|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 538is great enough only to cover the increase in inflation. That very modest increase in funds has not kept pace with the substantial increase in student numbers. My firm belief is that we should uprate the access funds to cater for the substantial increase in student numbers. The access funds do much to reduce student hardship. I am completely in favour of the introduction of student loans. I understand the reasons for the grant having been frozen, but those two reasons give added impetus to my view that we should look very hard at the size of the access funds and that there should be an increase in the amount of money provided. I hope that my right hon. Friend will refer to that point when he winds up the debate. The Queen's Speech contains an exciting programme. I commend it wholeheartedly to all parts of the House.
On these occasions it is customary to mention one's predecessor. Mr. John Hughes represented Coventry, North-East from 1987 until the recent general election. His convictions, and some of his methods of pursuing them, meant that he did not endear himself to everyone. However, he possessed a friendly and approachable way of dealing with his constituents. He certainly possessed tenacity, which he used on their behalf. Therefore, I pay tribute to him for his efforts on their behalf. I wish both him and his wife a peaceful and fulfilling retirement.
Many hon. Members know that Coventry, North-East was represented from 1974 to 1987 by Mr. George Park. I understand that he commanded considerable respect in this place. Hon. Members will be glad to hear that he commands similar respect in the constituency, where he is still very active in local community affairs. He is currently the chairman of the community health council in Coventry. He was very kind and helpful to me in the run-up to the general election. I thank both him and his wife for the help and kindness that they have shown me.
Coventry, North-East is a compact, urban constituency--an integral part of the city which, despite two devastating recessions, still employs more people in manufacturing than the national average. We have a complete mixture of housing : inner city areas, council estates and pleasant semi- suburban, owner-occupied areas. Despite its compact size, my constituency contains and is bordered by some valuable environments that deserve and, in large part, are receiving the protection that they need. In particular, I draw attention to Coombe Abbey park and the Sowe valley, which bring beautiful, natural countryside right up to and into the urban area.
Much work that is commendable has been done by the local authority, local conservationists and the Countryside Commission. They deserve our thanks and support, along with many other local groups that, through their hard work, do so much to maintain the quality of life in the area.
I am afraid, however, that we also have considerable problems in the constituency, as do all urban areas in this country. As I listened to some of the speeches yesterday and today, I found that I could hardly recognise the country that was being described by some Conservative Members. Our cities are in great danger. The trend, under current policies, is towards the position that has been
Column 539reached in the United States. If effective action is not taken, we shall see in our country what I call the doughnut effect : cities with great holes in the middle, where people do not go and dare not go.
The Queen's Speech does not address those problems. It is not just a question of policing, although that is important. In many cases, the police are stretched beyond belief. Crime, and the fear of crime, has now reached a level that is totally and absolutely
unacceptable--this, after 13 years in power of the party that claims to be the party of law and order.
Security, hope and opportunity must be brought back to citizens living in those areas. Current urban policy is, in many cases, exacerbating and increasing the divisions. The grand scheme is favoured rather than housing and school repairs and we hear speeches such as that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey).
I had not intended to talk about education, but I join the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth in his congratulations to the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) on his maiden speech. His accent, confidence and delivery and, although I am not an expert, probably his school tie, prove that he enjoyed a degree of choice in education. It showed in the way that he delivered his speech and he should be congratulated on his ability in that regard. However, in the constituency that I represent we do not have two or three cars per family to take the kids to school. Choice must mean a first-class local school offering first-class education within the area in which it is needed, and we certainly do not have that.
All those problems are of some importance but most important of all is the level of unemployment. In 1974, in his first speech in the House, Mr. George Park spoke of Coventry as being a great centre of manufacturing. He talked of his fears about the fact that British ideas were increasingly being developed abroad. His fears were well founded. We have seen great companies in our city, which were making a contribution towards the national economy and providing employment, going to the wall without any effective attempts to save them. The Queen's Speech talked of privatisation and other policies but said nothing about the regeneration and investment that will be necessary to stop that from continuing.
In 1987, Mr. John Hughes, in his first speech in the House, said that unemployment in the Foleshill ward of my constituency was 28 per cent. Now, five years later, it is 23 per cent. and increasing again. That level of unemployment destroys the fabric of communities and something must be done about it. It affects crime, education, the environment and health. Last year, the local health authority in Coventry did a statistical analysis of life expectancy levels in the different parts of Coventry. This is supposed to be a modern western country offering the best opportunities to all its citizens, yet it discovered a discrepancy in life expectancy levels of over seven years between the most affluent wards in the city and the most deprived. That is totally unacceptable. It discovered that the indicators of poor health followed almost completely the geographical pattern of unemployment levels.
We will not solve those problems by privatisation or anti-union legislation. We will not solve them by allowing hospitals to opt out or by any other of the policies that
Column 540seem to be high on the agenda. We will not cure unemployment by simply supporting service industries, tourism and so on, important as they are. We must support manufacturing. We must make and sell things if they are to be successful.
I sat in the House yesterday listening to the plans for privatisation. During most of my life I have worked for Jaguar cars. That company was privatised while I was working there, and privatisation was probably far more appropriate there than in many of the proposed areas. However, it did not solve the problems in that company. Some directors became millionaires through lucrative share options, management bonuses, massive increases in salaries and cuts in taxation. They were handed down honours and so on. However, at the end of their reign, more than 4,000 people lost their jobs in the latest round of redundancies.
That is another proud Coventry company that is struggling to survive. The remaining work force, trade unions and the new management, who have at least brought a degree of professionalism in dealing with some of the problems, are working together to solve the problems and pull that company around. Privatisation did nothing for Jaguar and it will do nothing for our coal industry, apart from doing massive damage to our national interest.
Those are the issues that we should be addressing if we want to build a nation at peace with itself, where people of all races and both sexes can live in harmony and walk the streets in safety. Those are the issues that I shall be making my priority during my time in the House. I hope that if I can achieve just one thing, it will be to do some damage to the self- satisfied attitudes that appear to prevail in many parts of the House.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) : It is with no little pride and a great sense of honour that I speak for the first time in the House. I must immediately make known the debt that I feel to my constituents for sending me here. I hope that the faith that they have shown in me will not be misplaced over the years.
My constituency is Woodspring. Like many hon. Members, I have received several hundred letters since the election saying, "Congratulations on a wonderful Conservative result--by the way, where is Woodspring?" Those who have been in the House before will not be surprised to learn that the reason they have not heard the name of the constituency more often is that it was represented by Sir Paul Dean, who spent a record length of time as a Deputy Speaker. He gave record service both to the House and to the country. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House join me in wishing him a happy retirement. After the length of time that he spent as Deputy Speaker, I am sure that he more than deserves it.
One of the questions that is of immense pertinence to Woodspring is its location. After the reorganisation of local government in 1974 the people of Woodspring, who had always belonged to north Somerset, found themselves in the much loathed county of Avon. The quicker Avon is abolished, the better--and the quicker my constituents are returned to Somerset, which is where they belong, the
Column 541happier they will be. Any Minister who can push that through quickly will be assured of a warm welcome when coming to speak in Woodspring.
Woodspring extends from Portishead, south of Bristol in the north-west of the constituency, through Clevedon, Nailsea, the Chew valley and down to Paulton, a town which has particular difficulties in the wake of the Robert Maxwell affair. Like many of my hon. Friends, I shall be trying my best to get a fair deal for those who have suffered from the scandalous behaviour of Robert Maxwell and what he has done to those poor people.
There are several other problems in the constituency, courtesy of Avon county, not least of which is shared by many of my hon. Friends, and that is the problem of traveller sites. We require urgent reform of the Caravan Sites Act 1968. It is becoming scandalous that law-abiding citizens who work hard to improve their community and their homes and surroundings should be discriminated against by a piece of legislation which gives priority to those who have no semblance of regard for local community and no community spirit, and who contribute nothing. I urge the Government to undertake a far-reaching and rapid reform of that legislation.
It is with some sadness that I speak in this debate. I am one of the many doctors who qualified under the Conservative Government and their far- reaching reforms of the health service. I was disappointed--indeed, disturbed--to find that the Opposition, who a few weeks ago told us that health was the single most important issue facing the electorate and that the election was a referendum on the NHS, chose not to debate the subject in the six days of debate on the Loyal Address. Why has it slipped so far down the Opposition's agenda? Could it be that they were rumbled during the election and were shown to be posturing in the extreme, with no solid policies to oppose the reforms that the Government have made? That is the case. Conservatives do not need any lessons from our opponents about caring. We heard the word "caring" used today during health questions as though it were the exclusive preserve of the Labour party. As a junior doctor and a medical student during the health workers' strike, organised by caring NUPE and COHSE and supported by the caring Labour party, I took blood samples in taxis through picket lines. That was the extent of their caring. In this spirit of great caring, dredging up personal cases of misery to try to find the one case that has gone badly in the national health service and overlooking all the reforms and successes that we have had, they have resorted to the lowest form of political debate. To try to say that every case that has gone wrong is typical is loathsome.
For the first time since its inception, Conservatives have introduced into the health service the idea that preventive medicine is important. Before the GP contract was introduced, we were told by our opponents--by the British Medical Association and by those who now oppose the new Home Secretary, whose bravery in introducing the reforms should be attested to-- that we would lose the ability to see elderly patients and that people would not get the medicines that they require. We have seen record immunisations, record numbers of women having cervical smears, and record numbers of visits. Yet when our opponents are asked to say what is good about Conservative health reforms, they are not able to give any examples.
Column 542look forward to giving many examples and I am sorry that the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is not here to listen to some of the positive aspects of Conservative health policy. It is time he realised that not everything that the Government do--even in his view--is bad.
It is a great honour to speak in the House. I hope that in the coming months and years the health debate in the House will be more constructive than in the past, but, in the words of the Leader of the Opposition, I fear that it will be a triumph of my fears over my hopes.
I hope that Conservative Members will contribute constructively. The Queen's Speech was excellent and Conservative Members, especially the newcomers, look forward to the legislation that follows it, which will be good not only for our party but, more importantly, for the country.
Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock and Burntwood) : I should like, first, to congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment. I should like to congratulate the new hon. Members who spoke before me--my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) and the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox)--who, in their different ways, were excellent.
I am particularly grateful to be called now because I have spent most of my life suffering from a disability which is known as alphabetical order. My name is Wright, which has meant that I have tended always to be at the end of queues. People who use the principle of alphabetical order tend to think that it is a democratic, a just principle. In fact, it is just only to people who fall at the beginning of the alphabet. I hope now to escape that disability and look to Madam Speaker for help.
As evidence of my disability, I have a small majority--1,506. I sometimes think that it might be larger if only my name were different ! Research shows that, if one's name appears high on the ballot papers, one has a small advantage. I had thought that if my name were, to take some of my neighbouring Members, perhaps Cormack, Budgen, Cash or even Boothroyd my majority might be 1,507 or 1,508. Thinking about it more, it struck me that that political disability had loomed large in British political life generally. If one considers the people who have succeeded and those who have failed, one sees the principle in action. One has only to cast one's eyes across the list of British Prime Ministers this century to see exactly what the principle means. From Asquith to Attlee, from Balfour to Bonar Law to Baldwin, from Campbell-Bannerman to Churchill to Callaghan, the principle has been rampant through the political history of the 20th century. The great political casualties of the century have been the Thatchers and the Wilsons.
Indeed, during the debate yesterday, looking at the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I thought that there but for the alphabet would not be a man reduced to such a sorry parlance. If his name were not Waldegrave, he surely would not be the Minister for filing cabinets and name badges for ticket inspectors. I noted that the Prime Minister, like Harold Macmillan before him, had taken the sensible precaution of coming slap in the alphabetical middle.
Column 543Hon. Members will notice that in selecting a constituency--Cannock and Burntwood--I chose one very near to the beginning of the alphabet to reverse the principle that I have been describing so far. It is in south Staffordshire. It is the heart, the quintessence, of middle England. It contains the towns of Cannock, Hednesford and Burntwood. Hednesford was particularly proud this week as its football team reached the final of the Welsh cup. I will not detain hon. Members with the mysteries of how a town in Staffordshire can reach the final of the Welsh cup, but I am sure that the House would wish to congratulate the team on that splendid achievement.
It has the beauties of Cannock Chase on its doorstep. Its people hewed coal for 100 years and are now having to find a different future. Its history is that of England itself. It was represented in the House for 25 years after the second world war by Jennie Lee, whom Labour Members remember particularly fondly, and who I also associate with adult education. It was inhabited by people such as the present Conservative hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) for a time and by Gwilym Roberts, who will be remembered as a warm, passionate and committed Welshman. I am happy to report that last week he was triumphantly re-elected to Cannock Chase district council. Part of the constituency was represented for a time by the present hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott). I pay tribute to him for the friendship and support that he showed me on coming to the House.
My immediate predecessor was Gerald Howarth, with whom I totally disagreed on everything. However--this is a tribute to him and me--we managed to maintain enough mutual respect to conduct a reasonably civilised election campaign. I acknowledge the work that he did for the people of the constituency and offer him just one word of consolation at this moment of disappointment for him. As one of the most fervent torch bearers for the handbag across the water, the present disposition of the House and of his party may not prove to be so congenial to him now as it was then.
As we have heard, many new hon. Members point to the contrast between what happens in this House and the din and clash of opinions outside--I refer especially to those who come hot foot from election contests in marginal seats--the subjects that people were talking about in the election. Like the miners in my constituency, who want to talk about the threat of privatising the only remaining coal mine. Or the blight caused by opencast mining ripping apart the environment. Or the distinction of having the first toll road--at least for 300 years--being driven through their countryside. They want to talk about cuts in the education system and about why there are no houses for the young people or enough jobs. They want to talk about such issues and they ask what the House is doing about them. Instead we find the ritual confrontations, the impassioned speeches to the near-empty Benches, the votes of which the result is already known. People outside ask what is going on--what is the House doing? It is a fact-- although it may be an unpalatable one--that this country has never taken the business of democracy very seriously. We have taken the idea of strong government and a strong executive very seriously
Column 544but not democracy. Indeed, only half a century ago, in a classic formula, the Tory Leo Amery, when describing our system of government, said that it was
"government of the people, for the people, with but not by the people."
It was said of Leo Amery himself that if he had been just half a head higher, and if his speeches has been half an hour shorter, he might have become Prime Minister.
This process is now being taken much further. We already have the most centralised, concentrated and secretive system of government in the western world and the Government are now removing the existing arenas in which people can argue, do politics and disagree. We have the most anti-pluralist Government presiding over the historic emasculation of local government, sweeping away diversity, pluralism and independence wherever they can find them.
In the spirit of non-contentiousness that distinguishes these maiden speeches, I say with all seriousness that an older Conservative tradition would have been extremely worried about such tendencies. It was that tradition which used to taunt the Opposition about their centralising tendencies and their ambitions to strip local government of its powers. Yet these are exactly the characteristics that have distinguished the past 13 years of Conservative party rule.
My final remarks will cover education because it is my trade. I have spent my life in education and I feel deeply and passionately about it. There is much to talk about, especially what is happening to universities and the threat to adult education in which I work. But it is about schools and the government of schools that I particulary want to talk. I have worked a great deal with school governors in the past few years, and I am bound to say that I was a great enthusiast for the Government's school reforms and for the education Act of 1986 because I believed that it introduced a new partnership into schools.
The Gracious Speech mentions some changes that are to be made which will affect school governors. The Government have now betrayed--that is perhaps a strong word but not too strong a word--school governors. They are having to re-educate them in the task that they are being asked to perform. School governors thought that they had gone into the education system as volunteers--many were parents--to support their schools and the system. They are now being taught that there is to be no education system and that schools are to be pitted against schools, parents against parents and communities against communities. That will certainly be the consequence of enforcing universal opt out. Governors gave up their time believing that there was one system to care for all children, but they are now being told that the system is to be driven by market forces. It is not surprising that many of those people are now leaving school government in vast numbers because they are not prepared to do what the Government want. Therefore, the Government have huge recruitment problems for school governors as a direct consequence.
I return to where I began. I am grateful to have swapped the principle of alphabetical order for the principle of catching the Speaker's eye. I hope that that principle will continue and that we shall consign alphabetical order to the dustbin of history and that from now--at least sometimes--the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
Column 5456.45 pm
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham) : May I say to the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Wright) that my name is Walden and my constituency is Buckingham--we should get together some time and drown our sorrows. The hon. Gentleman demonstrated the art of levity while at the same time combining it with substance and, I was glad to note, a hint of passion on the subject of education. He also seemed to speak with feeling about the constitution and the powers of this House. I recommend that, as a man of some wit, the hon. Gentleman should read, if he has not already done so, what is by far the best and wittiest study on that subject. It naturally comes from a Conservative writer, Mr. Ferdinand Mount. The hon. Gentleman is probably already aware of it, but I commend it to him. He will find, to his surprise, that he agrees with much of it.
I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the new "Speakerine", as she would be called in France. Were he here, I would also congratulate my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Education. I believe that post to be the most important in Government. Incidentally, on the constitution, I should like us to ditch some of the fusty old stuff about the great offices of state--I know of no more important office of state than that of Secretary of State for Education.
I have only a few minutes into which to cram my most recent prejudices, so I must get on. To sum up those prejudices, I believe that the main problems facing this country are not mentioned directly in the Queen's Speech. I believe that we are an under-educated and over-housed country, and I should like to explain why in about five minutes.
The first thing that I hope that my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State will do is to reconsider nursery education. The Queen's Speech talks about raising standards at all levels. For most people in this country there is no nursery level, so he will not have to worry about standards in that respect. However, there should be a nursery level, and the fact that we won the election does not mean that we can simply ditch that subject in the hope that the many women in this country will not notice. It is a subject that my right hon. Friend should reconsider because the bald and simple fact is that anyone with any money at all buys quality, structured education for his child in order to give that child a head start, thus helping to perpetuate the social divisiveness--I try to avoid the word but I cannot think of any other at the moment--that still lingers in our society. When talking about opportunity in education, let us remember that there can be no opportunity unless every child has a chance at the beginning to get his or her head start.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider carefully the statistics routinely churned out by the Department of Education, which are completely misleading and give the impression--I do not know what the latest figure is --that about 85 per cent. or 90 per cent. of children in this country benefit from pre-school education. That is simply not true. The figures include everything from child minding to highly amateur ad hoc organisations which come together to look after children and then drift apart. That is not what I mean by pre-school education, and it is not what exists in more enlightened countries, such as France.
Column 546I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will continue his predecessor's policy of shaking up the bogus philosophy behind primary education in this country, which has caused enormous damage--as usual--to people at the bottom of the social pile. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister knows what I am talking about. The issue has been raised only in the past year, but we must try to change people's minds and have vastly higher expectations for young children in primary schools because they can do a great deal more than what they are asked to do at present. The really important element missing from the Gracious Speech involves the organisation of secondary education. Some great educational changes and, indirectly, social changes loom before us. We shall not be able to avoid them, even if we want to. Indeed, I believe that we should not try to avoid them. In particular, I refer to what I hope will be the swift break-up of the comprehensive system. It is not deemed politic on the Conservative Benches to discuss that subject, and that is another reason why I raise it. It is impossible for Conservative Members to continue to support grant-maintained schools and allow that policy to continue in the post-election rush in some semi-anarchic way and say that it is a grand thing. It will not be grand if that policy--which I wholeheartedly support--leads indirectly to a reversion to primitive selection. It is not just a matter of opting-out schools choosing to become grammar schools. They can do that if they wish. There will be de facto selection in most, probably all, opted-out schools because parents will queue outside them and headmasters and headmistresses, who are human beings, will, whether they know it or not, find ways of selecting the most promising pupils. That would be disastrous, because we would end up with a two-tier system.
The great paradox is that the origin of the comprehensive system, which I believe is a deeply mistaken philosophy, was a typically British, class- conscious reaction to the previous rather crude selective system which, although it produced some fine grammar schools--I know, because I went to one--also produced many wood-sawing schools in which huge numbers of potentially intelligent children were written off at the start.
If we allow the present rather disorganised policy of opting out to continue, there is a danger that we shall return to the earlier system. I am not against selection, but I am against negative selection. There must be a change in philosophy, which is beginning to occur--for example, in Wandsworth--to selection by aptitude. That is what happens in more advanced countries. We do not have it in this country because we are hung up on antique class consciousness in education as we are in respect of so many other aspects of our society. That deforms our vision of education.
We are not concerned about education : we are concerned about the social implications of the organisation of schools, which is totally different. As Confucius would say if he were with us today, the primary function of education is education, and not the social organisation of the country. If we follow that principle, we end up with a healthier system than the old, crude selective system, of which I was a lucky beneficiary but many from my part of the world were not. There is a danger that we shall come full circle and return inadvertently to the earlier system, which would be totally at variance to what I understand to be the Government's philosophy.
Column 547We shall have to change an entire mentality. We must make people in this country used to the idea that there is nothing wrong, second class or debilitating about being selected by aptitude to attend a largely--though not completely--technological, scientific, vocational school. Such things happen abroad and there is no reason why they should not happen here. We must aim for parity between the academic schools--I use that term in no exact sense--and the more vocational and scientific schools. We must then face the economic consequences of that cultural change.
We cannot have crummy schools as we had under the old crude selective system of secondary modern schools without the facilities or the maths, physics and craft design and technology teachers to provide those schools with social status. I acknowledge that that may be a contradiction in respect of what I said before, but those schools need status to attract people and to get over the terrible cultural prejudice against anything to do with technological or scientific schools.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : We must not forget the fact that aptitude means ability in a particular area. When selecting by aptitude, one would thus be selecting by ability. Is that not the case?
Mr. Walden : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for trying to bring precision to my speech. He is right : there is no final distinction between aptitude and ability. However, there is a different cast of mind. With regard to ability, there is a danger of making a final judgment at the age of 11. Aptitude may imply spotting some ability that has yet to develop. I admit that there are no absolute categories, but it is possible to distinguish between them. I am convinced that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the process because that is by far the most important subject which does not feature in the Queen's Speech. Necessarily, it entails a reorganisation of local government which may lead to the abolition of local education authorities. The Opposition tend to refer to the LEAs as a democratic process. At the risk of boring myself, I must state once more that they are not democratic when judged by their absolutely piffling turnouts. Most LEAs run education on the basis of effective turnouts of eligible voters of about 15 per cent.
The democratic argument is largely, though not wholly, cant and we should not allow it to stand in our way when we reconsider the issue, as we must if we are not to return to a dangerous and socially damaging form of selection. We must reconsider the role of the LEAs and be bold in our public opposition to the principle of comprehensive education.
I was once in the unfortunate position of having to explain comprehensive education to the communist Chinese Education Minister. He asked me to repeat my explanation--which, as I was trying to explain it in Chinese, proved to be extremely difficult. He simply stared at me in disbelief and said, "You mean to say that you in your country send people of all abilities and aptitudes to the same school and put them in the same class, whatever their progress?" I had to confirm that that happened in this sleepy old country of ours. He could not get over that. In China, for all their peccadillos in some areas, such as human rights, they are pretty hard -headed when it comes
Column 548to education. When they get rid of this communist nonsense we shall see the proof of that and see some results in China.
My second prejudice, which is linked with the first, is that I disagree fundamentally with the Government's housing policy. It is not the job of this or of any Government to tell people to own their homes. That is a primitive notion--a fetish which is doing enormous social and economic damage to this country, and eveyone knows that. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development knows it and has talked about our housing policy deforming our economy, as it has done--and badly--in the past.
The Queen's Speech states that the Government will look for ways to add to the already dangerously high number of people who own their own houses by changing the law here and there. Although I do not disapprove of those changes in principle--changes to leaseholds or whatever--it seems that there is a danger of the Government feeding house fetishism. They should not encourage home ownership. We do not need more home ownership. People need to have a choice of whether to buy and own their own house or to rent at a reasonable rent--the choice that people enjoy in France, Germany and America, which are all sophisticated countries in that regard. That should be Government policy, rather than to encourage the primitive fetishism of house ownership as the last Government but one did so catastrophically. How many Members from both sides of the House have been on doorsteps during the election campaign and have been told by a mother, worried to death about her son, that he "got on the housing ladder"--encouraged by Government rhetoric--and fell off the ladder with a £20,000 debt. He is 21 or 22 and has a £20,000 debt before he has started in life. Should we be proud of that when we quote our figures of 67 or 68 per cent.? How high do we want to go? Do we want the country to seize up because of home ownership? In their frenzy to encourage home ownership, the Government seem to have lost sight of the fact that it is not good for business or for mobility. That is one of the reasons why it does not exist to the same extent in other countries.
I am not against home ownership--that would be a grotesque position--but the logic of the Government's philosophy should be not to encourage home ownership but to tell people that they will do their damnedest to give them an effective choice, on a level playing field, between owning and renting. That will overcome the problem. At present, the market is so distorted that there are 7 or 8 per cent. of people in private rented accommodation, while in other countries it is 30 or 40 per cent. I believe that Bangladesh and Switzerland are the only other countries with such high levels of home ownership.
In the present economic conjunction, things are going well. I am optimistic and I do not think that the Government are merely using rhetoric when they sound optimistic ; I think that matters will improve. When people feel that they have a little more money in their pockets, one of the first things that they will do is to take out mortgages which are too big for them again, if the Government encourage them to do that. After our last experience of that, I hope that many people will understand the dangers.
To come full circle, this country has two major problems which were not mentioned in the Queen's Speech--we are under-educated and over-housed. To a large extent, the economy comes right if one gets those two
Column 549things right, and one solves many economic problems. Those two matters are fundamental. I have confidence that the Government will do largely what I would like them to do on education, but I am a little more diffident about their housing policy because their attitude to home ownership needs to be revised and cooled off. We are over- excited about home ownership. We must tell people to be sensible and not to get into this silly debt business, which has done them and the country so much harm and which has distorted our economy. Finally, I must mention two constituency matters. The first concerns education for the educationally subnormal. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will note one concise question. The other day a constituent who has a 19-year-old daughter with a mental disability who has been to a special school asked me why her daughter's right to attend that school was cut off at the age of 19, when the Government look after other people's further education long after that age at a huge cost. Frankly, I could not find an answer, which is why I am asking my right hon. Friends to provide me with one. If they do not have an answer, I hope that they will do something so that we shall all have one in future.
Secondly, I have a constituency matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. There is a place called Maids' Moreton near the town of Buckingham in my constituency. There seems to be a presumption that the two places should join, although in neither case do the inhabitants want them to do so. The developer who wants them to join together is one of those persistent types, I am afraid. Why is there no arrangement whereby local government may say that there is a permanent presumption against development in the area because it would create too large a conurbation, and mostly because neither of the two communities wants it? I should be grateful if my right hon. and learned Friend could take note of that.
I have probably spoken for too long, and I apologise.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Before I call the next Member to speak I remind the House of Madam Speaker's ruling that there shall be a 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 and 9 o'clock.
Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North) : May I add my congratulations to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your appointment and to all those hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today. The content of those speeches, which was sometimes amusing, was much appreciated by the House.
I had hoped to identify certain references in the Queen's Speech which would enable me to congratulate the Government on having advanced environmental protection in the list of priorities to be considered by the new Parliament. Regrettably, I find that I am unable to offer such congratulations. In reflecting upon certain proposed legislation which might have a bearing, I am concerned that the national lottery Bill may be targeted too narrowly. There must be provision for funding to spill over from heritage projects to encompass remedial environmental works, which are so often absolutely vital, and to commit complete and meaningful preservation of sites and buildings. In that regard, I ask the Government to learn from the justified criticism made of those bodies which have not managed to develop a co-ordinated approach to
Column 550preserving our heritage in Northern Ireland. Nor do I expect that the intended housing, land and urban development Bill, which will bring another quango into being--the urban regeneration agency-- will resolve that long-standing and increasing problem.
My scepticism is based upon the Northern Ireland experience with such bodies, but I shall not digress into a topic about which my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) has such a close knowledge. From my experience, all too often such bodies tend to theorise on the problem rather than to embark upon practical measures to remedy obvious disadvantages and to arrest further decay. I understand that the proposed green Bill is in hand, but apparently it will have to await a suitable slot in the crowded parliamentary timetable. That does nothing to convince me that sufficient priority has been given to the subject.
Perhaps the Government are still a prisoner of the former Prime Minister's vision of the great motor car economy and will not face the unpalatable fact that economic recovery alone those lines spells ecological disaster. To borrow a summary from a recent Sunday newspaper, it spells more cars, more factories to build them, more roads to carry them and more toxic fumes.
However, being of a magnanimous nature I accept that the 1990 White Paper on the environment covered everything from the stratosphere to the street corner. The Government were careful to include it in the Conservative manifesto on page 43, but the great issues continue to be addressed only on paper.
I accept that the Prime Minister was one of the first world leaders to announce his intention to attend next month's earth summit in Rio de Janeiro and I appreciate that the proposed environment agency will try to achieve wonderful things. The agency will collate the work of the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, regulate the waste operations of local authorities and provide us with annual state-of- the-environment reports.
That is all very commendable, but is there not just the suggestion of another army of paper tigers and another paper mountain? Is not this further consideration of the problems rather than action upon them? Are matters most urgent not developing at too leisurely a pace? Of course, there can be merit in hastening slowly, but we in Northern Ireland have had far too much of the snail's pace approach for far too long. We cannot draw limited comfort from some possible momentum in the proposed legislation.
Northern Ireland will undoubtedly be ignored and excluded yet again. I wish to caution the House on the basis of the previous Government's record on such matters in the Province. Following the publication of the Rossi report, I welcomed its recommendations and laid particular emphasis on recommendation 26 regarding the creation of a Northern Ireland environment agency. I did so enthusiastically not only on behalf of my party but in recognition of the widespread demand for such a body from a wide cross- section of informed opinion in the Province.
I share the opinions of the Select Committee on the Environment which catalogued the defects, weaknesses and difficulties that had arisen in the management of Northern Ireland. I use that term deliberately because the Province enjoys, not democratic government, but an unco-ordinated system operated by appointees and
Column 551professional officers. I should like to know how I can repose trust in the Government's avowed environmental commitment when what I believe to be the central recommendation of the Rossi report has been rejected.
Surely in this matter it would have been useful to test such a structure in Northern Ireland, especially as the Government have not hesitated in the past to inflict experimental systems on the Province with no regard for the wishes of the people there. I would not wish Great Britain to have expectations raised, as happened in Northern Ireland, and then to suffer the disappointment of finding that the shadow, not the substance, became the reality.
The Government are failing to meet their obligations to protect internationally important areas for birds, particularly within Northern Ireland. A new Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' report reviews the Government's performance in protecting wildlife sites under the European Community birds directive and the Ramsar convention. The report highlights the
"appalling designation record in Northern Ireland",
where to date, of the 17 internationally recognised important bird areas in the Province, only two have been given any designation : Lough Neagh-Lough Beg, which was designated a Ramsar site in 1976, and Swan island, in Lough Larne, which was designated as a special protection area earlier this year. RSPB studies show that a further 11 unprotected, important bird sites in Northern Ireland are threatened by damaging development proposals, poor management or neglect.
At the present overall United Kingdom designation rate of only four sites a year, these internationally important areas will not be fully protected until the year 2040. Many will be destroyed before designation occurs. A comparison with other EC member states shows that Denmark and Belgium should complete their designations by 1992, with only the Netherlands achieving completion later than the United Kingdom. The total United Kingdom land area designated to date is less than 1 per cent. compared with more than 20 per cent. in Denmark.
The report on sites of special scientific interest in the 1990s, "A Check on the Health of Internationally Important Bird Areas", also shows that hundreds of important wildlife sites have been damaged or destroyed since 1981.
I call on the new Government to provide substantial, additional resources for environmental departments and statutory conservation agencies ; to promise to complete all remaining designations of Ramsar sites within five years ; and to make a firm commitment to protect these areas, allowing development only in the most exceptional circumstances. My call is for effective action throughout the United Kingdom to address now as a matter literally of life and death the issues of effective environmental protection and regeneration.
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams) : I have enjoyed immensely listening to many outstanding maiden speeches this afternoon. I do not wish to deal with any one particular speech, but I will speak about urban problems and the urban regeneration agency. For that reason, I was extremely interested in what was said by the hon. Member
Column 552for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth). As the House will know, I was Member of Parliament for an inner-city seat in Liverpool for nine years. The hon. Gentleman's comments were reminiscent of many of the problems that I experienced in Liverpool some years ago. Therefore, I was particularly concerned by what he said about Coventry. The problems have not gone away either in Coventry or in many other urban conurbations.
As the House may remember, I was a youth and social worker for many years before I came to the House. I was appointed by Lord Wilson, as he now is, as leader of one of the largest community projects of the Home Office that was concerned with urban problems. The hallmarks of the inner city are well known : deprived communities, unskilled labour, poor housing, race relations problems, rundown small firms and high unemployment. Inner-city areas got those hallmarks because over the years the poorest and least skilled congregated usually where they landed from boats--for example, in Liverpool and London--or at the centres of industry, such as the textile industry in Manchester. Small firms existed in those areas and were interdependent.
Over the past 25 years modern technology, high rents and the demolition of slums have resulted in the population moving from inner-city areas to outer city areas. The vast council estates of the 1950s and 1960s meant the wholesale displacement from the inner city to the outer city of poor and unskilled workers. Although the small firms continued there, they declined.
The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East used the image of a doughnut, but the place where the jam once was is now an empty hole. The people have departed and the jobs have gone. The inner cities are derelict, rundown and depressed areas. We are witnessing an attempt by the Government--and they have poured thousands and millions of pounds into it--to put the jam back into the inner city. I would normally be critical of pouring money into solving such problems, but I welcome the Government's announcement in the Queen's Speech about the setting up of an urban rengeneration agency, which is another attempt to deal with the problem. There have been many attempts and you will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the Labour Administrations of the 1960s and 1970s set up many projects, as did the Conservative Government in the 1980s. The projects all had interesting names, but they often bore little relationship to what they did.
The Government have announced another attempt to revive the inner cities, but the jam will not be put back into the inner cities unless new methods of transportation are introduced. Unless motorways and the road transport networks go right into the inner city--to the point where jobs could be created and the enterprise zones and the urban development corporations are located--one will not get real commercial, industrial and manufacturing growth. The inner cities need new rail heads. The trouble with the railway stations in the principal cities is that it is impossible to drive large articulated vehicles to them. Therefore, it is not possible to use the railways to transport equipment and goods out of the inner city. Poor transport links rule out a revival in the inner cities.
The revival is taking place in the outer cities. It is happening at the junctions of motorways and on the outskirts of the major conurbations where all the new warehouses and factories have been built. Instead of