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7.10 pm

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): I am most grateful to be able to say a few words about the Queen's Speech as I have not done so for many years. It is also a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel). Until he mentioned education, I found what was saying very thoughtful and intelligent. I thought that it would be difficult to follow him in the same vein--especially for me--but then he got on to education and became rather more political, so I am encouraged.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) said that people in the pubs and clubs of Telford, Cumnock or anywhere else would not be discussing the details of the Queen's Speech and that we are the only ones debating it. Perhaps they are more interested in discussing a few words from another member of the royal family. We, however, have to talk about what was said earlier today in another place.

Each year, with a diminishing degree of credibility and authority, the Government almost seem to pretend that they have suddenly found themselves in office. They put forward a programme as if they were a new Government taking over the legacy of the past. They keep forgetting

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that the legacy of the past 16 years is their legacy. The failures of 16 years represent a millstone that is constantly around their necks.

In the past 16 years, we have witnessed Ministers privatising utilities, then retiring and sloping off to line their pockets with part of the profits of the utilities that they have privatised. That is part of the legacy of the past 16 years.

We have seen our manufacturing industry decimated. It is all right for France, Germany and other European countries to continue their manufacturing industry, but somehow it is not all right for the United Kingdom to do so. That is one of the failures of the past 16 years.

As my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin said, we have a growing drugs culture that is fuelled by the increasing grinding despair of many young people who are unable to find work. Crime has doubled, and the numbers of beggars in the streets and homeless people have increased. That is another failure of the past 16 years.

With respect to Conservative Members who have spoken, they cannot get away from that and slough it off as if it has not happened and as if they did not have that legacy as they seek further support.

The leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), said that the Government had run out of ideas. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Sir D. Knox) said how wonderful it was to have a light legislative programme. That might demonstrate that they have run out of ideas, but we can recall some of the so-called big ideas of the Government and of the Prime Minister himself.

I remember the cones hotline. That was heralded as a big idea. I remember sitting in a traffic jam hour after hour thinking about the cones hotline. I could imagine all the other people sitting in the traffic jam line thinking exactly the same. That was the Prime Minister's so-called big idea. It did not come from a junior Minister in the Department or even from the Secretary of State for Transport but from the Prime Minister. That idea was abandoned ignominiously earlier this year.

There was also back to basics. We do not hear much about that now. We used to hear of it all the time. We were attacked for having a soundbite of the day or the week, but the Government's soundbite used to be back to basics. We know what went wrong with that. We know about the sleaze that was exposed, the concern that was expressed and the parrot-like repetition of back to basics beliefs, which seemed rather strange in the light of what was happening.

I have chosen two examples, but other equally daft ideas were dismantled and discarded and bit the dust in the same way as the cones hotline and back to basics. Although all those ideas were discarded, some of the policies of the past 16 years, and the past few years in particular, are continuing to bite hard on the way of life of the people we represent.

Rail privatisation is an absolute disaster, but it is still going ahead. It was described by one late hon. Member as the poll tax on wheels. The whole process has been a total disaster. Now there is not even a timetable of the trains running in Britain. Crash follows crash on the rail

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network. No connections are now guaranteed. The running times have been lengthened to make sure that the trains arrive on time occasionally and the people who were heralded as the saviour of the railway--those in private enterprise--are pulling out day after day. That failure continues to haunt Conservative Members.

There was also the reform of the national health service. Apparently, more money is being spent on the national health service, as the hon. Member for South Worcestershire (Mr. Spicer), who is falling asleep, said in an earlier intervention. In reality, we have witnessed the creation of trusts duplicating the work of boards and the development of the market within the health service, which means that more accountants are necessary to pay bills and pass them from one level to another, thus leading to a huge increase in bureaucracy. Money is spent on bureaucrats, not on nurses and doctors.

Conservative Members would like to forget it, but we should not let them forget the appalling legacy of the poll tax. The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who used to enjoy his days at the Foreign Office, shrugs his shoulders. They want to forget about the poll tax. They want people to forget about it, but it brought injury upon Scotland, England and Wales. People were rioting in the streets even in the south of England because of the injustices of the poll tax. It was finally abandoned, but it cost billions of pounds to introduce the poll tax and it cost billions of pounds to get rid of it. Money that could and should have been spent on services was wasted on an ideology, a dogma in which the Tories said they believed. When they saw it in practice, they realised that it was an absolute disaster. All of us and all the taxpayers and the people of Britain share the cost and suffer as a result. So there is a whole legacy of failure. I wanted to dwell on that legacy for a few moments because we shall not let Conservative Members forget it.

It is clear that the Gracious Speech represents an attempt to cling on to power at the next election. It is clear also that the attempt will be made in vain. We, the Opposition, will not let the Government forget their record of failure over the past 16 years.

What is in the Gracious Speech? We are told that the President of France will visit next year. Is that wise when he continues to ignore the protests of the world about nuclear tests? The Government, however, continue to support him in the continuation of the tests. There will be a real danger of unrest if the President arrives and the tests are continuing.

We are told in the Gracious Speech that it remains the Government's priority to prevent

If that is their position, how can they justify supporting the French nuclear tests? These tests are an essential part of proliferation. How can the United Kingdom expect other countries to adhere to the non-proliferation treaty? They must do so, of course, if we are to ensure a safe future for our children. How can we expect other countries to adhere to the treaty if we encourage nuclear tests that are an essential element of proliferation? I hope that the Government will think seriously about their support for the French Government in their nuclear tests. We are alone in our support. We were isolated at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. It does the Government no credit to continue with their support.

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We are told in the Gracious Speech that a

The Prime Minister said, as is stated in the Gracious Speech, that a central part of the Government's programme is a fight against drugs. If that fight is to succeed, we must continue to help the smaller Caribbean countries with mono-economies that depend on the production and sale of bananas or coffee, for example. These are vulnerable and fragile economies. I know that the Minister has heard directly from the Prime Ministers of some of the smaller Caribbean countries that if they suffer as a result of cuts made by our Government, they will find it difficult to prevent an increase in the production of marijuana and other drugs in their countries. It would be disastrous if the Government moved in line with some of the rumours that I and others have heard. I hope that what is stated in the Gracious Speech becomes a reality. Those of us who are concerned specifically about overseas development will be watching the Government carefully.

I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), is on the Government Front Bench. That is fortuitous. I understand from reports in the Scottish media today that among the other measures to be introduced will be one to deal with the control of raves in Scotland. I see that the Minister is nodding. I am delighted by the news. The Minister will be aware that one of my constituents was one of the first to die in a tragic incident at Hanger 13, a nightclub in Ayr.

I am not against young people enjoying themselves. Indeed, I encourage them to do so. I have three children. They are getting on a bit now but, like us all, they were young once. They went to nightclubs. At the same time, I am aware of the dangers. There is the tragic case of the girl of 18 who obtained an Ecstasy tablet--it was not contaminated--on her 18th birthday. It is a dramatic and awful case. There were three such cases in one nightclub in Ayr.

There were some who shrugged their shoulders and said that there was nothing wrong. There was a clear need for better stewarding. Lord Milligan, a senator, said that in the High Court in Airdrie today when sentencing someone. He said that the stewarding in Hanger 13 was appalling. He observed that the selling of Ecstasy and other drugs had been allowed to continue for a long time.

Ecstasy contributes to or results in an increase in body temperature and dehydration. When many young people are involved in energetic dancing and there is nowhere for them to cool out or chill out, there is danger. The situation for three young people in Ayr was fatal. I welcome what I understand has been proposed by the Scottish Office.

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The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) has made a breathtaking U-turn. When I was expressing concerns about Hanger 13--lack of stewarding and the lack of a chill-out area--he was shrugging his shoulders and saying that I was scaremongering. He alleged that I had it in for the proprietors of Hanger 13. I am glad that he has converted on the road to Westminster. I do not know whether the Scottish Office Ministers have effected the conversion, but I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has changed his stance.

I used to be the chairman of the Lothian region education committee. Being in office in local government gave me at least a little power. In this place I have experienced the continuing frustration of 16 years in opposition. To have a small amount of power at local authority level was a much more enjoyable and satisfying experience. I learnt a great deal about the education debate, albeit in a Scottish context. It is appalling and offensive that personal and puerile attacks should continue to be made by Conservative Members on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. These attacks should be discontinued immediately.

My right hon. Friend has made his individual decision within the terms of the current education system. It comes ill of Conservative Members to attack his individual decision when many of them do not use the state system. They do not use grant-maintained schools. Instead, they send their children into the private sector. They tell us that class sizes do not matter but they send their children to private schools where there are smaller class sizes so as to give them a privilege.

The next Labour Government will not encourage opting out. When I was chairman of the Lothian region education committee, I encouraged opting in. Two private schools came close to opting into the local authority system in 1978 and 1979. I would like to see that happening again. It is fortunate that there is not much opting out in Scotland. It is not a popular move.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has been going round the country trying to encourage schools to opt out. That has had a counter-productive effect, but we do have the appalling assisted places scheme. It is ridiculous that, when the education budget is limited, increasing amounts of money should be taken away from local authority schools and spent on assisted places: money is being poured into the pockets of private schools, and taken from the public sector schools to which people such as me send our children--whether they be grant- maintained or, as in my case, run by local authorities.

The hon. Member for Moorlands spoke of the prospect of nursery vouchers. Conservative Members continually describe that scheme as extra provision of nursery places, but that misrepresents the proposals. Again, money will be taken from the public sector--which is currently providing good nursery teaching places--and given to people with vouchers who will buy places in playgroups. Again, the Government will extend provision only through cheapjack solutions, while bypassing the real problems of education.

In regard to Scotland, Conservative Members talk of "jobs for the boys". It is interesting to note that recently in Monklands--when Mr. Nimmo-Smith has been getting to the truth in a proper judicial way--some of the accusations have been falling by the wayside, and proving untrue. What we do know is that, in health trusts all over

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Scotland, people like Aileen Bates--a well-known Tory-- are getting nice, highly paid jobs. That is a job for the girls! Meanwhile, Scottish Office Ministers with whom we do not agree but who we thought had a little political nous are spending more and more on appointing political advisers. First Gerald Warner from The Sunday Times was brought in; now the Tory party's public relations officer has been moved to St Andrew's house, paid for by the taxpayer. That is outrageous: jobs for the boys and girls are being financed by public funds for the advancement of Tory policy. It is disastrous, ridiculous and disgraceful.

I could continue at length, but I know that others wish to speak. Finally, let me say something about devolution of power in Scotland. Alone among 72 Scottish Members, the Secretary of State for Scotland--the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)--and nine other hon. Members, one of them the Under-Secretary of State, are steamrolling policy through a House of Commons in which an English Tory majority is legislating for Scotland and has done so for a number of years.

Scotland did not vote for the poll tax, but we got it. We did not vote for national health service trusts, but they were forced down our throats. No one in Scotland wanted the reorganisation of local government, but a minority Tory Administration in Scotland--with the right hon. Member for Stirling and the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang) in the forefront--forced it on the people of Scotland. That is causing great resentment. What Scotland wants is real devolution of power to its people--and that is what a Labour Government will bring. That is what ought to be, and will be, in the first Queen's Speech under a Labour Government. [Interruption.]

But we do not just want devolution of power to Scotland. Power must devolve to Wales, Northern Ireland and, ultimately, to the rest of the United Kingdom. It must take place within England as well. [Interruption.]

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