Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Ashdown : If that is true--Opposition Members have just said it- -the Labour party's last-ditch attempt to save the Prime Minister has signally failed. The truth of the matter is that the Labour party is now left without a policy. It intended to present to Britain the simple message, "Please vote for us because we are the Not the Mrs. Thatcher party'." That is the single policy of the Labour party. Mr. Wareing rose --

Mr. Ashdown : The Labour party's fox has been shot. It must now address the agenda of the future and the policies it has so far ignored.

Mr. Wareing rose --

Mr. Ashdown : The hon. Gentleman must accept that if I have not given way to him by now, I do not intend to.

It is not without significance that the Leader of the Opposition's entire speech was concentrated on attacking the Government. That is perfectly reasonable in a censure motion, but he said nothing about the poll tax, Europe, the economy or anything else relating to Labour party policy.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ashdown : No.

Mrs. Mahon rose--


Column 456

Mr. Wareing rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. If the right hon. Gentleman does not give way, the hon. Lady and other hon. Gentlemen must resume their seats. The right hon. Gentleman has already said that he does not intend to give way.

Mr. Ashdown : No doubt it will be interesting to all observers of this debate to note that the hooligans on this side of the House--

Mr. Wareing : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman's party voted for the Government on the previous censure motion, but that Government are now in trouble.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that that is a debating point.

Mr. Wareing : No, it is not. The right hon. Gentleman referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and me as hooligans. Is that a party expression?

Mr. Speaker : I did not hear it, but if the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends persist in interrupting, things are sometimes said that are not always meant. If the hon. Gentleman resumed his seat, he might have some chance to take part in the debate.

Mr. Ashdown : The motion is not one of no confidence in the Prime Minister--we do not need one because Conservative Members have kindly provided us with one in duplicate. It is, however, a motion of no confidence in the Government. The fundamental reason why we shall vote for this motion--[ Hon. Members-- : "Ah!"] Oh yes. Given that the Labour party has followed, three weeks late, what we did, we shall naturally vote for the motion. The reason is simple : the Government are now terminally divided. They are divided on all the key issues that confront Britain. The losers are not the right hon. Gentlemen who are candidates for the leadership of the Conservative party--one will win and no doubt two will lose. [ Hon. Members-- : "Brilliant!"] The real losers are the people of Britain because the Government are divided on Europe, the poll tax and all the other key issues before us.

The country is passing through a deep economic recession, but the Government are in crisis. In the future this country must decide on Europe- -that decision is as important as any of those reached since the second world war--but the Government are divided on that crucial matter. As a consequence, the ordinary people will have to pay higher mortgages for longer, the recession will go on for longer, more jobs will be lost and the poll tax will go on for longer. Those facts mean that the Government are no longer fit to govern. No future leader of the Conservative party will be able to paper over those deep cracks--mortal divisions--that divide that party.

The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who is not in the Chamber, has identified four of the five key areas in which the Government have failed. He ignored the environment, however, which is vital. Britain must have a political party that is prepared to address what needs to be done to change our lifestyle so as to save our environment. Unless that happens we shall fail the crucial test that lies ahead in the last decade of the century. The right hon. Member for Henley has asked the questions, but, in so far as he has provided the answers,


Column 457

they are answers upon which his party is divided. The Liberal Democrats ask many of the same questions, but we provide the answers and our party is united on them.

The right hon. Member for Henley rightly raised the issue of the poll tax. He identifies the poll tax as a major problem for the Government, but he does not propose any alternative. He retreats to the old refuge of politicians who do not have an answer, which is to call for a review.

We in the House will not forget that the right hon. Gentleman has never voted against the poll tax. Indeed, the people of Scotland will not forget that he voted for it. When the right hon. Member for Henley was asked why he voted for the poll tax in Scotland, he gave the curious answer that he thought the Scottish people were in favour of it. Any candidate for the premiership of Britain who is so out of touch with the people does not deserve the position.

We in my party are united on what must happen to the poll tax. It should be replaced by a local income tax. We need a sensible, fair, just, cheap, efficient and easy-to-raise tax, just as accountable for local government as the accountability that is enjoyed by the Prime Minister.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South) : Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that our present national taxation system is fair? If not, why does he propose that local authority taxes should be levied in the same way?

Mr. Ashdown : The national taxation system is a hell of a lot fairer than the poll tax. Also, that system has lasted through the lifetime of a number of Labour Governments, and it is for the Government of the day to change it in any way they wish to make it fair--if the hon. Lady thinks that it is not fair.

I come to the issue of Europe--

Mr. Cryer rose --

Mr. Ashdown : I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I make it clear that it is the last time that I shall give way. I do not wish to prolong my speech, because many other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.

Mr. Cryer : The right hon. Gentleman gave way on precisely the same point in a previous speech. Others make the same error when talking about Europe. I assume that he is talking about the European Economic Community. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would not assume the arrogant attitude that Europe is covered by the EEC, when it is only a tiny proportion of western Europe.

Mr. Ashdown : The hon. Gentleman intervened at the point when I had simply used the word "Europe". He is out of date, for there is no such thing as the European Economic Community. It is now the European Community, so perhaps he should get his terminology right. I come to the question of Europe and the European Community. The right hon. Member for Henley is right to say that it is a key issue, for the Government and the nation, but his policy--he has stated it publicly--is not to change the Prime Minister's policy but to argue it better. We would simply bring the problem back to the House. We would remain left behind, isolated and on the outer ring of a two-speed Europe.


Column 458

My party is not divided on the issue of Europe as the Conservative and Labour parties are divided. We are not confused on it. We know precisely where we stand-- [Interruption.] - -for we are in favour of European monetary union, of a central bank for Europe, of political integration and of being part of the mainstream of Europe moving towards European unity. That is our clear and united position. The next matter raised by the right hon. Member for Henley was the economy, and he was right to say that the economic policies of the Government have not succeeded. There is evidence all around us of that. But the right hon. Gentleman, putting himself forward for the leadership of the Conservative party, proposes that we should return to a 1970s dirigisme which, frankly, failed.

The Prime Minister is right to draw a parallel between the economic proposals of the right hon. Member for Henley and those of the Labour Shadow Chancellor because they have a great deal of similarity. We in my party know and understand the importance of the market and of competition, but we also know and understand, and are united on, the role of Government in those circumstances.

We say that the Government's role is to tackle monopolies ; to promote real competition, not the sham competition promoted by the present Government by the privatisation of the utilities ; and to let the power of the market have its effect. But the Government of the day have a duty to invest where the market will not invest, especially in education and training. That is why we say that that is the pre-eminent role of the economic policies of a future Government. We are clear and united on that issue.

The right hon. Member for Henley is right to identify the fact that there is a constitutional problem with the way in which the Prime Minister has handled her office. It is right for him to point out that the Prime Minister has--as many would say, and I would agree with them--overstepped the conventions of her office in the past 11 years. The difference between us is that the right hon. Member for Henley would replace the Prime Minister with himself. We would replace the system. That is the fundamental difference because we say that no Prime Minister--not the right hon. Member for Henley nor any of the other contenders, and certainly not the leader of the Labour party--should enjoy the powers that the present Prime Minister has created for that office. It is not healthy in a democracy. What separates my party from any other in this Parliament is that we do not want to inherit that office. We want to change it. We want for our country a written constitution which does not allow the Prime Minister or any other politician to overstep the bounds of their power. Marching hand in hand with that constitution, we want a Bill of Rights that will enshrine the inalienable freedoms of every citizen in a way that cannot be tampered with by the Prime Minister, by the bureaucrats, by trade unions or by big business. That is the way to begin to tackle the fundamental constitutional issues. On the constitutional side, my party is alone in the House, among the major parties, in saying that there must be a reform of the voting system. We must have a fair voting system in Britain--

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : The Scottish Nationalists want the same.


Column 459

Mr. Ashdown : I accept that the Scottish Nationalists adduce the same argument. The people of Britain are entitled to ask how a 55 per cent. vote is not sufficient to elect a Conservative leader, when a 40 per cent. vote is sufficient to elect a whole Government. When, in due course, as I predict will happen, the Conservatives go to a third ballot and must use proportional representation with a single transferable vote, we shall be entitled to ask the new Prime Minister who will have been elected by that mechanism why he is prepared for himself to be elected by that means but denies it to the people of Britain. We cannot have a stable Government unless we are prepared to have a reformed and fair voting system.

There is a sense that we are passing through a period of change. The Liberal Democrats now stand united on the agenda for the 1990s, the agenda to which other parties will have to come. We are united, while the two other main parties are divided. The great moment of change has arrived. The difference between us is that they fear change while we welcome it.

I say to the new leader of the Conservative party, whoever he may be, that it will not be sufficient for him simply to be elected by a caucus of Conservative Members of Parliament in secret in a Committee Room of the House of Commons. If he is to put the good of his country before the good of his party, he must do what must be done, and that is to seek the mandate of the British people in a general election. Until that happens, he will not be able to lead the Conservative party or the Government.

5.48 pm

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking) : You and I were elected to the House on the same day, Mr. Speaker, and I cannot presume to speak for you, but this is the saddest day of my political life. Nor can I pretend that I find it easy to speak without emotion. I hope that you and the House will forgive me for that.

I know that many people outside the House heard the news of the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister with the greatest sorrow, as I did--and with anger, too, because of the events which brought it about. Those emotions are real and will be slow to fade.

In her truly remarkable speech today and by her answers at Question Time, my right hon. Friend reminded us once again of those qualities in herself which must not be obscured by tears of rage. Above all, she showed us her enormous courage, her self-possession and her dignity. In that, she should have taken the House back to the statement that she made here earlier this week and from which I shall quote. In her report on the Paris summit, my right hon. Friend told the House, among other things, that

"The steady resolve of the United Kingdom and the United States to maintain strong defence during the years when the Warsaw pact represented a direct challenge to our way of life, and our refusal to give way to military threats, was crucial in securing this excellent agreement I believe that this summit was an historic gathering. It marked the end of the cold war in Europe and the triumph of democracy, freedom and the rule of law

Britain has throughout been in the forefront of those who supported the struggle for human rights in those dark days".

My right hon. Friend concluded :

"I believe that the outcome of the summit is one of which this Government, this House and this country can be proud."--[ Official Report, 21 November 1990 ; Vol. 181, c.292.]

As one who remembers the start of the cold war, I say to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister how much we


Column 460

all know that it was her steady resolve, her refusal to give way and her support for the struggle for human rights that made the outcome of that summit something of which she can be proud. And there are so many other things in which my right hon. Friend can take pride.

I should like to quote also from the statement that the Lord Chancellor made this morning on behalf of the whole Cabinet, in which he said to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister :

"You have served as Leader of the Conservative Party for nearly 16 years and as Prime Minister for the past 11 years, the longest serving Prime Minister this century. You led the Government through a time of severe economic difficulty in the early years of the decade to a period of sustained economic growth unparalleled since the Second World War. Your fortitude sustained the effort to recover the Falkland Islands and showed a resolve which many thought had been lost to Britain

Your place in our country's history is already assured We thank you most warmly for your leadership and we extend to both you and your husband, who has supported you so marvellously, all our best wishes for the future."

Those words should be recorded and reaffirmed in the House. When I proposed you for re-election to the Chair at the start of this Parliament, Mr. Speaker, it never occurred to me that one of the great advantages of your high office was that you did not need to know anything about the rules for the election of the leader of the Conservative party. Others may realise the constraints under which they have placed me. This means that I can say little about the events of the coming week--much as I might like to speak out--save to say that I am confident that my colleagues can elect a successor who will respond to the challenges which face the people of this country in the years ahead and that he will prove worthy of the support of all my colleagues. That, I believe, is the one sure way in which we can work together towards the twin objectives that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set us today--the unity of this party and victory in a general election.

5.53 pm

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : I hope that the Prime Minister will not depart immediately. I know that she has many other pressing engagements. She has to listen to those who will follow her, which I am sure must be a great strain. If she has to go, then she must, but I was about to comment on her speech. There seemed to be a great mystery about it. If her record and that of her Government is as plain and as good as she claimed, and if the figures uphold all the doctrines that she has announced and all the achievements that she listed, if it is all so plain and so obvious, I cannot understand why the Prime Minister did not respond to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and call a general election. If the evidence is so clear, so plain, so obvious and so comprehensive, surely she should be the one to take those great accomplishments to the British public and persuade them. So something else must have occurred. One possibility is that the achievements are perhaps not so great as the right hon. Lady has claimed. Another is that others think that they can present the case better than she can. Either way, it does not seem as though the right hon. Lady is upholding the case which she put to the House.

The truth is that, as so often, the right hon. Lady has failed to face the reality of what is happening in the country. She does not seem to understand what has happened in so many constituencies, including my own


Column 461

and many others, in the past 10 years. She does not seem to understand the real consequences of so many of her policies. Because of the way in which she has presented the case to date, it is not only Opposition Members and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition who are protesting about what she has done--some leading Conservative Members are doing so as well. I notice that the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, is in his place. I shall come to him in a moment. I am sorry that the candidates are not present. The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) might have turned up for the whole debate. Not that he comes to our debates often, of course--when he closed the Devonport dockyard, he did not trouble to come to the House himself but sent one of his underlings. That is the way in which the right hon. Gentleman has often treated the House of Commons and, so far as I can see, his party as well.

I listened to the funeral oration given by the right hon. Member for Henley this morning when he commented on the announcement from No. 10 Downing street. That must have been the first assassination scene in which the envious Casca tried to pass himself off as Mark Antony. If it was such a good performance--we all know that the right hon. Gentleman often repeats himself--perhaps he should have come along to the House to join in and to give us that delight on this occasion.

We have some recollections of the right hon. Gentleman. Some people think that some of us object to him because of the way in which he waved the Mace. I think that it is the best thing that he has done. By the way, he apologised for that and I thought that he might be happy to proffer an apology again.

The right hon. Member for Henley has recently sought to make some capital out of the poll tax, although he has not yet apologised to the Scots for voting to impose the poll tax on them. Apparently, he says that he was told that the people of Scotland were in favour of it. However, he did not raise the matter when he went up there. Again, I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not graced us with his presence. We know that he likes to listen to the Prime Minister, but we would have valued his evidence and presence now.

The charge that the right hon. Member for Henley has made against the Prime Minister over many years in which, at one stage, he was supported by the right hon. Member for Blaby, who is present, is a serious charge and one of which the House should take some cognition. The charge is that over a long period--the right hon. Member for Henley would say over five years--the Prime Minister was guilty of refusing to sustain proper collective Cabinet responsibility. I should have preferred to say this to the right hon. Lady's face rather than behind her back, but that is not my fault. Some of us made that accusation on earlier occasions because we thought that that was her nature. One of the reasons why we became involved in the Falklands war was that the right hon. Lady refused proper collective Cabinet responsibility to settle those issues, and there have been numerous other examples of such refusal.

The right hon. Member for Henley was so outraged by the right hon. Lady's refusal to follow the normal Cabinet system that he resigned from the Government. Her nature was confirmed again the other day by no less a person than


Column 462

the deputy Prime Minister, who had been in the Government for 10 years and who claimed that she had persisted in such action throughout that time. The right hon. Member for Blaby resigned for the same reason, too. He said that he thought it wrong that the Prime Minister of this country should take advice from someone outside the Cabinet on major matters of economic policy while refusing to take proper advice from her Cabinet. We were told the other day that so serious was the problem that the right hon. Member for Blaby and the deputy Prime Minister went to the Prime Minister three or four years ago, put a pistol to her head and told her that if she persisted in refusing to abide by proper collective Cabinet responsibility, they would resign. Only by that threat was the Prime Minister brought to heel on that occasion.

I must tell supporters of the right hon. Member for Henley that if he thought for five years that the Government was being conducted in a manner in which Cabinet responsibility was breached persistently--he quoted in his support the right hon. Member for Blaby and the deputy Prime Minister--how was he able to go up and down the country, recalling how he had been treated in Cabinet, saying that he could not imagine circumstances in which he would ever stand for election against the Prime Minister? Conservative associations throughout the country have been subjected to a gross deception. I do not have to worry about that, but some of the public may have overheard what the right hon. Gentleman said. Perhaps he wanted the country to believe what he said.

When I heard the sophistical lamentations of the right hon. Member for Henley this morning, I found it hard to suppress my outrage at his bursting hypocrisy, but when I had overcome that I was reminded of the saying of Halifax--"Trimmer" Halifax, not the Halifax who used to be one of the mischievous leaders of the Conservative party. Halifax the trimmer was a much more eminent man and Leader of the House of Commons in years gone by. He said that a known liar should be outlawed in any good Government. I hope that Conservative voters in the House of Commons will think about that when they come to vote.

The Opposition agree with another charge that has been laid against the Prime Minister by the right hon. Member for Henley and others. It was heard in its earliest and strongest form--I and many of my hon. Friends remember the speech vividly--from the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). Thinking of her conduct over a whole series of matters, he was commenting on the relationship between 10 Downing street, Bernard Ingham and the Murdoch press. The right hon. Gentleman, were he here, could confirm what I say. He said that the relations between 10 Downing street, by which he meant the Prime Minister, and the rich man's millionaire press baron, Murdoch, and Bernard Ingham, who was carrying on these machinations, was corrupt--and that is what it was, and so it has been throughout. It is one of the reasons why the Prime Minister is being brought down. She substituted for proper collective Cabinet Government the operations of her kitchen Cabinet.

Previous Prime Ministers and better Prime Ministers than the present one have been guilty of this, too. Lloyd George was charged with having a kitchen Cabinet and got thrown out by the 1922 Committee almost as brutally as the right hon. Lady has been. At least there was a meeting to throw him out. He was thrown out because the Conservative party of the day was not prepared to put up


Column 463

with a kitchen Cabinet instead of proper Cabinet responsibility. Yet the right hon. Lady has been doing the same thing : in each succeeding crisis, instead of taking the matter to the Cabinet and discussing it there, she has taken it to her kitchen Cabinet. Had she behaved otherwise, she might have saved herself some catastrophes. Her kitchen Cabinet has had exorbitant, dangerous powers during all these years. That is one reason why she has fallen.

When first I heard that the right hon. Lady was to come here and make her speech I was reminded of the occasion--perhaps I am the only person who remembers it--when, from the Press Gallery, I heard a speech by a previous Conservative leader who came here to try to defend his record. I refer to Neville Chamberlain in the famous Norway debate. There were many likenesses between him and the present Prime Minister. He, too, had a huge Tory majority behind him and thought that he could do anything. He, too, thought that he could ignore pressures. He, too, had his kitchen Cabinet advising him so much more wisely than the Foreign Office. And by such methods he brought this country near to utter destruction.

No one who witnessed that debate can ever forget it. Chamberlain still thought that he could get away with it. The Whips Department set up the debate for him ; they still had support for the Chamberlain policy, they thought, and he came and appealed for support from his friends. It was when he made his appeal that the outrage of others especially Lloyd George, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench--exploded. The whole wretched Chamberlain Government, who thought that with their huge Tory majority they could do anything, were swept away after the motion moved by the leader of the Labour party of the time, and a decent Government were installed and saved the country after the most critical moment in about 1,000 years. Chamberlain's sense of rectitude, the feeling that he was always right and that nobody else was, and that he had to be listened to, closely resembles the way in which the present Prime Minister has sought to conduct the affairs of the country over the past 10 years. It is for the way she has done it, as well as for what she has done, that she will not be forgiven by my constituents. Again, I would prefer to say that to the right hon. Lady's face rather than behind her back.

The story that there has been a wonderful increase in our people's standard of living and that each section of the new community has been properly treated and has had its position improved is a lie--a lie of which the right hon. Lady constantly persuades herself. I do not imagine for a moment that she does not believe her own absurd statistics. Of course she does-- that is one of the problems, and why she has had to be removed in this fashion. I give the right hon. Lady credit for the dignity with which she has stood down, but it would have been better still if she had the courage to say, here and now, "The only people entitled to judge my record are the British people, and not another hour will elapse before they get that chance." 6.10 pm

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) : I shall shortly deal with the speech by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), but I should first like to thank the Leader of the Opposition for one thing only. I thank him for giving us in this debate the opportunity to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The three Opposition speeches that we


Column 464

have heard so far were disgraceful and shameful in their return to party doctrine. The hon. Members who delivered them were unrepentant and unable to recognise that this is an historic and sad moment in the history of our country.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for her courage, stamina and determination over the last eleven and a half years. Her speech today and her answers to parliamentary questions showed a fortitude and strength which I defy any other right hon. or hon. Member to show in similar circumstances. I pay tribute to her for her work in flying back and forth across the world and in staying up late at night to assist this country, sometimes limiting herself to three hours sleep a night. I admire her resolution to fight for her beliefs, however long the odds against her.

The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent spoke about Cabinet responsibility. The two examples that he cited fit ill with his case. He talked about the resignation of my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine). I was present at that Cabinet meeting, and the opinion was 20 : 1 against my right hon. Friend. Now, who is it who does not accept Cabinet government?

That was part of the foundation of the flimsy case presented by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent. He spoke about the event revealed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), when he and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) apparently formed up on the Prime Minister and said that they would resign if a certain policy was not adopted. That, again, was the right hon. Gentleman's only evidence for his charge. I, too, was a member of the Cabinet at that time, and I do not remember my two right hon. Friends coming before the Cabinet and saying what we should do. They never cleared their point of view with their colleagues, and never ever raised it in Cabinet. They tried to fight my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister : it was not the other way round. That must be recorded, because it is the truth about that matter. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has never failed to consult colleagues whose inputs to Cabinet were right, and this myth about her seeking to govern from outside the Cabinet is promoted by those who could not get their way in Cabinet.

We should go further in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend. We should remember her remarkable loyalty and generosity of spirit to people who were ill or unfortunate. We should remember the time that she took to look after people who had suffered misfortune, her support for colleagues when they were in trouble or going through a rough patch, and her ability to forgive. [Interruption.] I know that the Opposition do not like that, but I shall not use this occasion to attack them, because they are not worthy of it. I am trying to use it to support my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Lastly, we must remember her integrity. She could not say what she did not believe. She hated fudging. She put her purpose above her personal interest and never said or did a mean thing. It was because of those qualities that she achieved so much. She transformed this nation's economy and spread wealth both wider and more evenly geographically over the nation. She improved the public services, because we have earned the wealth to pay for that, and she increased the standard of living of the average person in Britain by 35 per cent. Those are great achievements.


Column 465

On the political front, my right hon. and hon. Friends know that she won three general elections in a row and gave us eleven and a half socialist-free years. She never lost an election. Over the years, she exhibited a resolute defence of this country's interests, and we pay tribute to her efforts to make sure that the Community did not become a centralised, closed, exclusive club but moved towards wider membership and freer trade, thus allowing it to be a group of co-operating member states rather than a federal Europe. That is the sort of Community that the vast majority of hon. Members want. It was the Prime Minister who pushed the Community further in that direction than any other European statesman.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : The right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to agree with the part of his speech that he has just concluded. It is quite clear from experience that what he says about centralisation in the European Community is just not true. Does he not agree that the terms, implications and practice of the Single European Act treaty, which did much more than even those who closely examined it realised, have taken away from the House, by a majority vote in the Council of Ministers, enormous areas of legislation? The right hon. Gentleman, many of his hon. Friends, perhaps even the Prime Minister, and many Opposition Members did not understand that. What the right hon. Gentleman has just claimed is, alas, untrue.

Mr. Ridley : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, because I am not anti-Community or anti-European per se. I believe that it is necessary to have a free trading area and the central powers to insist on fair and free trading inside that area. I do not see anything wrong with that. However, that is where I stop, and perhaps in that way the hon. Gentleman and I are in the same company. On the international scene, my right hon. Friend has played no small part in ending the Russian threat, freeing the countries of east Europe, maintaining the Atlantic alliance and bringing continuing peace to the world. How did we on the Government Benches reward her? The very day that she finished the cold war in Europe, we started the hot war here.

I deeply regret that the deed was done, and the manner of its doing. The deed was to enact a sort of shameless mediaeval betrayal, whipped up by the media. The manner of its doing was through the electoral device that we have for the leadership. Do we really want to have such a crude device for ever in our party? It is like saying that we will grant the Leader of the Opposition the right to call a general election any time that he feels that the Government might be weak. It is a crazy part of my party's constitution that we lay ourselves open to such a self-inflicted wound.

Those who use this device will not be at peace within their souls over the years to come. Were any of those who have used this device to inherit the crown, uneasy would lie his head. The consequences are yet to come. The backlash is starting in the constituencies. The Conservative party association offices have had their switchboards jammed with protest calls. Jacques Delors is laughing all the way to the Eurofed.

I am reminded of the ballad of the battle of Chevy Chace, where it is written :

"The child may rue that is unborne,

The hunting of that day".


Column 466

I fear that that is the case. Nevertheless, we must forget the past. We must bind up our wounds and bury our dead. We must look to the future. We must reunite and, above all, let us behave over the next few days with dignity. It would be a fitting tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for us to behave with the same dignity with which she has behaved today.

6.22 pm

Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North) : I understand that it is rare for a maiden speech to be made in a debate such as this, but I feel that it is not inappropriate to make mine now in that the Bradford, North by- election result partly precipitated the crisis of confidence of many members of the Government and thus the resignation of the Prime Minister. I also understand that, while my share of the vote was 52 per cent., under current electoral law there will be no second or third ballot.

I must at this stage pay tribute to my predecessor, Pat Wall. All those who came to know Pat found him to be a man of the highest integrity, a thoroughly nice person, with a wry sense of humour and deeply held political convictions. In his all-too-short period of office, he gained the respect of friend and foe alike for his diligence, tenacity and compassion, and, despite his birthplace, an unwavering commitment to his constituency.

The people of my constituency have very little regard for the Government's record. For over a decade, Bradford has been a test bed for an alphabet soup of experiments, with a TEC, a CAT, a UDG, a TVEI, a CPVE, a LMS and, most recently and disgracefully, a CTC. The Conservative party's commitment to education was exposed under the Pickles regime, which cut £13 million from school budgets in 18 months, increased school meal prices by 78 per cent. and diverted scarce capital money into prestige city centre projects, despite Bradford being acknowledged as the crumbling schools capital of Britain.

The final insult to over 15,000 school children in Bradford, North is the recently opened city technology college, blessed with a capital investment from the taxpayer of £7,033 per pupil, while for local education authority schools the figure is a paltry £127.18. On the housing front, we have seen homelessness double, the council waiting list increase by 18 per cent., and a 75 per cent. reduction in moneys for improvement grants. The 1980 housing capital allocation was £26 million. By 1990, this had reduced to £9 million--a fall in real terms of £47 million. This would finance the building of an additional 1,200 houses, or 11,000 improvement grants to maintain and retain the older housing stock of Bradford. The prospect of slum clearance once more looms on the horizon because of lack of investment and of Government commitment. The ultimate insult is the Government's latest foray into housing finance, which saw Bradford's housing revenue account robbed of £8 million of subsidy, in one fell swoop slashing repair programmes for public sector housing and losing some 120 jobs in the local construction industry.

The record is no better in employment generally. The 1980s have seen the loss of 32,000 manufacturing jobs in Bradford because of Government policies. Our once proud textile industry has seen 12,000 jobs disappear, which highlights the Government's disgraceful prevarication on the future of the multi-fibre arrangement.


Column 467

Unemployment in Bradford, North is now 17 per cent. and rising, with over 2,000 people having suffered unemployment for more than 12 months.

The health service in Bradford will shed no tears at the departure from office of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). It remains to be seen whether his successor, the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), has any greater commitment to patients and staff. He should be aware of the opt-out proposals for four hospitals in Bradford--the Royal Infirmary, Bierley Hall, Woodlands and St. Luke's. I ask him to take note of the various ballots on this issue, which show that, of the nursing staff, 93 per cent. are against, of consultants 86 per cent. are against, of general practitioners 88 per cent. are against and of the general public 97 per cent. are against.

The proposed general manager of the hospital trust has described these ballots as unrepresentative, which equates with Joe Stalin being the father of democracy. I sincerely hope that the new Secretary of State will take account of the strong feelings in Bradford against this experimentation and instead offer the prospect of early treatment to the 9,000-plus on the waiting lists, 20 per cent. of whom have been waiting over a year.

Poll tax is the albatross of this Government, to which none of the contenders in next week's ballot have offered the only solution--its repeal and replacement with a modern property tax based on fairness and ability to pay. Some 93 per cent. of my constituents in Bradford, North are losers under the poll tax. This figure will rise to 98 per cent. when safety nets and transitional relief disappear. It is no good Conservative Members complaining about the impact of the implementation of the poll tax. Every one of them trooped through the Government Lobby to support the legislation that has produced it, and every one of them stands equally condemned and carries equal guilt. To cry foul now is the equivalent of Christie asking for a retrial on the ground that he was not aware that arsenic was poisonous. Despite my love for and devotion to my constituency, I seek no special favours for its population. On 8 November, my constituents were given the opportunity to pass judgment on the Government. Being magnanimous in victory, I think that it is only right and proper that the rest of the country be offered the same opportunity as the people of Bradford, North-- in a general election, and the sooner the better. I am certain that the majority of those in this place share the same sentiment.

6.30 pm

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : One of the nicer features of our practice in this place is for the Member who is called immediately after someone has made his maiden speech to congratulate that Member on what for most of us--I imagine this goes for the hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney)--is the overcoming of somewhat of an ordeal. I preface my remarks by congratulating the hon. Gentleman on his speech. He spoke quietly and with confidence. He is young and I have no doubt that if he looks after his

constituency--that is the first requirement--he will be with us for many years. We look forward to hearing his future contributions. This has been one of the most remarkable debates to which I have ever listened. I have no doubt that it was designed to pillory my right hon. Friend the Prime


Column 468

Minister, but it has turned out quite differently. I do not think that I have ever heard my right hon. Friend speak more brilliantly from the Government Front Bench. I do not think that I have ever heard her speak with greater confidence either in the Chamber or anywhere else. It was the Opposition who were lambasted. I say that with sadness because at the end of the day this is not a place for hurling brickbats at one another. This House is the grand council of the nation. Thousands of our fighting men are in the Gulf and the assumption that we are all making is that there will be no fighting ; this then is a moment for choosing words carefully.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North) : So what has the Conservative party been doing over the past week?

Sir Bernard Braine : If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make a remark, let him stand up.


Next Section

  Home Page