educating people. The situation is never static. It is a dynamic process, and we have to keep striving.
I appreciate being called to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) in this debate on the Gracious Speech. I was interested to hear his comments on the ten commandments. Archbishop Usher has had a bad press recently. On one occasion, Samuel Rutherford of Anwoth asked him how many commandments there were. He replied, "Eleven." Rutherford was rather shocked by that and asked what the 11 th was. "That you love one another," the Archbishop replied. Perhaps that is what is missing most in the world, but the ten commandments epitomise how love should be worked out in relationships.
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Ealing, North on that any further, except to make an observation on safety in schools. Someone said to me not long ago that it was amazing that there was more security around the education board offices than around schools. Perhaps we should take some of that protection away from our boards, authorities and local councils and give it to the children.
During the Gracious Speech, I thought for a moment of another Queen. My memory was refreshed by the comments of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) on the granting of a charter by Queen Victoria. I noticed that the section read by Her Majesty on Northern Ireland was at the end of the part of the Gracious Speech dealing with foreign affairs. Putting it there may have been justified, because the last sentence of that paragraph says that the Government
will maintain close and friendly relations with the Republic of Ireland.
I think that Queen Victoria would not have been amused by that and I am not sure that Her Gracious Majesty is amused to think that Northern Ireland might be construed by some to be part of a foreign territory. This is not the first time that that has happened, and I ask that the thoughts of people in Northern Ireland might be borne in mind.
I welcome some of the Prime Minister's comments this afternoon. Unfortunately, the Gracious Speech says that the Government
stand ready to introduce legislation to provide for the decommissioning of firearms, ammunition and explosives in Northern Ireland.
Why do they stand ready? Should not the provisions be before the House, ready to give a lead to those seeking to go forward on decommissioning—or are there some difficulties? Why will that legislation deal only with Northern Ireland and not extend to Great Britain when there is a debate on the control of legally held firearms? The majority of people in the United Kingdom have suffered more from illegally held firearms, explosives and other devices than from legally held weapons. It is important to keep a balance at a time when emotions run high.
I welcome the announcement this afternoon that the House will work together on Bills to deal with paedophiles and stalkers. I was amazed to read in the press that the measures were not to be included in the Queen's Speech, because the number of people who have suffered through child abuse and misuse is far greater than the number of children murdered by gunmen. It is important to keep the right balance on that. I assure the Government of my party's support on those issues.
I welcome the Government's commitment
to improve and develop primary health care services.
I support that commitment, because primary health care is traditionally the doorkeeper to the whole of health care in this country and I believe that more can be done. However, I have a difficulty. There are no research and development facilities to promote primary health care in Northern Ireland. The research and development budget in clinical fellowships has been cut by one third, from £450,000 per year to £300,000 per year. One such fellowship, which has not been renewed, promised well in the general practitioner and primary area. I trust that the Northern Ireland Office will reconsider the issue.
I welcome the fact that, in future, the practice of publishing Bills as drafts for consultation may become more widespread. At times we rush into Bills without proper consideration and I welcome the fact that one of the Bills mentioned in the Gracious Speech deals with voluntary identity documents. I cannot for the life of me understand the furore that has arisen in some parts or the claim that identity cards would infringe liberties. We live in a world in which most of us have identity documents of some sort. I speak from personal experience of the governance of elections to Parliament in Northern Ireland. A social security payment book does not guarantee identity. It merely tells the presiding officer that the person carrying the book with that name claims to be that person. It does not identify the person. I would welcome a move to provide documents that clearly depict the person.
I welcome the commitment to
fight against terrorism, organised crime and drug misuse and trafficking".
I was not fascinated but amazed to read the puerile argument that the non-legalisation of drugs leads to the abuse of them and deaths. It was said that tobacco and alcohol misuse cause more deaths and have more health hazards attached to them than illegal drugs. If the facts that are now known about tobacco had been known when it was introduced for general usage, would the House ever have legalised it? When we look at the history of medicine, we see that drugs such as opium ultimately have been banned for medical purposes because they had injurious effects. I wonder whether those who suggest that soft drugs should be legalised are aware of the damage that can ensue once an appetite is developed. I believe that the danger signals should be retained to guide people away from using such drugs. I look forward to a greater intensity of effort to deal with drugs in our society.
Although there are other matters which I should like to develop, I close with one to which the Prime Minister alluded—the concept of a further ceasefire. When the first ceasefire was agreed, some of us were prepared to give it a welcome and watch to see what would happen, but, knowing with whom we were dealing, we had our doubts. I drew some criticism when, in a media interview, having been asked my view, I said that I was reminded of an incident in the Napoleonic wars under the command of Wellington and Nelson. A surrendering Spanish commander held out his hand to Nelson, but Nelson did not reach for it. The Spanish man said, "Will you not shake the hand of a defeated foe and be a friend?" The answer was, "Yes, I will gladly do so, but first your sword."
The Government gave Sinn Fein-IRA an opportunity to prove its credentials. I hope that we shall not be treated to a lecture in the media by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), who unfortunately is not present. He used the dictionary to tell us all that "cease" meant that the conflict was over. He finished a string of words with the word "finito". At that very time, safe houses were being used in London to plan further devastation. It seems to me that, if people are treading the way of peace and we are considering stricter controls on legal firearms, the time has come for the Government to say, "Weapons first, and then we are ready to discuss peace."
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). He may recall my telling him a few days ago how pleased I was to hear at the Conservative party conference at Bournemouth my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say specifically that he did not believe that Northern Ireland would ever leave the United Kingdom and that he did not wish it to do so. In my conversation with the hon. Member for Belfast, South, he said that he thought that that had been said by British Prime Ministers and Ministers on one or two previous occasions. That is possible, but all too often we hear that measly, politically correct expression, "Of course, if Northern Ireland wanted to leave the United Kingdom, we would not want to stand in its way." It was good to hear—I know that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me—the positive statement that the Conservative party and, I hope, other parties, want Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom and we shall defend it for as long as we are here with strength in our bodies.
I wish to comment on various proposals in the Gracious Speech which I support, but several speeches in the debate so far—naturally at this stage of the Parliament—have engaged in party political analysis of recent and not-so-recent history. Perhaps I might contribute briefly to that analysis. The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), who has now left, spoke passionately and sincerely, because he is a sincere man, about the record of the Conservative Government. He will recall that I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) to point out that we should not compare Britain now with Britain 20 or 30 years ago because many things had changed. We should compare Britain with like countries today. In that respect, there is no doubt that, in the past 17 years, and certainly in the past four years, the British economy has gradually, with some areas of difficulty, become stronger and is in a better position than any other economy in western Europe. That affects employment. We on the Government Benches must stress that.
There is no point in harking back to a possible golden age in the 1960s and 1970s. Those days have gone for most modern countries. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Worcestershire (Sir M. Spicer) was interesting and prophetic in that respect. He referred to the modern international economy. I regret that those days are past.
The interesting thing about the debate is the contrast between the wishes and the passion of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside and the emptiness of the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition, who failed to produce policies or proposals to deal with any of the recognised problems. We do not deny that those problems exist, but we believe that we have the best policies for them. We do not hear from the leadership of the Labour party any solutions. What was particularly regrettable, indeed stomach-churning, about the speech of the Leader of the Opposition was his great onslaught on the national health service and the Government's stewardship of it. He cited some particular examples. I am sure that, when his speech is reported, people will worry that the national health service is in decay. We refute that from the experience of our own constituencies.
I serve on the Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration—the ombudsman—who acts as the health service commissioner. From time to time, we have cases before us—we had a couple last week—in which things have gone wrong in hospitals and in the NHS generally. Those matters have to be dealt with, but to extrapolate from particular examples where things have gone wrong a health service that is in deep decline and decay is damning for all who work in the health service and for the conduct of politics.
I do not happen to agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments although I am a member of the same Committee. Was it not said to us last week that, if Queen's university hospital in Nottingham ran the same level of service for the rest of the year, it would be £9 million in deficit at the end of the year, and that it is obliged to cut the number of patients that it treats?
I know that some hospitals and trusts will face budgetary difficulties at the end of this financial year. They should plan for those matters. I hope that, when the House debates health, it will address those issues.
I welcome the proposals to introduce in the next few months measures to help rural areas. I especially welcome the report, which I believe to be correct, on the front page of today's Times that the Government propose to help village shops by de-rating them. I know that such measures will be welcomed in my constituency.
I also welcome the report that the Government may give rural parishes powers to raise money for special constables. That possibility should be considered carefully, and I would like to see the details, but I want to encourage the use of special parish constables in rural areas. I also support proposals to give parishes greater powers to be consulted in the planning process.
In any discussion of, or reference to, rural affairs, one cannot ignore the scourge of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. As was said, today there was a heavy lobby by members of the NFU in England and Wales. I hope that speedy measures will be taken to tackle the specific grievance that those farmers brought to us today. I hope that the cut in compensation can be rectified, linked to the introduction of a registration scheme, because it is not the farmers' fault that very many animals have not been slaughtered under the 30-month scheme. I hope that we can successfully prosecute the 30-month cull in the next few weeks and, if necessary, use open-air incineration if that is the only way of getting rid of carcases rapidly enough.
I point out to the Ministry of Agriculture that the past six months has not been that Ministry's finest hour. Now that the House has returned, Conservative Members, facing farming communities where jobs and livelihoods are at stake, will expect a much better performance by the Ministry of Agriculture and the various agencies working with it. Otherwise, we shall look closely at some of the jobs and livelihoods at the top of MAFF.
There are two other culprits in that matter of BSE. One, as I said in previous debates, is the European Community, in the way in which it has handled our trade. Tonight we had some debate on Europe—for example, from my hon. Friends the Members for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Sir D. Knox) and for South Worcestershire, on slightly different sides of the argument.
I assure the House that my constituents, like constituents in all rural areas, have become extraordinarily resentful of the way in which Europe has treated the beef industry. Active party workers who were previously supporters of Europe because they thought that it was the right thing to do, supporters of Europe and even of European integration, have become very Euro-critical, as I am—critical of what the common market and the European Community do. We must resolve the many problems that confront the European Community before we even look at the various far-fetched measures of political and economic integration that some of our partners talk about.
The other culprits in the BSE scandal are some of the large quasi-monopolies. I now believe that the March BSE scare was unnecessary, because hundreds of thousands of families in this country have not altered their habit of eating beef, and many of them, especially in rural areas, have eaten more beef since March than before. Nevertheless, seven months after the scare, the large quasi-monopolies continue to ban British beef from their counters and use Argentine beef. When customers go to a McDonald's restaurants and say that they would like to eat British beef, they are told that they cannot because it is company policy to ban it.
I am informed by the NFU that some brewing companies and restaurant companies such as Trust House Forte, Whitbread, Bass and Beefeater also ban British beef. If those companies want the assistance of Conservative Members in lobbying for a stable or lower rate of alcohol duty in the Budget, they should make a contribution to production and employment in this country by changing their policy on British beef. I hope that that point will be heard and I hope that, as we meet representatives of those companies, it will be fiercely argued by my hon. Friends.
I listened to the passionate speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) about the murder of the headmaster Philip Lawrence. I agree with my hon. Friend that the role of imparting morals in schools is extremely important. When I was at school, the man who had the greatest effect on my religious and moral development was my chemistry master. I fear that he must be dead now. His name was Harry King. He was a splendid figure. I was completely hopeless at chemistry—my fault, not his—but he had the greatest effect on my development as a person, and I will always be grateful for that. Teachers play an important role in children's moral development.
In several recent episodes, teachers have told the local education authority or the governors that they must exclude certain disruptive pupils from the school because they make life a purgatory for other pupils. I sympathise with those demands, and I do not see why disruptive pupils should be rewarded by having vast sums of money spent on them when eventually they are excluded. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment called for an urgent report on the recent episode in Yorkshire, and I hope that the Education Select Committee, of which I am a member, will consider that subject as a matter of urgency.
I have mentioned one aspect of law and order, the murder of Philip Lawrence. I was tempted to point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North that the murderer of Philip Lawrence was not suffering from a momentary lapse of moral concentration; he was a hardened criminal from, alas, a fairly criminal family, with a long criminal history. That, I fear, is the sort of evil that we must deal with.
Another aspect of the moral debate that Mrs. Lawrence's initiative has produced is the Catholic bishops' recent statement. I am not a Roman Catholic and this is not a Roman Catholic country, but Catholic social philosophy has historically influenced the political thought of the centre right in Europe, and I would not repudiate that influence. As we see from some of the measures now prevailing in western Europe, the legislative and administrative results of that influence are not always necessarily right, but the influence of that thought is often for the good of society and of politics.
I saw the reference by the Catholic bishops to the desirability of employers paying a just wage. They said that there might have to be a minimum wage if that does not happen. At the Employment Select Committee last week, I put a line of questioning to the Confederation of British Industry witnesses and the Trades Union Congress witnesses on that subject. I am opposed to a rigid statutory minimum wage as proposed by the Labour party, especially if it should resemble the figures that were being spoken about of £4.20 or £4.50. No one can doubt that such a figure would destroy very many jobs—the Labour leadership has admitted as much in one of its more relaxed moments. I believe that employers who pay substantially below a certain level—for example, £2.50 an hour—should be asked why that is so. They should provide reasons for their actions—special factors might need to be considered—and perhaps face legal sanctions if their responses prove unsatisfactory. That is one way in which the Government could respond to the Catholic bishops' initiative. Therefore, I welcome their proposal.
I support measures that will ensure more certainty in minimum sentencing, as proposed in the crime Bill. However, we must monitor the work of the courts on a constituency-by-constituency basis and examine the effectiveness of the operations of the Crown Prosecution Service, magistrates and the more superior courts. There have been many dreadful examples in recent years of that aspect of the administration of justice failing to work effectively, and I shall give one or two from my constituency.
There has been much debate about gun laws and, regrettably, the Government are proposing very draconian measures on gun ownership. Hon. Members may recall that, when we debated legislation to strengthen sanctions for carrying knives earlier this year, I tried to amend that legislation but fell foul of the rules of the House. There is no point in introducing draconian penalties, banning advertising and so on when someone who carries a knife in order to commit a mugging or a burglary or who intends to join his gang at the pub and possibly become involved in an affray with another gang does not run the risk of being prosecuted and sentenced if he is caught in possession of that weapon.
In England—the situation is different in Scotland—we do not have effective stop and search powers. Unfortunately, I was not in the Chamber when the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) said that there is no point passing amazingly draconian laws on firearms if they cannot be enforced effectively.
I shall provide an example from my constituency. A year ago this autumn, firearms were stolen from a house in Rowbarton in the north of Taunton and a group of four youths terrorised the neighbourhood during the night. Shots were fired, one of which penetrated the wall of a house—fortunately no one was injured—cars were wrecked and much concern was caused in the neighbourhood. Some 200 or 300 people attended a meeting the following week at which I and other authorities—the police, probation service, social services and the housing authority—discussed the problem, which concerned private landlords and so on, and explored ways in which it could be solved.
The matter eventually came to trial at Exeter Crown court and the four youths received probationary sentences. We lodged an appeal—which enjoyed cross-party support in Taunton—with the Attorney-General against those sentences. I am sorry to say that nothing could be done to strengthen them. A representative of the Crown Prosecution Service wrote to me and explained that the case had proceeded:
on the basis of the pleas offered by the defendants".
It said that the decision was taken on the basis of those offences which the prosecution was able to prove. While it was clear that some, if not all, of the defendants had been firing the weapons into the street at houses and parked motor vehicles—with the exception of one youth who admitted firing at a wall—it was not possible to prove who had fired the shots into the street. Due to insufficient evidence, the CPS decided to proceed with the less serious offences which do not allow appeals to strengthen the sentence.
The outcome of that episode has caused great frustration in the community. A senior member of the police force—I am not at liberty to disclose his identity—wrote to me pointing out that the four youths were in possession of property known to be stolen in a burglary. He continued:
The Greenway Road case amounted to firearms and ammunition, including a very high-powered rifle which, thankfully, jammed and was discovered in that state when the Firearms Team eventually forced an entry into the particular room".
The officer explained that one of the youths has
a very extensive criminal record, including an earlier offence of possessing a firearm whilst committing a Schedule One offence. He also has convictions for robbery and burglary. It is not unreasonable for the public to be concerned that, whilst at large, he is likely to commit serious offences, particularly as he is also known to have a history of illegal use of drugs.
Whilst I can understand the desire of the Courts"—
he referred to other cases where charges were allowed to lie on the file or were withdrawn—
to dispose of offenders as cost-effectively as possible and to minimise protracted Not Guilty hearings … it could be in the public interest to pursue the Not Guilty trial so that the Judges can award appropriate sentences.
It is pointless for the House constantly to pass laws about sentencing, without regard to other aspects, but I pay tribute to the present Home Secretary who has greatly strengthened the courts' facility to find people guilty and has reduced the tricks—such as the right of silence—employed by the guilty to evade conviction.
While paying due concern to strengthening sentencing, we must examine carefully the operations of the courts and of magistrates. That matter is of particular concern in Taunton, where my constituents were plagued by beggars during the summer. They adopted an aggressive attitude to members of the public, frightening shoppers who would not give them money. Public drinking is another problem. I have corresponded with the Home Office about the usefulness of the standard byelaw preventing drinking in public places. I have received a helpful reply and I hope that we can deal with the problems in Taunton. I understand that there are proposals in the crimes Bill to strengthen powers to confiscate alcohol. I hope that those measures will proceed satisfactorily and will be administered effectively by magistrates and by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Ministers say, "The powers are there," but they are not effective unless the police are prepared to use them, certain of the backing of the CPS and the courts. Those matters concerned my constituents during the summer. While I appreciate that they are not as grave as the awful murder of Philip Lawrence and other incidents that we have discussed, they prove that we must view law and order enforcement in the round. I hope that the debates that we shall have in the next few weeks will provide an opportunity to do that.
I support the Queen's Speech, as it contains a number of meaty measures—several of which I have referred to—that will build upon the legislation that my right hon. Friends have implemented in recent years to help this country tackle the problems of the 1990s. I remind hon. Members that, alas, those problems are different from—and, in the case of drugs, more severe than—those of the 1960s or the 1970s.
I shall follow the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) and mention two of subjects that he touched on. At the start of his speech he mentioned BSE. Any hon. Member like myself, with some farmland in the constituency, will recognise the problems. I met the local National Farmers Union a few weeks ago and the farmers are greatly concerned. They stressed to me the problem of the reduction of the compensation level; the problem of casually fallen stock; the question of the delays in the 30-month cull, and the problems that will be caused if it is extended indefinitely, especially for winter feeding. Those problems need to be resolved as speedily as possible.
The second issue was mentioned by the hon. Member for Taunton at the end of his speech—the problem of drinking in public. I wish to emphasise a slightly different point. It is common in my constituency, and probably in many others, for people, when they move from one pub to another, to take their glasses and bottles and to deposit them anywhere en route when they have finished drinking. On the following day, especially on Saturday and Sunday, someone could open a shop selling the glasses that have been abandoned around the town. The glasses get broken and are dangerous.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) knows the issues of Northern Ireland well, but it is not a subject on which I speak—not because I am not concerned, but because I know that the problems are complex and I do not pretend to know the answer. As someone who has visited Manchester and seen the devastation wreaked on the city centre by one bomb—it is a miracle that nobody was killed—I must tell Sinn Fein that it will never get a solution through violence and it needs to return to a ceasefire as soon as possible. I hope to see a peaceful solution to the problem of Northern Ireland as soon as possible.
Like the hon. Member for Belfast, South, I welcome the move to draft Bills, because they will give us the opportunity to consider ideas before legislating. I hope that that will prevent some of the errors that appear in legislation and that we will not fall into the traps that we have in the past by legislating too hastily.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the draft Bill on identity cards. I have no strong views one way or another, but I remember that in the 1950s the Conservatives said that they would abolish that piece of socialism and that we should all burn our identity cards. Because the Tories said that we should destroy them, I kept mine and I have still got it. It is my first link with Burnley because it was issued to me at the start of the war when I was an evacuee in Burnley, my mother's home town. I will not throw it away now, and I still remember the number—it is my national health number—NFAU 198/5.
Several Conservative Members have referred to the single currency, but they did not all express the same view. My constituency is heavily dependent on manufacturing industry and it has one of the highest levels of manufacturing employment—more than 50 per cent. of the work force is employed in the manufacturing sector. Nearly all industries are now linked with Europe—they sell parts to Europe or import bits. The aerospace industry and the motor car industry depend on their links with Europe. The point was made to me time after time during the summer recess by local managers that, if Britain does not enter the single currency, industries will still have to deal with the single currency. If my local industries have to deal in the euro and fix prices at the start of the year and Britain is not in the single currency, what will happen to the pound? They believe that jobs could be put in jeopardy if we are not part of the single currency from the start.
In the Gracious Speech, we heard that legislation on education will be introduced. I hope that the Government do not believe that the expansion of the assisted places scheme, the establishment of new grammar schools or the extension of selection will solve any of the current problems in education. Some parents in my constituency still have not resolved the problem of secondary school places for their children. Five parents are still keeping their children away from the school that has been offered to them and are organising their education among themselves. The Government's proposal will not solve any problems. It will create more problems and give the elite better opportunities and the mass of the children in our constituencies a worse education. That is the wrong direction for education.
Nursery vouchers are another issue that we must think about again. Westminster and Wandsworth, two of the pilot Conservative authorities, are not enthusiastic about the voucher scheme. My constituency has a high provision of nursery places and we are worried about what will happen to the three-year-olds who have nursery places. Will the nursery voucher scheme for four-year-olds cream money away from local education authorities? We believe that opportunities for the children of Lancashire and Burnley will be reduced by the voucher scheme. It is time that all children had the opportunity of nursery education without the nonsense of the voucher system.
The Queen's Speech mentioned the national health service and I wait to see what the provisions on primary care will mean. I hope that they will not mean the creeping and crawling extension of privatisation and the commercialisation of health care provision. I am worried about the dental service provision and, as my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) said, I have raised that issue several times in the House. I met the East Lancashire health authority on Friday to discuss that issue.
The position is changing all the time, but currently only one dental practice in Burnley is willing to take new national health service patients. One problem is that, if the dentists go over to the private schemes provided by BUPA or Denplan, they get the same remuneration for half the number of patients as they get from the national health service. We must address that issue. Incidentally, I do not know whether it is good for people to be dentists, because they are supposed to have one of the highest suicide levels. It is time that we had a dental service available to everyone, everywhere, instead of the gradual reduction that we see now.
Crime is another issue addressed in the Queen's Speech and more legislation is proposed. When I became an election agent in Burnley in 1964, crime was not an issue that was raised by people, but it is now at the top of the agenda. That is a sad reflection on 17, nearly 18, years of Tory rule and on the development of society during that period. I do not blame everything on the Conservative party, although it has some responsibility for the changes.
So many people are now afraid to leave their homes or to go down to the town centre. People feel imprisoned in their homes and that is a sad reflection on society in 1996. Burnley is not unique and the problem is not confined to council estates. It is found everywhere. Whenever I go to a meeting, I find nobody who does not know someone who has been a victim of crime, whether among friends or families, neighbours or workmates. It did not use to be like that and we must all tackle the problem.
I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has changed direction on a stalking Bill and a paedophile register. The country will welcome that change of view in the knowledge that the Government will take action. If, however, the Government had supported the Stalking Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson), she would have been prepared to amend it to meet the Government's requirements. That could have been done a few months ago, and my hon. Friend's Bill could have been an Act by now. That is a failure for which the Government are responsible.
When we debated the Queen's Speech in November 1995, we knew that it contained two proposed Bills on housing matters. One of the issues was homelessness. Changes in legislative provision will be introduced speedily, but adequate preparation for them has not been made. Those who will implement the changes still do not know how they will make them work.
Regardless of politics, almost everyone involved in housing, such as local authorities and housing associations, and especially all those concerned with homelessness, believes that the new, incoming legislation will create more problems than it will solve. It is seen as bad legislation but it is recognised that it is on the statute book. Those who are involved say to the Government, "Give us the detail of how the new legislation will work. We suggest that implementation be delayed for a few months to ensure that the changeover takes place a little more smoothly."
In my constituency there are pre-first world war terrace houses. The loss of mandatory grants will cause major problems when implementation takes place next year.
The Government have failed to address the real housing problem. More houses should be built for rent. Sadly the Government are not doing that, but they should be given that there is a major housing problem throughout the country. It is incredible that fewer than 2,000 council houses were built last year. We want to see houses built of good quality. We should not engage in a game where properties are built purely for the sake of numbers. We all have some degree of guilt for what was done in the 1960s. We are now demolishing some of the housing tragedies of that time. Some of the housing then built was worse than that which it replaced.
We are told in the Queen's Speech that there is to be a state visit to Pakistan and India next year. I am sure that there will be many celebrations in this country in mid-August next year, given the 50 years of independence of Pakistan and India. The greatest thing that could be done to make the celebrations truly great events would be to bring to an end what people in India and Pakistan regard as unfinished business, and that is Kashmir. I believe that the Government could do more to try to make both Pakistan and India—perhaps India is most at fault—come together to end the problem so as to let the people of Kashmir determine which way they want to go in future. It would be tremendous if, during the 50th year of independence, the people of Kashmir were allowed self-determination.
An issue that is not taken up by the Queen's Speech, but which should be, was the subject of an article in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph on 18 October. The article states:
Sixty percent of households in Burnley claim some kind of state benefit with the average amount being £32.
That is per week. The article continues:
People living in a third of Burnley properties claim housing and council tax benefits … A quarter of Burnley households contain only pensioners, with 45 percent of the elderly suffering long-term illness. In the Brunshaw area of town 23.8 percent of the residents suffer from long-term illness.
It tells us:
the average hourly rate of pay in Burnley is £3.48, compared to the National 1993 New Earnings Survey of £7.83. Burnley's annual average gross income, excluding all benefits, is £7,085 and in Asian households only £5,870 before benefits.
It is clear that some households will not be in receipt of average pay, but at the same time we are told in the Queen's Speech that the Government will seek to double living standards over the next 25 years. That is the Government's target. Many of my constituents have grave doubts about seeing such an improvement. There is real poverty in areas such as the one that I represent. We need a national minimum wage and we need a change of government. There is a need also for positive policies. The Government have failed, and it is time for them to go.
Eighteen wasted years must be the verdict of my constituents on the Tory Government's period in office. Thank goodness that the Queen's Speech is the last one produced by a Conservative Government that we shall hear for a long time.
The Government appear to be bereft of any policies apart from their obsession with law and order. That is highly ironic given the Conservative Government's record on that subject. Once upon a time, people believed that the Tory party was the party of law and order, but that is no longer a credible claim for them to make.
The Government express their concern about the apparent sad state of society and the family in the United Kingdom. They refer to the violence in our midst and the weakening of the family, but they conveniently forget, or ignore, that this very situation is the end product of 17 years of Tory rule. The Tories cannot blame the Labour Government for the mess that they themselves have created.
Why is it that, seven months after the Dunblane tragedy, the Government still cannot unanimously decide what their policy is to be on the vital issue of gun control? Contrast that with the situation in Australia, where, only three weeks after a crazed gunman slaughtered people in Tasmania. the new Government, and a Conservative one at that, introduced extremely tough anti-gun legislation. Does not the Prime Minister realise that the great British public, by an overwhelming majority, do not see the need for any ordinary citizen legally to possess a handgun of any kind? The public want a total ban on the possession of handguns. If the Government will not introduce such a ban, I sincerely hope that the incoming Labour Government will. I shall certainly vote for a total ban on handguns as soon as the opportunity arises.
I welcome the Prime Minister's partial U-turn on stalking, but why have the Government not made it clear exactly what they intend doing about stalkers? What has been trailed so far does not deal with the problem. This terrifying practice should be made a criminal offence and stalkers should be treated accordingly as criminals who deserve to he locked away.
I welcome also the Prime Minister's complete U-turn on proposals for a national paedophile register and, I hope, the prosecution of sex tourists. Such measures command widespread public support and there are no valid reasons why they cannot be introduced. I understand that in New Zealand a register is available for sale in shops, and sex tourists can legally be prosecuted under recent legislation. Perhaps Ministers should visit New Zealand. They might learn something useful, such as how to introduce legislation.
Some years ago, legislation was introduced which permitted the confiscation of the ill-gotten assets of convicted drug dealers. It was widely welcomed at the time but hardly anything has been heard of it since. Perhaps we could be told how much or, perhaps more appropriately, how little has been confiscated from such people. There has been so little publicity that one suspects that drug dealers are free to continue making fortunes out of their trade in human misery with no real attempt being made to hit them where it hurts.
Apart from handguns perhaps the main cause of violence on our streets and in our society generally is the widespread and free availability of combat-type knives.
You may remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, that about four years ago I brandished a Rambo-type knife with an eight or 10-inch blade with a serrated edge in the Chamber, to make the point that action needed to be taken to deal with the stabbings and slashings that were far too prevalent in Scotland at that time. Something was done and the situation improved for a time, but it is deteriorating again.
I can understand any Government's difficulties in dealing with certain types of knife and introducing legislation dealing with domestic knives, knives used for catering and butchery and knives that anglers are allowed to use. I cannot understand, however, or accept the Government's attitude towards combat weapons. Legally, they can be bought by anyone over the age of 16, either via mail order or over the counter in shops. What serious checks are made? Next to none. The knife that I produced in the House had been bought by a 15-year-old, and no questions were asked.
This week, the Scottish Daily Record—which I congratulate on its campaign against weapons over a long period—sent a reporter to a shop in Glasgow, where he bought four Rambo-type knives, some of which had blades 15 inches long. He was able to do so with no difficulty: he could just walk in from the street and buy four killer knives. Such knives serve no useful purpose in society—they are purely for killing and maiming—but the merchants of menace who profit from the sale of weapons of that kind will stop doing so only when it is made illegal.
I see no valid reason why we cannot ban the sale of combat weapons either by mail order or over the counter, not only in the back streets but in the main streets. So many are in circulation that it is surely in the best interests of society to make it illegal to sell them, and to stop their circulation. The sooner the House legislates, the better.
As for international matters, I am disappointed that the Queen's Speech made no mention of the need for the United Kingdom Government to take a lead in the ever-increasing international campaign to secure a worldwide ban on the manufacture, sale, transfer and use of anti-personnel land mines. Only last month, at the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference—attended by approximately 120 nations—the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), the well-respected chairman of the IPU British group, the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) and I all spoke in favour of such a ban. The United Kingdom delegation of Back-Bench Members of Parliament was at the forefront of recent attempts to persuade the IPU to adopt such a resolution. Previous attempts had all failed, but last month we succeeded to such an extent that the draft resolution was carried without a vote.
When we consider that it is estimated that more than 100 million land mines are scattered in 62 countries throughout the world, and that approximately 2,500 innocent men, women and children are victims every month—nearly 100 each day—or, to put it another way, that every 15 minutes a human being is being blown up by an anti-personnel mine, we realise that, in the name of humanity, the situation cannot be allowed to continue and must be ended as soon as possible.
I will not go into graphic detail about the horrific injuries—apart from death—that those barbaric weapons inflict on the human body; but I earnestly appeal to the Government to support the IPU conference decision, and to do all in their power to achieve its aims. They can set an example by imposing a ban on the manufacture and sale of such weapons in this country now, rather than waiting until thousands more people are maimed or killed.
The Government intend to continue their overseas aid programme for the poorest countries, but here again their record could and should be much better. Despite all our problems at home, we must recognise the need to tackle poverty, disease and famine in the world's poorest nations. I understand that the Government are in favour of a mid-week lottery. I do not personally favour that, although I am not against one lottery week. Two lotteries will encourage people to spend more than they can afford, and will lead to an increase in social and family problems. If there is to be a second lottery, however, and if income continues to grow, perhaps consideration could be given to making occasional contributions to certain charities for worthwhile overseas projects of a humanitarian nature.
It seems to have escaped the notice of many—especially members of the Government—that 1996 is the United Nations Year for the Eradication of Poverty, and that last Thursday, 17 October, was the international day commemorating the event. Little or no heed has been paid to that. Indeed, far from poverty being eradicated, the problem has become more acute, both at home and abroad.
In my Adjournment debate at the end of the Scottish Grand Committee meeting in Dumfries on 5 July, which the Prime Minister attended, I dealt with the subject in some detail, especially in regard to Scotland and to Glasgow in particular. Sadly, the position is still no better. The Glasgow travel-to-work area has 55,000 people unemployed; the figure has remained fairly constant, at around 60,000, for several years. The majority of those people are long-term unemployed, and that is one of the main causes of poverty.
Giving people proper jobs provides the best pathway out of poverty. That is why we need to introduce a national minimum wage, and to sign the social chapter. I honestly believe that that will do more to take people out of the poverty trap than anything since the £6 pay policy initiated by Jack Jones when he was general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union in the mid-1970s, and introduced by the last Labour Government. We need something that will lift people out of poverty in our towns and cities.
As we are in the run-up to the general election, I hoped to see in the Gracious Speech a glimmer of hope and some compassion for the disadvantaged and less fortunate in our country; but no, there was nothing to give hope to our old-age pensioners, many of whom cannot live and die in decency and dignity. There was nothing to give hope to the sick, poor or unemployed, nothing about restoring benefits to 16 and 17-year-old people who cannot find employment, and nothing that would do anything to alleviate the poverty that so many people must endure. In fact, it is rather the reverse; the policies outlined in the Speech will worsen the position.
My present constituency is a very mixed one in the east end of Glasgow. It has some quite prosperous areas with few problems, but it also contains some areas with unacceptably high levels of unemployment and deprivation. As a result of parliamentary boundary changes, however, it will be greatly altered after the general election. I shall lose 50 per cent. of my existing seat—the outer areas, which will merge with most of what was the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) to make a new seat called Baillieston. I wish my hon. Friend well in his new constituency.
The 50 per cent. that I shall retain consists of the inner-city areas of the east end of Glasgow—Shettleston, Tollcross, Parkhead, Dalmarnock and part of Bridgeton. The areas that I shall gain include the rest of Bridgeton, Calton in the east end—including the famous Glasgow "Barras"—and, across the River Clyde, the south-side areas of Gorbals, Govanhill, Hutchesontown and Oatlands, all of which are currently in the central constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson). Sadly, his constituency has disappeared. I hope that he will eventually find another to represent: he deserves to do so.
The present Shettleston constituency has 13 blocks of multi-storey flats. The new constituency will have 25 such blocks—certainly the highest number in a Scottish constituency, perhaps even in the United Kingdom. It will also have a large number of pensioners, people who cannot find employment no matter how hard they try because no jobs are available for them, and houses that desperately need to be treated for dampness and other defects—defects that Glasgow city council cannot tackle because of Government cuts in its finances. It is difficult to obtain up-to-date and accurate statistics relating to the new constituencies; perhaps Ministers will look into that, and see what can be found out about the composition of new constituencies, especially where there are substantial boundary changes.
My constituency also contains many hundreds of acres of derelict land which desperately needs to be cleaned up and built on to provide jobs for construction workers—thousands of whom are unemployed—and to provide decent homes for people and infrastructure for industry and commerce. That in turn will create more jobs, benefiting the city's economy and linking the east end with the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy). Between us we have more than 1,000 acres of derelict land in our constituencies, which could be put to good use in creating employment and prosperity for the city.
Glasgow faces tremendous economic problems, which have been made worse by the underfunding of the recent local government reorganisation. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities estimates a shortfall of £205 million, much of which has impacted on Glasgow, and despite the best efforts of the city council, the Glasgow Development Agency, Scottish Homes and the Greater Glasgow health board, the city cannot hope to solve its problems without additional help from central Government. Such support would benefit the whole of Scotland.
There are many more jobs in Glasgow for people who live outside the city and travel into it to work than there are for its own citizens who live in the city and pay council tax to it. I appeal to Scottish Office Ministers to put an end to their anti-Glasgow bias and sit down with all the relevant organisations to consider what they can do to help the city. Support for campaigns like the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations' "Build a new house" campaign will help the Government to achieve their aim of reducing public expenditure. However, it will riot do so not by cutting people's benefits nor by removing their entitlement to benefit; it will do so by putting people back to work and by putting more money into local circulation, which in turn will generate further benefits to everyone, the Exchequer included.
The Tory Government, of course, will not do that, but they are, however, on their last legs. There are only 190 days left until 1 May. The people of Britain are keenly looking forward to the new Labour Government when they awake on Friday 2 May.
I would have liked more Conservative Members of Parliament, whose cages I could rattle, to be present apart from those three sitting on the Treasury Bench, who I understand have to remain rather mute. Their attitude is disappointing and I therefore hope that my hon. Friends will bear with me. Despite the fact that this is the last Queen's Speech written by the Tories, there are not many of their ranks here to support or defend it. As a matter of courtesy, I told the hon. Members for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), before they left the Chamber, that I would refer to their remarks. The hon. Member for Ealing, North said that he had a constituency commitment.
Much has been said about the impending general election. One of the constitutional perversities that exists, which needs to be remedied by the next Labour Government, is the right of a Prime Minister to choose the date of a general election. It really is time we modernised our Parliament and had fixed four-year terms of Parliament, so that all parties would know the date of the general election. I hope that that modest constitutional reform will be implemented by an incoming Labour Government. It is long overdue.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North referred to Philip Lawrence and his very brave widow. I would like to associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to that brave head teacher and, of course, to the great courage and serenity of his widow and family, which have moved us all. I make that clear, because the hon. Gentleman is a friend of that family and I fully understand how he has been considerably moved on a personal level quite apart from being their Member of Parliament. I wanted to make that clear because I shall go on to criticise much else of what he said.
I found it breathtaking, if not amusing, that the hon. Gentleman should make absurd comments about my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. During discussions across the Floor of the House it was the Prime Minister who changed his mind and decided that the paedophile register would be introduced through a Government Bill. The truth is that, during the past 48 hours, Conservative Members of Parliament could not believe the crass stupidity and the poor politics of the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister in suggesting that the paedophile register should be introduced by way of a private Member's Bill. They were—to use the vernacular—gobsmacked. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Ealing, North, and many others, were on the telephone to their Whips, saying, "Look, you have to do something about this. This is absolutely absurd."
It is also a gross impertinence to Back Benchers, who have few rights in the House and few opportunities to pass legislation. Again, I look forward to the next Labour Government redressing that situation. We want more rights and opportunities for Back Benchers, not fewer. It was a gross impertinence for the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to suggest that such an important measure should be introduced by way of a private Member's Bill, which should, of course, be reserved for matters that are traditionally introduced by private Members.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North also went on to suggest that employment had been lost in his constituency because of the decisions of Ealing Labour-controlled council. If he were in his place, I would remind him that, when he was elected in 1979, having defeated a very good Member of Parliament, Bill Molloy, he did so, with many other Tory Members elected on that day, under the banner "Britain under Labour isn't working". We always remember that Saatchi and Saatchi poster. If it were replicated in the Chamber and brought to a scale comparable with the unemployment that has been orchestrated by Tory Government policies since 1979, it would go through the doors, down the Central Lobby, along St. Stephen's Hall and would have to curl around Westminster Hall, and there would not be enough space to demonstrate the scale of unemployment and the accompanying human misery that have been the consequence of Tory Government policies.
In 1979, Britain was working. People had jobs, job security and prospects of careers, and there was hope, particularly for young people. That is not a feature of employment today, nor has it been for many years under the stewardship of Margaret Thatcher and the current Prime Minister.
We were treated to the spectre of the hon. Member for Ealing, North shooing away people with winklepickers in the 1950s. Things have moved on. This man represents the people of Ealing, North and he is referring to his experiences of the 1950s and pretending that there is some comparison with the social problems of today. Things have demonstrably moved on and there is a much graver situation in our towns and cities. No hon. Member. whether he is left or right, has a magic wand to remedy the situation.
Since 1979, a selfish society has been created. There has been greater emphasis, I think throughout the Thatcher years, on avarice, on getting rich quick and on not having regard for our responsibilities to our neighbours. That has certainly contributed to the growth in violence and in crime which the Government and the Home Secretary seem unable to abate.
The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) made some interesting comments. I hope that his hon. Friends and my colleagues will look at Hansard tomorrow. He referred to the document that was recently issued by the Roman Catholic archbishops and generously acknowledged that the social teachings of the Roman Catholic Church had been very much a feature of, an influence on, what he referred to as centre-right policies in political parties in western Europe for a long time. I am not sure that it is limited purely to centre-right parties, but the hon. Gentleman is broadly correct.
I think that the big benchmark was the papal encyclical of Leo XIII, "Rerum Novarum", which has been reiterated time and again by the popes, about the need to have regard for people in the workplace and their rights as individuals. The dignity of work has been a constant theme and was reiterated this week by the Roman Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales in its document, which is certainly not pointing to or supporting any political party but is flagging up to hon. Members and to the electorate the fact that we have obligations one to another. One of the areas on which the hierarchy especially concentrated was that of the workplace.
Those who read the speech by the hon. Member for Taunton will see that there could be circumstances in which he would support legislation to prevent the exploitation of workers in terms of poverty pay. Those are not his words, but he suggested that he recognised that some employers pay such paltry wages that they cannot be deemed to be fair. That is an interesting comment from a Conservative Member and it shows that some people recognise that, under the Government's stewardship, some people are on poverty pay.
That reminds me of some audio archive material on the Labour movement that I listened to last night. I heard George Lansbury say that the poor get robbed because they are poor and that they are poor because they are robbed. That is a feature of the lives of many people in Britain. They are suffering the blight of unemployment, poor housing and poor health facilities, and resources for their children's education have been largely withheld or misdirected by the Government.
Any Government in Britain must deal at some stage with the need for bold decision making. They must be candid with the people of Britain. They need to make the conscious decision to shift scarce resources into the key public services of housing, education and the national health service. There is no way of avoiding that and it needs to be said clearly, unless we are to deceive the electors and pretend that we can reduce taxation and, at the same time, provide essential public services. It is simply a matter of arithmetic. It is time that politicians of the left, right and centre were much more candid and put the choice to the British people.
Reference has been made to the shift in the Labour party. All I can say—I think that this view is held by many Labour Members—is that it does not matter whether we are called socialists, social democrats, new Labour, real Labour, as I choose to call myself, or any other title. The common denominator of my hon. Friends is that we believe that people with the broadest backs should bear the heaviest burdens. That is the clear, distinctive feature between ourselves and Conservative Members, who believe that it is possible and fair to diminish the responsibilities of people who are already privileged and advantaged, in terms of income, educational opportunity and employment, to the disadvantage of people who are substantially poor.
I notice that the Gracious Speech refers to the need for legislation or action by Government
to help people make better provision for their long term care needs in old age.
That is of course true. Clearly, there is a need for Government initiatives to recognise the fact that, largely because of the success of the NHS and the welfare state, which were created nearly half a century ago by a Labour Government, people are living longer and their aspirations
in retirement, in old age and late into the evening of life are much higher. We must ensure, however, that the quality of life and dignity of those people—hon. Members, too, will be old one day—are guaranteed.
We can have private initiatives to make such provision, but we must also recognise our obligations as a community to provide state help for people in retirement and in old age. The concept is as old as the scriptures. It is a matter of "Honour thy father and thy mother". All too often, the Government forget that obligation.
I represent a constituency with some 14 or 15 miles of Thames river frontage. I am proud for it to be on the Thames estuary. It is a great place for recreation, quite apart from its being the last remaining part of what used to be the port of London. I obviously welcome the announcement in the Queen's Speech that there will be measures to implement the Donaldson report recommendations following the Braer disaster. We need to ensure that people in the shipping industry who pollute our estuaries and our coastlines pay a heavy price. I hope that it is a heavy price. There must be severe sanctions against shipmasters and people who own and commission ships if they pollute our waterways.
I have especially strong feelings on this matter, representing as I do an area on the Thames estuary, which has a fragile eco-system. It is rich in birdlife. If we in the vicinity of the Thames suffered a disaster such as those unhappily experienced by colleagues from other constituencies around the United Kingdom's coast, it could be disastrous for the beauty, quality and variety of birdlife and of other species in and around the Thames. I welcome that proposed measure and await with interest details of the sanctions and punishments that will be meted out to people who continue to disregard the need to protect and maintain our coastal environment.
The Queen's Speech makes significant references to the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Last night, President Clinton made an important speech about the prospects of expanding NATO. I have told the House previously of my view that the Government should energetically take initiatives to facilitate the early admission to NATO of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic as the first tranche of new countries to join the organisation. I am pleased again to make such a reference on the occasion of the visit by the President of the Republic of Poland to the UK, to meet the Prime Minister, various Ministers and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. Government and Opposition Members in Poland, for all their domestic political differences, are united in their desire to gain admission to the European Union. That process will not be easy, but it must begin, and I hope that it will be completed in the minimum time.
We are also marking the 40th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising. Anyone who has seen the documentaries broadcast over the past few days cannot help but be moved by the enormous courage and sacrifice of the people who stood for freedom and national self-determination 40 years ago. Although the enlargement of the European Union and the admission of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and other countries to NATO is in the interests of the UK, it is also a moral issue.
If all the problems experienced since 1945, such as the cold war, had any meaning it was that we were seeking the day when all the countries of Europe would achieve parliamentary democracy, as they have; change to market economies, which they are; and take their rightful place in the free associations of nations. It is extremely important that the sentiments expressed in the Queen's Speech are vigorously pursued by the present Government and adopted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) when he becomes Prime Minister.
The Gracious Speech refers to the fact that, in 1998, the UK will host the Asia-Europe summit in London. It will fall to my right hon. and hon. Friends to preside over that occasion, and I look forward to a Labour Government having the presidency of that summit. In the preliminary stages, I hope that the present Administration will pay regard to countries that are not yet in the European Union but have a legitimate and vested interest in the deliberations and decisions of the Asia-Europe summit. At a similar summit held some months ago, those countries were excluded. If Europe is to mean anything, we must acknowledge the interests of emerging markets and democracies in central and eastern Europe, which ought to have the opportunity to access such an important summit.
Parliament is on the last lap before a general election, and there is clearly a mood in the country for change. Millions of people have as adults known nothing other than Conservative Governments. No matter how the Prime Minister and Conservative Members wriggle, or how much propaganda featuring satanic eyes they produce, nothing will alter the course of events. The people recognise that the hallmark of this Government is arrogance. This Administration have—rightly or wrongly—a reputation for sleaze. They have been maladroit in many areas of policy and now the chickens are coming home to roost.
I hope that, in the weeks remaining between now and a general election—and the election of a Labour Governmen—the Government will show contrition and that they will recognise that there is little to show for their 17 or 18 years in office. Many people have got rich, some have been comfortable, but the hallmark is a disfigured and divided society in which many people have been victims. There are people who have no job security or no job; some cannot sell their homes. When Tory Members talk about the success of the economy, I point to the fact that many of their supporters—or former supporters—cannot sell their homes. I look forward to the time when we have a vibrant economy and renewed confidence; when people have security at work; and when trade unions are fashionable once again and people are allowed to join them.
The other evening, I saw on television a Tory Member of Parliament commenting on the document produced by the Roman Catholic bishops. In respect of their reference to the right to join trade unions, he said that the Conservative Government recognise that right. That is not true—there are people who desperately want the protection that a trade union provides, but they know that, were they to join one, they would get the sack. There is no beating about the bush: today, trade union membership can result in people losing their jobs or prevent them from getting a job. That is one of the outrages committed by their Government—they have prevented people from having basic protection in the workplace.
I look forward to the day when I can go into the Aye Lobby in support of legislation produced by my hon. Friends that reinstates, with pride, the great opportunities for employees that arise from the security and counsel provided by trade union membership.
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), because I know that he will be interested in what I say. Convention demands that hon. Members stay for the following speech and I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his Workplace Injury Victims Bill which he introduced in 1995.
I want to speak in respect of a single issue—one that was not referred to in the Gracious Speech. During his speech, the Prime Minister made a commitment to amend the compensation recovery unit—a long overdue measure.
Part of my constituency—the borough of Clydebank in Scotland—has the worst record on asbestos-related disease in Great Britain. To put it in context, the national average for mesothelioma is about 20 per million deaths, whereas in Clydebank the rate is 212 per million deaths.
The shipbuilding, ship repairing and asbestos factory areas of Great Britain have suffered greatly. The top nine areas for deaths of men from mesothelioma are Clydebank, Barrow and Furness, Plymouth, north Tyneside, Portsmouth, south Tyneside, Southampton, Barking, Dagenham and Gillingham—all shipbuilding areas, all carrying into the future the burden of deaths resulting from asbestos-related diseases. The Health and Safety Executive says that by 2025 there will be 10,000 deaths a year from asbestos-related diseases.
Hon. Members should try to imagine what it is like to find out that one has an appalling terminal disease and then to have to prove that it is asbestosis. One then has to prove where it started to develop, perhaps 20, 30 or 40 years ago, find workmates to prove where one worked, obtain employers' records, get a good lawyer, win an award, which is often delayed at every stage, and then enforce a settlement. After all that, one sometimes has to pay back tens of thousands of pounds to the Government for any benefits that have been received. The Government even go into the money awarded for pain and suffering, which is money to which they have no entitlement. At the end of that hazardous journey, one may be left with only £2,500. The Government have said today that they accept that that is a repulsive way of acting.
I became involved in this matter through my constituency interest. I want to pay tribute to Clydeside Action on Asbestos and, particularly, to Mr. Iain McKechnie. Sadly, some of the people I want to congratulate are no longer with us because of the nature of their disease. I want to thank Mr. Frank McGuire, a solicitor in the Glasgow area, who campaigned because he thought that the law was repugnant.
We lobbied the House and persuaded my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Social Security, to take up the issue. Clydeside Action on Asbestos gave evidence, and that all-party Committee produced a superb unanimous report. I should like to thank the hundreds of hon. Members who signed two early-day motions to keep this issue going.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead does not use wild language, but the report said that the existing situation was pernicious, repugnant and an offence against natural justice. It was indefensible. It also said that it was deterring compensation claims. Why should someone attempt to obtain compensation while knowing that any benefits would have to be repaid, leaving only £2,500? Even the Government were losing out because people were not pursuing claims.
Even more important than the unanimous report, the Select Committee produced a solution. The solution is clear: make the polluter pay. The firm or the responsible insurance company, rather than the sick person, should pay back the benefits. That has considerable advantages. First, if the insurance companies have to pay back the money, they will settle up quickly. The person who was dying was not getting a settlement because all the advantages were with the insurance company. It has also been decided that the money for pain and suffering should be ring-fenced so that it is not possible under the law for the Government to march in and claim that money.
I congratulate the Government on seeing the sense of that and realising—this will influence them—that they will not lose money by changing their approach. In fact, in their statement, the Government say that they think they will receive an extra £40 million a year back from the asbestos companies and their insurance companies.
I praise the Scottish media—journalists with Scottish Television and the Sunday Mail, and others who highlighted the issue—the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, which campaigned to alter the work of the compensation recovery unit, the Trades Union Congress and the Scottish Trades Union Congress.
Many people other than asbestosis sufferers will benefit from the change. Last year, £70,000 was paid back by someone suffering from head and facial injuries; £67,000 by someone suffering from back and spinal injuries; and £66,000 by someone with multiple injuries. All the top 10 highest clawbacks were more than £57,000. The Bill is significant, because last year 30,000 people paid back money to the compensation recovery unit. They will benefit from the Bill if the details are right, and thousands of others, who do not yet know that they will contract a culpable sickness or disease, will be under a better regime because of the change in the law.
We must be cautious because we have yet to see the details of the Government's proposals. It was suggested in the Social Security Select Committee that asbestos-related diseases should be excluded from the compensation recovery scheme altogether because of their special nature. A similar disease, pneumoconiosis, is excluded because the mining unions managed years ago to negotiate a special deal.
We want to know what the Government intend to do about retrospection and about what are known as analogous benefits. For example, will the Government attempt to claw back money that has been provided for home helps or other assistance for people coping with disease?
There will be much support for the proposals on Second Reading and in Committee, if the detail is right. I hope, however, that the House will take great care with the legislation. The compensation recovery unit was introduced only in 1990. It has self-destructed within six years because the Government are clawing back a far higher sum than they anticipated—about £150 million a year.
I welcome the fact that the Government have moved under pressure and have accepted the Select Committee report. I welcome the change that has been made, but I hope that those who serve on the Standing Committee will be extremely careful and make sure that there are no unintended consequences.
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Miligairie (Mrs. Worthington) and to have listened to his detailed speech on compensation. He has been working very hard and, we hope, to some effect. We shall see what the Government can do in the latter days of their term of office.
It is not a matter only of pneumoconiosis caused by asbestos: there is a case in my constituency of someone who received what seemed like a substantial sum for a car crash. He was a lorry driver, but he is no longer able to work and has lost any potential to earn for the rest of his life. The sum seemed large, but it has to last him the rest of his life, and £47,000 of it has been clawed back. He is left with about the same sum to compensate him for the loss of his quite substantial earning power, so there is something deeply wrong with the system.
There is another case in my constituency—similar cases have probably occurred in other constituencies—concerning people working in the darkrooms of hospital X-ray departments who had apparently been exposed to toxic fumes for some time. They are now developing severe symptoms similar to arthritis which prevent them from working.
In every case that I have come across, the hospital has insisted that to get compensation the claimant has to sign an agreement not to take the matter further. The hospital claims to be paying them for the injury caused by inhaling the fumes, but when the compensation recovery unit investigates the matter, it says that the money is to compensate for loss of earnings. If the claimant is being paid income support for loss of earnings, everything is taken back and he or she is left with about £2,000, as my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) said. It is scandalous that the hospital gets away scot-free with an out-of-court settlement and the compensation recovery unit takes most of the money back from the injured person.
Hon. Members may note that I am wearing an Earl Haig poppy. One of my English colleagues asked me if the Scots had brought the day forward, but I am wearing an early poppy because today we launched a campaign to increase the poppy fund in Scotland. A young lady from Scotland who will be featured in all the adverts was at Dover house for the launch. My poppy is botanically correct, because there is no green leaf on a poppy, as featured on the English and Welsh version. Having paid for my poppy, I assure hon. Members that I shall wear it until everyone else is wearing them.
I also noticed that the money box for the poppies at the Scottish Office was chained to the desk. I do not know whether that is a comment on 17 years of Conservative rule, but I assure everyone that, when Labour comes to power, the poppy box will be freed and we shall not have to worry about people stealing the money from the Scottish Office.
I noted some Conservative Members saying earlier that they were in favour of a single currency. I should like to add one thought on that. Much is said about how well the burgeoning finance sector in Scotland is doing—indeed, a new financial centre is being built in Edinburgh. If the centre of gravity of the single European currency moved to Frankfurt, what chance would there be of organisations and financial institutions remaining solely in Scotland? That is unlikely. Organisations in Edinburgh, like those in London, are likely to move at least a branch office to Frankfurt. It is unlikely that major finance houses dealing in the euro will sit outside the currency area, trading in London or Edinburgh. Wherever the headquarters are, we shall be seriously damaged if we do not take action to ensure that we are at the centre.
After 17 years—and particularly the past few years since black Wednesday—the Government are seen to be seriously divided on Europe. They tried to paper over the cracks at the party conference, but they know that they are seriously divided, which is why they cannot lead with confidence on Europe.
I am told that the Chancellor is a jazz fan. I think that he must be a big band fan rather than a modern jazz fan like me, because he holds a steady beat but shows no development in the melody that he is playing. It is all about control and safety on interest rates and inflation. Inflation was negative during the great depression of the 1930s. The problem is that nothing is being done to strengthen the real economy of Britain or Scotland.
The growth that everyone talks about—as if the public can be conned on the issue—is from such a low base that we are only beginning to catch up with our European neighbours. They have much stronger fundamental economies because they did not suffer the great ravages brought about by the previous Prime Minister and the ineptitude of the present Prime Minister, who assured us that we were in the European monetary system at the right rate for the pound, until we crashed out at such great cost.
People talk of unemployment coming down, but we all know that the figures are increasingly falsified. During Scottish Question Time last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) referred to the New Cumnock survey. The Labour party surveyed every house in the village of New Cumnock, which had a declared unemployment level of 290. The survey found 1,200 unemployed people in New Cumnock. Only 290 were receiving benefits, so they were the only ones appearing in the Government statistics, but the real number is 1,200. That is about the right proportion. There is probably about three times as much unemployment as is registered by the Government.
A gentleman came to see me at my recent surgery. He is clearly unemployed. He is seeking employment. He is outwith the period when he can receive unemployment benefit. He cannot find work. He receives no income support because his wife works 16 hours a week. So he is not classified as unemployed. His son returned from Germany after serving in the Army there. He stayed on in Germany and worked there, but was then made unemployed. He received unemployment benefit in Germany. He returned to his home town of Falkirk to be told that he would have to live there for two years before he could claim unemployment benefit in his own country. He even had to put up with the indignity of having to produce his passport to prove that he was British.
The Government propose nothing on prices and nothing to protect the consumer from the behaviour of what I can only describe as cartels. We know that there is no protection for consumers in regulation of the utilities based on RPI-minus. People face increasing bills every day. I shall give two examples. One is petrol prices in central Scotland. I represent Grangemouth, where most of the oil comes ashore and is refined into petrol. I opened a huge extension of the depot where about nine or 10 different companies drive in to take petrol which they have bought on the spot market or from the oil refiners.
In my area a litre of petrol costs 58.9p—the same price as on the motorways of Britain. That is in Grangemouth, where the petrol is refined. I can drive into Lanarkshire—Motherwell, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid)—and buy petrol at 55.9p a litre. The reason is that an independent has come in on the spot market and brought the price down at the pump. Q8, which is the only independent garage in my area, sticks with the cartel and goes for the higher price. Nothing is being done to prevent that practice. It is a massive rip-off of the public and the Government should do something to deal with it.
The second example is standing charges, which are a blight particularly on the incomes of the elderly, especially people who use only a small amount of energy from the public utilities. I have here a gas bill to illustrate the problem. It is a bill for 300 cu. ft or 3 therms. The cost of the gas is £1.43. The standing charges of 10.39p per day for 249 days amount to £25.87, plus VAT of £2.18. So for £1.43 of gas, the pensioner pays £29.48. Something must be done about that, and the Government are the people who should be doing something.
Back when I first spoke in the House, the Government promised to do something about subcontractors who faced massive losses when large contractors went into liquidation. In a serious example in Scotland, a building company with 10 subsidiaries went into liquidation and reappeared and resumed trading within a month. Every subcontractor who put anything into the buildings that the contractor was constructing lost every penny. One company in my area lost more than £200,000.
The Government promised to do something about that problem. One Conservative Member raised the matter in a ten-minute Bill, but the Government never introduced legislation on it. So the same situation prevails. Whenever a contractor goes down, the subcontractor goes down entirely, even though the contractor can come back up with a new name and often with the same directors within a couple of months. The subcontractor has no claim against the new company. In Canada, an Act called the Lien Act allows people to take a lien against the building for which they subcontract. If the contractor goes down, the building is sold and the subcontractors recover a large amount of their money.
The Government also promised to do something about interest on bad debts, but there was nothing in the Queen's Speech about that. Every day, small companies seeking payment are put off. Often, they are driven to the wall while the large company which incurred the debt uses people to put them off until they can no longer claim their money. Nothing has been done by the Government about that.
We are told that inward investment is doing well. We heard a speech today that seemed to have been written by the Secretary of State for Scotland about inward investment by Chunghwa in Motherwell and inward investment in Fife. However, the reality is that inward investment in projects by companies from the tiger economies and Japan is falling. Every month, a higher percentage of that investment is an investment in the equity shares of companies in Britain—buying up British companies, not putting fresh investment into Britain as in the Chunghwa or Hyundai examples.
What is happening on the export side? Recently, I was present at the opening of a new export centre in Grangemouth. I applaud anything that any organisation—even the present Government—does to generate economic activity, and I was there in a supportive role in my constituency, pleased to see the export centre come to my area to take the initiative selling British and Scottish goods abroad.
I talked to people that day at the opening. They said that their warehouses and storerooms were filling up and they were not selling goods abroad. The obvious reason is that, in the early 1990s, and even 1994, we were told, "Europe will turn up in 1995. Focus on Europe." That was wrong, and we now have a mini-recession in Scotland. Exports are not doing as well as they should be, and they should not be talked up in the way they are.
Representing, as I do, a port like Grangemouth, I am told by people who work in the docks what they bring back and forward. At the moment, shiploads of personal computers are coming back from the continent unsold. They are taken to Bathgate, where they are broken up, cannibalised and scrapped. Last year's supposed export boom is coming back as unsold goods and being scrapped in Bathgate. There is something very wrong with a Government who do nothing about that.
The last economic comparison I want to make is between what I would call the fat cats in utilities and poverty in Scotland. Last Friday, on United Nations day, a conference on action on poverty took place in Scotland. At the same time, we read in the press about the latest problems facing people in industry. Earlier, we discussed the finance sector, in which everyone has a great deal of investment and faith. The reality is that 150,000 jobs have been axed from banks, insurance companies and building societies since 1989. There is a massive flood of jobs out of the industry. It is expected that a further 100,000 jobs will be culled—a good word—from the industry in the next few years.
Meanwhile, fat cats in the utilities have continued to award themselves massive pay increases. The value of the salary package of Keith Henry, chairman of National Power, has increased by 74 per cent. to £782,555. He was appointed on a basic salary of £325,000 in February 1995, and suddenly he is getting that vast increase. The basic pay of Brian Staples, chief executive of United Utilities, has increased by 58 per cent. to £409,900.
How are people in Scotland supposed to view the actions of Conservative Governments in the past 17 years when they produce such salaries at one end of the economy while at the other end a study shows that inadequate benefits in Scotland mean that income support is now £34 short of the amount required for a low-cost budget for a couple with two children under 11.
The study found that unemployment is now much more prevalent in many parts of Scotland than it was 17 years ago. It found that the taxation changes made by the Government have favoured the rich to the point where, between 1979 and 1993, the average United Kingdom per capita income increased by 38 per cent. but the poorest 10 per cent. of the population saw their income drop by 17 per cent. while that of the richest 10 per cent. increased by 82 per cent. What will people think of the Governments who presided over that change?
In Scotland, 20 per cent. of school-age children are eligible for free school meals. In the city of Glasgow, that figure has doubled; it is nearer 40 per cent. than 20 per cent. Those are the economic results of the Government's policies, and those problems should have been tackled in the Queen's Speech.
Just one of the United Nations commitments, if taken seriously by the Government, would have changed what was in that document:
We commit ourselves to promoting the goal of full employment as a basic priority of our economic and social policies and to enabling all men and women to attain secure and sustainable livelihoods through freely chosen productive employment and work.
That would not match anything in the Gracious Speech today because the Government have run out of ideas about what to do with the economy.
Another problem facing Scotland—probably more so and more unfairly than any other part of Britain—is bovine spongiform encephalopathy. Scotland has the best beef in Britain—the best in Europe, I believe—yet it has been pulled down by a problem that originated in the dairy industry. BSE is not just about a few jobs. People think that agriculture is something out there and that we are really an industrial nation. But Labour is interested in the problem because in Scotland alone there are 12,000 jobs on farms affected, 6,500 jobs in meat processing, 15,500 indirect jobs and a further 1,500 direct jobs, plus 1,500 jobs in transport. That is a large section of the Scottish population.
Today I met two members of the National Farmers Union for the Forth valley area which covers my area and that of the Secretary of State for Scotland. In "Stop Press" for today's lobby, the NFU said:
We have just met the Scottish Secretary at the Tory Party Conference in Bournemouth. Because of the Government's wavering we have absolutely insisted that the legislation necessary to begin the cull in Scotland should be introduced".
Where in the Queen's Speech is there any reference to required legislation? It requires legislation to bring in a compulsory cull of cattle. We cannot do it by regulation. The legislation must be dealt with on the Floor of the House. There is nothing about that in the Queen's Speech. All the talk about sticking by the Florence agreement is contradicted absolutely by the lack of any statement in the Queen's Speech.
It is now easy to identify the cohort herds, particularly the dairy herds in England and Wales where most of the BSE came from when beef breeders bought in heifers from the dairy herds. Those herds are still being milked today and that is why we have a problem—that is the reality. That was the message from the Scottish farmers today: because money is still being made from milking those cows in England and Wales, people there are not keen to see the cull go ahead. That is the reality.
I believe that the large cull is required. All the scientific analysis saying that we need only a small cull is not acceptable to the farming population and will not deal with the problem of BSE in the way that is needed. If England and Wales want to drag their heels—if they want to persuade Ministers that certain Liberal Democrats may take their seats from there if there is a large cull on the dairy farms of England—it is up to those on the Conservative Benches to argue the case for England and Wales. But in Scotland, the necessary large cull of 5,000 should begin as soon as possible and the legislation should be on the statute book as quickly as possible. Since 1991, traceability is adequate to allow that to be done.
The reality for Scottish farmers is that fat cattle were fetching 140p per kilo in 1995 and now they are fetching 100p per kilo. If your income dropped by that percentage, Madam Deputy Speaker, you would want to know why, and if the Government could do something about it, you would demand that they should. The compensation scheme and the cull must be introduced and the legislation must be brought into the House as soon as possible.
An accreditation scheme has been suggested, whereby there are non-BSE certified herds and BSE herds. They would have to go through some procedures to get the cohort cattle out and to get rid of the danger of cohort cattle reintroducing BSE. That means that we would have a two-tiered beef system in Scotland—not because of anything done by beef farmers in Scotland, but because of the imported BSE strains from England and Wales.
In Scotland, we already have a beef assurance scheme. I want to tell the House something about it, because I believe that, if any cattle fit this, it is safe to eat them now. I think that many of the herds in Scotland would fit the criteria. All herds must be established at least four years prior to application. They must be beef herds managed separately from all other herds so that there is no cross-contamination. They must not have been fed using feed containing meat and bone meal during the last seven years and there must be no confirmed cases of BSE originating from that herd. There are cattle in herds in Scotland like that now, but they cannot be sold abroad because the Government have not been able to persuade the European Community that they should be allowed in. One of the reasons is that we are now considered to be a problem in Europe and not a part of Europe. The Government are responsible for that, and it is one of the greatest problems we face.
I apologise to other hon. Members who may wish to speak, but I intend to continue as I have sat here since 2.30 this afternoon and others have not.
In Scotland, we also face the problem of the cost of the reorganisation of local government. The Government told us that it would be only £76 million. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has now brought out a paper analysing the cost and showing it to be £281 million. If one tries to run a local authority when the Government say that the shortfall will be £76 million and that is all that they will allow—in fact, they do not even allow all of that—and then the real cost is £281 million, an extra £200 million, it can mean only one thing: cuts in services. It means a loss of service to the people in local authority areas.
It will also lead to much disillusion for the people who want the services. The Government said that redundancy costs would be £43 million, but they stand at £68 million. The Government said that the miscellaneous costs of the wind-up, including redundancy and information technology, would be £43 million in total, but the figure stands at £105 million. The Government said that the cost of capital under-provision would be £17 million and the cost is, in fact, £73 million. Those figures add up to a massive bill for local authorities which they cannot pay.
At the same time, the Government have voted themselves a majority on every council in Scotland. It is their only chance to get a majority anywhere in Scotland. The Government do not control a single council, but the Secretary of State sets the capping limit for the first time on the level of rates that can be raised. That means that the service which is most affected—because it is the most capital-intensive—is education.
Education in Scotland is precious. The leader of the Labour party said that our vision must be education, education, education. I can tell him—I am sure he knows—and the hon. Members here tonight that education has been the main vision of Scotland for decades, in fact for more than 100 years. Some 100 years ago, we had a tradition in Scotland of leaving the pits for education and then for university. It is the one way to get out of a depressed economic situation—to escape through education.
What do the Conservatives offer us? They offer us more selection—a new weeding-out process. Soon 20 per cent. of pupils will be selected. That will mean that 20 per cent. of local pupils will not get into a school. If a school is good enough to be selective, it is good enough for local pupils. The issue is weeding out versus including in, and we are for including in. The Secretary of State for Scotland added a clause to the Education (Scotland) Act 1996 to preserve and conserve places for pupils in his area to go to Balfron high school, because too many people from Glasgow tried to get places there. He wants to preserve the comprehensive ideal in his constituency, but he does not want the same ideal for the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Labour party is clear about its pledges. People keep saying that the Labour party does not have policies, but we have many policies on which I am proud to stand. In "New Labour, New Life for Scotland", it is stated clearly:
The comprehensive system has served Scotland well.
It adds that Labour
will cut class sizes in the first three years in primary school.
That has been done in the USA and has been successful in improving literacy rates and stopping pupils dropping out of the literacy cycle. The Labour party
will also encourage the development of a range of different approaches including setting in Scottish schools".
The document also makes the point that teacher training will
ensure that best practice is available to all teachers to maximise their skill in mixed ability teaching.
It emphasises the fact that comprehensive education plus flexibility in teaching approach gives the best start for anyone.
On skills and training, the Government have failed abysmally. They brought in a voucher scheme in Scotland called Skill-Seekers and they claim it is a great success. I have looked at the destinations of school leavers in Scotland in the past year as the leader of Labour's task force on skills and training. Of 16-year-old school leavers, 31 per cent. in Tayside and 29 per cent. in Strathclyde fall out of economic activity by October of the year they leave school. In Grampian, the figure for fifth-year leavers is 17 per cent., and that is repeated throughout Scotland.
Almost 30 per cent. of the population have been failed, which means that 57,000 people in the unemployment figures for Scotland are under the age of 26. That generation has been betrayed by the Government and, as the leader of the Labour party has said, that generation is being paid for by the taxes of everyone because the Government have failed to reduce the public sector borrowing requirement which pays for social security.
I was struck by an article in The Times Educational Supplement which spotlighted drop-out rates in higher education. The Government make the great boast that there are more people in higher education than ever before, but the reality is that people are on courses that are inadequate. The colleges' aim is to fill places because, as the article makes clear, in some colleges lecturers do not get pay rises unless they can fill the seats in their classes. Anyone who delivers a message to a college in Scotland, or England and Wales, is liable to be signed up for a course because that is worth £4,000 to the college. The problem is that people are dropping out so much that colleges have to focus on the drop-out rate, not on taking people on.
The article, which is from The Times Educational Supplement of 27 September, also states:
Thatcher's children are the most self-centred and ungracious generation ever, according to many managers and principals involved in recruiting them for the new colleges.
They apply to dozens of colleges, take one and never let the others know that they are not coming. It says that the principals'
views were corroborated by the information manager of one of the fastest-growing colleges in the Midlands.
The manager stated:
The intake this year were born the year after Margaret Thatcher came to office and quite frankly, they are they rudest that I have ever come across.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) tried to explain how things stand with reference to the Bible. Perhaps there might be references to other philosophies. Marx said that the superstructure of a society is a reflection of the substructure. If someone is unemployed, living in poverty and feeling that there is nothing in the education system for him, he will rebel and cause trouble. We must deal with that. We must educate people properly and give them a job. By adopting that approach we shall be doing something—