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Column 94Ireland Members on the Opposition Benches will not be at any table to negotiate the Union. That is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland, and only for them. They spoke once again in the general election, and they spoke rightly. The House should examine the voting figures in Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland voted for Unionist candidates in a way that straddled the religious divide. Roman Catholics vote for the Union as well as do Protestants. That should be put firmly to the House.
I have taken the opportunity to put grave matters before the House so that hon. Members will be aware of the difficulties that we face in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, Members of both Unionist parties are determined to do their best at the talks, within the agenda that is agreed, to help to bring stable government to Northern Ireland, a fair and stable form of government which means that everyone who wants to live in peace and to exercise his civil and religious beliefs will find the fullest opportunity to do so. It is to that goal that we are dedicated.
I am concerned with two other matters that appear in the Queen's Speech. First, there is the proposed lottery Bill. My view about a national lottery is well known. I do not think that any Government should say that they cannot finance what needs to be financed without the turn of the wheel of fortune. I do not believe in that. I believe that the Government have a responsibility to find a way properly to finance the causes that need to be financed. I have made my position clear in the House before.
As for the Maastricht treaty, I was rather amused when the leader of the Liberal party said that we must all conforms to a single system of election in Europe. None of the European countries conforms to a single election system. For instance, I am elected to Strasbourg on the basis of a different system from that on which I am elected to the House. I am elected on the basis of STV. That stands not for Scottish television, but for "single transferable vote". People say that that is not a fair system ; they say that there should be a list system, or a combination of constituency and list systems. Europe has not perfected its system. When it has produced the perfect system, then it will be time for us to follow the same route.
My views on Europe are also well known. I am greatly disturbed by what is proposed. I heard someone say in the House that the European Parliament should have greater authority, but the European Parliament is not like this Parliament. In that Parliament, we have no Executive, and no Government responsible to that Parliament. We have Mr. Delors, who thinks that he is the new Napoleon and that he will rule Europe by diktat.
Those of us who have sat in the Strasbourg Parliament--and I have sat there for 12 years--know that the system there is altogether different. There, we have no Government ; we have no authority. All legislation in Europe emanates from the chosen few in the Commission. I see that Mr. Delors now wants to destroy the Council of Ministers as well. He will put his hand to anything to get his way. It is time for the House to say to Europe, "Set your house in order." It would be a strange irony, would it not, if a referendum in the Irish Republic brought down the Maastricht treaty? If that happens, as it may well do, where will Maastricht be? It will be buried in a Sadducee's grave, from which there will be no resurrection.
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Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) : Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech so early in the debate on the Gracious Speech. Let me take the opportunity also to congratulate you on your election.
First, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr. Allen McKay, who has retired after 14 years in the House. He was first elected in 1978 as the Member for Penistone, and from 1983 onwards represented Barnsley, West and Penistone. During his time in the House, Allen was a tireless fighter for his constituents. He set a high standard of representation, a standard that I intend to continue. He is well respected in the constituency, and by his former colleagues in the House. I am sure, therefore, that the House will want to wish him and his wife a long and happy retirement.
In view of the contents of the Gracious Speech, I now wish to deal with the problems that face many of my constituents. Since the early 1980s, my constituency has witnessed the closure of five collieries and two major workshops. The knock-on effect on the local engineering industry and on small business generally has been devastating. With little in the way of industrial diversification in the three Barnsley constituencies, we have lost about 20,000 pit jobs over the past decade. That does not take into account the multiplier effect on other industries. In the circumstances, the local authority has done well to hold the community together and to start to attract new industry to the town, but more needs to be done. The authority's efforts over the past few years have been set back greatly by the poll tax and the reduced grant allocation, and we now learn from the Gracious Speech that the Government are to privatise the deep coal mining industry. That is a retrograde step for mining communities, and for miners and their families.
Britain's mines were transformed by the credit of state backing after being rescued from neglect and brought into public ownership in 1947. Since the "Plan for Coal" in 1974, more than £12 billion has been invested in the mining industry. The industry went through a second technological revolution in the 1980s, and the miners have increased productivity from 2.4 tonnes per man shift in the early 1980s to an astounding 6.14 tonnes. That, by any measure, is an enormous increase.
That astounding record has been achieved through a combination of investment, skill and hard work. Now, the miners are to be rewarded bitterly for their pains, and private owners will gain the benefit of the enormous investment in the deep coal mining industry. The recently published Rothschild report on the commercial viability of a privatised coal industry suggested that only a dozen or so pits would survive privatisation. That forecast, however, may well be optimistic. Some experts now predict that British Coal's next contract with the generators may leave room for only five or six pits. If that happens--as seems likely--Britain will become dependent on imported coal ; it will increase its balance of payments commitment by roughly £3 billion per annum ; we shall face increased energy insecurity ; there will be an expansion of opencast mining ; and we shall witness a vigorous "dash for gas". That is not good for Britain. Moreover, privatisation will, in my view, threaten good mining practice and health and safety standards. We
Column 96need only look at the trend in the 160 or so private pits which already operate in Britain to see that that contention is supported. Another point in the Gracious Speech gives me cause for concern, because it further threatens industrial democracy. I refer to the proposal for more industrial relations legislation--a euphemism for a further shackling of the trade unions. Over the past 13 years, there have been seven major pieces of such legislation. The trade unions have become the most tightly regulated voluntary bodies in British society. The record of the trade unions in Britain shows that they have done more than any other institution to improve the quality of life of working people. More legislation to restrict their activities will encourage unscrupulous employers to fragment the work force and push down pay and conditions. That will undermine attempts to establish Britain's competitive position as a producer of high quality goods.
I feel sure that the agricultural sector in my constituency will welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the proposed introduction of legislation to promote improvements in agricultural marketing.
It was with great disappointment that I noted no mention in the Gracious Speech of the Government's intention, in keeping with the recommendation of the Select Committee, to introduce legislation to guarantee a pension to the pensioners robbed by Robert Maxwell. In addition to the guarantee for the Maxwell pensioners, all pensioners need legislation to protect them. The fact that the trust law is insufficient has been shown clearly. It is a serious omission and one that I hope that the Government will look at closely with a view to introducing such legislation. I know, from looking at the Gracious Speech, that many of my constituents will be severely disappointed. 5.51 pm
Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West) : Before congratulating the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) on his maiden speech, I wish to congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on assuming your new office as Deputy Speaker. I know that you were born and schooled in Bedfordshire and the entire county will be delighted. The Gracious Speech said that we will get a move on with changing the parliamentary boundaries. It could be that the county may be entitled to a sixth parliamentary seat. I am not saying that you will necessarily cross over from Northamptonshire, but one never knows how these matters will work out. I am sure that I speak for many in Bedfordshire when I congratulate you on your assumption to the Deputy Speakership.
It gives me great pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone on his maiden speech. The House greatly appreciated his tribute to Allen McKay and all that he did in the House, particularly the way in which he argued for the coal industry. We listened with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's comments on the coal industry. Speeches on the industy always strike a deep chord in the House and we look forward to hearing from the hon. Gentleman as the legislation on the future of the coal industry proceeds. I noted with interest the hon. Gentleman's comments on the Government's plans for further reform of industrial relations. He said that the matter needed to be looked at carefully and I agree with him. There is an increasing
Column 97management response to the legislation and we shall have to wait and see how it works out. As I have said, the hon. Gentleman's comments about industrial relations and the coal industry were appreciated by the House and we look forward to further contributions from him.
I welcome the tone of the Gracious Speech and the policy themes set out in it. I welcome the commitment to improving public services through the citizens charter and the commitment to raise standards at all levels of education. I especially welcome the part of the speech which says that the
"Government are committed to increasing the role of the railways in meeting the country's transport needs."
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman)-- I believe that he is a neighbour of yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker--has been reconfirmed in his ministerial duties with responsibility for public transport and the railways. He will know of my interest in reopening the Dunstable to Luton line for passenger traffic. It is nice to know from the Gracious Speech that the role of the railways is to be given increasing importance in meeting the country's transport needs. Following from that is the commitment to introduce legislation to allow private sector money to become involved in running our railways. Anything that improves the quality of public services is to be welcomed and the Gracious Speech strikes the right chord there.
I wish to raise a matter of immediate concern to my constituents--it was touched on by the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone--and that is the future of the Maxwell pension fund. Mr. Maxwell owned Waterlowes printing plant in Dunstable and Sun printers in Watford. As a result, in my constituency there are a number of ex-employees and widows who are dependent on a Maxwell pension. Many have given a lifetime of skilled service to the printing industry. Some have been told that their pensions might not be paid after the end of May. That is causing immense anxiety and distress. I understand that there is to be a lobby of Parliament in early June and I hope that by then we may have heard about the Government's thinking on how to handle this distressing matter. If the present situation is not enough to worry about, some of my constituents have just received a note, with no explanation, saying that their Maxwell pension is now being paid not by the Maxwell Communication Corporation but by the Mirror group.
This entire wretched saga is the unacceptable face of capitalism writ large in Bedfordshire. There has been a history of industrial co-operation in my constituency and so many of my constituents have given a lifetime of service to the printing industry. I hope that the Government will make an early statement about what can be done to help people who, in good faith, put so much of their incomes into pensions and are now facing great anxiety.
I welcome yesterday's interest rate cut as a further step towards getting us out of recession and difficulty. However, as the Government recognise, it will not stop unemployment from continuing to rise in the immediate future. That puts an increasing burden on the training and enterprise councils as the number seeking training is bound to rise. Just before the election, the Government made the welcome announcement of additional funds to finance the introduction of employment action and high technology national training. The Government pointed
Column 98out that funding for this financial year will be greater than that for the financial year which ended on 31 March, but there are further problems. It is recognised now that if the number requiring training under the guarantees exceeds the contract levels, the position will be reviewed and the onus will not fall exclusively on training and enterprise councils. The Government recognise that TECs cannot be expected to enter into an open-ended guarantee for youth and adult training when their funds are finite. The Government have made the welcome statement that they will review the position. It needs to be reviewed now because, alas, the number of people seeking training has risen and will continue to rise until unemployment starts to fall. The Conservative party and the Government made a welcome commitment in the manifesto by saying that popular schools which become over-subscribed will be given extra funds to allow them to expand. That is a generous and bold commitment as it implies that there will be Government funding for increased running costs and capital costs. I hope that the Treasury will smile happily at what is a considerable potential increase in state spending. If that leads to an acceleration in the number of schools opting out, will those opted--out schools be buying back from local education authorities the support services that the local education authorities now provide? I refer to curriculum back-up, peripatetic music teachers, curriculum support and outdoor activities. That is an important administrative and financial detail. As soon as the Government can say more about it, that will be welcomed, but the commitment to spend more where schools are meeting increased parental demand is thoroughly welcomed. I hope that there will be no hesitation or worry by the Treasury about meeting that valuable and welcome commitment in our education service.
I shall also mention the Government's plans for testing at seven, 11 and 14. I fully support testing at seven, but it has got off to an uneven start. However, it is essential as a first guide to a child's progress at school. Testing at 11 is not yet with us ; we are told that it will be with us by 1994. Testing at 11 is a little different, because we now have--thank goodness--a welcome variety in the changing of the age at which children move on to middle and upper schools. Some children change at eight, some at nine and some at 11. Those who change at nine go to middle schools which cater for children up to the age of 13, where the curriculum is wider and greater opportunities are provided. Those who change at 11 go straight on to their upper school.
It will be difficult to get a clear picture of testing at 11 because so much depends on what sort of school a child is in. For children attending middle schools for the 9-13 age range, testing can be useful. Corrective action can be taken between the ages of 11 and 13, when the child will leave the school. However, if a child is moving on at 11 because the local education authority makes the change at 11, corrective action can hardly be taken in that school. It is asking quite something to tell the new upper school to start acting immediately on the basis of a test that a child took at the age of 11 in a previous school.
Diagnostic testing is useful and can be helpful, but we cannot imagine that it could be applied uniformly throughout the state education system, because of the different patterns involving the age at which pupils move
Column 99on to upper schools. The Government, rightly, want variety and greater choice in education, so that is a potential problem for them.
With regard to testing at 14, when a child reaches the age of 14 he or she is getting close to the GCSE exam. Rightly, the Government have invested much money and political capital in trying to make the GCSE exam system work properly. Although I am not opposed, just like that, to testing at 14, I do not want anything to interfere at that age with a child's progress towards the GCSE expectations. We do not want children to lose their confidence because of a test at 14, nor vital teacher time to be taken away from the essential preparation for GCSE, which is taken at 15 or 16. I do not oppose the concept in principle, but the Government will have to go into considerable detail, and exercise great caution, before moving ahead on testing at 11 and 14.
This is the second time since the war that a Conservative Government have been returned with a majority of about 20. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) mentioned what the then Prime Minister- -Mr. Churchill, as he then was--said about that during the debate on the Loyal Address on 6 November 1951. My hon. Friend quoted one part of Mr. Churchill's speech ; I shall quote another, which is relevant to this Parliament :
"What the House needs is a period of tolerant and constructive debating on the merits of the questions before us without nearly every speech on either side being distorted by the passions of one election or the preparations for another."--[ Official Report, 6 November 1951 ; Vol. 493, c. 68- 69.]
I believe that the 1951 Parliament took that advice to heart, and proceeded in a constructive and orderly way. I hope that this Parliament will do the same, 41 years later.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : It falls to me, too, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to congratulate you and your two colleagues on your election today. We wish you well. I trust that, unlike your predecessor, you will not have the duty of showing me the red card on
occasions--although no doubt I deserved that when it happened. I shall take care not to transgress.
I also congratulate the hon. Members for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) and for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) who have made their maiden speeches today. They will feel better having got those speeches off their plates. I am sure that what they said struck a note with all hon. Members on both sides of the House. I shall refer to some of the details of the Queen's Speech before moving on to the general political setting in which we in Plaid Cymru feel that they should be viewed. We heard the Queen's Speech of a Government who were tired before the election, and are even more tired after the election. They should now be recharging their batteries in opposition, but as they have come back into government, there are not many signs of new thinking in the Queen's Speech. Some of the detailed proposals will cause worry. Given our memories of years gone by, it would be surprising if the proposal to privatise the coal industry did not cause worry for us in Wales.
Column 100The railway system in Wales appears to be being pared down, especially the services between London and Holyhead, as what appears to be a preparation for privatisation. We are worried about those proposals, too.
The Queen's Speech refers to standards of education, but those standards will not be improved unless substantially more resources are provided. We are aware of the Government's tight financial position, and unless they are willing to raise taxes, they will not be able to put the necessary resources into education.
We are concerned, too, about the work of the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions. If that is to give the Conservatives 20 or 30 more seats, do we face the possibility of perpetual Conservative Governments, against the will of the people in Wales and Scotland--and, indeed, much to the dismay of people in many parts of England.
The proposal for a national lottery causes us some worry, too. Many of my friends in the voluntary sector, such as those involved in disability politics, are worried about the possible loss of income if a national lottery is introduced.
We now have a heritage Minister, but it is far from clear how a Minister for the so-called national heritage, in a United Kingdom context, will interact with the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Scotland who have specific responsibilities for those two countries.
The Queen's Speech refers to community care. In less than 12 months' time the full implications of community care will be with us, and a considerable amount needs to be clarified to enable local authorities and health authorities to live with those implications. We hope that more will become clear in the next few days and weeks. Action is needed.
There is lip service to the environment, too, but our worry is that it is only lip service. Clearly, a drastic shift in approach is needed if the environmental tragedy facing not only Britain and Europe but the rest of the world is to be averted. The Government must go to Rio with a positive plan, a commitment and a willingness to co-operate with the countries that have been thinking, worrying and acting to try to meet the challenges.
We would all welcome changes to the leasehold system to help leaseholders, but that appears to be almost the only reference to housing, although housing in Wales, and in many inner cities, is in considerable crisis. This Parliament should give much greater attention to housing, and we should start this year.
Of course, we welcome the reference to a new Welsh language Act, but we shall not comment on that until we know its contents. It could represent a significant milestone, or it could mean nothing. We shall seek, at the very least, for the proposals of the Welsh Language Board to be the basis of such an Act. In particular, we shall see whether there will be a right for people who so wish to have education through the medium of the Welsh language available within a reasonable distance of their homes.
In an all-Wales context, there is as much missing from the Queen's Speech as is contained in it. In particular, it had been expected that there would be legislation on local government in Wales--the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) mentioned that a few moments ago. Only last week the Secretary of State for Wales gave an assurance that the new structure of local government in
Column 101Wales would be operational by 1994. If no legislation is mentioned in the Queen's Speech, that is impossible. The Government should spell out their thinking.
If the Government intend to go back to the drawing board, to examine the implications of their proposals and to take on board some of the criticisms of the counties and the districts, if they have seen the need to consider the government of Wales in terms not only of local government but of creating democracy at the all-Wales level, securing control over the numerous quangos that run our everyday lives, and making the Welsh Office answerable, we welcome the delay. But local government needs to know where it stands because not only the future of the services but the prospects for the employees in local government are at stake. The Government need to spell out exactly what their timetable is and what their intentions are. Aspects of employment are missing from the Queen's Speech. It is difficult to see how the Queen's Speech could have been put together without addressing the central question of unemployment which is such a cancer in so many of our communities, not least in the old industrial areas of Wales, in the old slate-quarrying areas of north-west Wales, in south-west Wales and in the industrial valleys of Glamorgan and Gwent.
The Maastricht content of the Queen's Speech will be the subject of considerable discussion. There is a need to ensure that we in the countries of Britain develop systems that mesh into the models being developed in continental Europe and that the principle of subsidiarity is applied in relation not only to the United Kingdom vis-a-vis Europe, but to the position of Wales, of Scotland, of Northern Ireland and, no doubt, of the regions of England with regard to Britain as a unit.
A central question still has not been answered. We expect clarification from the Secretary of State for Wales about who will represent Wales on the committee of the regions which stems from the Maastricht agreement. The right hon. Gentleman has denied this week that he will be the representative there. One can understand that he may not feel that he has the legitimacy to be there. He did not face the Welsh electorate at the general election, he does not represent a Welsh constituency, and he has no mandate to speak for Wales. If he has now accepted that, and if he will, as an interim step, allow representatives of the Welsh district and county councils to represent Wales on the committee of the regions until we have an elected all-Wales body, at least a shred of daylight is coming into the deliberations.
I come to the central question in our approach to the Queen's Speech and to this Parliament--the question of democracy in our country and of mandates to rule. It was interesting to listen to the Prime Minister's comments earlier this afternoon. He quoted George Bernard Shaw when he said
" all great truths begin as blasphemies' ".
It seems to be blasphemy here to talk of changing the relationship and the nature of the relationship between the countries of these islands. Yet until we get a change in that relationship, we shall not get the system of government which gives real democracy to Wales, to Scotland and to the people of Northern Ireland.
It is interesting to note that the Government are apparently willing to talk now about creating an elected
Column 102assembly or executive in Northern Ireland as one of the possibilities while denying that possibility to the people of Scotland and to the people of Wales who, in the recent election, overwhelmingly showed their support at the ballot box for parties that advocate a move in that direction.
The Prime Minister spoke this afternoon about the need to adapt to the democratic views of the citizens across Europe. There is also a need to adapt to the democratic views of the citizens in the countries of the United Kingdom. In constructing a consensus, to which the Prime Minister referred, there is a need to ensure that consensus exists in Wales and in Scotland on the future government of our country. There is a need for change.
The Government do not have a mandate to rule in Wales. They have only 30 per cent. of the vote in Wales. In the 1987 general election, the Conservatives had eight seats in Wales ; after the recent election, they have six seats in Wales. Plaid Cymru has four seats. We accept that we do not have a mandate to govern, but the Conservative party certainly has not either. The Liberal Democrat party has one seat, and Labour has 27. Clearly, what the people of Wales want in terms of government has come out of the general election. I wish that there had been 27 Plaid Cymru seats, but that was not the case. Clearly, the election was not a mandate for the Government. They do not have a mandate and they should not rule our country. They should not put policies to Wales which have been rejected by the Welsh people through the ballot box.
The election was good for Plaid Cymru. We gained a fourth seat, we almost gained a fifth, and we increased our vote by more than 20 per cent.
I pay tribute to some of the former Welsh Members who are not with us in this new Parliament. My colleague Dafydd Elis Thomas was Member of Parliament for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy for 18 years until the election. The loss of Michael Foot will be felt by hon. Members of all parties. There were Keith Raffan, who became a bit of a rebel in his own party, and Sir Anthony Meyer, who caused quite a bit of controversy and who painted his own picture of the Welsh scene. We also note that Ian Grist is not with us. Although the political implications of that may inspire mixed feelings, he certainly made a considerable contribution as an individual. We no longer have here Geraint Howells, whose seat we gained. We had considerable respect for his contribution to the House as an individual. We no longer have Richard Livsey who served Brecon and Radnor with such distinction while he was here. The losses of John P. Smith and Huw Edwards will be felt heavily in Wales because they were already making considerable contributions. Our party welcomes our hon. Friends the new Members for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis), who is a Member of Parliament with the support of the Green party, and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd).
Some 70 per cent. of the electorate in Wales voted for parties that wanted some sort of elected Welsh democracy. They wanted policies that met their social values, the economic circumstances of Wales, and the needs of the communities as reflected in the election. The democratic process in Wales appears not to allow the people of Wales to get the sort of government for which they voted.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland saying that the people of Northern Ireland must be the
Column 103final arbiters. Given the stark contrast between the election results in Wales and Scotland and the overall election result in Britain, there must be some way in which the people of Wales and the people of Scotland can also be the final arbiters on what we need in our country.
Given that in recent years the Prime Minister--I am glad to see him on the Front Bench now--and other Ministers have referred to the 1979 referendum, the time has come for us again to have a referendum--for the people of Wales and the people of Scotland to have a multi-optional referendum in which the options, including the status quo, would be put and in which the Government would let the people decide. If the Prime Minister and the Government believe in democracy, that is surely something that the Prime Minister must be willing to facilitate. If we are to move forward to a new relationship--a happy relationship--within these islands, it must reflect that diversity of aspiration within these islands. If our systems cannot adjust to that, something is seriously wrong. Until that adjustment takes place, we in Wales will not get the sort of government for which we voted and which we need.
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) : At the beginning of the first Session of a new Parliament, there is an inescapable air of renewal. There is renewal in the occupancy of your chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I congratulate you sincerely on your appointment to it. There is renewal of the representation of so many seats, and we have already heard some good maiden speeches today. There is renewal of some of the legislative casualties or consequences of the previous Parliament, there is renewal of energy and ideas, and there is renewal of hope for the future.
After 13 years, the Government have been granted another glad, confident morning. The challenge will be to ensure that that gladness and confidence are carried through to evening and then, after 17 or 18 years, through to a new dawn beyond that.
We have heard a Queen's Speech in which part of the manifesto on which we fought the general election has been set out for legislative attention. I add my own personal manifesto for this Parliament for the benefit of the people of Portsmouth whom I represent. First and above all, the revival of the economy is the most crucial ingredient for jobs and prosperity for the maximum number of people. Profitable businesses create jobs and in the south, nowhere more than in Portsmouth, the recession has been felt hard, combined as it has been with large increases under the uniform business rate system. Welcome as was the freezing of the increase for this year, I urge my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider it again for his 1993 Budget, depending on how economic prospects for businesses, especially genuinely small businesses, have improved in the meantime. In addition, a genuine resolution to screw inflation down to zero and to keep it there must be maintained this time. In this Parliament, let the Government bring back to this country the inestimable benefits of sound money, stable prices and confidence in the value of savings and investment. Such a policy will bring in its wake lower interest rates, which, combined with lower taxation, will bring to Portsmouth, as to the whole country, the expansion in jobs that is required to
Column 104lick too-high unemployment and secure increases in living standards beyond those achieved in the heyday of the 1980s.
Included in that increase in living standards, I should like to see more pensioners. One of the strongest messages that we met on the doorsteps where the fight was hottest during the general election campaign--and Portsmouth was one of those places--came from pensioners with small occupational pensions in addition to their state pensions or with a modest amount of capital, who made certain remarks about Government policy. They do not readily recognise the justice of the welfare state as they compare their position with the position of pensioners who qualify for income support and all the attendant extra benefits that that eligibility unlocks. They do not see that it was worth all their savings and effort, and they frequently ask me, "Why did we do it? We can see no benefits at this stage in our lives." They cannot without reservation appreciate the advantage of owning their own home. The capital invested is unrealisable because they want to stay in their home for the rest of their lives, which is a reasonable ambition for most people, but that unrealisable capital value is held against them for the purposes of claiming benefit, even if they do not have sufficient income to carry out repairs and maintenance work.
The answer lies in a greyer area being devised at the margins, a much higher capital disregard and the creation of steps in and out of benefit rather than a sheer wall dividing those with benefit from those without, suddenly and all at once. This Parliament, and the Ministries involved, must address that as a matter of urgency. The taxation of small occupational pensions is also resented. The Government must continue to lower income tax bands as well as income tax rates. Once the 25 per cent. band has gone in favour of a 20 per cent. band for all, let us aim for a 15 per cent. band. Let us also continue to raise thresholds. I look forward to millions more people--pensioners prominent among them--being taken out of tax altogether and to many more being taxed less than they are at present by the end of this Parliament.
I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to a Bill to extend choice and diversity in education. I want to see concentration on an improvement in primary education as well as education at the secondary stage. I also want to see increased opportunities for nursery schooling. What can be done in Wandsworth ought to be made possible in Portsmouth and elsewhere in the country.
In that connection, it is crucial that Portsmouth should be allowed to break free from the county structure of local government. Portsmouth should be given the opportunity in education, as in social services, planning and so much else, to enjoy unitary status and once more to run its own affairs, as it did before 1974. I urge the Government not to backslide in their commitment to restoring to cities such as Portsmouth the choice once more to govern themselves at local level. Expectations that they may be able to do so have been raised high, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Local Government and Inner Cities need only come to Portsmouth-- they are welcome to do so at any time--to know how warmly welcomed such a reform would be and how eagerly it is anticipated. I want to make a few remarks about housing. Portsmouth will soon be a university city. The number of students attending the polytechnic has expanded by
Column 105thousands in a very few years. Unfortunately, student accommodation on campus has not expanded to keep pace with that development : it should, and at prices that students can afford. The Government must address that question. It is one of the factors that illustrate the topsy-turvy nature of housing-for-rent policies over so many years. Some streets in Southsea and Portsmouth are now dominated by students occupying in multi-occupation what should be family housing. In the meantime, families are accommodated in digs.
I guarantee that that is the case in great polytechnic or university cities throughout the country. The reason is the operation of the rent Acts and the fact that local authorities and housing associations will never be able to provide enough homes in the public sector to make up for the poor operation of the private market. If private landlords were allowed to, and were given incentives, they would once more provide homes for families, and the topsy-turvey character of the housing market would be corrected. But with rent Act protection barely affected by the creation of shorthold tenancies--welcome though that development is--they never will, and the curse of the irrational distribution of homes will continue to cast a blight on so much Government achievement in other directions. We must address that matter urgently in this Parliament.
Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South) : My hon. Friend is on an important point, and, as a former housing Minister, I feel strongly about what he is saying. Whereas even five or 10 years ago 50 per cent. of housing was in the private rented sector, the figure is now down to about 5 or 6 per cent. Is not the central issue the landlord's return on investment --in addition to the protective or anti-protective measures to which my hon. Friend has referred?
Mr. Martin : Yes, and the return on investment must therefore be made better for those who let to families than for those who let to other members of society, particularly students. If we can get that right, we shall get the provision of shelter right, just as we have got the provision of clothing and food right. This is very much a matter for investment decision, but we could do more to help and the Government should certainly address the matter afresh.
I was pleased to see the commitment in the Queen's Speech to leasehold reform, which has long been sought by many of my constituents and pressed by me and by many of my colleagues, who will also welcome it. At last, we are addressing the problem, which has been with us for many years.
I also welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to British Rail. The lines to Portsmouth and the rolling stock used on them are long overdue for improvement and are often commented upon by visitors and compared with those in other parts of the country. I want to see the same dedication concentrated on such improvements as has been brought to bear on road links, and I am pleased by the positive nature of what is said in the Queen's Speech. I look forward to the delivery of such improvements in the coming years.
Crucial decisions remain to be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on naval matters that directly concern Portsmouth. Top of my list--it has always been top of my list--for resolution is the future of
Column 106the Fleet Maintenance and Repair Organisation. Fleetlands across the water is now a self-managed defence support agency. It is that status that I have continually sought for the Fleet Maintenance Repair Organisation. I did so in the last Parliament and I do so today, at the earliest opportunity in this Parliament. We require as early a decision as possible : the continuing morale and efficiency of the work force relies upon it. Let us have a decision which gives the work force a future, which is right for the times and which will enable us to seek and gain a work load to guarantee the FMRO's continuing role in serving the Royal Navy.
I have set out some of my ambitions for this Parliament and for my constituency. I have done so in the context of a Gracious Speech containing the promise of measures which I have no doubt will benefit the country as a whole.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) : First, let me congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on being in the Chair. I have the distinction of being the first hon. Member whom you have called since you took up that office, and I wish you well.
It is a moving experience for any hon. Member to come to this place and make a maiden speech. I hope that it will not cause offence if I claim to have perhaps greater justification than most for being moved on this occasion. It is 30 years since I first visited this place and that visit was the genesis of my ambition to become a Member of Parliament. Since I was 12 years old, I have longed to be able to come to the House of Commons and, in trying to realise my ambition, I have fought five general elections. I think that that was matched by Madam Speaker, who had to fight many general elections before she came here to represent West Bromwich, West. I hasten to add that I do not covet the Chair.
The priceless privilege of becoming a Member of this place was given to me by the men and women of Thurrock. My constituency has a long river frontage which stretches from the boundary with London at Purfleet round to East Tilbury. It has a wide variety of geography and industry. It has agricultural areas, but predominantly it has riverside industries. I regret that the port of Tilbury was recently privatised, just prior to the general election. However, I have told the new management that I hope that it will consider me a friend of the port of Tilbury because I want to see it thrive in the competitive market that it faces. My constituency has two power stations and a heavy industrial sector along the river frontage. My constituency also contains many good men and women of Essex who, I believe, have been unfairly criticised in the popular press as being somewhat insensitive people. I can testify that the men and women of Essex, and particularly of Thurrock, are deeply caring people who wish to see the best public services and the most caring society that can be established in the United Kingdom for their loved ones, their families and for other people. That is evident to some extent by the fact that they voted for the Labour party at the general election.
In all seriousness and if I may be candid, on the morning of 10 April, no doubt like many of my colleagues, I received a great shock and a grave disappointment. I confess that I was feeling greatly down and I almost tried to find out how to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds after the great surprise and disappointment of the election
Column 107result. However, I was sustained by my wife and family who have encouraged me throughout my political activities and by friends in the Labour party and the trade union movement to whom I pay tribute today.
Many of us received an uplift, however, when we came to the Chamber to elect Madam Speaker, and I shall remember that occasion as long as I live. It was an historic occasion, when the House of Commons was at its best. The fact that the outcome of the debate was uncertain added to the interest and historic nature of the occasion. I am proud to have been in the Chamber when Madam Speaker was elected and I need not apologise for the fact that I believe that the election of Madam Speaker gave me and my hon. Friends a great lift.
I wish now to follow a long-established tradition in this House and to say some nice things about other people. I welcome that tradition and I am pleased to refer to Mr. Tim Janman, who was my predecessor as Member for Thurrock. By his own definition, he was a member of the radical right. According to his lights, he prosecuted that belief with vigour and during his time here he was a diligent Member of Parliament. I wish to refer also to two other predecessors--Dr. Oonagh McDonald, and the late Hugh Delargy who died within the precincts of this place in 1976 and will long be remembered here and in Thurrock as a very fine constituency Member and a great parliamentary character.
I have fought five general elections and have always had good relations with my opponents. I fought Sir Nigel Fisher, the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), on two occasions in 1974 for the seat in Surbiton. I fought John Moore in Croydon, Central and the new Minister for Health, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), who, on a personal level, I have been able to wish well, although I have given him notice that I shall do battle with him on a number of issues relating to my constituency.
It is fair that I should also refer today to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I believe that the Labour party owes him and his wife an immeasurable debt. I believe that, in time, the country will also recognise that debt. My right hon. Friend has done a great deal to provide and promote a loyal Opposition in Parliament and I deeply regret his notice to resign the office of Leader of the Opposition. By July I hope that the press will be able to say honest things about him--something which the press has avoided for many years.
The tradition is that one does not trespass into hard political issues in a maiden speech, but there are one or two things in the Gracious Speech that are directly relevant to my constituency. The Gracious Speech claims that the Government will promote quality in the national health service. Unhappily, many of my constituents will find that somewhat surprising and cynical. We have had to endure the closure of the accident and emergency department at Orsett, which has resulted in enormous queues and long waiting times for people in pain and anxiety at the alternative accident and emergency department a long way away in Basildon.
If I have been charged with one thing by my constituents it is to press the Secretary of State for Health, the local health authority and the new trust to remedy a wrong perpetrated on my constituents 18 months ago by the closure of that accident and emergency department.
Column 108That decision was extremely foolhardy, it is causing my constituents great pain and anxiety, and I intend to press the Government about that at every opportunity.
The Gracious Speech also refers to the privatisation of some rail services. When I referred to my constituency, I omitted to mention the fact that my constituents have to endure the so-called misery line between Fenchurch Street and Southend via Tilbury. That line is a scandal, with clapped out rolling stock and signalling. No privatisation or other Government action can alter the fact that there must be a major injection of public funds if there is to be a proper rail service for my constituents and others in south Essex. I give notice to the Treasury Bench that I intend to raise that issue at every opportunity.
The Gracious Speech also refers to improving industrial relations. Two things flow from that Government claim. First, the Government intend once again to attack the trade union movement. No doubt they believe that that is a fine and macho thing to do, but there is a danger that the Government will greatly diminish the opportunity of individuals to have their basic rights at work protected. Those rights have already been eroded and the few residual rights against unfair or arbitrary dismissal will effectively disappear if such legislation reaches the statute book.
Secondly, dockers were dismissed at Tilbury during the last Parliament. They followed the correct procedure of prosecuting their case at an industrial tribunal. They won at that tribunal and were awarded reinstatement and compensation, but the port of Tilbury and the Port of London Authority have not complied with those orders of reinstatement. It is a travesty of justice for the Government to claim to be paragons of virtue in promoting the rule of law. I challenge them to legislate to ensure that people will have their industrial tribunal awards implemented swiftly. I do not believe that they will do so, but the Secretary of State for Employment really must address that point as it is a matter of natural justice. The Prime Minister referred to the widening of the European Community, and specifically referred to the admission of Poland into the Community by the end of the decade. I welcome that. However, Her Majesty's Government are not doing enough to help people in the former states of central Europe to promote their fragile democracies and economies. In my time in the House, I shall try to raise their interests, too. It is a scandal that people in Poland must wait and almost beg for visas for admission into the United Kingdom for legitimate reasons--in particular, students of English. Again, I hope that the Government will tackle that issue with some expedition--to right a wrong.
The Government have won four general elections in a row. They must now consider, as Opposition Members consider, the need to reflect on how democracy in the country and in the House can be extended and promoted. I consider the existing voting system to be indefensible. I go no further than that. I have an open mind on alternative systems, but I hope that the House will reflect upon the need urgently to consider whether we should have an improved voting system at the next general election.
We must also have regard for the need continually to ensure that this place checks the Executive. I was concerned to read in the press that there could be some shilly-shallying or delay in setting up Select Committees. As a new Back Bencher, I hope that there will be no delay and that Select Committees will be set up with the utmost