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Column 36enough. A deficit of £13 billion is very serious. It shows that the United Kingdom economy is once again uncompetitive.
One of the great advantages of North sea oil has been that it has enabled us as a nation to build up large overseas investments. That has made us one of the strongest creditor countries in the world, with substantially larger investments in other countries than foreigners have in this country. There can be little doubt that our strong international capital position enabled us to withstand the fall in oil prices over the last two years without too much short-term trouble. Our strong international capital position is also enabling us to run a large current account deficit without short-term difficulties at present. But it is not desirable that we should continue to run a large deficit, even if that is possible--which I doubt.
Apart from its destabilising effect on international trade, a large current account deficit is undesirable because it must be financed either by the sale of overseas assets or by the inflow of overseas funds attracted by high interest rates. Either way, this adversely affects our net capital position, and if it is allowed to continue for too long it will result in Britain ceasing to be a net creditor country. If that happened, we would have to pay out more in interest to foreigners than we would receive from our remaining overseas investments. To put it mildly, such a situation would be deeply alarming.
Early action to reduce and eventually to eliminate the deficit is urgent. Unfortunately, the policies being pursued to deal with inflation can only make it more difficult to remedy the balance of payments deficit because the policy of high interest rates has the effect of keeping sterling at an unrealistically high level against other currencies. As a consequence, British exports are dearer in world markets and therefore more difficult to sell, while imports into Britain are cheaper and easier to sell. In such circumstances, it is impossible to reduce, far less eliminate, the balance of payments deficit. If we are to right the current account of our balance of payments, there must be a reduction in the exchange rate of sterling against other currencies. That means that interest rates must be allowed to fall and that other measures must be used to restrain inflation. If that does not happen, the deficit will continue and will eventually become insupportable, with devastating consequences for the British economy.
As a contribution to returning to surplus on the current account of the balance of payments, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will refrain from making further tax cuts. That is because tax cuts almost always result in higher consumer spending. In principle there is nothing wrong with that--it is desirable--but unfortunately, in recent years, a disproportionate amount of consumer spending has been directed to imported goods. That trend has been aggravated, but not entirely explained, by the exchange rate problem about which I have spoken. For that reason alone, the tax cuts in the last two Budgets were, in my view, errors of judgment.
If my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has any surplus in the spring, I hope that he will devote it to capital expenditure on the infrastructure, where the import potential is very low or non-existent, rather than to tax cuts. Only in that way can he ensure that total effective demand in the economy as a whole will be maintained at a level that will ensure that unemployment continues to fall, while at the same time avoiding further burdens on the balance of payments. When eventually the current account
Column 37of the balance of payments is in surplus once more, no one will support tax cuts more strongly than I. Further tax cuts before that happy day is reached would be a profound mistake.
I shall now turn to the European Community. The most important votes that I have registered in the House since I came here in 1970 were in 1971 and 1972, on the issue of principle of British membership of the Community and on the Second and Third Readings of the Bill that took Britain into the European Community. Naturally, I voted in favour of our entry to the Community, and I am pleased and proud that I did so. The House recently debated the Single European Act. In the coming Session, we shall be concerned with implementing it and thus preparing for 1992--the year when all obstacles to trade, finance and movement in the Community are removed. There is nothing very dramatic in the Single European Act. Everything in it, and much more, was originally agreed at the Heads of Government meeting in October 1972. It is regrettable that it is taking us so long to complete the task of creating a real common market in the Community. However, at least we are moving strongly in the right direction. Undoubtedly, 1992 offers tremendous opportunities to British industry. The Government are right to devote great efforts to impressing on everyone the importance of preparing for 1992. The benefits of 1992 are not automatic. They will be gained only after great effort on the part of those in industry, commerce and finance who are preparing themselves to be more competitive. During the summer recess, I was impressed by the level of awareness of firms in my constituency about the opportunities of 1992. That augurs well for the future but, of course, there is no room for complacency. As I have said, success will depend on people in industry, commerce and finance, but, the Government too have a part to play. Perhaps I could suggest three steps that the Government might take.
First, Britain should join the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system. The volatility of sterling creates for British Industry considerable difficulties, which most of our European partners do not experience. Membership of the exchange rate mechanism would give greater exchange rate stability, although not absolute stability, for all our trade in Europe, and that would make life much easier for British industry.
Secondly, the Government should drop their opposition to the abandonment of frontier controls in the Community. To get rid of those controls would enable trade and labour to flow more freely between Britain and the rest of the Community, and that would be to our great advantage. The abandonment of frontier controls does not mean abandoning the battle against drugs and terrorism. That battle must be pursued more ruthlessly than ever, but frontier controls are not necessary for that. The Americans manage without barriers between states, so why not all of Europe? The real answer to drugs and terrorism is to co-ordinate activities throughout the Community to ensure that drug traffickers and terrorists are brought to justice. Thirdly, the Government and the House should give much stronger support to the European Parliament and especially to our Members of that Parliament. Britain has a vast experience of parliamentary democracy. Surely we should be taking a lead in the development of the European Parliament, in order to make it a better, more
Column 38effective and more democratic institution, able to play a fuller role in monitoring, scrutinising and controlling Community activities.
For the past 40 years, we have been reluctant Europeans, yet our future is in Europe. The more we put into it, the more we will get out of it. The Community will develop and grow, no matter what we think. The choice for Britain is whether we play a part in guiding that development and growth in directions that will be to our advantage and to the advantage of the Community, or whether we continue to respond to developments, initiated and framed by others, which may not always be to Britain's advantage. I believe that in future we should play a much more positive role in the European Community ; it is one of the most exciting developments in human history.
Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston) : Nothing in the Gracious Speech or in the Prime Minister's explanation of it will be of any benefit to women. Much of the Gracious Speech is positively and chillingly damaging to women. During the debate my hon. Friends will eloquently destroy the Government's case, so I intend to devote my speech to outlining an alternative Queen's Speech--a Queen's Speech for women. In doing this, I have the full support of my trade union, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. USDAW's support is based on its close knowledge of the needs of women and of the burden carried by them.
It is ironic that working conditions for most women have worsened under the regime of the right hon. Lady the Prime Minister. Some 63 per cent. of my union's members are women. It may be a surprise to the press and Tory Members, who like to portray trade unions as macho and male-dominated, but my union has a majority of women and we know about the needs of women.
Would it not have been refreshing to hear a Queen's Speech which began by saying that the Government, having at last realised that women form a majority of the population but that they have low incomes, few opportunities and little power, have now decided to use more of the nation's resources to redress this unfair balance? That would be justified for the sake of women and, in addition, would be of immediate benefit to children. Such measures would ultimately be to the benefit of men as well as women and children, because they would create a fairer and happier nation.
Some of the changes would involve new attitudes, especially by the Government and others in authority. Other changes would need more resources, both financial and human. Both of these are available. This is a rich country, which has been devoting far too many resources to making rich people richer.
A Queen's Speech for women will include the following points. I shall say "will" rather "would" because all of them will come about, and the sooner the better. So a Queen's Speech for women will say that a Ministry for women will be established ; that it will be headed by a Cabinet Minister, who will introduce legislation, and that it will also have the power and the duty to examine all Government policies for their impact on women and ensure alteration when necessary. For this purpose, it will have outposts in each Government Department. The Treasury will no longer reign supreme. Such a Ministry will inform women about Government actions and ask for
Column 39their views, and, for these purposes, will set up regional offices. It will work with local government when necessary and with a strengthened Equal Opportunities Commission.
Women now form a large percentage of the work force, and this is increasing, but they are concentrated in low-wage sectors and in the lowest wage portions of all sectors. The increasing use of casual and part-time workers leaves many women without the employment rights protection that most men have. A statutory minimum wage for adults will therefore be introduced, pro rata for part-timers and trainees. The trade unions and employers will be consulted on timing and phasing and high priority will be given to eliminating low wages. A standard working week of 35 hours will be established.
Employment rights will be extended to all part-timers, regardless of the number of their working hours, and to home workers. Casual work will be restricted. Properly protected job sharing will be encouraged. Part-time workers will have access to training. Men who wish to share in child care will have access to part-time work. Employers will be expected to take positive action against unfair discrimination and lack of opportunity and to negotiate equal pay for work of equal value.
The Government and local government will use contract compliance as a means of encouraging good employment practices.
Parental and paternity leave will become rights. Maternity rights will be strengthened and financed by a levy on all employers so as to help small businesses and those employing large numbers of women. Education and training opportunities for women will be improved. Varied and appropriate facilities for the under-fives are essential both for the children themselves and for their mothers. Resources will be made available to provide nursery education for all who want it. Grants will be available, through local councils, for parents and voluntary bodies to establish varied provisions such as play groups. Income tax on workplace nurseries will be removed.
The full use of schools by the whole community outside school hours will be encouraged, as will the provision of varied facilities for children during school holidays. This will ensure truly economic use of buildings and parks.
These are all modest demands and modest proposals for a country as rich as ours.
More health and safety inspectors will be appointed, and they will pay more attention to problems experienced by women at work, such as those connected with repetitive movement.
Good health requires more than medical services. Poverty, unemployment and bad housing afflict all too many people, and the nation's health is damaged. Therefore, major steps will be taken to reduce these, and thus the incidence of ill health.
The National Health Service is an asset to the nation and an efficient way of providing medical services. More resources will therefore be provided. Health service workers of all kinds and grades will have good pay and conditions. Although women will benefit greatly from an improved Health Service, both as workers in it and users of it, there are also matters more specific to women which
Column 40require urgent attention. The maternity services will be reorganised to place emphasis on meeting the wishes of mothers, on continuity of care, and on the full use and recognition of midwives' skills. We will no longer have the spectacle of midwives protesting about the degrading effect of the regrading proposals. An insult to midwives is an insult to all women.
Benefits will be adjusted to ensure that all expectant mothers can afford suitable food. More home-help provision will be available for new mothers.
The rundown of family planning facilities will be reversed, and women requiring legal abortion will be treated on the NHS. Infertile couples will receive as much help as possible. Many women feel they are fobbed off with tranquillisers. Better solutions, both medical and social, will be researched so that they will be offered more positive help instead, and progress in reducing tranquilliser use will be monitored.
Well woman centres will be established in each area, and may vary according to the wishes of local women. Self-help groups will be encouraged.
Steps will be taken so that all women who wish to do so will be able to see a woman doctor. Training and career patterns will be adjusted to facilitate this.
Ethnic minorities will have translation help, and food to which they are accustomed to aid their recovery when in hospital. Community care will be greatly improved. The contribution to the national economy made by carers-- worth about £6 billion--will be fully recognised through suitable help and support.
Discussion with professional bodies will start, in order to widen the scope of the NHS to include complementary therapies such as osteopathy. Much emphasis will be laid on prevention and on positive health targets, but this will be done not by exhortation by Ministers but by practical steps.
Consumers are seeking healthier foods. The production of such food will be increased by offering help to encourage growers and farmers to turn to organic methods. This will replace previous Government encouragement of methods that damage the soil, may not be healthy and, in the case of livestock production, are cruel.
Consumer law will be changed to give better labelling and other improvements. The distributive trades will be expected to give better training so that shop work is seen as skilled and helpful to consumers.
Women's needs, both as users and workers, will be taken fully into account in the planning of shopping and other developments.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North) : I apologise to my hon. Friend for having missed the opening of her speech. Will she consider the need to reduce the recommended time between cervical smear tests and join me in urging the Merseyside regional health authority to improve its cervical smear test service?
Better public transport will become a priority. It is essential for women, who have less access than men to private cars, and it will reduce congestion and pollution for everyone.
Column 41Local government services are particularly important to women. Previous policies will be reversed so as to work in partnership with local government in future instead of trying to flatten it. In particular, the poll tax will be repealed. It would have been a huge burden on women and on people on low and average incomes in general. Social security will be improved. Child benefit will be increased and index- linked. Pensions will be increased, concessionary transport made nationwide and extra services given to those over 80 or becoming frail. Women form a high proportion--two thirds--of pensioners and so will be particularly helped by these measures.
Homelessness has more than doubled in the past eight years. Steps will be taken to reverse that trend, and bed-and-breakfast accommodation will no longer be used for homeless families. Women and babies will no longer walk the streets. Repair and improvement of the housing stock will be a priority and resources will be made available for it.
We will look for ways of reducing violence against women and in general.
In foreign affairs, the Government will pursue policies for a less violent and more peaceful world. They will pursue a non-nuclear defence policy. They will devote more resources to constructive help to relieve starvation and suffering in the Third world. To be most effective in that, they will give particular help to women's projects, because women usually carry the greatest burdens and have the least power.
The Government will bring such other measures before the House as are necessary for the well-being of women and, through them, of all citizens.
When we hear such a Queen's Speech, we will know that we have once again a civilised Government and that we are on the way to a fairer and happier nation. 5.3 pm
Mr. Tom Arnold (Hazel Grove) : For one awful moment, while listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise), I thought that we were back in the 1974-79 Parliament, in which I was on the Opposition Benches and the hon. Lady was on this side. Once again she is proposing the remedies, as she sees them, of tax and spend which finally produced the convulsion that triggered the general election of 1979, since when, I am happy to say, we have been in office.
I reject the programme that the hon. Lady has outlined to the House and welcome most warmly the Queen's Speech, the second of this Parliament. I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House so early in the Session, not least because the economic policies set out in the Queen's Speech go a long way towards reassuring those of us who may have had some doubts recently about the Government's resolve to stand firm.
I was delighted that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister went to the United States last week, because the relationship between my right hon. Friend and President-elect Bush will be of signal importance in the years ahead. In some respects, the policies that are being urged on my right hon. Friend and on President-elect Bush are, according to many commentators, the same--and they are wrong. The American economy has been growing for 72 months and has been paralleled by a tremendous growth in American prosperity. Our economy has been growing for eight years, yet we can hardly pick up a newspaper at
Column 42the moment, or listen to a political speech by our opponents and by many so-called neutral commentators, without reading or hearing that the time has come for taxes to be raised both in the United States and in the United Kingdom.
I reject that approach, because it would strike at the very roots of confidence that have been important in sustaining the recent growth in employment and output. To increase taxation in Britain and the United States would produce the very result that we should seek to avoid--a lack of confidence and a move towards recession. I cannot conceive that it is right for the British economy to take any steps that could possibly bring about a situation in which recent growth is halted and we go into a period of economic decline, yet those policies are being urged upon us by newspaper commentators and others, including many hon. Members.
I therefore welcome the clear statement in the Queen's Speech that the Government will seek to move their economic policy in a direction where further cuts in taxation will be possible. No Conservative Member need ever be defensive about the desirability of, or need for, cuts in taxation, because high taxes blunt incentive. We have seen that time and again. The lesson of the past eight years is that we must keep moving forward in the broad direction that we have outlined.
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn) : What is the point of having tax cuts one month when, the following month, there is a rise in interest rates which attacks the living standards of many people?
Mr. Arnold : The trend over a period is important. Since 1979 we have sought progressively to reduce the burden of taxation on our economy and, with it, the proportion of national income taken by the public sector. That is our philosophy, and it is in complete contrast with the philosophy of the hon. Member for Preston.
The introductory passages to the domestic section of the Queen's Speech underline the need for us to stand firm on the principles of our last election manifesto and not to move in the direction urged by other people. If we stand firm and move ahead on the lines suggested, we can continue to look forward to considerable economic and political success.
The honeymoon period enjoyed by the Government has been the longest of any Government since the war, and, as we go into 1989, we will be in an excellent position to do well in the European elections, the importance of which my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) stressed. However, we could not sustain a position that would be comfortable in terms of conducting an election campaign if we went back on our undertakings and introduced policies of the kind that he suggests--with all due respect to him--including increases in taxation and, God forbid, the introduction of a statutory prices and incomes policy.
We must do everything that we can to continue to foster and encourage an enterprise economy of the kind that we have been working hard of late to produce. In that sense, unlike Opposition Members, I welcome the proposal in the Queen's Speech to
"remove unnecessary obstacles to employment, particularly in relation to women and young people, and to alter training arrangements."
Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South) : Will the hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what obstacles are to be removed and what training initiatives are to be reorganised, bearing in mind that he has welcomed the Queen's Speech so wholeheartedly?
Mr. Arnold : I am talking of obstacles which 30 or 40 years of Socialism have imposed. I sat in this place from 1974 to 1979, during which time a Labour Government introduced measure after measure, usually with euphemistic titles, such as the Employment Protection Act 1975, which, far from protecting employment, has increased the level of unemployment. We are right to move in the direction of removing the obstacles, several of which still stand in the way of the employment of young people. That is a specific issue that will be dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment when the relevant Bill is introduced.
Unemployment in the north-west is at its lowest level for seven years, yet neither the Leader of the Opposition nor the hon. Member for Preston referred to the recent fall in the unemployment figures. The many newspaper commentators who have been sturdily rejecting the Government's policies have failed to recognise the real progress that has been made in creating employment and reducing the unemployment figures. We are entitled to welcome that and to say that the trend will continue in the months ahead, provided that we do not alter the general direction in which our policies are taking us.
The Government are right to put first and foremost at the top of their economic programme the continuing battle against inflation. The fact that inflation is rising is a signal of how much still remains to be done. We shall never be able to solve the broad structural problems of the economy, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Moorlands referred, unless we recognise that only a private enterprise culture and economy is likely to produce growth, real increases in output and the opportunities for employment that can sustain our objectives.
The Socialist policies that were advocated by the Leader of the Opposition and by the hon. Member for Preston are recipes for turning the country back on what has been achieved during the past 10 years. I reject that approach. I welcome the Queen's Speech and I urge my right hon. and hon. Friend's to stand firm on the economic policies that the Government have put before the House and the country. 5.14 pm
Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford) : The Queen's Speech outlines the Government's legislative programme, but it does not take into account the overall effect that it may have on various sectors of the economy and the industry within them. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, the privatisation of the electricity and water industries will be fought clause by clause, in accordance with parliamentary procedures. We must be realistic and recognise that, with the Government's majority, the electricity industry, for example, will be privatised. That being so, the House must concern itself with the spin-offs of the privatisation. I shall outline briefly the problems of the mining industry and describe what has taken place since 1978. In 1978, in the Wakefield area, there were 20 pits with a work force of 16,900. By 1984, there were 16 pits and a work force of 15,061. In 1987, there were eight collieries and a
Column 44work force of 6,096. In the first few months of 1988, three more collieries closed, with the loss of another 1,855 jobs. In May, the district's remaining five pits employed only 4,036 people. The average age of those employed was 34.
It is well recognised that the international market is leading us into great change. British Coal has always relied on its main customers, such as the Central Electricity Generating Board, and it is in great competition with cheap imported coal. Private Bills have been introduced to expand certain ports to enable more cheap coal to be imported. There is great fear that, following the privatisation of the electricity industry, the private companies will be attracted to cheap coal. That can be understood and accepted within the terms of a pure economic argument, but if it happens, the mining industry will have a work force of about 45,000 by the time that it is privatised. In 1978, the work force was more than 200,000.
Those figures illustrate the great impact that certain events have had on mining communities. With the privatisation of the electricity industry, the question is, "How many more?" It is thought that another 50,000 will lose their jobs. The young men involved, who will be aged 34 and less, will not receive the reasonably attractive redundancy payments that we saw in 1984 onwards. If the Government continue with their current policy of merely encouraging alternative employment, there will be further devastation.
In the mining communities--this is certainly true of the one that I represent in Castleford--there is little alternative employment. In my constituency, 11,000 jobs have been lost since 1984. I can count on the fingers of my two hands the jobs that have become available to replace those which have been lost. How long can this continue? We have appealed to the Government to recognise the problem and to zone areas for assisted area status. If the Government had been willing to implement such a policy, areas such as the one that I represent could have attracted grants from the Government and the EEC. Unfortunately, the Government have failed to respond.
The Queen's Speech tells us that the Government
"will continue to promote enterprise and to foster the conditions necessary for the sustained growth of output and employment." I hope that that means that the Government will support applications from the Wakefield metropolitan district council, which is in a declining industrial region, under the second objective of a new European regulation. I am aware that the Government have forwarded their proposals and that Wakefield has been included. I am aware also that the list that the Government have presented to the Commission is far too long, and that some of the applications will not be successful. I am concerned for the mining communities, which have been devastated and will continue to be devastated by the privatisation of electricity. As they have not been zoned by the Government as assisted areas, I fear that they will be taken off the list. I hope that the Government will take this on board, if the Gracious Speech means anything at all.
The Gracious Speech states :
"My Government will vigorously pursue their policies for reducing crime."
Another passage states :
"They will maintain firm control of public expenditure, so ... allowing further improvements in priority services".
I hope that the Government are sincere about crime and the priority services.
Column 45Between 15 November and 18 November, the Yorkshire Evening Post carried major articles which were not unconnected with the problems in our mining communities where young school leavers are unable to find work. Those youngsters, who would normally have entered the mining industry, have been unable to get work. The articles state that 31 inmates in Her Majesty's prisons, the majority of whom were unconvicted and on remand, have killed themselves so far this year and it is expected that the figure will be much higher before the end of the year.
Armley prison in Leeds is between nine and 12 miles from my constituency. In the past five months, three youths aged under 18 have committed suicide in that prison. During the course of the year, 18 have attempted suicide. The Yorkshire Evening Post report on the suicides claims that they were driven to suicide by brutal and squalid conditions in one of Britain's most notorious gaols. We must all be concerned about the fact that 16 and 17- year-old youths who have never been in prison before, the vast majority of whom are not guilty of any crime but merely waiting on remand, find conditions which cause them to commit suicide. The report continued :
"There is evidence that many innocent men were desparate to escape beatings and appalling conditions. A top psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Shaw, is reported as saying, A fate worse than death that is what some teenagers on remand in prison believe is in store for them and that is why they commit suicide.' "
The Prison Officers Association has stated :
"Suicides will continue until a shake-up of the whole legal process is put into operation by the Government."
The chairman of the Prison Officers Association at Armley prison, Mr. David Sayer, is reported to have said :
"If it costs money, they will have to spend it."
The Prison Officers Association's view on the issue is clear : youngsters on remand should not be in prison. It is as simple and straightforward as that. The association claims :
"We do not want them, because we do not have the staff or facilities to cope. We have said so loud and clear to anyone willing to listen, yet a fifth of our inmates are teenagers awaiting trial." There are 1,200 prisoners in Armley prison, one fifth of whom are kids aged under 18 who are awaiting trial on remand. The conditions are such that there have been three suicides in five months and 18 attempted suicides so far this year.
If the Government are so concerned about crime, will they find employment for kids in the mining communities to keep idle hands out of mischief, instead of banging them up in squalid gaols 23 hours a day, in cells with hardened criminals? If the Government are serious about reducing crime, they must find employment and provide facilities to which to send youngsters on remand rather than send them to squalid prisons which cause youngsters to commit suicide. Some of the youngsters to whom I have referred are my constituents ; I have received letters from their heart- broken parents. If the message in the Gracious Speech about cutting crime means anything, the Government must act.
An experienced criminal solicitor in Leeds, Mr. Rodney Lester, has said :
"Brutality is the order of the day in Armley prison. If young remand prisoners going into jail are not brutes when they go in, the chances are that they will have been brutalised when they come out."
Column 46Other organisations, and the chief probation officer for west Yorkshire, have expressed grave concern about this matter. The Government must seriously consider providing accommodation for remand prisoners, and above all, they must provide employment for youngsters which will stop them getting into prison in the first place. The Gracious Speech also states that the Government are concerned about and committed to the National Health Service. If that is so, the Government had better get their act together and satisfy the nurses. At present, the nurses are very dissatisfied. Last Friday evening, I attended a mass meeting of nurses with my hon. Friends the Members for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and for Hemsworth (Mr. Buckley). Before the Government talk about hotheads or militants, I must stress that the meeting consisted of senior nursing sisters, staff nurses and nurses right down the line. It is not sufficient to tell nurses that, if they do not accept the grade or work to the grade that is allocated, they will be taken through the courts. It is a pity that the Secretary of State for Health was not at that meeting. We heard that senior nursing sisters in hospitals in Wakefield had found themselves £2,500 a year worse off than the people they supervised. We were told that two wards in a hospital in Wakefield one night that week had not been staffed on the night shift. That cannot go on. The Government tried to get over the message that they want to do the best thing for the nurses when they said a few weeks ago that the pay award would be paid in full. However, the Government did not tell us about the chaos that their policy would create. If the Government do not put things right, all that they say about caring for the Health Service means nothing. The nurses want some consideration ; they want looking after and fair remuneration. The Gracious Speech means that we will have a very long and hard Session. I assure Conservative Members that many of the details in the Gracious Speech will be fought clause by clause by Opposition Members.
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) : I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak so early in the debate on the Gracious Speech. From the Back Benches, I associate myself with the remarks by the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister in admiration of the speeches moving and seconding the Loyal Address by my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) and for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples). It is rare for the House to be treated to a pair of such accomplished and witty speeches on such an occasion. I compliment them, with just a tinge of envy for the fact that they could speak so well.
It is clear that the privatisation measures foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech will play a major part in the Session that lies ahead of us. They may even dominate it. The Government may have no problem convincing the House what they are about, but they may have harder work convincing the public of the rightness of their privatisation plans.
I say that because the public are surprisingly confused and cool in their outlook to the privatisation programme. In their privatisation policies the Government are not buoyed up by a tide of public enthusiasm. Despite the
Column 47obviously successful privatisation of British Airways, there is no great pressure from the public to move along the path of further privatisation.
When people's telephones go wrong, they are all too ready to say that it is because British Telecom has been privatised. That is utter nonsense, but it is said. The muddle goes even further. Recently, a lady wrote to me to complain that in her area letters had been going astray. She said that she expected a better service from the Post Office now that it had been privatised. If the public are not sure what has been privatised, the Government have a slightly uphill task in pressing the argument for further privatisation, particularly of electricity and water. That is especially so with water, because many are inclined to think that water is in a special and different category.
There are two simple reasons why the Government's privatisation policy should be supported. The first is to take the electricity and water industries out of Treasury control and to bring them nearer to their customers. The fact that they can make their own decisions about the level of investment that is required is crucial to the successful running of such industries. That is a fairly fundamental point. Secondly, there is a different ethos in the management and control of a private company. That is an indefinable thing, and while public service may be a good thing, it can result in a lack of the sharp edge of management that one would wish to see.
It is important that we should press ahead with the Government's privatisation plans. However, I am sure that the House, particularly Conservative Members, will look at the exact extent of the competitive ingredient that can be injected into the two privatisation projects.
It is not so long ago that the British Airports Authority was privatised. I am pleased to see that the BAA is progressing well. I hope that it will not be thought of as sour grapes on my part if I say that I feel surer now than I did at the time that the privatisation could have been handled differently. It has been evident from what has happened in the past two or three years that the separation of London's airports might have served the country's interests rather better than their being privatised altogether. The sharp-eyed among us will have noticed that civil aviation does not appear in any form in the Gracious Speech. We are told that other measures will be laid before us. One measure that will creep in during the Session, perhaps late one night, is a statutory instrument in which the House will be asked to increase the air transport movements at Stansted. That is the device that the Government created to enable the expansion of Stansted airport from 8 million to 15 million passengers per annum, for which legal planning permission has been granted.
The coming year must surely see the start of some moves further to develop airports policy. There are already noises off. The chairman of BAA, Sir Norman Payne, has gone on record as saying that he wishes to see further expansion at Stansted and Heathrow. There have even been noises on, in that not very long ago my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport said that he did not believe that there could be further expansion at Gatwick. Things are being said on the subject of airports policy. All those statements, whether expansive or