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Column 670able to spend much more money on books and teaching aids and provides much better school lunches than when it was part of the local authority system.
If we look at our education system, we find that those schools that have become grant maintained are popular and successful. The grant-maintained experiment will do a great service for education. I hope that we shall never believe that higher expenditure on education automatically leads to better results. Those of us who represent London constituencies remember the record of the unlamented Inner London Education Authority, which regularly spent much more money than the London borough of Barnet and regularly had some of the worst results in the country.
We should congratulate the Government not only on changing the school system but on their policies in respect of further and higher education. Recently in my constituency we have seen many new signs relating to the new university of Middlesex, which is of the highest calibre. More students from other EC countries go there than to any other university in the United Kingdom. Far more go there than to the universities of Cambridge and Oxford.
I welcome the fact that the Gracious Speech states that the Government are committed to pursuing
"vigorously their programme of privatisation".
I welcome particularly the privatisation of British Coal. Some hon. Members --we have heard them in this debate--say that privatisation is flogging off the family silver. If that is the case with British Coal, it is pretty tarnished family silver. I know of your interest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the industry, but I must point out that British Coal has put a massive burden on the taxpayer, costing many billions of pounds that could have been spent more productively. It has been a burden not only on the taxpayer but on the consumer, because the electricity industry has been encouraged to buy its coal from British Coal rather than on the world market. Who has paid for that? Those who have paid for higher electricity prices have been the pensioners, the consumers of coal and the energy-intensive industries. The denationalisation of British Coal will lead to a good deal for the consumer and those who work in energy-intensive industries. They can look forward to an improvement in their job opportunities as a result of its denationalisation. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that British Coal was a monopoly. Is he not aware that it will face competition from imports, the gas industry and oil? Some hon. Members doubt the wisdom of privatisation. There may even be one or two Opposition Members who have still not learned the facts of economic life. When we look at the record of the privatised industries, the first thing we notice is that there has been a huge increase in the productivity of the employees.
Mr. Marshall : The hon. Gentleman should be better informed. He knows that prices charged by the privatised industries have risen by much less than the rate of inflation. As a Labour Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Gentleman should know that the Office of Gas Supply has been more effective in controlling British Gas than any Cabinet Minister. The hon. Gentleman should realise that the Office of Telecommunications has succeeded in keeping the prices charged by British Telecom lower than they would have been if the industry had stayed in the state
Column 671sector. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) should know that the Office of Electricity Regulation would be more successful in controlling electricity prices than any Cabinet Minister. The regulator of the water industry will be equally successful in controlling water prices. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy should also know that one of the characteristics of privatised industries has been a massive increase in investment in those industries because they are tapping the private market rather than the taxpayer. Do hon. Members think that Cable and Wireless, if it had stayed in the public sector, would have been encouraged to compete with British Telecom? Would it have been given taxpayers' money to invest in a competitive telephone system? Of course not. Would British Telecom be spending what it is spending today on new investment if it was still in the public sector? Of course it would not. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy should know that the reason for the massive increase in investment by the privatised industries is that they are now in the private sector, no longer subject to the constraints of the Treasury and the public sector.
I welcome the paragraph in the Gracious Speech which reads : "My Government will encourage Community agreements with central and eastern Europe".
I have had the privilege of visiting Romania, Czechoslovakia and Poland. In all those countries one is struck by the fact that, under communism, industry was vastly overmanned--a characteristic of which the Labour party probably approves--underinvested and overdependent on fellow countries of the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance for their markets. Industries were oversubsidised and there was environmental pollution.
The result of the overthrow of communism has led to huge price increases, massive reductions in output and large increases in unemployment. That economic instability will lead to political instability unless we in the west take action to help those countries. In Romania, many Securitate officials are still in post, and there has already been an outbreak of anti -Semitism.
I welcome the comments in the Gracious Speech that relate to the Maastricht settlement. I will not be allowed to speak next week as I am speaking this week, so I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will not object if I say one or two words about that agreement.
Mr. Marshall : I suspect that there will be plenty of volunteers to speak next week. No doubt there will be some from the Carlton club. Any community either has to develop and expand or it decays. There can be no such thing as a static European Community. I know that some hon. Members wish that we had never joined, but they should recognise the reality. We have been a member of the Community for more than 19 years, and the referendum in 1975 gave a massive endorsement of our membership of the Community. The principle of our membership has been long accepted. Even the Labour party has accepted it in the past five or six years.
There are some mean-minded and petty hon. Members and members of the general public who do not want Britain to make a success of its membership of the Community, but that is folly. Maastricht was a great success for this country as the exemption of Britain from the social chapter will be beneficial to inward investment and job creation. I do not understand how some hon. Members can say that they want to impose the social chapter on Britain when it will lead to the unemployment of their constituents. It might salve their social conscience, but I do not want to salve my social conscience at the expense of the unemployment of my constituents.
The Gracious Speech also stated :
"Other measures will be laid before you."
I hope that one such measure will relate to Sunday trading. The anomalies of the Sunday trading law are spoken of all too frequently. It is possible to go to a football match, a tennis match at Wimbledon or a cricket match, but it is illegal to rent out a sporting video on a Sunday. It is possible to sell the News of the World, but not a book. It is possible to sell gin legally, but not teabags. Such nonsense is defended by those who support the Sunday trading laws. A law that is frequently broken and rarely enforced is absolute nonsense. The law is frequently broken by supermarkets, corner shops and even, dare I say it, cathedral shops. It has brought the rule of law into disrepute.
Who opposes changes in the law? The first opponent is the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, one of the least representative trade unions in the country. One shop worker in 10 is a member of USDAW. Another group of opponents is the "Keep Sunday Special" brigade.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : It is possible to amend some of the anomalies to which my hon. Friend refers without ripping Sunday apart. It is possible to keep Sunday special and, at the same time, get rid of some of that nonsense.
Mr. Marshall : I quite agree that we can reform the law and not rip Sunday apart. I advise my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman) to go to Scotland. That country has maintained a special Sunday and deregulated Sunday trading. In Scotland, shops can open at any time. Many of them choose not to do so, and more people go to church in Scotland than do so in England. My hon. Friend is right : a similar policy could be adopted in England, where we could have a special Sunday and deregulated trading. More people go to supermarkets on a Sunday than to the Church of England--an important point that the Treasury should consider.
The Gracious Speech provides for the prosperity of our country, the foundation of the success of our country in the 1990s, and the success of the Government in the election in 1996. I commend it to the House.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : May I remind the House that Madam Speaker put a time limit on speeches made between 7 and 9 pm. I hope that it will not be necessary for me to intervene before hon. Members conclude their speeches.
Column 6737.8 pm
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) : I am grateful to be called in this, the first major debate of the new Parliament, and congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. I rise to speak with some trepidation, first, as I am aware that my speaking style may not transcribe well into the record of the House, and, secondly, as I am not likely to be oily enough to match the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) who seconded the motion on the Loyal Address last week. I am more known to my Scots colleagues for my spiky style. Having seen the old photograph shown by the Serjeant at Arms, I think it may take some time to live down that spiky reputation.
My most important concern as the new hon. Member for Falkirk, East is to follow in the footsteps of the well-liked and respected Harry Ewing. Harry was liked and loved by his former constituents, and respected in the House for his timely and telling interventions. He left me with an additional burden as, in a debate on Sunday trading during the last Session, he offered to do the Speaker's shopping in Scotland on Sundays. I wonder whether Madam Speaker will expect me to include her shopping in my weekend duties. It would be in keeping with the spirit of the age and would help her to prepare for her weekday duties, but I hope that I may resile the contract if I pledge to attempt to be as pleasant in nature and as telling in my interventions as my predecessor.
Harry Ewing was also known for his competence in Scottish ministerial posts and for his dedication to working people, in addition to his pleasant nature. I shall be honoured to try to do as well as he in all things. In his maiden speech as the Member for the then Stirling and Falkirk Burghs in October 1971, Harry Ewing expressed concern that Scotland would become a peripheral region of Europe. Given the Government's approach to the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty, it appears that Scotland is about to become a semi-detached peripheral region of Europe.
Before reorganisation, parts of Falkirk, East were in the constituencies of Clackmannan, East Stirlingshire and West Lothian. My hon. Friends the Members for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) are held in high regard by their former constituents, which is evidence of the excellent way in which they served them in the past.
The town of Grangemouth is at the centre of Falkirk, East and has been noted for some time as a petrochemical town, boasting substantial production facilities for BP Oil, BP Chemicals, ICI, General-Electric Plastics, and Rhom and Haas (Scotland). My constituents are pleased at the commitment to investment by those companies, notably the £600 million investment by BP Chemicals in an ethylene cracker plant, the process technology labs of ICI and the Rhom and Haas plant upgrade. However, all is not what it once was. Harry Ewing noted the vast expansion of Grangemouth in 1971, but in 1971, when speaking about new employment, he said that the position was rapidly changing. I say without criticism of local management in Grangemouth that, in 1991-92, more than 1,000 job losses were announced in the town. Some 300 jobs have gone at the BP refinery, 250 have gone at ICI and 200 more redundancies are being sought. In addition, there were major job losses in the timber yards, which were made much of in 1971 by my predecessor.
Column 674Let us look particularly at ICI. ICI was threatened by Hanson in a way that no other European country would allow. The Government's policies afford no protection to British companies from the smash-and-grab merchants, or should I call them grab-and-smash merchants, of international finance. ICI is now forced to break with its past policy of sharing its prosperity with all those who helped the company grow over decades. That has dire consequences for those who lose their jobs and for job prospects in my constituency. It has all been done for the sake of the share price, so that Hanson can sell them off and, hopefully, take "clear-off" money. I am told that the City has an unparliamentary phrase for that sort of thing, but I shall not use it.
Another departure at ICI that concerns the people of Falkirk, East is the closure of the anthraquinone production plant at Grangemouth. The chemical is the base green product for many dyes. There were concerns about the need to upgrade the plant to reduce airborne emissions, but the decision to build a production plant in India and ship the anthraquinone to the United Kingdom to raise it to the required European standard has left a sour taste in the mouths of local people. It also raises for the Government the question of what they will do to assist the reduction and acceptable disposal of chemical industry effluents. Will they guarantee for local government strong powers to enforce standards for all effluent disposal as a token of their commitment to the environment?
Grangemouth is also known as a port handling more than 40,000 containers per annum, plus dry cargo. The port is also known for the way it was privatised with undue haste just before the general election. The Government's credibility over that escapade is in tatters. I am informed that the Forth ports authority, a trust set up to look after a public asset, fixed up a deal with the Government that resulted in those same trustees getting a majority of the shares in the privatised Forth Ports company. The Government get a kick-back of a substantial percentage of any future asset sales to add to the original sale money.
Some matters continue to cause concern--for instance, that the dock land covered by the recently-granted simplified planning zone will not be developed for commerce but sold for housing and quick profit. There are also concerns at the connection between the pricing policy of the Forth Ports company, which appears to be driving dry cargo to other ports, and the disgusting but not surprising demand for redundancies of dockers, despite what I understand was a £9 million profit declared by Forth Ports on assets of £30 million.
The constituency also boasts the former mining villages of east Stirlingshire, which combine with the vastly expanded commuter village of Polmont and the community of Laurieston on the edge of Falkirk to form the area called the Braes. I detail the geography of this community of 20,000 plus to underline the Government's failure to provide the resources for even one secondary school. Children are forced to travel by weird and wonderful routes from all irts and pirts to the nearby town of Falkirk in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan).
Viewed together with the need for increased nursery and primary school capacity, that is a major deficiency in encouraging the building of a community identity and in assisting in a rebirth of pride and endeavour in those once proud communities, many of which have been shipwrecked by the tides of economic change. I urge the
Column 675Government not to continue with the discouraging line set by the previous Minister with responsibility for Scottish education but to release the necessary resources to Central regional council and guarantee that they will not centralise the control of education at the Scottish Office.
I link the most easterly and the most northerly communities in the constituency in a plea for the needs of the health service. Borrowstouness, better known as Bo'ness, in the east is a former whaling port and is still an iron foundry town. Until the 1980s, it had a proud mining tradition. The pride of Bo'ness Kinneil's colliers lives on, but Bo'ness has become mainly a commuter town of 15,000 people. It has a heritage centre and the Scottish Steam Railway Preservation Society. But modern Bo'ness does not have a single NHS bed for the long-term care of elderly male patients. I stress the word patients. There are only 24 female beds in Bo'ness hospital. In the spring 1990 issue of the "Forth Valley Health Board News", the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), as part of a clear propaganda exercise, wrote :
"To underline our commitment to the elderly and disabled we will spend £5.6 million on 150 new beds at Lochgreen hospital" in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West "and Bo'ness hospital."
I have a letter from the health board secretary, saying that work would start in 1992-93 but nothing has happened. I have now been told by the health board secretary that work is in the programme for 1994-95.
I have a well-documented consequence of this lack of facilities. A constituent who is in her seventies must travel daily to Falkirk to the male ward of the Falkirk infirmary in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West. She undertakes an arduous bus journey of five miles and a long walk to visit her husband who suffered a stroke while undergoing an operation two years ago. If the health board and the former Scottish health Minister had kept their promise, that woman would be looking forward to her husband returning to his home town within a year. The health board has suggested that the family might try to get a place at a Bo'ness nursing home. I have it on the authority of local consultants that that solution is most favoured by the Conservative chairman of the local health board. The family checked with local nursing homes and found that they can have a place at £320 a week, of which £260 will be provided by social security and the gentleman's pensions. Therefore, the family must find £60 a week. The wife has said, "No. Why should I pay for care that I and my husband have already paid taxes for all our lives?" She says that the Government will never convince her that they are not privatising health care.
Why is Forth Valley health board not willing to pay for a nursing home place? The woman's husband is still a patient--a word which I stressed earlier--and it is the Government's failure and the Minister's broken promise that are causing the difficulty. I hope that the Government will confirm that they will not allow Forth Valley health board to withdraw from its commitment to provide additional beds at Bo'ness hospital. I urge the Government to consider arrangements to ensure that some of the care
Column 676and boarding costs are covered by the health board contributions when patients are transferred from hospitals to private nursing homes.
I should like to say much more to the Government--a Government who caused so much harm in the 1980s. They must be reminded that they shaved in at the election and that only 1,700 votes in 11 constituencies made the Conservatives the largest party. In view of that, I hope that the Government will moderate their ideology. In future speeches, I shall return unstintingly to the task of representing the needs and interests of all the people of Falkirk, East throughout this Parliament.
Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest) : I congratulate the hon. Members for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) and for Nottingham, South (Mr. Simpson) on their excellent maiden speeches. I also congratulate in advance the large number of hon. Members who will later make their maiden speeches. I am sure that they will all grace the House over the next four of five years.
Many of the issues raised in the debate were adequately aired in the general election debate. The decisive vote in favour of the Conservative party was due to three basic factors, but especially to our economic policies. The first was that the British people did not feel that a party that was still committed, through clause IV, to the ownership of the common means of production and exchange was the kind of party that could be adequately left in charge of a mixed enterprise economy. Secondly, a party that saw taxation primarily in terms of the redistribution of wealth was unlikely to improve incentives. Thirdly, a party that saw the rich as people earning more than £21,000 a year was unlikely to push forward a large increase in the prosperity of the individual.
As to financial rectitude, here was the Labour party with £38,000 million worth of policies and only £4,000 million worth of revenue to fund them. Its difficulty in convincing the country on its attitude to inflation was demonstrated by the following two quotes. The first is from the Leader of the Opposition in 1990, when he said to the Welsh Labour party conference :
"Inflation must be brought down by a combination of restrictions on credit, financial discipline and--yes--interest rates too." The second comes from the right hon and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who said in 1991, less than a year later :
"We will not be using interest rates for controlling demand." Two of the most senior members of the Labour party were unable to decide on the role that interest rates should play in the control of inflation.
More positively, the British people showed that, despite the world recession, which was generally recognised, the British economy had, over the 1980s, been transformed in terms of manufacturing productivity, growth, exports and the ability of management to manage. It is small wonder that the director general of the CBI welcomed the election result by saying that it was
"the best possible result for British business of all the possible outcomes of the general election."
In the short time since the election, that judgment by the British people has been vindicated. The stock market has risen by 10 per cent., and Dun and Bradstreet has shown that industrial confidence among business men has gone up from a positive 7 per cent. to a positive 25 per cent.
Column 677The CBI and the chambers of commerce tell the same tale about industrial confidence. Even the housing market is starting to show some signs of improvement. I am told that in my constituency, the transport of rolled steel has moved up significantly over the past month, and that is a harbinger of the potential general growth of the economy. The pound has strengthened considerably against the deutschmark and, to a certain extent, against the dollar, despite the reduction in interest rates. In my constituency, unemployment has started to fall slightly.
The Government's economic policy has brought about all these improvements. First of all, the political climate is much more favourable to investors than it is in France, Italy or Germany. Secondly, international investors are convinced that we shall ensure that the battle against inflation will be won, and it is significant that yesterday's announcement showed that the factory gate prices to April rose by only 3.8 per cent., which is the best figure for four years. The money supply growth, in both the narrow and broad range, is well within target. Thirdly, the Government have reinforced their commitment to the ERM within the present parities, and that is a significant reason why the credibility of the pound has been maintained.
It is interesting that, despite the fact that the relative differential of interest rates between the pound and the deutschmark has dropped from 5 to 0.5 per cent., the pound has strengthened against the deutschmark. Domestic investors are convinced that the Government will continue their low- taxation, high-incentive policies, which have given the country the lowest corporate tax rate in Europe.
The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) said that we would be shackled to the deutschmark in terms of our interest rate policy. In fact, we now have the opportunity to break free from it. For the first time in more than 20 years, we have lower interest rates than Germany. There are two reasons for that. The first is financial stability. Retail prices have increased by 2.1 per cent. in the United Kingdom over the past three months whereas in Germany they have increased by 4.7 per cent. Our money supply, on a broad level, is much more under control than that in Germany--we had a 5.6 per cent. increase over last year, compared with 7 per cent. there. Although we realise, as my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary has said, that we have demands on our public expenditure budget, they pale into insignificance against the 70 billion deutschmarks that the Germans have to pump into the east of Germany every year. Our political situation is more stable, particularly given the instability of the coalition Government.
All that gives us the opportunity to lower real interest rates and therefore nominal ones in the way that the Germans cannot. However, we cannot afford--this is crucial--any relaxation in monetary or fiscal policy.
Secondly, irrespective of what the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney may think, we cannot afford any talk or hint of a realignment of the currencies of the ERM. That would undo precisely the confidence that has seen the pound rise and the disappearance of the interest premium that previously international investors demanded to hold sterling. It is crucial that the Government hold to their present view of ensuring that we have a strong exchange rate, and one that is not accompanied by any talk of realignment in the exchange rate mechanism.
Column 678Provided that we hold fast to those policies, I expect that interest rates will continue to fall, that the pound will continue to strengthen and that that will reintroduce growth in our economy, which will mean that, in the long term, we have more potential for tax cuts with the amount of money available for public expenditure still going up.
There is another matter to which the Government should be giving their attention, irrespective of one's view of stage 3 of European and economic monetary union or the desirability of a single currency. I think that we shall not achieve a single currency, irrespective of its political desirability or otherwise, simply because, in the foreseeable future, the cost of ensuring that 12 European currencies and economies converge in the way that is required is unrealistic. Nevertheless, it looks as though a European central bank will emerge as part of stage 2 and will have a significant role even within a Europe without a single currency. We should ignore Chancellor Kohl's reported threat that the Germans will not ratify the Maastricht agreement unless the European central bank comes to Frankfurt. The bank should come to London because that is its natural home. Not only is London the world's largest foreign exchange centre, but it has 27 per cent. of the deposits of the ecu, the new European currency, while Frankfurt's deposits are too small to quantify. Furthermore, no fewer than 520 foreign banks have offices in London, and that is more than in any other city in the world, and the City of London accounts for more than 95 per cent. of all reported European cross-border equity business. All that underlines London's position as a world financial centre. I urge the Government, in their discussions with their European partners, to ensure that the European central bank comes to the natural financial capital, London. 7.28 pm
Mr. Brian Donohoe (Cunninghame, South) : I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment to your elevated position. I am grateful to you for the chance to make my first speech so early in the new Parliament, particularly in a debate on the economy. I begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, David Lambie. I know that, had he been here, he would have wished to contribute to the debate in his normal pleasant style. He was known to both sides of the House as "wee Davy" and his many friends will be glad to know that, having served his constituents well for 20 years, first in Central Ayrshire and latterly in Cunninghame, South, he is now enjoying life with his wife Netta and his family at home in Saltcoats.
David served Scotland well. He was Chairman of the Scottish Select Committee, and it is to be hoped that that Committee will be resurrected with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) in the Chair. In his maiden speech, David referred to his predecessor, Archie Manuel, who was Member of Parliament for Central Ayrshire from 1950. David reminded the House that Archie's name appeared in Hansard more frequently than that of any other Member because of his interruptions and points of order. David promised that he would not give the then Speaker too much trouble, and I am sure that that was the case.
Cunninghame, South is a relatively new constituency, having been made up from the rump of Central Ayrshire.
Column 679The population is concentrated in three principal towns--Stevenston, Kilwinning and Irvine. There are also several villages, but too many to name without missing out some and offending them. The constituency can be split in two. The great majority of the population is based in the new town of Irvine, which includes Kilwinning, with the remainder in Stevenston.
I noted from the maiden speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) and Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg)--by sheer coincidence, ex-colleagues as NALGO district officers--who represent two of the five new towns in Scotland--NALGO officials appear to want to take over Scotland's new towns--that each of my hon. Friends was of the opinion that his new town was number one in Scotland. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride claimed his new town to be the best in Britain. What neither of them can claim to represent is the only new town by the sea. That is the distinction that I can claim, and to that end I suggest that Irvine is the most attractive new town in Britain. It has tremendous facilities, such as the Magnum leisure centre and many golf courses. The new towns face common problems, not least because of the Government's intention to wind up the development corporations and dispose of their assets. The rhetoric of the 1989 White Paper that suggested the setting up of private sector local development companies to maintain the economic momentum has now gone. Instead we are faced with the prospect of the Government removing assets from areas of great need.
To suggest stripping the development corporations of their assets at this time, with the closure of Ravenscraig in Motherwell and the rundown of ICI in Stevenston, is irresponsible. I remember as a boy going to the station in Ardrossan to meet my uncle from his work at ICI. That was one train load among dozens of buses and trains that every day transported thousands and thousands of workers to ICI. I worked in ICI from 1977 to 1981 and I remember dozens of buses queueing to take the workers home. There was also a car park full of cars. All that has gone and Stevenston has nothing left. There is nothing to replace a factory that employed thousands of people, and the local economy has been devastated.
We need an injection of resources. We already have the expertise in the form of the development corporation in Irvine. What we need from the Government is commitments.
When David Lambie entered Parliament in 1970, there was a thriving local economy, with the SKF ballbearing company, Monsanto Nylon, Essey International, Bonny-Forge and many more. On our doorstep in neighbouring constituencies there were Saxone shoes, BMK carpets, Glenfield and Kennedy and Massey Ferguson, with Ailsa Shipbuilding in Troon employing 700, myself included. All those companies have closed, with the result that unemployment in what is supposed to be a development area has been, at times, the highest in Britain. I have been unemployed on three separate occasions. That is the state of the economy in the part of Scotland that I represent.
It is only because of the activities of the development corporations that there has been inward investment, with
Column 680Caledonian Paper at the forefront of their achievements. My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride said in 1987 :
"A simple, straightforward commitment to a regenerated industrial manufacturing base by the Government could transform East Kilbride's and Scotland's fortunes overnight."--[ Official Report, 20 July 1987 ; Vol. 120, c. 147.]
Unless there is some commitment from the Government--sadly missing from the Gracious Speech--to inward investment and to extending the boundaries of the development corporations' remit to Stevenston, the pockets of deprivation and the no-go areas in my constituency will increase and there will be a threat to the whole population. That is the reality of life in Cunninghame, South, and it must not be understated by Conservative Members.
I do not want the structure of the local government reforms proposed in 1991 to be broken up into small units. For 10 years I have battled for a decent road link to East Kilbride and Cumbernauld. The fact that the best road out of Ayrshire to the rest of Scotland is a B road is disgraceful. That is the reality of the problems of infrastructure in our part of the country. I would not want the reforming of local government to mean that it does not have clout. There have been enough delays, and the killer road, the A77, should be upgraded immediately. The Government have made three separate announcements about the upgrading of that road, but work is yet to begin on the first stretch of road. We need that road upgraded now. As a trade union full-time official involved in local government, and having travelled Scotland extensively, including the isles, I do not believe that one-tier authorities should be the Government's automatic choice. I have clear examples of both cost and resources efficiency, and I would not want that to be lost with the imposition of one-tier authorities. I hope that at a later date I will be allowed to expand my arguments on that matter.
I remind the House of David Lambie's pledge in his maiden speech, which was to behave. I will also give you that commitment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I will not give the same commitment to the Government unless they listen to my plea and those of my hon. Friends who have made their maiden speeches this week. The Government must listen. We hope that, in this case, the Government have listened and that they will act.
Ms. Jean Corston (Bristol, East) : In making my maiden speech to the House I am conscious of the honour bestowed on me by the people of Bristol, East in electing me as their Member of Parliament. I am proud to join my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) as the second woman Member of Parliament in the city of Bristol, which now serves as a shining example of equal parliamentary representation as between men and women.
Since 1983, Bristol, East was represented by Mr. Jonathan Sayeed. It is fair to say that there was little on which he and I agreed, but I know that he developed a great affection for the city during his nine-year tenure and that he worked hard to represent his constituents.
Prior to the 1983 boundary redistribution, Bristol, East was primarily contained within two former seats. One was Bristol, North-East, which was represented by Arthur Palmer. He was first elected to the House in 1949 and is
Column 681now in well-earned retirement. The other seat, Bristol, South-East was represented by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) who was a Bristol Member for 33 years and is remembered by many constituents as an exemplary constituency Member.
The economy of Bristol, East is a microcosm of what has happened to the British economy under this Government. Fifteen to 20 years ago there were major employers in the constituency : St. Anne's Board Mills, Bristol Commercial Vehicles, Marden, Son and Hall, and Strachan and Henshaw. They have all gone. Now we have a number of trading estates, many with empty sites. We also have neighbourhood shopping centres that are characterised by vacant shops.
Many of my constituents are employed in defence-related industries. We are all aware of what is happening to them as a result of the peace dividend. However, their future is even more bleak under a Government whose diversification policy is confined to the diversification of capital, as in British Aerospace's purchase of Rover, rather than diversification of the precious skills of those defence workers. We have rapidly increasing unemployment, therefore, and the constant and insidious fear of unemployment.
The Government's solution has exacerbated the problem, in the shape of the Bristol Development Corporation whose area of responsibility is almost wholly contained within Bristol, East. It has managed to arouse the hostility of residents, business people and virtually every community group. It has not created a single job. It proposes, without holding a public inquiry, to build a dual carriageway on stilts through my constituency which will carry 42,000 vehicles a day, while at the same time the European Community is talking of traffic-free city centres.
The Gracious Speech contains a commitment to modernise the social security system, with sustained emphasis on those groups in the greatest need. Many hundreds of people in my constituency are in that category only because of the Government's failure to provide affordable child care. I refer to women on income support, with dependent children, who want to work but who find that the money that they earn is barely enough to cover child care costs. They are forced into the dependency culture against their will, and cannot exercise the freedom of choice to which the Prime Minister makes frequent reference.
Furthermore, when the House comes to debate the Maastricht treaty, many of my women constituents will want to know why they, unlike most women in the European Community, will not be given the opportunity and protection offered by the social chapter. They will want to know why they are at the bottom of the European league in maternity pay and maternity rights. They will want to know why they have such inadequate employment protection.
Many part-time workers, most of whom are women, now have to work for an employer for five years before they are covered by the redundancy and unfair dismissal legislation. They will want to know why, after 20 years of equal pay legislation, there is no real commitment to equal pay for work of equal value, and why women's pay is still only 68 per cent. of men's pay. They will also want to know why they are not going to be protected from exploitation at work, in the form of long hours, and why no provision has been made for their health and safety. What are we saying about women, as mothers, if they can be compelled
Column 682to work for more than 48 hours a week and if they can be compelled to work on Sundays if they do not want to do so?
The Prime Minister is to be congratulated on rectifying a grievous oversight--because that is all that it can possibly have been--by appointing two women to his Cabinet. I congratulate the Secretary of State for Employment and the Secretary of State for Health on their appointments. However, the Queen's Speech provided the Government with the opportunity to show the women of this country that they are committed to improving their life chances as women and as employees. I noticed that there was a great deal of talk about that by the Prime Minister before the election, and at times during the election, but the Queen's Speech is amazingly silent about the Government's intentions regarding 52 per cent. of our population. That opportunity has been missed and thrown away. Women will have noticed it. The advancement of the careers of two women, however well deserved, is a very poor substitute. Much, much more is needed.
Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West) : It is my pleasure and privilege to follow the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms. Corston) and to congratulate her on her maiden speech. I very much appreciated her reference to her predecessor, Jonathan Sayeed. All of us remember our maiden speeches. They are indelibly printed on our minds. I well remember my own shaking and nervous initial contribution, which contrasted with the smooth and, dare I say it, professional performance of the hon. Member for Bristol, East. The House will look forward to her future contributions. The House is becoming the place where the rights of women are championed. I am sure that the hon. Lady will take her place in the lists and make sure that the women of this country are adequately represented and their causes fought for by those like her, with her hard and forceful words. I congratulate her.
The contents of the Gracious Speech are inevitably coloured by the result of the general election. I regard political parties as a little bit like a religion. I believe that a political party should have a creed, a philosophy to follow. The Conservative party has a very simple creed : it believes in choice, in the rights and responsibilities of the individual and in the family. That is the cornerstone of our society, upon which everything else rests and from which everything else can grow.
The traditional basis of our political system--the Labour party and the Conservative party--is undergoing change. I believe that the Conservative party has found its way. It has returned to its traditional beliefs. However, the Labour party is in desperate trouble. The two-party system has been in operation for about 70 years. The Labour party grew and flourished because it believed in its own particular creed, the creed of clause IV, of centralisation, of state control, of the individual being subsumed by the state. Now, however, the Labour party has been forced by the election to realise that the country has moved on and requires different political creeds. Conservative philosophies are being adopted throughout the world, with the return of many state activities to the private sector. They are thereby becoming more efficient and profitable and are providing better standards of service.
Column 683A few days ago the BBC referred to trouble at British Gas--trouble over whether gas charges would remain static or come down. If that is the sort of trouble that we are getting from our privatisation programme, I hope that we shall get a lot more of it. With the regulatory process in place, I believe that there will be greater and greater returns to the economy from previously state-owned industries.
The Labour party will have to sit down and decide how it is going to present a credible alternative to the British people. I regret the proposed hasty resignation of its leader. The Labour party ought to have spent some time considering the way forward before rushing into that election. The House requires a two-party system, with arguments going back and forth across the Chamber. We should like the Labour party to give us a bit more of a run for our money, instead of making such a hopeless hash of things, just as it did after the two previous elections. In the 1983 election, the Labour party asked the electorate to vote for unilateral disarmament, more public ownership and more taxation, but now it says, "We are sorry, we got that completely wrong. These are our new policies." Thank heaven Conservative policies are in place to make the economy grow and become much stronger.
The Government aim to reduce the standard rate of taxation to 20p. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson), who was recently promoted to the Treasury as Economic Secretary, will carry on the battle to ensure that the basic rate is the norm for the whole country. Perhaps with a little bit of pushing and courage we could improve it beyond that. I believe that people know how to spend their own money better than the state because they can choose how to regulate their own lives. That is the way forward.
Britain has a problem of manufacturing culture. Business, with notable exceptions such as British Aerospace, ICI or one or two other major leaders, does not invest enough in manufacturing industry as a percentage of economic activity. We do not invest enough in research and development and training. The Government have taken an immense leap forward by investing in training, but businesses must follow the example of competitors such as those in Germany and Japan by investing in growth for the future. I welcome inward investment, about which the Opposition have had to do another volte face, as it provides jobs and growth, but we must invest in indigenous industries to provide jobs, to balance our trade and to reduce our public sector borrowing requirement. Our new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the new atmosphere and approach to industry at the Department of Trade and Industry, which is no longer trying to phase itself out of business, will ensure that manufacturing industry grows.
For the past 10 years I have continually pushed for greater emphasis to be placed on small businesses and to ensure that they are started after proper evaluation of cash flows. As small businesses grow, they will contribute more to the economy, offer more employment and eventually grow into bigger companies. A recent survey showed that the British profile of companies was still heavily biased towards larger companies. Conservative policies have improved the status of small business, but we must do more to ensure that they grow and develop further.