|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mrs. Browning: I suspect that, as they are paying more taxes, they have less money in their pockets on a Friday night. When deciding what to do with their residual income, they have too little to think of popping into the building society and putting a bit away on a Saturday morning. That is the reality of life in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and especially in mine, which has a high population of elderly people who are prudent and cautious.
On the subject of prudence, what a marvellous service my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) rendered the House by exposing the fact that Prudence is a fallen woman. We shall all remember his words, and it is up to the Chancellor to save Prudence and restore her reputation because, under his care and patronage, Prudence is in the gutter.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) outlined the chaos in the public services and the manufacturing sector, speaking particularly about many organisations and businesses in his constituency that he has visited. On hearing his words, we all reflected on the fact that the same remarks could be made about all our constituencies, no matter which side of the House we sit on.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) spoke not only with the benefit of his experience as a former Treasury and Cabinet Minister, but as a person with experience at the sharp end--working in and representing manufacturing industries. He spoke
I pay tribute to the contribution of the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), who spelled out the problem of fuel prices in Northern Ireland and people whizzing to and fro across the border with the Republic to buy petrol because of the pressure that those prices put on them. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) and take great pleasure in welcoming him to his place. I congratulate him on his maiden speech, which I hope will be the first of many other speeches, and look forward to engaging with him on some of the more contentious issues that he mentioned. However, I am generous enough to overlook them tonight.
During the debates on the Queen's Speech, Labour Members have flattered us by being more interested in discussing Conservative policies than the Government's legislative programme. It is no surprise that first out of the traps is the Hunting Bill. That shows how the Government prioritise the matters that they think are important to the country: not the big law and order issues or the Children's Commissioner for Wales--[Interruption.] The Leader of the House shakes her head. I have made those remarks publicly several times this week, so has she been shamed into changing the batting order? I would be pleased to hear that she has changed her mind.
The Government have shown their instinct by what they have put at the top of their list in what is probably the last Session of this Parliament: not children, not law and order and not the yob culture, but foxes. That says all that there is to say about the priorities and values of this Administration. Hunting and the gerrymandering of the procedures of the House are, apparently, their only true objectives. The country is six days closer to an election than when the Queen's Speech debate began. I am delighted to have wound-up the debate--I hope without winding up the Government too much--and all I can say to Labour Members is, "Tally ho!"
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Margaret Beckett): We have had a useful series of debates in which many and varied contributions have been made. Given that we are looking back over six days, I cannot mention every Member who has spoken, and I apologise for that, but it is right to refer at once to my three hon. Friends who made maiden speeches. As the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) was gracious enough to say, each contributed extremely well and I am sure that we shall hear from them again, and often. The whole House welcomes them to our proceedings. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) pointed out, the presence of my hon. Friends may be a clear signal of people's concern about the £24 million of cuts that the Conservative party seeks to inflict on every
Inevitably, the background to the six days of debate has been the condition of our country; the specific focus has been on the proposals in the Queen's Speech. One thing that is clear from the past six days, without any shadow of doubt, is that the Conservative party's briefing is headlined "All spin and no delivery".
The Leader of the Opposition--he was the first to use the phrase, but I think that every Conservative Member has used it at some point--chose to describe some of my hon. Friends as Lobby fodder. As I watched Opposition Members line up to be mown down by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I thought "cannon fodder" might be the right term for them.
Today's proceedings started with an extraordinary speech from the shadow Chancellor. He began by saying that the number of Bills included in the Queen's Speech showed the Government to be devoid of ideas, a point echoed by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). A number of Opposition Members wanted to add more. Over the past few days they have cited measures which they claim the Government promised to introduce but which are not included, and--somehow--a further list of measures which they say they would themselves introduce. The hon. Member for Southend, as we must now learn to call him--[Hon. Members: "Southend, West."] I beg his pardon; I mean the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). I am so used to referring to him as the hon. Member for Basildon, which he was until he thought better of it.
Anyway, the hon. Gentleman called for more or less a whole legislative programme of his very own. By a remarkable coincidence, his hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton) called for the very same programme. Perhaps that too was in the Conservative party briefing.
Having spent all last year criticising us for producing too much legislation, and for the fact that too much was mentioned in the Queen's Speech, this year the Conservative party has criticised us for the opposite. Of course one can never win with the Tories, but that shows why we must all hope that they never do. It would be unwise to expect consistency from a party that, on the one hand, criticises us for investing too much in public services and, on the other--in every speech and in every constituency--demands more.
Both the shadow Chancellor and the right hon. Member for Huntingdon overlooked an inconvenient fact. Fifteen Bills are mentioned in the Queen's Speech; both of them have clearly forgotten that only 15 were mentioned in the 1992 Queen's Speech. That was a post-election Queen's Speech, relating to an 18-month parliamentary term. Thirteen Bills were included in the 1994 Queen's Speech, and 16 in that of 1995. I do not think we need to hear any more rubbish about the length of the Queen's Speech being an indication of the Government's having run out of steam.
The Queen's Speech conveys a strategic framework--the legislative spine--beyond which there is a full programme of delivery. Given the context, and given many of the speeches we have heard, I think it right to contrast that with the proposals of the Conservative party. It was, after all, only a year or so ago that they announced
A year later, how many of those guarantees survive? As I understand it, none--not one. They all seem to have gone. To lose one guarantee may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two certainly looks like carelessness; but to lose three looks like Conservative party policy. What was that about "all spin and no delivery"? With the Tories, it is all guesswork and no guarantees.
But of course the Tories have always been like it. The shadow Chancellor and the right hon. Member for Huntingdon both looked back to the golden age when they were so successfully in power. The shadow Chancellor told us that the Tories would increase investment and cut taxes; the right hon. Member for Huntingdon talked of what they did in the 1980s and 1990s. Let me remind the Tories of what they did in the 1980s and 1990s in regard to investment and tax cuts. Yes, there were occasional years in which, on a one-off basis, spending on public services rose; but was there a consistent combination of investment and tax cuts? I do not think so. That did not happen, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard) ably demonstrated.
The shadow Chancellor said that his party's policy was based on honesty and transparency. In 1983, which was a general election year, the Conservatives cut taxes a month before the election. They cut spending the month after. Does the right hon. Gentleman remember that equally well? In 1987, they cut taxes before the election, but the spending that they promised during the election failed to materialise. In 1992, they told us that they could improve public services and cut taxes, but then they gave us 22 tax increases because of the black hole in their finances, to which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred. Because they had boom and bust in the economy, they delivered boom and bust in public services.