My Lords, addressing the question of benefits and economic affairs is always very important, but now that we are faced with a global economic downturn, it has become crucial for the stability of the British economy. Everyone has been affected by the credit crunch in one way or another, as acknowledged by David Cameron when he wrote to Conservative Party donors recently. But some are more affected than others: those who lose their jobs and cannot pay their mortgages are among the most adversely affected. It is therefore the responsibility of the Government to do all in their power to safeguard the most vulnerable in our society, yet there are those who still argue that everything would be all right if the Government did nothing and allowed the markets to determine the outcome. I emphatically reject that view, but I observe that those who express it usually consider themselves financially fireproof. I take the view that a Government elected by the people have a clear and unequivocal responsibility to act. They must do all they can to protect the nation's people from the worst effects of the global economic downturn, people who are in no way responsible for the critical economic situation.
It is all very well for the rich not to want the Government to intervene because they lose only money, but I am far more concerned about the hundreds of thousands who will lose their jobs, those who are unable to pay their mortgages and will lose their homes, and those who will experience considerable hardship. These are the people whose plight we should all be addressing. We have been here before, not perhaps with the international economic circumstances being quite so severe, but we have been here before. What did it mean? It meant mass unemployment and widespread poverty. This Government, my Government, are doing all in their power to protect our people and stave off the evils of mass unemployment and widespread poverty, and they deserve the fullest of support. The work being carried out by this Government to tackle the effects of our difficult economic circumstances is as much moral as it is political and deserves support from all quarters. It is not necessary for me to catalogue the measures being taken by the Government to deal with the economic crisis, we all know them, and they have already been highlighted in the debate.
Earlier I said that we have been here before. In the 1920s and 1930s, south Wales, like many other parts of Britain, experienced mass unemployment and widespread poverty. It was a time when wages were cut and pits were closed. It was a time when my grandfather, a former miner, could not find work for more than a decade, and only secured work in 1939 at the outbreak of the Second World War. It was a time when my mother, her sister and my mother-in-law, all teenagers, along with thousands of others, came to London to work in service for the gentry in order to send money home. The rich gentry who these girls worked for were well cushioned from the deepening recession at the time, as no doubt they will be now.
Last week I received a Christmas card from my noble friend Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract. Apart from containing the biblical verse of Christ removing the moneylenders from the temple, my noble friend stated in his own words, "People are more important than wealth". Those words not only rang true, but reminded me that the concept is the foundation on which the Labour Party was formed in 1906. The Labour Party, the democratic socialist party that is in government now, having won three consecutive general elections in the past 11 and a half years, is a Government who have enabled considerable wealth to be provided over the past 10 years for the benefit of all our people. The Labour Government, led by Gordon Brown, are recognised by the people of this nation as a Government doing their level best to safeguard their interests in this time of difficulty.
Of course, we do not know the extent to which the measures taken will succeed. We will have to wait a while for that. But we do know that the Government are acting in a very positive way whereas it clearly appears that the Opposition want to do nothing or do not have a clue what to do. At the very least, today we are not experiencing 17 per cent interest rates as was the case with their last Administration.
We are all aware of our Prime Minister roaming the world to persuade leaders of other countries to act together to tackle the unique global economic crisis, and I believe that he is succeeding. I have known Gordon Brown for more than 20 years. He is serious, sincere and passionate; he is far from shallow and came into politics through conviction, not ambition. He does not have the characteristics of a spin doctor, he is not a one-liner politician and he is not a superficial political point-scoring person. If anyone can get us out of this worldwide economic crisis it will not be the banks, it will not be the building societies and it will not be the insurance companies—it will be Gordon Brown and the Labour Government.
Her Majesty's gracious Speech last week contained four direct references to people. If you add families, victims, men, women, patients, staff, children and parents, the references amount to 14—but there were no references to wealth, clearly reflecting that the Government are acting in accordance with the concept that people are more important than wealth.
Finally, last week I, like many others, saw the Conservative leader on television commenting on the Baby P case. He said that he did not believe that Sharon Shoesmith, suspended for failing in her duty to protect Baby P, should receive her £100,000 a year salary. I agree with him—but I also believe that the chief executives who, through negligence, caused businesses to collapse should not have walked away with exorbitant golden handshakes. They were the cause of large numbers of workers losing their jobs and, in some cases, their pensions. Unless I have missed something, I do not recall David Cameron and the like expressing the same view then as they do now. Is not the height of hypocrisy being displayed by the Opposition, particularly in the time of our great difficulty?