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Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. I am aware that sometimes Members have occasion to speak one to another, but when I become aware of a ripple of conversation I think that it is too much.
Until recently, a firm called Tiger Rail was able to provide a freight service on three days a week to Taunton
Column 445Cider. I regret to say that that firm rapidly went bankrupt. I believe that British Rail has been helpful and now provides a service one day a week on Saturdays for freight. That service will run until August. That is satisfactory in the winter months, but I am told by Taunton Cider that it will not be satisfactory in the summer months, when stocks in many parts of the country are running low. It needs a freight service every day.
Before Tiger Rail took on this task, there was Speedlink. We know what happened to that. Taunton Cider and many other freight operators with British Rail have been messed around over the years by changes, transfers and withdrawals of service. At present, there is a possibility that a firm called Charter Rail will be able to provide the service that Taunton Cider needs, but this will require a different technical system and there will be more trailers to go with the wagons. I fear that this will once again cause frustration. I hope that the pressures of privatisation on some of BR's services will give a service to firms in my constituency and, I hope, to many others that look forward to using the channel tunnel that will be much better than that which they have had in recent years. I move on to two other subjects that are slightly without the immediate scope of privatisation although they concern important public services which, I believe, will remain firmly within the public sector. I hope that they will be subject to progress under the citizens charter, for which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has responsibility.
The first of the two subjects is law and order, and one that played a greater part in the recent election campaign than many of us would have wished. Unfortunately, I do not believe that we are making the progress in dealing with criminality that we would wish. Given certain reports in the weekend press, I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to take care when making criticisms of and considering plans to reform the police. Part of the blame for our failure as a society effectively to combat crime lies with the machinery of justice, the Crown Prosecution Service and the consequences of certain well-intentioned legislation on police methods that the House has enacted in recent years.
We have greatly increased resources and manpower for the police service. Unfortunately, the numbers of criminals and crimes have increased still faster. I hope that there will be speedy implementation of the proposals that were made in the previous Parliament in respect of offences committed while defendants are on bail for which the Avon and Somerset constabulary pressed. I hope to return to the subject of the distribution of police resources. In Avon and Somerset there is a heavy concentration of police resources on Bristol because of its known level of criminality. I fear that therefore certain parts of my constituency, including rural areas, are not policed as effectively as we would wish.
My second point concerns an important public service that should have been debated more effectively during the recent general election--education. Again, I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to beware of concentrating debate on institutional change. I would need to be convinced case by case of the advantages of grant-maintained status for schools in my constituency. The real issue in schools--and this will remain so whether or not there is grant-maintained status, especially with local management of
Column 446schools--is not whether the Secretary of State or Somerset education authority runs the schools, but what is taught, by what methods, and the quality and morale of teachers and the resources, books and equipment available.
In the limited time available to me, I have taken the opportunity to welcome the various measures promised in the Queen's Speech, but also to echo certain warnings. Our success in the recent general election should not blind us to the considerable concern and upset that we have caused in recent years among our supporters. We should be thankful that they rallied to our support on 9 April.
Hon. Members will know of Sherwood forest, its myths and its legends. People from Nottinghamshire, especially from the tourist industry, try to persuade people that all the tales are undoubtedly true. In contrast, the constituency of Sherwood is a far newer creation, having been formed in 1983. Its first Member of Parliament was Andy Stewart, who at one time was a colleague of mine. I pay tribute to him. Throughout the constituency he is known as a nice man. Indeed, so often have I heard it said that he is a nice man--a very, very nice man--that I think the AA advertisement must have been inspired by him. Andy and his wife Louise have helped many people in the Sherwood constituency who want their thanks put on the record. I wish also to mention my old friend Frank Haynes, who at one time represented part of the constituency. He, too, is highly regarded locally. Rumour has it that Frank is to become a boxing commentator. I assume that in these tough times the broadcasters are trying to save microfilm expenditure.
Both Frank and Andy took an interest in the coal industry. Sherwood remains the largest mining constituency in the country, with six collieries, a workshop and the group headquarters. In his maiden speech in November 1983, my predecessor, Andy Stewart, said : "It is my view that our coal industry has a great future."--[ Official Report, 15 November 1983 ; Vol. 48, c. 748.]
To put it mildly, his views were over-optimistic. In 1980, about 40,000 people worked in the coal industry in Nottinghamshire ; today the figure is about 12,000. In just over a decade, two out of three mining jobs in the county have gone. Unemployment has increased--in the two years to March 1992 it rose by 62 per cent. Bankruptcies are still increasing and are at an all-time high. In Nottinghamshire in March, 6,513 young people aged 16 to 19 were seeking permanent employment. At that time there were only 22 vacancies in the careers office, so almost 300 youngsters were chasing every job. That is a waste of hope, of talent and of imagination.
Worse is to come. The Government's firm intention to privatise the coal industry has caused alarm and despondency in north Nottinghamshire. By itself, the plan to privatise the coal industry is an empty and hollow prospect. The key issue now facing the industry is the negotiations with the generators PowerGen and National Power. Some 80 per cent. of Nottinghamshire's coal goes direct to power stations. It is the volume and the price of coal supplied to the generators that will decide the fate of the mining industry in Nottinghamshire.
For their part, the generators have made it clear that they want a small and short-life contract. This year, British
Column 447Coal is supplying 65 million tonnes to the generators, but there is speculation that the generators want a future contract with as little as 25 million tonnes over a contract period of only three years. If that were to happen, the coal industry both in Nottinghamshire and throughout the country would be decimated even further and there would be nothing left to privatise.
The Government should intervene quickly in the discussions between the generators and British Coal. The new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has a reputation for being an interventionist. Some 40 per cent. of PowerGen and National Power still remains in the public interest. As the largest shareholder, the Government should insist on the high-volume, long- term contracts. A contract of 55 million tonnes a year would still mean job losses in the industry. I note that the electricity companies are signing 15-year contracts for gas-generated electricity. Why cannot there be parity for the coal industry? Miners in Nottinghamshire and throughout the country have made enormous productivity gains under public control. Why discard them now? We have the most efficient deep coal mining industry in Europe. Last year, six of the Nottinghamshire group's 15 pits produced more than 1 million tonnes of coal, all of them setting new productivity records. British Coal has made a substantial operating profit in Nottinghamshire this year. Some 17.2 million tonnes were produced, with 5.6 tonnes per man shift. There has been a 64 per cent. improvement in productivity since 1985 under public control. In 1985, British Coal in Nottinghamshire sold coal at £42.60 per tonne. This year, the price is only £42.93 per tonne. Over the same period, electricity prices have risen by more than 45 per cent. Nottinghamshire coal is being produced at half the cost of that in Germany. No other industrial sector can match that record, yet the Government's policy is to close down the coal industry. It is no wonder that all over Europe people think the policy is crazy. This morning, Nottinghamshire county council called for an early meeting with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to discuss the future. Tomorrow, the North Nottinghamshire training and enterprise council, a private sector dominated body, will call for the halting of pit closures in the region because of the devastating effect on the local economy. On Wednesday, the new Energy Minister will visit the Nottinghamshire coalfield for the first time. He should listen carefully to the voices of local councils, the TEC, the private sector and the trade unions in the industry, which, without exception, are pledged to fight privatisation.
Present policies towards the coal industry will devastate it and the local communities that surround it. The Government and the Energy Minister will have few friends if they continue with those policies. On his visit, the Minister should take note of a few signposts. He could work towards a national energy policy, in which coal is given the same consideration as nuclear power. He could bring discussions on the new contract to a quick and satisfactory solution. He could keep the lid on the amount of gas- generated electricity produced. He should use the powers under the planning system to stop new gas-powered generators.
At a time of potential energy surplus, the Minister should stop opencasting. It is obscene. It tears up hedges, trees and acres of fields, even though there is plenty of coal
Column 448and other sources of fuel around. I implore the Government to listen to the voices of local people on this issue because they will not win environmental and planning support.
The Minister should keep open the discussions with our European partners about the plan for a European reference price on coal. He should ensure that commitments made on gas scrubbing equipment are honoured. He should make more resources available to assist economic regeneration in coalfield areas. He should build on the partnerships that exist there and bring new jobs, new investment and new prosperity to those areas.
Despite all the promises that have been made, the European RECHAR money has yet to be announced. The Department of the Environment's regional office has no idea of the transitional arrangement for the current financial year, or of how the £13 million earmarked for Nottinghamshire is to be unlocked. The Minister would do well to view those signposts on Wednesday.
The Minister will be surprised at the youth of Nottinghamshire miners, whose average age is 34. The miner's future and that of his family and community depends on the coal industry. The Government can take action to safeguard their futures. The Government should take careful note of the partnerships that exist in Nottinghamshire, and not be driven by the dogma behind some of the speeches that have been heard in the Chamber today.
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment and the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) on his maiden speech. I also thank him for his generous remarks about his predecessor, Mr. Andy Stewart. If the hon. Gentleman manages to gain his predecessor's reputation as a most agreeable and approachable Member of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman will do himself no harm.
I cannot follow the hon. Member for Sherwood in his remarks, because I believe that Nottingham's coalfields face a bright future under privatisation. They are among the most productive in the country. Many years ago, I visited a Nottinghamshire coal mine with my middle brother, and I was thoroughly impressed with its modern equipment and the productivity that it achieved.
No contribution of mine to the Loyal Address would be complete without mentioning the pleasure that is felt by all my constituents, of all parties and of none, at the appointment of my noble Friend Lord Mottistone as the Isle of Wight's new governor. The 1992 general election campaign will go into my family scrapbook as one of governorships.
In a unique constituency such as the Isle of Wight, there could be no greater claim to fame than that it is the only part of the United Kingdom to have a governor. Lord Mottistone's family have given distinguished service to the island for many years, and I know that his appointment is universally acclaimed.
The Isle of Wight's other unique claim is that it is the largest constituency to be represented in the House. I welcome the promise made in the Gracious Speech of legislation to speed up regular reviews of parliamentary boundaries. We hope that later in the lifetime of this Parliament, following the local government commissioner's review of the island's structure, the Isle of Wight
Column 449will have a unitary authority. It would be nonsensical to see a decrease in the number of councils and councillors, which currently total three and 100 respectively, and an increase in the number of its Members of Parliament, when they might not agree with one another. However, regular reviews in future will prove useful. When my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Sir D. Mitchell) was a Minister in the Ministry of Transport--and what a proud dad he must have been when his son so ably seconded the motion on the Loyal Address last Wednesday--he assisted me in furthering my efforts to bring about the privatisation of British Rail's assets on the Isle of Wight. I read with great interest this week that Richard Branson is holding discussions with Mr. Chris Green, British Rail's InterCity manager, because it was the same Mr. Green who set back our plans for the sale of BR's Isle of Wight assets.
The line in question runs from the end of Ryde pier to Shanklin, using 1940 ex-London Transport tube trains. Announcing that British Rail had no intention of selling its assets in the Isle of Wight, Mr. Green said that the island's railway line was
"a necessary and integral part of Network SouthEast."
With that quality of senior management running British Rail, one might imagine that it could not run a brothel in a garrison town--and that were it to do so, it would probably make a loss. If Mr. Chris Green were in charge, all the passengers would have to stand for the whole of their journey.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West and I were sad that we were unable to bring about progress on the sale of BR's assets, but my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport has been of great assistance in pursuing that objective.
A number of issues will come out of the privatisation of British Rail and its assets. Why is it that taxi drivers on the Isle of Wight must pay a considerable sum for the use of British Rail's station forecourts, when their London counterparts pay nothing at all? I asked the present British Rail chairman why it was necessary to use uniformed railwaymen to run left luggage offices. Surely it does not take highly trained railway personnel to run that facility and to guard passengers' suitcases.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is to wind up this debate, I cannot resist the opportunity to draw attention to the island's ferries. A Monopolies and Mergers Commission inquiry just before the general election concluded that the island's ferry crossings are the most expensive in the world--and there have been further price increases since that report was published. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has said that the Director General of Fair Trading will review that matter in three years' time.
I remind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland that the MMC identified a definite correlation between the quality and price of a service and increased competition. The existing ferry companies operate from the best harbours and routes. If further harbours and other facilities for ferries are to be established to allow greater competition, we must ensure that the Isle of Wight is included in the new assisted areas map when it is redrawn. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry has promised me that the island's case will be carefully
Column 450considered. Only with that kind of finance can the island hope to establish the additional facilities that will provide increased competition across the Solent.
When I was young, the debate in our nation concerned whether one had been educated privately or publicly. I have long subscribed to the view that the chasm that goes to the core of the nation now divides the privately employed and the publicly employed. One of the sad features of the election debate was the accusation that we had not looked after public servants. The civil servants in my constituency, however, occupy some of the best office accommodation on the Isle of Wight : many employees in private industry and commerce would like similar accommodation.
I believe that one of the challenges that face my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is the requirement to ensure, through the citizens charter, much greater cross-fertilisation between the two sectors. I look forward to the day when I learn, by means of a parliamentary question in the House, that more than 50 per cent. of the First Division Association have industrial or commercial experience. The "teachers in industry" project has been one of the great success stories in education. Initially, academia was sceptical ; but, as the word went around the staff rooms, teachers became increasingly enthusiastic about getting out and getting a taste of industry. I hope that, in the future, our civil servants will regularly go off to work in industry, and will then return. I also hope that the private sector will come into the civil service and then go out again. Currently, pension arrangements and terms of engagement make that almost impossible. That, I think, is the real challenge that will face my right hon. Friend until the turn of the century. On 9 April, my right hon. Friend attained a notable victory. To be pitchforked into that high office just 18 months before an election would have been an achievement in itself. The achievement of a fourth and historic victory was quite a mountain to climb, and to do that in contradiction of the opinion polls constituted a remarkable personal achievement. But to fight the election during the deepest recession that the nation has seen for more than 60 years was a particularly remarkable personal achievement. Not for nothing will my right hon. Friend become known in the hearts and minds of our people as "Honest John".
Mr. Alan Milburn (Darlington) : It is with a great sense of pride that I rise to make my maiden speech--in, appropriately enough, a debate about the future of British Rail. As hon. Members will know, the railways and the town of Darlington, which I am proud to represent, are virtually synonymous. Darlington, however, has another reputation, of which hon. Members are probably aware : its reputation as a barometer marginal seat.
It is my pleasure to say a word or two about my predecessors. My immediate predecessor, Michael Fallon, was a man of impeccably right-wing views. Indeed, he remained a devoted follower of Mrs. Thatcher even when that fell somewhat out of fashion on the Conservative Benches. He was, none the less, a hard-working Member of Parliament who rose to junior ministerial rank, and I wish him well in his new career outside Parliament.
I also pay tribute to my two immediate Labour predecessors, Ossie O'Brien and Ted Fletcher. Ossie had
Column 451the misfortune to serve in the House for only six weeks after his splendid victory in the 1983 by-election ; Ted, by contrast, sat for nearly 19 years, often bucking the national trend by dint of his diligence and personal popularity in the town of Darlington. Like those hon. Members, I will always put Darlington's interests first, and will do my utmost to maintain their record of service to the town's residents.
As hon. Members will know, Darlington gave birth to the railways, and so helped to spawn the first industrial revolution. Happily, that spirit of engineering enterprise and skill remains alive today in the string of top international companies for which Darlington is home : Cummins, Bowaters, Torringtons, Rothmans, and Cleveland Structural Engineering, to name but a few. One of those companies, Cleveland Structural Engineering, beat off international competition last week to win the contract to build the Tsing Ma bridge in Hong Kong. The bridge will be the largest structure of its kind in the world, and, like the Sydney harbour bridge, the Tyne bridge and the Humber bridge, it will be built in my constituency. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will join me in congratulating both the work force and the management of CSE on their well-earned success. Whenever I have visited the Yarm road factory, I have been immensely impressed by the skills and commitment that I have seen there ; now, they have obtained their just reward.
Although I am delighted by Cleveland's success, after hearing the Gracious Speech I am less optimistic about the future for British industry as a whole. The speech was virtually silent about the economy, which remains in such dire straits. That the word "unemployment" did not even earn a mention is an insult to the 4,740 people in the Darlington district who remain without work. The recession has already cost 1,300 manufacturing jobs in my constituency, but all the major forecasts suggest that unemployment is set to go on rising.
Last year's record fall in industrial investment risks plunging the country into a repeat of the economic mistakes of the
mid-1980s--capacity failing to meet demand, thus forcing up imports and prices and leading inevitably to a Government-engineered slowdown. Companies such as CSE deserve better than that. They should be able to rely on the same support as is available to their foreign competitors from their home Governments : measures to stimulate investment in training, transport and technology. Yet here, in the middle of the longest recession since the war, we have the spectacle of the Durham training and enterprise council being forced to cut adult training by more than 20 per cent. in Darlington because its budget has been squeezed dry once again. It is a scandal that those offering youth training will have to provide more for less. Funding for non-endorsed training weeks has fallen from £31 to £28. What was training on the cheap is rapidly becoming training for a pittance. These cheap and nasty cuts are pouring Darlington's future down the drain. I fear that, without a change in policy, Darlington's very real potential for economic take-off will be grounded, even before it has started. That would be a tragedy because, as Cleveland's success amply shows, we have much to be proud of in the town of Darlington. The town is ideally placed to be at the core of
Column 452a new industrial revolution that will bring more high-quality, high-skilled, high-tech, and high-paid employment.
Darlington's fortunes, however, depend upon the Government removing the ideological blinkers that so restrict their vision and rethinking their hostility to manufacturing and their indifference to the north. The Government's preoccupation with the privatisation of the railways is, classically, a triumph of ideological hope over the experience of those countries who owe their fast, efficient and safe railway systems to Government policies on planning and investment. The dictum that the market, and nothing but the market, can bring prosperity to areas like the north has proved disastrously wrong. After 13 years, unemployment is higher, the number of people in work lower and the gap between the rich and the poor ever wider.
Last week I listened with great interest to the Prime Minister's promise to open up the powers of Government to public scrutiny. I hope that he will go one stage further and devolve power out from Whitehall to the regions and nations of our land. If the Prime Minister is serious about breaking down concentrations of unaccountable power, he will begin by reversing that process of creeping centralisation that has so characterised Conservative party policies since 1979. The north not only needs restoration of regional policy and proper investment in our transport infrastructure to allow us to compete against better placed regions and nations at the core of the single European market, but we need the right to determine our own future through a new structure of regional government that will take power from the centre.
Any process of devolution should include giving towns such as Darlington the right to run all their own services. In 1974, Darlington lost its county borough status because of the last Conservative reorganisation of local government. Ministers now have an oppportunity to put matters right by returning to the people of Darlington the powers that are rightfully theirs. I am looking not for any special favours for Darlington, but for policies that will rightly reward the vigour, loyalty and skill of its people. Too many of my constituents have paid the price for the records that the Government have set in the town in recent years--record bankruptcies, record mortgage repossessions and record hospital waiting lists. I fear that the policies in the Gracious Speech mean yet more of the same. Darlington deserves a new spirit that forsakes the short term, the quick fix, the "me at the expense of the rest"--a spirit that says that all of us rely on common services because we are all part of the same community.
For those of us who grew up in the north-east, the past few years have seen a loss of that sense of community which used to characterise life there. When the Conservative party declared that there was no such thing as society, it acknowledged that, by its policies, people had been cut adrift from their communities, and as community has been denied so hope has been smothered. Hope can return to the communities of the north-east, but it needs policies that put talents to use rather than allow them to go to waste ; policies that will reduce crime by putting sufficient police officers on our streets. It means policies that will restore pride by cleaning up our environment. It means tackling the obscenity of homelessness and investing in our hospitals and schools. It means, above all, giving regions such as the north-east and towns such as
Column 453Darlington the chance to compete. It will be my privilige to fight for those policies in the House, I hope for many years to come. I shall do so in order to benefit the whole community of Darlington. 9.11 pm
Ms. Angela Eagle (Wallasey) : Following overseas development questions earlier today, I must be the only Opposition Member who is quite pleased that the Minister for Overseas Development is in the other place.
Any new hon. Member rising to make their first speech in the Chamber cannot help but be aware of the history and tradition that reside in it. Traditionally, a maiden speech is non-controversial, praising one's predecessor and describing the constituency, yet some distinguished hon. Members, past and present, have maintained a tradition of rabble-rousing and controversy. Indeed, we have heard some speeches like that this evening.
Which tradition should I follow? I believe that no tradition deserves to be honoured for its own sake but only for its intrinsic merit and relevance to modern-day conditions. We must move with the times if we are not to atrophy into some quaint but irrelevant sideshow, fit only for tourists to admire.
In a real sense, the fact that I am here tonight is a most welcome break with tradition, because it is my privilege to be the first Labour Member for Wallasey--an honour for which I thank the voters of the constituency and those who worked so hard on my behalf. I believe that I can say with some feeling, as Shakespeare wrote, that some traditions are
"More honour'd in the breach than the observance."
It is not my intention, however, to break with the tradition of paying tribute to my predecessor, the noble Baroness Chalker. She was a formidable opponent, and I know that she was a popular and well-respected Member of the House--and deservedly so. She served Wallasey well for 18 years. I recall that she was the first Member of Parliament whom I questioned when I attended a meeting of the Hansard Society as an enthusiastic 14-year-old schoolgirl. I remember asking her a question about the future of the other place, which specifically related to its possible evolution as a democratic chamber. She gave me a response that I could not agree with then and I still do not agree with now, but as long as the other place remains in its present form I am certain that she will make a worthy contribution to its deliberations and I wish her well.
The constituency of Wallasey is located across the Mersey from Liverpool in the north-east of the Wirral peninsula. The derivation of the name most generally accepted is that it means "Island of the Welshmen". The pre- Doomsday history appears to show that the area was used by Celts sheltering from avaricious Saxon raiders. Thus Wallasey can, I believe, rightly express its solidarity with the endeavours of its Celtic descendants in Scotland and Wales who must, in the aftermath of the general election, engage once more in a similar activity.
Wallasey is a place of constrasts encompassing residential areas, derelict docklands, council estates and a seaside resort. The years of Conservative rule have hit Wallasey hard. Not only have two recessions in a decade decimated the basic manufacturing industries on which the prosperity of the area was founded--especially the
Column 454shipbuiding industry--but the continuing recession is threatening what is left. As a result, unemployment in the area is a chronic problem which affects nearly one in five of the working population if one counts those who are left out of the reckoning by the statistical redefinitions of unemployment so loved by the Government. It is not unusual for me to meet constituents who have been jobless for 10 or 11 years, but the Gracious Speech--as has been pointed out many times today-- made no mention of that problem. Any decent humanitarian Government would develop a strategy to deal with it and I implore the Conservatives to do so. Worthy attempts are being made by Wirral council and the local chamber of commerce to attract new business to the area, but their efforts have been undermined by the recent decision to raise the tolls on the Mersey tunnels to unacceptably high levels. That has hit commuters and businesses and is acting as a brake on any possible economic revival.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) recently initiated an Adjournment debate on the increase in the Severn bridge tolls. There is a similar problem with the Mersey tunnels about which my constituents feel very strongly. It is high time that the Treasury did something about the injustice of tolls and the unfair penalties currently meted out to those living in areas where the local authorities were far-sighted enough to build essential river crossings--whether bridges or tunnels--long before the Department of Transport got around to it.
I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to combat the trafficking and misuse of drugs as there is, unfortunately, a growing drug problem in the Wirral. It is not only a personal tragedy for the victims of this scourge but it contributes to the rising rate of violent crime and causes much needless fear and misery. We must recognise the extent to which poverty and deprivation help to fuel such problems. It cannot be right to create a two-tier society which excludes significant numbers of people from the advantages that many others take for granted and then to expect that social problems will not emerge as a result.
It will not surprise Conservative Members if I say that there are many aspects of the Gracious Speech with which I cannot agree. Of its proposals, the attempt to privatise British Rail and British Coal are among the most objectionable. Other hon. Members have spoken in more detail about their objections to those proposals and I intend to confine myself to a few comments about the principle of privatisation itself. I see little merit in it. Indeed, I believe it is driven by the ideological obsessions of the Conservatives and lacks a firm empirical or theoretical justification.
One link that it is important to pinpoint is that between privatisation and redundancy. Another discernible link is that between privatisation and the seemingly inexorable rise of chairmen's salaries. For example, British Gas had 104,000 employees in 1980 but only 81,000 10 years later. Meanwhile, the chairman's salary had increased from £109,000--almost £1 for every employee--in the year of privatisation to £370,000 last year. It is safe to say that that has been an above-inflation increase. I think that many users will also have noticed the increased efficiency in sending final demands and cutting off the supply which the privatisation of the utility has brought in its wake. The primacy of profitability over all other concerns in privatised industries often means that social obligations come a long way down the list. There is a great deal of
Column 455nonsense in the current dogma on the Conservative Benches that private is somehow good and public is bad. These proposals are based on that false premise and to that extent they are undesirable and wrong.
The Prime Minister said in his post-election speech that he intended to be a Prime Minister for all the people, not just for those who voted for him. The people of Wallasey will judge him by those words. They expect action to return prosperity to their area, and that means a sensible regional economic strategy and a flight from the current economic dogma which these privatisation proposals symbolise.
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : This debate must be some sort of a world record because I find myself rising after 14 maiden speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms. Eagle) said as part of an absolutely first-class contribution that tradition is not always right and should not always be observed. It was a splendid speech and I was interested in her prediction about the role of the Celts in the House over the next year or two. I shall certainly take her advice about tradition. I am sure that my hon. Friends and other hon. Members will forgive me if I take the maiden speeches at a fast trot, if that is the right way of putting it.
As I was saying, there was a long-honoured tradition of the nervous wait. As far as I can see, that has been well and truly buried by this generation of Members. The standard, too, has risen tremendously over the years. I first came to the House in 1966 for a brief period, by mistake. [Laughter.] My then constituents put that right at the first possible opportunity. I can remember what the House was like in those days and I can say with certainty that the standards have constantly risen in the intervening period. Moreover, I have the rather uncomfortable feeling that they are continuing to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) referred to the fact that one of his predecessors died of apoplexy after a council meeting. I fear that at times his temper and health may be sorely tried in his new career. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell) showed his inexperience only once : when looking round what seemed to me to be an almost crowded House he referred to the small attendance. He will soon learn. I congratulate him on his speech and the remarkable achievement of a 10.6 per cent. swing to Labour.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson) is another who will get used to characteristically thin Houses in the time ahead. There is a small book of reference circulating on the Front Bench so that we can catch up with who is who. I notice that she is described in it as a shop assistant sponsored by the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen. There is some passing mention of other interests. I have to say to her that it is not easy to come here with a reputation from outside, but the worth of her speech suggests that she will live down that disadvantage speedily.
Column 456My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms. Jackson) made a first-class speech, concentrating on education. My hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Hughes) is one of a number who showed a deep knowledge of the mining industry. I am always amazed that as numbers in the mining industry decline people ask me where they all go, and I know. [Laughter.] My attention to that phenomenon was drawn by the appearance in our midst of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke). He is what is known in Scotland as a kenspeckle figure. That means roughly that he has been shouting at me for the past 30 years. I certainly welcome his arrival. He knows his own area and the mining industry inside out--perhaps upside down would be a better way of putting it. He has served on the national executive committee of the Labour party and has come back for more. What more can loyalty demand?
My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) recorded a famous victory and made an outstandingly sincere and knowledgeable speech. I certainly welcome the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn). I am glad to have Darlington back in the fold. I remember the by-election as I was there, and I remember the short life-- parliamentary life, I am glad to say--of the then Member. I recognise the importance of that seat as a balancing point in British politics. However, the remarks that my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington made on the devolution of power endanger him being classed as a honorary Scot. I do not regard that as a great disadvantage, but he may find it a mixed blessing as things proceed. It is only right to recognise that hon. Members on the Conservative Benches have made maiden speeches as have hon. Members from other parties. The hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Harvey) particularly impressed me. He has left the Chamber because he is a very important person as he has the secret of instant success. I cannot remember a maiden speech in which the person making it could announce that he was the transport spokesman for his party. I then remembered that the hon. Gentleman was a Liberal.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) told us about dramatic happenings at his local railway station. For those who were not present, it may seem rather cryptic, but I give the categorical assurance that I shall never travel from Bury St. Edmunds to Clacton on an Easter Sunday. The hon. Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight) made an extremely competent and effective speech, on which I congratulate her. I had always thought that lace and old lace were made in Darvel and Newmilns in Ayrshire, but I now know better and I am glad for that information.
The hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) had an unfortunate start. All sorts of people wished him as long a life as his predecessor, Sir Bernard Braine. I would not wish on anyone 40 years in this place. As an ex- solicitor, I know that that is the equivalent of four life sentences. There was also a good speech from the new Plaid Cymru Member, the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis).
Before I turn to the subject of the debate, I apologise for not dealing with the retreads, one or two of whom had a spin during the proceedings. If the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) is properly reported in the
Column 457public prints as having skiing and yachting as his principal interests, I can assume only that he will not be spending all his time in Croydon.
This is a debate about the Queen's Speech and, later, I want to say a word or two on what I am supposed to be talking about. Before I do that, I want to say a word or two about Scotland--a place somewhat to the north of this House. I wish to do so because the Scottish Office is a Department that scores low when it comes to ideas and, I am afraid, that is true of this Queen's Speech. The Scottish Office's contribution seems to be a collection of fairly unimportant bric-a-brac. I noted, although I am not surprised, that there was no reference or even a nod in the direction of the constitutional issue. There was nothing but a noticeable silence. I do not intend to spend much time on that, but I confess that I diagnose--I hope that this will not embarrass the Secretary of State--some very modest progress. The Government now accept that there is a problem, but the trouble is that they have no idea at all as to what to do about it. They do not know how to prevent the Scottish question becoming, in the Prime Minister's particularly unhappy phrase, "a running sore" in British politics. It is perhaps too much to expect the Secretary of State to spell out the Government's intentions. After all, it is very difficult to define a void, but what we can expect is some account of the methodology and the timetable. In the debate on the Queen's Speech, the Prime Minister said :
"We will take stock of the present position in Scotland and then report back to the House. It is a matter of some importance and we will proceed with it. We are proceeding with it now, and when we have concluded, we shall report back to the House."--[ Official Report, 6 May 1992 ; Vol. 207, c. 67.]
Those words are of some significance.
If the process is under way, as the Prime Minister specifically states, the Secretary of State should be able to give some useful information. Press reports this weekend suggested that it is all happening in Cabinet Committee L and the Secretary of State has been added to its numbers for the occasion. The proceedings of that committee are no doubt clothed in mystery. Indeed, it may be one of those Cabinet committees that, in theory, does not exist--I do not know--but the right hon. Gentleman can surely give some basic facts. Is the study on the government of Scotland specifically or does it take an overview of the United Kingdom as a whole, considering the problems of Wales and other areas like the north, where the centralised system has served the people ill?
In Scotland on Sunday 10 May, we were told that Downing street warned last night that
"the Prime Minister is taking stock and that debate still has a long way to run. There is nothing planned for Scotland in the next 18 months and we can't even say that it will be in the next 18 months after that."
Can the Secretary of State, at the very least, knock down that dreary message that suggests a policy of inaction and delay? Are we really expected to live for the next three years under a Government who have nothing planned for Scotland? Does not he realise that such a timetable is simply unacceptable?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, a Minister in the other place, who was plucked from the respectable political obscurity of the law to deal with constitutional matters, has promised "substantial not cosmetic change". Is his remit
Column 458to wait and see what happens in Committee L or some other mysterious inner sanctum of Downing street, or has the Scottish Office an independent right of action? Scotland should know the outline of that unlikely concept--a Tory plan for constitutional change--at the earliest possible moment.
The Prime Minister has said that the objective is to make the Government more responsive to the needs of Scotland and that that must be done in a way that will not damage the Union. I agree, and I emphasise that Scotland's future should be as a full and equal partner in the United Kingdom. However, a certain way to damage that future is to show inflexibility now.
The Secretary of State must recognise that he will buy no friends with proposals that simply tinker with the present system. A Question Time in the Scottish Grand Committee or the appearance of a Scottish Select Committee are no substitutes for a genuine shift of power--the breakdown of the all-enveloping power nexus in Whitehall that has been at the heart of the present insensitivity of Government. We expect the Scottish Select Committee to be brought to life but such a development should be justified on merit, not seen as a flimsy cover for a refusal to act on the central issue. The change that Scotland wants and needs cannot be met by some hybrid advisory body caught in a no-man's land between local and central government. The test--the essential benchmark--is the creation of a directly-elected body reflecting Scottish opinion and with the power that matters in a democracy--the power to make law. If the Government are prepared to do business on that basis, there will be real hope of progressing to a stable future.
There are many other issues in the Queen's Speech but one of particular interest today is the privatisation programme. I listened with interest to the contribution of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. It was philosophical in approach but showed a remarkable disdain for practical detail. Perhaps naively, I hoped to learn something about the Government's plans. I did not. I accuse them of the oldest trick in the book, which is defining the opponent's position in a way that has nothing to do with the facts but everything to do with the convenience of one's argument. The Labour party is not still living in the shadow of Herbert Morrison. We are not spending our time debating the future of 200 monopolies or the legendary commanding heights. It is no good putting that up as our position in order to knock it down for personal satisfaction. I was extremely intrigued when the right hon. Gentleman paraded the water industry as the ultimate argument against public ownership. It was a little less than tactful given that the debate was being summed up by the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has conspicuously--and rightly--not followed the path of privatisation of the water industry.
The argument is now about public interest and control, not about ownership. The Chancellor of the Duchy has a reputation for intellectual depth. At times, he sounded like Ronald Reagan, muttering about the wickedness of the concept of government. It is all nonsense and I suspect, to be fair to him, that he knows that it is nonsense.
The problem about the privatisation issue, particularly the public utilities, can be seen as the action of the Government. They have had to scramble, patch, mend, duck and dodge--trying to build in the regulatory
Column 459machinery. They have been inventing strange concepts such as competition by comparison when we know that, in reality, there is no competition.
The case against privatisation is simple. For all that the balancing act is difficult to achieve and, ultimately, the balance between profit and the interests of shareholders is difficult to reconcile with the interests of consumers, is the right price the price that the market will bear or the price that the consumer deserves? There will always be tension and confrontation between those two concepts. I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that much of the enthusiasm is based on prejudice and ideology, and some of it on the attraction of the financial proceeds of privatisation that shore up the rickety structure that the Government call a fiscal policy.
There is a paving Bill, which deals with coal and rail, but tells us nothing. The questions that remain are fundamental and far-reaching. Privatisation is a term that is hard to define, as I think that the Chancellor of the Duchy will recognise. He looked distinctly shifty on that issue, but he ultimately admitted that what was proposed for the railways in the Queen's Speech was not privatisation but something different. In our view, what is proposed is misconceived, but it is not the ultimate in privatisation. The reason for that is clear. It is because the former Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), and no doubt his predecessors, spent many months wrestling with the problems and trying to devise a privatisation scheme that they could present to the House. We have followed their tortured arguments, through newpaper cuttings and the media, but, ultimately, those politicians could not do it. Instead, they have come up with a different sort of scheme--a halfway house that they are presenting because they know that their ideology will not work in practice.
The argument is not simply about the wider vision of the inter-relationship between citizen and state, as the Chancellor of the Duchy tried to suggest. It was almost comic when the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) rose. He was not interested in that aspect, but wanted to know what the legislation would mean for the trains that run to Southend--a relevant and sensible question. If there is to be a private operator on the route to Southend, how is the rent that he pays for the track to be priced? How is his contribution to overheads to be priced?
I am told by those who know the Southern region better than me that British Rail is about to spend £50 million modernising the Southend line. If that is to be public money, how much is the southern version of Stagecoach to pay as its contribution to that sort of fixed overhead? What sort of contribution will it make for the right to run those trains? That is the sort of question to which the Government will have to find convincing answers quickly.
It is one thing to say that a firm such as Stagecoach can hitch on a couple of carriages. It may not be a sensible suggestion, but it is limited. But is the policy to go further than that? Will the firm be able to put on its own trains, drivers and staff? If it does, what will happen to safety standards and training? What happens to the untrammelled right to run the trains? Will it remain untrammelled or will there be arm's-length negotiations with the railways ultimately being able to say, "No more"?
Will the Minister address the issue of the picking off of the best routes in Scotland? Can he guarantee that,