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Column 88options, and there should be a level playing field, with the extra resources being made available to local authorities, too. One of my pet hates is hearing people tell me that they are fed up with paying council tax to subsidise council housing. I am not sure what happens in England and Wales, but for several years the housing revenue accounts in Scotland have been completely self-financing. Many of the people who make that complaint are owner-occupiers, as I am, and we get mortgage tax relief. We benefit from the Exchequer, whereas, in proportion to their income, council house tenants are perhaps the most heavily taxed people in Britain. That must be changed.
My speech would not be complete unless I mentioned the Child Support Agency. Most other hon. Members who have spoken so far have mentioned it. I shall not dwell on the subject, because many of the arguments already advanced have reflected what I wanted to say. The agency has caused genuine heartbreak to many people. There are many stories in the newspapers about people attempting suicide, sometimes successfully, and at least some of those stories are only too credible.
The Government must deal with the problem. They must examine the clean- break arrangements that many people made when they were first estranged. They must take into consideration the problems of fathers and mothers whose children live some distance away. If those people are to be caring parents, they need some resources to visit their children or to allow the children to visit them. Those are just a couple of examples of the aspects that need to be dealt with. There is also the gross inefficiency of the administration of the Child Support Agency. I am fed up with getting standard letters in reply to the detailed accounts of cases in which I have tried to encapsulate the particular problems of a constituent. The agency's replies seem to consist of standard paragraphs in a random order, and that is not good enough.
I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) is in the Chamber. He has fought a concerted campaign about how difficult it is for hon. Members to get through to Ministers now, because we are fobbed off and our letters passed on to executive agencies. That is bad enough, but often the executive agencies do not even have the courtesy to reply to our questions. That is not good enough in a healthy democracy.
Another problem that needs an early resolution is the continuing legal battle between the Government and the European Court about women currently in receipt of invalidity benefit who now find that they are not entitled to it until they are 65, so they cannot pick up the benefit when they retire. I am sure that hon. Members will have received many letters on that subject. The problem desperately needs to be sorted out; there is no doubt that it is an example of discrimination against women.
Perhaps above all else, I should have liked to hear in the Gracious Speech an announcement of a measure to abandon the Government's plans to impose VAT at 17.5 per cent. on fuel. However, we live in hope--although not much hope--that there may be something in the Budget to deal with that. If VAT is imposed, it will cause genuine hardship to many people, especially pensioners, throughout the country. I had a letter today from South End Elderly Forum, in my constituency, asking a pertinent question--when the pension increase has been assessed at 2.2 per cent., why
Column 89are Members of the House of Commons getting an increase of 4.7 per cent.? The Government might find that difficult to explain to the pensioners, although we know why it is happening. It is because the Government broke the link between pensions and prices or incomes, whichever was the higher--a decision that has caused untold hardship. I shall finish with a comment that I hope has some support on both sides of the House; it should have. It is on a subject that we mention little enough in the House. Many of us come from a local government background, and we should not forget that background when we come here. In the light of the current debate in the press about Members' interests, I do not think that any Member of the House should feel hard done by in comparison with the lot of elected local councillors.
Local councillors often work 50, 60 or 70 hours a week--the equivalent of full-time work--for an income of £60 or £70 a week. It is time that the House recognised that elected local councillors have a job to do. In many large authorities, it is an extremely responsible job, and it cannot be done on a part-time or totally voluntary basis.
I hope that, during the year, the Government will find time to examine the remuneration of councillors--a suggestion that has some support among councillors of all political parties. Too often, councillors are at the sharp end. They get all the criticism and quite often they are blamed for things that are the fault of this place. Yet they do not get any recompense.
I remember when I was leader of a local authority and was working as a lecturer in a Glasgow college. One day, as I left the college, the principal said to me, "Is that you going away already?" I got to the council buildings and met the provost, who said, "Is that you just here?" That is the pressure on many elected local
The Gracious Speech refers to a Bill to introduce a job seeker's allowance. I wonder whether some Conservative Members should declare an interest in the matter. I very much suspect that, after the next general election, many of them will be the first to benefit from the allowance.
Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton): A number of the points made by the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) will be echoed in my speech. However, I point out to him that the Labour party has, I believe, now receded from its original pledge to restore the pensions-earnings link, for good spending policy reasons. All pensioners should be aware of that.
I am not one who believes that a programme packed full of legislation necessarily means a better-administered country. Debating, and passing, new legislation is not the only task of this House. This year gives us a considerable opportunity, through Question Time, through set-piece debates and especially through the work of the Select Committees, to play an important part in improving the administration of the country and in improving the performance of existing legislation by ensuring that it is implemented properly. It is fair to say that Bills needed to be amended heavily, either in their later stages in this Chamber or in the other place. Some legislation has passed on to the statute book in a not entirely satisfactory state. A number of speakers have referred to the Child Support Act 1991, which was passed just before the general election. The Opposition
Column 90had every reason to spot the deficiencies in that Act and to make much of them. They fell down on their job just as, I am sorry to say, some of my right hon. and hon. Friends fell down on their job in terms of not spotting the deficiencies, especially those relating to the financial formula, which have now become all too clear. I hope that an effort will be made early this Session to implement the recommendations of the Select Committee on Social Security. I hope that that can be done without legislation because it will mean that it can be done speedily. Whether or not the recommendations require legislation, they need to be carried out. That is an important objective for which I and a number of my hon. Friends shall look this year.
Having expressed a caveat about legislation, I stress that I welcome a number of measures in the Gracious Speech. Two especially will be welcomed in my constituency and in the south-west generally. They are the proposed legislation on agricultural tenancies and--I understand that this will be included in the legislation on the environment agency--the measure to establish national parks as free-standing agencies. Exmoor national park is in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), who has been promoted, made a vigorous attempt in the previous Session to ensure the passage of the National Parks Bill, which originated in another place and which would have achieved that effect. Such legislation is Government legislation and that is why it is right to go down that route.
Another item that will be welcomed in my constituency is the intention to legislate for disabled people. I was one of the Members who came to the House on a Friday prepared to support my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) if his motion came to the vote. It did not. I wanted to see progress made in the previous Session on this important issue. I hope that we shall see significant but realistic progress in the current Session. The work and the eventual report of the Select Committee on Employment, of which I am a member, will be helpful and relevant to that legislation.
I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice), the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, on the Front Bench because I want to enter a caveat about a matter related to disablement. I see in the press reports that the Government are considering, perhaps as a sop to some of the dissidents in this party-- although I cannot imagine any mentality that would regard it as an attractive sop--doing something rather drastic to the industrial injuries arrangements.
I should welcome clarification and great care on the matter from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I would not necessarily object to taking the provision of compensation for industrial injuries away from the taxpayer. However, various questions are begged. If, for example, responsibility fell entirely on an employer, it is possible that a small business, hard pressed financially, could go bankrupt as a result of a significant compensation claim. I do not find acceptable the suggestion that I have seen in the press that employees who are injured should get compensation only if they are prepared to sue their employer. My hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) made the point earlier about the delays and difficulties in getting litigation into the courts and we are all aware of the
Column 91difficulties in getting legal aid in such matters. We must be careful about that matter and I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary listening to that point.
I also welcome the proposed legislation to promote increased competition in the gas industry. That will help to reduce costs to consumers, which is extremely relevant at present as we are moving towards, probably, a further increase in VAT on gas and electricity, as the hon. Member for Paisley, South mentioned. We need to be vigilant to ensure that small-scale users of gas benefit from the legislation. I do not mean only poor people who, for various reasons, use little gas. Let us consider, for example, a household that has only recently been connected to gas. A number of its implements may run on electricity or oil, so it will not use much gas. We must also be careful about the possibility, which has been rumoured, of increasing standing charges. There is much argument about standing charges. I believe that, at a modest level, they are understandable and justifiable, but I would not want to see a hike in standing charges as part of the process.
I also welcome the proposed legislation on the national health service. The measure on NHS management will give us the opportunity to bear down on the cost of administration and on the numbers involved at all levels, not only at regional level. It will also give us the opportunity to explain why, on the face of it, there has been an increase in managers. I believe that it is a way in which to ensure that this huge service, which costs so much money, continues to work efficiently--indeed, more efficiently.
I also welcome, as I said during an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks, the proposed legislation to ensure proper care for people with mental disorders who are discharged from hospital. There is enormous concern and sensitivity about the issue in my constituency and elsewhere. The Select Committee on the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration has considered one or two cases in which things have gone wrong, in that people with mental disabilities have not been cared for properly. The proposed legislation provides an important opportunity which we shall want to pursue.
One other point on the NHS relates to what I want to say later on privatisation. It is occasionally suggested, as it was with regard to the railways or the Post Office, that the only way in which to get significant efficiency improvements in public services or public utilities is to transfer ownership--to privatise. It may, regrettably, be true that that is the only way in which to get improvements. My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) mentioned significant improvements in British Airways and British Telecom. However, if that were true, it would be a damning indictment on those responsible for managing those services. The national health service, we must remember, is a clear example of a public service which will remain in the public sector. The Prime Minister gave a very passionate personal pledge, based on his own experience, to that effect at Bournemouth last month. Yet, while remaining in the public sector, the national health service is improving its efficiency and the reforms that we are carrying through are designed to improve that efficiency. A number of us would never have backed those reforms if we had not believed that they would improve efficiency.
Column 92My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden also made the point that, on Europe, he believed that the Prime Minister was right to treat the Bill mentioned in the Gracious Speech as an issue of confidence. The Prime Minister was right to make that clear now and not to wait until people take up positions and mess about over the coming weeks because it is not like the other legislation that will come before the House. It is legislation designed to implement an international agreement. In effect, our honour is involved, as my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden said. That does not mean to say that we all profess ourselves happy with the way in which the European Community organises its finances. Several hon. Members have referred to the appalling level of fraud in the European Community. We must make parallel progress on fraud and increasing the resources of the European Community.
There are a number of nonsensical ways in which the Community organises its finances. For example, I understand that tobacco growing receives a vast subsidy from the European Community, in the common agricultural policy, yet on the other hand, individual countries--it is a very prominent problem in this country and among the medical profession--are taxing the consumption of tobacco so as to reduce consumption. Indeed, we are constantly lobbied about the desirability of banning tobacco advertising.
Another example of nonsense in the European Community is that the system of raising money for the Community is not related to the gross domestic product of the individual nations. It is an historical anomaly. It was originally related, I believe, to the extent of trade which countries had outside Europe. That was the situation when we joined in 1973. It is now 21 years later and we need to begin to move towards a fairer and better-based system of raising resources for the EC.
While on the subject of the European Community, I shall mention another matter. The hon. Member for Paisley, South referred to ex-service men. Regrettably, over the past few days it seems that cases involving pregnant service women will come before the courts and may involve the payment of telephone-number sums of money to certain individuals. I and my constituents find it extraordinarily offensive that the taxpayer should be milked of that money, when at the same time there must be thousands of veterans who were honourably wounded and injured in their country's service, through both the great wars and in other disputes, who on the whole have received very small sums of compensation for those injuries. It would be an extraordinary nonsense if our courts were forced by foreign legal processes to disgorge vast sums to those particular individuals. The Minister knows that I am a positive European. I very much support progress towards an effective and progressive European Community. I would be reasonably relaxed if the House were, in due course, to take deliberate decisions on single currency, monetary union, defence community and such matters, provided that they were taken deliberately. The idea that our legislation, which we have deliberately passed, should be set aside by individuals appealing to a foreign court is offensive. The example of the pregnant service women is even more offensive and I hope that it can be averted in some way. Otherwise, it would form a thread, more than the other issues affecting Europe, which, if pulled, could bring
Column 93down the whole paraphernalia, which I would regret very much. It would cause tremendous hostility to European progress in this country.
The Leader of the Opposition reinforced, I am sorry to say, the myth generated by the media and by some of my hon. Friends about Post Office privatisation. He said, and the media said at the time, that 340 Conservative Members were as keen as mustard on Post Office privatisation and that only a tiny group, the members of which could be counted on the fingers of one hand, were spoil sports and prevented the progression of that measure. I was involved in some of the meetings and discussions which took place and I must say that that is complete rubbish. Not only were the intended dissidents much more numerous, but many of those who, out of loyalty, might well have supported Post Office privatisation, would have done so reluctantly. Therefore, I welcome the omission of that measure from the Gracious Speech.
I read in The Sunday Times , so it must be true, that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who was one of those critical of the Government's retreat over Post Office privatisation, is about to produce a pamphlet which, among other things, will call on Conservative activists in the constituencies to play a role in electing the leadership of the party. At our leisure, we may care to reflect that the Conservative party has been in government for 15 years and the Labour party has been in opposition for 15 years. I believe that there is a causal connection between that fact and the power given to activists in the Labour party. Some power has always been there and, of course, some power just after 1979 was brought in to elect the leaders. Whatever view we take on that, I believe that my party should certainly go down the route of consulting more closely its constituency activists. The Prime Minister has done very well in meeting them over the past 18 months and I am grateful to him for making that effort, especially in the south-west. However, if constituency activists had been consulted over Post Office privatisation, the whole thing would have been dead in the cradle. It would have fallen at the first fence. It is a tribute to his persuasive powers, and to the fact that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is a big beast of the jungle, that the measure got as far round the track as it did.
The withdrawal of that measure gives us breathing space to consider how we need to help our Post Office retain its effectiveness and its market share and also to see in a balanced way, not just as ideological propaganda, what our foreign competitors are doing. The claim being made that the Dutch post office is being privatised is rather far-stretched. The Dutch post office is still responsible for telecommunications and 30 per cent. only of the whole process is being privatised. We privatised telecommunications some 10 years ago, so we should look at the facts before we go further down that route of privatisation.
As I said in a speech earlier in the year, our constituency supporters are anxious for consolidation--for example, anxious to see the consolidation of the considerable changes that have taken place in education and health. Also, we have carried through important legislation over the past year in criminal justice, law and order and in deregulation, on which we need to build. The Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 is largely only an enabling Act. The Somerset journalist Christopher
Column 94Booker claims that it will not have the effect that many people want it to have. We have to work this year, if we are not busy passing contentious legislation, to ensure that those changes occur and that they produce the desired results.
If some of my hon. Friends, in this Parliament, want to go down the route of perpetual revolution, I suggest that perhaps they ought to stand not as Conservatives--I attach some meaning to the term "Conservative"--but as perpetual revolutionary candidates. They might find that they would get rather fewer votes than the Devon branch of the Literal Democrat party and, possibly, only slightly more votes than the Natural Law party.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): I sense that the hon. Gentleman is coming to the end of his remarks which, in many respects, have been refreshingly frank. However, he has not given us the benefit of his views on the job seeker's allowance. Does he share the Labour party's view that we had an insured benefit, the contributions to which have increased by 40 per cent., while the benefit itself has been cut by 25 per cent. over 15 years? The Government intend to keep the contributions at 40 per cent., but will cut the benefit in half. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is not a reform? It is simply a matter of giving a fancy name to an existing benefit. It is not a reform, it is a disguised confidence trick.
Mr. Nicholson: The hon. Gentleman should not draw me into subjects on which I had not intended to comment. From what I have heard of the proposals, I am happy that they should continue to provide assistance and an incentive to job seekers.
I listened with interest to the Leader of the Opposition. He started a new device which I do not believe he will be able to continue in many of his speeches. He gave way to interventions in quick succession. To some extent, that eclipsed the fact that he did not give a considered or effective reply to any of the interventions. Perhaps he hoped that no one would notice that while he was busy giving way to another intervention.
There appeared to be very little flesh on the bones of the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition. In contrast, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was able to draw on facts, figures and definite indications, particularly of economic progress. While I have not referred to economic progress so far today, I believe that it is happening all the time. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be glad to know that unemployment has fallen by 400,000 over the past two years.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out, we are regaining market share and obtaining investment from the United States and Japan. That investment would not come here if we were to leave the European Community. Over the next year, I hope that we will not be sidetracked by contentious issues which would upset the electorate, and that the electorate will have time to perceive the considerable progress and success that we have achieved and will continue to achieve.
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): It must be heartening for the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), who is on the Opposition Front Bench, that there are
Column 95Conservative Members who are as self- disciplined as Labour Members when it comes to supporting their party on certain issues. As I read the Gracious Speech today, I tried to find a terminology for the myth that is being perpetrated about the state of this country, what the Government have done to it and what they plan to do with the 13 Bills to which the Prime Minister referred. I had to draw on times when I had time to develop a hinterland in my reading. It came to me that it was all rather like "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest". That is a book about people in an establishment for people who are supposed to be mentally ill. Some of the people there are mentally ill, but others are just pretending. I am not sure whether the Government believe what they are talking about or whether they are just as mad as they appear to be.
I am a little younger than some and I have not seen "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". However, I am told that this is rather like a Walter Mitty world. In my youth, I saw "Billy Liar" although I know that "liar" is a term that is unacceptable in the House. "Billy Liar" is about someone who genuinely deludes himself. We are told that the Gracious Speech is a consolidating Gracious Speech. It appears to me, when I consider what the Government have done to the economy and to the people of this country, that it consolidates on failure. The Government talk about speeding up. From my physics studies I recall that one can drop at 32 ft per second per second. That is the speed of acceleration of gravity. The Government claim to be going faster than they were before and to be catching up. I suggest that they are plummeting and obeying the law of gravity. They are getting into a worse state at an ever-increasing rate.
The Gracious Speech refers to "continuing economic growth". In the early 1980s, the Government destroyed the manufacturing base of this economy. They called that slimming down. They did not slim down; they sacrificed the economic base of the economy. That was an irresponsible act of economic suicide.
I have a degree in economics. Anyone with a background or interest in economics should consider our colleagues in the European Union and ask which of them is as badly equipped as the United Kingdom to deal with the upturn which is likely to come when the German economy begins to pick up after swallowing east Germany and begins to get on with the business of growing.
The United Kingdom economy will not be well placed to deal with such an upturn in its free market Hayekian model followed by Chancellor after Chancellor. Although we called the previous Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, a monetarist, there is no evidence that she was one. She was simply a free market neo-liberal who was willing to allow the market to take whatever revenge on the economy it required for its own profit.
Let us consider some of the facts. Reference has been made to rising employment. The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) showed that he was living in the world of Walter Mitty or Billy Liar when he referred to 400,000 fewer unemployed people. Recent statistics about people receiving income support show that the number receiving category E income support-- income support for
Column 96disability, sickness or single parenthood--is now 2 million. This year, 500,000 more people than last year were receiving income support for that category alone.
The recession is still biting hardest in the south-east of England, although the Conservatives are sadly trying to delude themselves that there has been a turnround there. There has been a 63 per cent. increase in registration for income support in the category to which I referred because the Government are disguising the true number of unemployed people. Those people cannot find employment. They are on income support and are not registered as unemployed.
Just before the recess, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that we should not consider such statistics. He said that we should not consider the number of people receiving benefits as that would give a figure of 5 million. He said that we should consider the work force count. I have examined the work force count in the United Kingdom and in Scotland. A comparison of the statistics in May 1990 and May 1994 show that there are 1,996,000 fewer people registered as employed in the United Kingdom economy.
The relevant figures for Scotland, in which I obviously have a special interest, show that there are 55,000 fewer employed people in the work force count in 1994 than in 1991, which was the last peak of employment in Scotland. It is strange that there were only 900 new registrations as unemployed in Scotland last year, but 23,000 new registrations for income support under section E.
That is the reality of the supposed rise in employment. Employment is not rising in this country. There are now 25 million people-- [Interruption.] As usual, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) shouts out an expletive rather than something sensible. If he were to go to the Library and examine the statistics and economic trends produced by the Government's researchers, he would find that only 25 million people are employed in this economy. Six million of those are part- time employees. There are 19 million people supporting the economy out of 56 million people. That is what the Conservatives have done to our economy. That is what their fiction of rising employment and economic growth really amounts to.
The Gracious Speech mentions fiscal policy. One thing that the Government refuse to face is manufacturing industry's demand for a decent tax allowance system to allow it to invest in machinery. The capital formation of our economy must grow at least at 3 per cent. per annum if we are to have growth in the economy. It is about 1.5 per cent. at this moment because we are not receiving the capital investment support for our manufacturing industry that the Engineering Employers Federation and even the Confederation of British Industry are demanding so that we can deal with the supply side of the economy. If the German and other European Union economies turn up, we will have to obtain our supplies from other members of the European Union, because we are not prepared and committed at this moment to supplying our own manufacturing industry with the equipment and support that it requires to take on that challenge.
One measure which I should like to see but which is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech relates to insolvency and the protection of subcontractors and suppliers. One of the biggest dodges in the economy at the moment is to hold payments to the point at which one's company goes bust and debts can be shipped on to
Column 97someone else. The banks then claim any money that is left. Those who supply the labour--it tends to be small firms--and the materials to construct many buildings receive no recompense when the big man becomes insolvent. The Government talked about that matter in the previous Session, but they have failed to bring forward any proposals.
The Gracious Speech mentions improving
"the working of the labour market".
When the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) was an Employment Minister, he asked me to open the Grangemouth jobcentre. I was happy to do so. Taking his invitation at face value, I read up on what was happening in jobcentres. I found that jobcentres fill only 10 per cent. of 10 per cent. of available jobs. They are not reaching the heart of the need for employment and filling jobs with people who need employment. The problem with jobcentres is that they are not equipped or staffed well enough to seek employment as it comes on to the market.
The Gracious Speech mentions promoting
"increased competition in the gas industry."
I must comment on the way in which the Government's Post Office privatisation aspirations have been silently dumped. We are still waiting for a commitment to give the Post Office commercial freedom. There is no point leaving the Post Office as it is, when it cannot go into the market to borrow capital and equip itself to take on the challenge of the Belgians, French or Dutch who would take bulk mail from Britain and redirect it through their channels back into Britain. It is not enough for the Government to say, "We will not privatise post." We must free the Post Office. We are looking for the conclusion of our argument--that is, the Post Office in the public sector, with commercial freedom.
We hear people talk about the success of British Telecom. By the end of this year, its "success" will be 96,000 redundancies among highly skilled people who worked for British Telecom when it was a public enterprise. It is never good enough to look at the profits; we must look at the economic consequences for the people of our country--the people who require to be fed and to be housed and the people who require an income--not just companies which require profits.
Mr. Nigel Evans: The hon. Gentleman fails to recognise that thousands more people are now employed in the telecommunications industry, with Mercury and all the cable operators throughout the country. Thousands more people are involved in telecommunications as a whole. Does the hon. Gentleman argue that BT should have sustained the number of people who were employed in that industry, irrespective of demand for its product?
Mr. Connarty: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who often sits in Committee with me, for that intervention. Of course, I do not say that. There are more jobs, but there are not 96,000 more jobs. We have not faced the challenge that BT has made to the Government--to give it freedom to fight off the cable companies and overseas companies that are taking markets that it should have. The Government have brought forward no proposals to provide such commercial freedom.
It is interesting that the Government have made such proposals for the gas industry. The problem is that the Government are not privatising and creating a market.
Column 98There is no doubt that they have privatised and created regional monopolies in water, electricity, and so on. Just before the summer recess, there was a report from an electricity company that it was going to give the £187 million accumulated excess profits- -its words--not to the consumer or to the people who paid for electricity at what has been a 10 per cent. increase in price, but to the shareholder. That is because of the Government's philosophy of profit first. It is not consumer first, it is profit first. That is the philosophy behind their legislation.
The Gracious Speech also refers to the job seeker's allowance. As one of my hon. Friends succinctly said, the job seeker's allowance is an insurable benefit for which people pay which will be cut. It is not that one seeks unemployment. We are told, given the Conservative party's arguments, that after six months people become dependent on a handout--they receive not an insurable unemployment benefit but a handout.
I can draw on a great deal of experience from my constituency. In Grangemouth, where 40 per cent. of North sea oil comes on shore, a constant stream of men are involved in construction and refitting in the chemical industry. There is a constant round of jobseeking. People might get a 14- week contract here or a three-month contract there. If they are lucky, they might get six months in a major contract in one trade; then they are off seeking work again. Because of the number of people in the various trades, such as pipe-fitting, it is not unusual for someone to try for three, four or five of the shutdowns before getting on one.
Such people will be told after six months that they have to go on to income support. Then they will be seen not as unemployed people seeking work but as social security dependants. That is what the job seeker's allowance will do. The idea that it will be an incentive to seek work is wrong. I believe that, in the main, unemployed people seek work all the time. They do not seek to be unemployed. It is an insult to suggest that they do, and the Government should know it. As for the function of benefits for unemployed people, I have been asked by the Scottish Front Bench to look at skills and training in Scotland. The facts and figures show that the Government do not know how successful their training programmes for young people are. Only 10 per cent. of young people are followed up because of the way in which the Department of Employment seeks the statistics. Ninety per cent. of young people are not followed up, so we do not know what is happening to them.
I hoped that a word might be said in the Queen's Speech about what the Government intend to do in Scotland about youth training. The new apprenticeship scheme, which sounds excellent, turns out to be a scheme which will work in particular against engineering organisations involved in training in Scotland. It might be the same in England and Wales. The Government intend to target more capital to colleges. The colleges will be the providers. Organisations such as the one that I visited in central Lanarkshire on Friday--a charitable organisation set up by employers in the manufacturing industry--will not receive any money from the Government. In that training agency a machine costs £30,000-plus. The agency will never be able to afford to keep up, yet it trains the skilled manufacturing engineers for the future, such as process operators. They will not receive assistance from the Government because of the way in which the
Column 99Government have structured their support for the new apprenticeship scheme. Nothing was said about that in the Queen's Speech.
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: That is all very well, but how does the hon. Gentleman respond to the fact that Britain has one of the lowest levels of youth unemployment of all the countries in the European Union?
Mr. Connarty: If one took all the 16 and 17-year-olds off the register, it would improve the level of unemployment registration in all European Union countries. Which country does that? Only the United Kingdom. People are not allowed to register; they are therefore not unemployed. That is the reality of the way in which we count our figures. So it is a bogus question. It is not a fact. Talk of equalising the state pension is attractive to many Opposition Members, as I am sure it is to many Conservative Members. However, in the Opposition we do not talk about women not receiving the pension until they are 65. When the Government talked about equalisation a few years ago, the age was to be perhaps 63. That sounded like a good scheme. There would have been slight changes. It could have been supported by all. To make the retirement age for women 65 is just to make women worse off.
My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) spoke about disabled persons. He knows much more about the needs of disabled persons than I do. For 15 years, I taught people with learning difficulties. Many of them had physical difficulties. I know that one cannot legislate for equality just by saying that it will happen. One has to provide resources to achieve equality. One change that I should like to see may be simply a change of language, but it is important. I notice that the Scottish Sports Council has started to talk about people with disabilities or with special needs. When I taught, we did not talk about mentally handicapped children. Thank goodness, one day we may not talk about people who are disabled. People have disabilities. If we give them the resources, they will show again and again that they can overcome those difficulties. I now turn to what is planned for Scotland. The only mention of Scotland in the Queen's Speech is:
"Legislation will be introduced to reform the Scottish Criminal Justice system."
The idea that the Government can introduce legislation to impose spot fines on people as a contribution to solving a major problem in Scotland is wrong. The problem is that police force numbers in Scotland are inadequate. I was speaking to the chief constable of Central Scotland last week, and he said that what he needed from the Government was more resources for manpower. I was speaking to him about the problem of drugs in our communities and neighbourhoods. [Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South wishes to intervene or is just waving his hands about.
Column 100Strathclyde refused during the past 15 years to bring its police complement up to the numbers agreed by the Secretary of State?
Mr. Connarty: The chief constable of Strathclyde has said that the problem is that the matching funding from the Government is not available. The hon. Gentleman attempts to mislead the House with such a question because he does not accept that the Secretary of State has any control. I am sure that he will accept that 50 per cent. of all police funding comes from the Government and 50 per cent. from the local authority. The money is not there. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South is shouting in the Chamber--I do not know if he has had a good lunch.
It is very important for the Government to talk to the police, and the chief constable of Central Scotland is a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland). He clearly said to me that if the Secretary of State--not his council--funded his force properly, he would have the complement to deal with the problems which I asked him about.
The problem that I mentioned in particular was drug use, and it is clear that that is an increasing problem in our communities. The only way to tackle it is by strong and adequate policing and by adequate education. There is a good drugs initiative in central Scotland, with a Central police officer who has just been seconded in charge for the Scottish Office. I hope that the Secretary of State will seriously bring forward decent resources for that.
We could have done without the proposal for aggravated trespass. I do not know whether hon. Members have received the letters which I have had from many people saying that the measure on aggravated trespass was not required. Many people in Scotland did not abuse the freedom to roam and the Scottish Landowners Federation did not require that provision, but the Government have brought it in. One thing which I should liked to see in the Queen's Speech, but which, unfortunately, was not, was a proposal banning drinking in the streets. I do not mean sitting out in cafeterias and sidewalks as one would find in most of Europe. Drinking in the streets is one of the biggest threats to and banes of the people of Scotland that I have come across. Elderly people feel trapped in their homes because the street corner has become a place not just for congregating, but for drinking.
I believe that certain types of wine which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell) are causing problems, but I do not think that we can blame one type of drink. The fact is that young people--even under-age youths--can stand on corners and drink. The buying of drink is illegal if one is under-age, but not the drinking of it. In towns in Scotland I have seen people congregating and passing around vodka, whisky and other strong drinks. The Government should think seriously about banning that. They would clear up a lot of problems and pressures on our communities if they had the courage to do so.
Column 101byelaws for approval from the Scottish Office? Those will be looked at sympathetically, with a view to taking forward the very point which he mentioned.
Mr. Connarty: I am aware that there are a number of pilot schemes running in Scotland and that they are well thought of. The point that I am trying to make--I was a member of a licensing board for a number of years-- is that if legislation were available, local authorities could ban drinking in the streets without having to make special considerations. If legislation became available to all local authorities, I am sure that they would take it up. The pressure from the public would be for them not to go to the Secretary of State, but to do it themselves. I am sure that authorities would respond at the local level, where they should be responding.
Another aspect of the Scottish system which I have found most disturbing during my two years as an hon. Member is where people carry out heinous acts and then, for some reason, judges give them a light sentence. I know that we are not supposed to murmur judges, but I have been drawn to suggest that certain judges are not really living in the same world as the victims of crime and the people in our communities.
I shall not go into the details, but one such case involved someone who got 200 hours community service for abusing a daughter for 10 years. Recently in my constituency, someone caused the death of a young woman by driving a lorry over the central reservation. The lorry might have been going too fast, but it was impossible to prove because the tachograph was broken. The driver's sentence was reduced to 200 hours of community service. Such cases make people wonder whether the criminal justice system has been turned on its head and whether they can get justice because judges are allowed to pass sentences that are far too light.
Yesterday, in a case in England it was admitted that a much greater sentence would have been imposed under new laws passed for England and Wales. I hope that the same sentences will be available in Scotland and that the Government will let judges know that they are there to serve the public and not some idea of what they consider to be adequate justice.
There was mention of Northern Ireland in the Gracious Speech. Everyone wants peace. When the Downing street announcement was made, I told the House that I had lost a relative in a pub bombing in 1973, at the beginning of the troubles. The relative was not of my generation and was not close, so I did not know him well enough to understand the loss that his family felt. Many other people have been scarred by the experiences of the past 20 years and we all want the peace process to come to a speedy but final conclusion, rather than a rushed conclusion that will later be regretted.
The passage on Northern Ireland is appropriate to other parts of the United Kingdom and I do not say that as a pan-nationalist of any kind. Why is the provision of
"a comprehensive political accommodation founded on the principles of democracy and consent"
not considered adequate and necessary for Scotland? Why should a Government who raised only 25 per cent. of the votes of the other political parties not bow to the wishes of the majority of people and legislate as they wish? The Government should take some advice from those who are winning the votes and winning people's support. It is important for those principles to be found throughout the
Column 102United Kingdom. We are a sham of democracy. Unfortunately, the relationship between the Government, Scottish Office Ministers and the people of Scotland is a shameful sham of democracy.
I respect the fact that the determination of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South is a result of his deep-felt need to support the Union. He feels that the only way to do so is by not giving an inch, but he and people like him are seriously deluded. My hon. Friend the Memberfor Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)--a well-known anti- devolutionist for many years--said recently in print and on radio and television that what the Government have done to local government structures in Scotland, without the consent or support of the people, has made him accept that a Scottish Parliament is necessary. That is what has happened because of the Government's lack of understanding of what they are doing to democracy. I remain committed to a united kingdom, but one in which there is subsidiarity in some sense rather than the stupidity that we have at the moment.
I am reminded of what the Government have done on the quango front. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) described it well when he said that we should look back in our history books. When I learned about history in school and about why democracy and the 1832 Reform Act were necessary, I found that it was because of rotten boroughs. Powerful people in government could place other people in charge of certain boroughs, which would get them to Parliament where they could legislate and run people's lives. We have seen the Government do the same time and again, to the point where there are 10 times more people in quangos running our world than people in democratically elected positions. The Scottish people find that deeply offensive.
A children Bill was one piece of Scottish legislation which was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech but to which the Prime Minister referred. Scotland has been waiting some time for a children Bill. England and Wales have the Children Act 1989, which is perhaps not as perfect as it was made out to be in the beginning. Today, I read an article which said that the Act has not been used to provide accommodation for 16 and 17-year-olds, although that provision was contained in it, because it has not always been used correctly. In Scotland, however, we have no law that enshrines the United Nations declaration on the rights of the child.
The meetings that my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) and for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) and I had with the Minister responsible--sadly, he is in another place and no Minister in this House deals directly with social legislation for Scotland--led us to believe that the Government were committed to putting that matter in the Queen's Speech. Documents inadvertently leaked just before the recess, however, showed that the Secretary of State was unwilling to raise the matter in the Cabinet and had received no such commitment.
Many Scottish legislative matters are outstanding, including the conclusions of the Orkney and Fife inquiries into abuse of children in care, the need to upgrade and modernise the adoption service and the legislation required to remove the abuser rather than the child from the home. Children are often doubly traumatised by being first abused and then removed to a place of safety, whereas the abuser is allowed to remain in the accommodation where the abuse took place. The Scottish