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Column 176Opposition who has addressed the issue but not come up with the answers, that there should be all-party support for the dispersal of constitutional power, particularly for the embodiment in our constitution of a Bill of Rights--a protection which virtually all other democratic and parliamentary Governments have enjoyed, including Canada, Australia, the United States and almost all the continental European countries to which we are gradually being drawn within the European Community.
The Labour Opposition missed a great opportunity to redress the imbalance in favour of Executive power when they stood apart from the attempt made by a Conservative Member of Parliament in 1987 to secure the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into our domestic law. It was a great pity that only a handful of Labour Members stayed behind on that Friday, thus denying the House the opportunity of expressing its view and taking that measure, which had all-party support, into Committee. The measure has twice been given backing by the House of Lords. It enjoys the support of many senior members of the judiciary. It would help to safeguard the constitution from the depredations of an overmighty Executive. I hope that Parliament will bring that measure forward again this Session. 6.56 pm
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Gracious Speech. I join in the congratulations extended by hon. Members on both sides of the House to the honourable and recently elected, and now vanished, Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars). I am sure that the energy that he put into his speech will be reflected in the energy that he puts into serving his constituents and that that task will be made somewhat easier because he represents a part of the United Kingdom that receives a large slice of the cake of public expenditure. In turning to the Gracious Speech, I take my principal comfort from the penultimate paragraph :
"Other measures will be laid before you."
There is one measure which is not included in the Gracious Speech but which many of us would have wished to see included and which has been promised to us for a considerable time. Before the last general election, the Government gave a clear undertaking that at an early opportunity they would introduce legislation to govern embryo research. That undertaking was honoured to the extent that we had a White Paper which we were able to discuss in January this year. Although the door is clearly ajar, it is not yet open. It is a great disappointment to me and to other hon. Members that, as yet, there is no firm proposal to give Parliament the opportunity to decide whether to legislate.
I do not speak to pre-empt any conclusion to which the House may come. The undertaking said that we would have an opportunity either to ban embryo research altogether, or to allow it with certain limitations and provisions, which would be enshrined in law. Presumably, if we decided to pursue the second course, it would be open to us also to amend those proposals that have been put forward and to introduce others that may seem fit. However, that opportunity does not appear to be available to us in the coming Session. If that opportunity is not provided, there is a grave risk that scientific enthusiasm--or, even worse, commercial exploitation--may run away with the situation and make it difficult for
Column 177Parliament to introduce the kind of controls which should be introduced at the beginning of a process and not halfway through. I am sure that for many people--certainly for me--the early results of in vitro fertilisation and fertility research were greeted with enthusiasm and joy. I do not think that any of us could have objected to the birth of little Louise Brown or to the fact that her parents were able to have a child through the assistance of the medical profession rather than by an entirely natural process. But we then moved on and the process was no longer limited to the involvement of husband and wife. We moved on to surrogate motherhood and then to genetic research. Then, a few months ago, we were told that foetal hearts had been used in surgery.
Whether we approve of any or all those things, or whether we approve of them subject to limitations, it is clear that this is a major moral and political issue which should be brought before the House and on which the House should have the opportunity to pronounce.
When we discussed the White Paper in January, we discussed the situation which, in our innocence, we believed to prevail--that research was limited to embryos up to 14 days and, indeed, that that was well above what actually occurred in practice. Only half an hour later in the same debate, hon. Members were beginning to suggest that it would be reasonable for such research to take place on embryos up to 21 days. If we can do that here in a fairly detached way, removed from the medical realities and the enthusiasm of scientists who are rightly trying to push back the frontiers of knowledge, what of those actually engaged in the experiments and driven by the desire and enthusiasm for discovery?
The subject raises serious questions on which we should have the opportunity to express our views. It seemed rather feeble that we had been discussing research on embryos up to 14 days only to discover a few months later that parts of fairly advanced foetuses had been used in surgery. Leaving aside the aim of the surgery and the moral questions that must emanate from that discovery, it is clear that Parliament did not know what was going on. Professor Hitchcock did not simply get up one morning and decide to carry out the surgery. Assuredly, he had already researched it to some extent. Yet at the very time when he was researching it, we were discussing work on what were described as pre-embryos.
I believe that we need some kind of control. Certainly, we should be able to decide whether such control is needed. We are talking about beginning to create in a laboratory test tube rather than in a human body something which, in natural circumstances, would develop, as we have developed, into a full human being with emotions, intelligence, feelings, laughter and tears. We are talking about starting that process in a test tube and then deciding at some point to arrest the development of that human being and either to store it for future use or to destroy it as though it were just an ordinary piece of rubbish. That is an awesome thought. What worries me about the medical profession is not so much what it wishes to do--its thoroughly laudable attempts to prevent people being born with handicaps and to halt the erosion caused by disease--as the total absence of awe or humility in the statements made by those engaged in what must be the
Column 178most important research of all time. I submit that if they cannot show awe and humility, perhaps it is for Parliament to instil it in them, at least in terms of legislation.
The developments that the White Paper suggests should be prevented make fairly horrifying reading. It suggests that we should prevent the creation of an entire human being in laboratory conditions outside the human body. We are told comfortingly that that is a long way off, and I am sure that it is. In vitro fertilisation was a long way off just a few years ago, but it came with awful suddenness. Do we not already have legislation to prevent such an enormity?
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : My hon. Friend says that in vitro fertilisation arrived with awful suddenness. Does she feel that it should not have arrived and therefore regret the research that made it possible?
Miss Widdecombe : If my hon. Friend had listened to the first part of my comments, he would have heard me say that whatever one's moral views- -he and I may have different views--it is essential that Parliament should decide whether such research should take place and to what limitations, if any, it should be subject. My hon. Friend has misinterpreted what I said. When I said that in vitro fertilisation came suddenly, I said it in an attempt to suggest that other things, at which even my hon. Friend might wince, may come with equal suddenness. For instance, the White Paper suggests that the creation of hybrids should be forbidden. It seems to me an extremely serious matter that we should even consider such a thing, yet apparently it was thought necessary to suggest that we should legislate against such a development. We then fall back from the idea of legislation and leave it merely as a proposal.
Parliament should also have the opportunity to be informed about and to consider the alternatives to this kind of research. The alternatives were clearly set out by Professor Lejeune, Professor Chargatt and Dr. McLean. Parliament may eventually decide that those detailed alternatives are not all that they are said to be, but we should at least have the opportunity to examine them, and that opportunity must be within the framework of proposed legislation. Why, despite the Government's clear undertaking and the White Paper, is there still no Bill? Is it because there is a hope that if we leave the matter long enough a consensus may develop to the effect that we cannot stop something that has already accelerated to a frightening extent so we had better take the coward's way out and say that as it already happens, and we see the benefits, we cannot now consider the fundamental moral issues that we ought to have considered at the very beginning?
Assuredly, there will be other legislation to occupy the Department of Health in the coming Session, but the legislation that will flow from the Butler-Sloss report will also heavily occupy the Department of Social Security. There is ample room in the programme for the Department of Health to take on a matter that has already been prepared in such detail. It could certainly take on this legislation as well.
Cynics may say that a society which apparently has no objection to dismembering a 22-week-old baby in the womb is unlikely to object to experiments being carried out on very early cells. The issue is deeper than that. Should we arrogate to ourselves the right to create human
Column 179life? Should we arrogate to ourselves the right to destroy it? Should we really arrogate to ourselves the right to store it for future use? Those questions must be answered, and answered quickly. As I said earlier, when we discussed embryos at 14 days, we did not know what professor Hitchcock was doing. This House sees what the medical profession is doing through a glass very darkly. If we saw it in its full light, even the most hardened cynic among us might well cry out for mercy at the way that we have arrogated powers to ourselves that could lead to the dehumanising of humanity and to humanity being something that is coldly created, dispatched, disposed of and undervalued. The final social implications of undervaluing human life, to the extent that we treat it in a test tube as we would treat any ordinary cookery recipe in a kitchen, are highly dangerous and something of which this House should be aware.
I welcome the Government's commitment to introduce legislation, but I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to hurry.
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : It has been some time since I and other hon. Members sought to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I should not, perhaps suggest that it is invariably you, Madam Deputy Speaker, who gives me the opportunity--
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) attempted to widen the debate about freedom and opportunity. Much of what was said by the Home Secretary and those who spoke in support of him was an attempt to restrict the debate to a number of single issues. Important though they might be, that tended to detract from the debate about the effects of Government policy on fundamental freedoms and opportunities.
I speak from a base of constituency, local government and other interests, and I wish to illustrate why the Gracious Speech is as depressing as other Gracious Speeches during the past decade. It tries to drive a wedge between those with genuine freedoms and opportunities and those who form the mass of the working population, whose freedoms and opportunities have been reduced both directly and by the way in which local government and other agencies have been undermined.
Before I do that, it is only fair to comment on the exceptional speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), who rewrote the last decade of political history. Like most nationalists, having reached the doors of the Englishman's castle, he beat a hasty retreat. He has returned to Govan rather than stay for the remainder of the debate.
Although I do not wish to make any personal comment about the hon. Gentleman, it is important that events are put into perspective. In the Govan by-election in 1973, I worked with the hon. Gentleman 24 hours a day for three weeks. I dragged around with him in his little Japanese-built caravanette. During that time, I learned a great deal about his philosophy and his political activities. Today, he has attempted to rewrite the reasons why
Column 180Thatcherism has been visited upon not just the Scottish people but the working people of all regions, including the north-west. The Scottish National party ratted on the Labour Government and went into the Lobbies with Thatcher and so introduced Thatcherism, in all its guises, to the Scottish people. We need no lessons from the hon. Gentleman on the defence of working people in Scotland or anywhere else. If he is looking for an alliance--a common front, a tartan front--with the 49 Scottish Labour members, I can only say that we have 180 Labour colleagues in England and Wales who consistently support our fight to beat back Thatcherism in Scotland.
Mr. McCartney : My hon. Friend should remember that only three weeks ago I supported him when the House discussed Scottish legislation-- [Interruption.] I am trying to make a case for my hon. Friend, so he should not upset the apple cart.
I wish to deal with the proposal to reform the law on local government capital housing finance and the conduct of local authority business. It is a Pandora's box of missed opportunities and enables further centralisation of Government control of local government democracy. Local government should be allowed to broaden opportunities both for citizens and for industry. Do the Government intend to make it more difficult for local authorities such as Wigan to promote activities such as derelict land programmes and the development of new industrial and tourist initiatives? Will the Government's proposals affect the activities of developing companies?
Before I became a Member of the House I was a director of Wigan Development Company, which was set up by the local authority using local authority assets. We consistently used ratepayers' resources to establish new businesses in the private sector, to promote training opportunities and to encourage the start of new businesses. We also co-ordinated the introduction of new businesses into the community--for example, a new fibreglass company that created 1,000 skilled jobs. If such companies appreciate the worth of co-operating with an elected Labour local authority, why should the Government withdraw support and undermine the development of the local economy? As we approach 1992, with the need to develop a new, thrusting economy in the private sector, new jobs and new technology, it seems incredible that the Government, through capital activities and the withdrawal of grant, should seek to undermine Labour local authorities that are in the vanguard of new projects.
I represent a coal-mining community and am interested in the linking of the privatisation of the electricity supply industry with the environmental issue raised by the Gracious Speech. The Lancashire coalfields are in the throes of an asset-stripping operation. Last week, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) met the Minister and asked him to visit the south Lancashire coalfield. He made the excuse that he had other engagements but said that he would consider our representations. Within hours Hobart house in London issued a statement to national newspapers saying that the Golborne colliery in my constituency would be closed,
Column 181making more than 300 miners redundant. They had not been informed, and nor had the local authority or the area's Members of Parliament.
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Has not that been the story throughout the Lancashire coalfield? For example, in or near my constituency there has been the closure of Bow, there is pressure on Parkside and so on. Is that not a disgrace?
Mr. McCartney : My hon. Friend is correct ; and it is part of an overall plan to soften up the industry, in the run-up to the privatisation of the electricity industry, to allow the importation of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of South African and American coal. To achieve that, they require in the first instance a rundown of the south Lancashire coalfield and the destruction of what it stands for.
As to the environment, the Government rub salt into the wounds of the rundown of the deep mining industry, which leaves large parts of my area derelict and without job opportunities, by their intention to introduce wholesale opencast mining of millions of tonnes of easily obtainable coal-- another threat brought about by the proposed privatisation of electricity. Coalfield communities in south Lancashire are losing job opportunities, and another generation will face not one, two or three years of opencast mining, but five, 10 or 15 years. It will produce not 10,000, 20,000 or 30,000 tonnes but 1 million, 2 million or 3 million tonnes. Communities and villages will be surrounded and captured by the private enterprise philosophy of the Government, which will rape those communities in order to take from them as cheaply as possible the black gold of coal in a way that uses as little labour as possible, leaving local authorities and communities to clear up the remaining environmental dereliction. Those of us who live and work in, and are committed to, the working communities in the coalfields of Britain are not prepared to see the next generation of young people, or our communities, destroyed by the naked opportunism of privatising the electricity industry. Coal miners will be the first victims of the importation of cheap coal. We must also examine the Government's policy of asset stripping in relation to the privatisation of the water authorities. North-West Water has the largest holding of any water authority in Great Britain, with 150,000 acres of publicly owned land, much of it vested by the ratepayers and the local authorities in the north-west in the last reorganisation, without a penny of compensation. Now the Government intend not only to strip them of this public asset and sell it to the private sector, but once again to do so without compensation. What will the privatisation of water authorities do to sport and recreation and to the development of tourism in the north-west? It is clear from the leaks of the Government's intentions and from the off-the-record comments that this land is up for grabs to the highest bidder--whoever is prepared to pay the most to transfer it from the public to the private sector.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Is not one of the dangers, particularly in the north-west, where the water authorities own land of tremendous value that is part of our heritage, that if the land is disposed of, not only will they get the
Column 182money for that, but our heritage will be destroyed in places like the Lake District and the Peak District? It is important that such areas should be preserved not only for us but for future generations.
Mr. McCartney : My hon. Friend is right. All the signs will be changed. They will not say "The Peak District" or "The Lake District" but "Trusthouse Forte's National Park" and "Pay your £2 or £3 here". That is what awaits us as a result of water privatisation. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown) giggles and laughs. He does it regularly. Indeed, it is the only contribution I have heard him making in the past 18 months. He never makes a positive contribution to the debates. If he has some other ideas, he should outline to us the Government's policies for the Lake District, the Peak District and the thousands of urban parklands controlled by the water authorities on which developers have their greedy little eyes.
If the Government were serious about the environment, why have they not introduced a Bill to deal with toxic waste? One would have thought it would be in their minds after the Karin B incident. Within 24 hours, the junior Minister had said that it could unload here and then, because of opposition from Conservative and Labour Members, changed her mind. The north-west has become the toxic waste bin of Europe. Daily, coming from Humberside and other ports, dangerous toxic waste substances are poured into in-fill sites in the north-west. Despite that, there is no legislation to be introduced in this Session by the Government that takes this seriously. There should be a total ban on such imports, and toxic substances created here must not be placed in in-fill sites. The technology for the safe burning of dangerous materials is available. In my constituency and others in the north-west, we do not want in-fill sites to be utilised for burying the most dangerous of toxic substances, occasionally next to people's properties, with resulting dangers.
In my constituency there is a strike in a firm called Abram Alloys Ltd. The strike is not over wages and conditions but because 14 men have been sacked as they reported the company to the Health and Safety Executive because of the way it utilises lead, aluminium and zinc. Two men are currently off sick, one because he had a heart attack as a result of the zinc shakes, which are a common occurrence in places where the Health and Safety Executive's guidelines are not followed. Zinc in the blood is highly dangerous, and within 48 hours of the shakes this man had had a serious heart attack. Another has been seriously ill, again because of the damage caused by lead and aluminium poisoning in the plant.
What do the Government propose to do about the protection of workers? The measures in the Gracious Speech will undermine their ability to improve their working environment so as to protect themselves and take away from them basic opportunities to defend themselves against unscrupulous employers who are prepared to gamble with workers' lives. When workers complain, they are sacked--booted out of the factory--and are now standing on the picket line trying to draw public attention to what is going on. Again, in the Queen's Speech, the Government disregard any way to take action to protect workers and to defend of their health and safety at work. The dangers are more widespread than the effects on the workers. People are living not 100 yards from the
Column 183plant, and there are 300 or 400 houses in which live young women and young children. We know about the effect of lead poisoning on the brains and on the ability of young children. Despite that, there is no proposal from the Government to deal with the problem of toxic waste and its disposal.
What else have the Government failed to do to further freedom and opportunity and to prevent racism and sexism? There is an old saying that an Englishman's home is his castle--but not a bit of it when it comes to leasehold reform. In England and Wales hundreds and thousands of people who have purchased their houses from firms such as Barratt, Wimpey and McAlpine find that spending between £45,000 and £55,000 for a three bedroomed semi-detached property means only that they have bought the house and not the land underneath it and that the land is being sold on the property markets in London. Sometimes they are sold to companies that are owned outside the United Kingdom, and in one case in my constituency to a company whose chairman is wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for extortion.
Such companies are frightening the elderly by sending them letters and demand notices. For example, in an estate in my constituency, a survey was carried out to check how many garden sheds had been built, how many extensions to the property had been made and how many windows had been double glazed. Pensioners received letters saying that if they paid £400 in legal costs to the company, they would be given retrospective permission for such works. Another company wrote to some of my constituents and said that if they did not pay up within 28 days the leasehold would be sold. This happened when some of them were on holiday. The impression was given that selling the leasehold meant selling the property.
When it was introduced, the leasehold reform legislation of 1964 represented an improvement, but it is clear from the sale of leaseholds on the London stock exchange that the protections available are inadequate for working people who have to purchased their property. The Government should introduce legislation to ensure, for example, that every home built in 1989 has the freehold contained in the sale price, that people who have been leaseholders for five years should be allowed to transfer the leasehold without any further cost other than the charge for the land registry fee and that, for those people who have been leaseholders for more than 10 years, the transfer should be free.
There should be legal protection for people who do not wish to purchase the freehold or leasehold to prevent them from being harassed by, for example, insurance companies. Some large nationally owned insurance companies have linked up with sharks involved in this business. They write to my constituents saying, "We understand that you are insured with such-and-such a company. Unless you insure with Norwich Union"--a major and well respected insurance company--"within 28 days, we will take you to the county court because you are not insured according to the leasehold."
Unfortunately, some of my constituents believed those statements. They did not realise that, in going to the county court, the company would have to prove that they had damaged the property and had therefore undervalued and underinsured it. Some of my constituents have paid considerable sums of money. Insurance companies are paying the sharks a commission for harassing ordinary working people.
Column 184This is not 1888 ; it is 1988. The Government talk about freedom and opportunity, but there is not a word in the Gracious Speech about introducing legislation to protect leaseholders in England and Wales. It is not only highway robbery, but a sophisticated form of mugging carried out by men in pin-striped suits. We know all about that from Conservative Members.
In view of continuing unemployment, why have the Government not introduced a Bill proposing the right to work along the lines of that introduced by the Socialist Government in Sweden? The Minister often refers to the Labour Governments in New Zealand, Australia and Sweden, but, when it comes to social legislation, the Government simply turn a blind eye. As a result of the changes in employment training and the phasing out of the community programme, many middle-aged men and women are being locked out of the labour market. What about the 300 miners in my constituency made redundant last week? Most of them are over 50 years of age. They cannot be introduced to the employment training scheme. They are specifically excluded from it for two years and, even then, according to the guidance from the Training Agency, a person over 50 has a low priority for going on to such a scheme. A large proportion of the long-term unemployed are therefore being forgotten by the Government. How can the Government be serious about bringing back into the labour market large numbers of the unemployed when they have not introduced a Bill giving them the right to work, developed a common programme of retraining or provided resources to enable the public and private sectors to develop a national training and a retraining programme? The Government are not interested in developing such a programme. They have been fiddling the unemployment figures and hoping that the rest of Britain in work will forget about the parts of Britain where people are out of work.
Opposition Members will not let the Government or the rest of Britain forget about the unemployed in our constituencies, including those in my region of the north-west. In the last decade, 38 per cent. of our manufacturing workers have lost their jobs and the opportunities and freedoms that are given through full-time employment in industry. The Government have not introduced a Bill to give them the right to work.
What about regional government? I am sorry that the hon. Member for Govan is no longer with us. Obviously, he has gone back to Govan.
Mr. McCartney : I am not suggesting that Scotland is a region. The hon. Lady should recognise from my accent that I would never do so. I speak as someone who has had to leave Scotland to seek employment in an English- speaking area. My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) laughs. As I transferred south, he transferred north. No amount of persuasion from me would make him transfer back again.
The growing divisions in society have singled out for special treatment by the Government not only Scotland and Wales but many regions in the north of England. Unemployment rates, lack of investment, the destruction of manufacturing industries, the lack of resources for our infrastructure, poverty and ill health in Merseyside and
Column 185greater Manchester are as great, as, if not higher than, in Edinburgh, Glasgow or any other part of the United Kingdom. The crisis of capitalism introduced by the Government has reached all parts of the United Kingdom. That is why it is important to all of us, whatever our accent and wherever we live, that there should be a unified response. We cannot resolve the problems of Manchester without resolving those of Glasgow, Belfast, Edinburgh and inner-city London, where the problems and crises are very much the same. The Government should have introduced legislation for the strategic planning and development of the infrastructure in the north-west. For example, what will they do about Manchester airport? It has clearly become the premier local airport in Europe, yet the Government are considering the introduction of a Bill to privatise it. Will that mean that American Airlines, Northwest Airlines or Transworld Airlines can purchase terminal 2 to control the airport and thus undermine the activities of British Airways and the 1,200 British Airways workers? The Government should explain their intentions. The Government have introduced no legislation to deal with the inability of local authorities and regional and district health authorities to plan satisfactorily the return to the community of thousands of mentally handicapped and disabled people. The Government's care-in-the-community programme is in disarray and, as a result, tens of thousands of mentally disabled people who have been offered the opportunity to come back and live in the community as a family have had their hopes dashed by the Government. The Queen's Speech contained no proposals for the development of a national community care programme involving the mentally disabled and local authorities.
The Queen's Speech is a missed opportunity not only for the Government but, tragically, for millions of our fellow citizens who look to the Government at the eleventh hour for a change of heart to give them the opportunity that so many Conservative Members have and take for granted every day of their working lives.
Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) : I welcome the terms of the Gracious Speech. The Government appear to have solved the problems of how to keep ahead of public opinion, to deal successfully with economic difficulties, social discontent and civil disturbances, and to produce peace and relative prosperity. The Government's general approach is sound. That is to dismantle the apparatus of Socialism, to promote freedom in economic affairs, to move to remove the burden of oppressive taxation and to force more individuals to take responsibility for their own lives. All these things have been achieved, or are well on the way to being achieved. The result has been a transformation in the quality of economic and political life in Britain since the Government took power.
The very success of the Government's policies has revealed other problems, some of which are not so susceptible to Government action, especially those which are the consequences of a continual moral decline. These problems include crime, cruelty and indifference to the suffering of others.
Column 186I am glad that it is proposed to rationalise and modernise the Security Service and to give it at last a legal entity so that we know it exists and we have some comprehension of its form and organisation. We shall even have some power to ensure that it does not act irresponsibly in future. I welcome also the proposal to reform section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911.
There is one section of the Gracious Speech which falls behind the otherwise high standard of the others, and that is the one which sets out proposals for Northern Ireland. The measures that are announced in the Gracious Speech, which no doubt will be brought before us in the coming weeks, are pathetically weak to achieve their purpose. Whe terrorists are convicted of their crimes, they are imprisoned. They are released on to the streets when they have served only 50 per cent. of their sentences. The recidivist percentage is extremely high--I understand that it is about 20 per cent. In Northern Ireland there is no parole system. It is often said that there is 50 per cent. remission because of the absence of one. In the rest of the United Kingdom the parole system applies after one third of a prison sentence has been served. There is one third automatic remission for good behaviour.
It appears to be proposed that for terrorist offences in future there should be only one third automatic remission. That means nothing. It is a pathetic response to a murderous assault on the British people of Northern Ireland, which is being perpetrated by the IRA. The proper approach would be not to release terrorists on to the streets at all and instead to institute a sentence of imprisonment that will continue for as long as the emergency remains. That would mean that those convicted of such offences would be unable to return to a career of terrorism. The House will know that many of them have taken that course in the past.
We could institute a system of parole that would allow for individual cases of genuine remorse. That would provide an inducement for good behaviour. The effect of the proposal that is outlined in the Gracious Speech is to add one sixth of the sentence that is imposed on terrorists who have received fixed terms of imprisonment. It is insulting and stupid.
It is proposed also to introduce a requirement for an oath against violence to be taken as a condition of candidancy in local elections. This is a serious mistake. We should not qualify the franchise by a test of political opinion. If Sinn Fein candidates--people who we know support the violence of the IRA--are not welcomed in our democratic elections, we should be honest about it. We should ban their organisation as we have banned the IRA. It is silly, prissy and unconstitutional to impose a test of political opinion on candidates, whether in Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom. It would be proper that an oath of allegiance be administered if there is to be a political qualification, but that requirement was abandoned years ago by the then Government in a mistaken effort to come to terms with terrorism.
The Government are strangely lacking courage in their current proposals for Northern Ireland and their approach to its problems. The proposed new measures are timid and are likely to be ineffective. They give offence without harming the enemy. They are willing to wound yet afraid to strike.
The only policy that we have never tried in Northern Ireland is the one that stares us in the face. We have tried every other policy, including devolution, direct rule and
Column 187even government by consultation with the Irish Republic. All these policies have been unsuccessful because they fail to take into account the unyielding determination of most Ulstermen to remain British. The remaining option is to grant them complete integration with the United Kingdom. The greatest mistake that we have made in Ireland in recent times is to include within the borders of Northern Ireland a large population which gives its allegiance to the Irish Republic. Those who are members of that population will never be reconciled to being within the United Kingdom. They produce support for the IRA and are its mainstay, yet they are a small minority of the whole.
Those who give allegiance to the Irish Republic should be given the chance to leave the United Kingdom. Let Ulstermen choose whether to remain in the United Kingdom or transfer to the Irish Republic. Let us transfer the opting-out border areas to the Republic. Give those who find themselves on what they regard as the wrong side of the new border generous resettlement grants to enable them to move to the country of their choice, in one direction or the other. The Queen has no need of unwilling subjects. Let those who wish to leave the United Kingdom do so. We can then let the courageous British people of Northern Ireland live in the peace and security which they deserve while fully integrated with the United Kingdom. They will then be represented in British Governments by British political parties. 7.48 pm
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) has gone down the road that has brought bloodshed and death to the island of Ireland for the past 600 years. I should say that I rarely speak on Irish matters because I was born and bred in Ireland. I come from a family with long roots in Ireland that suffered at the hands of the stupidity, on occasions, of this place over history. I hope and pray that those responsible in the current Government take not one jot of notice of the insanity that we have heard expressed over the past few minutes. How do we redraw the borders of 1922? How do we overcome matters that cost the deaths in the civil war that followed? How and where do we draw the line? Are we to tear human beings from their roots, their homes and their land? Are we to treat human beings in that disgusting way?
As I said, I did not intend to speak about Ireland, but one could not let what we have just heard go unanswered. When I looked at the Gracious Speech, I possibly looked at it in my own naive way and thought that I would find something in it that I could, perhaps, try to support. The policy of the last eight or nine years has been slowly to negate the freedoms of the people of this island, and to remove from us much that has been cherished over the years. The Government did not like local government, so
Column 188they started to take away housing, started to impose their will on education, started to change the rules on social services, cut the resources, and gradually strangled it. Why should not people who live in a particular area decide how they should spend their resources? However, if it did not fit the Government's policy, they took that power away.
I notice that in the Gracious Speech the Government said that they will do all that they can to raise the standards of education. How about giving the children some books as starters, because there are still schools up and down this land which do not have enough books? We have heard the nonsense about student loans. My eldest son is shortly to go to university. What is this stupid and cross-eyed idea that they have about student loans? There was a time when we actually encouraged children to go to university. We believed that it was in the interests of the nation.
I still believe that, and so do the Opposition. The Government, however, who want to raise the standard of education, do not supply the tools that are needed--the buildings, the infrastructure, the books, the teachers and the opportunities. Why on this island do we have such a low rate of persons continuing education post-16? In Scotland or Ireland--we come back to that island again--the percentage is in the upper twenties. I am pleased that in my constituency in St. Helens--it may have something to do with its historic Irish connections--26 per cent. of children over the age of 16 stay in further education, and that is something of which we are proud. The local authority has had to make great sacrifices to maintain education standards as it has been slowly throttled out of existence by the policy of the Government.
I then looked on in the Gracious Speech in the hope of finding a nugget of gold. It is a pity that the Home Secretary is not here, because I had almost a cri de coeur for him. I had hoped that the legislation for the protection of children would lie with his Department and not with the Department of Health. I have good reason for saying that. I declare an interest as a lawyer, and I want family courts. Many of us have hoped and prayed for family courts ever since the Finer report--and there I thought was the nugget of gold. However, I see the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment smiling, and I fear that I have not found my nugget of gold. That legislation will once more lie at the door of the Department of Health, so I fear for the future of our children.
If ever there was an opportunity of reviewing the law after the Butler- Sloss report on the Cleveland affair, taking the adversarial system out of the care order cases, and bringing back what many of us believe should be the primary concern in those cases--being able to act speedily, quickly and efficiently in the interest of the child--it is now. But I suspect that this nugget of gold is not to be found. I searched on in the Gracious Speech in the fruitless hunt for this nugget of gold. I looked at the proposals for the security services. I even read the Bill published today on the new security system. It is really a load of garbage from top to bottom. It says and does nothing. It is a sop thrown because there has been so much complaint, quite rightly, about such matters. It says that the Home Secretary must sign every warrant for illegal entrance and phone tappers. The poor old Home Secretary will never stop signing warrants, there will be so many of them. I do not know where he will find time to come to the House to explain his actions.
Column 189It then says that the commission will make an annual report, which will be reported to the Prime Minister. That is interesting, but unfortunately most of us do not have access to the Prime Minister's Office. It says that the report will be published. However, although it will be published, the commission can leave bits out, if it feels that it is not in the interests of the state. I have the awful feeling that the first time we see one of those reports it will be the size of a postcard and written on one side only. It is nothing more than a sop.
I notice that at long last section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 is sought to be reformed. The hon. Member for
Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) proposed a sensible measure last year, but the Government voted it down. I dread what we shall have in its place, because the Government are obsessed with secrecy, with power and getting at anything that opposes them--be it a trade union or anybody else. Their obsession is a disease that comes with the arrogance of power. They have had nearly 10 years of always wanting their own way. If anyone gets in their way, they have a go. The Gracious Speech was delivered by a gracious person, but unfortunately the writers of the speech left the likes of me no nuggests of gold, and for the people of St. Helens not much hope for the future, either.
Mr. David Shaw (Dover) : I had not planned on speaking in the debate, but when I listened to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I was surprised and staggered by some of the points that he made about freedom and fairness. I felt that those points completely ignored the reality of the tremendous opportunities that have been opened up by the Government.
Certainly we should not listen to any fairness lecture from the Opposition. One has only to look at yesterday's Official Report to see the appalling attempts at unfairness when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was interrupted no less than eight times in her speech on the Gracious Speech, as well as receiving seven interventions by Opposition Members. It used to be the hen-pecked husband who claimed that his wife always interrupted him. In this House it seems that the mother hen is interrupted constantly by the Opposition's chickens, who are afraid to debate but prefer to shout and try to shout down our Prime Minister, who is one of the most respected anywhere in the world.
Mr. Shaw : Yes, even in Scotland, if one talks to the people who are interested in the future of the nation and those who actually want some of the opportunities offered by the Government developed further.
By comparison, however, Hansard shows that the speech of the Leader of the Opposition was not interrupted. Indeed, it was heard in stony silence. Of course, little interest was shown by any hon. Members in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. In fact, I counted less than half the Labour Members as present. Clearly, many of the right hon. Gentleman's own
Column 190Members had not even turned up to listen to his speech. That is because the case against this Government is a weak one.
The nation is more free, more fair and has more opportunity that it ever would have had under a Labour Government. The Opposition have failed to explain whether the last Labour Government were more fair when they refused to pay the pensioners' Christmas bonuses in 1975 and 1976. Were the last Labour Government more fair when they changed the calculation basis for the old-age pension in 1976, thereby removing eight months inflation from the calculation? Of course, many people wonder whether there was more freedom under the Labour Government when they supported the closed shop that forced so many people out of work and onto the dole queues.
I congratulate the Government on the Queen's Speech, on their home affairs policy, and particularly on the broadcasting White Paper, which has been mentioned many times. I am only disappointed that we may have to wait an extra year before the Government's proposals are implemented. The broadcasting White Paper is excellent, and I speak as the director of a radio station and as one experienced in commercial radio, which offers more choice than ever before. It was introduced by a Conservative Government-- Labour did not like it. Today, 40 per cent. of the population listens to something that Labour did not like and did not want. Forty per cent. of the population enjoy commercial radio ; only Labour do not enjoy it, because commercial radio offers greater choice, freedom and opportunity to ordinary people.
I am pleased by what the White Paper says about television. The public want satellite and cable television, and when watching it they will remember that the Labour party did not want them to have the freedom to view it.
As to official secrets, I and my constituents are not in the front line of those demanding reform. Dover has been at the centre of the nation's defences and has successfully defended the nation for more than 1,000 years because those who sought to invade were denied the secrets of our nation's defences. However, the Government have listened to those who believe that there should be greater openness of a kind that no previous Government felt able to permit. I welcome the proposed Bill concerning official secrets.
I welcome also the proposed Security Service Bill. The Government have tackled a difficult area head on and in a way that no previous Government dared. They will bring out into the open the way that MI5 operates, so that many will feel more confident, knowing that out security services have a formal basis of operation and may not really have under surveillance their front or back doors or be bugging their telephones.
For years, the Opposition have claimed that the security services looked into the lives of ordinary people. That is far from true, and I welcome the opportunity the Bill provides for the security services' basis of operations to be formally laid down for the first time. The security services are necessary for the nation's defence and for the defence of the realm. It is important that their work should be unhindered, but on a basis that has been approved by Parliament, with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary having the freedom to control and manage their operations.
The improved opportunities identified in the Gracious Speech represent some of the Government's greatest achievements so far, and more will be achieved in the
Column 191future. Today, people have more opportunity than ever before. There are now 2.5 million more home owners than there were in 1979, when Labour left office. The Conservative Government have provided the opportunity to own the home in which one lives. Today there are 9 million more direct shareholders, but there are also 16.5 million indirect shareholders through pension funds and life assurance. The coal miners often worry about whether their industry should be in the private sector, little realising that they have, through their own pension fund, investments in the private sector of the order of £10 billion, and that their future is greatly dependent on it. A week before the last general election, I found myself in a coal mining community pointing out that, fearing a Labour victory, the stock market had fallen by the equivalent of half a billion pounds of the coal miners' pension fund. So even the coal miners have an interest in ensuring that a Conservative Government remain in office and that there are more opportunities for share ownership, more shareholders, and more economic success.
There are more people in jobs or in training than ever before. The Government have created a phenomenal number of new jobs. Everyone recognises that that has been achieved at the cost of others, but they were subsidised jobs which had no future and were not helping the nation's productivity. Manufacturing industry is producing more from a smaller labour force than ever before. That is real success and I hope we shall see many more years of it.
The opportunity for people to enjoy a better education has also been expanded by the present Government. That has been achieved not just by the Education Reform Act 1988 but by the opportunities provided by student loans. It is noticeable that people do not have enough opportunities to enjoy further education. I do not mean education of a theoretical nature but business education. We do not have sufficient business graduates. We need more successful business managers who can create jobs and develop our economy towards the year 2000. Student loans and other forms of assistance give people an opportunity to enjoy further business education of a practical nature.