Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On 25 October, I put an oral supplementary question to the Prime Minister in which I asked him to provide me with a list of the salaries of the chief executives of the next steps agencies, together with those of the civil servants whom those chief executives have replaced or succeeded. The Prime Minister replied to me on 15 November, providing me with the material about the chief executives of the agencies, but informed me that for the salaries of the civil servants I should table questions to Ministers. The Prime Minister's letter stated:
"This information will only be available from the Minister concerned."
As the Prime Minister suggested, I therefore tabled questions to all the Ministers with responsibility for the next steps agencies, including the Secretary of State for Defence. My question to the Secretary of State is listed on page 133 of the Votes and Proceedings for last Friday and it asks
"if he will list the salary and other emoluments of the civil servant who did the work of or work comparable to that of the chief executive of each next steps agency established by his Department before the agency was established."
Yesterday afternoon, I received a letter from a person called G. H. Wilson, headmaster and chief executive of the Duke of York's royal military school. It stated:
"The Secretary of State for Defence has asked me to reply to your parliamentary question."
By the second post this afternoon, since I gave notice of my intention to raise this point of order with you, Madam Speaker, I received a letter from the headmaster of Queen Victoria school, Dunblane, Perthshire, stating:
"I have been asked to reply to your Question".
I ask you to rule on two matters, Madam Speaker. The first is that persons who are not Members of this House have no right or status to answer parliamentary questions, should not purport to do so, and should be directed not to do so.
Secondly, whatever the role of a chief executive of a next steps agency may be, it is not to account for the salaries of civil servants, who are directly employed by Ministers who are responsible to the House; that the only people who are properly equipped and have the duty to answer those questions are Ministers; and that it is therefore unacceptable for Ministers to hive off to these deplorable agencies not only the work that they have done, but responsibility which the agencies do not have and on which they have no right to answer questions by a Member of Parliament.
Madam Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman raises not only a point of order but matters of a debating nature which I cannot enter into. For all that, I am grateful to him for giving me notice, to some extent, of his point of order. I have made inquiries into the matter, and have been informed that the letter to which he refers was sent to him in error. The headmaster was asked to provide information so that the Ministry of Defence could put together a comprehensive reply to the right hon. Gentleman. Instead, the headmaster misunderstood the
Column 598request and wrote directly to the right hon. Gentleman. I understand that a full reply to his question will be given by the relevant Minister tomorrow.
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I seek your guidance on whether it is improper for an outside body to influence the appointment of an adviser to a Select Committee? It is clear from a letter I have here that Unison has attempted to force Labour members of the Select Committee on Health to appoint a Unison member as an adviser to that Committee. That is exactly the sort of behaviour by the Chairman of a Select Committee that was condemned in the House yesterday by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon).
Madam Speaker: I have not seen the letter, and I am not aware of the matter. [Interruption.] There is no point in waving it at me; I have good eyesight, but I cannot read it from that distance. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me have the letter, and I shall see what I can do about it.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. My question to you yesterday was whether it was normal practice for the Chair of a Select Committee to report on such a sensitive issue when she had a one-to-one meeting with the manager of a advertising agency, and when the Committee had previously conducted a report into tobacco advertising--a very sensitive issue. On the issue raised in Committee, I, along with other Members, suggested that a member of Unison could advise us on a particular inquiry. It was openly done, and agreed unanimously by Conservative Members on that Committee.
Madam Speaker: I think that two points arise from points of order yesterday. The first concerns whether a Chairman or Chairwoman of a Select Committee should report to the Committee any approaches that relate to the work of that Committee. As I told the House yesterday, there are no rules that are relevant to the issue, but let me give the House my own views and a little guidance, if I may. It would be a matter of common sense and courtesy for such approaches to be reported. I am not seeking for rules and regulations to be engraved in tablets of stone. We have to apply common sense to our dealings with each other in the Chamber and in Committee, and I leave it at that.
The second issue is the notification that should be given by hon. Members who intend to refer in the Chamber to other hon. Members. It is a clear convention, again based on courtesy, that notice should be given where such reference is intended to be made, but clearly there will be cases where the reference arises on the spur of the moment--during a point of order or at Question Time, when advance notification is unlikely to be practical. Of course, hon. Members should consider whether reference to a colleague without notice is fair. We all understand when it is on the spur of the moment, but we must consider whether it is fair to behave in that way.
Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on a serious matter. As you know, yesterday the Select Committee on Members' Interests met to consider the very sensitive and important matter of a complaint against the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton). As a member of that
Column 599Committee, I was astonished when I realised that a Government Whip was present as a member of the Select Committee. Of course, it would be wrong to me to reveal anything that went on in the Committee hearing, but I think that he made an influential--
Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady should be very careful about what she is reporting to me. If she has something to report about a Committee, she should come and see me and not report it in this way. I would be glad to see her, but at the moment she is reporting something that took place in a Select Committee of which I have no knowledge.
Ms Eagle: With respect, I want to ask you whether there is any precedent for a Whip, who is a member of the Government and takes the Crown payroll, to be a member of a Select Committee. I have been approached since the meeting by journalists who know of this, and they are astonished. This has set a very serious precedent, which threatens to breach the independence of the Select Committee system.
Madam Speaker: Perhaps the hon. Lady has not considered the matter carefully enough. I do not know the individual the hon. Lady is talking about. That is why I would rather she came to discuss the matter with me. It could well be that the House appointed the individual.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) is of immense constitutional importance. A Government Whip has been appointed to the Select Committee on Members' Interests at a time when a series of sensitive inquiries are under way.
There is a precedent of which you should be aware. The Leader of the House of Commons is a member of the Broadcasting and Privileges Committees, but he has a remit, in that he has to steer changes through the House. The Attorney-General gives legal advice to the Committee on Privileges. That is his remit. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury is a member of the Public Accounts Committee, although he has never attended it. I was a member of that Committee for 11 years, but the Financial Secretary did not attend. What we have here is a precedent where a Minister, because that is what a Treasury Whip is, is attending a Select Committee meeting--
Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat-- [Interruption.] Order. I have heard sufficient to know that it is what I first suspected. This House has appointed the hon Member concerned. The hon. Member for Workington, (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and anyone else who wished to object to that should have done so at the time.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Yesterday, with the support of several hon. Members, I sought to table an early-day motion which contained reference to the famous Maples memorandum and the word "yobbos". The Table Office has informed me today that you might object to an early-day motion containing the word "yobbos".
Column 600I would like your ruling on three points. First--
Madam Speaker: Order. Perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman guidance now. There is a procedure by which, if early-day motions are refused by the Table Office, they come to me. I am therefore waiting for the early-day motion to come to me, and I will look at it in that light.
Mr. MacShane indicated assent .
Mr. Secretary Mawhinney, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Hurd, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Heseltine, Mr. Secretary Gummer and Mr. John Watts, presented a Bill to provide for the construction, maintenance and operation of a railway between St. Pancras, in London, and the Channel Tunnel portal at Castle Hill, Folkestone, in Kent, together with associated works, and of works which can be carried out in conjunction therewith; to provide for the improvement of the A2 at Cobham, in Kent, and of the M2 between junctions 1 and 4, together with associated works; to make provision with respect to compensation in relation to the acquisition of blighted land; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. [Bill 3.]
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).
That the draft Industrial Training Levy (Engineering Construction Board) Order 1995 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Industrial Training Levy (Construction Board) Order 1995 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Burns.]
Question agreed to.
Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:-- Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.-- [Mr. Dunn.]
Question again proposed.
Madam Speaker: I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. Also, in accordance with Standing Order No. 32, I shall call the amendment standing in the name of the leader of the Liberal Democrat party.
Mr. Gordon Brown (Dunfermline, East): I beg to move, as an amendment to the Address, at the end of the Question to add: But note that living standards for millions are falling and that election promises are being broken again with seven tax rises to pay for Government economic mismanagement; humbly regret that the Gracious Speech excludes positive measures to remove the fear of unemployment, to tackle the unacceptable and clumsy reforms of the NHS and to cease treating education as a business rather than a service; regret the absence of legislation to tackle executive share options and to deal with the excesses in the privatised utilities; regret the absence of a strategy for employment, skills and industry including measures to assist the Post Office expand in the public sector; and call for a reconsideration of the further cuts in vitally important public services and the abandonment of the increase in VAT on fuel for domestic and charitable purposes to 17.5 per cent. The amendment identifies what is wrong with this country, and what should have been tackled through the Queen's Speech. What is wrong is that living standards are falling; fear of unemployment is widespread; the health and education reforms of this Government are unacceptable; the gap between rich and poor is too wide; the VAT rise on fuel is simply wrong; and the excessive executive pay packages, especially in the privatised utilities, are causing real offence throughout the country. Those are the terms of our amendment, and, by identify those problems, Conservative Members should find it possible to support it.
All those proposals are contained in the memorandum of advice from the vice -chairman of the Conservative party to the Government, which was published only a few days ago. That memorandum shows that even the Conservatives now admit what is wrong and that the Labour party is right. It shows that, when there is consensus throughout the country on what needs to be
Column 602done, the Government are seen as out of touch, ineffectual, unable to deliver on their promises, and having no conception of the public interest.
Mr. Gallie: Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who says that there should be a £4.05 minimum rate per hour, and that that should become the policy of the Labour party?
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman should know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) has said no such thing. The hon. Gentleman should address what I read out from the Maples memorandum. In particular, the hon. Gentleman might take account of his own constituency party in Ayr, which has said that it is afraid for the welfare of the elderly if VAT is increased. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will seek to join us when we try to have the VAT issue reopened.
What does the Maples memorandum say needs to be done? The first thing that it says is that we should stop the implementation of the second stage of the VAT increase. It says that changes must be made in the national health service, because the reforms are not working. It also says that the Government should end tax subsidies for executive pay--something which is Labour policy and which should have been done years ago by the Government.
Even some Conservatives now understand that what the Government are doing is not in the national interest, but purely in the interests of a few factions in the Conservative party. One reason why the Government are unable to do what is right for the country is that the Conservative party is so divided, from faction to faction. It is so divided on Europe that the best summary of its approach is isolationism tempered only by the occasional visit to the Ritz hotel in Paris.
As we see again today, the job of chairman of the 1922 Committee is now at risk. How do we defend the situation in which the real crime of the chairman of the 1922 Committee, in the view of Conservative Members, is that he is too loyal to the Prime Minister of this country? No doubt the next chairman of the 1922 Committee will have to pass a new test--a disloyalty test. The governing party is so paralysed by the tyranny of its factions and the impotence of its leadership that it is unfit to govern.
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point): The hon. Gentleman is giving much peripheral information at the moment, but he is avoiding policy. What is his anti-inflation policy? Is he prepared, as well as to lower interest rates, to raise them if that is necessary for the economic good management of this country?
Mr. Brown: The reason that interest rates have had to rise is that the capacity of the British economy is now too small. Whenever the economy expands, there are now inflationary pressures as a result of the mismanagement of policy.
As for policy, does the hon. Gentleman agree that I have asked him to support three specific policies already? They were, first, to abandon the VAT rise in respect of
Column 603fuel; secondly, to deal with the health service and the reforms that have gone wrong; and, thirdly--I hope that he will agree on this--that tax subsidies should be withdrawn from the executive share options and the perks for the privatised utilities that nobody now can defend?
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) rose --
Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester) rose --
There is nothing in the Gracious Speech to deal with the problems of industry and skills. There is nothing on employment, except penalising the unemployed. There is nothing to build social cohesion or modernise the welfare state. There is nothing to tackle the causes of crime. There is nothing to do what the Maples memorandum admits to undoing. He admits to treating education "as a business" and to market reforms in the health service to which doctors and nurses are, as he said, "universally hostile".
The whole interest of the Maples memorandum and of Conservative Members is not in changing policy to respond to the needs of the country, not to do what is right either for the unemployed or for the rest of the country, but simply to manipulate public opinion to win a further term of government. The Government's election strategy, as revealed in the memorandum, is not a shift in policy but a move to control the press, issue black propaganda and propagate dirty tricks. Every decision to be made by the Conservative party must relate not to what is good for the people of this country and for its long-term future, but to what will help the party in its current predicament. Mr. Marlow rose --
Mr. Brandreth rose --
We learn from the memorandum that identity cards are now to be considered. There is to be a Green Paper; a decision was announced on 13 October. We knew yesterday that a Cabinet Committee has just been set up, but we now learn from the memorandum that the decision was made not because the Home Secretary thought it necessary, right or good for the country, but simply because the Government believe that it could embarrass Labour into opposing the introduction of the cards.
As for the economy, yet more anti-trade union legislation is being contemplated, not because it is in the public interest but simply because the Government think that it could divide the Labour party. Nothing is done in the public interest; action is taken only in the narrow interest of the Conservative party's desperate tactics to bring about its re-election.
We must ask how much of the Gracious Speech was written not with a sense of what is needed for the country, but simply with an eye to the fortunes of what is--as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has admitted--an increasingly panic-stricken Conservative party.
Column 604What about the presentation of economic policy, according to the memorandum? The Conservatives say that they need help from the few remaining Conservative supporters outside the Conservative party. The memorandum states:
"Third-party endorsements are key, and infinitely more reliable than Ministers."
That is a fine comment on the integrity of colleagues.
Let me quote the full list of potential helpers--the range of people who could offer third-party endorsements of the Conservatives' economic and social policies: "the police"--well, perhaps 10 years ago, but not now; "the CBI"--well, they are not all that keen, as the Chancellor well knows. The memorandum also says:
"We must avoid antagonising them if we can help it."
The memorandum then refers to the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Are we seriously to imagine that spokesmen from the IMF and the OECD could turn out and vote to save the Conservative party in the Dudley by-election? After those organisations, all that is left is the Institute of Directors. When their last remaining supporter is the Institute of Directors--and its support for the Conservatives is ebbing away--the Government have problems indeed.
What else does Mr. Maples say in the memorandum? We should remember that he was hand-picked for the job by the Prime Minister. He is chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi, and the Prime Minister wanted him to stand as parliamentary candidate for the Newbury seat. The proposals in the memorandum are very close to the Prime Minister's thinking. Dealing with the question of the Labour leader, Mr. Maples asks: "Could we set some Back Benchers on to this? Maybe a few yobbos of our own to try and knock them out a bit, and another team to operate more subtly on the changes of mind and differences of view." There we have the Conservative party in the House: the yobbos on one hand, and those acting more subtly--the intellectuals--on the other. That is the new Tory parliamentary hierarchy: the Prime Minister, Ministers, junior Ministers, Whips, parliamentary private secretaries, yobbos and, finally, the intellectuals. If someone cannot make it into the House, of course, he can always become vice- chairman of the Conservative party. If a company wants a question to be raised in the House, does it go to the yobbos or the intellectuals--or must the two groups compete on price?
So there we have it: the modern Conservative party, no longer divided only between wets and dries, Euro-enthusiasts and Euro-sceptics, but now divided overall--yobbos versus intellectuals.
The hon. Gentleman waxed poetic on the subject of factions. We are, of course, the party of power, and it is therefore quite proper for debates to take place within the party of power. Are there no debates in the hon. Gentleman's party? Are there no factions? Can he tell the
Column 605House how his party will vote on Monday in regard to giving more money to Brussels? Will every member of his party do the same?
Mr. Brown: Compared with the Conservative party, the Labour party's debates reach conclusions. There are not interminable divisions that cannot be resolved in the Labour party. Before the hon. Gentleman casts his vote in the great election for the 1922 Committee, I should also tell him that on Monday, as he would expect, the Labour party will be proposing a reasoned amendment to the Bill, and I hope that he and others will join us in the Lobbies. One thing is clear: that is that the country has no confidence in the Government's approach to the European issue.
What does all that mean for economic policy? Despite all the boasts about what is happening to the economy--we shall hear them again from the Chancellor this afternoon--despite all that he will say about this figure and that figure, figures that he will pluck out of the air from here and there, the central fact stands out in the Maples memorandum--real take-home pay, he says, is falling this year, he says that it will fall next year, and he adds:
"We will have to see this rise in real take-home pay soon or we will have had four or even five years of recovery with no rise in living standards."
He is aware of the impact of the tax rises on ordinary people. He is aware now of the impact of the interest rate rises on people's mortgages. No matter how much bluster there is from the Chancellor this afternoon, he must face up to the fact that millions of British people are seeing their living standards fall.
But what else does the Maples memorandum tell us about economic policy? It says:
"It is no use"--
this is important for the Conservatives' election strategy-- "to pursue fiscal and monetary rectitude if there is no rise in living standards and job opportunities until too late."
What Mr. Maples means by "too late" is after the general election. In other words, he is prepared to admit in private, as the Chancellor seems to be admitting as well, that he will sacrifice all claim to rectitude to achieve a pre-election boom, even when it is not in the long-term interests of the economy.
I challenge the Chancellor to condemn the Maples memorandum, which suggests that a pre-election boom will be manipulated by the Conservative party; because all talk of firmness, of sustainable growth, of commitment to low inflation, irrespective of politics, is hypocrisy if the Government are prepared to manipulate the economy in the way that is being suggested by Mr. Maples.
Mr. Brandreth rose --
Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton) rose --
Column 606month after month after month when in fact unemployment has fallen since that date month after month after month?
Mr. Brown: As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, what I said was said the day after the Budget, reading from the Budget statement, after it had been said that it would be some time before unemployment started to fall again. That is what the Chancellor of the day said. That is what the Budget statement said. If the hon. Gentleman wants to condemn me, he had better condemn the Treasury and those on the Conservative Front Bench.
The hon. Gentleman also has a question to answer. Why did he say to his electorate in Plymouth, Sutton at the last election, "We will get taxes down even further"? Should he not be apologising to the British people?
Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North) rose --