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Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): I propose to raise five simple points. I noticed that the Gracious Speech contained a measure to increase our contribution to Europe. I understand from the newspapers that I read at the weekend that the measure is somewhat controversial for Conservative Members--perhaps even for some Opposition Members. I certainly find it controversial.
Our current payments to Europe total £1.75 billion. I have a cri de coeur: if we are paying into a club we really should receive its benefits. Parts of this country have objective 1 status--Merseyside, for instance. Our problem is with obtaining the money. We are eligible for up to £700 million over the next few years--money that is desperately needed in parts of this country to make good the ravages of the industrial decline that has attended the modernisation of British industry. I recognise that some of that modernisation had to happen. All we need now is investment, but to get the full benefit of the European money the Government are supposed to match it pound for pound.
The problem is that the Government will not do so. Although they want to increase our contributions to Europe, they will not enable the areas with the benefit of European money to obtain what they need for investment. I should like a commitment from the Government to the effect that they will direct the European money to the parts of the country where it is desperately needed to replace aging infrastructure.
Earlier, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) did not allow me to intervene, although I only meant to be helpful. The Gracious Speech contains a measure to do with the hearsay rule in civil evidence. I declare an interest as a practising lawyer. The problem with civil cases is that there is already too much hearsay evidence. We know from the family division that tittle-tattle from the neighbour's second cousin's uncle's aunt can often influence the outcome of cases. The same applies to libel and civil cases. The Government have adopted the wrong measure and it is opposed by many lawyers. Instead, they should have taken up the Lord Chancellor's proposal--speedier trials and simplified costs.
My third point was one that I failed to raise on Friday, when I did not manage to catch Madam Speaker's eye. We Back Benchers find it a bit off- putting, to put it mildly, when Front Benchers take up two and a half hours of a five-hour debate, as they did on Friday. I appreciate that Back Benchers are not important in the minds of Front Benchers, but many Back Benchers will echo the sentiment that if Front Benchers continue to dominate 50 per cent. of debates many of us will begin to dominate the Back Benches in our own way. Let that be a warning. If my Whip, who is listening, wishes to report me to his superiors he is welcome to do so. With a smile, I tell him that I will take as much notice of him afterwards as I do
Column 400now. [ Hon. Members--: "Hear, hear."] That shows the power of Back Benchers. We are united against the Whips in particular and against Front Benchers specifically.
I sought to raise a simple matter on Friday. The Home Secretary spoke for between 45 minutes and an hour but announced few measures that will ease the problems in the criminal legal system or the prison system. He spoke about cutting home leave, but the idea of rehabilitation and the integration and reintegration of long-term prisoners seems to have passed him by. The best way to rehabilitate prisoners is to reintegrate them. Those of us who know anything about the subject know that, but the Home Secretary seems to know very little about the subject. That might explain his mistakes. The Home Secretary proposes to take 40,000 people out of the home leave system. We all deplore people who break home leave conditions, but for every one who does so those who keep it are legion. The Home Secretary is penalising the many for the folly of the few, which is not good penal policy.
There are currently 51,000 prisoners in overcrowded gaols, many of whom are living in deplorable conditions. They are bored to death and think only of the next crime to commit when they get out. That makes one wonder whether our penal system is right. As I think every hon. Member knows, I am not soft on crime but I am in favour of a penal system that reforms and rehabilitates rather than educates people in the art of further crime.
My fourth point is a serious one. The Gracious Speech mentioned legislation on mental health, and reform of the Mental Health Act 1983 is long overdue. The 1983 Act resulted from a European Court case with which I had some connection as I was senior partner in the firm of instructing solicitors. I have always had several grounds for concern about that Act. First, no provision seems to be made to allow the clawing back into the system of a patient who deliberately does not take his medicine. There have been several such serious cases, some of which have led to deaths. A patient who is on a loose rein, if I may put it that way, and who refuses to take his medicine and do all that is necessary becomes a risk to the public at large. I hope that the Government will bear that in mind for future legislation. Another matter that causes me concern relates to people who, through no fault of their own, are beginning to deteriorate mentally. There should be a means to identify such people and a measure by which care can be exercised and facilities made available so that they can be treated before they become a danger to themselves or to the community at large. The problem of mental illness is serious and needs to be addressed. I warn the Government that a solution will not be cheap. We must have measures that cover many current deficiencies in the mental health legal system and in the way in which people are assessed and reassessed.
In a recent classic case a patient was told that he was not being sent home but was being returned to Broadmoor. That patient escaped, giving rise to family fear. There must be a system to prevent such happenings. When considering the Mental Health Act and amendments to it, we must look long and carefully at the flaws that have been exposed time and again and take steps to give the appropriate authorities the necessary powers to deal with patients who either refuse to take their medicine or are beginning to deteriorate. Facilities also need to be extended to treat mental illness, which is increasing.
Column 401My final point is a cri de coeur on behalf of those who were foolish enough to listen to insurance salesmen who tempted them out of occupational pension schemes. Many such people lost a considerable amount and now have pensions that are worth nothing like the pension that they would have been paid if they had remained in their occupational scheme. The Government should consider altering pension law to enable a pensioner, potential pensioner or investor who has left an occupational scheme to return to it, subject to paying the premiums for the time during which he has been absent from the scheme. That would place them in the position that they were in before they listened to the outlandish advertising gimmicks of insurance companies who sold them what can only be described as duff pensions. We are aware of a number of companies that have had to retrain their agents and take other measures. The treatment of many pensioners is a crying shame, but it can be rectified and I hope that the Government will do so in the year ahead.
I shall end as I began. I want to see us making use of European grants and thinking of social policies that will benefit a nation that has such a need for social policy changes.
The British economy is growing faster than that of any other country in the European Union. Our GDP is growing at 3.8 per cent. a year, which is a higher growth rate than at the time of last year's Budget. Britain is the only major European Union country in which unemployment is falling. It has fallen by more than 400,000 since the recovery began. All that is happening at a time when, for the first time in 27 years, our growth rate is higher than the rate of inflation. Successive Governments over many years have tried to achieve that, and this is the first Government in 27 years to do so. Productivity continues to improve, and by August it was up by 5.3 per cent. on August last year. Those are the best statistics on the economy for a generation, and the Opposition should be honest enough to recognise that and acknowledge the Government's achievements. We must continue to improve upon that performance, and in that context competitiveness is crucial. I shall concentrate on how we can build on our achievements and stimulate greater investment.
The CBI recently said:
"In the 1980s, enterprise was reborn in Britain and many self-imposed handicaps removed. The 1990s must see an era of investment--so that we can compete successfully in the new Europe". More importantly, we must compete in emerging markets. Investment is crucial to our industrial success, and lies at the heart of competitiveness. It leads to goods being produced ever more effectively and cheaply, and that leads to ever higher quality. In an increasingly technical and automated world, that requires investment.
Investment aids the development of more new products, and the United Kingdom is good at developing new ideas. Our scientists have won more Nobel prizes than any other country except the United States; we have achieved 14
Column 402times as many Nobel prizes as Japan. However, we are not always as good at exploiting our ideas. We need further investment and research and a little more guts.
Countries with high investment tend to have the highest rates of economic growth. Over the past 25 years, investment as a percentage of GDP--what I call gross domestic capital formation--in the Asian economies has been as follows: 27.7 per cent. in South Korea; 31.4 per cent. in Japan; and 41.7 per cent. in Singapore. In Britain, investment ran at 18.2 per cent. and has been comparatively low for a century, and significantly so since the war. Extra investment would boost capacity and block the inhibiting stop-go cycle, creating long-term, not cyclical, growth. Boosted investment would encourage companies to grow organically rather than through acquisition. A commitment to long-termism and investment is not good enough. We need to introduce the conditions in which good investment emerges. During the 1980s, Britain's investment rose by 4.1 per cent. a year, compared with a 0.4 per cent. increase in the 1970s when the Labour party was in power. In the 1980s, investment rose three times faster than the European average, and was higher than it was in any other G7 country except Japan. Britain has emerged from recession, investment is taking off again, and, for the first time in decades, it is paralleling the increase in the rate of consumer spending. However, there is still a great deal further to go.
Above all, increases in investment rest on rational decisions taken by business. Yet in the past, especially in the 1970s when the Labour party was in power, the economic environment was hostile to development and expansion. The cultural environment in industry was hostile to investment, and it was uneconomic for business to invest. The aggregate rates of return from investment in Britain have been far below those of Germany and the United States. The cost of capital in Britain has also been far higher, as has been the risk premium to guard against the future. Thus, the required rate of return for an investment project in Britain is often as high as 25 per cent., while in Japan the comparative figure hovers between 5 and 10 per cent. On those grounds, we should continue to free up the economy to enable business to stride ahead and take the opportunities available. Investment is most successful when taken freely by private companies, as is confirmed by the investment record of the recently privatised industries when compared with their former nationalised industry roles. Government intervention in the allocation of the market tends to confuse the process. As the OECD said recently: "Industrial support has generally proved to be inefficient as a means of preserving jobs or of easing the process of structural adjustment."
A free enterprise culture, with an innovative, dynamic economy backed by the rewards for success, spurs on investment. A competitive environment disciplines and drives companies, and the penalties for failing have to be meaningful. Business needs an environment without burdens on free business activity. Unnecessary regulation needs to be squashed, with state expenditure and taxation cut. Trade unions need to be harnessed for the good of the company and the country. Those conditions, not state interference, have driven investment across south-east Asia.
Column 403Having got its economic policy wrong for the past five years, the Labour party has now conceived a new economic theory. It is proud to present it to the country as an endogenous growth theory. That has been accompanied by a number of pronouncements. However, airy rhetoric and new neo-Keynesian economic models are useless on their own. The Opposition cannot simply talk the economy up, as they have spent the past 15 years trying to talk it down. Investment has to be market-driven by business. The Soviet Union had the highest investment ratio in the world, but look what happened there. What is the endogenous growth theory of which we have heard so much? As I understand it, it is about managing relationships. The Labour party has devised a system under which it believes it can tell the manufacturer, "You should do this or that. You should buy from so-and-so and sell to so-and-so, and manage a long-term relationship." Labour thinks that it can tell a pension fund, an investment fund or the City of London to invest in a particular company and then tell that company to invest in plant rather than in, for example, an advertising campaign.
Labour believes that it can go into boardrooms throughout the country and compel every company to take the investment decisions that Labour thinks are right. If that were to happen in Japan, I would take a step back, because the culture in that country might enable such an absurd policy to succeed.
However, the Labour party wants that to happen in Britain, where for generations the business community has been enabled by successive Conservative Governments to take investment decisions on the basis of the company knows best. Now, the Labour party wants to tell managing directors how they should invest. For example, it believes that if companies invest in plant they will get a higher rate of growth. That may be so in Japan or Singapore--
Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen): Conservative Members claim that the Gracious Speech contained radical measures. It stretches the imagination to hear that repeated cry. They know full well that it is a holding operation--a "keep quiet" measure--for the coming year. They know in their hearts of hearts that that is the truth.
I want to concentrate on two aspects of today's debate--small businesses, and the co-operative sector of Britain's industrial and commercial world. A healthy and expanding small business sector is vital to a competitive economy. Small businesses are often the driving force of technical innovation, and they provide a vehicle by which individuals can contribute inventiveness and drive to the marketplace--although not a wholly free marketplace. Major corporations can compete internationally only if they are supplied and serviced by efficient, reliable small businesses, especially now that many large companies contract out many of their service functions.
We have two additional motives in backing small businesses. Obviously, the first is our commitment to full employment. I do not think that any hon. Member would deny that growth in jobs is most likely to come from small and medium-sized businesses. Over the past decade, 2.5
Column 404million jobs have been created by businesses with fewer than 20 employees. There is a lesson to be learnt there, especially when that growth in jobs is compared with that of the larger companies. Our second motive is our commitment to local and regional economic development. The Scottish Development Agency was one of the most important post-war agencies to be created in Scotland. Its remit on investment, intervention in industry and industrial regeneration provided a powerful instrument for economic development. The impact of the SDA made significant advances and improvements possible. Its regeneration imprint can still be discerned in the Scottish economy. It played a role for Scotland and Europe in attracting inward investment.
Both Scottish Enterprise and the Highlands and Islands development board have the potential to be significantly stronger organisations with their additional powers and responsibilities for skills training and programmes for the unemployed. That wider remit should be encouraged, but instead the Scottish Office continually cuts the amount of money available to local enterprise companies. Scottish Office Ministers have admitted that fact.
We are looking for a greater role for those organisations, but that is only one side of our approach to Scottish industry. The other wing of that movement is the introduction of political devolution, through a Scottish Parliament that will work hand in hand with Scottish industry to rectify the considerable damage done in the past 15 years.
I have always felt sympathy for small businesses that suffer the late payment of debts, which creates huge pressures. Late payment seems to be an established culture among UK businesses. It may be all right for big companies to pressurise small firms to accept late payment, but that puts at risk the financial base of the small business that is trying to survive and expand. I am extremely disappointed that the Government did not support legislation for interest on late payments.
Lord Ferrers, the Minister for Consumer Affairs and Small Firms, wrote to me explaining the difficulties of implementing such a scheme. However, if the problem were approached positively, I am sure that the difficulties of a blanket approach could be examined, to ensure that small businesses do not continue to be disadvantaged by big companies. I would have strongly supported legislation to impose interest on late payments.
I am sponsored by the co-operative movement, and proud to be so. Many hon. Members in all parts of the House could learn from co-operative principles how to conduct themselves in business. Co-operatives provide an attractive model of corporate structure that I wish to encourage. I am pleased that members of my Front Bench will introduce a co-operatives Bill as part of the next Labour Government's strategy. That will create a level playing field for co-operatives, and allow them to expand in future.
The co-operative sector can be split into four main areas--mutually constituted enterprises such as insurance and finance, retail co-operative societies, farming co-operatives and employee-owned businesses. I will concentrate on the last of those.
Small and medium-sized enterprises are vital to economic development. There are more than 2 million UK businesses, and 96 per cent. of them employ fewer than
Column 40520 people. Those firms are the lifeblood of the economy. Conventional business structures discriminate against a huge proportion of people who would tackle running their own businesses if provided with the right mechanisms. Many unemployed people have usable skills, especially in recent times--but structural changes in the nature of management and in working practices mean that such people are effectively barred from entering into an enterprise by lack of finance and skills and from personal pressure.
Conventional logic suggests that the lone man or woman has the best chance of succeeding with a new enterprise, but that view is too simplistic, because it ignores the realities of business formation and personal circumstances. In practice, few people have access to even relatively small amounts of finance, or possess the wide range of skills necessary to establish and run a successful business with the capacity to grow and to employ others. Understandably, few people are prepared to take personal responsibility for finance or management.
The option of forming a co-operative business addresses those barriers. By bringing people together in an equitable way, personal financial commitment can be reduced and access to outside finance increased. More importantly, the greater the number of people involved, the better the chance of even higher levels of finance and of securing institutional finance. A group of people can also offer a wide range of experience and skills, thus increasing the chances of the business succeeding.
Dissipating the burdens of financial commitment and work load and establishing a peer group forum can create the energy to drive the business forward, with competency increased to a high level. Those factors combine to allow the enterprise entry point to be at a higher level--and the word "enterprise" is not the exclusive property of any party in the House. Larger, more credible businesses can be formed with a higher capital base and greater in-house expertise. The latter is particularly important if capital-intensive enterprises are to be established.
In Scotland, the concept of co-operative development has been embraced by local authorities, but has so far been shunned by the local enterprise networks. Those networks, which are governed by Scottish Office policies, must change. In this day and age, working co-operatively must be the corollary of good management practice, never mind anything else. Real commitment and motivation are derived from a sense of ownership. The higher output of a motivated and committed work force produces a successful and expanding business. Development of the co-operative sector, however, is not a panacea. We in the co-operative world do not claim exclusively to have the answer to Britain's industrial problems, but we certainly believe that the rest of the United Kingdom could learn from the co-operative sector.
Column 406the debate on education has been well won by the Conservative party for many years. Sir Edward Boyle put it as well as anyone:
"The purpose of the State in education is to give children an equal chance of proving themselves unequal."
That view contrasts completely with Labour's handling of education over many years and with the way that it still approaches the matter.
I am not saying that the Labour and Liberal parties do not have their hearts in the right place, but they are not prepared to think hard enough about education. Many Labour supporters argue, for example, that one must be gentle with immigrants and the deprived and not expect too much of them- -but that is to do such children no favour. Immigrant children or those with home difficulties must work extremely hard, provided that they have the ability, to overcome difficulties that others do not have. If they have a language problem, they need to work extra hard, not be allowed to take it easy because they are thought to have difficulties at home. Labour's whole approach is wrong.
I was surprised to receive in my post this morning a letter from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), addressed to all parliamentary Labour party members. It stated:
Column 407"Education is due to be discussed next Monday evening as part of the Queen's Speech Debate . . . I am attaching two separate briefing notes to assist you with any press or public inquiries you may receive in connection with these events."--
[ Interruption .]
interruptions--especially from the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey), from a sedentary position.
Mr. Greenway: I am surprised by the quality of speeches made by Labour Members, bearing in mind the paucity of the briefing sent to them by their spokesman. I will not describe that briefing at any length because it is not worth it--it does not say anything. However, on the question of accepting the value of publishing league tables, it states:
"There will also be separate league tables measuring attendance, which will for the first time distinguish between permitted absence and truancy."
Is not that bright? League tables on absence from school will take account, as they always have, of absence as opposed to truancy. It is important to have league tables on attendance at school. It seems that the hon. Member for Brightside is accepting that, and in so doing is making an obvious comment. The hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that his party will now accept the value of league tables, but on the radio this morning he did not punch home the fact that there are three essentials for a child at school: that he should work, that he must attend and that he must be punctual. If a child does not attend school and does not work, it is obvious that he will not achieve anything. If a child is not punctual, his achievement will be low.
The Labour party believes that
"comparative information should reflect the value added by a school to a pupil's education. The purpose of such information should be to highlight those schools which have achieved considerable improvements and to assist those schools which are not achieving their full potential."
I warn the Labour party that "value added" is an extremely difficult concept to write into tables that are designed to show objectively what schools and children are achieving. There is nothing wrong with the idea, however, and there is nothing new about it. It is what the Government and schools have been trying to do since 1979 and, indeed, before that. It is extraordinary, however, to write the concept into briefing material for Labour Members as if it is a new one.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth said, the Labour party does not have anything to say about education.
From my early days of teaching--too many years ago--the Labour party's drive was towards uniformity at both the primary and secondary stages. It seems that it cannot get over that. It is only the Conservative party that regards each child as an individual and recognises that team games and many other aspects of school life enable children to express their individuality. Children profit from the competitive instinct; there is nothing wicked about it. Unfortunately, the Labour party has always assumed that competitiveness in children is wicked and evil, but it is natural. It is important to harness competitiveness for the advantage of children and to schools. We must not try to suppress it.
Column 408When a Labour headmistress banned the egg- and-spoon race on the ground that it was damaging to children because it encouraged them to be too competitive, and when in some London schools competitive games were eliminated by the Inner London education authority, enormous damage was done to many children, especially to those whose only talent lay on the games field. Competitive games are a valuable way in which some children can express themselves. Indeed, it is the only way in which some can do so.
I welcome the emphasis that has been placed on training and development, especially by the Government. I welcome also the Labour party's rhetoric. It seems that Labour has been won over by the Government's education and training policies. It talks about them all the time. It is extraordinary, however, that, upon gaining control of Ealing council, Labour's first act was to declare that it would close the Ealing training and development centre, at which 60 or 70 16 to 17-year-olds receive valuable training. It is their only route into work. I understand that it costs £400,000 a year. Those who are running the centre say that they can raise £200,000 from private sources and from their own hard work.
Ealing council is required only to give about 70 young people the opportunity to get into work, which they need and should have. That entitlement is something that the Labour party recognises in its rhetoric both locally and nationally. It says that it is vital to get young people in employment. Ealing council has only to pay the salaries of the instructors and teachers at the centre, which will amount to about £200,000 a year. It has inherited balances of £12 million from the outgoing Conservative administration, yet it will close the centre.
I visited the centre last week, and met some stupefied young people. They thought that the Labour party meant what it said when it claimed that it valued training for young people. How disillusioned they are. Without a thought, without blinking an eye, the local Labour party in Ealing--its action has not so far been repudiated in this place--is to close a training centre for young people, for the very young people who need it and ought to have it. It is a disgrace.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): It is a strange Chamber. For a change, I decided to make a rather non-partisan speech. As I listened to Conservative Members talk about education, it became more and more difficult to take that course. I shall try, however, to adhere to my original intention.
Mr. Pawsey: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Do you find it extraordinarily discourteous to the House that during an important debate on education and training and trade and industry, not one spokesman or member of the Liberal party is in the Chamber?
Mr. Sheerman: It is an extra minute for me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was disappointed by the omission from the Gracious Speech of any solid reference to British manufacturing industry or any sign that the Government intend taking positive steps to encourage research and development,
Column 409skills training or investment in a vital sector of our economy, which now accounts for less than 20 per cent. of gross domestic product.
As today's debate has been focused on industry and education, I thought it appropriate to spend time on one sector of education that I believe has enormous relevance to our future industrial success. That is not to underrate other parts of the education process, but rather to acknowledge the strategic role of higher education in working with industry to achieve a substantial increase in wealth creation.
Universities have changed dramatically since the time when I and most hon. Members were students. Beyond the simple fact that there are far more institutions conducting research and teaching courses--129 are funded by the Higher Education Funding Council, including the colleges of London university--the entire sector has undergone what the pundits would call massification.
If we go back further than my student days, in 1938-39 there were 69,000 students in full-time education. By 1962-63, when I was at the London School of Economics and Lord Robbins was about to pontificate on the future of higher education, the figure had risen to 216,000. By 1979, we had 510,000 full-time students and 268,000 part time. In the academic year beginning in 1992, there were about 934,000 full-time students, and 475,000 part time. That is indeed massification. It is clear that higher education is no longer restricted to a small, elite group. Indeed, 30 per cent. of young people can look forward to a university career, not 3 per cent. The size of the university sector is evident to all, but in parallel there has been a qualitative change in universities and what happens between their staff and students. That has had an effect on the very culture that is to be found within university higher education.
Many of us remember a generation of students who were typically between 18 and 22. There is now a much broader age profile. Students are generally older, they are more aware and they are often self-financing. They have a much better grasp of the significance of their time at university and what they have to gain by experiencing it to the full. It is not just the student population that has changed. Staff numbers have increased. The staff-student ratios have changed--often for the worst--and many more staff are on short-term contracts.
So what does that enormous growth from 3 per cent. to 30 per cent. mean? The prime responsibility of universities remains that of core teaching and research. I do not think that any enlightened Member of the House would gainsay that. Universities are increasingly called on to be actively involved in a variety of new roles. Some of them sit more comfortably than others. Some need more Government help and intervention. Those new roles and objectives may include--the best examples do--a real role in community regeneration. Where we see best practice, that means not only physical regeneration of the hinterland in which they are situated, but cultural regeneration and regeneration of the wealth-creating process.
Given the size and cost to the taxpayer of the higher education sector, it is natural that our constituents should have high expectations that universities will help to create a better life for them. Historically, Britain has thrived on its ability to produce talented men and women--
Column 410inventors, research scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. But today the difference is that so many more of our talented people will come through higher education. It is essential, therefore, that we carefully assess the key elements in a successful strategy for maximising the full potential of the universities.
Universities have a crucial role to play in assisting the development of our country and its wealth creation. Research and teaching are still vital and the universities' contribution to the cultural and intellectual life of the nation is as important as ever. But that traditional role is undergoing change as fast as the sector itself is expanding. Many institutions are broadening their core activities, complementing teaching and research by participation in partnerships with the private sector, in science parks and innovations centres, and through the growth of cross-discipline research and partnership. Indeed, much of our old conception of teachers and researchers working on their own, publishing papers, is really a part of history. We are looking at teams working together, with cross-disciplines, in social science, science and the arts--so often, disciplines are barriers to change and innovation rather than something that help the participants.
New methods of working and, consequently, of rewarding staff are gaining greater credence. The traditional model will change, and the Government-- all Governments--should be helping that change, because the one thing that most hon. Members with one of the 123 universities in their constituency have learnt is that they are the greatest powerhouse for change. They are the greatest dynamism for change in our environment. They are also usually the biggest employer. They make the biggest use of taxpayers' money and, indeed, have the greatest potential to make the lives of our constituents better in every sense.
The present situation presents a series of challenges, which must be approached with care, seriously evaluating our own and overseas experience and attempting to share and spread best practice. Universities must above all approach private sector partnerships with a clear sense of priorities, purpose and objectives. They must also ensure that they manage the boundaries between their own institutions and the private sector in a competent fashion. The Labour party believes that to be important. Labour Members want the relationships to be right, but we also want and demand that universities be well managed. That deficiency sometimes crops up. There must be competent managers at the helm of those great institutions, which affect our constituents' lives.
Government should also understand and encourage a diversity of funding sources and realise that institutions of higher education are diverse in their nature and much better at some things than at others. Not all universities are good at basic, core, scientific research, but they may be very good at more practical research that is of equal importance to the British economy.
Governments and universities should be wary of one-dimensional solutions. Fashions will change, from science parks, to innovations centres, to venture companies. The trick will be in variety and learning by success and failure. Some of the innovations will fail. Some will succeed. We must build on the successes if we are to have a successful partnership and economy.
Political parties must learn to be less doctrinal in assessing the patterns and potential for development, whether that means understanding what public -private
Column 411co-operation really means in higher education, or how much more advantageous a more flexible contractual basis may be, for teaching as well as for administrative staff. I say that knowing that somebody may be jumping on me when I leave the Chamber, perhaps from the Association of University Teachers, of which I am still a member. Universities are a major player in our future destiny, not just because we need a more highly skilled, adaptable work force, not just because we must continue to prize a critical mass of high-quality, basic research, and not just because the university sector is now the most potent force for productive change in our society. That is most important because, above all, universities can show all our citizens, not only their students, the quality of life that can be enjoyed working in a challenging, high- tech, modern, inclusive community. The Gracious Speech could have addressed a number of measures to stimulate the exciting partnership between universities and the private sector. Unfortunately, it missed that opportunity. Indeed, it could have included measures that would have given back a feeling of status and self-esteem to the university staff and administrators who have made such a great success of the growth pattern of the university sector. But that is a missed opportunity.
Mr. John Horam (Orpington): I am one who argued recently that the legislative programme contained in the Gracious Speech should be both short and well considered. It is certainly short and, at first glance, seems also well considered, but the devil is in the detail of such matters, as we have learnt from experience over the past couple of years, so whether in the longer term we shall take that view I cannot say, but at first glance I am pleased by what is in it.
I favour a short programme because the over-large programmes that we have had over recent years have undoubtedly led to Acts being put through which have had to be considered and reconsidered and which have not always led to the most felicitous results. I am thinking, for example, of legislation that established the Child Support Agency, the two criminal justice Bills, which had to be revised, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the poll tax and so forth. The reason why we had that adverse result is quite simply that we tried to load on to our existing systems in the House an over-weighty, complex system of Bills, which it has not been able to take.
As someone who has had to spend the past eight years earning his living outside the House, and welcomed the fresh air of private business, I have been astonished by the inefficiency of our procedures, and also by the fact that there has been so little change. If one lives in the market outside the House, the fact of life is continual change. Our legislative procedures have changed hardly at all. I regret that.
We now have some good news. There is the Jopling Committee report, which, I believe, hon. Members on both Front Benches are working out with a will. I hope that we shall see some results from that in the not too distant future. I also hope that they will then follow through with some changes in our legislative procedures. They have the blueprint in the Hansard Society's report, which came out about 18 months ago and which set out very clearly the sort of criticisms that all of us make about our procedures. I hope that those criticisms will be noted and changes implemented.
Column 412My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) is raising the report aloft. I hope that one day he will raise it aloft in triumph, as we Back Benchers force the Front-Bench Members, but particularly the Whips, to come out with some radical proposals in that area, and then we can live up to our best instincts. The fact is that, if we had a privatised Chamber competing with us to produce legislation in a more efficient manner, we should be out of business and all of us would be unemployed. I am sure that, unless we changed our ways, we simply could not cope with the procedures that a private sector Chamber would have thought sensible over the past 10 years. The second reason why we should keep a short legislative programme is that one does not have to have a large number of Bills to be radical. That is especially so when the important thing is to bring down the level of Government expenditure and start reducing taxes once again. The position is abundantly clear. At present, general Government spending takes about 43.75 per cent. of our annual national income--only a fraction less than in 1979. I expect my right hon. and hon. Friends to improve on that, and to lower the figure by £5 billion or so; but I think that they should exceed what inflation and unemployment levels will allow them to do anyway, and make further cuts in public spending. I believe that that is the only way in which we can make sensible progress in invigorating industry and lowering taxation. Both the Institute of Directors and the CBI have called for precisely such action in their Budget recommendations; I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor has listened carefully to what they have said.
If my right hon. and learned Friend is looking at areas in which we can cut public expenditure--which he will naturally want to do--he need look no further than the Institute of Directors' charter for Government spending, which sets out a 25-year programme for reducing the total. Like the institute, I do not believe that we should reduce public spending in every area; indeed, in some areas we need to increase it. The problem is the relentless rise in the total, particularly as a percentage of our national income. That is intolerable.
As many of my hon. Friends have pointed out today, we have achieved a number of triumphs in the past 15 years. We have had a superb success with privatisation, which the Opposition have largely accepted; we have had a superb success with trade union reform, which they have largely accepted; and we have made excellent progress with education and training, which the Opposition--doing one of their usual U-turns--are accepting. If we can cap that with progress in reducing Government spending and taxation--which is, I think, implicit in the appeal of the Conservative party--we shall have increased our success substantially. Our current economic performance is the best that I have ever seen, and I feel that the Government deserve full credit. If they can maintain that performance over the next 10 years--and the approach that I advocate would enable them to do so--they will deserve to stay in power for a long time.
The Queen's Speech includes legislation to authorise the construction and operation by the private sector of a high-speed rail link between London and the channel tunnel. I am particularly keen for that to be implemented in good time, because until the link is constructed, all the
Column 413trains will go through Orpington. We welcome that in some respects, but we do not welcome the increase in noise, vibration and general nuisance.
Hon. Members will remember all the business about "leaves on the line". To reduce that problem, it was unfortunately necessary to remove all the shrubs, bushes and trees that lay between my constituents' back gardens and the railway line, which has now exacerbated the problems of noise and vibration. The obvious answer is to erect noise barriers, and--owing to the sensible and constructive approach of Bromley council--there are plans to erect such barriers on lines carrying mainly freight. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to reach an agreement regarding lines carrying passengers.
The Government can help my constituents, and many other people in Kent and south London, by improving their proposals for the noise insulation regulations that they are about to introduce. They should extend those regulations not only to new lines, but to existing lines that are substantially upgraded.
With that caveat and hope for progress, I broadly commend the Queen's Speech. I believe that it is one more step towards sensible progress for our country, particularly in economic matters. 8.13 pm