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Column 680We have had an artificial debate about the utilities, but we should not lose sight of the progress made by the privatised utilities in providing better services at lower cost and passing on benefits to the consumer. The Opposition have not attacked any of those aspects of the performance of the privatised utilities, but have attacked executive pay. That illustrates Labour's basic hostility to the market economy.
The reasons for Labour's policy run deeper, though. The Opposition face their traditional problem of how to fund public expenditure. The trap that they face--higher taxation for higher public expenditure--has been avoided, they believe, by their series of gimmicks and irrelevant ideas such as the windfall tax. That problem will come back to haunt the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East after his speech today. The Opposition will just have to face up to the fact that their commitment to increasing public expenditure will inevitably mean higher taxes. There is no way out through gimmicks.
The Opposition must also face up to the fact that ours is a growing economy, in which people are going back into jobs and paying tax instead of receiving benefits. We have a policy framework which is achieving economic growth. If the Opposition want any credibility, it is incumbent on them to say how they will change our policies, how they could do any better and how they can avoid the risks associated with their traditional ways of managing the economy, which amount to lower growth, higher inflation and higher taxation. Those problems remain for the Opposition to confront.
After all the flotsam and jetsam that we heard from the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East today, after all the lighthearted banter, the Opposition still have to face up to some serious policy decisions, which they conspicuously failed to do in today's debate.
Mr. John Hutton (Barrow and Furness): I should like to comment on many aspects of the Gracious Speech, but I shall confine my remarks to those parts of it that relate to the conduct of economic and monetary policy in the United Kingdom. First, however, I should like to comment on some of the excellent speeches made in the Chamber today. I think in particular of certain speeches by Conservative Members.
I strongly agreed with what the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) said about unemployment and the rising tide of insecurity that is overtaking so many communities. His remarks were highly pertinent and they threw into stark relief some of the more bumptious comments by the Chancellor.
I also strongly agreed with what the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) said about the need to win the battle against drugs and drug-related crime. We know that in many countries around the world crime is having a measurable effect on economic activity. Furthermore, I strongly agreed with what the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said about the need to avoid the second stage of the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel. I am sure that, if that question were to be resolved by a free vote in the House, there would be no majority for the Government's policy. It was clear from the Queen's Speech and from speeches by Conservative Members tonight that the Government have committed themselves to a continuation
Column 681of current economic and monetary policies. The Chancellor painted a rosy picture of the economy, but it is important to appreciate the full impact of what John Maples, deputy chairman of the Conservative party, had to say on the subject: that there is a gulf between what Ministers say about the economy and what our constituents experience.
There have been, to be sure, some welcome developments in the UK's performance. I think of the fall in unemployment--although there are real arguments about how many new jobs have really been created in the past two years. I think also of the continuing low level of inflation and the increases in output. All these are welcome, but we need to take into account, too, the advice of many economists, who maintain that, although there have been positive developments in the economy, they relate exclusively to macro-economic statistics. Everyone knows that the British economy continues to suffer from a number of serious structural problems.
Behind this cyclical recovery there are continuing difficulties: low levels of investment, increasing job insecurity and--despite what the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) may say--problems to do with the quality of certain supply side measures, especially those that relate to training and education. So, although there may be signs of improvement in the economy, they should not be allowed to mask the continuing difficulties that British business and our constituents will experience in the years ahead.
There has been a great deal of comment in this debate on the Maples memorandum. It is important to remind ourselves of the observations by the deputy chairman of the Conservative party on the Government's record. It is a rather miserable audit of the Government's credibility and their stance on the economy. Mr. Maples says that most people believe that the Government are
"out of touch, lying, don't care, . . . are stupid".
He also draws attention to the fact that previously strong Conservative supporters complain:
"There is a feeling of powerlessness and insecurity about jobs, housing, health service, business, family value, crime . . . and no vision of where we are heading . . . Very few people think we are out of recession."
For obvious, partisan reasons, the Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks that we are. We cannot have sensible debate about the economy and economic policy by ignoring the difficulties that have still to be overcome.
The Government's economic policy has been characterised by boom and bust. Booms, which are usually short term, are followed by ever-deepening recessions. Since 1979, Conservative Government has been characterised by unacceptably high unemployment. Those years have been marked by increasing signs of social division. There have been significant reductions in manufacturing capacity and a completely inadequate approach to training and vocational education. To examine the first of those three significant structural economic problems, let us look first at investment, which is still 8 per cent. below its pre-recession level. In the period 1979 to 1993, the United Kingdom invested a smaller proportion of GDP than any other G7 country. Although the annual rate of investment increased by 5.4 per cent. in the second quarter of 1994, it was lower than
Column 682in the previous quarter. That percentage is largely accounted for by an anomalous low figure in the second quarter of 1993. Many hon. Members will have noticed that last week there was evidence that manufacturing investment is still not increasing. It fell in the third quarter of this year. Spending on plant and machinery, which is fundamental to maintaining competitiveness and building for the new markets of the 21st century, rose barely at all in that quarter. It was little different from the amount invested a year ago. That must be set against the background of record cash surpluses being held by leading British companies. It now amounts to £9.5 billion, but investment in manufacturing plant and equipment remains static. That is worrying and it should worry the Government. Rolls-Royce is one of our key industrial companies, but last week it announced that the future for car engine manufacture in the United Kingdom will depend upon finding a foreign partner to support its investment programme. There is much talk that that partner could be Mercedes. Rover has been sold to a foreign car manufacturer. That paints a more realistic picture of some of the continuing problems on investment.
Hon. Members may have seen in The Observer an interesting survey of recently established small businesses. More than 700 such businesses were surveyed and some of the findings are significant. One of them was that five times as many service companies are being established as are companies producing goods. I have nothing against the service sector. It employs millions of people and provides essential employment throughout the country, but it is clear that our manufacturing base continues to shrink. That is clearly evidenced by the number of new businesses that have been set up in the manufacturing sector.
Another significant indictment is the fact that 73 per cent. of the small businesses that were surveyed in The Observer survey felt that the Government were not providing enough help to set up small businesses. Only one third of the companies surveyed had heard of the Government's enterprise investment scheme, which is supposed to act as a sort of business angel to attract private capital into small businesses. There has been considerable progress, but we should, and could, be taking additional measures to help those small businesses which are so important for the future of the United Kingdom economy. Before leaving the subject of investment, let me say something about the shipbuilding industry, which is of particular importance in my constituency. Employment in the VSEL yard stood at more than 14, 500 in 1990. It was, without question, the largest and most significant employer in the south Cumbria area. That figure has fallen to below 6,000 in less than four years and all the available evidence suggests that it may fall further. There have been significant job losses throughout the shipbuilding communities in Britain--in particular, because of the deplorable closure of the Swan Hunter yard in Tyneside, which could have been avoided had the Government shown any commitment to the shipbuilding industry. The shipbuilding industry is not a smoke-stack industry; it is not an industry of the past; it is not about dragging heavy objects over steel floors and men wearing hobnail boots. It is a high-tech industry with some of the most recent investment in plant, equipment and machine
Column 683tools anywhere in the heavy engineering sector of the United Kingdom economy, but it is still struggling and facing significant job losses.
The Government should first recognise the importance of the shipbuilding industry to the manufacturing economy, but they should go further than that and recognise that the technologies associated with shipbuilding can play a important part in reviving our manufacturing base and providing new jobs for the future. In that context, the Government must clarify their policy towards the shipbuilding industry. We know that the seventh directive is to expire at the end of the year and we have had some suggestion from the President of the Board of Trade that the Government intend to maintain the shipbuilding intervention fund at a 9 per cent. subsidy throughout 1995. It is important that they do that until there can be full and comprehensive implementation of the OECD agreement on state subsidies to shipbuilding.
In addition, the Government could take a more significant step to help the merchant shipbuilding industry in the United Kingdom by improving the home shipbuilding credit guarantee scheme operated by the Department of Trade and Industry.
At the moment, a company that wants to secure the construction of a new merchant ship in the United Kingdom has access to guaranteed loans and a low rate of commercial interest on those loans, but the loan has to be repaid within the fixed period of eight and a half years. That compares unfavourably with similar regimes operated in many other OECD nations, particularly the United States.
The Government and the DTI can examine the scheme without needing to bring any further legislation to the House. They should ask themselves whether the loan period could be extended and whether it would be reasonable in the circumstances, and against a background of an expected substantial increase in the volume of demand for merchant shipbuilding in the European Union, for the Government to adopt a more generous approach to that loan guarantee period. Shipbuilding and ship repair associations are urging the Government to move to a 12-year loan repayment period. That would offer the prospect of many United Kingdom yards securing extra valuable business.
The shipbuilding industry therefore reflects and provides a example of where the Government have gone wrong on manufacturing. It is a modern industry. It is capable of competing with the best yards in the world and Europe. Many United Kingdom merchant shipbuilding yards are among the most efficient and viable yards anywhere in western Europe. I hope that the Government look seriously at a range of measures--two of which I have mentioned tonight--to help the merchant shipbuilding industry in the United Kingdom get on with the rest of its life and prosper into the 21st century.
Another area where there is significant reason for concern and for reservations about the conduct of United Kingdom economic policy concerns an issue referred to by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup-- the growing tide of job insecurity that is plaguing many communities in the United Kingdom. It is ironic that the Government's policy of labour market flexibility which the Secretary of State for Employment has been trumpeting recently may be one reason why there is no feel-good factor in the British economy.
Column 684The Government have pointed to signs of recovery in the economy, but our constituents cannot see those signs. There is no evidence that people feel better off. In fact, people feel that they are under increasing financial pressure. They are worried about losing their jobs. They know that the welfare state is being attacked and that employment rights are constantly being undermined.
The policy of labour market flexibility is a problem for the Government because it is compounding those feelings of insecurity. It is also encouraging a neglect of proper training and investment in our work force. Quite simply, that policy has misfired. There must be a balance between social justice and economic efficiency, but the Government have moved the balance between those two issues too far in one direction. Successful economies around the world, particularly in western Europe, have shown that it is possible to combine higher levels of social protection and improved economic performance. Germany and Japan provide good examples of that.
We should bear in mind the comments of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup that it is important that we recognise the limits of private enterprise in dealing with some of the huge problems associated with regularly retraining our industrial work force. It is unreasonable to expect the private sector to cope with those huge problems on its own. We need a greater and improved commitment from the Government. The Department of Employment's budget reveals that expenditure on industrial training is likely to fall. We should be pursuing policies that will enable those on welfare to find a way back into full and relevant employment. The challenge for the Government is not to find ways to dismantle the welfare state-- which is what the Government seem to have set themselves as their principal objective--but to find ways to modernise the welfare state and make it more relevant to the needs of people who find themselves, through no fault of their own, out of work.
With regard to the job seeker's allowance and the possible threat to industrial injuries benefit, to which the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup referred, the agenda in the Queen's Speech is bleak. It is also irrelevant, because the Government's task is to promote not greater feelings of insecurity but more social cohesion. Through the promotion of greater forms of social cohesion, the problems that we are experiencing with the British economy and the lack of the feel-good factor could well be addressed successfully. In addition, the taxpayer has to foot a huge and irrelevant bill for expenditure which should not have been incurred. I believe that we can do considerably better than that.
If we look back over the past 12 months and consider the achievements that the Government have claimed for themselves in respect of the conduct of economic policy, I believe that we can conclude that the Government could have done better. The signposts that the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid before us today as providing evidence of the Government's success are much more mixed than he wanted us to believe.
The evidence is mixed. There is a considerable area in respect of which the Government can make improvements across the spectrum of the conduct of economic policy. I urge my colleagues to support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to show that we believe that the British people deserve better than this.
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Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury): The final day in the debate on the Queen's Speech began with discussions on the economy and it ranged very widely, as is inevitable on such occasions. I must admit that, two hours ago, I considered asking the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) if I could re-run some of his remarks instead of making my own speech as I thought that his comments were very pertinent to many of the problems that the country is facing. I was particularly interested in the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the salary of the chairman of British Gas and the agony of the large number of his constituents who are affected by the Child Support Agency. In particular, I draw the attention of the House to what the right hon. Gentleman said about the fears and insecurity facing the people of Britain at present. Other hon. Members have also struck a chord. My hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Mr. Cummings) and for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) spoke in detail and with great feeling about the way in which their communities have suffered from the colliery closure programme and the Government's insensitivity to their plight. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) made a strong, passionate speech about how his constituency has been affected by major problems in the national health service. My hon. Friends' speeches will be appreciated.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer hid behind the need to preserve Budget secrecy as a reason for refusing to answer any vital questions. My suspicion is that the Budget, when we see it, will have as little relevance to this country's problems as the Queen's Speech has. Indeed, I expect it to be in line with the Chancellor's overall strategy of keeping his head down and looking for a way of selling the remains of the family silver so that he can fund temporary tax cuts at the time of the election.
I saw no sign in the Chancellor's speech that he is heeding the advice of the deputy chairman of the Conservative party. There was an absence of killer facts, as we have been told to expect, in what the Chancellor said-- except perhaps the one potentially suicidal statement which might come back to haunt him in future. The Chancellor said that he could not have imagined a better economic background against which to introduce his Budget--what a hostage to fortune, especially as he explained a few minutes later that we should not take too much notice of estimates because the outturns are always different. If we take the Chancellor's statement at face value, and if everything is as good as he claims, there will be no need to double VAT on fuel on Tuesday.
We shall remind the Chancellor of his remarks today on many occasions in the coming year. We shall see whether he is right, or whether The Economist is right to predict that the economy will decelerate in 1995, with living standards slipping and with falls in unemployment slowing to a crawl. Perhaps we should not have expected much of substance from the Chancellor, who was distinctly uncomfortable this afternoon, especially when reminded of his comments about the lack of value that we should attach to promises made in Dudley--another remark that we shall hear more about in the next couple of weeks.
Column 686By contrast, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) has outlined the purpose of our amendment-- the
"positive measures to remove the fear of unemployment" and to reduce unemployment. My hon. Friend outlined a programme of measures which could make an enormous difference in a very short period. They are designed to meet the need to release capital receipts, the need for a small business expansion scheme, the need for an environmental task force, and the need for tax rebates for employers who take on the long-term unemployed. In short, it was a constructive package of positive measures to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would do well to listen, because the country would certainly support them.
Many people watched the state opening of Parliament on television. Some watched for an insight into the workings of Parliament, some for the pomp and pageantry, and some to hear the content of the Gracious Speech. This year, those who watched and listened were left with a common thought: "Is that it? Is that all? Is that the extent of the Government's solution to the problems that Britain faces?" Was that all that Her Majesty's Government believed needed to be done--all that they were offering? If this year's Queen's Speech represents the collective wisdom of the Cabinet, the poverty of its content proves that the Government have run out of steam.
Given the Government's record in the past 15 years, it might be considered a blessing if Ministers intended to start twiddling their thumbs for the next year--a relief not to have more so-called radical legislation. That might not matter so much, were it not for the desperate problems faced by so many people: unemployment, fear of job losses and the prevalence of temporary contracts are all breeding insecurity, as is the fear of crime and the loss of confidence in our health service. There are no answers to those problems in the Queen's Speech.
What the Queen's Speech tells us is that the Government are completely out of touch with the needs of the country and the priorities of its people. Not only Opposition Members believe that; Conservative Members who read The Daily Telegraph, as I am sure that many do, will have read the comment that the
"legislative proposals and policy initiatives were so insubstantial that one wondered why it was necessary for Her Majesty to drive down Whitehall to deliver it."
Nothing that we have heard in the past few days has done other than confirm that view.
The Government should be tackling unemployment; instead, they attack the unemployed. They should be reducing the need for people to claim benefit; instead, they reduce the rights of claimants. They should be tackling the problems of the Child Support Agency, not sweeping them under the carpet. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North pointed out, the Government should be intent on improving front-line services in the national health service; instead, as the Queen's Speech tells us, they are to
"bring forward legislation to make further improvements to the management of the National Health Service".--[ Official Report , 16 November 1994; Vol. 250, c. 6.]
Column 687We all know that every so-called reform of that kind has simply led to more bureaucrats. The number has increased from 510 in 1986 to more than 20,000 last year, and the total administrative salary bill for the NHS is now £1.5 billion.
Mr. Gallie: The other day I visited a hospital in the constituency of one of the hon. Lady's hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), where I met a lady who had been advised seven weeks ago that she needed the hip replacement, which she was now in hospital to receive. That is something that the Labour party could not have dreamed of a few years ago. Does that not show that the Government are doing well in the health service and will continue to do well in other areas?
Our constituents do not want further improvements of that kind, which only lead to bigger bills for the administrative side of the health service. Nor are they lobbying for the privatisation of the Crown Agents, or indeed for competition in the gas industry--which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) pointed out, will result in regional monopolies in place of a national monopoly. But Labour Members--and, I am sure, Conservative Members--are hearing what our constituents think of the new surcharge on those who cannot pay their gas bills instantly. Even more, we are hearing what our constituents think about the unbelievable and outrageous increase in salary for the British Gas chairman.
Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham): Is it not the case that the regulator of the gas industry will not permit the company to increase prices to the consumers in order to pay salary rises? Those salaries have to be paid for out of the money which would otherwise go to the shareholders, who can complain about it at the next shareholders meeting if they see fit. Moreover, the 2.9 per cent. price increase is spread over the past three years and thus amounts to a rise of less than 1 per cent. a year --well below the present extremely low rate of inflation.
Mrs. Taylor: I think that the hon. Gentleman doth protest too much. If he takes that view, he cannot object to the new measures proposed by the Labour party to give new powers to the regulator. It is interesting that today and throughout this week not one Minister has condemned the increase to the chairman of British Gas-- [Interruption.] There is condemnation and condemnation, obviously. The only Conservative Member who clearly condemned it was the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. That increase in salary is an insult to every family and every pensioner in Britain, especially when the Government are on the verge of doubling VAT on fuel and not compensating pensioners for all the increased bills that they will have to pay.
Recently, Ministers have started to complain about the cynicism of the British public. That seems to be their latest theme in countering the fact that they are doing so badly in the polls. I wonder who Ministers think is responsible for the cynicism that exists in British politics. How can Ministers promise that there will be no increase in VAT or national insurance and no reduction in
Column 688mortgage tax relief and then, when they break those promises, complain that the British public are cynical? As my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) said, do Ministers think that the British public cannot add up the costs of the tax increases that we have seen since the last election?
National insurance is up from 9 per cent. to 10 per cent. Mortgage interest tax relief has been reduced. Personal allowances have been frozen. There is a new home insurance tax, a new car insurance tax and a new airport tax on those who can afford holidays abroad. And there is VAT on fuel. Clearly, Ministers are hoping that the electorate will fall for the pre-election bribe which seems to be the sole objective of the Chancellor's economic policy.
To be fair, however--we have to be fair on these occasions--not every member of the Conservative party is totally out of touch. John Maples seems to have made a rather accurate analysis on many points. The Government would be wise to follow some of his advice--though not, of course, his advice to promote a yob culture in the Commons. The Government would be wise to follow the advice of the deputy chairman of their party to shelve the impending rise in VAT on fuel, as is Labour party policy. They would be wise to tax executive share options--also Labour party policy. They would be wise to recognise that they can never win on the NHS, especially when they promote increased bureaucracy. They would also be wise to recognise that "Reversing Labour's 39 per cent. poll lead on education issues will be tough . . . talk of competition, budgets, management . . . triggers negative perceptions of treating education like a business."
The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) said in the Chamber a short while ago that many Conservative Members had been trying to get the Maples message through to Ministers but had so far failed. Perhaps they need to try harder. I heard the hon. Gentleman say that he wanted to stand by his election promises on the EC but that he has been threatened with withdrawal of the Conservative Whip if he does not line up and vote with the Government on Monday. I noted that comment with interest. We so often hear how Government Back Benchers intend to rebel, but I fear that on Monday, when it comes to the crunch, they will back down once again.
We are told in the Gracious Speech that the Government
"will continue to implement policies and programmes responsive to the needs of the individual citizen, in line with the principles of the Citizen's Charter."
That passage has received little attention from Conservative Members. I have listened to much of the debate over the past week and I am left wondering whether Conservative Members even remember that we have a citizens charter. I have not heard them praising it. The charter must be the fastest evaporating policy that any Government have ever introduced. Conservative Back Benchers realise, if Ministers do not, that the Government have made a joke out of the word "charter". Yet on Monday the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster boasted that there are now 42 charters. The Government's citizens charter unit is so impressed with that fact that it does not even hold a copy of each of the charters, although that is perhaps not surprising when we consider how little the charters have delivered.
Column 689A cones hotline was set up costing £120,000. Yet it receives fewer than 30 calls a day. That, again, is perhaps not surprising in view of the quality of information on offer. A reporter from The Daily Telegraph who phoned to complain about cones choking the A21 was told that they were presumably there because of road works. As taxpayers, we are paying £120,000 for that sort of information. What a waste.
The Department of Education has not fared much better. When parents went to collect their child benefit at Post Offices this summer, they were handed a Government leaflet on school tests. A parliamentary question revealed that the Department was paying the Post Office £99, 000 for that service. The leaflets were also being handed out at Argos stores and goodness knows where else. Ministers were so proud of the leaflets that they have now been withdrawn. Again, what a waste.
Ministers need to learn that charters have contributed to the cynicism of which they complain. The same is true of Government waste. Indeed, waste has become one of the most obvious features of the Government. Even today the President of the Board of Trade is sending out propaganda videos and wasting taxpayers' money. The right hon. Gentleman is sending them to every Member of this place. That is typical of the Government's priorities. They choose to spend money on propaganda videos, for example, rather than on the real issues. Under the Tories, we have seen a waste of resources. Up to 1994, £125 billion of North sea oil revenues have been wasted. At the same time, investment in manufacturing industry is less now than it was in 1979.
We have had a waste of talent and of the potential of our people. That is what is so obscene about the Government.
The Chancellor and other Conservative Members have talked again today about wanting to bring public expenditure down. Yet the Queen's Speech does not even address the basic problem of public expenditure--the high cost and the waste of the public money that the Government are having to spend on unemployment. The Queen's Speech does not deal with that. Instead, its objective is primarily to keep the Tory party together.
The single theme of the Government, the theme that drives all others, is their desperation to be re-elected, at any cost to anyone. They see their re-election no longer as a means of furthering the good of the country, but as an end in itself. They have no policies whatever for the country--only a party survival strategy. That is their most fundamental flaw, worse even than the internal divisions, the policy sidesteps and the U-turns. Not even the sleazy cover-ups and fudges are more important than that.
The Government have lost their direction, their vision and their purpose. The Queen's Speech proves that they are out of touch and out of steam. That is why we shall press our amendment.
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The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton): I see that the hon. Member for Blackburn(Mr. Straw) has not yet been able to return to us tonight, but last Friday, at an earlier stage of the debate, he said that he had read "every speech made by Conservative Home Secretaries to each Conservative party conference since 1979."
He described that as
"a numbing experience, but worth it."--[ Official Report , 18 November 1994; Vol. 250, c. 253.]
Having studied the rest of the hon. Gentleman's speech, I wondered whether the effect had worn off.
Nevertheless, impressed by the hon. Gentleman's diligence, I engaged in the somewhat similar exercise of reading all the Opposition winding-up speeches in Queen's Speech debates over the same period.
Mr. Newton: It is true, I promise the hon. Gentleman. I was less lucky than the hon. Member for Blackburn, because in the end I was not sure whether the exercise had been worth it, but it was certainly not entirely without interest. Especially in the light of some of the policies urged in the speech by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and some other Opposition speeches, perhaps the interest lay most of all in reminding us how much the world has moved on in the intervening period.
It has not always been the shadow Leader of the House making the winding-up speech. In 1979 it was Albert Booth, a former Secretary of State for Employment, explaining the merits of the industrial relations legislation that had just given us the winter of discontent. In 1981 the late John Silkin, who was much respected on both sides of the House, explained the essential need for Britain to leave the European Economic Community in order to return to exchange controls and import controls. In 1982 it was John Silkin again, declaring that privatisation would destroy British Telecom. That reminder of a world that now seems so long ago as to be almost beyond memory was one of the interesting things. The second one was the interesting pattern whereby every four years the speech equivalent to the one just made by the hon. Member for Dewsbury had the flavour of winding up, as the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) more or less specifically wound up his speech in 1991, with words to the effect of, "We look forward to the next Queen's Speech, because we shall write it." Those speeches were invariably followed a year later by a speech congratulating the new Conservative Leader of the House on his appointment.
Thirdly, I came across something that might interest hon. Members on both sides of the House, a quotation from an Opposition speech again made by the late John Silkin, in 1983. I shall quote-- [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member for Dewsbury will listen to this. [Interruption.] If I might just have the hon. Lady's attention for a moment, I am about to refer to her in a quite friendly fashion. I shall quote from the equivalent speech in 1983 to the one that she has just made.
The late John Silkin said:
"The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) paid tribute to Ann Taylor, of whom we are very fond and whom we miss greatly. Unfortunately, I missed the speech of the hon. Member for
Column 691Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), but I understand that it was extremely interesting, and we hope to hear from him again soon."--[ Official Report , 29 June 1983; Vol. 44, c. 658.]
Eleven years later, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) is happily still with us, the hon. Member for Dewsbury has happily been restored to us and the House has fulfilled its wish to hear more from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)--now the Home Secretary--most recently, of course, in this debate last Friday.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: May I bring the Leader of the House back to serious matters? He will know that Mr. Patrick Nicholls, a vice-chairman of the Conservative party, resigned tonight following a number of appalling statements that he made about our European partners. Can we presume to have a statement from the Dispatch Box?
Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman can assume that there will be ample opportunity to debate European matters within a short space of time. There is another thing that emerges, which I think the House will want me to get on to. It has become the custom of the Leader of the House in these debates to say a little about House of Commons matters. I have sought to follow that practice, despite early advice from a former colleague to the effect that I should forget all that and get on with bashing the Opposition.
Looking back on my speech on this occasion last year, I see that I was noticeably cautious--rightly, as the intervening year has shown--about the prospects for prompt early moves on modifications to our working arrangements along the lines proposed in the report of the Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling). I am glad to say, and most--though I know not all--in the House will be glad to hear, that tonight I feel able to be much less cautious on that front to the point at which both I and the hon. Lady, whose endorsement I have for what I am about to say, believe that we are now close to the point at which we can jointly recommend a package of changes to the House. The House will not expect me to go into full detail tonight, since neither the nature of the occasion nor the time available would make that practicable or appropriate, and many of the report's specific proposals involve the technicalities of our procedures. But I can say that we believe that we can agree on virtually all the specific changes proposed in the report and on achieving its main strategic objectives, although not always precisely along the lines originally proposed.
In particular, we think that the timetabling of most Government Bills, as envisaged by the report, is best achieved by voluntary agreement through the usual channels, rather than by some formal mechanism, which would, in practice, be hard to distinguish from a formal guillotine. Apart from its other merits--most noticeably, the greater flexibility that it allows--that has the merit of reflecting the underlying reality that making the changes work will depend on people wanting to make them work.
I should add that we have agreed that the changes that we hope to propose should be instituted on an experimental basis for the present Session, and that we should review them towards the end of it. The formal changes required at this stage will be provided for, should the House approve them, in sessional orders rather than
Column 692by changes to the Standing Orders as such. The orders brought forward would include one to allow the House to choose, if it wished, to exchange some of the business that it now does at other times--including private Members' motions on some Fridays--for equivalent time in sittings on Wednesday mornings, with every effort being made by the business managers to avoid hon. Members being kept here beyond 7 o'clock on Thursdays before non-sitting Fridays. I hope that the House will welcome that brief report, and one other point that I can make in what I shall call the spirit of Jopling. I am aware that many hon. Members have already registered that Easter next year is very late. They have asked for guidance about what that might mean for any Easter recess. I hope that it will help them if I say that, subject as ever to progress on business, I would anticipate the recess to focus on the week before Easter rather than afterwards.
Mr. Morgan: Before the right hon. Gentleman reaches his characteristically charismatic peroration, may I ask him whether he has had a chance to study the documents that the Chancellor of the Exchequer issued this afternoon concerning European Community financing? Will he take the opportunity before 10 pm to explain the following inconsistency? Last year, the Chancellor announced on page 97 of the Red Book, like a rabbit out of a hat, a cut of £1.3 billion in this year's net financial contribution to the European Community, all of which now appears to have disappeared; if one takes the figures for last year, this year and next year, the contribution to the Community is £1.3 billion higher.
Mr. Newton: My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor was admirably clear in the remarks that he made this afternoon in response to a number of interventions during his speech. Moreover, he made it very clear that the implications of the Edinburgh agreement, for which the European Communities (Finance) Bill provides, are £75 million in the short term and £250 million towards the end of the century. He has repeatedly set out those implications and made them clear to the House.
I have no doubt that, when the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) has had more time to study the document that my right hon. and learned Friend published this afternoon, it will all be clear to him as well.
Mr. William Cash (Stafford): My right hon. Friend will know that a few days ago my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor said on the "Today" programme that the figures I had put forward concerning Community financing were rubbish.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke indicated assent .
Mr. Cash: I notice that my right hon. and learned Friend still maintains that view, so can my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House explain how it is that a new piece of information has had to be put in the Vote Office to demonstrate the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend appears to have changed his mind?
Column 693what he said this afternoon he had done--he has set out papers to make the position clear in the way that he described this afternoon. Since the debate on the Loyal Address started, we have had many speeches that have covered the wide-ranging legislative programme. Those speeches have been made from the Front and Back Benches and started with excellent contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) and for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson). In the first of those speeches, there occurred one of those exchanges with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) which I suspect will stick in parliamentary memories long after the arguments of the day have become hazy.