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Column 109expedition. As Back Benchers, it is our duty to check the Executive. That is an important weapon at our disposal to promote the best interests of our constituents.
Hon. Members could be complacent about our democratic institutions. I hope to play a small role as part of a loyal Opposition. I have said how disappointed I was on 10 April, but I repeated to myself over and again part of Winston Churchill's maxim, "in defeat, defiance". I intend in my small way to contribute to promoting a loyal Opposition to criticise, cajole and expose the deficiencies of the Executive and prepare, I hope, for a general election in perhaps four years' time when it will be our turn to form a Government. Hon. Members need to be certain that our institutions are continually updated so that we promote and speak on behalf of our constituents. There could be complacency, but I hope that there is not. I am reminded of the words of Lord Hailsham, who referred to the dangers of parliamentary dictatorship. I hope that hon. Members, and in particular Conservative Members, will have regard to that point. We must ensure that our Westminster traditions are continually updated so that democracy can be promoted and sustained in the United Kingdom. I am privileged to have the opportunity to participate in that process over the next four years.
Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South) : I have no difficulty or hesitation in congratulating the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) on a witty, able, fluent and independent-minded maiden speech. Most hon. Members, including myself eighteen years ago, wait two or three months before making a maiden speech, but the hon. Gentleman has got his maiden speech off his chest at the first available opportunity, and he has done extremely well.
I also congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on rising to your high office. Had the Chairman of Ways and Means still been in the Chair, I would have made some jokes about tennis. As I do not know whether you play tennis, I shall pass by that matter and move straight to the meat of my speech. However, you will need very good neck muscles to move your head from side to side, as happens on the tennis court. It will come as no surprise to the House that I welcome enthusiastically the bulk of the Queen's Speech. I judge it by the criteria by which I suspect that many of my hon. Friends will judge it--that is, by what it does for individual motivation. Contrary to most Opposition Members, I believe that society is no more and no less than the sum of the individuals within it. I therefore welcome, for instance, the references to increasing the individual's respect for the rule of law. That is in part a matter of proper sentencing policy. It is a matter in part of spending money on the police force. Perhaps it is a matter of divide between the two sides of the House, but it is also very much a matter of the rhetoric of and attitude towards personal responsibility. A crime such as joyriding is as much a matter of the responsibility of the parents of young people and the young people themselves as it is, as so often claimed, of society. I certainly welcome the aspect of the Queen's Speech referring to law and order.
Column 110Equally, I very much welcome those aspects of the Queen's Speech referring to the encouragement of individual motivation and of removing distortions in the economy. One of the major facets of motivating individuals is that they should have confidence in the means of producing and distributing goods within the economy. That is why I very much welcome the proposed measures for privatisation. As a former Minister with responsibility for coal and electricity, I shall say one thing about coal privatisation. When I was in Government, I lost the battle to privatise the coal industry much earlier. I still think that I was right about that. There were arguments which prevailed against what I was saying, but the coal industry would have been protected and preserved in a rather better way than it has been within the public sector in the past two or three years. We would have had a new approach to management and marketing. Above all, the industry would have had access to private capital in a way that would have been of enormous benefit to it. I offer the Government one word of caution. In doing so, I must declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Independent Power Producers. It would be a great shame if, in order to protect coal privatisation, special deals--in particular, secret special deals--were allowed between the coal industry and the large producers of electricity, National Power and PowerGen. If there were secret contracts which were, in a sense, supported by the Government so that the coal industry could be easily privatised, it would be extremely distortive. We need to have more competition among electricity producers and less protection for the big producers of electricity. If the privatisation of coal resulted in further protection for National Power and PowerGen, it would be very unfair.
I now refer to the Government's proposition to introduce a more balanced budget as we come out of the recession. They are absolutely right. Again, it is a distortion for the individual to have excess spending and, therefore, excess borrowing, which has all sorts of detrimental effects on the economy. That is something which we did not have in the 1980s but which we undoubtedly have today. I hope that the Government's view is correct that as we come out of recession the take from income will be greater and expenditure will be less so that we get the balance right. The longer term problem is that demands on public spending are becoming greater by the day. Taking health as an example, the demands of new technology, new standards of living and an aging population build up continuously and create cumulative pressures for more spending on health.
The Government have only a few alternatives if they are to achieve a balanced budget. Either they say no to some of the increased demands, which will be increasingly difficult ; or they raise taxes. Or they increase borrowing, which will mean unbalanced budgets. Or new means will have to be found--no doubt controversially--of funding an element of expenditure on, for example, health. That would mean some sort of mesh of private and public finance for health. Socialist France goes even further than we do in involving private contribution in certain types of health provision, though obviously not chronic or emergency health provision. We shall have to move more towards such a system if we are to meet the increasing demand for public spending in that sector.
Column 111I have said that I agree with and welcome the bulk of the Queen's Speech, but I have reservations on two matters. One is referred to indirectly in the Queen's Speech under the "any other business" section, which says :
"Other measures will be laid before you."
The other matter is referred to directly.
The matter referred to indirectly was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in his speech. It is the so-called reform of Parliament. Proposals will be put before Parliament for its reform. I agree with what the hon. Member for Thurrock said about the need to protect this Parliament. It is a difficult and complex job because, unlike most Parliaments--for example, the Congress of the United States--our Parliament is not divided from the Executive. It is part of the Executive. It is controlled by the Executive. The Executive exists only so long as it controls the legislature. That is what gives the Executive its legitimacy.
As a result of the constitutional constraints under which we operate, it is therefore difficult for a British Parliament to establish any measure of independence from the Executive. One way in which this Parliament has traditionally exerted some measure of influence and control over and independence from the Executive is through the messiness with which we conduct our activities. It is precisely because we do not always know at what time the House will rise, and because we do not have a push-button, nine-to-five Parliament, that the Executive often have to take into consideration what Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House are saying to them.
It will be of enormous interest to the Executive to move across to a nine- to-five, nine-to-10 or whatever Parliament. It will be welcomed by them. It will make life much simpler to have a "reformed", "modernised" Parliament, which will be far easier to control. I shall therefore watch with enormous scepticism measures introduced to "reform" Parliament and make it far more manageable for the Executive.
The other matter about which I have reservations has been referred to several times in the debate. I understand that the legislation to ratify the treaty of Maastricht will be forthcoming soon. Many of my hon. Friends- -and, I suspect, many Opposition Members--have great reservations about the inexorable move towards a federal Europe. There is a great deal of common ground in the House. The question is, "What is to be done?" What perspective should be taken on what is going on?
Some people argue that the thing is breaking up of its own accord. The Italians do not believe in the treaty and do not comply with it. The French have started to debate it in their assembly. The Germans do not like the thought of sacrificing their mark. It looks as though the Danes might reject the treaty in a referendum. It is argued that the move towards federalism is breaking up.
There is another argument that, even if the move towards federalism is not breaking up, Britain has achieved everything that it needs for itself by temporarily opting out.
In considering the treaty, all I can do is to read the print which I see in front of me and which I have been asked to ratify and, therefore, indirectly to sign. When I look at the specifics--the black and white of the treaty--I have certain strong anxieties.
For instance, I am anxious about the new concept of the union citizenship. I know that it is said that, although the union citizen will have new rights over and above and
Column 112independent of those of the sovereign country, for the moment those rights will apply only to local government elections. But I also read in the small print that through unified voting those rights can be extended once we have set up the concept of a citizen who is no longer exclusively loyal to our country but has a wider loyalty.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : I hope that I have not interrupted my hon. Friend in the middle of his main point. Does it not go even further than he suggests? Some four years ago the House was asked to ratify a previous treaty--the Single European Act. It contained various provisions. One was that the rights of workers would be decided by unanimity. That is what we thought. That is what we were told. But since the treaty has been ratified, other interpretations have been put upon it. Whatever my hon. Friend reads into the treaty that he has been reading today, is there not a grave danger that others might try to take the treaty even further and that, whatever the small print, its interpretation by the European institutions will take us down roads that we have not even thought of?
Mr. Spicer : That is right. My hon. Friend's last point about the interpretation of the last treaty is what counts. It is the treaty that we have to go on. We cannot go on blandishments, hope, and so on. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we must judge the thing on its merits and on the interpretation that we think that lawyers will place on the treaty in future days.
My second and more fundamental anxiety is about the concept of a single currency. I appreciate that it is difficult to make a popular issue out of the words "single currency". But the reason why it is of importance both to those who want a federal Europe, including some of my hon. Friends who have spoken today, and to those who are worried about it is that a single currency will necessitate a single economic authority to manage all aspects of the currency, including the fiscal, taxation, expenditure and monetary policies that go with it. It is not merely a question of the convenience of abolishing exchange offices where business men exchange money. It is a fundamental point.
If there is a single currency, there must be a single economic authority and a single economic policy. Throughout history, economic policy has gone to the centre of sovereignty. Civil wars have been fought about taxation policy and monetary policy. That is effectively what government is all about. It is about the taxation and the distribution of resources. If a country gives those powers away to some other power, it has given away the very essence and core of its sovereignty.
The single currency is the written-in objective of the Maastricht treaty. It is even worse when one considers that we are not only setting up an entirely new set of bodies to manage the currency but giving its control to a central bank mechanism which is independent of politicians and the people who represent society. Therefore, there is a double whammy, to use the phrase which loomed large in the general election.
The question is whether the treaty of Maastricht moves in that direction. There is the argument that we have given ourselves the possibility to opt out. There is the point that countries must converge under the current terms of the treaty, terms that are alterable or can be fiddled. The Italians have already said that they would fiddle their
Column 113convergence conditions. The fundamental question remains : are we, by signing the treaty, inexorably moving towards a single currency or not ? That is the question that I must ask myself.
When we come to sign a treaty which sets up institutions--in stage 2 we have pretty well reached the point when we shall set up a European monetary institute, the precursor of a single, economic, banking authority, which will undoubtedly exist whatever the opt-out clauses--we are on an escalator off which it will be difficult to climb. Once we have the institutions, they will have a certain permanency, certainly if they are included in a signed treaty. There will be a self-fulfilling element. They will be magnets drawing us ultimately to a single economy and, thus, a federal Europe. I cannot in any circumstances conceive of a single economic authority without a federal structure with it--a Parliament and all the other trappings of a federal centralised Government.
The treaty of Maastricht is of enormous importance. It is an absolutely fundamental step in the direction of a federal Europe. It is an irrevocable step--and that word is used throughout the treaty. It will be impossible to reverse it. Therefore, the House will hear a great deal more from me--if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or that of your colleagues--as we approach this historic step. There is no way it can be fudged. We must take a view either one way or the other. I am extremely concerned at what I have read in the treaty, and I hope to express my concern in the weeks ahead.
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North) : I have listened with great interest to the rather telling statement by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer). We shall long remember the words that he used this evening because he presented a different picture from the continued and repeated protestations of unanimity by Conservative party spokesmen during the election campaign. The real test will come when the House first divides on the matter. The Government's much reduced majority will put the issue well within striking range of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues if they choose to maintain the strength of this evening's protestation.
I have already had the considerable pleasure of offering you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, congratulations personally. I should like to place on record my very best wishes for your future success and efficacy in the post that you occupy. I hope that you have a long and effective period of tenure.
The Gracious Speech contains many matters with which we can take issue, and we have a further five and a bit days to discuss it. Besides thanking you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye this evening, I should like to express my regret that I cannot be here when we divide on the Gracious Speech. Sadly, the hardships of the office that we hold in this House require me to be in
Column 114Italy from Sunday to Wednesday of next week and then to pass on rapidly to Canada. I beg the sympathy of the House when I undergo those tests of tenacity.
I could be here for a fortnight discussing many of the issues raised, but I wish to raise specifically the statement in the Gracious Speech that Her Majesty's Government
"will promote sound finance and budgetary discipline."
I shall make two references under this heading.
The first subject has already been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham), who made an excellent maiden speech, and was touched on by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel). I refer to the question of pension funds. No one would disagree with the statement that Mirror Group employees and those retired from Mirror Group employment have suffered a hideous form of treachery. It is a source of regret to me that no comment is made in the Gracious Speech on the Government's intention to take an active interest in resolving that pension fund problem.
The matter goes further than that. The whole question of property rights with regard to surplus funds generated by pension funds causes great concern. In the past, several pension funds have assessed the surplus moneys generated by their activities and decided to cream them off and apply them in ways as yet unspecified. We have been unable to determine the manner in which they have been disposed of. As a member of the national executive of my union I often took part in negotiations on behalf of my fellow members when pension conditions and improvements to pension schemes were negotiated, discussed and settled as a form of deferred wage increase. The maturation of the moneys that were agreed and set aside on those occasions form the property of the members and other beneficiaries under the scheme. To take the moneys and apply them in any other way is a serious form of defalcation. This major question needs resolution. If the Government are not prepared to state an opinion of their own volition, the matter should be subject to judicial review. I hope that the Government will treat the matter seriously and hand it over expeditiously to a judicial inquiry.
My second question bears on yet another form of moral credit rating for finance houses, but in this instance I am referring to banking. It is not only the instance of BCCI which questions the whole trustworthiness of banks at this stage in the 20th century. Other serious questions need to be asked and effectively answered. I am talking about whose interests the banks serve. Does a bank serve the interests of its customers or those of its shareholders? In a wide range of instances the interests of the one do not coincide with the interests of the other. Let me give the House an example and I shall try not to be too long with it.
I shall describe a scenario in which a bank engages in business with another two companies, one of which is a major oil company and the other an electronics company. The three companies form a joint independent company, which does not stand on its own but is funded by the three partners in equal amounts. In competition with other companies, that joint company secures a licence from the Department of Trade and Industry allowing it to operate a telecom network. As that telecom network is not well known, it engages the services of an advertising agency. The advertising agency is given a fixed-term contract with fixed fees, to terminate in 1993. It is required to produce a
Column 115logo and a registered mark to help the marketing and a marketing strategy so that the operation of the telecom network will be successful.
The relationship continues for some time until the three partners--the bank, the oil company and the electronics company--tire of the toil that they have created and decide that they want to sell it on, together with the DTI telepoint licence. However, while they are looking for a buyer they stop paying the bills to the advertising agency contracted to look after their affairs. That period of default lasts for four months, during which time the advertising agency finds that it must reduce by 50 per cent. the number of its staff, which it had enhanced to service the contract. It loses its credit rating, has to increase its borrowing and reduce the salaries of all its employees. In the meanwhile, its bank reduces its overdraft facilities by a half.
After that four months period of hardship, a foreign buyer is found for the independent company. It is a Hong Kong--Li Ka Shing--buyer, which decides not to honour the contract with the advertising agency. It now has the intellectual property in the form of a logo, a registered mark and a marketing strategy, but refuses to pay the outstanding moneys. In the meantime, the advertising agency is still suffering considerable hardship and is being charged premium interest by its bank on the borrowing needed to keep it afloat. The outstanding money is finally paid, but no question is made of the intellectual property and no settlement is offered for the consequential loss to the advertising agency as a result of all the additional financial charges made by the bank.
The matter is complex and I apologise to the House for having gone on for so long. But the nub of the question is the matter of the bank. Not only was it a third partner in the independent company but it was also the bank offering overdraft facilities to the advertising agency. It therefore had a contractual relationship with the advertising agency while the agency was its customer. Having placed the agency in financial jeopardy, it was also charging premium rates of interest to fund that position of jeopardy. That is a serious abuse of a position of trust and it renders the bank susceptible to being termed "untrustworthy". Any bank that can conduct its affairs in that way must be questioned. I do not refer to its legal operation because I know that the legal niceties of a case can be argued and would have to be settled in court. Rather, I refer to the moral consideration and obligations, and whether banks take full regard of their responsibility to their customers as well as shareholders. The House will appreciate that the bank, in seeking to gag its customer, which is still fighting for survival, by demanding security of £30,000 on any hearing, was engaging in practices akin to blackmail. It is rather like people entering a game of blind brag with a partner whom they know can, at any time, buy the pot and render them penniless. I remind the House that blind brag, under any rules, is illegal in this country.
What do I suggest is a sensible way to handle such a problem? I have already suggested a judicial review to examine pension funds and the disposal of their surplus cash. In this issue, nothing less than a royal commission would suffice, because the bank in question is Barclays, the oil company is Shell and the electronics company is Philips. If such highly respected companies can behave in that way with an advertising agency like Hook--not only the company but its directors' houses and the jobs of its
Column 116staff were placed in severe jeopardy--it is about time that the Government put their money where their mouth is, lived up to their commitment on a citizens charter, and announced a royal commission on those matters.
Mr. William Powell (Corby) : The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) did the House a great service in raising certain matters and I hope that serious consideration will be given to the problems faced by the Maxwell pensioners and to the behaviour, more and more commonly identified, of some of our banks.
I, too, warmly congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your elevation to the throne on which you now sit. We all look forward to sitting under your chairmanship in debates throughout this Parliament.
I am sorry that I was not called when the Chairman of Ways and Means, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris), was in the Chair because I should like to have been the first Northamptonshire Member to have congratulated him on his elevation, which will be widely welcomed in Northamptonshire. We are proud of the honour that has been conferred on him, and I know that he will be every bit as distinguished as previous holders of that office. I warmly welcome the Queen's Speech and will be able
enthusiastically to support it. If my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is identified with any themes of public policy, they must be the elimination of inflation and the improvement in the standard and quality of our public services. The Queen's Speech underlines yet again his commitment and that of the Government to ensuring that we do not reignite inflation and that we take determined steps to improve the quality and standards of our public services. Having placed my remarks in that framework, may I make some general points? The first must be directed to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. In the past two Parliaments in which I have sat it has been comparatively easy for the Treasury Bench to ignore substantial criticism and comments from both sides of the House because the Government have enjoyed a handsome majority. Not every point that is raised in the House is party political, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will make a more determined effort than some of his predecessors to draw to the attention of individual Ministers remarks made from all corners. On many occasions I have raised matters in the House and it has subsequently become quite clear that my remarks have not been drawn to the attention of Ministers, as they should have been. Ministers should have a keener interest in what is said on the Floor of the House than has sometimes been the case. The fact that the Government will have to work harder to obtain a majority will, I hope, help to concentrate the mind. A number of Ministers have enjoyed the luxury of not having to take into account criticisms made, not merely by Conservative Members, but by Opposition Members.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will avoid the temptation to reshuffle Ministers constantly. One of the more debilitating consequences of the length of office of his predecessor was the expectation of an annual reshuffle of Ministers. Comparatively early in the parliamentary year, newspapers, often short of news, began to speculate on who would be involved in musical
Column 117chairs at the end of term and who would lose their position. That had the effect of undermining the work of individual Ministers whose names appeared in the newspapers. It is suggested that the then Prime Minister herself, through her press secretary, was one of those responsible for hinting that various Ministers might not survive the summer term.
I strongly support the new Cabinet appointed by my right hon. Friend. A number of Ministries would benefit if their Secretaries of State were in office for the full term of this Parliament. There is no great advantage in constantly chopping and changing. The Department of Trade and Industry has seldom had the same Minister in charge for 18 months ; often it has been less than a year. Some spheres of policy require prolonged commitment from individual heads--for example, the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Transport, where no advantage is to be gained from endless games of musical chairs.
I hope that, under the paragraph
"Other measures will be laid before you",
the Lord Chancellor will soon bring forward legislation to reduce the maximum age at which judges can retire. I have raised that matter in the House on a number of occasions, but it has not been referred to the Lord Chancellor. When I corresponded with him, it became obvious that he was unaware of remarks that had been made in the House.
The Lord Chancellor has published a paper about lowering the retirement age of judges on which he is seeking consultation. The sooner that he is able to bring the consultation process to a conclusion, and the sooner legislation is laid before Parliament to reduce the retirement age from 75 years to the 70 years that the Lord Chancellor now proposes, the better. I hope that, on reflection, the Lord Chancellor will favour the age of 68.
I also hope that the legislation will explicitly refer to existing judges who may be promoted so that the new retirement age will affect them after their promotion. The great judge Lord Denning, although appointed a judge before the Judicial Pensions Act 1959, was promoted to Master of the Rolls after it but did not have to surrender the requirement to retire at the age of 75. Some of the mischief that occurred because he continued in office beyond that age would have been avoided if, on his promotion to Master of the Rolls, he had been bound by the 1959 legislation.
There are various matters that I have raised several times in the House to which I want the Government to pay closer attention than they have so far been willing to do. There is a need to establish an international court of first instance criminal jurisdiction to deal with cases such as the Lockerbie incident, IRA trials in this country, and the difficulties about extradition. The international dimension of crime which involves drugs, terrorism and kidnapping shows the need for such a court.
An enormous amount of work has been carried out on the subject throughout the world, and although the Government of our country may not be very enthusiastic about it, they will be aware that the Governments of many other countries are. Recently, Germany, Israel, Venezuela and Zimbabwe have expressed support for such an idea. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will be aware of support for
Column 118the proposal in Italy, India and elsewhere. I was delighted that the matter was recently raised in the Canadian Parliament. If we cannot have a world court, we should at least have a Community court within the EC so that crimes that cross borders within the Community can be tried at a court that covers all Community countries rather than having to be dealt with through the unsatisfactory extradition process, with all the accompanying problems such as the admissibility of evidence. That idea has been pursued in the United Nations and should be taken more seriously in this country.
The single most important issue facing the world is the future of the talks on the general agreement on tariffs and trade. In the past, those matters have been debated in the House by being parcelled up into agriculture, and the textile, shoe and various other industries that are affected by the GATT talks. The House needs the opportunity to reaffirm its belief in and commitment to free trade, as well as giving support to the Government in the negotiations and making clear to the other Governments involved in the GATT talks the importance of a successful conclusion to the negotiations, not just for this country, but for all our trading partners and the world generally. During the negotiations that led up to Maastricht, my right hon. Friends were fond of saying that other Community countries must realise the importance of this House, and the fact that the Government would have to be able to carry through the House anything agreed at Maastricht. Precisely the same approach should be adopted to the GATT negotiations so that other countries are aware of the profound and long-held commitment of this country to free trade, and to opening up opportunities for trade and the growth that goes with it, for rich and poor countries alike.
I welcome the commitment to strong defence. In the past few years, the world has become not safer, but more dangerous. Within our own continent we already face difficulties that I know will become worse. The eastern part of our continent is likely to go through a period of high inflation and rising social tensions. That phenomenon will not be isolated to the eastern part of the continent, and is bound to have an impact on those of us who live in the more prosperous western part.
Therefore, we must be cautious about running down our defences. Of course, there will have to be changes and adjustments, modernisation and a rethink about the process of British defence policy in future. That is one reason why it is so necessary for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to spend a long period in office. It would be wrong to imagine that it will be plain sailing for us in this continent ; we know how other problems affect other continents, not least the difficulties of famine and AIDS raging through Africa, all of which will have consequences for us. I raise again in the House a matter about which I have spoken before--dyslexia. I was absolutely overjoyed when, in last autumn's Queen's Speech, my then right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester, Mr. Peter Walker, spoke of dyslexia. Fortunately, within education, we are becoming much more aware of the number of children with dyslexia. However, I wish to focus on the fact that dyslexia is not confined to those at school. Many children leave school without being diagnosed as dyslexic whose
Column 119condition may not be diagnosed until years later and for whom there are no training facilities to enable them to overcome that disability.
I am aware that I am making a special plea for people with a condition in which I happen to be particularly interested ; many other handicapped conditions require a similar commitment. I make the plea for those with dyslexia because I have been the only person to raise in Parliament the question of post-education training for people who suffer from dyslexia, for whom there are no schemes at present. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment to emphasise the importance of overcoming disabilities of this sort by means of the training programmes that are sponsored in this country.
We must also persist with ensuring that the guarantee of high quality training given to 16 and 17-year-olds is fulfilled. My right hon. and learned Friend the former Secretary of State for Employment--now Secretary of State for the Environment--was fond of outlining how bankable this guarantee was, but I am not convinced that it always was. The new Secretary of State will have to be careful to ensure that the Government's promises are fulfilled at ground level, where all sorts of difficulties may make it difficult to carry out these training programmes--changes of staff, difficulties in finding replacement staff, and so on. I certainly know of a number of constituents of mine who found the Government's so-called guarantee a disappointment, and that cannot be allowed to continue. I hope that the policies initiated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry during his 16 months at the Department of the Environment will be allowed to continue. I hope especially that the east Thames corridor remains the focus of planning decisions in the south-east and that there will be no return to the M4/M3 corridors dominating everything.
I also hope that the channel tunnel rail link into King's Cross never proceeds. I cannot begin to understand why traffic from the regions, from the north-west, from Scotland, the west midlands and Yorkshire, should come into London. It would seem much more sensible for the railway to bypass London, connecting all the main routes from the regions. That is likely to be considerably cheaper to construct than an urban, probably underground, high-speed railway line through London. I do not imagine for a moment that people travelling from Manchester to Paris on a high-speed rail link will really want to go into London first.
Why not build a dedicated line, as the French are doing, which goes from Rugby, through which every single train from the west midlands, the north- west and the west coast of Scotland must pass, to Peterborough, through which every train from Yorkshire, from the north-east and from Edinburgh must pass ; thence down to Stansted airport where--the French have done this, too--rail, air and road transport can be integrated? From there the line could go straight down to the channel tunnel itself. The cost of constructing such a line is likely to be much less per mile than a line into east London.
I welcome the Government's commitment to the rent-to-mortgages scheme, which is likely to benefit many thousands of my constituents. They will welcome the chance of benefiting from it as soon as possible.
I hope that the Government will ensure much more publicity for these opportunities than they frequently have done in the past. I remember the undertaking that all local
Column 120authorities, for instance, would distribute the tenants charter. Two district councils cover my constituency, one of them a safe Labour authority and the other a safe Conservative authority : neither has distributed the tenants charter, even though it is becoming more and more important. I know from my surgeries, home visits and all the other constituency work that I do that law-abiding tenants face increasing difficulties with problem neighbours. Again and again I find that the peace and quiet of perfectly honest people who may have lived in their homes for a long time are being disturbed, sometimes seriously, because new unneighbourly neighbours have moved in next door or close by. The tenants charter has a number of important things to say--of reassurance and of authority--to those whose peace is being thus disrupted.
The reports of the Audit Commission too rarely emerge into the public domain. They are sent to local authorities, but unfortunately all too often local authorities bottle up the matters internally so that they never come out in the open. I should like all Audit Commission reports relating to local authorities to be sent to the relevant Members of Parliament. They should also go to the press. Moreover, I should like a new institution of this House to be set up. We should form a sub-committee of the Public Accounts Committee, which is our most important and prestigious Select Committee. The sub-committee should look into the Audit Commission's report. With at least 50 per cent.--some would say 75 per cent.--of local authority finance coming from the general taxpayer, not from the chargepayer, taxpayers' money is being spent on a huge scale by local authorities, and this House, as the guardian of the nation's taxes, has a legitimate interest in seeing that what local authorities spend of taxpayers' money receives much more public attention. One of the best ways of achieving this would be to give the PAC a large remit, perhaps by way of a sub-committee, which would enable this sort of work to be done as professionally as the PAC does its other work. I am sure that it is true to say that I represent more people whom the social scientists would describe as belonging to social group E than any other Conservative Member of Parliament. In more colloquial language, I represent large numbers of people at the bottom of the pile. One of the reasons why I am here, greatly to the surprise of my opponents, is that more people of that sort of background voted for me than my opponents believed possible. I must confess, however, that some of the problems associated with these people are too easily overlooked by Ministers and by the Treasury. All Government policies should be analysed and assessed in terms of their impact on the poorest and most disadvantaged people.
Recently we have read and learnt about the riots in Los Angeles. I have read Sunday's newspapers and the newspapers since then with much interest. The Sunday Times leading article and Lord Rees-Mogg's article in The Independent on Monday were both extremely interesting. Both referred to the racial cauldron which has appeared in so many American cities and which has created an underclass of disadvantaged people. I do not represent many who could be described as having an ethnic background, but I do represent a large number of disadvantaged people. In 1980, about 25 per cent. of children born in the largest town in my constituency were born, to use old- fashioned language, outside wedlock. Today the figure is more than 40 per cent. In some primary
Column 121schools in my constituency, at least 60 per cent. of children come from broken homes where there is no father. Many Opposition Members will have similar experiences. Inevitably, there is acute instability.
The leading article in The Sunday Times of 3 May makes the point with force, but within the context of the American racial situation. I again underline that what I have to face and deal with in Corby every day has nothing to do with race but has everything to do with people who are at the bottom of the pile and who totally depend upon the state for their income and for all the facilities that make life at all possible for them. The leading article refers to a report by an American professor in a seminal work published a decade ago about the black American family. Perhaps hon. Members will bear with me and eliminate from the words that I am about to read any reference to race and treat them as being about people who are at the bottom of the pile. The words still ring true. The article states : "And finally these people are destroyed by welfare which produced a culture of dependency among single parent mothers, encouraged them to have children they could not cope with, and allowed fathers to escape their obligations."
His conclusion was that
"the cycle of welfare dependency of single parent mothers on welfare raising children who grew up to produce their own single parent families on welfare was the final nail in the coffin of the black family."
These are all controversial matters, and the last thing that I would wish is to be considered in any way critical of young ladies in these circumstances. I have to deal with many families in which there is no male figure because the men have comprehensively and absolutely walked away from their responsibilities.
I wish to see a society in which it is possible for people to break out of the trap of poverty. Traps are imposed by the welfare benefits system and by low levels of education and, therefore, there are few job opportunities and virtually no possibility of being able to earn sufficient income to enable people to escape the poverty trap. The Government must address that. As The Sunday Times suggested, they must look at the welfare system that is being established in the state of New Jersey to see whether any lessons which will help towards greater social mobility away from the trap at the bottom of the system can be learnt.
Above all, the Government will have to spend more to develop much better education facilities at the bottom of the pile. In that context, my analysis parts company with that of many Opposition Members. More of the same in our education system is not the answer. The comprehensive system which was established in the 1960s has had 30 years to work but does not offer the way out that it should. However, the opportunities provided in city technology colleges and other such places are highly relevant to the most disadvantaged in our society.
It will be necessary to invest heavily in new institutions of education, not in Surrey or in prosperous Hertfordshire, or in the constituencies of the great majority of my hon. and right hon. Friends, but in the towns and cities that need investment in education and in its new opportunities. That is bitterly opposed by many Labour authorities and Labour supporters. They are profoundly wrong. My experience shows that the way to better education is to put abnormal and special facilities in the areas of greatest
Column 122disadvantage. If that is done, it will offer a ladder out of the trap which presently imprisons far too many of our fellow countrymen. The future for those at the bottom of the pile is not in the extreme shades of colour that some might suggest.
Too many people have no confidence whatever not only in the Government but in local government. My Labour opponent in the general election was good enough to say in our local newspaper that the ruling Labour group on the district council had become complacent and did not realise the extent to which Labour voters had become thoroughly fed up and disenchanted with the low quality public services being provided by that authority. Those were the words of my Labour opponent who expected to win the contest. There is much greater disillusionment with the whole process of government, local and national, than many people are prepared to concede. Such matters will have to be addressed at grass roots level, rather than by imposing a centralised structure, which has not worked and which does not offer the opportunity for advancement.
I am here because many people who have nothing in this world voted for me. They did so because by voting for me they thought that they were more likely to get a way out of nothing than by voting for my opponents. That may be difficult for some people to come to terms with, but it is true. The opportunities provided by a Conservative Government are much greater than those that would have been provided by any other Government.
I welcome the Gracious Speech and look forward to a successful Parliament.
Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South) : Last week, I was privileged to participate in the election of Miss Betty Boothroyd as Speaker. As a new Member, participating in that vote gave me great encouragement. I congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. I am sure that you will preside over the affairs of the House with firm authority and that you will not overlook Back Benchers.
When I considered my maiden speech, I did not think that I should have the opportunity to deliver it on the first day of the debate on the Gracious Speech, nor that I should have to wait 30 minutes to do so, through the longest speech in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) and for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) on excellent maiden speeches. I hope that my own will live up to the expectation that their speeches created.
It is an honour and a privilege to be here and to make my maiden speech in the presence of my wife, without whose complete support and encouragement over the past 13 years in politics I might not have been here. It is a pity that our son Thomas could not be here, but perhaps school is a more important issue for a boy of 11. It is also a privilege sincerely to thank my friends Harold and Ivy Edwards, who are members of the Warrington Co-op party and have supported my political career at every turn for the past 13 years.
In the finest traditions of the House, I pay tribute to the people who represented Warrington, South before me. My immediate predecessor, Mr. Chris Butler, was elected in 1987. At that time, I had been leader of Warrington borough council for two years and we immediately crossed
Column 123swords over the poll tax. Mr. Butler was ardently in favour of the poll tax and I was totally against it. From that moment, we debated many national issues in the context of Warrington borough council and I pay tribute to Chris Butler for participating in those debates, thus allowing them to be aired in a local context. In one sense it would be hypocritical of me to pass favourable comments on Mr. Butler. We have been political opponents for the past five years and the House will know that in the recently fought general election I was fortunate to have 191 votes more than Chris. However, Chris was joint secretary of the all-party committee on drug misuse and I know that his work as a member of that committee was well appreciated. He also played a full part in the work of the all-party committee on AIDS and made a positive contribution to its deliberations. Chris Butler's predecessor was Mark Carlisle, now Lord Carlisle of Bucklow. From 1979 to 1981 Mark Carlisle was Secretary of State for Education and Science. He was responsible for ensuring that the Education Act 1981 found its way on to the statute book. It was a far-sighted and important piece of education legislation in the context of the education debate since the turn of the century. The Act removed the stigma of categorisation from handicapped school pupils, replacing it with the recognition that individual pupils should have their special needs assessed individually and that provision for special needs should be based on statementing within the terms of the 1981 Act. It was a superb piece of legislation. It placed on the statute book the recommendations of the Warnock Committee, set up under a Labour Government by the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, Shirley Williams. As I have said, it was a far-sighted piece of legislation. It looked further to the future and was far better than the onslaught on education that we have seen in the past 13 years while the Tory party has been in power. It should be remembered that Mark Carlisle left his job in Mrs. Thatcher's first reshuffle.
The House will recall that Mark Carlisle came to the House in 1964 as the Member for Runcorn. Following a Boundary Commission report, he became the hon. and learned Member for Warrington, South. That was the area which encompassed most of his constituency. He did an extremely good job.
It is traditional for a maiden speaker to say a little about his constituency. Warrington, South is a diverse and physically divided constituency. Running through the entire constituency are the Manchester ship canal and the River Mersey. To the north-east of my constituency are the two parishes of Great Sankey and Penketh. They are physically divided from the rest of the constituency by the ship canal and the Mersey. It is not possible to get to the rest of Warrington, South without passing through the constituency of a good friend of mine, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle), or taking a chance and swimming across the Mersey, which is not to be advised--even though there have been some major improvements in the quality of the water.
Two parts of my constituency, Latchford and Westy, form part of the old and famous Warrington constituency. The House will recall the 1981 by-election. The two areas are separated from the rest of the constituency by the Manchester ship canal.
The rest of Warrington, South is a prosperous area that is both suburban and rural. Attached to it are the 16,000 electors who live in Runcorn. Runcorn is not recognised in