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Column 21up and not down. Why? Because we are paying the bills of failure. We are paying for the dole queues, poverty, low pay, homelessness and crime. The Government never learn that, the stronger and more united our society, the less we waste and the more we can invest. That is the difference.
Good public services are a part of that. A moment ago, the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) asked me about efficient public services. We should look at the national health service. We have been promised even more legislation now to improve
"the management of the National Health Service".
What has happened since the Queen's Speech 15 years ago, when the Conservatives said that they would do the same? Bureaucracy and administration are up £3 billion a year. There are 20,000 general and senior managers, compared with 500 a few years ago. Some £70 million has been spent on company cars.
This week, the true Tory philosophy on the health service was revealed by the chairman of an NHS trust--a serving Tory councillor. He said that the duty of doctors is to the balance sheet of their managers, and not to the needs of their patients. We can thank him for his candour, but that is not the national health service that the British people want.
Of course, we need efficient management, but we do not have that. We have expensive management, which is swallowing millions of pounds, while many people are on waiting lists and are forced to wait in indignity and injured on trolleys in hospitals when they should be getting proper care.
This week, it was revealed that £30 million was put into the collapsed Health Care International. That must be added to the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on railway privatisation and the poll tax, and the hundreds of millions wasted on the national curriculum. The Government have wasted public money at every turn, and they have wasted it on dogma.
Last week, one Minister had to admit that he had lost £30 million of public money in four months, while another was found guilty of breaking the law and misusing £240 million in relations with countries overseas. A third--the Home Secretary, no less--was found to have acted unlawfully in respect of his own treatment of the victims of crime.
The tale of how those victims have been treated is a scandal of arrogant incompetence from first to last. The new tariff system of compensation is manifestly unfair, and it was rejected by all victims' groups. It has no support anywhere, and when the Government launched a consultation exercise about it, not a single representation was in favour of the Government's plans. They were warned that it was unlawful--they took not the slightest notice. Meanwhile, the Home Secretary tells the Conservative party conference that he wants to put the victim at the heart of the criminal justice system. It is as rotten a tale of Conservative hypocrisy as is possible to imagine, even from this Government. The fact is that, whether on combating drugs, juvenile offending, illegal firearms, racial violence or the treatment of victims, it is the Opposition who have been standing up for law and order in this House and not the Government.
Column 22The chance of a new start for the Government and the country has been thrown away in the Queen's Speech. It is no wonder that the public turn away from politics when the Government refuse to hear the voice that they are speaking with. It is the Opposition who will continue to speak up for what the people of this country want--a modern and dynamic economy, action on crime, decent schools for all, hospitals run for patients and unemployment and poverty attacked. The Prime Minister may scorn "the vision thing". He promises "the action thing", but where is it? His Government are not dictated by the action thing, but by the dither thing. That is where they are, all the way through from the Child Support Agency to whether Ministers should resign, the channel tunnel and the Post Office. There is a case for action on behalf of the people of Britain, and it will be put by the Opposition. We know what needs to be done--the people of Britain know what needs to be done--because we share the hopes and ambitions of our people. We share their schools and hospitals, their values and their basic decency and we share something more--their shame at what has happened to Britain under the Conservative Government.
The Queen's Speech shows a Government who are out of touch and out of steam. At the next election, it will be our pleasure to put them out of office, too.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): I was sorry to learn earlier that the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) has been taken ill. I was delighted to hear the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) say that the illness does not seem to be serious. I think that I speak for the House in saying that I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will soon be fully recovered and back here carrying out his duties.
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield mentioned the sad loss of a number of colleagues on both sides of the House and I join him in the tributes that he paid to them. We may dispute and disagree often and violently in the House--sometimes that is our duty and our responsibility--but, whatever the interest or party that we represent, we are all here to serve the public. From time to time, therefore, it is right for us to put aside our party differences and acknowledge the work that is done by our political opponents. I happily do so today, not only on behalf of hon. Friends who are sadly no longer with us but on behalf of Opposition Members who sought to serve their country and their constituents.
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield had some grave charges to lay before the Government--I shall deal with those that are relevant later and with some other matters that the right hon. Gentleman overlooked--but if he is going to attack the Government he really should get his facts right. If he is going to disparage the Government, he really should try to keep a straight face while he does it. If he smiles when he does so, it will hardly be a surprise to him that the House and the country are unlikely to take him seriously on those issues. If he shows signs of not believing what he says, he cannot be surprised if other people do not believe him either.
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield was graceful about my hon. Friends and their proposing and seconding of the Gracious Speech. My hon. Friend the Member for
Column 23Dartford (Mr. Dunn) entered the House on the same day as I did. We knew one another for many years before we came to this place. I know him well and he has always been blessed with the gift of clarity. [Hon. Members:-- "Why are you smiling?"] I am not laying charges against my hon. Friend; I am about to praise him. I come here to praise him, not to disparage him. One always knows where one is with my hon. Friend--sometimes that is very good and sometimes it is just very clear.
In this country, at least, we always know where we are with my hon. Friend, but abroad he has a slightly less certain touch. Seeking tickets while on holiday in Italy, he consulted his Italian phrase book, marched up to the booking clerk and, I am reliably informed, said something quite unspeakable in vile Italian. My informant did not tell me what it was, but I understand that it was emphatically not a request for a day return to Milan.
In Florida, my hon. Friend visited Seaworld-- [Interruption.] Relax. While watching the Walrus of Oz--I do not understand why the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) smiles when I mention the Walrus of Oz--my hon. Friend became a volunteer from the audience to play alongside the walrus. The starring piece of his remarkable performance was a passionate embrace with the walrus. That was embarrassing enough for him, but it was made far more embarrassing by the most deadly words that any Member of Parliament can hear on holiday, uttered by a lady who rushed up and said, "Mr. Dunn, I am one of your constituents." Only time will tell whether that will increase his majority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) entered the House only at the last election. He referred to his first term in this House, which I am sure will be one of many. What he did not mention--we all know that he has a healthy appetite--was his election battle bus, which became notorious in his constituency for being parked outside a fast-food hamburger stop nearly every meal time. Entering with three companions, he ordered four hamburgers. "One each?", asked the attendant politely. "I don't know what they're having", said my hon. Friend, "but these four are for me." --Clearly, elections build up the appetite in Aberdeen, but both my hon. Friends added to their growing reputations in their speeches this afternoon. Last year, I placed Northern Ireland at the head of our priorities: self-evidently, it remains at the head of the Government's priorities. The past year has brought a new atmosphere and measured progress, but there is still a very long way to go before peace is secure and life in Northern Ireland returns to the same gentle tenor that we would expect it to have and would wish to see elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Next month, so long as the ceasefire is maintained, we shall open the exploratory dialogue with Sinn Fein and the loyalist political representatives. In those talks, the decommissioning of illegally held weapons will be a vital subject. Last week's outrage in Newry--the murder of Mr. Kerr--showed how urgent that remains. Gun law has no part in democratic politics and the paramilitaries of both sides must abide by democratic principles if they wish to take part in democratic politics.
Column 24The people of Northern Ireland, too, are impatient for political progress, and I believe that they are right to be. As part of an overall settlement, we shall make proposals for a possible way forward within Northern Ireland, including a locally accountable assembly.
We have made good progress with the Irish Government on a joint framework document that covers relations between the two Governments and between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I hope that circumstances will allow us to complete the remaining negotiations speedily. The two Governments are seeking joint positions on some difficult issues, including the territorial claim that remains in the Irish constitution.
Northern Ireland's future must be resolved freely, and without prejudice or duress, and that was acknowledged in the Downing street declaration. As part of a balanced settlement, requiring change on both sides, the Irish Government agreed that the Republic's constitution would need to change to reflect fully the principle of consent in Northern Ireland. It is obviously important for Northern Ireland to be recognised as a legitimate part of the United Kingdom while that remains the wish of the greater number of the people of Northern Ireland.
A more relaxed relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic is also important. Many people in the north want links with the south. There is already valuable co-operation and we would like to help it to evolve. Closer links would foster reconciliation and benefit business. Organisations in different sectors--tourism being an obvious example--will, in their own interests, wish to build up relationships. In the joint document, we shall suggest a framework for cross-border structures, working on common ground and on a reciprocal basis.
I know that there are fears about joint authority--not least in the House but also beyond it, and most importantly throughout Northern Ireland--so let me make it clear that joint authority is not under consideration, and has been rejected by both Governments. I emphasise that those will be proposals; they will not be a straitjacket. This is not a London-Dublin deal, worked out and set to be imposed. The proposals will be published for public consultation and put to the democratic political parties in Northern Ireland. When the final outcome of the talks process is known, it will be submitted to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum.
The tasks ahead remain formidable, but each and every day without violence is another small victory for Northern Ireland. The benefits of peace which people are now witnessing will be a powerful disincentive to renewed violence.
I cannot promise that those endeavours will be successful, but I can promise that we shall pursue them, with the hope of reaching a lasting peace. I express my thanks to right hon. and hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who put aside the normal political differences to support the process.
Before I discuss the contents of the Gracious Speech, I wish to mention our economic prospects, as did the right hon. Member for Sedgefield.
A year ago, many people had doubts about economic recovery. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) delved into his stock of gloomy soundbites and forecast
Column 25"rising unemployment, falling output and shaky prospects for growth."
Since then, unemployment has decreased steadily, month by month. Today it fell by more than 45,000, to below 9 per cent. for the first time since December 1991. Throughout the European Union-- [Interruption.] -- only Portugal and Luxembourg now have less unemployment and, overall, the average is much greater throughout the Union, at 11.5 per cent.
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield told us that one of the ways ahead was to reduce unemployment, but he would have been more gracious if he had acknowledged that we have reduced unemployment far more successfully than any other large country in western Europe, and that only two small countries have a lower rate.
As for growth, output is currently increasing at more than 3.5 per cent., and we are forecast to have the fastest growth among the main economies in the European Union this year and next.
The problem for the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East, is that his every forecast turns out to be wrong--not some of them, but all of them. The laws of statistics and probability are suspended for the hon. Gentleman. If any hon. Members wish to win the lottery that we have established, they should ask the hon. Gentleman for numbers that are certain to lose, and their fortune will be guaranteed.
I do not wish to be unfair to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East. He is by no means the only misery merchant on the Opposition Front Bench who is seeking to spread despondency. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who is enjoying an agreeable chat with the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), was a trainee misery. He spoke of "big concerns" about how long the recovery would last. He did at least have the honesty to admit that there was a recovery. He spoke of
"big concerns about how long the recovery could be sustained before it led to a balance of payments crisis."
As it happens, the trade balance is narrowing as output grows, and the hon. Gentleman was wrong.
The hon. Gentleman has heavyweight company. The new deputy leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), was in the gloom stakes as well.
[Interruption.] Yes, he was. He is smiling now, probably because he knows that I am going to remind him that he said
"I don't see much inward investment flooding in, but I see companies flooding out."
I do not know what country the right hon. Gentleman was in when he said that, because it certainly does not apply to this country. The only things that are flooding out are exports, at record levels. The right hon. Gentleman also seems to have missed the inward investment. Last year, this country attracted 40 per cent. of the total inward investment from the United States and Japan that was made in the European Union. Black and Decker, for example, moved a production line
Column 26to Britain from Germany--not even from the United States or Japan. Why? Because, in the words of one of its workers,
"Industry is flexible and the social chapter isn't."
Where is the Black and Decker factory? In a place called Spennymoor, bang in the middle of the constituency of the right hon. Member for Sedgefield.
The deputy leader of the Labour party should ask his right hon. Friend whether he has seen any inward investment flooding into this country--or he could ask the hon. Member for Livingston. NEC is investing hundreds of millions of pounds to create hundreds of jobs in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I could have mentioned that Samsung is creating more than 3,000 jobs, that Fujitsu is creating 1, 600 or that Asat is creating 1,000. Up and down the land, there has been a vote of confidence from external investors in this country's future, and in this Government's management of the economy.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North): At the 1992 general election, the Prime Minister and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear that they could conceive of no circumstances in which they would increase taxes if they won the election, yet afterwards they increased taxes. Can the Prime Minister help the House? At the time of the election, did the Prime Minister and the Chancellor know the true state of public finances and mislead the public, or did they not know the true state of public finances--in which case, why should anyone listen to the Prime Minister's predictions now?
The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman could have done better than that if he had tried. He may live in his own little dream world, and he may have overlooked the fact that there was a worsening recession not here but elsewhere, which was why, right across Europe, unemployment rose and others ran into the difficulties that we ran into in this country.
If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about inconsistencies--perhaps in view of what his right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield had to say about taxes--perhaps he or his right hon. Friend could tell us why they now propose to introduce a windfall tax, a payroll tax, a health tax, an entertainment tax and a development tax. Perhaps, as they are so concerned about expenditure and taxation, they will tell us which of their spending commitments--to the minimum wage, the emergency employment programme, the new technology trusts or the abolition of compulsory competitive tendering- -they will scrap. For if their oratory is honest now, their policies are not; and if their policies are honest, their oratory is not. The sooner they square that circle, the sooner we will hear little lecturettes from them.
Up and down the land, there has been a vote of confidence in the British economy from foreign investors. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East and the hon. Members for Livingston and for Dunfermline, East say none of that. They can, if they wish, remain the three blind mice on the Labour Front Bench, but foreign investors see what is happening in this country. To quote the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, they have been "flooding in", they are "flooding in" and, while they have a Conservative Government with the policies
Column 27that we follow, they will continue to "flood in" and to provide jobs in the right hon. Member for Sedgefield's constituency.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): Is the Prime Minister aware that, for every pound that has come into this country, more than two in the last year, and well over two in the past 15, have left? British Steel is investing £97 million in America, but nothing in this country. What policies does the Prime Minister offer to develop manufacturing based on investment by British firms in their own country?
The Prime Minister: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned British Steel. I was in Port Talbot a fortnight ago--one of the most efficient steelworks in the world. It has the longest export order books that it has had for a long time and it is hugely successful. The hon. Gentleman may know nothing about steel making, but I suggest that he goes to Port Talbot to see for himself what I saw--the efficiency of that manufacturing industry in the United Kingdom. If the hon. Gentleman went to the motor show he would see a British motor industry that will soon be a net exporter of cars. If he visited Triumph motorcycles, which was killed by the Labour party, he would see it producing top-of-the-range motor cycles to sell to Germany, Japan, the United States and elsewhere. The Opposition run so well the story about British industry doing badly that they believe it. In reality, British industry is up off the knees on which it found itself when the Labour party was in office. It is now growing, investing, expanding and exporting to each and every part of the world. It is about time that the Labour party stopped knocking British industry whenever it has the chance.
Mr. Skinner: Earlier, the Prime Minister talked about unemployment coming down. Is he aware that large sections of the British people do not believe his Government and their fiddled statistics? Does he understand that the other day independent figures were compiled on every British coalfield where many of the pits have shut? In Bolsover and north Derbyshire, the Prime Minister's figures show unemployment at 12.5 per cent., but independent statistics show it to be 23.5 per cent. In Durham, the figure is 33 per cent. and it is the same in Ayrshire. In Wales, the figure is over 30 per cent. The truth is that all this twaddle, which has probably been written by Sarah Hogg, is a stranger to the truth.
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is such a believer in conspiracies that he probably does not yet believe that there is really a Wednesday in the week. He should not squeak until he is squoken to.
Column 28always running down this nation, running down our industry, our schools and our health service? Why do they not start talking Britain up?
I want to deal with the legislative programme for next year contained in the Gracious Speech. Over the years, we have introduced many controversial supply side measures, privatisations and deregulations. Time after time the Opposition have opposed them, yet they do not seem to follow that opposition through. They do not commit themselves to reversing those privatisations. We all know why. They know that the privatisations are right, but they want to capitalise on public concerns when the measures are going through the House. If the Labour party's opposition is genuine, let it commit itself now to reversing all the privatisation measures that we have carried out. If it does not do so, it should keep quiet and realise that those measures have greatly improved the efficiency of British industry in recent years.
The Opposition will not commit themselves to that because they know that privatisation works. They know also that renationalisation would blow for good and all the belief that this is a new Labour party in any sense. Whatever the balance between public and private sector might be, the Opposition usually, and grudgingly, think that it happens to be right at the time. They do not know whether to go forward or back. They do not say yes and they do not say no. They loathe private ownership, but they dare not reverse it.
We intend to proceed with privatisation. This year, we shall privatise the Crown Agents. [Hon. Members:-- "Oh."] I am glad to hear support from Opposition Members--I hope that it will be translated into support in the Division Lobby. Crown Agents plays a significant role in delivering our aid programme. We have agreed with its board that the best way of developing its services is in the private sector.
We shall introduce a Gas Bill to bring genuine competition into the gas industry. Consumers already benefit from a fall, after inflation, of more than 20 per cent. in gas prices and they will reap further benefits. New suppliers will be able to enter the gas supply market, giving customers more choice and better service. Safeguards protecting price, safety, standards and social obligations will remain for as long as they are necessary.
The Agricultural Tenancies Bill will make it easier for tenants to rent land and to benefit from the improvements that they make to it. Landlords and tenants will gain greater freedom in negotiating the terms of a tenancy, within a framework that protects legitimate interests and that guarantees that tenants are rewarded for any improvements that they may make. That has been agreed by landlords and tenants alike and will open up opportunities for young farmers to take their first step in the industry.
Column 29he comment on how the building industry will prosper in the coming year? There is a need for rented houses and for improvements to houses, yet no reference is made in the Gracious Speech to the building industry. Has he a comment to make on the future of the building industry?
The Prime Minister: I am not sure what legislation, for that is what the Queen's Speech deals with, the hon. Gentleman may have in mind for the building industry. The growth in the economy, which we are now seeing, will bring the building industry back to greater health. That is the way in which to bring it back to proper health. We shall introduce the Jobseeker's Allowance Bill to help more and more unemployed people back into work. The new allowance will replace unemployment benefit and income support and will underline the bargain between job seekers and taxpayers. Job seekers are right to expect benefits but the taxpayer is right to expect a job seeker to seek a job, and the Bill will ensure that that is so.
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman should get his head out of the sand and look at the falling total of unemployed people. The figure has been falling for nearly two years. One day he might acknowledge that this country is doing better than almost any other in western Europe in putting people in work, in keeping people in work and in having the highest level of adult population in work. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill will allow private finance to contribute to the development of one of the most important infrastructure improvements of recent years. Both public and private sectors will have a role to play and the project will be likely to create between 10,000 and 15,000 jobs.
The Pensions Bill will implement all the main recommendations of the Goode committee. It will offer greater protection for members of occupational pensions schemes and it will implement a common pension age for men and women at 65, which I was interested to note was accepted as reasonable by the Commission on Social Justice.
We have a meaty programme of supply side reforms and I look forward to introducing them to the House.
We shall also introduce the European Communities (Finance) Bill to give effect to the financial arrangements reached at the Edinburgh summit.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): Will the Prime Minister tell us whether the £250 million predicted increase in the United Kingdom's contribution includes forecast increases in gross domestic product by the end of the century? Can we have a straight answer to the question?
Column 30discomfited to have actually got one. I suggest that, if he does not want a straight answer, perhaps he should have asked his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) rose --
I am still saying it: consistency is a virtue.
Those financial arrangements were warmly welcomed at the time, and for good reason. They safeguarded our rebate--worth £2 billion a year. They produced the smallest-ever increase in own resources, and over a longer period, and they moved this country significantly down the list of net contributors to the European Union budget. The difference that the new arrangements will make, compared with what we would otherwise have paid, is to increase this country's net contribution to the European Union by £75 million next year, rising to around £250 million in 1999, with the qualification that I conceded a moment ago. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has set out the figures clearly to all hon. Members.
I have seen suggestions that the new arrangements would double our net contributions, which is nonsense and can safely be dismissed out of hand. The outcome of the Edinburgh agreement was reported to the House and strongly supported here. This Bill is necessary to honour that agreement. We shall introduce it early in the Session and take it through speedily.
No one should doubt the importance of securing the Bill unchanged and early. I know that some hon. Members dislike it, but it is not an optional measure that can be used as a bargaining counter for other European negotiations. It is an international commitment, entered into two years ago with the full support of the Cabinet. No British Government would have credibility in international negotiations if they failed to implement the agreements that they had freely entered into with their partners abroad, so for that reason there is no room for compromise on the Bill. That means that its successful passage in all its essentials is inescapably a matter of confidence, because of the agreements reached with our European partners. I hope that there is no doubt in the House about that.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Is the Prime Minister making it clear to the House that, if the Government were to lose any vote on the Bill, he would seek a dissolution and the country would have the opportunity of a general election?
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North): In the spirit of friendship, may I put it to my right hon. Friend that if the passage of the Bill were made contingent on effective measures and results in combating European fraud he might have a more coherent response?
The Prime Minister: I made it clear in my speech at Leiden earlier this year that it was important that the whole of the European Union attacked the outrageous problem of fraud that exists in Europe. The figures that we have just seen were produced by the Court of
Column 31Auditors, which, I remind the House, has its present powers because the British Government in general, and I in particular, demanded them in the Maastricht treaty. I must tell my hon. Friend that I did so because I believe that fraud in the European Union is unforgivable and must be rooted out.
The British Government have been the leader in the European Union in rooting out fraud. We have less fraud in this country than anywhere else in the European Union, and my right hon. Friends and I intend to press again and again to ensure that the Court of Auditors has the powers necessary to root out fraud across the Community. I shall say something else to my hon. Friend, because I hope that he will back me here, too. In order to do as I have said, it may be necessary for the Court of Auditors to have greater powers to go into each country in the Community, including this country as part of the European Union, to root out fraud. I believe that it should have those powers, and I support them. We shall do all that we can to minimise, and then to eliminate, fraud in the European Union. I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance, but he need not tie it to the Bill, for we embarked on that several months ago.
The House will know that earlier this summer the Government began to consult on a range of proposals to improve the position of disabled people. Following the consultation--
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) rose --
Following the consultation, we decided to go further and, contrary to our original intimation to hon. Members, to propose a Government Bill in the Gracious Speech, rather than producing a hand-out private Member's Bill.
We have an excellent record over the years, and a great deal has been achieved.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) rose --
A great deal has been achieved, but we can and should do more. The Bill will follow an exercise that focused not only on what should be done but on how it could be done and how quickly. The Government will announce the details of the Bill shortly. Let me simply say now that it will include a right not to be discriminated against in employment, a right of access to goods and services and the establishment of a national disability council to ensure that the voice of disabled people is heard more clearly within Government.