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Column 124the name of the constituency and those people often feel left out. In fact, they played a major part in the election. I thank all those who live in the constituency of Warrington, South, including Runcorn, who voted for me, but I wish to stress that I am here to represent the interests of the constituency as a whole.
I listened to the Gracious Speech this morning in the House of Lords. I should say "in another place". I must get used to the traditions of the House. I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I call you Mr. Mayor. Tomorrow I shall relinquish my position as leader of Warrington borough council, so perhaps I shall be able to break the habit quickly.
When I listened to the Gracious Speech, I was looking for a programme of legislation that would be relevant to the problems that we face in the 1990s. Unfortunately, we have been presented with a programme of legislation which seemingly will produce more of the same. The past 13 years of Conservative rule have been characterised by, first, the feverish accumulation of wealth in private hands. There have been tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the poor. Privatisation has removed revenues which the Treasury would have received from gas and electricity undertakings and the like. Those revenues are now finding their way into the dividends of private companies. We have seen wage increases for the bosses and price increases for the rest of us. It seems that that will continue if the programme outlined in the Gracious Speech is followed through and finds its way on to the statute book.
The second characteristic of the past 13 years of Tory government has been increases in poverty, homelessness and unemployment. It is a travesty that 12 million people live on or below poverty levels. There has been a 7 million increase since 1979. It is obscene that 3 million children are now living in poverty.
The parishioners of St. James, Great Sankey recently conducted a survey of homelessness. They found that, in Warrington, 600 16 to 18-year-olds were without a home. That stands to be condemned in what we call a modern industrial society. Nothing in the Gracious Speech offers hope to the homeless. There is nothing in it to regenerate the building of housing for rent under the control of local authorities. Local authorities should be able to use their reserves to build housing for rent and to change the accommodation already under their control to accommodate homeless individuals and families. In Warrington, South, 3,914 people are out of work and claiming benefit. Nationally, 2.7 million are out of work. Those are the statistics after the figures have been revised 30 times by the Tory Government. If unemployment had been calculated in 1979 by the method that the Tories have now adopted, there would not have been any. One of the greatest problems in my constituency is that in the Runcorn area, where there are 16,000 electors, 1,418 are unemployed. That constitutes 16 per cent. of the active work force. That is a disgrace. There is not one reference in the Gracious Speech to the way in which unemployment will be tackled.
The third characteristic of Conservative government in the past 13 years has been an arrogant use of power. The Tories have undermined the democratic process. I am gravely concerned about the concept of democracy in Britain. The issue has been raised by several hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Before the general election the Conservative party used all the powers available to it to start a campaign to distort,
Column 125misinterpret, misrepresent and undermine the policies that the Labour party was putting to the electorate. The Conservative party was aided and abetted by the tabloid press, which no doubt acted in concert with it. The Conservative party was able successfully to undermine the Labour party's message.
I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that democracy is about choice, but that choice should be well informed and accurately informed. That process was deliberately undermined during the general election. I am pleased, however, that we saw the green shoots of democratic recovery appear when we elected the then hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Miss Boothroyd) Speaker of this place. Having heard and read the Gracious Speech, however, I am doubtful whether we shall see the recovery continue.
The Government must accept their responsibility to safeguard democracy. After all, they exercise power in the House. It is their responsibility to ensure that we have a sound democracy. Therefore, they must use their power fairly and even-handedly. I hope that we may look forward to questions from my right hon. and hon. Friends being answered straightforwardly during Prime Minister's questions. More importantly, we need a code of conduct for the press similar to that which applies to television and radio. We must ensure that political debate is reported fairly, evenly and accurately. That will be a major measure to support democracy.
Reinhold Miebuhr wrote "The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness" in 1944. He made the following statement :
"Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."
In this Parliament we need sound democracy, not lectures from the Government.
We know that a commission is about to tour the country to examine the prospects of introducing unitary authorities based on existing district council boundaries. That is a sound movement in our democracy as it transfers power to the people at the grass roots. I look forward to a speedy conclusion to the commission's work. I also look forward to a visit to the county of Cheshire in the near future, and to unitary government in the Warrington constituency that I now represent.
My deputy leader on Warrington borough council, John Gartside, promoted the idea of unitary authorities in Warrington 11 years ago. He said then that it would be useful for power to be transferred from the county councils to the borough councils, so that we could exercise power in Warrington on behalf of the people themselves. He was right, and I hope that the commission will reach the same conclusion soon.
An old Member of the House advised me to do three things after my election : to go to the Fees Office and get myself signed on ; to make my maiden speech, because life would become a lot easier after that ; and to get myself an office. I have done two of those three things--I wonder how long I shall have to wait for the office. 8 pm
Column 126long and lonely vigils lies ahead of you, but I hope that your service in the Chair will not be without its lighter moments. I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) on his maiden speech. He made some generous comments about my former colleague Chris Butler, and I know that my hon. Friends will welcome the tribute that he paid to his predecessor. Chris Butler was an extremely hardworking representative of Warrington, South, and he will be sadly missed by his Conservative colleagues. The warm words uttered by his successor demonstrate the effort that he put into representing his constituency.
The new hon. Member for Warrington, South brings to the House considerable experience not only of teaching but of local government : that was clear from the confidence with which he spoke. I am sure that he appreciates that the patience with which the House listened to his speech did not necessarily constitute an endorsement of its content. Although we are all enamoured of his delivery, he may not receive a silent reception in future, for much of what he said was controversial. I hope that the hon. Gentleman enjoyed this evening's occasion, but he can be assured of a slightly rougher ride next time. For all that, his speech was very good and very well delivered, and I am sure that Warrington, South will have a potent voice in the Chamber.
Now that you are in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have an opportunity to ingratiate myself with a second occupant, in the hope of stacking up favours for the future. We are all delighted about your appointment, and we wish you extremely well. Some hon. Members have served in Standing Committee under your chairmanship. I recall serving on the Standing Committee that considered the Water Bill--I believe that it was the longest Committee stage that we have ever had, and it was certainly the longest since the war. Your chairmanship then, Madam Deputy Speaker, was patently fair but also good-humoured ; nevertheless, as right hon. and hon. Members will discover, you are not a lady to be crossed. I have no doubt that the business of the Chamber will proceed very fairly under your wise guidance : long may you sit there.
Let me get all my obsequiousness out of the way. Another person whom I should congratulate--we go back far too many years, man and boy--is my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), who appeared at the Dispatch Box today as a new Minister. I hope that he enjoyed the speeches that concerned his Department.
When Conway stands up to speak in the Chamber, all the chairs change. I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) has arrived. His was indeed a wonderful victory, and I am glad to see that he has left the office that is popularly known as the Stasi-- but better known as the Whips' Office--and taken on ministerial responsibilities.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) delivered a humorous speech which was widely enjoyed. He did so competently, as befits a man who has held some of the great offices of state. As I listened, I could not help reflecting that the names of those who have held offices of Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary tend to come and go with history. No doubt my right hon Friend's will be one of those names ; but I suspect that the title "Baker days" will long remain. It is a term that all hon. Members with children
Column 127hear regularly. In my ignorance, I thought initially that it had something to do with domestic science, but I was soon put straight about the purpose of "Baker days". I suspect that my right hon. Friend has left his mark on the education world for many years to come.
I think that my right hon. Friend has also done something more serious. His education reforms will be widely and, I believe, rightly considered to have provided a sound footing for state education. It is possible that the reforms begun by him and continued by my right hon. and learned Friend, the present Home Secretary, will prove to have done more to sound the death knell of second-rate private schools than anything that the class warriors could ever have said or done in the Chamber. Those reforms will, I think, ensure that those who continue to provide education in the private sector must look to their laurels. Evidence in my constituency suggests that-- particularly at primary-school level, but also at secondary level--the challenges and competition that are coming from the maintained sector are encouraging and welcome.
Seconding the motion, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) spoke with humour and competence. As he hinted to the House, he is sometimes the subject of envy or jealousy, perhaps because of his youthfulness. Certainly, it will be clear to the House--not only from his speech today but from other contributions that he has made--that talent will out, and I hope that his role today is a sign that he will soon be joining those of his colleagues who form the country's Government.
The campaign that enabled the Government to construct the agenda in the Queen's Speech was interesting. I do not know how much other hon. Members enjoy election campaigns ; I have been in politics for 23 years, and I am one of those masochists who find them quite good fun. I do not look forward to them, but, once they begin--especially in a constituency such as Shrewsbury and Atcham, which is an extremely pleasant place to represent and in which to campaign--they are certainly no trial. Indeed, they constitute a very enjoyable and informative process.
One of my main votes of thanks should go to the pollsters. I began the campaign expecting a reduced majority. Halfway through the campaign, I began to realise that my majority would increase, owing mainly to the distortion that the polling organisations were introducing. Experienced canvassers know from the look in the eye of the elector to whom they talk roughly what that voter's intentions are. They know how truthful the elector's response is when he answers the door : they know whether he will support their party or another one. I suspect that that is not an experience on which polling organisations can build ; thus, in the final week of the campaign, those organisations were able to dominate the election with talk of hung Parliaments and proportional representation. That distorted the opportunity that we had as a nation to hammer out policies in that final week.
The greatest beneficiary was, I think, the Liberal Democrat party. The Liberal Democrats managed to get away with talking about proportional representation without anyone looking at their policies. I read their manifesto in great detail--especially page 39, which promised to do away with mortgage interest relief. That would have cost my constituents who have mortgages of £30,000 or more £68 a month. The Liberal Democrats were never prepared to debate that issue before the electorate with any confidence or courage. The same
Column 128applies to their tax policy. If their policies had been known, they would probably have received an even greater hammering.
The result of the election is this : my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister continues in his post, and has been able to present the Government's agenda in the Gracious Speech. I think that he fought a very good campaign. It showed what a steady hand he has--a fact that was not doubted by those of us who saw him take over the Conservative party leadership at a time of crisis, not only for the Conservative party, but for a country that faced the unsure outcome of the Gulf conflict. The steadiness of the Prime Minister's hand was proven during that conflict. More important, the electorate
understood--certainly this was the message that we received on the doorstep --that the Prime Minister was sincere.
When the Prime Minister talks about a classless society, I am never entirely sure how we are to aim for such a goal. At the outset of today's debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) was sitting on the Front Bench. I could not resist the temptation of picturing the new Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food- -who is an extremely able man, as well as being very good company ; I am sure that everyone will welcome him into the Government--in this context. I could not help but juxtapose his presence with the idea of a classless society. What the Prime Minister means by that in terms of the Conservative party is that class is irrelevant. Those who continue the class battle outside in the country or in the Chamber have got the message from the electorate because, for most of those who do not regard themselves as upper or middle class, class is irrelevant. Like the Prime Minister, I was brought up in a council house and went to a secondary modern school. In those circumstances the class war has no appeal. Most people are preoccupied with getting on with life.
Sadly, life is not equal. I would prefer to be thin and to have hair--my wife would wish the same--but I was born to put on weight and go bald. I regret that and it is not fair of God to have delivered in that way. However, life is not equal and we must come to terms with that and do the best we can.
When I stay in London I live in a one-bedroom flat in Pimlico. It is a nice flat in a nice area. It is not the fault of the greater Being, the Government, history or society that I stay in a one-bedroom flat while the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), one of the House's great class warriors, lives in a nice mansion in Holland Park, or that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), perhaps soon to be the leader of the Labour party, has a rather nice country mansion. I do not begrudge them that but I wish that they would not begrudge it to others.
During the next four or five years the purpose of the Government is to get the balance right for the duty that our citizens have towards society through their taxes to provide for society's needs and for those who are less successful. The Government must also create oppportunity for individuals and their families. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's commitment to that is unequivocal. He has shown that by deed. In the Gracious Speech the Government have put before us the proposition to extend council house sales through the rent-to-mortgage scheme. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and those responsible at the Department of the Environment will consider the difficulty particularly facing older council tenants. Obtaining a mortgage is not
Column 129difficult, but they have a problem in funding the insurance commitment that tends to go with the mortgage for those over the age of 50. I hope that as the House discusses the proposals that issue will be considered.
I must resist the temptation to comment on the industrial relations Bill. I am a former branch secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union. However, since my appointment as parliamentary private secretary to my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) I am precluded from making comments on any legislation relating to the Department of Employment. I am not sure whether my appointment is to stop my hon. Friend from diluting his sensible and sound views, but the opportunity to learn from, and work with, one of the brightest Ministers in the Government who is also a friend was too good to resist. Also, I could not resist the opportunity to work with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and her excellent team, which includes my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) and my noble Friend the Viscount Ullswater in another place. It is a vibrant Department with challenging portfolios and I look forward to playing a small part in it.
In the Gracious Speech the Government announced their intention again to put before the House the Asylum Bill. I am glad that that is so because there are problems that will not go away. I regret the fact that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) described the Bill as racist. That is not an honourable term to apply to the Bill and its intention or practice. Lectures on honour are something that we cannot take and do not need from that right hon. Gentleman. The Bill with which I shall have greatest difficulty is that covering the Maastricht treaty. My scepticism about the European cause is long standing. I was one of a handful of Members of Parliament to defy Mrs. Thatcher's three-line Whip when she was our Prime Minister to vote for the Single European Act. Many have since considered that the powers that we gave to Brussels through that Act and through the limited use of veto should not have been given and, with hindsight, would not be given were the Bill to come before us again.
One of the problems that I and many of my hon. Friends have with that Bill is the realisation that, although we may not like all that it contains, we cannot gainsay the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did a superb job in the negotiations. I believe that his success could not have been achieved by his predecessor. I hope that in our dealings with Europe he will ensure that the growth of the Brussels bureaucracy does not continue. Some of its ideas make some of the madder councils look positively prudent. I doubt whether the Bill will make us citizens of Europe.
I am pleased to be a subject of the Queen rather than a citizen of Europe. Those of us who voted for the United Kingdom to be part of the European Economic Community voted for just that--an area of free trade and free movement of capital, people and goods. The European Commission and too many others have lost sight of that.
Shrewsbury, which it is a privilege to represent, is a historic borough. Last year we celebrated the 150th anniversary of Benjamin Disraeli's time as a Member of
Column 130Parliament. The borough was also the home of the first Parliament--the first occasion on which peers and commoners sat together. Therefore, it has a special link with the Chamber and what it tries to achieve. Like so many other areas, it prospers along with the nation.
Shrewsbury has a particular part to play in our heritage. We are listed as one of the 12 ancient boroughs with properties of particular historic importance to the country. Some, I hope not many, believe that the role of the new National Heritage Department and the proceeds of the new national lottery should be directed towards the arts. Although that is undoubtedly important, we need to ensure that we maintain the fabric of our historic buildings that play such an important part in making our country special. I hope that the new National Heritage Department will have a broad perspective on how to allocate its resources.
To the outsider Shrewsbury may seem to be an affluent town and, in many parts, it is. However, my constituency contains 120 villages as well as the county town. Many people perceive the farming community to be a well-off sector of society, particularly those who live in towns. However, those of us who represent farmers know only too well that they are running businesses on reduced incomes and that the demands upon them are ever greater. In the Finance (No. 2) Bill I look forward to ensuring that the inheritance tax proposals go ahead so that those who have invested in unlimited companies as small business men and in the farming community will be able to ensure that their families continue that business without the dead hand of the Inland Revenue pressing them too far. That is often one more pressure that many small businesses, of which there are many in Shrewsbury, find all too great. That was proved by the uniform business rate valuations which took place when capital values were unrealistically high and it is one of my fears for the council tax Bill, judgment on which is yet to come.
The Gracious Speech sets a good agenda for the Parliament. It contains many sensible Bills--16 in all. I believe that we shall make steady progress. Perhaps the Government's reduced majority will enable the legislature to exercise better and more effective control over the Executive, and that is no bad thing. All that will be underwritten by a strengthening of our economy with its reducing interest rates and reducing inflation rates so that we shall reach a point at which we are poised to lead Europe out of recession. The fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was returned to office--it was not expected by the media--was an acknowledgement by the country of his widely known and respected competence. His mission has not been to penalise success--that is what many of my constituents feared about the policies offered by Opposition parties- -but to spread success and prosperity ever wider. In that he will have the full-hearted backing of the party and, I believe, the warm good wishes of the people of Shrewsbury and Atcham.
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) : May I be the first new Member to congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment to that position? I rise for the first time in the House with a certain amount of trepidation--not because of the television cameras or
Column 131the members of the public in the Strangers Gallery but because of the comment of a small boy whom I was showing round this place last week.
I thank my predecessor, Mike Woodcock, for his work in the House, and wish him every success in his new work. He has just published a new book, which I have promised to buy when it is remaindered. I admit to already owning two books by Conservative Members of Parliament, so I shall not buy a third --at least until it has been remaindered.
I also thank Mike for organising the visit of St. Bernard's school last Monday, partly because he made the arrangements, which was helpful, and partly because the visit gave me an insight into the way in which this place works.
To find oneself on one's first day here showing round a party of inquisitive schoolchildren was indeed a challenge. I have also to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) for rescuing me from the mire on that occasion. I congratulate him on his skills as a well- informed and entertaining guide.
The small boy whom I mentioned told me with no equivocation that he did not like Conservatives. His view is in keeping with that of most of my constituents--I thought that he was a young man with excellent judgment. He went on to ask, "But why are they so noisy?" That was another perceptive and astute comment--hence my trepidation, but I am pleased to note that as only six Conservative Members are here tonight the noise will not cause me great concern.
Ellesmere Port and Neston is a constituency of great contrasts--from rich to poor, from urban to rural, from beautiful landscapes to industrial dereliction, and from environmental perfection to environmental concern. I shall concentrate on that last aspect, and contrast the peace and tranquillity of Ness gardens with the serious concerns about the protection of the environment round the vital petrochemical and related industries.
Ness gardens were the creation of a great socialist--A. K. Bulley who, incidentally, fought the then Rossendale constituency early this century on behalf of the women's suffrage movement. The gardens, which he and his daughter later gave to Liverpool university, now provide a place of great beauty and tranquillity for my constituents and for many thousands of visitors. They also provide the university with important research facilities on plants and their habitat. In this House my skills as a guide have yet to be developed, but I should happily share the experience of the beauty and tranquillity of Ness gardens with other Members of the House.
In contrast, one of the greatest petrochemical complexes in the British Isles is based at Stanlow, and stretches for several miles. It provides much-needed employment and wealth for the area, but inevitably it continually raises environmental issues of great importance to the local community. I will cite two examples. Kemira is a company producing fertilisers. Why should it suffer from eastern bloc countries' dumping of products in this country? Those products are manufactured and transported according to standards that we in this country would not accept, and that is not a fair basis on which companies can operate. It is immensely damaging to the environment to allow such unfettered trade. Regrettably, I see little in the Gracious Speech to resolve that dilemma.
The prevalence of the free market seems to override environmental concerns. Is it right that toxic waste should
Column 132be imported into my constituency for incineration? That waste is transported under inadequate trans-frontier shipment regulations. Unwanted waste comes from as far away as Australia. We do not want toxic waste from Australia or any other nation to be imported into this country for incineration. Again, I express my belief that issues of great importance to our nation, and to the planet as a whole, cannot be tackled by using market principles.
In conclusion, I ask Conservative Members to think again about the issues raised in the Gracious Speech--such as anti-union dogma and another privatisation charade. I ask them to drop those issues and tackle the real issues facing my constituents--jobs, housing, health, education, transport and, as I have described in detail, the environment.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me, and I thank the House for doing me the courtesy of listening to me.
Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness) : I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for being a little late ; I had to respond to a rather urgent call. I start my maiden speech by expressing my warm personal congratulations to you for being appointed to your present office. I am sure that I have the support of all right hon. and hon. Members in offering you our best wishes in executing your duties in the House. I am sure that you will distinguish the office that you hold. Today is something of a double whammy--to coin a phrase that was extensively used during the election campaign--for me. It is not only the day on which I am making my maiden speech--all right hon. and hon. Members know that that is a day that one never forgets--but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) has just told me, it is my birthday. I have something important for which to cherish this day, and cherish it I certainly shall.
I shall continue my maiden speech by conforming to a time-honoured tradition of the House and congratulate hon. Members on both sides of the House who have made their maiden speeches today. I had the pleasure of listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who made a distinguished and excellent speech, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall), who also made an impressive maiden speech. Unfortunately, I missed the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), but I look forward to hearing him speak in the Chamber on many other occasions.
I gladly comply with another tradition of the House in acknowledging the work of my predecessor in the constituency of Barrow and Furness--Cecil Franks. It is beyond dispute and doubt that Cecil Franks took a particular interest in and paid particular attention to the affairs of the constituency. He was and is a courteous and civilised man who showed great dignity and good humour in his defeat on 9 April. Sadly for him, he is now experiencing some of the difficulties caused by the sudden loss of employment : he shares that experience with far too many of my constituents. I wish him well for the future in his new career outside the House. I express my admiration and respect for the previous Labour Member for my constituency, Albert Booth. He
Column 133was a fine Member of Parliament who not only rose to high Cabinet office, where he distinguished himself with rare excellence, but who is fondly remembered in my constituency for his attention to the personal problems of my constituents. Without doubt he will be a tough act to follow on both counts, but I look forward to the challenge of representing my constituents in the House.
Barrow and Furness is a great industrial constituency. Along with other towns and cities of northern Britain, it was once famous for being the workshop of the world. We are the home of Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd. which is, without doubt, the world leader in the design and construction of nuclear submarines. VSEL is also a magnificent centre of engineering excellence.
The constituency is also host to many other leading industrial concerns such as Glaxo chemicals at Ulverston and Scotts, the paper manufacturers, in Barrow. There are many other small and medium-sized companies in the constituency which are recognised leaders in their fields. I think especially of Oxley's Developments in Ulverston, Camille Simon in Barrow, and Furness Engineering and Technology Ltd., to name just a few. I am proud to say that the list is long and it provides Barrow and Furness with one of the most skilled and highly trained industrial work forces to be found anywhere in Britain. Barrow and Furness is also a very beautiful constituency which nestles at the foot of the Lake District, with a wonderful coastline and rugged hills. However, the real asset of my constituency is its people. They are a warm and generous community, and that is especially true of the people of Hindpool where I lived during the general election campaign. They made me and my family extremely welcome, which is an experience I will never forget.
The work force of VSEL have served the nation's interests with great distinction in both war and peace for many generations. We have built up a rare and precious collection of skills and talents, an asset for Britain which is far too important to see frittered away. Sadly, thousands of my constituents are now being forced to live and work under the constant threat of losing their jobs.
More than 5,000 jobs have been lost at VSEL in the past two years and thousands more have been lost outside VSEL. My constituents deserve better treatment. We look to the Government especially to take some of the urgent measures which will help us to get through the next few difficult years. Unless the Government act quickly and decisively, they will experience and be responsible for an industrial catastrophe which will rip the guts out of what is left of the British heavy engineering industry. As we are a manufacturing nation with a proud history of shipbuilding and marine engineering, it is incumbent on the Government to act without delay to rescue my industrial constituency from the catastrophe that I predict. There are three urgent measures which we look to the Government to act on. Barrow and Furness urgently needs assisted area status and we call on the Government to redraw the maps of assisted area status which have not been changed for almost nine years. It is imperative that the Government look again at the assisted area status maps. My constituency needs a healthier climate for business activity, and such a measure would make a decisive contribution to securing that.
Column 134We also urgently need improved transport and communication links with the rest of Britain. I am thinking especially of the A590 and the Furness line. On looking at the Gracious Speech this morning, I and many of my constituents were very concerned about the threat to the Furness line posed by the privatisation of British Rail. We remain to be convinced that privatisation will improve the passenger services to my constituency. Indeed, we are deeply suspicious that the exact opposite will result.
Perhaps most importantly, the VSEL yards in Barrow urgently need support, new work and new orders. We especially want--and ask--the Government to think carefully about accelerating the ordering of the batch 2 hunter- killer submarines. During the lifetime of this Parliament and I hope, with the support of my electorate, beyond the lifetime of this Parliament, I will continue to press the Government on all three counts.
The Government's other policies--on health and education, for example-- continue to have a negative impact on the lives of my constituents. Many schools in my constituency are struggling to make ends meet under the local management of schools regime created by the Government. It is becoming increasingly difficult for many schools in my constituency to balance the books, to pay the staff, to maintain the fabric of the buildings, and to deliver the national curriculum which the Government have created. The one simple measure which many of us wanted to see in the Government's legislative programme was a commitment that they would revive the LMS scheme so that the actual salary costs of teachers, as opposed to a notional average, formed a part of the budgetary element. In my constituency, and, I suspect, in many other constituencies where there are schools with an established staff who have reached the top or near the top of the salary scale, it is becoming increasingly difficult for schools to manage effectively the budgets that they have been given.
The Gracious Speech appears to me and to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends to be more an attempt to satisfy the ideological fixations of various sections of the Conservative party than a serious attempt to address the economic and social difficulties facing Britain in the 1990s. Many of my constituents will be disappointed, but probably not surprised, by the contents of the Gracious Speech. In particular, there is nothing in it which holds out the prospect of an early end to the years of unemployment which started in my constituency with the publication of the defence review, "Options for Change".
There is nothing in the Gracious Speech which offers the hope, not only to my constituency but to many others that are dependent on defence-related work, that the Government are seriously addressing the problems faced by such communities. We know, understand and welcome the Government's commitment to review and reconsider Britain's defensive posture and capabilities, but we do not understand the Government's desire, which we condemn, to leave those communities to face the full brunt of market forces.
Communities such as mine, which have worked consistently for the Government for almost 30 years--all the work we have had in shipbuilding and engineering has been defence-related--need the assistance of the Government to make the necessary changes. We need the Government to understand that we cannot simply make that change on our own. If my constituents are left to face the full force of market forces, there will be carnage in my constituency. The Government must recognise and take
Column 135responsibility for that. My constituents will not forgive the Government if they continue to sit on their hands and to do nothing. The one question I put to Conservative Members is to ask what kind of management of our economy we have if the Government are prepared to sit on their hands while skilled men and women in Barrow and Furness are turned on to the dole. My response to the question is simply this : a Government who are prepared to see that happen are a Government who are taking the British economy in the wrong direction. We need the skills of my constituents. We need the contribution that they can make to a revitalised British engineering industry. Unfortunately, however, that commitment is lacking on the Government's part.
Let me end my maiden speech by recalling a conversation that I had recently with one of my constituents, a man in his late nineties, who, on 9 April, had made the particularly painful trip to the polling station to vote in person. He had the option of voting by proxy but he chose to vote himself. My constituent reminded me of the very first Labour Member of Parliament elected to represent Barrow. Charles Duncan was elected to the House in 1906. It gives me a measure of pride in my constituents to think that mine was among the first constituencies in Britain to return a Labour Member of Parliament. When Charles Duncan was elected, there were only 29 Members on the Labour Benches. In that respect, my constituents were some years ahead of many of those now so ably represented by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
The point of my recollection of that conversation is this. My elderly constituent stopped me in Dalton road in Barrow and told me how proud he was that, nearly 90 years later, Barrow had elected a socialist--a new Labour Member--to represent it in this House. My constituent had lived to see the day, and I have the privilege of being that Labour Member of Parliament. As all right hon. and hon. Members know, it is a rare and great honour to be in the House. For me, it is an even greater honour to represent the people of Barrow and Furness, and I look forward to speaking up for them in the House in the years that lie ahead.
Mr. Paul Tyler (Cornwall, North) : May I be the first Liberal Democrat Member to congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your elevation to your new post. I hope that I shall be forgiven by other right hon. and hon. Members from the south-west for congratulating you on your new position on behalf of the south-west. Now that we have no Minister representing a constituency west of Bristol, we must look to you as our principal guide and mentor, and I hope that you will ensure that those from the south-west--the wild west--are given the opportunity to speak. I hope that we shall have the opportunity to catch your eye on future occasions.
I have heard six excellent maiden speeches in today's debate. The last one- -from the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton)--was particularly adroit and adept. It was also succinct--an especially admirable virtue to those of us who have been waiting to speak. The hon. Gentleman gave particular emphasis to employment--a matter to which I should like to return--and no doubt the
Column 136points that he made about his constituents' employment difficulties would be echoed in many hon. Members' constituencies.
It is 18 years since I made my maiden speech from this Bench. It was a long time ago, and a number of right hon. and hon. Members were not even Members of the House at that stage. I well remember the difficulty that I experienced in catching the eye of the Deputy Speaker on that occasion, waiting throughout a long debate and trying to make the right speech for the occasion. Today, we have been admirably well served by the six hon. Members who have broken the ice.
When I made my speech all those years ago, I had the misfortune to be serving in one of the shortest Sessions of Parliament and to have one of the most minuscule majorities--a majority of only nine. I hope that, in this Parliament, I shall have improved on both. Several changes have taken place. Then, I represented the now defunct constituency of Bodmin. I now represent the constituency of Cornwall, North, which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, know well. It is a glorious constituency renowned for the character both of its people and of its places. It has been the popular holiday haunt of many famous Members of Parliament, including one very distinguished former Member of the House, the previous Prime Minister, who I suppose is now caught in limbo somewhere between this House and the other place, although I forget how we properly describe the purgatory between the two. Sadly, when I spoke on that occasion 18 years ago, the situation was rather more propitious than it is today. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have remarked, the word "employment"--or "unemployment"--does not appear in the Gracious Speech. There are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who, while accepting the special requirements of inner cities, to which the Prime Minister referred in his speech, and which will be reflected in and addressed by the urban regeneration agency, are nevertheless concerned that concentration on the problems of inner cities may mean that insufficient attention is paid to the deep-seated economic problems of the more rural areas of England, Wales, Scotland and Cornwall. I suggest that the hidden needs of many of those communities, rarely as newsworthy as those of the inner cities, also deserve special attention.
I will illustrate that point by referring to some of the circumstances which have changed since, as a very new Member of Parliament, I made my maiden speech just over 18 years ago. I referred then to housing waiting lists and to the homeless in my constituency. Today, repossessions stand at 16 times their 1974 level. In Devon and Cornwall there are more families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation than ever before, and the waiting lists for rented accommodation are simply impossible. Another change is that the mainstay of the local rural economy--the small family farm consisting mostly of livestock--has worse income levels today than it did before the war. That is not a political point--it is a point that has been intelligently and well argued by the special unit at Exeter university.
Thirdly, small businesses, which in comparative terms were thriving those years ago, are now in considerable difficulties. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Conway) referred to the difficulty with the uniform business rate. We very much regret that the uniform business rate has not been pegged at last year's level and is still edging its way up. In parts of Cornwall, 50 per cent.
Column 137of holiday businesses are up for sale. That represents a vote of no confidence in what for them has been the last straw --the level and valuation level of the uniform business rate.
As I said, the starkest indicator of change in those 18 years has been the change in the employment pattern. This afternoon I asked the Library to give me the figures for North Cornwall 18 years ago and today. In 1974, a total of 800 people were on the unemployment register--2.5 per cent. of the population. That figure has risen more than sevenfold, to 5,621--nearly 17 per cent. of the total work force in the North Cornwall constituency. More than 3,900 men, or 23 per cent., and 1,600 women, or 9 per cent., are unemployed. Our problem is comparable with some of the worst problems of the inner cities to which the Prime Minister referred. That is a rise of more than 50 per cent. in the last six months, seasonally adjusted. In some journey-to-work areas in the constituency, up to one in three employable men are now without a job. Many of them are young and many of them are long -term unemployed. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) said, rural areas are suffering deprivation--often hidden but nevertheless real--in terms of public services and opportunities for their citizens. While we recognise the case and welcome the special attention for the inner cities that will be effected by the new agency, we believe that in the far-flung areas of Britain which require special attention because of deep-seated economic problems and structural changes in the employment pattern we must have regionally based development agencies.
We take some comfort from the fact that the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who served his political apprenticeship close to your constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to mine, is well known to be enthusiastic for the concept of locally generated development agencies. We hope that he will carry forward that enthusiasm in his new Department and use it to set up agencies that will be effective in turning the tide of unemployment in areas such as yours, Madam Deputy Speaker, and mine.
We must have areas with integrity and clear identities and with clear similarities of economic problems, opportunities and characteristics. They must have cohesion and a manageable size. They must also have a sense of identity. I hope that some guidance may be provided by the existing agency, the Rural Development Commission, which I had the privilege and pleasure to advise when I was not a Member of this place. The new agency must be deeply rooted in the local community.
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I welcome the tone of constructive intervention which we believe may well be personified in the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. That is surely a far cry from the high tide and heyday of high Thatcherism. We want to ensure that the tone which has crept into ministerial voices is now carried through into action. Words are not enough.
Mr. David Hanson (Delyn) : I add my congratulations to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment today. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Tyler) on his maiden speech. It must be a great
Column 138pleasure for him to return to this place after serving for a brief time in the 1974 Parliament, and a great honour and pleasure to represent the people of Cornwall, North in this Parliament. I congratulate also my hon. Friends the Members for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) and for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) on their contributions. It was a particular pleasure to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston because when I fought the constituency of Eddisbury in the 1983 general election my hon. Friend was then the constituency chair. We go back rather a long way, as do my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South and I. Twelve years ago we sat in the Strangers Gallery and watched the proceedings and dreamed of the day when we would represent the Labour party in Parliament, though perhaps in more auspicious circumstances under a Labour Government. Nevertheless, we are proud to be here today.
I have the honour and privilege to be the first Labour Member for Delyn. It is a particular pleasure and honour to represent the people of Delyn. My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) referred to the five general elections that he fought. I did not have to suffer that ordeal as I have fought only three general elections, although I did fight one Euro- election which was an ordeal times nine. It is a great pleasure to be here today to speak for the people of Delyn, to put forward their strongly held views and to argue the case for Labour party policies in this forthcoming Parliament. In becoming Member for Delyn, I want to thank my constituents and the many Labour party workers and supporters in Delyn who worked in this election and in previous general elections to return a Labour Member for Delyn. In 1983, Labour secured 14,000 votes in Delyn. In 1987, we secured 20,000 votes. Thanks to the work of the people in Delyn and the many organisations that have supported Labour candidates in the constituency over the years, on 9 April we secured 25,000 votes and a Labour gain for the first time in that constituency.
I would not be standing here as Member for Delyn without the support of my family--my wife Margaret who married a Labour candidate for Delyn constituency, my children Tom, Amy and Alys who, not necessarily of their choice, were born into the political history of the constituency of Delyn-- and of my employers. Until last Thursday I worked as a director of RESOLV, the society for the prevention of solvent and volatile substance abuse. That organisation was extremely generous in supporting my candidature as a Member of this place. I hope to repay that by working with my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) and the all-party group on solvent issues to ensure that another voice is added to support action to stop the tragedy of the deaths of 149 young people every year as a result of solvent and volatile substance misuse.
My constituency is in north-east Wales. It is a proud area. The name of the constituency derives from the river Dee and the river Alyn which serve my constituency. My constituency is the gateway to many of the beauties of north Wales for many travellers from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Flint, with its historic castle which was built to keep out the English invaders, is the main town at the south end of my constituency. It is a proud and closely knit town which supports many industries and is enjoying great regeneration. It was hit hard by the appalling job
Column 139losses at Shotton steelworks, Courtaulds and many other factories during the recession in the early 1980s. It faces hard times now, but with the support of positive action from the Labour party and the House, it will see those times through.
My constituency includes the towns of Holywell and Bagillt. It stretches to the coastal resort of Prestatyn where many people from Liverpool, the city of my birth, have enjoyed holidays and good days out. Mold, the county town of Clwyd, provides many local government jobs. When the Gracious Speech is digested, I shall be interested to see how local government will fare under the Government's future plans. I am extremely worried about how the Government will take forward plans to maintain local government, to develop it and to ensure that its boundaries reflect the needs of local people and the wishes of our communities and that it delivers effective services. There are also many mining villages in my constituency such as Ffynnongroew, Pennyffordd and Gronant, which support the Point of Ayr colliery. Many beautiful and prosperous villages that form part of the hinterland of Delyn constituency have prospered under the Government who, I hope, in future will secure support for the many people in my constituency who have not prospered after 13 years of Conservative government.
I am fortunate to represent a seat which is a Labour gain. I fought the then hon. Member for Delyn--Mr. Keith Raffan, who retired before the general election--in the previous general election and it would be remiss of me not to mention the good work that he has done for Delyn constituency. We never agreed on many political points, if any at all, but during the six years in which I shadowed him as the Labour candidate, I found him to be a hardworking constituency Member who reflected the views of his party most vociferously in the Chamber and in the constituency and who served the people of Delyn constituency well. He has now gone to pastures new. On behalf of everybody in Delyn, I wish him well in his new job and for the future. It would be remiss not to mention also the two Members of Parliament who are held in great esteem in my constituency and who served the constituency before the boundary reorganisation in 1983. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) is particularly well respected and well remembered in my constituency, having served as the hon. Member for Flint, East, which covers half of my constituency, for 13 years before the boundary reorganisation. There is not a place in Delyn where my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside is not fondly remembered, fondly known, recognised and applauded.
For many years, the hon. Member for the Flint, West part of my constituency was Sir Anthony Meyer, who recently retired from the House. He distinguished himself by being an extremely good constituency Member of Parliament and a man of particular courage. It certainly takes courage to stand for election when one's party does not support one and to say things that, one year later, many people are only too glad to vote for. I pay tribute to him for the courage that he showed. When the knives are out and when one's back is in the way, one must be extremely careful. Sir Anthony Meyer, who represented the northern parts of my constituency and the town of Mold, deserves the congratulations of the House on his service to his constituents.