|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Ted Garrett (Wallsend) : Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what the average rate of unemployment is in Tyne and Wear? Will he also tell the House how much private investment has gone into that area and how much private investment has been lost as a result of changes in work practices and massive redundancies thereafter?
Mr. Kirkhope : The hon. Gentleman knows the figures better than anyone. I do not know whether he has contributed to this debate, but, if so, he had the opportunity to give those figures. From my experience, the north-east is totally transformed. The hon. Gentleman must be as aware of that as his constituents and other people who live in that region. From my experience, everyone knows that my constituency, within the Yorkshire and Humberside region, has grown faster than any other region outside of London. It has experienced that growth as a direct result of Government policy.
Despite the Government's attempts, Socialist views still remain in those regions, and they are not consistent with greater prosperity. I deeply regret that. Earlier today I was fortunate enough to be able to remind my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of the 2,000 jobs that have been moved by our Government, through the National Health Service executive and the social security directorate, to my city of Leeds. That move proves the commitment of the Conservative Government to the north of England and its people. Some of the local arrangements in my city, however, are not consistent with the enterprise and success which has been experienced in the city and the region. I regret that those local arrangements result from Socialist control of some of that area.
Conservative policies have been responsible for success, but what are the Labour alternatives that, presumably, will be offered to the nation at the next election? I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) will remind us of them in a moment. Those alternatives include such interesting proposals as credit control, price controls, tight income controls--all proposals which are unworkable and would make the Labour party unelectable. Above all, there would be more and more bureaucracy to run all those controls, and that would make the Labour party unelectable for ever. Everything is changing in eastern Europe. Such policies have been overthrown in the eastern European countries. Only the British Labour party wishes to have such policies and to force them upon the British people. It will not succeed, because the people know the truth and will not be hoodwinked by such nonsense. The Government have a good economic policy, and we will win through.
Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South) : It is as well to start my speech in such a debate with an examination of the Government's central forecasts, because if they are good enough for the Government they should be good enough for us. The main indicators of the Government's forecast show that we are already well into a recession. They show 0.75 per cent. non-oil growth in 1990. The Treasury average error in such a forecast is usually about 1 per cent. The indicators show a 250,000 increase in unemployment and 5.75 per cent. inflation in the fourth quarter of 1990. That includes a rise in housing costs of about 11 per cent. That shows that there will not be a reduction in interest rates. That rate of inflation will be much higher than the rate in any other country in western Europe.
Column 664There will be a £15 billion deficit on the balance of payments. This year's deficit is no less than 4 per cent. of national income, a percentage that has never been exceeded in peacetime. I can never understand why the Conservatives always say that a balance of payments deficit is due to the import of capital goods for re-equipping our industry. First, that is not true, and secondly, I thought that this country was in the business of producing capital goods. The fact that we have to import them in order to invest strikes me as odd.
Those are indicators of a major recession. They are not a blip any more but show the beginning of a long slide. It is the classic British problem of lack of international competitiveness and a higher rate of inflation than other countries.
Even on their own figures, what the Government require to turn the economy around is a tall order. For example, they forecast a growth in the economy and a 1.25 per cent. decline in the balance of payments. They have not allowed for the substantial destocking by industry that has already started. The most alarming factor to someone who has spent his career in industry is the deficit of £2 billion on information technology equipment. That is especially alarming when one compares it with the position in France, where the French Government have invested heavily to rebuild the communications network based on domestic manufacture of such equipment.
The Government forecast a decline in inflation in general, but there are many rates of inflation, depending on one's circumstances. For example, inflation in the National Health Service is greater than the general rate because of higher increases in the price of drugs and medical innovation. That means that extra Government spending on the Health Service is exaggerated.
The poor suffer more than anybody from the effect of differential inflation. Because of their spending patterns, the low-paid and pensioners have a higher than average rate of inflation. The Low Pay Unit has recently shown that the rate of inflation for the poor is a full percentage point higher than the increase in the retail price index. Food and housing costs account for nearly half the budget of the low-paid, and those costs are rising by well over 10 per cent. a year, while prices of consumer durables bought by the well-off have hardly risen at all. In 1990, the low-paid will face price rises in electricity, water, gas, fares, mortgages and poll tax. Those people are the real victims of inflation and will continue to be. Pensions and benefits have not increased by anything like the amount required to compensate the low-paid and the poor for inflation. In our advice surgeries, all hon. Members meet people who are massively disadvantaged as a result of the level of inflation. The least well-off bear the cost of the Government's inflationary policies.
According to the CBI, the investment outlook of companies is the worst since 1983. This year, manufacturing investment will still be two thirds of the 1979 level as a share of GDP, and growth investment has come to a halt, as one might expect from the increase in interest rates. That helps to explain why the Treasury's economic progress report shows that our productivity still lags far behind that of the United States, Germany and France. The increase in productivity of which the Government boast was a one-for-all step increase in the early 1980s, and we have lagged behind the rest of western Europe in productivity ever since.
Column 665We must invest in capital equipment for transport, communications, education and training : all our constituencies contain schools that have not enough textbooks, and we have all seen the crumbling fabric of school and hospital buildings. Transport systems are wholly inadequate. I sometimes think that my constituency must be cut off from British Rail, given the daily failures in transport equipment. We must invest in the long-term competitive structure of our economy, which the Government are busy running down. We have higher inflation, a worse balance of payments and more unemployment than other members of the EC, but there is no Government strategy to improve our industrial performance, apart from a hope that the position will correct itself by means of the action of market forces and the blind application of interest rates to choke off demand. Interest rates are due to remain high throughout 1990.
The great Thatcherite experiment has taken our economic performance back to the 1950s and 1960s. In the meantime, however, we have lost one fifth of our manufacturing industry, unemployment has doubled and our share of world exports has fallen by 3 per cent. Yet our economy, suffering as it is from under-investment, is about to be exposed in the single European market to competitors with modern industries which train and educate their people by means of public investment in services and infrastructure. That is investment that private industry will never make, and it is the duty of Governments to make it for them.
The Prime Minister has said that our problems are the problems of success. They are not : they are the problems of incompetent economic management, short-termism and a misguided ideology.
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : When I first read the Gracious Speech, I was convinced that it contained a printing error. I looked again, and still could see no reference to a local government Bill. I was sure then that there was an error--for this is the first Gracious Speech in the 10 years of our present Government that has not contained at least one Bill attacking or dismantling local democratic government. I suppose that that, at any rate, brought a sigh of relief from members of all political parties and from local councils.
The first feature of the debate that I enjoyed was the humour of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who is in his place--the humour, if not the politics. It has been instructive to listen to the debates of the past six days and to read the reports of those debates, for they represent the culmination of a decade of Conservative Government legislative programmes of this kind--a kind described so graphically and emphatically in the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) earlier this evening.
It has also been revealing to listen again this November to the Prime Minister's claims about the aims, objectives and achievements of her Governments, and to compare her speech of a few days ago with those of earlier years. As the 1980s draw to a close, the industrial and economic scene in Britain has an all-too-familiar appearance. The decade began with a huge recession, brought about
Column 666directly by the mistaken policies and mismanagement of the Tory Government ; it ends with our economy again on the edge of a debilitating recession.
According to the CBI,
"the UK economy is destined for two years of crawling growth, rising unemployment, high interest rates--and an increase in the underlying rate of inflation."
That was confirmed earlier today, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to admit that next month's inflation figure will rise--probably by as much as half a percentage point, which means that in December inflation will again be nudging 8 per cent.
The CBI view and the reality of the Chancellor's admission are buttressed by the view of Lloyds bank, which also envisages two years of sluggish growth which will place the economy on the brink of recession. That is what the Chancellor described recently as a "necessary pause". With the Conservatives, we are back to a future that does not work. What a way in which to enter the new decade! Inevitably, economic and industrial issues have been at the forefront of the debate, although last Friday's debate on foreign affairs was of huge interest and importance, given the dramatic events now unfolding in eastern Europe. I especially enjoyed reading the record of that day and hope that we shall hear many more times from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) before he finally and regrettably leaves the House.
Last year, the Prime Minister made several important claims for Government policy in the debate on the Gracious Speech. I shall list her claims :
"To hold to firm and successful economic policies reflect the new vitality of our economy to bear down on inflation borrowing must be checked the personal sector also needs to save the two Bills"--
water and electricity privatisation--
"show our determination to secure the advantages of privatisation for each industry, their consumers and the taxpayer".--[ Official Report, 22 November 1988 ; Vol. 142, c. 21-24.]
That all sounds rather hollow now.
Last week, in a speech of dreadful complacency and smugness, the right hon. Lady ignored the abject failures of her Government on those and other important aspects of policy. Inflation is up, is double that in France and Germany and is the highest of any major industrial nation. Personal borrowing is up, and is likely to remain so. The balance of payments is much worse than a year ago. Mortgage charges have increased by nearly 4 percentage points compared with last year's average and are crushing millions of families. The privatisation of the water and electricity industries has resulted in a disaster, wrecking the hopes of any sensible national industrial strategy for supply and wrecking any hope of any sensible strategy for the environment or for consumers, who have already experienced massive price increases. As for the taxpayer, £16 billion has simply been written off or presented to large private monopolies as a dowry. Insulting and expensive advertising campaigns have infuriated the British people. The taxpayer has made a huge loss on the water industry alone of almost £2 billion, not to mention the millions of pounds spent on advertising and underwriting fees that we do not yet know about.
The Government have attempted to project the latest programme as one aimed at improving the quality of life in Britain. Let us examine that claim, which is transparently bogus. People know that, for all but the very
Column 667well-off, tax cuts have long since been swallowed up by rent increases and mortgage payments. To their credit, even some of the tiny minority who benefited recognise, as do more than 60 per cent. of the British people, that the quality of their lives has declined under this Government of debt and division.
I searched in vain for any recognition of that in the speeches of Tory Members, but with one or two notable exceptions, we have heard a litany of obsequious platitudes, showing little sense of concern or criticism.
The next 12 months in the House will feature a programme of largely unwanted legislation, such as proposals on the Health Service, education and broadcasting, which are likely to damage the quality of life of our country. Further destruction of the basic principles of good health care, as embodied in the Health Service, will be met with our vehement opposition, outstripped only by the anger of the British people at the political manipulation of their Health Service, mainly by people who never use it.
I retain a special anger for the continuing failure of the Government to provide our people with the fundamental basis for a decent quality of life- -a safe, warm and secure home that they can afford. Earlier this year, the Royal Institute of British Architects said :
"Britain is faced in 1989 with a dramatic housing crisis. There are signs of an acceleration in existing housing problems that are very far from solution. There is a great danger both that too little housing will be provided to meet genuine and often acute need and that the quality of much new housing will be poor."
The problems that the RIBA describes are a direct result of Government policy, as the report from the National Audit Office of July 1989 makes clear. The Comptroller and Auditor General said : "Over the period 1979-80 and 1989-90 the annual Housing Investment Programme allocations have declined in actual terms and at constant prices"--
by 78 per cent.
"This decline has particularly affected those local authorities which have both severe housing problems and disproportionately low capital receipts, and which therefore depend heavily on Housing Investment Programme allocations."
The huge fall in public sector housing starts and completions throughout the 1980s--a continuing feature and a deliberate policy--has not been made up by house building in the private sector. No wonder there has been an inexorable and predictable increase in homelessness--so much for improving the quality of life. In 1983, 78, 240 households were accepted as homeless. By 1988, that had risen to 117,500. This year's figure is approaching 135,000 a scandal in any civilised society. In 1983, 2,700 homeless households were placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. By the end of 1988, that figure had reached the astonishing level of 10,970 families.
The misery and consequent social and financial problems are a huge easily avoidable cost to us as taxpayers, if only the Government would permit local councils to reinvest more of their capital receipts or improve their housing investment programmes. Tory mismanagement of the economy has produced record mortgage rates, coupled with a near-doubling of house prices in the past five years, which are preventing a generation of young people from buying their first home. The average price of a house is now a record four and a quarter times average annual earnings--little wonder that young couples and people on lower incomes find it
Column 668impossible these days to become home owners. A bigger share of take-home pay now has to go on mortgage repayments than ever before. We believe that good housing will always be the key to the health and well-being of our society. There must be collective responsibility for such a precious national asset. Labour will help local councils and housing associations to build more homes at prices at which people can afford either to buy or to rent. Against that background of disaster in housing policy, there is not a single word in the Gracious Speech about any of these problems or about any aspect of housing policy. There is no mention of them in the Government's programme for the coming year.
Education and training hold the key to Britain's future economic prosperity. However, during the past decade, the proportion of national income invested in education and science has dropped by £3.25 billion, at today's prices. What kind of commitment to the future of our economy does that demonstrate? None at all, either in the scale or in the quality that our young people and our industry so desperately need. Britain is now in the shameful position where fewer young people stay on in full-time education or high-quality training after 16 than in any of our major competitor countries. We are in the shameful position in which fewer children have nursery education than in most of our competitor countries, although that is not true, I am pleased to say, of some Labour-controlled local authority areas. Even South Korea has more students in higher education than we have, yet employers in industry and commerce are crying out for a better educated and better trained work force.
My next point relates specifically to the duties and
responsibilities of the Leader of the House, and I hope that he can give a positive response tonight. The Scottish Office is the only Department of State not to be monitored by a Select Committee. Given the lack of popular support for this Government's policies in Scotland, that is an especially glaring omission in the democratic process, which the Government must act to correct--and which the Leader of the House has a duty to correct.
We accept that the lack of Scottish Conservative Members presents the Leader of the House with a genuine difficulty, but that very lack of Scottish Conservative Members heightens the need for parliamentary scrutiny of ministerial activity. We have been more than willing to be flexible and helpful about membership. Although we should wish to see the highest possible membership of Members with Scottish constituencies, we want to make it clear that we place no preconditions on membership as regards the constituencies of members of the Select Committee. Over the past two and a half years, the Government have claimed consistently that they would like a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs to be established, but they have also claimed that they have been unable to find enough Scottish Members to serve.
If that is the case, it is difficult to explain the enthusiasm of Conservative Members outside Scotland to participate in other aspects of Scottish business. English Conservative Members have been more than happy to play an active role in Scottish Question Time and I am struck by their eagerness to serve on Scottish Standing Committees to get through the Government's business. Conservative Members from outside Scotland were only too keen to play a part in the proceedings on the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill last Session.
Column 669Mr. Bill Walker : The hon. Gentleman has been blaming the Government for the lack of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Let me make it clear that I refused to serve on that Select Committee because I did not want to serve on a Select Committee that tried to rig reports. [ Hon. Members :-- "No."] Yes, it is true and it is all on the record for any to see.
The Scottish National party refused to serve on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, describing it in the past two Parliaments as a piffling little Committee. We will not accept any of that humbug and nonsense-- [Interruption.]
Dr. Cunningham : I leave the House to judge the hon. Gentleman's statement about the rigging of Select Committee reports, but I must tell him that we are happy for him not to serve on the Select Committee.
The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs has played an important role in the past. It has carried out respected investigations into areas of policy such as housing conditions and the steel industry. It is intolerable that the Government have let the matter drift. The Government's reluctance to act is a remarkable dereliction of duty to the democratic process and to the interests of the Scottish people. On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends from Scotland, I urge the Leader of the House to think again and to set up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, as required by Standing Order No. 130. The Government's failures in housing, in education and training, and in policies for the environment belie claims that the new Tory programme can lead to a better quality of life for the majority of the British people. Indeed, people feel increasingly that the Tory Government are taking Britain in the wrong direction and that, as a country, we are being left behind, unprepared for the new and exciting challenges of the 1990s and increasingly isolated. That is hardly surprising. In almost every area of policy there is a complete absence of strategy--no coherent guiding principles, but simply a series of short-term changes, often gimmicks, which fail to tackle the underlying problems of urban and rural areas alike.
The Prime Minister's only strategy seems to be the Prime Minister. While others are sacked or resign, she seems determined to go on and on, unable to see anyone in the Cabinet suitable to be the next Prime Minister--at least she is right on that. When we observe the right hon. Lady's disordered will--one week saying that she will pass on the torch, the next that she will stay for the next election and beyond--is it any surprise that her Cabinet is so rent with divisions and disaffection? It is divided on the economy, on Europe and on the leadership.
In a remarkable speech, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), disgracefully barracked and harrassed by the Chief Whip's bully boys, spelled out exactly how isolated the Government and the Prime Minister are becoming--and, as he so disarmingly said, he should know all about isolation. It takes a particular lack of realism and touch to envisage "popular acclaim" at the very time when opinion in Britain shows that two thirds of the electorate believe that the Prime Minister should stand down before the next election.
As the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) spreads panic in the Tory party with his disarming frankness, we learn that, while challenges to other political leaders are good news, welcome everywhere and good for all nations, they are not good for Britain. We are told that
Column 670the Prime Minister's interests are paramount, allegedly synonymous with the national interest. What cant. What a contrast with the Prime Minister's views on events elsewhere, for example in eastern Europe. What a contrast, as the Leader of the House must reflect, with her behaviour and view on the Tory party in 1975.
Last week the Leader of the House, no doubt prodded by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, issued his own clarion call for loyalty and unity. Imagine his surprise over breakfast the next morning, to read in The Times that he was not fit to follow the right hon. Lady but that a new generation was needed. He must reflect darkly on another recent quotation in The Times from the Prime Minister :
"I do not like anyone who has ever worked with me to be unkindly treated."
But, of course, she was speaking about Sir Alan Walters. One by one, those with ambition--the Leader of the House, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)--have backed off. Now we know the real significance of the speech of the chairman of the Tory party in Blackpool, when he said :
"He which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart." He was referring not to the general election but to the leadership election.
It is rumoured that even now the so-far-silent right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)--a political Don Quixote--is riding to the rescue of the Prime Minister bringing with him a copy-- [Interruption.] --of the Housing Act 1988. In the leadership election his ingenious voting system will apply. Those who abstain will be deemed to have voted for the Prime Minister. As this largely irrelevant Government programme makes clear, it is time for a change. We need a Government who will get Britain back on the right track, moving in the right direction. The policies that we oppose tonight are those already shown to have failed Britain. They will do so again ; that is why we reject them.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : It is appropriate to commence the concluding observations of this debate by paying tribute, as I gladly do, to my hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) who moved and seconded the Loyal Address. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South spoke up proudly for his constituency as the home of the Lancashire black pudding. I felt less at home with that than with his claim to have a Welsh grandmother. I can lay claim to a Welsh grandfather as well, so it is no surprise, that my father knew Lloyd George. It is a happy fact that my mother did not have the same experience.
Despite the firm opposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne to the televising of our proceedings I am certain that with his modest pride and his hair style--he is right to be modest about it--he undoubtedly provided the televisual highlight of the debate. He first became my hon. Friend when he was reckless enough to act as my campaign assistant at the 1959 general election--
Column 671Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that no campaign is in progress. I am still more than proud to count on the long-standing friendship of my hon. Friend.
At that time we were unsuccessful in checking the arrival in this House of the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), who is still here. It was for me, as for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister whom my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne served so faithfully as Parliamentary Private Secretary, an occasion of immense sadness when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed. It was an act that required my hon. Friend to resign his position as a member of the Government. Then as now the whole House respected the powerful integrity and sense of duty that prompted his decision.
My hon. Friend will have been struck, as I have been, by the fact that no fewer than 10 hon. Members from Northern Ireland--more than half the total- -have been heard in this debate. They have all spoken, more than understandably, of the special grief and suffering of their constituents in the face of what one of their number described as "a diabolical and vicious campaign of terror"--[ Official Report, 21 November 1989 ; Vol. 162, c. 76.]
which is still being waged against us all but most brutally of all against the people of Northern Ireland. They should have no doubt that the Government are unyielding in their resolve to resist and conquer those who wage this savage, empty campaign. I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) that no function of Government is more generously and spontaneously provided for than the fight against terrorism. That is how it should be. Northern Ireland Members spoke of their wish for reconciliation and peace between the different communities and traditions that they represent. Those were the twin objectives of those of us, among whom I am proud to count myself, who helped to shape the Anglo -Irish Agreement, now just four years old. I know that it is still a cause of controversy, and I respect those who take that view. I am glad, too, to welcome the prospect, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) of a British-Irish parliamentary body, through which there can be a fruitful coming together of representatives of the four nations that share the life of these islands.
I think that the House will have been particularly moved, as I was, by the eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder). I recall that he and I walked together up Ludgate hill and sat beside each other in St. Paul's cathedral for the funeral service of Sir Winston Churchill. My hon. Friend told us last week of his conclusion that his proper place in the House was on these Benches. All my right hon. and hon. Friends say, "Hear, hear" to that. My hon. Friend also urged the leaders of the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland to work together for the future of the Province. The whole House can say "Hear, hear" to that.
Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford) : I find the Minister's opinion on North Down of great interest. Does that mean that he will not support the Conservative candidate who is to oppose the present hon. Member for North Down?
Column 672right hon. Gentleman will recall the reasons that prompted his colleague, the hon. Member for North Down, to decide as he did. Together we now go into the television age. Perhaps it is right that the House should be taking a step into the television age after, and not before, the Supreme Soviet in Moscow and in many other less mature and confident Parliaments. I have little doubt that the televising of our proceedings represents the most important change in the presentation of politics since I first entered the House. The experiment has clearly started well. I am sure--at least I hope--that a touch of human fallibility, even on the Front Benches, is likely to elicit a good-natured response from the majority of viewers. Even at this early stage, I record sincere appreciation and thanks, on behalf of the whole House, first to all those in the House of Commons broadcasting unit and the organisations that convey us to the world outside for their skill and enthusiasm and, secondly, to the Select Committee on the Televising of Proceedings of the House--in particular my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, the former Leader of the House, who so skilfully steered the Committee and the House to the present stage.
The arrival of television is by no means the only recent change in our procedure, and rightly so. The Select Committee on Procedure is considering the work of departmental Select Committees, 10 years after they were instituted by my colourful predecessor Lord St. John of Fawsley. We look forward with great interest to the reports of their wide-ranging inquiry. In the meantime, I offer particular thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) for his sterling work behind the scenes as Chairman of the Liaison Committee. The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) reminded me of one of the two pieces of on-going business that I have had to consider during the first months of my work as Leader of the House.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : No, I must respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Copeland. On that matter, I have been able to reach a conclusion, albeit a negative one. Despite wide-ranging discussion with those involved, following a debate on the Floor of the House just 11 months ago, I have reluctantly concluded that none of the proposals that have been made will resolve the impasse that has persisted until now. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) pointed out, no new solutions have emerged. I have therefore concluded that I can sensibly take no action in that respect during the life of the current Parliament.
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : No doubt the right hon. and learned Gentleman will accept that Opposition Members hear his remarks with dismay and that his decision is totally unacceptable to us. Does he not understand that it will be seen in Scotland as an abdication of responsibility and a clear indication of the cavalier attitude that the Government take to the good government of that country? We shall continue to press the Leader of the House on this point and we do not accept or believe that it is beyond the ingenuity and power of the
Column 673Government business managers to set up the Select Committee, given the will to do so. I strongly advise him to reconsider his negative and irresponsible attitude.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman's intervention was far from spontaneous. I have considered the matter closely and, after wide consultation, I have reached a conclusion for the reasons that led my predecessor to reach the same conclusion. It seems right that I should put the matter on record before the House at this stage. Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) rose--
Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) rose--
Mr. Sillars : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given that Standing Orders govern this whole place, is it in order for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to say that he will do nothing further? Is it not the case that, if the official Opposition, on a Supply day, tabled the necessary motion to set up a Select Committee, it would have to be determined by the House? If a minority party such as ours was fortunate enough to get half a Supply day, and tabled the necessary motion, that debate would have to take place and a definitive conclusion would have to be reached.
The discussions about the work currently done by the Social Services Select Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), are proceeding and I shall endeavour to bring them to a conclusion as soon as possible.
There is no need for me to stress the importance of European legislation, and the desire of Parliament in general and of this House in particular to play a full and proper part in the scrutiny and management of such matters. The present procedures were designed as long ago as 1973, shortly after enactment of the European Communities Act 1972, by a Committee under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Northwich, Sir John Foster. Since then, they have been operated by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) --sometimes, it seems, almost single-handedly.
However, with the subsequent adoption of the Single European Act and its enactment by Parliament, and the growing role of our legislative partners in the European Parliament, it is plainly time for procedures to be brought up to date. We are grateful to the Procedure Committee for the work that it is doing in that area. Its report will be published on Thursday. I cannot comment on it in advance, but I guarantee that its recommendations will receive careful and positive consideration by the Government.
Column 674I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), for his careful and considered approach to that and other questions.
The Private Bill procedure is the last procedural matter I shall mention. The more closely I have studied it, the more I have come to realise the importance and complexity of the issues involved. I hope to bring forward, on a consultative basis, proposals that will command the support of the whole House. Meanwhile, I urge right hon. and hon. Members to be patient, and not to allow unjustified impatience to become an excuse to deny or block Bills for reasons other than genuine disagreement.
The whole House understands the difficult job of the Chairman of the Ways and Means when it comes to private legislation. I am sure it joins me in praising the care and attention he brings to that time-consuming role, as well as to his other duties as First Deputy Speaker.
Mr. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : The right hon. and learned Gentleman has alluded to the inquiry that the Select Committee on Procedure is to hold into Select Committees. Can we have an assurance that the subject will be debated immediately its report is produced as, in the past, we have had to wait, sometimes for several years, for a report to be debated? Is he aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) felt that it was necessary to resign from that Committee, because the House never found time to debate the reports in the way that he felt they should be debated?
Mr. Beith : As some of the reports have been acted upon, which of the measures in the Gracious Speech will the right hon. and learned Gentleman submit to the procedure by which witnesses can be called before Committees that consider legislation? Will he, for example, submit the National Health Service and Community Care Bill to that procedure, so that people who work in the Health Service can give evidence to the Committee before it considers the Bill?
The hon. Member for Copeland referred to the speech by my old sparring partner at the Dispatch Box--the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). Like the hon. Member for Copeland, I was sorry to miss his speech. The House may recall that the right hon. Gentleman said that he had read so many obituaries of himself in the past few weeks that even he thought that he was already dead. Rather disconcertingly, the right hon. Gentleman makes increasingly benevolent remarks about me. If I may respond in kind to one of his more memorable phrases, I feel rather as though I am being cherished by a dead savage. [Laughter.] I hope that the House will think that that was worth waiting for.
The whole House will join me in wishing the right hon. Member a happy retirement in the lush pastures of his Sussex farm. We compliment him on his very good sense in having, while he was Chancellor, deferred indefinitely the introduction of a wealth tax.
Column 675The Gracious Speech set out the Government's proposals for balanced and effective legislation. It has four main objectives : first, to improve protection of the environment ; secondly, to extend choice and to raise the quality of services to consumers in food safety, broadcasting, legal services and national health ; thirdly, to combat international crime and to enhance security ; fourthly, to increase employment opportunities and scope for enterprise in the economy.
All of those things should come forward and take their place alongside the firm economic policy, designed above all to combat inflation, outlined by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in his Autumn Statement and again today, and on which my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing commented earlier in the evening. That programme provides clear scope for increased spending on key objectives from the Health Service to homelessness, on which the hon. member for Copeland dwelt--some £250 million is to be devoted to homelessness--and from transport infrastructure to the arts.
Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend explain why the Autumn Statement says that inflation next year will be 5.75 per cent., yet the arts are to get an increase in funding of 12 per cent. next year and the year after? What is so special about the arts?