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Column 148resisted and whose conclusions are to be obstructed. We believe that the IGC should be embraced as an opportunity to open up the agenda of Europe.
On some of that agenda, we shall have common ground with the Government Front Bench. I am an enthusiastic supporter of the principle of subsidiarity, but I just wish that the Government would practise at home what they preach in Europe. Instead of giving an example of subsidiarity to Europe, Britain provides the example of the most centralised state in Europe. A consistent feature of this Conservative Government has been repeated Bills curbing subsidiarity to local government and, when the Government are resisted, the abolition of some of the powers of local government.
The Foreign Secretary will have our full support in the task of getting priority for enlargement towards the countries of eastern Europe. The historic challenge that is facing Europe is how we respond to the breakdown of the old order in eastern Europe and how we embrace those nations in a community of the democratic nations of Europe. When the history of this period is written 50 or 100 years from now, I suspect that those who write it will be puzzled by the obsession that western Europe has shown with its own institutions, often to the exclusion of the need to open its doors to the countries of the east.
On those points, I think that I am on common ground with the Foreign Secretary, but, in the year ahead, two issues are likely to be contentious. First, we are firmly committed to a social dimension to the European Union. That union cannot be a union that offers only tangible benefits to business without improving the standards of the work force of business. That is why we deplore the Government's opt-out from the social chapter. That opt-out has left the Government so isolated in Europe that the only political party that shares their view on the social chapter is the French National Front.
That opt-out has also left the Government increasingly isolated in Britain. Last week, an event occurred that demonstrated its irrelevance. One of Britain's biggest food companies signed a deal with representatives on behalf of 26,000 members of its work force in eight countries to provide a European works council across Europe. The managing director said:
"We believe that a workforce that understand the objectives of a business and the pressures are better able to respond appropriately."
Under the opt-out, that company could have left out its British workers and avoided creating a works council to embrace them. That same managing director said that the company had not done so because that "would be counterproductive". What was that company? It was United Biscuits, which, since 1979, has given £850,000 in donations to the Tory party. [Hon. Members:-- "Not enough."] At the current going rate that adds up to 425 parliamentary questions, enough to keep us busy during oral questions until christmas. Even that pillar of the Conservative party has come to the conclusion that the opt-out is counter-productive for its company.
The reality is that major British companies that compete in Europe know that they would not have the slightest difficulty in complying with the terms of the social chapter, because half of them are already observing it punctiliously in their factories across Europe. It is time that those companies' work forces in Britain had the same rights as those enjoyed by their European work forces.
Column 149The second subject on which we shall continue to press the Government is serious reform of the CAP. Since 1979, the cost of the CAP has more than doubled and the current budget provides for no reduction in spending on the CAP for the planning period of the Commission. It is not just the cost to the taxpayer that matters but the cost to families who pay higher prices for food and the cost to the environment from turning the countryside into prairies to produce food that we cannot eat. The cost to the standing of the European Union also matters, because most of the stories used by its critics to discredit it come from the CAP. That was demonstrated again in this week's report from the Court of Auditors, which detailed the most spectacular example of £1 billion that we gave to grub up vineyards, only to find, at the end of the period of expenditure, that the output of wine is up one fifth.
Today, the Foreign Secretary welcomed that report, as he did in a speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday. On that occasion, he expressed some satisfaction at the fact that the report had at least revealed the scale of the problem. Unless we are prepared to take action on it, there is not much point in being pleased with a report for that reason.
I would have more respect for the urging that the Foreign Secretary has given the Commission of the European Parliament to root out the problem if, last year, the Government had not proposed a cut of £31 billion from the CAP budget on anti-fraud measures. Moreover, the Government have still failed to take up the great majority of their share of the funds available from the Commission to combat fraud in Britain. I would have more respect for Government statements on waste in Europe if the Government, during the British presidency, had not agreed that the European Parliament should continue to traipse round three separate sites, at enormous extra cost. Against that background, the brow-beating of many Conservative Members about waste and fraud in Europe sometimes seems to spring less from an enthusiasm for rooting out fraud than from an anxiety to preserve it as a stick with which to beat the European Union.
Those of us who want Europe to succeed must recognise that our greatest priority must be to eliminate the fraud and waste that lower support for Europe among public opinion.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford): We have heard at great length about the CAP, which the hon. Gentleman says is a problem and a disaster. Exactly what different action would the hon. Gentleman take to stop the problem with regard to the CAP?
Mr. Cook: I have two answers: one for the long term and one for the short term. In the long term, we must review the system by which we guarantee the price at which we shall buy any amount of food that is produced. In the short term, I shall give one clear priority that the Commission should take on board: I see no reason whatever why Europe should provide £1 billion to subsidise tobacco production when every Government in
Column 150Europe are trying to stamp out tobacco smoking. Nor does it help then to say that the tobacco does not matter too much because it is so bad that nobody can smoke it.
The lengthy passage on foreign affairs in the Gracious Speech touched on many parts of the world besides Europe. Given that the subject was on the Foreign Secretary's mind when he was putting the final touches to the draft at the weekend, I was surprised that the Gracious Speech did not mention the Malaysian Pergau dam. However, I welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary mentioned it in his speech. I must confess that, at one point over the weekend, I was worried that he might follow in the footsteps of his Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin), and disappear before I had had my first debate with him. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary has confided to the BBC that he had thought of resigning when it emerged that payments of aid for the Pergau dam were illegal. But, as is so often the case with the Government these days, he had second thoughts and changed his mind.
I cannot congratulate the Foreign Secretary on that issue. My best efforts to be bipartisan break down at this point. I concede, however, that he should not be in the dock alone. The deal for which he is left taking the rap was set up by Baroness Thatcher. If it assists the Foreign Secretary, I am happy to add Baroness Thatcher to the charge sheet--and to any other charge sheet that he cares to suggest. That does not let the right hon. Gentleman out of his special share of responsibility for the debacle. The defence that his Department advanced in the court case was that the Foreign Secretary gave his personal authority to the payments for Pergau, so the ODA could not be held to have behaved illegally. If that was his Department's defence, he cannot now escape his personal responsibility for having got it wrong.
The Foreign Secretary's reaction to the judgment has been one of pained surprise--it never occurred to him that the payments might be illegal. If, during those actions, nobody stopped to ask whether they were illegal, that makes the whole episode worse, not better. It aggravates rather than mitigates the offence.
Let me rehearse to the House the actions that led to those payments. The Foreign Secretary authorised payments in aid, even after he had been told that the Pergau dam was not a sound economic project. He persisted in those payments after cost overruns in the project greatly increased the degree to which it was unsound. He overrode the views of the ODA accounting officer even when those views were formally recorded. When asked by my predecessor, he was unable to find a single precedent for a Foreign Secretary overriding the formal advice of his accounting officer.
If we are now told that he did all that without once asking whether it was legal to do so, we have an alarming glimpse into the private arrogance of a Government who have been there for so long that they no longer even ask whether there are limits to their personal authority.
In the event, the right hon. Gentleman has resolved not to resign. Very well. If he stays, the least that he can do, in the event that he chooses not to challenge the court judgment, is to put right the injustice that he has created.
Column 151The first step in doing that would be to give an undertaking that he will pay back to the aid budget the money that was illegally taken from it. The second step would be to ensure that never again do payments of aid become entangled with the sale of arms.
I listened with the greatest of care to what the Foreign Secretary said about arms sales. It might be helpful to the Foreign Secretary if I were to caution him, by reminding him of an event that will occur this year, although it was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech--I well understand that the Government may not be looking forward to it--and that is the publication of the report of the Scott inquiry into arms sales to Iraq. That inquiry was sparked by two discoveries in the wake of the collapse of the trial of the executives of Matrix Churchill. The first was that the Government connived at the sale of British machine tools to Saddam Hussein, in the knowledge that they would be used in building up his armaments industry. The second was that, in 1988, one of the Foreign Secretary's predecessors, Lord Howe, secretly agreed to relax the guidelines on arms exports to Iraq without any statement to Parliament, but, in the same year, made a statement to Parliament in which he publicly and eloquently deplored the use of chemical weapons by the same Iraqi Government to whom we were supplying those machine tools.
As the Foreign Secretary is aware, I attended several of the sessions of the Scott inquiry. I was impressed by the thoroughness with which Lord Justice Scott explored the issues with his witnesses. I think that it is fair to say that many of those witnesses were also impressed by the thoroughness with which they were explored. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary would not want to appear before a Lord Scott inquiry five years from now, explaining current arms sales.
The lesson of the Matrix Churchill affair is that the Government must be honest with the House about the criteria on which they decide to grant exports for licence. That is why, if there are to be major arms contracts with Indonesia, the Foreign Secretary owes it to the House to be open with us about the basis on which they are supplied and about the advice that was tendered by the Foreign Office in the discussions about those licences. For example, is the Foreign Office satisfied with the human rights record of Indonesia, and is he entirely satisfied that none of the weapons that we have supplied have been used to enforce aggression and the continued occupation by Indonesia of East Timor?
Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon): In the light of those remarks, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would comment on the last Labour Government's point of view when, in April 1978, they authorised the sale of Hawk aircraft to Indonesia. Does he think that the position was any different then from what it is now?
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman is correct and, as we have had several exchanges about that during Trade and Industry questions, I am familiar with the ground. The hon. Gentleman was perfectly correct in saying that the initial contract for Hawk aircraft was given by the last Labour Government. They were provided as training aircraft, and they were supplied on the clear understanding that they be used as training aircraft. [Interruption.] With respect, at the time, there was no evidence whatever that Hawk aircraft may have been used in East Timor.
Column 152I see the Foreign Secretary shaking his head. If he has any evidence that Hawk aircraft were used in East Timor in the 1970s, when the last Labour Government were in power, he should share it with the House.
Dr. Goodson-Wickes rose --
The issues now are whether those Hawk aircraft have been used in East Timor, and whether the Foreign Office has any evidence to support that claim. If so, was that reflected in the discussions about the export licences for further contracts?
Mr. Corbyn: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Is he aware that, in August and September this year, two Hawk aircraft were used in bombing missions in the eastern part of East Timor which had been authorised by the Indonesian Government? That is yet another reason why there should be an arms embargo against the Indonesian regime, as long as it perpetrates human rights abuses, and as long as it illegally occupies East Timor. [Interruption.]
Mr. Cook: I do not understand how Conservative Members found that amusing. I do not understand what is comic about the suggestion that those Hawk aircraft may have been used against a civilian population in East Timor. If that is indeed the case--the Foreign Office will have better information than that available to any of us--it is not a matter for jest and comedy in the House, but a matter for serious condemnation which should be reflected in our future arms exports. Sadly, East Timor is only one of 50 areas where there is active conflict. As the Foreign Secretary said, the United Nations is now approaching its 50th year. More demands are now made of it than when it had the energy of youth. In its first 43 years the United Nations mounted 15 peacekeeping operations. In the past six years alone, it has mounted 17 peacekeeping operations--more than in the preceding 43 years. Those 17 peacekeeping operations involve 3,700 British troops in various locations around the world. We salute the courage of those troops and the sacrifices that they are occasionally called on to make.
The expansion of the peacekeeping role is partly because the cold war has gone and we no longer live in a bi-polar world. That presents us with a positive opportunity for a new international security order in which the world community, not the super-powers, claims the right to police, and accepts the responsibility for policing, the observation of peace between nations. I entirely agree with the Foreign Secretary that, if that opportunity is to be grasped, the United Nations needs to look at some fundamental reforms of its structure and efficiency. If we are to respond to international crises, we must do so in a less ad hoc fashion, in a more professional operation. If the United Nations is to become the fire brigade of the world, it should at least be put on a permanent footing so that the fire engine can be updated every time there is a crisis somewhere around the globe.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North): My hon. Friend is right to say that we no longer live in a bi-polar world, but many things that are happening in the world derive exactly from that condition--I think especially of the Republic of Angola. Is my hon. Friend aware that truce talks have yet again broken down and that, having
Column 153agreed to a proper agreement for the umpteenth time, Mr. Savimbi of UNITA has yet again said that he will not sign? That agreement was sponsored and brokered by the United Nations--is it not time that the United Nations acted strongly and compelled Savimbi to accept it?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend has put on record a concern that I entirely share. It is a matter of great regret and deep frustration that it looked as though Angola might be achieving a peaceful outcome, but it once again appears that it will be plunged into turmoil. My hon. Friend has been helpful because I had intended to turn now to the tragic events in Rwanda, which illustrate the slowness of the international community to respond--a subject on which the Foreign Secretary touched--and, more importantly, the international community's negligence towards crises in the making.
I acknowledge that Britain has a larger presence in Rwanda than most other countries--a fact in which Britain can take pride--but, as the Foreign Secretary agreed, the response of the international community as a whole is a matter for deep concern. The United Nations has made a commitment that we will deploy 147 human rights monitors in Rwanda--one to each district. That is vital if we are to build confidence among the refugee camps and enable refugees to return in safety. I understand that, as of last week, fewer than 30 human rights monitors were in place. Moreover, those 30 monitors had available to them only six four-by-four vehicles, one of which was donated by Oxfam. I see no reason why the international community should be dependent on charity to carry out a United Nations resolution.
The remarkable fact about the Rwandan crisis is not the poor nature of the response but the wilful negligence that helped to create the conditions of the crisis. Rwanda is one of the poorest nations, and has one of the densest populations, in the world. In the late 1980s, the price of its coffee halved. The reaction of the International Monetary Fund was to impose a structural adjustment programme on Rwanda which produced a major reduction in public spending, introduced charges for health and education, intensified the poverty of local people and reduced the public support available to help them to alleviate that poverty. After all that, the international community need not feign surprise at the fact that the tension and desperation which followed led to communal violence.
Rwanda is not exceptional. It is, unfortunately, only too typical of the pressures on sub-Saharan Africa. Here I come to what I thought was the most breathtaking line in the Queen's Speech--the one that said that Her Majesty's Government
"will maintain a substantial aid programme."
The Foreign Secretary knows that the aid budget proposes no such thing. Certainly, the Government have a commitment to raise it to 0.7 per cent. of gross national product, but instead of moving towards that target they are steaming steadily away from it. The aid budget reached that percentage of GNP in 1979; it is now down to 0.3 per cent. and still falling.
The aid budget is frozen in cash terms, which means that it will not maintain its value in real terms. The final footnote to the tragedy of Rwanda is the fact that the
Column 154Government are budgeting to cut aid to Africa by £60 million over the next three years. We are spending four times that amount to build a dam and flood a valley in Malaysia--at the same time as planning to spend less on piping clean water to the poorest communities in the world. How is it possible to justify such priorities?
The message from the conflicts born of this poverty is that international security is best built on international solidarity, in which the wealthiest nations help the poorest out of the poverty that breeds conflict. It is in our own interest to do so, because our troops will be called upon to serve to prevent the conflicts.
Mr. Hurd: The hon. Gentleman is being philosophical and is entirely justified in so doing. If he had looked at Africa 20 years ago he could have argued that a great deal of the suffering was due to poverty. Of course, poverty remains; I just do not agree with his analysis now. The recent troubles of Rwanda, Mozambique, Angola, Somalia and Liberia are not primarily the result of poverty. They are the result of communal tensions and of the breakdown of a civil society. I do not believe that that is essentially the result of poverty or of a deterioration in those countries' standards of living over the past 20 years. The real difficulty that the United Nations faced in Rwanda, in what until recently would have been regarded as a purely internal matter, was how the international community could prevent Hutus from slaughtering Tutsis, or the other way round.
Mr. Cook: The right hon. Gentleman correctly said that he and I approach these matters from different political philosophies, but I invite him to ask himself a question. If he believes that the violence and disruption in so many parts of Africa originate only from communal tensions and tribal differences, how come the same tribal differences and tensions existed 20 years ago but without the same degree of violence and disruption across the continent? I would also ask him to reflect on the fact that, during the past decade, the African countries that were poor at the start of it have become even poorer. In most of the countries that he mentioned, child mortality has increased, life expectancy declined and participation in education decreased. The Foreign Secretary may shake his head but those are the facts.
Not surprisingly, given those facts, we find that we are faced with greater violence. Even if there were room for doubt about the causes, surely the wise course for any responsible Government to follow would be to err on the side of that doubt and not risk making the situation worse by cutting our aid programme for Africa.
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman need not look to the future: he can look to the past for an answer to that. In a situation of grave difficulty, and without a penny from North sea oil, the last Labour Government increased the proportion of our GNP that went on aid. Since then, the Conservatives have drunk the North sea oil revenues but have cut the amount of aid. Our commitment is perfectly plain. We shall seek to resume the work that was being
Column 155carried out by that previous Labour Government and make progress towards the target of 0.7 per cent., as resources permit.
I was saying when the Foreign Secretary disagreed with me that international security is best based on international solidarity. Before concluding my speech I should like to put one other thought to the Foreign Secretary, and it is my reason for believing that international solidarity is in our interests. The pressures of poverty are eroding the environment of the third world. Because we share a single globe, that damage threatens the climate on which we depend for our standard of living.
Increasingly, security, trade and the environment are making us all members of an interdependent world community. In the year ahead, we shall judge the Government's foreign policy to see whether it strengthens our ability to put into the world community measures that would establish international security. We shall judge whether it gives expression to the international solidarity that a responsible and still relatively affluent nation owes to the world's weaker members. When the Government's foreign policy passes that test we shall support them during whatever period they manage to stay in office. When their policies fail that test we shall expose and challenge those failings until we manage to put the Government out of office and give Britain a Government who will introduce a Queen's Speech that will be full, decisive and based on our values of social justice at home and our commitment to international security and solidarity abroad.
Mr. John Patten (Oxford, West and Abingdon): I should like to examine the Gracious Speech in relation to the two classical Tory themes of continuity and momentum. Queen's Speeches are rather like the trains by which one is threatened at French level crossings where one is informed by notices that another train will be along in a bit. Another Queen's Speech is always being prepared as soon as the Gracious Speech of a new Parliament has been produced. I have listened to 15 such speeches, some of which have added to the momentum of Conservative government while others have added to its consolidation and continuity.
I should like to examine the Gracious Speech in relation to, first, the constitution; secondly, Europe; thirdly, privatisation; and, fourthly, the new civic and community agenda which may dominate British politics for the next 15 years just as surely as privatisation and other issues have dominated it for the past 15 years.
I rejoice at the fact that the Gracious Speech does not mention major constitutional change, to which the Leader of the Opposition has already so wedded his party. If he ever has the opportunity, he will rue the day that he allows a future Labour Administration to become mired in the depths of constitutional reform. The people of this country do not wish to alienate any part of our sovereign territory. As the last general election showed, people do not want major devolution for Scotland or Wales. Certainly, people do not wish to have any of the crackpot schemes for regional government that have been suggested by Labour
Column 156Front-Bench speakers. Such schemes would be not only costly but would make Britain one of the most over-governed and
over-administered countries on earth. Over the past 15 years, I have been pleased to note that no Queen's Speech has referred to major constitutional innovation. I hope that that will continue for the next 15 years of Conservative administration.
The second issue is that of Europe. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary knows that I am pleased when one of Europe's ups, rather than one of its downs, is raised here or in the media. The whole House is aware that I speak from that standpoint. I certainly give my wholehearted support to the European finance measure in the Gracious Speech.
I am concerned, as is the whole House, about fraud. There is no need for me to speak at any great length about the problems presented by mass fraud in the countries of the European Union. They have been discussed quite enough in recent days and they do not need elaboration from me. Action has been taken, much of it encouraged by the Government, and I congratulate them on what they have done. However, I am saddened by the lack of apparent concern shown by the German presidency about fraud.
The German presidency should have reacted very quickly indeed in the past two or three days and promoted the calling of a special council at ministerial level--possibly the highest ministerial level of all--to show the people of Europe that when their money is used for European purposes, it is done in as straightforward and honest a way as possible.
I am sorry that the German presidency has not taken that action and I urge my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to consider applying to the German presidency, under the emergency procedures that are available, for a European ministerial council to be held as quickly as possible to demonstrate that action will be taken over the issue of fraud. We do not need cries of initiatives or new stunts to get Europe off the hook; we need action to show that, at the highest level, European Heads of State--and, if necessary, Heads of Government--are sufficiently concerned about the issue to make it a top priority.
I urge on my right hon. Friend speedy consideration of that possibility. I fear that, as such matters are played back into the new Commission and, as my right hon. Friend said, we all travel carefully and hopefully in respect of the new Commission and the European Parliament, the issue of fraud will get lost in the undergrowth again. It will be there in the shrubbery and, once it leaves media interest, will not receive as close an examination as it should.
Mr. Duncan Smith: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and welcome him to the debate. He is certainly not a simple Back Bencher, although he is a Back Bencher. Does he agree that one of the problems of the German presidency in this context, as he so ably pointed out, is
Column 157the current German obsession with further and deeper political union at the cost of all else? Does he agree that that is one of the big problems that has been missed?
Mr. Patten: My right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel- Jones), who has come to sit at my feet, muttered sotto voce that it has always been in the treaty of Rome. When one reads such treaties, one finds that we are signed up to all sorts of things that my hon. Friend might not actually like.
I am about to turn to exactly those points which my hon. Friend asked me to address. It is my belief that the European contributions measure will lead to money from British taxpayers funding European matters. I am one of those who is happy when Europe goes through its up, rather than its down, periods. Therefore, part of our contribution will be funding the activities which lead us into intergovernmental conferences in 1996. As I am happy to inform the House, in the first half of the year the Italians will be in the presidential seat and in the second half there will be the Irish, so 1996 will be an interesting year.
Much of the debate on the measure will quite properly flow around preparatory measures and positions being taken by different countries in the run-up to the IGCs. I urge my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his right hon. Friends to ensure that the British voice is strongly heard in the composition of that agenda.
We are major players in Europe; we are at its heart. We must be major players in proposing the agenda for the intergovernmental conferences in 1996. Above all, we should not allow them to be inward looking and concerned with further and further harmonisation within a Europe that is moving unsteadily in that direction; for example, Europe has the highest non-wage labour costs of any part of the globe.
As anyone who travels in the far east--as I have done on a number of occasions--will know, the killer economies there are moving at such a rate that they are likely to threaten the economic and social stability of the European Union and that of our friends across the north Atlantic before the decade is over. Therefore, it is critical that my right hon. Friend encourages such discussion as there is to be outward, not inward, looking.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence made an interesting speech recently, which was reported on the radio. He called for a warming of the north Atlantic link. I am a great admirer of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, but such is the economic threat--I do not use that word idly--from the far east that the European Union may have to consider a much closer relationship with the North American Free Trade Agreement countries. They are the United States and Canada, which have recently been joined by Mexico, and will doubtless be joined by further countries. We all know about NATO and we will need it in future, but we must also properly consider the North Atlantic Economic Organisation, which could well bring together the two powerful trading blocs. We will debate such matters in the House in the run-up to the IGCs.
It is important that we ensure that Europe considers the major constitutional issues within the European Union. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said that his colleague Mr. Juppe had said that he was lukewarm--or
Column 158some such phrase--about the possibility of a European super-state. My right hon. Friend suggested, both in the way that he spoke and through his body language--or as much of it as I could observe from behind him--that he was at one with Mr. Juppe . If so, let that be a key constitutional strand in the debates running up to the IGCs. We need to be clear about the role and relations of the European Union and individual sovereign states. Ideas cannot easily be bucked at this stage. These are difficult questions to ask, but I am the first to admit that they are much more difficult to answer. Nevertheless, we must finally decide what are the role and relations of the sovereign states and the European Union. Is the Commission a government or is it a servant of governments? Those are major issues that, notwithstanding our treaty obligations, we have not dealt with as the Twelve, let alone as a future Sixteen or Twenty-two. We must ensure that we have a European Union working in the way that I profoundly wish it to work.
There are interesting times ahead and I believe that 1996 will be a defining moment in the history of Europe. I also believe that it will be a defining moment in the European issue within the United Kingdom. Therefore, it demands the most careful, cautious and deeply thoughtful approach from those of us who support the Government, as I do, to ensure that the issues are addressed as properly as they can be during the next two years.
I want now to deal with the agenda for privatisation contained in the Gracious Speech. Gracious Speeches come and go and agendas begin. We still have a long way to go with privatisation. I have made inquiries at the Treasury and it appears that we still own 40 or more state industries and corporations. That is wrong. The best people to run businesses are businesses. Government have no business to be in the business of running businesses, although we must run our business as a state in as businesslike a way as possible. As a Conservative party, we should make it a policy aim to ensure that by the end of--let us be generous--1999, the end of the century, we have sold and returned to the private sector all those things that can be sold and returned to the private sector, so that we have a clean slate with which to begin the new century and to tackle the new agendas that are coming to the fore.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have concluded that some things are unprivatisable? Can he explain why in the Queen's Speech there were no measures to privatise either the Post Office or the Vehicle Inspectorate?
I would wish by 1999 to have cleared the board of everything we own that the Government can usefully get rid of, because ownership can sometimes clutter up Government activities. Again and again, ownership has been proven to be much better in private hands. Just look at the benefits of 15 years of Conservative Government in conveying ownership to council house tenants of their houses or flats, or to those who have bought shares for the first time.
Column 159Lastly, the new agenda of British politics in the next 15 years of Conservative Government will be to complete, of course, a number of those things that we have started, such as the privatisation programme, but also to begin a whole process of trying, just as we have given ownership to the British people, to persuade the British people to take more responsibility.
I remember my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, as Home Secretary, coining that excellent phrase "the active citizen", which was all about the taking of greater responsibility by people in our community. We are on the eve of developing a form of civic Conservatism which will begin the process of disseminating power. We have seen only a few footsteps in that direction so far--health service reforms, the giving of power to grant-maintained schools with governors made up of parents, local people, business people and teachers. We have only begun that process.
The Labour party talks a lot about community. We all know what it means by community. It means the reinvention of local government by other means and the giving of power to those people who used to run communities so that they can do so again. On the radio this week, we heard that the Isle of Wight county council, which I guess is Liberal controlled, cannot run its care in the community programme. The immemorial cry of a county council in trouble, one which cannot do its job properly, is that it does not have enough resources--that is, that it does not have enough money.
Why have we not gone a step further than we have in the past? The Queen's Speech does not take us down this path. For many years, we have had housing associations to bring together fruitfully that combination of public and private money and public, private and voluntary sector endeavour, to provide social housing for people in need who need to rent. Why do we not have care associations which take over the provision of care in the community from those county councils that cannot provide it properly? Those are the sort of ideas that are not yet reflected in the further dissemination of power.
Conservative-controlled councils in Oxfordshire at the other end of my life. I am pleased to have given way to the hon. Gentleman and to have endorsed Westminster city council as an excellent council.
Column 160My right hon. Friend will remember that he and I joined common cause in the past in promoting the concept of active citizenship. I welcome what he has said today. Linking that with what he said about care in the community, would he welcome opportunities for private sector companies to deliver community care in an efficient and caring manner?
It is on that note that I end. Agendas change. There is continuity and change in the Queen's Speech. I hope that there will be continuity and further change in future Conservative Queen's Speeches. In examining why we should not have constitutional legislation, why we should be cautious about what we do in Europe, why we should drive on with privatisation and why we should think of new frontiers in order to transfer responsibility, as well as ownership, back to our citizens through the concept of a more civic Conservatism, I have tried to consider how those changes can carry us through the next 15 years. Above all else, it is critical to set out clearly each of the strands of Conservative thought and to show that the plan is there for the next 15 years, just as there was a plan which has carried us so successfully through the past 15 years. My right hon. and hon. Friends have my strongest support.