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Column 85amount of money allocated to it. I wonder whether the proposals likely to be contained in the Bill will achieve the objectives in the White Paper. I have my doubts about that.
Although the guru who advanced the proposals that the Government have taken on board--Professor Alain Enthoven, an American academic--fully supports the idea of self-governing hospitals, he is concerned that the Government have not carried out a pilot project or experiment. He has stated many times that budget-holding practices with 11,000 patients are unworkable. He believes that a much larger grouping of practices and patients is vital if that system is to work. I need not remind the House that that guru has opposed the granting of tax relief for medical insurance for the over-60s. He does not believe that this will help the Health Service, attract more people to the idea of taking out private medical insurance or release additional resources for the NHS. The Select Committee on Social Services, of which I am a member, fully supports him.
Why will not my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench, especially my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health, listen to those who have looked into these matters deeply? Why are they not prepared to reach an accord with consultants and general practitioners? Why do they not set up in the East Anglia health authority region--which, dare I say, gestated my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard)- -pilot projects on self-governing hospitals and budget-holding practices? Such projects could operate in isolation from the rest of the country and within two or three years we could ascertain whether the proposals will bring the benefit that the Government expect. I hope that, during the passage of the Health Service legislation on the Floor of the House and in Standing Committee, the Government will carefully take note of the amendments which are tabled, all of which I hope will improve the Bill and thereby provide a better Health Service.
Our treatment of pre-1973 war widows is grossly unjust. I have campaigned for about 10 years to get them a better pension. These people have given their all in losing their loved ones and having to bring up a family without a father, the head of a family. They deprive themselves of the opportunity of getting work because often they stay at home to look after their children, so they are not able to have an occupational pension, with all the security and spending power that it gives so many people. Last Session, virtually half the House signed an early-day motion supporting the case of the pre-1973 war widows. I hope that in the new Session the House, in its wisdom, will legislate to give justice to the war widows.
The economy is important to all that the Government seek to do in making progress, providing infrastructure, improving education and improving the Health Service. I have long believed that the sole use of interest rates to deal with inflation is counter-productive and inflationary in itself. In the process, it makes our manufacturing industry less competitive and it is a disincentive to investment. What happens if we now destroy further sectors of our manufacturing base? We have to import more goods. What happens if we do that? We exacerbate the balance of trade and further increase our present balance of trade deficit. What happens if there is a bigger balance of trade deficit? It puts pressure on the pound. What happens if
Column 86there is pressure on the pound? The previous Chancellor of the Exchequer immediately put up interest rates and we are back in the vicious circle.
In his Autumn Statement, my right hon. Friend the new Chancellor of the Exchequer has perhaps heralded his intention to look at other ways of dealing with our problems and to use not only monetary measures but fiscal measures, and I warmly welcome that.
The economy is critical not only to the country, but--dare I say it to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench--to the future of the Conservative Government. We have two and a half years in which to get it right. The mere use of interest rates to deal with inflation will not be the answer. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will use fiscal measures as well as monetary measures and will consider whether it is appropriate for the Bank of England to call in deposits from the clearing banks to take some of the hot money out of circulation, failing which--
Mr. Winterton : I propose that we should reintroduce capital allowances, which the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer phased out far too early. If we do that, our manufacturing base will expand, our balance of trade deficit will be reduced and we shall once again have a healthy economy. I entirely endorse the views expressed in the past 24 hours by the Confederation of British Industry. Given the chance, British industry can respond and this country can be great again. 8.42 pm
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to speak on this historic occasion and I can assure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that any agency fees, royalties or copyright money received will go directly to the Speaker's art fund. This is a historic occasion because it is the first day of the televising of the House of Commons and it is, therefore, much more of a tragedy that the Gracious Speech did not match the occasion. The word that leapt to mind when I first read the Gracious Speech was "vacuous", but, on reflection, that word seems far too substantial. I later listened in amazement, anger and frustration to the Prime Minister's defence of the Gracious Speech and her party's programme for this Session. I listened with frustration at the complacency she still shows in the wake of 10 years of the economic destruction of our manufacturing industry. I listened with anger to her utter refusal still to accept one iota of responsibility for Britain's ills and I listened with amazement when I realised that the Prime Minister and some of her colleagues--apparently not all of them--continue to live in a fairytale world of their own making a million miles distant from my constituency in Lanarkshire.
However, the Prime Minister's speech helped to explain a comment made by one of her erstwhile colleagues a fortnight ago. The right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) warned the Prime Minister that she was in grave
Column 87danger of becoming "semi-detached". It was not clear on that occassion whether he was warning the Prime Minister against becoming semi-detached from the Cabinet or from the European Community. After her contribution today, all is clear. He was warning her against becoming semi-detached from reality, and nothing illustrates that semi-detachment from reality better than the Queen's Speech. I must, of course, make it plain that I do not blame Her Majesty the Queen, who had to deliver the speech with a straight face. I do not blame the actor in this role, but we are entitled to call for the author to own up to the mistakes. It reminded me of the playwright who when asked how his play had been received commented that the play was a great success, but the audience was a dismal failure.
For the Prime Minister, the audience is always a dismal failure. If the audience is the Commonwealth, it is out of step. If the audience is the European Community, it is out of step. If it is NATO, it is out of step and if it is the Scottish people, they are out of step. At the next election, the whole of Britain will no doubt be out of step. If we want to find out who is really out of step with reality, we should look at this substantial document--the Queen's Speech. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) drew attention to the great changes that are taking place throughout the world. I entirely agree with him about the need to retain stability in international affairs and arms control, but I should have thought that with the rate and extent of change, especially in eastern Europe, and with the massive initiatives that have been taken--unilaterally on occasions and multilaterally on others--we should have had something more than one line saying :
"My Government will work for balanced and verifiable measures of arms control."
If that is the only line that the Government and Parliament can produce in the face of the enormous and unparalleled opportunities for advances in world peace and nuclear disarmament, this House fails the nation.
Let us consider the words :
"My Government will continue to reinforce budgetary discipline ; and to carry forward the reform of the common agricultural policy." Anyone who has studied the subject for the past decade will know that we have achieved hardly any--if any--reforms of the common agricultural policy.
The next paragraph continues :
"My Government will continue to work for a peaceful solution in a settlement in Cambodia."
That is possibly the most disgraceful sentence in the whole of the Queen's Speech. Everyone inside and outside Westminster knows that in practice the Government have been offering succour and support to a regime that ranks alongside only the Nazis in the evil it has done and in the holocaust that it has inflicted on the people of Cambodia.
The Government pledge themselves to
"maintain a substantial aid programme"
to the Third world. The reality is that they have halved the aid programme to the Third world. They commit themselves to pursuing "firm financial policies designed to reduce inflation". Under the last Chancellor of the Exchequer, they doubled inflation. They commit themselves to
"pursue their policies for reducing crime".
In reality, they have doubled crime in 10 years.
Column 88They commit themselves to
"provide for a wider choice of broadcast services".
They could have been more forthright and they could have said that in the world of broadcasting profits would be put before standards. I know that the Prime Minister told us today that quality will be ensured by rigorous monitoring. Monitoring can mean anything. I have pointed out in the House before that I was unfortunate enough to see a Scottish goalkeeper called Haffey monitor the ball going into his own net nine times at Wembley. The problem was that he did not do anything to stop it going into the net. If we are to have such monitoring, the Prime Minister's promise that quality will be the watchword in the independent, profit-seeking broadcasting corporations will go for nothing. "Coronation Street" will not be replaced by "Quality Street" when they privatise the whole of the broadcasting industry. It is the first step towards skid row for standards in British broadcasting.
Perhaps the most weasel words of the lot were :
"A Bill will be introduced to supplement students' grants with loans."
The word "supplement" is not a printing error. In all honesty if words mean anything, the words used should have been, "substitute student grants with loans". As inflation increases, the real value of the grant will be eroded and for it will be substituted loans--which the banks do not want, the students and their families do not want and the country does not want. The only person who seems to want it is the Prime Minister, who has as her mentor in another place Lord Joseph, one of the great minds of the 17th century who appears still to exert a tremendous influence on the Government's education policies.
Finally, the Government say :
"A Bill will be brought forward to improve the National Health Service".
As another lady who wielded enormous power without responsibility said two decades ago, "They would, wouldn't they?" No one inside or outside the House actually believes that the Prime Minister's aim is to improve the National Health Service ; it is rather to undermine the National Health Service.
Just as important as what was in the Queen's Speech is what was not in it-- the dogs that did not bark in the night. There was nothing about investment, infrastructure, skills or training. We heard the same old rhetoric and the same old remedies from the same old Prime Minister. Nowhere are those remedies more painful and unpalatable than in my constituency of Motherwell, North and in Scotland generally. Remedies designed to cool down an overheated economy in the south-east of England are unpalatable enough in the south-east of England. When imposed upon what is, at best, a lukewarm economy that has just come out of the last recession, they are not only unpalatable but excruciatingly painful.
Much of the industry in my constituency and throughout Scotland has been devastated over the past 10 years. That is why the Prime Minister is willing to talk about almost anything except the Scottish economy when she comes to Scotland. She came to Glasgow and gave us a lecture on Adam Smith and political economy. She came to Edinburgh and gave us a sermon on the mount, preaching from the Bible. When she came to Perth she made one of her most bizarre political contributions ever, which I have drawn to hon. Members' attention as a matter of civic duty because it does not reflect on the Prime
Column 89Minister's political judgment alone. She came to Perth and gave us a great history of that well known Scottish folk hero, Julius Caesar. She said--I kid the House not--
"If Julius Caesar were to land on our shores today, he would have no hesitation in saying I came, I saw, I invested.' "
That could not have been produced by a speechwriter. Any speechwriter who was on the books and being paid would have been hard pushed to think that up, but it is what the Prime Minister said in Scotland. If Julius Caesar were alive today, he could not possibly be a director of the Caterpillar corporation, which disappeared from Scotland with the investment. He would certainly not be the investment manager of the Wang corporation, who has just gone to Ireland, and he would certainly not be the strategic investment manager of British Steel, because if one industry has had its investment undermined in the past 10 years it is the steel industry. We in Scotland are not asking for more than our fair share. We were promised a fair deal under privatisation and we have not had a fair deal. On Monday next week the representative of the Clydesdale tubeworks will be here. Over the past two years the works has increased productivity, decreased customer complaints, reduced delivery dates and improved quality. The thanks for that has been a blank refusal by British Steel management to invest the necessary money in mills to allow us to compete with the Japanese and maintain markets in the North sea. That is not so much a slap in the face as a stab in the back for the Scottish industry and Scottish steelworkers. That is the way in which effort is rewarded in the Prime Minister's brave new Britain.
It is not only industry in Scotland that has been thanked in that manner but people in Scotland and throughout Britain. Let me give an example from my constituency--possibly the most moving example that I have come across since I became a Member of Parliament, and certainly an illustrative one. It concerns a constituent of over 80 years of age who is suffering from pneumoconiosis. That is not a disease which one gets through an idle life, or the sign of a childhood wasted in a billiards hall. It is the product of many years spent in the bowels of the earth producing coal for the benefit and profit of others. My constituent also served during the second world war. When the war came along, he did not ask what his country could do for him or even what he could do for his country ; he merely went out and did it. At the age of 84, that man had his housing benefit reduced by £16 a week and had imposed upon him a poll tax that he could not have afforded to pay even had his housing benefit remained at its previous level. That is how people are thanked in the Prime Minister's brave new Britain.
In the midst of this economic and social decline, what have we heard from the Secretary of State for Scotland? Has he been fighting his corner, like the Secretary of State for Wales? The answer is no. He has been too busy fighting not Scotland's corner but Scotland's handicap, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland--the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), the real power base of the Conservative party in Scotland--who insists on imposing on the people of Scotland a dream that is alien to all their culture and all their values. I have a message for Conservative Members--especially those who do not understand the political situation in Scotland. The people of my country do not share the dream of the Under-Secretary. To them it is not a dream ; for millions of
Column 90them it is a nightmare. That nightmare is now beginning to dawn on people in other areas of the country, including the south-east. I look forward to a Gracious Speech two or three years hence in which the Labour party can begin to lift for the first time the darkness-- of this long decade --not only from Scotland but from Britain as a whole.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : As the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) said in his opening remarks, this is a momentous day for Parliament. As one of the Conservative Members who voted for the televising of Parliament to give us a wider audience and to invite viewers into the Chamber, I welcome the opportunity to take part in our first televised debate. I hope that the public will see through some of the noise and realise that, although we may not always agree and there is great emotion in our argument, we are, on the whole, good-natured.
I wish to respond to two of the points made during the debate, to which I have been listening since 2.30 pm. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) about war widows and support wholeheartedly his campaign for the better treatment of pre-1973 war widows. He has argued eloquently the case for such a measure, and I shall support him in pressing the case with the Government. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will make it clear to the Government that we want equal treatment for war widows. We have heard three very moving speeches from hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. They referred to the dreadful terror inflicted on the Province and on our armed forces and their families. There are several military establishments in my constituency and people have been expressing grave concern about security arrangements. I call on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to review the security of all British bases, including those on the mainland, and the protection that we afford the families of our soldiers. That is a matter of grave concern to them and to all of us.
The common theme running through the Government's legislative programme as outlined in the Gracious Speech is one of consumer interest. There are five key issues in which the Government are putting the interests of the consumer at the centre of the stage. There are Bills about broadcasting, legal reform, the Health Service, food safety and environmental protection.
It is right that we should put the consumer at the centre of the stage. We are responding to consumer concerns. The Leader of the Opposition, supported almost word for word by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), tried very hard to suggest that Britain's economy is in worse shape now than it was in 1979. People in Britain know that that is not true. There may be problems which remain to be tackled, and they were realistically outlined by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Autumn Statement last week. The British people know that progress has been made.
We have heard selective references to the CBI debate yesterday. I attended that debate, and I urge those who are unsure of the CBI's view of the state of the economy to read carefully the keynote speech made by the director general of the CBI, John Banham, who made it absolutely
Column 91clear that there is no need for us to talk ourselves into a recession. At the same time, he made it clear that the CBI has some differences with Government policy. However, his message was perfectly clear with regard to the underlying strength of the economy, the prosperity of the nation and the amount of industrial investment that we have seen over the past few years.
When we consider consumer interests, we should not be surprised at the increased prosperity that we can see all around us. I listened very carefully to speeches made by hon. Members from Yorkshire and from Scotland. I recognise that there are problems in our inner cities and that regeneration is needed in some of our industrial areas. Reference is made to that in the Gracious Speech. Generally speaking, most people recognise that there is increased prosperity which we must guard. As a result of that prosperity, people are considering quality of life issues.
The Government are responding to concerns about standards of decency and taste and about sex and violence and particularly about bad language in broadcasting. That is why we need a broadcasting standards council. The Government want to maintain the quality of existing channels in a more competitive environment of commercial and multi-channel television.
Some legal reforms are long overdue to improve the accessibility of the legal system especially in civil matters. It has been far too costly and cumbersome for many people to take civil action. Improving access and more speedy settlement of court cases is necessary and can be achieved without undermining justice or sound judgment. During the lifetime of this Parliament, the Government have responded to patient and public demand for even higher standards of patient care. We want better amenities, shorter waiting lists, less inconvenience and wider choice. The White Paper on community care was published last week, and we have the opportunity to offer elderly people the greater dignity of spending more of the life that remains to them in their own homes. The Government's commitment to the NHS is foursquare. There can be no doubt about that when we consider the massive injection of additional money promised by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week. That is the strength of the Government's commitment to the Health Service. We have been able to respond generously to the NHS and we have also been able to reduce the debt with which this country has been saddled for many years especially when the Labour party was last in government. That reduction speaks volumes for our sound fiscal judgment in dealing with the economy and the public purse. The increased money that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced last week for the Health Service and education equates roughly to the amount of money that we have saved in national debt interest, proving that under our stewardship we can make resources available to deal with the problems with which the people want us to deal.
The food Bill must surely be a direct consequence of concern among consumers and genuine producers for higher standards of food safety and hygiene. People have a right to know what they are buying and eating. The Bill will present opportunities to root out unscrupulous producers and to promote British food production. They will be two major benefits of the measure.
Column 92There is public anxiety about the future of our environment, both domestically and internationally. That anxiety is influencing consumer judgment about the nature of our way of life, particularly our motoring habits, the petrol we use, and the exhaust emission controls which we fix to our vehicles.
We must be environmentally sensitive and we must consider how to deal with the by-products of industrial waste. Consumers are demanding proper waste disposal and the recycling of waste. They can see the problems. The environmental protection Bill will present a tremendous opportunity to deal with waste problems. Consumers will demand that suppliers of goods and services consider that matter. There is an opportunity to strengthen public confidence by greater public access to the details of pollution control. Consumer concern for green issues is proving to be the engine of change. With all those measures, the Government's response is clear and incisive. Critics of the Government's consumer interest philosophy suggest that the Government rely too heavily on market forces--that is, that the market is king. That is not the case. In the forthcoming measures there will be considerable regulation to protect consumer interests while widening consumer choice. The key to success is in balancing those factors. For example, the Government's decision to protect the Channel 4 remit demonstrates a determination to protect quality and minority interests in television. Nevertheless, hon. Members will agree that the Government must listen carefully to those who have expressed genuine concern that the objective of greater consumer choice is not undermined by fragmentation or reduced opportunities. Viewers will not feel that choice is widened if a break up of the Channel 3 network leads to a loss of popular programmes. The hon. Member for Motherwell, North referred to "Coronation Street". I do not envisage that televising the proceedings of the House of Commons will prove to be an alternative to "Coronation Street", no matter how much some hon. Members try to make a soap opera of our proceedings. We must take care not to disturb the fabric of the legal profession to the extent that the availability of independent professional advice might be lost, such as might occur in market towns in our rural areas. In particular, when widening conveyancing opportunities, we must recognise that there are potential conflicts of interest and that estate agents or building societies should not act for both sides in a property transaction.
Health Service reforms must not lead to a loss of key services. Some people have said that the public are opposed to the Government's plans for the Health Service. Rather the public oppose the misrepresentation of the Government's intentions. When we consider supervision by local authority agencies, we must be careful to ensure that there is a level playing field and that the private and voluntary sectors will not be decreased as a result of public sector provision by local authorities. There must be fairness in supervision and inspection.
Food and product labelling must be honest if the public and consumer are to have confidence in it and if that confidence is not be undermined by false and misleading claims. In addition, I ask the Government not to include too much bureaucracy in the food protection Bill. The consumer can be trusted. Hon. Members may recall our arguments earlier this year with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the future of green
Column 93top milk. Thankfully, we won that argument. We can trust the consumer, but the labelling must be accurate and honest. Doubtful or even spurious claims about environmental protection or food safety must never be allowed to become barriers to free trade or fair competition. Scientific advice is essential and it is therefore right to put the interests of the consumer first.
We must have a balance in this and those who will understandably want to express their point of view on the Government would perhaps do well to put consumer interest before self-interest when pressing their arguments. As Conservative Back-Bench Members look at suggestions for improving these Bills, we would do well to judge what is said about our measures on those lines.
I appreciate that time is pressing, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall refer only briefly to three other points. First, part of the Queen's Speech refers to the war against drug trafficking and drug abuse. Hon. Members who serve on the Select Committee on Home Affairs have spent a great deal of time this year considering the drug problem both in north America and in this country. We shall shortly publish our major report on this matter to the House.
In my judgment, in our fight against crime there is no greater prize than that which would be gained by successfully tackling the problem and scourge of drug abuse. Those who suggest that we should legalise drug abuse must never be allowed to win their argument. I am sure that the House will return to this issue again. Although it is not a matter for legislation, I greatly support the rapid response that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made in his previous capacity as Home Secretary in answer to some of our representations. Although they may have nothing to do with the legislative programme outlined in the Gracious Speech, two issues will dominate Parliament's proceedings in the months ahead--the economy and Europe. I do not think that many of us have the experience to suggest the time at which we should enter the exchange rate mechanism and on what terms. We all recognise that the Prime Minister is right to say that, when the terms are right, we will go in. I have listened to several debates in the House on this matter, which has been referred to again today, and no one seems to want to say precisely what the exchange rate should be. To those who advance monetary union and who want a speedy solution, I point out that for some years we as a Government have been arguing for the dismantling of the green currencies, which cause considerable concern to our farmers and to agriculture. The very people who are now saying that they want to speed up things have significantly dragged their feet over many arguments about the green currencies.
If there is to be some change in the rapidity of our progress towards European monetary union, let those advocating such progress advance it. The green currencies will be dismantled by 1992, but why wait until 1992? The green pound in our sheepmeat industry is 15 per cent. right now, which is of great concern to the sheep producers in my constituency.
I strongly believe that interest rates have gone up far enough to enable us to deal with the inflationary process. I very much hope that the next move on interest rates will be downwards.
Column 949.13 pm
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton) : The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) began by referring to the plight of the war widows. Labour Members support any campaign to improve the pensions of those unfortunate widows. We should like Conservative Members to insist that the Government provide time to discuss that matter and, when those discussions cease, we should like them to join us in the Lobby to ensure that the Government carry out the philosophy that they have propounded today. I hope that the hon. Member for Ryedale will put pressure on his colleagues to provide time to discuss the matter and to join us in the Lobbies.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the television presentation of these proceedings, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay). My hon. Friend also raised the question of pensioners' television licences. Opposition Members have pressed for concessions for all pensioners, but the Government have withdrawn support to pensioners who are in receipt of concessionary television licences. I hope that the Government will examine the matter and reinstate concessionary television licences. They should also examine energy standing charges for old people, which is a further problem affecting a substantial number of old people. The time restriction makes it difficult to speak about all the issues raised in the Gracious Speech. I particularly wished to comment on the broadcasting proposals. We must ensure that the quality of regional services is maintained and that radio and television programmes are improved.
I should have liked to dwell on the National Health Service Bill and scientific developments in human fertilisation and embryology but, as I am restricted, I shall address my remarks to the mining industry, which will face serious problems if the Government do not take action in the proposed legislation to prevent a dramatic drop in output from deep mines. A secret document leaked to Parliament suggests that privatisation of the electricity generating industry will lead to 18,000 job losses. There would be a further 12,000 job losses, making a total of 30,000, if the Government's programme is allowed to continue in its present form. We shall oppose and fight any legislation that speeds up colliery closures. The leaked document says that the consequences of the Government's programme could be "utterly devastating".
Selby coalfield has particular problems. One of its main problems is industrial relations. A further Bill to curtail trade union powers will not ease industrial problems in Selby where morale among the workers is low. The Secretary of State for Energy must give the Selby coalfield special consideration. Events in that coalfield have repercussions on other communities. My constituency is greatly affected. There used to be no dirt to be disposed of from Selby coalfield, but because of mismanagement there is now 1 million to 1.5 million tonnes of dirt a year. Instead of being disposed of in north Yorkshire where the collieries are, it will be disposed of in my constituency. The dirt will fill two miles of the River Calder in my constituency. That is causing anxiety in my area. If, as Tory Ministers claim, green issues are a priority and the preservation of rivers, humans and wildlife is important, to kill 2 miles of river is
Column 95alien to that philosophy. I urge Tory Members to think carefully about the issue. It is creating great problems in my constituency. The Minister responsible for land reclamation visited my constituency in October. His visit was given publicity and he made certain statements. Three weeks ago I wrote to him and asked him to meet me to discuss what he has observed throughout Wakefield, particularly in my constituency. I am still waiting for a reply. When he was responsible for water meters he promised to meet me to discuss the problems my constituents faced as a result of compulsory water metering. The meeting never took place. I hope that on this occasion the Minister will not shy away from meeting a Member of Parliament whose constituency is affected by an issue for which that Minister has direct reponsibility. I hope that he will give me an audience, but if he does not I shall raise the matter on the Floor of the House. I am sure that it will be in order for me to do so, if the Minister is not prepared to discuss the matter with me.
There should be an inquiry into the disposal of dirt from Selby coalfield for the next 25 or 30 years. West Yorkshire is already blighted by old coalfields and it appears that we shall continue to have colliery blight as dirt is moved from Tory-controlled north Yorkshire into Normanton.
We have heard a great deal from the Prime Minister and Tory Members about how much must be done to secure progress and improvements in inner-city areas. We have read that the Government intend to introduce legislation to help them. I hope that more resources will be channelled into inner-city areas and that the Secretary of State for the Environment will not transfer resources from rural areas to urban areas, as has happened so often under this Tory Government. When help is promised it is invariably at the expense of some other part. I hope that resources will be produced and assistance given where it is needed.
Problems associated with community services, housing and health occur in rural as well as inner-city areas. The only way in which the people of those rural communities can be helped is by the application of additional resources. I hope that the Government will do that and that they will give genuine rather than pious promises to improve services.
I draw the attention of Conservative Members to the problems associated with the sale of the Crown Suppliers and the Property Services Agency. We must consider security when we consider privatising those establishments. I am reminded of what happened to the Canadian Government when their budget provisions were printed by private enterprise because their equivalent of the Crown Suppliers had been sold. Following the publication of the budget proposals a leak occurred before Parliament had met to discuss them. The whole thing was a shambles. I hope that the Government will note what happened in other countries when similar organisations to the Crown Suppliers and PSA were privatised. Security is important and the Government must pay regard to it when considering such
I have referred to three issues. The first was the mining industry, with particular reference to Selby coalfield and the problems caused to nearby communities. People who
Column 96went with all sincerity to work in that coalfield are now coming back to communities in search of rented accommodation, but it is not there. Problems are arising in the towns near the Selby coalfield to do with not only housing, but community services and health care provision. I also drew attention to the resourcing of the inner -city and rural areas. My final point related to the sale of the Crown Suppliers and the PSA. I hope that Conservative Members will take serious note of those issues.
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West) : It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), whose qualities I got to know during the Committee proceedings on the water privatisation Bill. I share particularly his concern for mining areas where pits are shut and services are needed. I honour his commitment to that industry.
Today's most Gracious Speech had one lack that seemed to be filled almost automatically from the Tory Benches--many other things are filled automatically from the Tory Benches. There was no mention of the ordination of women. At times today I felt I was surrounded by candidates for women bishops : many of us were wearing scarlet. There were at least two candidates for Catholic bishops, wearing a pinky version of scarlet. I felt that one hon. Lady wanted to be the first female cardinal as she was wearing a glorious red and black hat. At least three people were rooting to be the first Protestant bishop. I do not have that particular desire. I may be wearing hunting pink, but I am hunting a different sort of target. I am hunting not the snark, but the nanosecond.
My desire is to make the Cabinet computer literate so that it will be calculating in hexadecimal. My latest slogan must be, "The better Budget is in binary". We have one large significant gap in an otherwise perfect Gracious Speech. We have no Bill to outlaw computer hacking, computer viruses and computer eavesdropping. I cannot let this most important day pass without drawing the attention of the House to the urgent necessity for that crucial legislation. This might be a subject to which, for once, we could address our intellects without significant party differences because it affects us all, whether we are talking about great international interests, as some hon. Members have done during the debate, whether we are addressing national interests, or whether we are talking, as many hon. Members have done, about our constituency interests. I begin with the last aspect, which must be our fundamental reason for being here--looking after the interests of our constituents. In that context, a number of worrying factors emerge as the Government rightly move ahead rapidly with the computerisation of services to the electorate. The Government are, properly from the nation's point of view, computerising 22 million social security records. They will be on line with local staff looking after local people's computerised social security records.
We are moving ahead extremely rapidly with an even larger concept, and that is computerising the National Health Service. Much has been made today of improvements to the NHS. The Government propose
Column 97steps which they believe will make the service better, while the Opposition believe that those steps will not improve matters. One aspect of that issue is constant to all parts of the House, an aspect that may not have come to the notice of some hon. Members. Soon all our constituents' health records will be on computer. The vulnerability of people is readily seen when one thinks how crucial are people's health records.
Tomorrow I shall go in a small and modest delegation to see the Prime Minister about the plight of haemophiliac AIDS victims. If one's health record is on computer, the knowledge that one has AIDS can be available without one wishing it to be available to people who might wish one harm. In France AIDS victims have had that knowledge acquired without their wish and have been blackmailed. The great problem with AIDS is that it demolishes not just one's ability to earn, but all the normal financial props of life such as insurance for health and housing.
Having considered the constituency interest that hon. Members should have with the coming computerisation of services, let us consider the matter in terms of the national interest, where there are questions of secrecy and confidentiality affecting not only individuals but companies and financial institutions.
In the City of London, the entire money market could be paralysed in about 20 minutes by a determined computer hacker. That shows how this afternoon's complaints about the so-called dearth in manufacturing industry pale into insignificance compared with the way in which our largest earner, the City of London, could be under such a threat. Yet we have no legislation to which companies can turn when under attack in such ways.
Internationally, it is a crucial topic. Hon. Members will appreciate how it affects the security of the nation and NATO. Over a period of 18 months, three West German hackers penetrated 25,000 NATO computers, including some in the United Kingdom, and the perpetrators sold those secrets to people who are not our allies.
I paint that scenario rapidly, as other hon. Members wish to speak. The English Law Commission followed the honourable route of the Scottish Law Commission and published an outstandingly good report in October this year which recommended to the Government that they should outlaw hacking and the planting of viruses. It did not go as far as I would have wished because it failed to recommend that electronic eavesdropping--that dreadful modern evil--should also be outlawed. It failed to offer a strengthening of police powers or to propose that the submission of computer evidence in court would be necessary to make the proposed legislation stick.
Even as the Law Commission's report stands, its recommendations are first class and would provide a framework which would at least enable companies and individuals to turn to the law if the integrity of their computer systems--which now hold 8 per cent. of the world's international knowledge- -had been attacked, subverted or in any other way put at risk.
I urge the Government to look again at this gaping void in our protective legislation and to make good the deficiency in an otherwise perfect Gracious Speech.
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Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Apart from the last few words of the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson), we can agree with the general sentiments of her remarks. The Queen's Speech will undoubtedly provide a bitterly disappointing year for many people in this country. It will prove so for British industry and those employed in it. It will also be a year of misery for mortgage payers because there is no prospect that the high interest rates will be brought down soon.
A number of Conservative Members rightly referred to the balance of payments deficit. The main headline in tonight's Evening Standard said that there would be no tax cuts in next year's Budget. I think that we can take that for granted ; the question is whether there will be a few tax bribes in the Budget before the next general election. There is undoubtedly in the country an anti-Government and anti-Tory feeling. I believe that this feeling will grow and consolidate in the period leading up to the next general election. There was a reference in the Gracious Speech to legislation to control pollution and waste. My borough, Walsall, has suffered enough from the processing of toxic wastes, and residents feel strongly that the borough and the west midlands generally should not be the dumping ground for such waste. We shall expect comprehensive and tight legislation to give local authorities the powers to deal with firms such as Leigh Interests which has plagued my borough. It will be interesting to see whether the proposed legislation will be strong and comprehensive enough to deal with the toxic waste problems faced in so many parts of the country.
The Queen's Speech made no mention of those people needing adequate rented accommodation. I shall make again the point that I have made before, and I make no apologies for doing so : there are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who desperately require rented accommodation. Certainly, on their income and with the high interest rates they have no chance of buying. Even when interest rates were lower they were the sort of people who could not afford to buy. There is no reason why they should be forced into taking out a mortgage. This is why there are more homeless people than ever before in the post-war years and why there will be more families homeless and in bed-and-breakfast hostels this coming Christmas than in any period since 1945.
All that was offered in the Autumn Statement was that, as a result of certain measures, over two or three years, 15,000 new dwellings will be built by housing associations. That is a drop in the ocean. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was right when he mentioned in his intervention during the Autumn Statement that what is required is the ability for local authorities to build. They were allowed to do so over many years, including the pre-war years, let alone the post-war years, under successive Administrations. No council dwellings have gone up in my own borough for 10 years, and the same is true unfortunately for many parts of the country.
Am I not right in saying that most of the constituents who come to see us and write to us raise housing problems? The Government put forward no remedy, but constantly boast about the number of rented dwellings that have been sold off. What about building council dwellings to replace those?
Column 99There is a reference to hospitals and I say again that if there is to be any opting out, which I strenuously oppose, there should be balloting. That is necessary before schools can opt out and before council houses can go into housing action areas. The Opposition fought for that, but the Government refused to accept our argument. An amendment was passed in another place and the Government finally gave in. If balloting is right for schools and housing, why should it not be right for hospitals? The main hospital in my borough, the Manor hospital, which has recently been extended, is on the list for opting out. There should be a ballot and local people should be allowed to decide. The medical and non- medical staff in the hospital should also be allowed to have a say. I am willing to abide by the decision because I am a democrat.
There is, of course, a simple reason for the Government's refusal to allow a ballot. It is that they would lose overwhelmingly. I have not received a single letter in favour of opting out, but I have received many letters opposed to the Government's proposals to make hospitals self-governing, as it is described. The British Medical Association and the joint consultants committee have argued strenuously against opting out and have put forward reasoned arguments. It is a pity that the Government will not listen. Turning to international matters, I am certainly pleased about the changes that are taking place in eastern Europe and I am glad that Stalinist rule has come to an end in East Germany. I am also immensely proud of the hundreds of thousands of people who demonstrated last week and again last night in Czechoslovakia. It takes great courage to demonstrate in a dictatorship and the people in Czechoslovakia made it clear that they want in their country the sort of changes that have now taken place in East Germany and in Bulgaria.
I was proud to take part in the debate in the House after the invasion of Czechoslovakia, although I was not proud of the event that prompted the debate. The House was called back in August 1968. I was one of those on the Labour Benches who deplored what had happened and I said that the Soviet Union had no right whatever to intervene by force in the internal affairs of another country. I praised what Alexander Dubcek had tried to achieve in the seven months before Russian troops entered Czechoslovakia on the infamous night of 20-21 August 1968. The Russians now concede, I understand, that that action was wrong. We described it at the time as a criminal action. The present Czech leaders have no legitimacy because they are the collaborators of 1968. I hope that the struggle by the ordinary people in Czechoslovakia for elementary rights, the sort of rights that are enjoyed in democracies, will be successful. It is rather ironic that Stalinists who always spoke about "the masses" are now finding in eastern Europe that it is the masses who say that they want to enjoy basic freedoms.