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House of Commons

Friday 19 January 1990

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Mr. Sabil Akhtar

9.33 am

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : I wish to present a petition on behalf of a constituent, Mr. Sabil Akhtar, a Muslim, in Armley prison in Leeds, to the honourable Commons of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

In his petition Mr. Akhtar says that he has been refused the right to his correct religious diet. He has been told by the

Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office that he can eat meat in lieu of pork or bacon. He says that in practice, that is impossible. Mr. Akhtar's petition says :

"At present I have no choice but to accept a vegetarian diet, which does not include any meat, except fish once a week. Should anyone on a vegetarian diet try to take meat, their vegetarian diet is cancelled immediately. As I am not a vegetarian I find this unacceptable. I find myself missing out on my diet at Leeds Prison due to the regulations in this establishment."

Another constituent, Mr. Intizar Shah, a Muslim, recently protested at the non-availability of halal meat at the prison by refusing food for five days. There are about 60 Muslims in Armley prison.

Mr. Akhtar prays :

"that your Honourable House will ask the Home Secretary to take action, so that I may have the correct food for my meals, that being halal meat.

And your Petitioner, as in duty bound, will ever pray."

To lie upon the Table.

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National Health Service

9.35 am

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : I beg to leave to present a petition on behalf of more than 1,500 of my constituents who express strong opposition to the Government's proposals on the National Health Service.

This follows the first ever full parish survey in Britain. It was conducted by the town councils of Yeovil and Yeovil Without on the issue of the local hospitals opting out, which is one of the main proposals in the Government's so-called NHS reforms. The poll was held to give local people a chance to express their views, which was specifically denied them under the provisions of the Bill. In the parish poll, 98 per cent. of those who took part voted against the local hospital opting out.

The poll and this large petition express clearly the opposition and anxiety of many, if not the vast majority, of my constituents over the Government's proposals on the NHS. They are worried, as am I, that the proposals are the first stage of what will become a part privatised Health Service, which will be divided to serve a divided nation. My constituents express their clear opposition to the proposals.

To lie upon the Table.


Address for Return

of the Coopers and Lybrand Survey of Offshore Finance Sectors in the Caribbean Dependent Territories.-- [Mr. Hurd.]


Account ordered :

of the Contingencies Fund, 1988-89, showing the receipts and payments in connection with the Fund in the year ended 31st March 1989, and the distribution of the capital of the Fund at the commencement and close of the year ; with the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General thereon.- - [Mr. Lilley.]

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Opposition Policies

9.37 am

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : I beg to move,

That this House believes that the policies of Her Majesty's Opposition merit scrutiny.

This is a non-controversial motion which is designed to secure support from all parts of the House, and I am sure that it will do so. At one stage, I thought of moving a motion in rather different terms, but I realised that it would be somewhat controversial. The alternative motion was that this House believes that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition should each hold office for life.

In preparing this speech, I have been assisted greatly by the highly entertaining autobiography of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). It assisted me because I want to examine the development of Labour party policy as recorded in three momentous documents : the manifesto of 1983, the manifesto of 1987 and the policy statement of 1989 entitled "Meet the challenge Make the change". For the sake of accuracy I have copies of each of those historic contributions to contemporary history with me.

I said that I had been assisted by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East because on page 497 of his autobiography, which is available either in hardback or paperback, he writes :

"Labour started the election with enormous handicaps."

He went on to describe the then Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), as :

"A kindly and cultured man, but he simply did not look like a potential Prime Minister."

No one could accuse the present Leader of the Opposition as being cultured, but, kindly, yes. He is also someone who simply does not look like a potential Prime Minister.

On the following page of his memoirs the right hon. Member for Leeds, East writes :

Our second handicap was an election manifesto, which Gerald Kaufman"--

that is the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton

"rightly described as the longest suicide note in history. Though it was stuffed with detailed proposals in every conceivable field of policy, the section on defence was deliberately ambiguous."

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gow : I will certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman. I do not want to injure his glittering political career, but I almost called him my hon. Friend. I shall certainly give way to him now and on any future occasion during my speech when he would like to intervene.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the greatest active suicide on the part of the Government is their introduction of the poll tax? Surely that is suicidal.

Mr. Gow : I was quoting the right hon. Member for Gorton, who had been quoted with approval by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East. We are not talking about the suicide of the Conservative party as today's debate is about the Opposition's policies. I was quoting a comment made upon the policies of the Opposition by a man who is a former deputy leader of the party, a former Labour Chancellor and a former Labour Secretary of State for

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Defence. The hon. Gentleman should not rebuke me when I quote his right hon. Friends who used the word suicide not about the Tory party, but about his party.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : My hon. Friend was right to say that previous Labour party defence policy was ambiguous. Present Labour party policy on local government tax is non-existent. Which is better, to be ambiguous or to have no policy?

Mr. Gow : My hon. Friend makes a characteristically excellent point and I shall return to it later. I hope that my hon. Friend will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, later so that he can make a telling contribution to our proceedings.

I do not want to repeat myself too much, but the last words that I used that prompted the intervention from the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) were part of a quote from the right hon. Member for Leeds, East who wrote :

"The section on defence was deliberately ambiguous. It was intended to accommodate both the unilateralists and the majority of the Shadow Cabinet who thought like me"--

you may think, Mr. Speaker, that that is not very good English-- "that it would be politically wrong and electorally disastrous to give up our existing Polaris force for nothing."

On page 498 of his autobiography the right hon. Gentleman concludes :

"It was impossible to conceal our deep divisions on defence any longer."

That was not the judgment of my right hon. or hon. Friends ; that was the judgment of the man who was then deputy leader of the Labour party and who we must assume had assented with the manifesto upon which the Labour party fought and lost the general election in 1983. The hon. Member for Workington picked up the point about suicide, and the phrase :

"the longest suicide note in history"

is relevant because it is important to remember the length of that suicide note. It was 39 pages of large print, but that is as nothing compared to the 1989 Labour party document. I shall place a copy of it in your office, Mr. Speaker, at the conclusion of this debate in case you want to study it. That document contains 65 pages of small print, so the suicide notes get longer.

My hon. Friends and I have initiated this debate because we want to draw the attention not only of you, Mr. Speaker, but of others outside the House to Labour party policies. I shall consider the Labour party's defence policy because that policy was singled out by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East, for whom every hon. Member has a profound respect. He believed, in my opinion rightly, that it was the defence policy which did particular injury to his party, which he had served for so long.

I thought that it would be for the convenience of some of my hon. Friends who may not be as keen students as I am of Labour party policies if I were to mark the development of policy in respect of the three areas I have chosen this morning. We do not want to go back too far. There is no point in doing that as this is a short debate. It is perfectly legitimate, however, to look at three areas of policy and to study the development of that policy between 1983, 1987 and 1989. Mercifully--it is for the great convenience of the House--the Labour party has documented its policy. We do not need to make a guess about it, it is all here in print.

We are delighted to see so many Labour Members present. I also note that the hon. Member for Southwark

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and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), the solitary representative of the Liberal party, is here to make his contribution. I always listen to him with great interest, but whether he will be here in the next Parliament is a different matter. He might be gobbled up by one of the Labour party's candidates.

Mr. Campbell-Savours indicated assent.

Mr. Gow : I note that the hon. Gentleman and I are in agreement about that prospect.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a shame that that representative of the Scottish National party, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), is not here to give us the benefit of his superb forensic skills by dissecting Labour party policy?

Mr. Gow : My hon. Friend is right to refer to Scottish people. Mercifully my hon. Friends the Members for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) and for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) have come here from the northern kingdom of Scotland. The person addressing the House is also a Scot, so Scotland is represented by the Conservative party, but not, of course, by the Scottish National party.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Or the Scottish Labour party.

Mr. Gow : Yes, I agree.

Let us remind ourselves and the country of the Labour party's defence policy in 1983, not a trifling matter.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : This is extremely boring.

Mr. Gow : I can well understand why ; the hon. Gentleman had the impossible task of defending that nonsense before the electorate. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Front Bench may be bored because they are familiar with this as they had to defend this nonsense. Let us take them through that policy to see how it developed. We shall not allow hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench to divert the attention of the House and of the country away from this important examination. Hon. Members who are bored are free to depart and it would be very agreeable if the debate were to take place and I were surrounded simply by my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mercifully, my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury has arrived. I shall be referring to him with approval later in my speech, so it is timely that he should have torn himself away from fashioning the Budget to come to listen to what we hope will be an enjoyable and stimulating debate. It is a matter of deep regret to me that my hon. Friend the Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household is not here, as he is normally. No doubt he has to go to his constituency, but he will be able to study our proceedings in the Official Report, which is, no doubt, delivered to him tomorrow morning, so he will not have to wait until Monday.

I welcome you to the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is grievous for you that you have missed some of it, but you will be able to read it in the Official Report.

In 1983, the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent was leader of the Labour party. Even hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench cannot disagree with that proposition. The Labour party manifesto for 1983 said :

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"We will therefore not permit the siting of Cruise missiles in this country and will remove any that are already in place. The next Labour Government will cancel the Trident programme."

[ Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] I hope that people outside have noticed that interruption. I was coming on to say that it was not Labour Party policy any more. I see that the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) has torn himself away from his constituency. He still believes in cancelling the whole Trident programme.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : Don't leave me out.

Mr. Gow : The hon. Gentleman should not worry because I am coming to him. That is why today's debate will be so hilarious.

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gow : I shall give way each time if the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene three or four times, or even more. We have until 2.30 pm.

Mr. Livingstone : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the real problem facing the Government is that the Americans are likely to cancel Trident before we have a chance to do so?

Mr. Gow : I am not sure that that intervention carries the debate much further. The debate today is not about the United States. As you will confirm, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you care to glance at the Order Paper, this morning's debate is about the policies of Her Majesty's Opposition. As the debate proceeds, it may be perceived that it was not a bad choice.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : It is possible that the motion may be put to the vote today. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that if it were to be carried, our policies and the policies of his party could then be put to the people, who should have the opportunity of judging the policies of both parties? I am sure that the representation in this House would be very different if the electorate, rather than just the House, were allowed to judge the merits of the policies of the two parties. Yesterday, Ministers repeatedly talked about accountability. Why do we not have the opportunity for accountability now? Why are we not given the opportunity for an election now? The merits of the policies can then be judged truly.

Mr. Gow : We welcome growing numbers of Labour Members to the Opposition Benches. The hon. Gentleman may not have read this short motion carefully. I do not know whether we shall vote at the end of the debate. I should have thought that the full House, including the solitary representative of the once mighty Liberal party, the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey, could join me in agreeing the motion. However, I cannot help the hon. Gentleman, as I do not know whether there will be a vote.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Come on.

Mr. Gow : If the hon. Gentleman intervenes and asks a question, I shall answer him. I have already said that I shall give way to every Opposition Member who wants to intervene.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : We want some jokes.

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Mr. Gow : The hon. Gentleman must be patient. Patience is a virtue.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that the Box to your right was to be occupied only by civil servants on Government business. As the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) has said, this debate is about the policy of the Labour Party. Why is there a civil servant in the Box?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : I am sure that that has nothing to do with me.

Mr. Dobson : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Mr. Speaker ruled on one occasion that it was a matter for him as he sought to intervene in the matter.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I hesitate to put myself in conflict with any ruling of Mr. Speaker. I shall have inquiries made.

Mr. Gow : I was reading out the text of the Labour party's manifesto dealing with defence. The final paragraph that I want to read out--we shall see whether it still commands the support of Opposition Members--says :

"We will, after consultation, carry through in the lifetime of the next parliament our non-nuclear defence policy."

That was in 1983 and we mercifully have with us the next evidence that we have to consider. In 1987, four years after the 1983 defeat, the Labour party said on defence :

"We say that it is time to end the nuclear pretence".

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Enoch Powell said that.

Mr. Gow : We are talking about the policy of the Labour party, not the policy of our right hon. Friend, the former Member for Down South.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Friend?

Mr. Gow : He is certainly still my right hon. Friend. The manifesto said :

"We say that it is time to end the nuclear pretence and to ensure a rational conventional defence policy for Britain We will cancel Trident."

We now come to 1989.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Dennis has arrived.

Mr. Gow : We welcome the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I shall be happy to give way to him every time that he wishes to speak.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Has the hon. Gentleman recently seen the test for Trident, that so-called defence weapon? I saw a shot on television recently of the latest testing. The missile was spinning around like a Catherine-wheel on bonfire night. If that is the effectiveness of Trident, the Labour party would be well advised in the run-up to the next election to say that we shall get rid of Trident and use the £11 billion for the benefit of the National Health Service, to provide proper pay for the nurses, ambulance workers and all the others who work in the NHS, to provide sufficient money for old-age pensioners, to abolish standing charges for pensioners and for the disabled and to allocate free television licences for the old-age pensioners. There might be a little bit left over, but I should not provide any for those moonlighting Tory Members.

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Mr. Gow : The hon. Gentleman's arrival is most timely. I can understand his growing interest in the subject of pensions as he will be 58 on 11 February. The hon. Gentleman is five years nearer retirement than I am. We share a birthday but he was born five years earlier than I was--

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