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Column 72billions of pounds, whereas a few years ago it was £4 billion or £5 billion. It has gone up astronomically, and greater controls must be established.
Another of my hobby horses--it is controversial, of course--concerns industrial grants. The way to support industry is by having policies of low tax, free trade and sound money, and not by giving money directly to industries that would be unable to support themselves without it. That is particularly true of foreign industries. The reason why foreign industries are investing heavily in this country has, I believe, nothing to do with the grants that they are given to locate in different parts of the country. It is entirely to do with the fact that this is now a good place in which to invest from a market point of view. If we take into account transportation subsidies, we are talking about £5 billion or more being spent on industrial grants that could be better saved.
Another area in which savings are available is investment in transport, particularly road and rail. I do not understand why we should be the only country in Europe that does not fund some of that investment through the private sector--especially through tolls--paid for by the travelling public because we could thus save billions of pounds.
A clear strategy is available to the Government to enable them to carry out that aspect of the Queen's Speech which relates to returning to sound money, reducing the public sector as a percentage of gross domestic product and thereby encouraging industrial growth, which is clearly associated with the problem of unemployment. The remaining issue is free trade. I am concerned about developments in Europe because it is becoming one of the first major protectionist trade blocs. The Asia Pacific Economic Co- operation had its final meeting yesterday and shunned the concept of protectionism and the North American Free Trade Agreement is also avoiding that concept, but that is not true of the European Union, whose very inception was based on it--in those days, it was primarily aimed at the United States. That tradition of protectionism has not only been maintained but advanced. It is outrageous that the European Union has yet to ratify the Uruguay round of GATT, having caused all sorts of obstacles to its settlement, but that is very much a part of its tradition of developing protectionist measures--not necessarily tariffs, but anti-dumping measures and other means of restricting trade.
In recent times, the most notable protectionist measures were aimed at the one area with which trade should have developed--the eastern European countries, for which protection has been potentially disastrous. If that protectionism was removed, it is one of the reasons why the common agricultural policy would have to go.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East): On the difficulties of balancing the budget, does my hon. Friend accept that the Chancellor's job will be much more difficult in view of the Red Book explanation that our net contributions to the European Community will double next year, from £1,700 million to more than £3,500 million, and that they will increase more in the following year? In such circumstances, should not the House be careful about adding further to that massive extra burden?
Mr. Spicer: Certainly, and I shall develop that argument, although I shall not detain the House. It will require a radical solution to deal with protectionism, centralisation, the lack of democracy and the problems
Column 73caused by destroying the institutions of law and democracy in nation states--especially a state such as ours--and replacing them with a democratic vacuum in Europe. My hon. Friend mentioned problems of accountability with respect to payments to the European Union, which we now hear are often fraudulent. I agree with him.
The intergovernmental conference in 1996 will be our great opportunity for change, but I do not underestimate the difficulties that we will face. Laws are coming out of Brussels so fast. We must consider the fact of the acquis communautaire and the moves towards a single currency, for which some of my hon. Friends pressed--notably my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands. Mr. Kohl is firmly entrenched and is a man in a great hurry.
We are moving so fast towards a federal state of Europe, with the resultant consequences for protectionism and a lack of democracy, that two things must take place if we are to be effective in 1996. First, we must develop a firm idea of how the wheel of misfortune is to be reversed. It will certainly entail a radical change in the way in which the European Court--a legislature that is not accountable to anyone--can create its own laws and the way in which the Commission operates by initiating its own directives. The Commission, too, is accountable to no electorate. It will require radical changes in the way in which the common agricultural policy and budgeting processes work.
The Government will have to insist on radical changes. That means that the Conservative party must unite. It is difficult to see how any progress can be made without a united Conservative party. The party will have to unite rapidly around specific radical proposals to amend the treaty of Rome and it must unite with other European centre-right parties, which will be an enormous challenge. Any other problems are mere distractions. We do not want divisive discussions about consequential matters or issues relating to the past. Given the challenge that lies ahead, the issue is what will be the Government's core strategy during the next year or two. Great willpower and unity behind a clear, radical programme will be required.
Mrs. Helen Liddell (Monklands, East): Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the newest Member of the House, I looked forward to the Gracious Speech. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) referred to the ceremony that attaches to it. With many other hon. Members, I moved from this Chamber to the other place and was surprised to discover on my arrival that the Gracious Speech was in its closing stages. The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) may have been disappointed that Post Office privatisation was not contained in it, but it is clear that the Government have run out of things with which to replace it.
I was happy to see that a number of pointers had been included, although I noted them with some trepidation as, in the past 15 years, even when the Government dealt with important issues, they sometimes had an unfailing knack of making the lives of those who were miserable even more miserable.
My general conclusion about the Gracious Speech is that it was a missed opportunity. As a new Member of Parliament I had hoped--perhaps naively-- that the period of legislative calm would provide an opportunity to
Column 74introduce many measures that would greatly benefit my constituents. Indeed, I had hoped that it would provide the opportunity to introduce legislation that would create jobs and tackle the current scenario, in which people who are already disadvantaged find themselves further disadvantaged because of their inability to find employment in, for example, the west of Scotland, where I live and where successive Government policies have resulted in the run-down of industries.
I was interested in the Prime Minister's opening remarks, in which he spoke of the democratic opportunities for Northern Ireland. With my colleagues, I welcome the moves for peace and for changing the democratic structure in Northern Ireland, but because of where I come from I have an interest in the development of democracy. I would have liked the Gracious Speech to propose legislation to allow legislative devolution in Scotland and the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, rather than the present system under which powers are devolved to the civil service and we do not have an opportunity to debate issues of great significance to the Scottish people in the way that the House usually debates them.
I was reassured when the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) said that children's legislation is likely to be introduced this Session. It is a sad reflection on the Government that they did not see fit to include in the Gracious Speech references to a children Bill for Scotland as it is rare for such legislation to have cross-party support. Its inclusion would have been a pointer to the people of Scotland that the House was listening.
I was grateful to hear the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South refer to that matter in his witty speech. I noticed that he referred to my constituency, which showed tremendous bravery on his part as the Conservative party lost its deposit in the by-election at which I was elected to the House. I am greatly reassured that, in the hon. Gentleman's quest for four hamburgers, he did not sample the brew occasionally enjoyed by some of my constituents, which has caused me some anxiety in recent days.
I said that I welcome certain aspects of the Queen's Speech, one of which is the reference to pensions. I have a unique interest in that matter as I am probably the only hon. Member who is a Maxwell pensioner, having had the misfortune to transfer my pension funds into a Maxwell scheme. Those of us who have lived through those traumatic days realise that it is now almost three years since the discovery of misappropriation of funds both from Robert Maxwell's companies and pension funds associated with those companies. Considerable stress has been caused to people throughout that period. I look forward to seeing the terms of the legislation to protect the security of pensions, referred to in the Gracious Speech. I only regret that, over that three-year period, other companies have been able to exploit the loopholes in pensions legislation and many people tonight are as insecure as I am in thinking of their futures. I look forward to the forthcoming legislative Session not just because it is my first opportunity to contribute fully in the debates of the House but because the "legislative calm" referred to by a Conservative Member will allow people to see the extent to which the Government have run out of steam after 15 years in office. That became obvious today when my right hon. Friend
Column 75the Leader of the Opposition outlined the radical opportunities that the Labour party can provide for the future.
In my constituency tonight there will be no great rejoicing at the Queen's Speech because of the missed opportunities within it. During the forthcoming Session I hope to see more compassion for those who have been disadvantaged over the past 15 years. I hope that in Scotland, as in other parts of the United Kingdom, more emphasis will be placed on discussion of the constitution that governs this country, not least in relation to the operation of the House. As a lady Member from a constituency that is some 450 miles away, I am conscious of the fact that there are few lady Members on either side of the House and that the organisation of our business is sometimes a disincentive to participating in it.
The Queen's Speech was a missed opportunity to legislate for a Scottish Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin referred to the opportunity to change the constitutional operations of this House. The establishment of a Scottish Parliament would give us an opportunity to set an example and show how the operation of this House and the other place can move forward into the closing days of the century and, indeed, into the next.
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden): On these occasions one is always tempted to discuss what is not in the Gracious Speech rather than simply concentrate on what is in it. I noticed that it contained no reference to matters such as aircraft, airports or airlines, so I hope that the House will forgive me if I raise a parochial point that needs to be established at this early stage of the Session. Under the other measures that will be laid before us, the Government may be persuaded that the time has come to invite us to raise the air transport movement limit at Stansted airport, which was imposed as a result of the decision to allow the development of that airport. I hope that the Government will approach that matter with caution because, while the 78,000 figure that has been allowed clearly does not equate in practice to the 8 million passengers per annum throughput to which it was intended to relate, and some adjustment must be made to allow the airport to handle 8 million passengers in due course, the airport owners will obviously be tempted to approach Parliament only once to have the limit adjusted. They would like to see the limit taken away altogether so that they could provide unimpeded for up to 15 million passengers per annum. That option would not be well received in my constituency and I hope that the Government will not be persuaded that the time is opportune, during this Session, to make such a large concession to the airport owners. I fully accept that, at some stage, an adjustment will have to be made to the current figure.
Although it may not require a legislative move, we shall also expect to hear a Government response to the report of RUCATSE, the working party set up to look at runway capacity in the south east. We must face up to that question at some stage. We hope to hear from the Government soon whether and when we need further runway capacity.
Column 76We also expect a report from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on the air services agreement with the United States, which is of great commercial concern to this country. The generous offer which he made a few weeks ago to allow American carriers free access to our regional airports and Stansted airport appears to have received no response yet from the other side of the Atlantic and we hope that he can report some progress on that matter as it is crucial to not only our airports but our airlines. We have reached the time when a Parliament starts to slow the pace, not because the Government are running out of ideas but because that is the right attitude to adopt in order deliberately to allow the measures taken earlier in the Parliament to take effect. We are seeking to do no more than reinforce or bolster what we have already set in hand. I find myself on the side of the consolidators as opposed to those who now want to make radical departures. The people whom I represent are not looking for great radical departures at this juncture. The most important subjects to the British people at this time include education, and the Government recognise that neither the professionals in education nor the parents whose children are in the system want more upheaval. They want a period of consolidation in education.
I welcomed the experiment of grant-maintained schools and I want it to work. I want it to have time to work. I want parents to be increasingly satisfied.
Talking to parents of children at schools that have become grant- maintained, I find that they are extremely pleased, and none of them would wish to revert to the previous position. Opposition Members may have a hard task, at the time of the next general election, to persuade the electorate that they should vote in such a way as to have their grant-maintained schools taken away. However, let us discover the results of that development. A clear advantage is already being demonstrated, and I wish that advantage to continue to be developed.
I would be happy with developments into more nursery education, but I do not want them to take place in such a way that we upset the pre-school playgroup movement, which plays a very important part in pre-school education. I hope that we shall take a distinctly conservative approach to what is obviously an important area of education. Generally, I believe that stability should be stamped on our education policy.
Health is another cause of concern to our constituents. Following the reforms that we initiated in the health service, we are in transition. I do not think that we need too many more reforms on top of reforms, although it is reasonable to tighten up administration. The Opposition should not suppose, mistakenly, that the only opinion among professionals in the national health service is that the Government have got it wrong. Many people would strongly argue that the trend of the Government reforms is correct, and is working, but that it will require more time for it to be demonstrated to work. People simply want assurance at present that what we have set our hand to is correct, that it will benefit them in the form of treatment that is available faster and as near to home as possible, and that they are in safe hands. I think that we can demonstrate that, given more time.
Column 77People are worried about law and order. We have made tremendous strides in legislation. We have taken actions, many of which are controversial and many of which are unacceptable to the Opposition, but we must allow them time to work.
People are worried about their safety. It will help the Conservative party if people begin to realise that there is a continuing downward trend in crime as a result of the measures that have already been taken--not additional measures. That trend has begun to appear at last in the past year. We want that to develop. It is the best thing that we can deliver to our constituents.
I am prepared to acknowledge the modest further privatisation measures in the Gracious Speech. However, Conservative Members should acknowledge that the public have been slow to recognise the benefits of privatisation. One has to drag it out of people that steps that we took to put British Airways into the private sector have been enormously successful, transforming what had been a crippled airline in the public sector, costing us thousands of pounds, into one of the most profitable airlines in the world. When one challenges people on British Telecom, one can cause them to say, "Ah yes, perhaps it has improved rather dramatically". However, at the time of the privatisations there was no great enthusiasm for them, and we know that there has not been any enthusiasm in the Labour party. We should own up to the fact that railway privatisation has yet to be proved. I am not distressed that the Royal Mail privatisation is the absent course in the banquet of the Gracious Speech. There was a perfectly good commercial case for the privatisation of the Royal Mail, but most of our constituents found it difficult to go along with that. I think, therefore, that a wise pragmatic step has been taken. Let us take the rest of the time in this Parliament to demonstrate that what we have done is working and showing benefits. That will help to prove the credentials of our philosophy against the credentials of the Labour party. We need to demonstrate results.
One of the important subjects that will be discussed in the rest of this Parliament will be the Government's fiscal performance. Undoubtedly, the present unpopularity of the Conservative Government is associated with the fact that taxes have increased, contrary to the expectation at the time of the 1992 general election. In so far as the Opposition wish to be gleeful about that, they are recognising that higher taxes are not popular. They have tried to capitalise on the unpopularity of the Government in that respect, but it will be interesting to see where they end up with their policies, because every word of policy that they breathe has a large expenditure tag attached. It is hard to see the Opposition being on the low tax side of the equation when it comes to the test.
I feel that the electorate wants to return to a low tax regime, and that is what we must deliver. The Labour party is in no position to say that it can deliver a low tax regime. In the Finance Bill presented in this Session, there will not be radical moves towards cuts in the burden of taxation, but if we are sensible--if we consolidate on the progress that we are making--I think that we and the electorate can expect benefits in the rest of the current Parliament.
We should place our greatest emphasis on ensuring that British industry is able to capture a larger market share for its goods in the world. I do not believe that it is possible to achieve the continuing economic growth and increasing
Column 78employment to which the Gracious Speech refers unless British industry performs more and more effectively. Therefore, it is crucial that the initiatives taken by the Department of Trade and Industry are allowed to develop and take effect in helping all sectors of British industry, small and large, to improve their performance overseas. We must again ensure steady improvement in our training and education policies to help on the supply side and--I hope that this will be included in the Finance Bill--there must be further help for small businesses, which play such an important part in our export effort.
However, we are entitled to recognise that output is up, productivity is up and expenditure on research and development--which is crucial--is up 9 per cent. compared with last year. That is where the success of Government will be measured, and we must try to ensure that that measurement gets bigger and bigger in the remaining years of the current Parliament.
Finally, I refer to the European Communities (Finance) Bill. It seems to me, I say to my hon. Friends, that we are involved in that case with a treaty commitment. If members of the Conservative party believe in the rule of law, what greater demonstration can there be of our adherence to that philosophy than if we are able to deliver on a commitment that we have made in the name of the country? Of course it is right--and I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister laid such emphasis on it--that we must attack the mismanagement, and the scandalous fraud, that takes place in the Community, and we may need greater powers to do so effectively. However, we have to tackle fraud in our social security system in this country, and our answer to that is not to tell people who ask for more help in social security, "I am sorry, you cannot have any because there is so much fraud going on. You must try to get it back from the money that has been wasted on fraud"--of course not. We have to fulfil our social security obligation while we continue to attack the fraud and waste in the social security system. That seems to me the right parallel for us to adopt in terms of the financing of the European Community.
It worries me that people use the arguments about fraud to disguise thinly their opposition to our being in the Community. When we are trying to help British business--because it is on the performance of British business that we depend--it is nonsense to be flirting with the idea that we might not be members of the Community, or that we might be in some second rank of the Community. It creates consternation among our partners in the Community, and confusion among the business people of this country.
We should recognise that there are enormous opportunities for British business in Europe. It should be our priority, during the current Session of Parliament, to ensure that business has the opportunity to maximise those opportunities and thereby obtain progressively better results.
The Government have a clear agenda. That agenda has been set in previous Sessions. Today's Gracious Speech is a supplement to what we have already embarked on. In the speech by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the Leader of the Opposition, I heard nothing of an alternative to the agenda that we have set. His was a kind of staccato manifesto-style speech: he tried to
Column 79include every buzz word from motherhood to apple pie, but he had no coherent strategy to put before the British people.
It is hard to find an issue, theme or principle on which the Opposition will base their objection to the measures in the Queen's Speech. I fear that they will descend into opportunism, simply trying to pick off points where they can--hoping, perhaps, that the economic recovery will fail and they will be able to cash in. It should be the Government's business to ensure that the economic recovery does not fail, and to do all in their power to help British business and industry to produce that result.
Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks): I welcome the Queen's Speech. Its approach to Government policy for the coming Session strikes me as clear and sensible. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst), I support the provision of an opportunity for consolidation for both Government and nation. The speech contained measures that will help to strengthen the work that the Government have already done.
Let me begin by commenting on the requests for a change in the approach adopted by the Child Support Agency. A large number of my constituents have a legitimate case against the way in which the CSA has treated them, and there is no doubt that administrative changes are needed; however, changes are also needed in the criteria that are being applied in a number of instances. I am particularly concerned about the way in which the agency overturns--sometimes in the most draconian way--clean-break agreements on the basis of which people have planned the lives of not only their previous families, but the families that they may have in the future. Surely it is not constructive to cause difficulties for both families. I call for considerable changes, on the lines suggested by the Select Committee report.
I also feel strongly that staff and pensioners in pension schemes should be fully represented on pension fund boards. It is vital for legislation to provide that opportunity for full and effective representation. It is interesting to note that the first thing that Robert Maxwell did when he embarked on his nefarious activity of misusing his companies' pension funds was to get rid of the employee representatives on the boards of those funds. We must put that right, and give pensioners the security that they seek, if we are to progress with what I consider to be a very positive result of the Government's approach over the past 15 years--the increase in the number of people who take out pensions for themselves, and in the number of companies that provide additional pension schemes. The proof of the pudding must be in the eating, and people will feel secure only if they are presented with evidence of success. I welcome the enlargement of the European Community, which has always struck me as right. I am delighted that the Government are pressing forward; we have already seen the result of this country's leadership in that regard, and the leadership of the Prime Minister. I also think, however, that enlargement can work only if we build flexibility into the Europe that Britain wants. We need to be sovereign states working in partnership.
Column 80A counter-argument has been advanced; it was mentioned today in an intervention by a Liberal Democrat, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). That argument is that stronger structures will be needed if an enlarged Europe is to work properly. There may be some truth in part of it, but if we try to tie arrangements too tightly through Brussels, we shall not help individual member states whose nationalism remains strong--as, indeed, it should; and it will surely never be stronger than it is in Britain. We must respond to the idea of national sovereignty and patriotism: it is not possible to throw that away and retain the people's support. The closeness of the vote in Sweden demonstrates that. I support the opinion expressed today that it is common sense to view European developments sceptically, but that does not mean-- certainly in my case--that one is opposed in any way to the European ideal or the European intention.
So far, we have not seen enough evidence of where the concept of subsidiarity is actually working. I hoped that by now--following Maastricht --we would have seen a raft of examples, produced by our Government, of changes in legislation that had been in the pipeline, but would not now be introduced, as a result of the acceptance of the subsidiarity concept. There is not enough of that yet, but I believe that only such examples will enable us to carry the electorate with the argument for the European Community in the long term. I was pleased to hear the assurance that, for example, the recent concern all over the country about herbal medicines will not turn out to be justified. As Member of Parliament for Sevenoaks, however, I cannot let the debate pass without airing the concern first expressed today by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Sir P. McNair- Wilson) about the fact that British acorns from British oak trees are now being targeted as being unsuitable for commercial sales within the European Community because our acorns grow trees that are less straight than those elsewhere.
If such controls were imposed, they could have a major effect on Britain's landscape. It is a complete turnround: in the past, because of the curves in their structure, British oaks were ideal for the building of beams and timbers for houses, ships and wagons. I am not saying that present needs are the same as they were when we built a fleet to defeat Napoleon, but surely this is a matter for free choice in Britain by British people, rather than for interference by Brussels. Unless the position is changed, it is unrealistic for any of us--from the Prime Minister down--to accept that the European Community will benefit our country, and that it is not trying to impose legislation that we could well do without. Subsidiarity-- yes: let us have much more of it.
As for the issue of the EC budget, I agree with those who have argued that it is a treaty obligation. Surely, having basically supported the Prime Minister's actions at Maastricht--and Conservative Members certainly did-- the House has no option other than to support the agreement; nor should we do otherwise. We should, however, argue strongly for heavy penalties to be imposed both on countries that do not police fraudulent activity properly, and on companies that are found to have carried out such activity. That must be the quid pro quo for Britain to feel that the European Community is beneficial to us.
Column 81The Queen's Speech refers to continuing with
"firm financial policies designed to support continuing economic growth and rising employment, based on permanently low inflation." Other hon. Members have mentioned the importance of lowering taxation overall. The Conservative party believes in that and will carry it out when it is prudent to do so.
I should like to air what I accept is not always the current philosophy among Conservatives. I do not feel that it is inevitable that a Conservative Government should take income tax only one way. Income tax is a tried and proven method of raising public finance. It is generally regarded as fair because it is a progressive tax and it is effective and flexible. I would be uneasy if my party felt that the extension or deepening of VAT was the only way to raise taxes rather than being prepared to raise income tax if that became necessary.
If we are to win back support in Britain, we will need to lower tax overall before the next general election. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor on his approach so far. As a result of the Government's sensible financial policies and with the recession ending, production in British industry increasing and an excellent export record, I believe that by cutting public spending and building up the tax base with a revived British industry, we shall be able to bring tax down before the next general election. I am confident of that.
I am talking in the longer term, when Conservatives are in power yet again as I hope and intend that we shall be. There is nothing historic in Conservative philosophy or practice which ties us to look only for lower and lower levels of income tax, irrespective of the position of the economy. Income tax is a flexible tool that can be raised or lowered sensibly. That flexibility is not necessarily present in the application of VAT.
I do not back off from the fact that I was a supporter of the imposition of VAT on fuel. However, when one imposes a tax that requires the provision of relief for a large proportion of the population on whom that tax will bear unreasonably heavily, it raises the question of whether that tax method is the most sensible one available.
I welcome the move to establish new arrangements for reforming the agricultural tenancy laws in England and Wales. That has been on the agenda for a long time. I represent a constituency with a considerable rural element and I know that there have been discussions between the Government, the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and many other interested parties. Those discussions have produced a reasonably agreed way forward. That is an example of the Government taking trouble with their legislation before introducing it and I welcome that positive step forward. Part of the Queen's Speech deals with lessening the levels of management in the national health service and with the provisions for mentally ill patients. I share the concern of many at the increase in the number of managers in the health service. I accept that we started with a service in which there was very little idea about how much it cost to deliver services to patients. That had to change. In order to achieve that we needed people with financial and administrative expertise and with the authority to make the necessary changes in the way in which the health service was run and in the provision of information on which management could make informed
Column 82decisions. All that requires increased numbers of management. However, that must not be allowed to get out of hand. There is no doubt that there is some public concern about this.
General practitioners are burdened by the amount of information that they have to produce. They accept that some of it may be necessary and, in many cases, they are even prepared to accept that most of it may be necessary. However, they ask for increased feedback. They want to know what the information is used for and whether it is of real value because its collection takes up a lot of time. It is important that the steps that the Government take should lessen the layers of management. I hope that the changes will focus on the need to ensure that all the information that is being collected is shown to be useful. That knowledge must be fed back to the people involved in its collection.
I am concerned about the operation of the health service for the mentally ill. There will be new legislation to deal with the help given to people with a serious mental disorder who have been discharged from hospital. The new legislation will ensure that they are cared for under supervision. My plea is that my Government ensure that the proposals are practical. However good the system of supervision may be on paper, it is no good if it cannot be delivered in practice. The professionals in the mental health service wanted to get patients out into the community wherever that was possible. However, perhaps nobody appreciated how difficult it would be for the most seriously ill to be supervised effectively. The legislation will be aimed at plugging those holes to ensure that supervision is more effective than it has been, but it must be practical.
Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton): My hon. Friend is making a number of points with which I agree warmly. Provision for the mentally ill is particularly important and I hope that my hon. Friend and the Government will realise that practices vary across the country. In some areas, including my area of Somerset, the health and social services authorities have done well in coping with the opportunities that they have. In other areas, particularly nearer the home counties, things have not been so satisfactory. I hope that when implementing the legislation the Government will listen to those who deal with these matters, particularly organisations such as the National Schizophrenia Fellowship.
Mr. Wolfson: I agree that there is a variety of provision and that is to be expected at this stage in a new development. That does not suggest that the policy is wrong. There is a recent example in my constituency where a mentally unwell patient has been strongly supported by his local community. There could hardly be a community in a small area that is better able to offer support and the people are positive about wishing to provide that support. Nevertheless, there is great unease and uncertainty among local people about what sort of supervision is available for that individual and how it is being carried out. If that is a difficulty in the situation that I have described, how very much greater the difficulty will be in inner cities, where resources are stretched in a major way and where large numbers of people require the services. I ask for that argument to be given careful attention when the legislation is introduced. One is looking for practical, not theoretical answers.
Column 83I welcome the commitment to involve the private sector to build the high-speed rail link between London and the channel tunnel, for which I have argued in the House for a long time. At the beginning, I said that the project would require public money if it were to be achieved. I proved to be right on that. There will be a partnership between the private sector and the Government to achieve that link, which is proper. We need to achieve that as rapidly as possible. A number of hon. Members have referred to the lack of a measure to privatise the Post Office. I supported privatisation and I regret that it is not being introduced, but I am not getting hugely fussed about the matter. Conservative Members exercised a proper role in arguing against privatisation. The point was made earlier in the debate that we should demonstrate the effectiveness of our privatisation policy--perhaps British Telecom is the best example of all--when we consider people's common concerns about privatisation of the Post Office. Similar concerns were aired at the time of privatisation of British Telecom, which has been hugely effective. I hope that we shall return to the issue.
I welcome greatly the policy in Northern Ireland. I pay great tribute to the achievement of the Prime Minister and of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in making the opportunity for the peace process. The benefit from achieving peace not only to the Province, but to the British taxpayer, will be enormous.
We have all been affected by concerns about terrorism close to home and further away. The way in which the people of the Province have continued their lives, business life, education and day-to-day living, despite terrorism, is remarkable. They have demonstrated, as I hope the House has and will continue to do, that terrorism will not triumph. All hon. Members knew that there would never be a military solution in Northern Ireland. It required a political solution and we are moving effectively towards achieving that. Long may the process continue positively.
On crime, I note that, despite a number of measures mentioned to promote law and order reform, no mention is made of what I consider to be one of the major drawbacks to achieving public confidence in the law process: delays in bringing cases to court and in bringing them to completion and sentence. Often, completion takes place so long after the crime has been committed that it is even more difficult for the public to appreciate the connection. If attention were paid to gearing the courts and our criminal justice system to deal with prosecutions with far greater dispatch, that would act as an increased deterrent.
The legal profession does this country no service when it makes too much use of delaying tactics. Obviously, that should be balanced with the desire for fairness and for the opportunity to prepare a just and proper case and to argue it in court. All too often, however, delays are sought and, in the end, they do not do the name of British justice any good.
I strongly support the measures outlined in the Queen's Speech and I shall look forward to supporting the Government.
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Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South): As a member of the Opposition Whips Office, I had not expected to speak tonight, but I am not one to let an opportunity pass. Opposition Whips are less restricted than Government Whips in their capacity to speak in the Chamber. There is a good reason for that, and it can be summed up simply: Government Whips are paid and Opposition Whips work voluntarily. I do not apologise for taking this opportunity to comment on the Gracious Speech.
I disagreed with much of the speech made by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson), but I agreed with two points: first, that involving the English oak. The fact that European Community legislation was due to affect it was news to me. Before I came to the House, I was a lecturer in horticulture, and one of the characteristics of the English oak, whose botanical name is Quercus robur, is its distinctive shape. No amount of EC legislation will change that; only prolonged and extensive genetic engineering over many years could do so.
Secondly, I agreed with the hon. Gentleman when he said that hon. Members on both sides of the House support the moves to achieve peace in Northern Ireland. We watch that matter with great interest. The Gracious Speech was sparse. Perhaps of necessity, I shall concentrate on some of the things that should have been included. It is amazing that the Government have run short of legislation after 15 years in office. That has happened largely, perhaps, because they have become so enshrined in their own dogma that they do not have the capacity for new or original thought.
It is sad that the Government have run short of steam at this stage. Largely because of their having been in office for 15 years, the need for a progressive legislative programme has never been greater. It is clear that they do not have the capacity to deliver such a programme. I regard the Prime Minister's threat of an early general election more as a promise. I hope that the Government will move aside and let the Opposition implement a progressive programme of legislation.
The Gracious Speech has all the signs that the Government have run out of steam. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), who hopes to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) are at the vanguard of the push for a Scottish Children Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) is a great specialist in that sector.
In Scotland, there has been great all-party demand for a Scottish Children Bill. All sides have agreed that it is necessary. I understand that suggestions have been made to the Government through the usual channels that the new procedures in the Scottish Grand Committee might allow much of the discussion on such a legislative programme to be kept off the Floor of the House so that we could make progress. We all know how much a Scottish Bill is needed.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for referring to that Bill. He will know that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) sat on the Committee that considered the Children Act 1989. The Government promised at the time that it would be
Column 85extended to Scotland. We are still waiting for that promise to be kept. Anything that my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) could do to expedite the measure would be most helpful.
Mr. McMaster: As I have told my hon. Friend before, I have read his excellent and harrowing book on the Cleveland case. It exemplified the need for a Children Act in England and Wales. Following the Orkney case, I believe that we very much need such an Act in Scotland.
It is sad that that has been referred to today only by nods and winks. It is not in the Gracious Speech itself, but we had a nod and a wink from the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), who seconded the motion and said that it was hoped that something would be done. But that will not be taken as a guarantee by anyone on the Opposition benches or anyone outside the House, because we want to see exactly what a Scottish Children Bill might contain.
All Scottish Members should note that a draft Bill is, in fact, lying on the Table and is ready to be picked up and debated, because the whole of the movement, which encompasses all the political parties in Scotland, has been working on this for some time. Since entering the House, and indeed before, I have always taken a particular interest in the rights of disabled people, and until recently I was secretary of the all-party disablement group. I give a very cautious welcome to the fact that discrimination against disabled people is at last mentioned in a Gracious Speech. However, I am a bit suspicious about exactly what the Government propose. The Prime Minister said today that the Bill would include legislation to outlaw discrimination in employment. I must tell the Prime Minister and Conservative Members that one cannot outlaw discrimination in a piecemeal fashion. One either believes that disabled people are full and equal citizens or one does not. There are no halfway houses.
We must try to get across to the Government--after the disgraceful debacle earlier this year on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill--that disability should no longer be a health issue. It should no longer be an employment issue. It is, quite simply, a rights issue. It is an issue of disabled people having the right to be full and equal citizens.
I can tell the Prime Minister that anything less will not be welcomed by the disability lobby in the United Kingdom. Some 6.5 million people in this country are disabled. There are 651 parliamentary constituencies. Simple arithmetic tells us that all of us represent about 10,000 disabled people. That is perhaps something that Conservative Members would be wise to take into account as they consider what form a disabled persons Bill should take.
I recall that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill failed not because the Government argued against its substance, but because it ran out of time. It was talked out. We all remember what happened, and it was a disgrace to this place. I could not help thinking about it during the summer recess. The Bill needed only one and a half minutes to get through. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Dr. Berry) said that he would accept the Government's amendments, yet the Bill ran out of time immediately before the House rose for its 13-week recess.
Column 86Those arguments will not wash again with disabled people. If the Government are opposed to civil rights for disabled people, they should have the guts to say so, and to vote that way.
The only reason of any substance given for opposition to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was its costs. It should be noted that its costs, as portrayed by the Government, were calculated on a cost analysis, not a cost benefit analysis. The way in which those figures were calculated was very dubious: there was double accounting, and the cost analysis assumed a time scale that was never assumed by the Bill. Has the cost of the proposed Bill been assessed? Will it be assessed more accurately and more fairly than the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was last year?
The House could do a lot better for disabled people. Today I had the pleasure of bringing my mother and father to the state opening of Parliament. My father, a fairly fit and agile man, who nevertheless occasionally needs the use of a walking stick, came through the Norman porch and was asked by the attendant whether his walking stick was absolutely essential. My father said that he thought that he could manage the stairs without it, so they took it from him. He managed to climb the stairs.
Later, after we came out of the Royal Gallery, by the route suggested on his ticket, we had to go downstairs to collect his stick and were told that it had been moved upstairs. Staff at the Houses of Parliament are taking walking sticks away from people and telling them to go upstairs to collect them. If that is our attitude towards disabled people, discrimination legislation is necessary. A better example than that, perhaps, was the massive lobby earlier this year in Westminster Hall. The Hall was packed with disabled people. It was the biggest lobby, perhaps, that the House has seen for some years. An announcement portrayed the Government's attitude towards disabled people to me. It said, "Any disabled person needing to use the toilet should do so now, because the disabled toilets are about to be removed." If that is not an exact sign of the Government's attitude towards disabled people, I do not know what is.
I shall also mention, in relation to disabled people, the forgotten army of carers, who we all have in our constituencies. Often--not by choice, but because a loved one becomes ill with a physical or mental disability, or both--they are forced to spend 24 hours a day caring for their loved one. There is obviously a need for resources, and we know that they must be examined closely.
There is a need for all the Government agencies, and the local government agencies and voluntary organisations, to adopt a flexible approach to care, but they cannot do that unless they have a framework in which to provide that care. There is so often a need for respite care for the carers. Sometimes, a week or a fortnight's break could make all the difference.
I shall mention another glaring absence from the Gracious Speech. Many hon. Members, on both sides of the House, participated last Sunday in the armistice services throughout the country. I was hoping to participate in the three services in my constituency, as I have done for the past 20 years, but unfortunately was on a plane returning from America that was diverted to Gatwick airport, and so did not arrive in Paisley in time.
Many of us would have participated in those services. It is not good enough for any of us to remember those veterans once a year. What is urgently needed--the
Column 87British Legion tells us this, as do organisations such as the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association--is a Department of Veterans' Affairs, not at Cabinet level, but at one removed; a sub-department of the Ministry of Defence.
At the moment, veterans of the armed services have to find their way through a maze, dealing with many Government Departments and sub- departments to try to sort out pensions, or disability allowances, perhaps to claim a medal, or whatever. There is a glaring need for such a Department to be set up as a one-stop shop.
America has met the need for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation for the disabled and a Department of Veterans' Affairs ahead of us. Not only that, but America did so under President Bush, who was hardly noted for his left-wing credentials. He thought that those things were important enough to be done. I urge the Government to take a similar attitude.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) spoke about the housing situation in Scotland, which has become worse and worse over the past 15 or 20 years. I see that the Minister responsible for housing in Scotland is in his place, and I acknowledge that many good things have happened, too. I especially welcome his recent announcement concerning investment in my constituency.
I want to draw the attention of the House to what is happening to Scottish Homes tenants throughout Scotland. Scottish Homes is a large housing provider, and provides investment for the private and voluntary sectors. It has now decided that it no longer wishes to be a landlord. The members of its board are all appointees of the Secretary of State, and although the Government claim that there is a degree of independence, I find that rather difficult to believe. I am not entirely happy with the decision, but I could live with it if Scottish Homes intended to give tenants a real choice as to who their new landlord would be. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn said, tenants have been told that they will certainly not be allowed to opt in to local authority control, even if that is their desire. They will not be given more than one
take-it-or-leave-it choice. Scottish Homes local management will decide which option to put to the tenants in an area, and the tenants will be able to decide whether to accept it.
That is reminiscent of some of the elections in the worst days of the Soviet Union. I do not say that those people should be forced to remain Scottish Homes tenants; I do not even say that they should be forced to move to local authority control. But if they are to be moved at all, they should at least be given a real choice. They should have not one take-it-or -leave-it, like-it-or-lump-it choice, but a genuine choice.
Furthermore, local authority housing in Scotland would not qualify for the additional resources that will be made available to the new housing associations that win ballots. That is the spectacle in the Scottish Homes areas at the moment. The management have told the tenants that they will offered a new housing association, and that, if they accept that choice, they will get the advantage of additional resources not available to local authorities. But if the choice is to be free and fair, it should include more