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The very purpose of Government is to have duties and
responsibilities, and the election of a Government carries the burden of trust from the electorate. I believe that the present Government have lost that trust as a result of their actions on the national health service. One would expect the ideological vision of any party that has been in power for 15 years to be near completion, but the Tory philosophy that everything should be left to the market or the business ethic has proved to be fundamentally flawed. It is not what the people want and at the next general election--in two years' time, or even next Monday--we shall see what they do want; the Government will then pay the price.
Meanwhile, for the past 15 years, the price has been paid by those who are not equipped to defend themselves. No area of government demonstrates that more clearly than the NHS. On behalf of my constituents, I take this opportunity to thank all its workers for their skill and dedication, and for always putting patients first: that has always been, always will be and always should be the culture of health care, and to suggest otherwise is to insult the integrity of all who work in that field. I hope that Mr. Lilley of the Homewood health trust will resign; if he does not do so voluntarily, the Secretary of State should ask him to. After what he has said, he has no place in the national health service.
With a population of more than 475,000, due to rise to half a million by the year 2000, Bradford is the only metropolitan district in England whose population is growing. It is growing mainly among the very young and the elderly, especially those above the age of 85. Both groups depend heavily on the NHS. A recent report by Bradford Health Strategy drew attention to the relationship between health and wealth, stating:
"The health of Bradford's citizens varies in direct proportion to their wealth."
Given that one third of Bradford's population survive on some form of benefit, it is vital for health provision to meet the community's needs.
In 1991, Bradford's hospital trust was launched as a flagship; but it has been a complete disaster. It is already on its second chief executive, and in June was heading for a £6 million deficit. Morale is at its lowest as staff see more resources being poured into bureaucracy: there are more accountants than ever before, spending money on letterheads and administration. Remedies considered to reduce the deficit included the closure of a day ward at St Luke's hospital.
My constituents are still on long waiting lists, but under the Bradford system patients must decide whether they still require operations. Having waited 12 months, they receive a card asking whether they want to go on waiting;
Column 507if they do not return the card, they are removed from the list. That is quite convenient when it comes to waiting list figures. A consultant in my area recently wrote to me complaining that he could not respond to one of my constituents because he was overworked and there was a shortage of neurosurgeons in the United Kingdom. In fact, he said that there were more neurosurgeons in downtown Tokyo than in the whole of the United Kingdom. The spin doctors of the Tory party tell us that there are no problems in the NHS and accuse Opposition Members of talking it down; but that is not true. Conservative Members do no good by saying how wonderful the service is while destroying it and gagging NHS workers who complain about what is going on.
The Tory record speaks for itself: we have seen increased prescription charges--
Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): Does the hon. Gentleman admit that expenditure on the NHS in real terms is now 60 per cent. higher than it was in 1979? Does he also admit that a record number of patients are now being treated and that nowhere is the number being treated greater than in areas where trust hospitals and fundholding practices work together? Is that not an argument for extending reform, rather than sticking to a system that was designed to meet the needs of the 1940s and cannot possibly meet those of the 1990s?
Mr. Sutcliffe: Surely, if the system is to be changed, those changing it should listen to what the health care professionals have to say. That has not been the Government's record. I can only go on the record of the trust in Bradford, which was formed in 1991 as part of the Government's "flagship": the resources being provided there do not meet the needs of Bradford people.
Mr. Malone: Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to concede that the great advantages secured by that trust include the removal of dialysis services from Leeds to Bradford, and far better physiotherapy in the hospital, where it can be provided in a community context? I know, because I have visited the trust and seen those improvements. Why does the hon. Gentleman persistently describe the picture as black when it clearly is not?
Mr. Sutcliffe: That is not true. If the Minister has indeed visited the hospital, I hope that he commented on the £6 million deficit. I do not know at which time of the year he visited, but if he wishes to return to find out what methods of reducing the deficit are being used, I will gladly accompany him and try to find the answers myself. When asked what it is doing, the trust plays its cards close to its chest; that is due to lack of accountability. Moreover, not all the developments referred to by the Minister match local needs for certain types of health provision--for instance, provision for the elderly. As the Minister knows, I used to lead Bradford council; I was happy to discuss and negotiate Bradford's health care strategy with many local agencies, but when we tried to talk to the trust we found that it adopted a very distant attitude to the people of Bradford.
Let me return to the Tory record of increased prescription charges and charges for eye tests. Today we have heard about the privatisation of dental care; we have also heard about the two-tier family practitioner service and the discrimination against patients according to
Column 508whether their GPs are fundholders. In the place of the old service, we see more costly, more bureaucratic and less accountable health trusts.
The following question could be asked: if people do not use the service, does all that matter? I wonder how many Conservative Members use the NHS. What is so tragic is that the position could have been very different. I have been told that the recently privatised utilities, and other privatised companies, have secured millions, if not billions, of pounds in shareholder dividends and profits; if only a proportion of that had been used for the NHS and similar services, people could have received service at the point of need.
The Queen's Speech gives the health service nothing new; in fact, it provides less of the same. It does not provide the accountability that we require, or give doctors, nurses and health care workers what they want. It is necessary only to talk to those employees to see how low health service morale now is. They want the resources to use their dedication to provide services for people in need; what we need is a speedy change of Government. I hope that that will happen on Monday, but I doubt it: not many Tory Members have the backbone to do what they say they are going to do.
Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley): I support the Government in their opposition to the amendment that has been moved this afternoon. Like many hon. Members, I have sat patiently listening with great interest to the debate. We heard a great deal about "factoids" and "killer facts" from the hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), who led for the Opposition. I hope that the good Lord will save us from the hon. Lady if she ever comes back to the House with killer policies for the NHS. She singularly lacked any policy proposals today. At the start of my speech, I have to declare a vested interest: many years ago I was employed by the NHS as a porter--my first paid employment. I do not know whether that has to go on the Register of Members' Interests, but I thought that I should bare my chest at the outset.
I support what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health said earlier. When one goes to any group of people to ask them about the NHS, 95 per cent. say, "When I used it, it was marvellous. The doctors and nurses were splendid." The users of the NHS think that it is good news. As for my local experience, I have to thank the Government for promising to rebuild Barnet hospital.
But I make no apology for moving the debate sideways within the terms of the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Derby, South. I believe that if the former Member of the House who, at various times, represented Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and a pocket borough called Mitchel, and who is otherwise known as Sir Walter Raleigh, brought back his noxious weed from America today, he would not be welcomed. I wish to talk about that subject in the health context.
On 8 October this year, the British Medical Journal published a 40-year study on health and death. It was the longest and most in-depth study of its sort ever undertaken. It contained the prediction that about half of all regular cigarette users will eventually die as a result of their habit. It forecasts that by 2025 no fewer than 10 million people will die from smoking each year. By that
Column 509time, more than 200 million will have died from the habit. Currently, 3 million people die from smoking each year and in Britain the figure is 110,000. Even with the so-called 17 per cent. yearly reduction in smoking in developed countries such as ours, that figure is far too high, and this House must address it.
It is well known that smoking causes 90 per cent. of all lung cancer deaths. It is less well known that 25 per cent. of cases of ischaemic heart disease are caused by smoking, as are 75 per cent. of deaths from bronchitis and emphysema. We must weed out this killer from our nation. We owe it to the world to spell it out now that the British Medical Journal has published these new facts. We must take action to prevent the spread of tobacco use and to prevent the vulnerable and the ignorant from choosing to smoke.
The horror catalogue of tobacco use contains one fiend of dreadful aspect with gory hands and bloodstained jaws, if I may put it that way. I speak of our complicity, both in this country and in Europe, in the tobacco business. Belatedly, the most recent research findings have convinced me that tobacco advertising is indefensible-- even with its health warning. No hair splitting or sophistry can disguise the fact that we are responsible for allowing what is wrong merely because duty from tobacco use is so large.
In the House we have a history of eventually doing the right thing--of course, this Government do it more regularly than most. Slavery was wrong, but, thanks to Wilberforce, in 1832 we rose above the vested interests. The denial of votes and political representation to women was wrong, but we got over that earlier this century. We now have to abolish tobacco advertising.
I welcome the Government's good sense in raising the tobacco issue in Europe. I thank the Government for raising the level of tobacco duty--one can point to no other single more important factor in explaining why more people are choosing not to smoke. I look forward to more good sense in the Budget next week, when I hope that the Government will announce that they will increase tobacco duty again. That alone will save lives.
My right hon. Friend is right to act on this subject in Europe. It is fair to say that, so far, only Britain has resisted the ban on tobacco advertising and I hope that it will shift its position now that it has new facts to grapple with.
For some time, British Health Ministers have taken the right decision to put pressure on spending Ministers to stop tobacco subsidies. As early as 19 July 1991, Baroness Trumpington said in another place:
"The Government have consistently criticised the tobacco regime on health grounds and will continue to do so."--[ Official Report , 19 July 1991; Vol. 531, c. 364.]
That decision is right and it is to be welcomed, but there is new evidence not only of the evil effects of the product, but of the crazy nature of the European tobacco subsidy regime.
The European tobacco subsidy scandal is not understood fully. Each year the European Union gives £1 billion to tobacco growers in southern Europe. The money goes mostly to Italy, but also to Greece and, surprisingly, countries such as Belgium, France and Germany. So not surprisingly, votes for its abolition are in short supply. Britain receives not a puff of subsidy in this area.
Column 510Of all the current frauds in Europe--it seems that frauds are a big growth industry there--this is the worst, and the House should address it. Conservative Members sometimes find it difficult to explain the details of the excellent efficiency savings that we are making in the NHS, yet at the same time we are spending money on a scandal in Europe.
Our money is spent on the poisonous weed in this way. In another place, the Government have admitted that British taxpayers spent at least £50 million on the European tobacco crop in 1990. Bearing in mind the fact that this country is responsible for 16 per cent. of the total European spending of £1 billion on tobacco, our tobacco subsidy is £160 million. As we are net contributors, our proportion is probably closer to £250 million. But taking the lesser figure of £160 million, each year we are spending the equivalent of one to three hospitals on supporting the growth of this poisonous crop in southern Europe.
That is not all. Another issue is how the tobacco is produced and where it goes. Half the black tobacco cannot be smoked by the people in Europe because it is so awful. It is dumped on the third world, where there is no health warning on the advertising. It is not surprising that the demand for that noxious product is rising all the time.
That is not all. The quality of European tobacco for which we pay is dreadful. With its high tar content it is likely to cause cancer and the other problems that I have mentioned. This must stop. We must gain for ourselves line item veto in our budget proposals. This Parliament has never flinched from curbing squandering and spendthrift rulers. Kings, lords and Ministers have fallen to the demands of the House. The House must give notice that it will block any spending that is onerous, oppressive and damages human health. I support the Government's fine record on preventive medicine and on far-reaching and far-sighted funding of community medicine. However, they should polish their crown. They should abolish tobacco advertising in Britain and move to stop tobacco dumping in the third world. They should put pressure on the finance and farming Ministers to veto any budget that contains another pound, ecu or lira to be spent on black tobacco growing in Europe.
Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): I do not suppose that the people in my constituency or any other really mind who runs the health service, so long as it is run well and is free when people need treatment. I do not want to knock the trusts. They are there and they will stay until we have the power to put them right in the way that we see fit. Unfortunately, we have had some trouble with the trust in south-east Northumberland, where my constituency is located.
The Ashington hospital is about to close, although part of it is still open. There is the new Cheviot and Wansbeck hospital run by the Cheviot and Wansbeck trust, which became a trust in April last year. Three months after that it announced that it was £1 million in debt and the cuts began. Little did we know that some cuts had already taken place because there were already debts. My argument is this: why did it apply for trust status? If it had stayed with the health authority when it knew that there was a £1 million debt, help might have been available. Now that it is a trust, there is no help. We
Column 511understand that that £1 million debt may grow to at least £2.5 million by the end of the year, so there are more cuts on the way. One of the day care wards will be closed and the pathology laboratory is to be shared with another hospital. We all know what might happen there. The worst event was the sacking of midwives and nurses at the hospital to save money. The maternity wing of the hospital took a fairly big cut. Over a few months, 12 well qualified midwives were made redundant. Of course, the trust brought other people in--new health care workers at £2.80 or £3 an hour when fully qualified midwives could easily command £6 or £7 an hour. It was getting rid of experienced midwives and nurses and replacing them with inexperienced health care workers--that is the new term. One of the gynaecologists at the maternity hospital had seen what was happening. He wrote a letter to the chief executive of the trust and sent a copy to the chairman of the regional health authority. He said that he was amazed to see the work of the midwives and health care workers in the maternity wing. He was amazed at their exhaustion and their worry. He saw their frame of mind and knew that they were overworked. He said that lives would be lost if something was not done, but nothing was done. As we know, those involved in the trust ignored any warning that they were given from the people who matter--the doctors.
There was a disaster. A mother in my constituency lost her first baby after experiencing a perfectly normal pregnancy. I saw the local doctor and he said that there should have been nothing to fear and that there should have been a normal delivery. She went into the maternity wing at Ashington hospital and was in labour for 12 hours. For three of those hours the baby was in the birth canal, but no one was attending to the mother. The nurses and midwives were overworked and were dealing with somebody else at the same time. It was not the nurses' fault: they simply could not cope--that is why the gynaecologist had written the letter.
When the baby was born, it was exhausted and the hospital had to send for an emergency baby unit from the Royal Victoria infirmary, 20 miles away in Newcastle. The unit was rushed to the Ashington hospital in an attempt to save the baby's life. The experts had to insert a needle into the baby, but it missed the child's heart, hit an artery and the baby died.
When I heard about the case I took it immediately to the ombudsman. Unfortunately, the mother is, quite rightly, suing the hospital. That event was a warning.
Lo and behold, about a month and a half later there was another incident. This time the mother came from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) and I had no dealings with it. The family were very upset and were not saying much. All we knew was that the child had died in strange circumstances in the same maternity unit. Very little was said. I could not get in touch with the parents because they did not come from my constituency, but we understand that they are now taking legal action against the hospital.
All that arose because the trust was in debt by £1 million and decided to save some money by cutting a few hospital workers, particularly midwives. The deaths of those two children should never have occurred, especially when there had already been a letter of warning from a gynaecologist, which the regional health authority and the chief executive of the trust had chosen to ignore. I think
Column 512that the Minister has received that letter. If he has not, I shall give him a copy. It is a disgrace when something like that happens and two mothers lose their children.
The trust asked some of the midwives whom it had made redundant to come back. It knew that it had made a mistake. The union man's advice to the midwives was to stay out for another month because they could lose redundancy money if they came back too quickly.
Other things have been happening in relation to the trust. The problems are all down to the lack of money and to a hospital becoming a trust when it was in debt. I should like to ask the Minister how a hospital can become a trust when it is in debt. On two occasions, I asked the chief executive of the trust and the panel of men who sit either side of him why the hospital became a trust when it was in debt. I received a little bit of an answer from one of them. He said, "Captain Harry did not tell me." How in heaven can one believe that? A person could pull the bells on my foot if he wanted me to believe that one.
The position in Wansbeck is not good. If cuts of £2 million or £3 million go ahead at the end of this year, I foresee that that brand new hospital serving south-east Northumberland will close, or that another hospital may take it over, as has been rumoured will happen. I asked some of the people working there whether they had heard any Americans talking because some Americans might be after a nice private hospital in south-east Northumberland. That is a danger. I asked the Minister for an inquiry, but I did not get one. Naturally, there should be an inquiry and the matter should be examined. The health of people in south-east Northumberland is at stake. I received a letter from the Minister saying that I had made some good, valid points but that, unfortunately, he could not call for an inquiry.
Never mind: things have developed since then. Only a few weeks ago, a sub- committee of the community health council--another sub-committee--passed a resolution of no confidence in the Cheviot and Wansbeck trust. Lo and behold, two Tory councillors put forward that motion of no confidence, which still has to go before the full council for ratification. Two Tory councillors oppose the trust, but the Conservative party says that trusts are wonderful and great and must remain.
I do not know why the Minister's colleagues in Northumberland put forward the motion of no confidence. Perhaps the Minister will be able to find out. All that I ask the board to do is to resign and to let someone in who can do the job. The hospital is in a downward spiral and, unless money is found, it will either close or be taken over by another hospital. Of course, the money will never be found because the Government will never bail the trust out and it knows that.
It is interesting to consider what is happening with GP fundholders. Fundholders and non-fundholders in my constituency have a large number of patients. I visit the practice of a non-fundholder who wishes to remain so. The GP at a nearby practice is a fundholder.The non-fundholder knows that fundholders receive preferential treatment. Patients of fundholders are being admitted to hospital before those of non-fundholders. That is being done deliberately to force non-fundholders to become fundholders. That view was expressed by my doctor; I did not find it out myself. I am aware that at least one practice is getting rid of some of its patients, pushing them on to non-fundholders as well as fundholders. One practice in my constituency
Column 513is removing old people from its books. Another will not treat drug addicts. Whatever one's views on the subject, drug addicts are patients and they need treatment. Nevertheless, that practice refuses to treat them and sends them to another practice.
That practice has lost about 1,000 patients in about 18 months and has made an application to become a fundholder. It is getting rid of patients who will cost a lot of money to treat. It wants to have an elite of patients who will not cost it too much money. That is a dangerous position. Many burdens are being placed on non-fundholders who, on principle, will not become fundholders. They face the burden of looking after old people, drug addicts and anyone else who costs a lot of money to treat.
I hope that the Minister will consider what some of those practices are doing. I am sure that it is happening not only in Blyth Valley but in other regions. The Minister should take time to consider the number of patients that fundholders have lost in a year and how they have pushed them off somewhere else. I hope that he will seriously consider the problem.
Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): I should like to deal with the pensions issue and to welcome the Government's proposal to introduce a Pensions Bill. The need for pension legislation is manifest--recent scandals have made that clear to everyone--and it is right that the Government should legislate to protect people who receive pensions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) and I probably represent more occupational pensioners than anyone else. No one is more assiduous in defending their rights than my hon. Friend. There are concerns about some of the Government's proposals in the White Paper. I should like to bring them to the attention of the House and of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security. I hope that, before the Bill is introduced, problems will be corrected in the ways that I should like.
I pay tribute to the assistance that hon. Members have received from the Association of Consulting Actuaries and the National Association of Pension Funds, both of which have guided us through some of the more difficult and tortuous parts of this rather esoteric subject.
It is right that a minimum solvency requirement should be built into all pension funds. There is nothing worse than someone working all his life to receive an occupational pension, having paid into it all his life, only to find that the fund contains insufficient money to pay him the pension to which he rightly believes that he is entitled. It is essential, therefore, that we frame our legislation to give adequate protection.
I am concerned that bureaucratic rules may be drawn up which defeat the object that we intend. If the mechanism for defining minimum solvency requirements is too rigid, it could undermine specifically defined benefit schemes and deter employers from providing them. That would be a great shame for employees and would also hurt the Government, who would have to pay out more in means-tested benefits. There would be no winners in those circumstances.
Column 514Similarly, we must remember that pensions and pension investment are long-term businesses. They provide for liabilities for pensions and pension trustees many years ahead, whereas markets are essentially short term. Yields, values, equities, values of properties and values of gilts go up and down. The danger is that too strict a mechanism may drive fund managers out of equity investment and, at least predominantly, into gilts. That would not only disrupt the market but deprive British industry of a valuable source of investment funds.
One of the greatest dangers at the moment is that not enough of our institutional money is channelled into investment in productive industry. Too strict a mechanism may defeat that desirable objective. The House will know that the Select Committee on Trade and Industry commented on that fact and suggested ways in which we could guide pension fund moneys into investment in industry. It would be a great shame if the proposed Bill were to defeat that objective. Secondly, I wish to deal briefly with the contentious issue of trustees and their investment policy. Who should be trustees? It is suggested--rightly--that trustees should not be comprised entirely of employers because, as happened with Mr. Maxwell, they may choose to raid the funds to prop up their businesses, with thoroughly undesirable results. Equally, however, we must be aware that if employees are too heavily involved in the management of a scheme they may have a similar interest in keeping the company going, an interest which may not coincide with that of existing or deferred pensioners. There is therefore a danger both in having too many employers and in having too many employees as trustees. We need independent trustees of proven probity who will be able to protect all those involved in the complex business of investment policy and in where and how pension funds are held.
Thirdly, I am a little worried that the White Paper does not deal with the custody of funds. Who holds the cash or the assets? By whom are they controlled? The example of Mr. Maxwell proves that, unless such issues are clearly defined, there is a danger that cash and assets may fall into the wrong hands. It is therefore extremely important that we provide for proper independent custody of valuable assets.
Finally, I wish to deal with regulation. Most of us agree that it is important that we continue to encourage occupational pension schemes. Valuable as private pensions may be, they satisfy the needs of only a limited number of the population. Those who are young or who may change their jobs often will probably be better off with a private pension. For many other employees in industry and commerce, however, an occupational pension to which a benevolent employer makes a valuable contribution will probably produce a better result. It is therefore vital that nothing in the legislation should prevent the continuing provision of occupational pensions.
I am concerned about regulatory costs and burdens. We are in danger of imposing on pension funds the same costs and burdens that we imposed on the investment industry through the Financial Services Act 1986. Were we to do so, the effect would be simple: employers would vote with their feet, stop providing occupational pension schemes and say that employees should have private pensions. Everyone would then suffer. I therefore urge that the costs of regulation be kept to a minimum.
Column 515Specifically, I believe that the cost of funding the regulator, which the Government propose in the White Paper should be met by employers and pension funds themselves, should fall on the Government. We aim to protect the public, but if we place too heavy a cost on employers they will not provide occupational pension schemes. If that were to happen, we should all lose. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security to ensure that the Government pick up the bill in this instance.
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): I greatly welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) because it seemed almost a generation ago that the flickering light was taken to the social security brief which is occupying half of our debate. I shall continue in the same vein as the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him into his sphere of concern and expertise, namely pensions.
It might be helpful if we move to a recent speech that did not gain the coverage that it perhaps deserved. I refer to a speech made by the Secretary of State for Social Security in Northern Ireland. It is perhaps a sign of the lack of confidence we have in ourselves that it is not what happens in the Chamber that matters so much as the coverage that we get might outside. As I am anxious to promote the Secretary of State's career, I shall spend a short time bolstering it now.
I believe that the Secretary of State's speech is the most important given by a senior politician this year. He outlined the theme of his lecture, which was what he believes to be
"the single most significant social change affecting the UK and most other western countries."
He went on to explain:
"That phenomenon is not the ageing of the population. Nor the breakdown of the family. Nor the increasing proportion of women at work. Rather, it is a phenomenon which is still largely unrecognised--the growing dispersion of earnings power."
I shall consider to what extent the Gracious Speech covers what the Secretary of State regards as the big issue of our time.
There are some wonderful give-away points even in the brief quotation that I read out. Indeed, one can build from it the modern Tory laws of politics. The beginning refers to a worldwide trend. Whenever the Government discuss a trend that is unfavourable to them, they describe it as "worldwide". Thus, the dispersion of earnings, which is very bad, is a "worldwide" trend. However, when trends begin to be favourable--for example, when unemployment goes down--it is all thanks to the Government, although, of course, when it goes up, it is part of a terrible worldwide trend.
In his speech, the Secretary of State did not concern himself--unusually, given the rigour of his analysis--with the fact that we know quite a bit about the dispersion of earnings in this country, and the trend is not as worldwide as he alleged in his lecture.
The record growth in inequality of earnings in this country can be accounted by three forces: half of that growing inequality is due to the Government's tax changes since 1979; a quarter is due to the rise in unemployment, and a quarter to the changes in the job
Column 516market to which the Secretary of State devoted so much of his interesting discourse. I provide that information because it is something that we need to consider.
We shall be examining our tax policy between now and the election, and considering how we are going to fashion our fair tax policy. If half the inequality that we deplore has been brought about by the Government's tax changes, we clearly have to think carefully about the changes that we shall reverse in order to lessen that inequality. Instead of doing that, the Secretary of State, understandably, considers the unemployment rate. Again, I thought that that was rather unfair, because figures can be used to favour one side or the other.
When examining any modern economy, it is no longer appropriate to concern oneself merely with the unemployment rate. We must combine it with the number of people who would usually be in work but are not--or, to use the technical jargon, the inactivity rate. If one adds the inactivity rate to the unemployment rate, it is clear that our performance--sadly--is no better than that of other countries. Nor is our performance in job creation.
Again, the Secretary of State chose two key dates for his analysis. He took the period after the first Thatcher recession and just before we went into the recession caused by Lord Lawson's Budget. And, looking at that very limited time span, he said, "Haven't we done rather well with job creation?" All of us would wish that the Government's claim about job creation were right, but the sad fact is that, if we take the total period of stewardship, from when the Government came into office until now, our economy over the past 16 years has been good at producing jobs, but by their management of the economy the Government have destroyed most of those new jobs. We have created many jobs, but we have not sustained them.
When considering the Gracious Speech, we should take the framework that the Secretary of State has given us and examine some of the more serious trends on which we need to spend more of our time. I shall give one illustration. Sir Brandon Rhys Williams was for long the Member of Parliament for Kensington, and one of his many activities was to safeguard the National Birthday Trust, which was responsible for three cohort studies.
The 1970 cohort study has now examined its subjects at the age of 21, and it found that many of them, having been through 11 years of our state education system, are largely illiterate. Of course there are points to be scored across the Floor of the House about the various stewardships of the different Administrations, but we should all be appalled by the fact that, after 11 years of taxpayers' money being spent on their education, people come to our surgeries hardly able to read or write.
We must consider that trend against what the Secretary of State described as the globalisation of the world economy, which will make it harder rather than easier for people without skills to get work in future. We must address that central problem. What is in the Queen's Speech to tackle it? There are two measures.
First, there is talk about allowing technical courses in schools for pupils aged 14. As someone who has lobbied the Government for eight years to carry out that small reform, it would be ungracious of me to say, "About time too"--although I now believe it to be totally inadequate. What is wrong with our city technology colleges is the
Column 517fact that there are not a thousand of them, so that we could produce an education relevant to many of our young constituents. The other measure in the Gracious Speech is the job seeker's allowance. Opposition Members would have no complaints about that if it were being introduced at a time when most people who wanted to work had work. But our great fear is that, under the guise of their supply-side measures, the Government will try to rough up many of our least able constituents so as to get them out of the dole queues, and that that, rather than getting them back into work, will be the primary objective.
Those two measures are totally inadequate to deal with what we all see in our constituencies now. As we have disfranchised younger people from work, two trends have appeared. One is that some of our younger female constituents, rather than being bound to their own homes, are deciding to start their own new homes and to have children and thereby gaining a certain freedom. That is a trend about which I am deeply unhappy, but it is happening.
For our very young male constituents, the opposite is happening. Ironically, they are even more firmly bound than ever before to their original families. In our constituencies are being created groups of unskilled young males condemned to a state of permanent adolescence. They are not in school; they are not in training schemes; they cannot get work.
While we are considering the extent to which the Gracious Speech meets the challenge that we see in our constituencies all the time, and which the Secretary of State boldly and clearly outlined in his recent speech, I ask the House how we are to judge the worth of the two measures. Sadly, I come to the conclusion that we now have a Government who--collectively, as opposed to some of the individuals within it--seem to have no will power to match measures to the situation that many of our constituents face.
The hopeful note in the Secretary of State's speech was about the Reich theory of the labour market and about taking our constituents up market for their skills. But even if that were possible in the short run, I do not believe that there would be the levels of employment that we require.
Similarly, I do not think that we shall see another American election won by a free trade candidate. Nor will we be able to maintain the line on free trade when we see how devastating is the impact of that policy on our poorer constituents. I believe that we shall need to move towards much clearer trading blocs, with competition being maintained within them rather than between them. Before some hon. Members look too shocked at that idea, I remind them that, although we all refer to GATT and free trade, if we really had free trade we should not need GATT, which is in itself a way of managing trade.
I suggest that, if we are serious about securing a breathing space in which to take the people now confined to a state of permanent adolescence back into the labour market, we shall have to dream things that we in this Chamber have yet to begin to dream about. 6.46 pm
Column 518interesting speech to start with, although I am sorry that he ended on what seemed a pessimistic note. I do not share his pessimism. The hon. Gentleman must have been selective in his reading at the weekend. Although I commend him on following the Secretary of State's speech in Northern Ireland, he seems to have missed the weekend's bigger headlines, which were all about lottery fever, and the concerted effort by many people to increase inequality.
The thrust of the hon. Gentleman's speech was that inequality was a bad thing, but presumably everybody going in for the lottery did so on the basis that inequality was a good thing. We must accept that people believe that we live in a world not only in which there is inequality but in which there should be inequality. Otherwise, such an enormous number of people would not have supported the lottery and put in money that, although some of it went to good causes, also went into the pockets of the people fortunate enough to win large sums, and who now sit there having achieved great inequality through the wishes of the large number of people who bought tickets.
The hon. Gentleman may rather have lost sight of the human motives that underlie our feelings about inequality. That made me think more about the subsequent news about large salaries for the directors of utilities. The hon. Gentleman may feel that something should be done about those; perhaps we should empower the shareholders of privatised utilities to decide what directors' salaries should be in advance, rather than having to read about them in the newspapers some time later, after a small group of non- executive directors have made the decisions. To the extent that many people are happy that there should be inequalities, perhaps we can all be winners on the privatisation front in one way or another.
I was a little perplexed by some of the remarks made by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) about the Government not being good at sustaining jobs. I look at the record for Bolton as a whole. When the Labour party was in power, unemployment trebled from 2,100 to 6, 500. Admittedly, the unemployment figure is higher today at 9,300, which is a 50 per cent. increase on the figure under Labour, but there was a threefold increase while Labour was in power. The hon. Gentleman's memory must be a little short if he criticises this Government for not sustaining jobs. He should remember what happened before.
I very much commend my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security for the measures in the Gracious Speech on the social security front. There are three major measures covering pensions, the job seeker's allowance and disability, to which I shall come later. Those measures prove that the Government are a strong reforming Government; there is plenty in the Gracious Speech on that front. What we might see in the Gracious Speech if we ever had the misfortune of being given a Labour programme crossed my mind. If that happened, there would be a Clinton-like con trick on the British public, as they would soon realise. The Labour party has performed U-turns on school league tables, on its position on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and on its position on Europe, which suddenly changed after the former Prime Minister obtained a £600 million rebate. There are U-turns on clause IV, and there have been great disappointments with the social justice commission. Labour is now wriggling on the minimum wage.