Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Fabricant: Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise that the reason why Labour Members cannot answer is that the shadow Chancellor's puppet master, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), is not in his place?

Mr. Clarke: I think that that is probably right. The hon. Member for Hartlepool came up with what he thought was a remedy for the Labour party: "Let's stop having these policies, leave the rest to me, shouting over the telephone to BBC producers." That is no basis on which any

22 Nov 1995 : Column 696

political party should ever aspire to government in a modern state. [Interruption.] I will not go back to the questions that I have already answered.

On the key things on which Labour has a policy that it will not withdraw--the minimum wage and the social chapter--no detail is given or referred to, but they would be destructive of our competitive position. Everybody knows that I am pro-European, but I am vehemently against ever accepting the social chapter in this country, and vehemently against setting a minimum wage. All the talk of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East about moving from dependency into work--it was the theme of my Budget last year when I worked on family credit; he has stolen it from me--is made nonsense of by his talk on the minimum wage, as my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) made clear in his intervention.

Let me remind the House of what Adair Turner, the director general of the CBI, said on 15 November. This is the view of British industry and business. He said:

He went on:

    "Mr. Blair claimed he would not sign up wholesale to everything in it. He may believe he does not want everything the EU wants. But because of this structure there are some things he won't be able to avoid."

I am accused by the shadow Chancellor of not having read the Maastricht treaty. I can find my way around the Maastricht treaty a whole better than most people in the House, and as well as any. The Leader of the Opposition made it quite clear that he had not got the first idea about the social chapter and did not realise that he would not be able to pick and choose on the things that were introduced by a qualified majority vote.

This debate is occupied by the Labour party with no economic policy or plans at all, but a large number of threats loom in the background from some of its supporters and interests, and its record of incompetence in power in the past. It is no good saying to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East, "Where's the beef?", to use the old phrase; he does not even produce a skinny kebab by way of policy when he comes to the House.

I will come to the House next Tuesday free of purdah and present the Government's detailed economic policies for next year. They will be guided by the clear, consistent principles that I have set out ever since I have been Chancellor of the Exchequer. They will be dedicated to making this country the enterprise centre of Europe, an economy that can earn the wealth in which all the people can share and which will pay for the public services about which they care.

We are on our way to out-performing the rest of Europe. We have recovered from the disaster of the 1970s. The 1990s are going to see this country at the head of every economic league table that matters if we stick to the course on which we are set.

5.35 pm

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): I was elected 45 years ago next week in succession to a Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have heard many Chancellors of the Exchequer since, some of them eminently forgettable. I think that we may have heard another.

22 Nov 1995 : Column 697

One thing that has not impressed people over the years is the selective use of statistics and selective quotations. People are not entirely and solely economic animals with a Treasury mode of thinking. Even if tonight, as he will, the Chancellor carries a majority in the House, he has not carried the British public on the policies that he has pursued. That is not only because of the so-called competence or incompetence of the Government; it is because the objectives of the Government are not shared by the generality of the British people.

My hon. Friends and I have put down an amendment to the humble Address, which though not called--I cannot complain about that--it is in order for me to read into the record. It states:

It is by their objectives that Governments are judged. During wartime, victory is the only test. Nobody talks about inflation in wartime, only of defeating the enemy-- killing the enemy. When I was first elected--and I am proud of it--the objectives that I have read out were widely shared by both sides of the House. After all, Winston Churchill had been an old Liberal. He had himself nationalised British Petroleum when he was First Lord of the Admiralty. He introduced the Sunday shopping rule and the wages councils. Since 1950, the centre of British politics has altered radically to the right.

We see the consequences in the opinion polls. I do not have a great deal of time for opinion polling. I have no time for political images. The image that I have is the one that I use to shave in the mornings. I cannot change it. However, the Chancellor would be foolish to believe that one can run a society on the basis that profit is more important than human factors.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, speaking in the House in June after the Halifax summit, said:

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has no real control over what should happen in Britain because he has to satisfy the international markets that his policies will not interfere with their objective of the maximisation of profit. That is the function of a Chancellor of the Exchequer and if, by

22 Nov 1995 : Column 698

any chance, we were foolish enough to adopt a single currency, so that his job moved to Frankfurt, not only would those factors determine British policy, as they now do, and what we are allowed to do, but the power of the law would be in the Frankfurt bank rather than in the Treasury.

I, and people whom I meet when I go round the country, ask ourselves what the real cause of the problem is. Is it an incompetent and unfair Government? That is an easy thing for an Opposition Member to say. I believe, however, that there is something much deeper. If the House is in disrepute at the moment, it is not just because of sleaze and all the arguments, but because we in the House do not address the central questions that have to be addressed if we are to provide a decent society.

Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Benn: I do not intend to be provocative. I hope to be thoughtful, and not to say anything that will bring a Conservative Member to his feet with a quotation that he might think will embarrass me. That is not the sort of speech I want to make.

Mr. Carrington: I was not going to quote.

Mr. Benn: I do not want to give way at the moment.

The county of Derbyshire, which I have the honour, in part, to represent, needs £100 million for school repairs. Derbyshire, like all local authorities, has been strangled by the Government. Local democracy--this matters to Conservative as well as to Labour councillors--has been absolutely strangled. In the 19th century, long before the Labour party was formed, Joe Chamberlain in Birmingham introduced municipal housing, municipal hospitals, municipal water, municipal gas and municipal museums. When I was an RAF trainee, I learned to fly at the Birmingham municipal airport. That was the heyday of local government, which has been absolutely destroyed by the Government's policies.

Let us look at health. I and the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath) are the last remaining Members who sat in the House when Anuerin Bevan was Minister of Health. Anyone who looks at what we were able to start in 1948, when we were bankrupt after the war, will see that there was absolutely free health care when we needed it. It has never, of course, been a free health service. It was free when we needed it, but we paid for it when we were well. That health service has been utterly destroyed. The increases in prescription charges have been so high that prescription charges can even exceed the cost of the drugs if bought in a chemist's shop without a prescription--if that is possible. There are long waiting lists and services are being privatised.

I expect that the House has heard of the little document, which is circulating, about the boat race between the NHS and a Japanese crew. Both sides tried hard to do well, but the Japanese won by a mile. The NHS was very discouraged and set up a consultancy. The consultancy came to the conclusion that the Japanese had eight people rowing and one steering, whereas the NHS had eight people steering and one rowing. The NHS appointed people to look at the problem and decided to reorganise the structure of the team so that there were three steering managers, three assistant steering managers and a director of steering services, and an incentive was offered to the

22 Nov 1995 : Column 699

rower to row harder. When the NHS lost a second race, it laid off the rower for poor performance and sold the boat. It gave the money it got from selling the boat to provide higher than average pay awards for the director of steering services. That is what is happening all over the place. There is masses of bureaucracy in the health service and a denial of what people need.

The people who will have to pay for all this are the people for whom the welfare state was devised. I have been searching for the origins of the Secretary of State for Social Security's new proposals for dealing with welfare. I found them because, after 30 years, Government papers are published. The stationery office has just put on a CD-ROM all the papers for 1964. I give the Chancellor this quotation from his colleague. This is the Conservative Chief Whip, Martin Redmayne, sending a minute to the Prime Minister on 19 June 1964. The Conservative Chief Whip said:

The Conservative Prime Minister, Alec Douglas-Home, wrote in his own hand--I have a photocopy of this:

    "Beveridge was very costly. Would another inquiry be as bad or if we win, should we not impose our own scheme?"
It was only the defeat of the Conservatives in 1964 that prevented the welfare state from being dismantled then. It is now the present Government's intention to dismantle it.

We then come to the arguments that are put forward when people say that things are unfair and when they protest. One argument is, "You have no rights without responsibilities." That is a very popular phrase nowadays. I looked at the origin of that phrase and found that those very words are in the Brezhnev constitution in the Soviet Union in 1977. An authoritarian system is being introduced, through the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and so on, which aims to repress the dissent against policies that are manifestly unfair.

The Chancellor questioned us--that was fair enough-- on what the Opposition would do in power. As a candidate, taxation is not an issue that has ever embarrassed me. There are two questions about taxation that ought to be asked: "What is it for?" and, "Who pays for it?" If we tax old-age pensioners by imposing VAT on their fuel to buy a Trident, that is wrong. If we tax people who are better off to fund a proper health service, that is right. The Chancellor, who is a member of the Government, has given 50 billion quid away to the richest 10 per cent. Every family of four--I had the figures broken down for me by the House of Commons Library-- spends 40 quid a week on weapons, 40 quid a week paying for unemployment, which is a deliberate policy, 40 quid a week on law and order, much of it caused by mass unemployment, and 20 quid a week on the common agricultural policy.

The Government should not tell us that money is not available for the things that need to be done. Of course it is available, but it involves recasting the priorities to bring the nation's resources fully into use. That should be the objective of government. The Government should see that there is no waste of human resources when so much has to be done. In wartime, as I mentioned, market forces did not prevail. The weapons were provided by the

22 Nov 1995 : Column 700

Government. If we could have full employment to kill people, why can we not have full employment now? Why cannot we use unemployed building workers to build the houses that we need? Why cannot we recruit the nurses and teachers we need? Why cannot we have the people who are needed to look after the old? Why not? Because it is not profitable.

The core of the Chancellor's argument is that profitability should be the test of everything that we do. I utterly reject that. The Government use the word "customers". Someone who does not have any money is not a customer and that is why the Government have invented this use of the word "customer". The homeless in cardboard boxes are not customers because they cannot afford a house, so they can be disregarded.

The Government talk about competitiveness as if everything was competitive. Most things that matter in life are not profitable. Schools are not profitable, hospitals are not profitable, the police are not profitable, the Army is not profitable and the Chancellor is not profitable, but the nation knows that it requires those services to survive. We must get on--I do not say get back--to the position where the employment of all people is a national objective. The health of the nation is a national objective and we should ensure that we develop policies for that purpose.

I know that I speak at a time when left-wing views are supposed to be out of date. My own assessment is simple. It is not just socialism that market forces have attempted to destroy, but Parliament, democracy and the social fabric. The House should not think that the situation will remain like that. We need only look at the defeat of Lech Walesa, or what has happened in Russia. Look at the defeat of the right-wing leader of the German SPD. The people are now gaining a new perception of what they want in the 21st century. They want fairness, and they want to use the resources of their own countries for the benefit of their own people for the short span during which we live on the earth.

Debates of that character would be more interesting and relevant to people outside than what passes for an exchange of management expertise. We in this House are not, dare I say it, managers. We are representatives. Who represents the unemployed? Who represents the old who have been denied a pension related to average income? Who represents the kids who cannot get work when they leave school? Who represents the women who get married and cannot get a home? Who represents the people waiting for hip operations? They look to us to represent them in Parliament.

I am proud to be in a party with a strong trade union base because those trade unions, having won the vote, knew they needed to have representation for working people in Parliament. The reason I am a dedicated socialist, and get more so, is that I know that any party that adheres to a market economy or profit as its prime objective will never solve the problems that confront my constituents.

Although the Chancellor had fun in his speech, and I am sure that he felt that he had done well, the country cannot be run by disregarding human need and putting the almighty pound, dollar, deutschmark or ecu above people. Debates in the House about the economy should relate more to people and less to what we heard from the Chancellor today.

22 Nov 1995 : Column 701

Next Section

IndexHome Page