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6.53 pm

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South): In welcoming the Gracious Speech I must say in passing that I was staggered to hear the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) say that nothing very much had changed in the past 16 years. Seventeen and 18-year-olds who will be voting next time at their first general election look at the Tories and say, "What a shower; the Labour party would do things much better." Once upon a time, not so many years ago--in 1979--I was a 17-year-old. If people think that nothing has changed in the intervening years, they must be amazingly badly informed.

I remind the House of what was happening in the last years of the Labour Government. Rubbish was piling up in the streets because the Transport and General Workers Union did not want to collect it. There were strikes in our major industrial plants every day. The gravediggers were refusing to bury the dead. Hospital porters told people that they would vet them on their arrival at hospital to see whether they were ill enough to go in.

It seems extraordinary now that, when people went to the shops, they never knew how much they would have to pay for goods of the same kind as they had bought the week before. The same amount of money as was spent the previous week bought less the following week. Inflation rose to the quite unbelievable level of 27 per cent. at one stage.

Opposition Members will lean back on their Benches and say that that was old Labour, whereas they represent new Labour. I grew up in a Labour household, dedicated to the sort of socialism that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) propounded earlier this evening. When I was young, I met a lot of people from the Labour party--all nice, idealistic types like those who sit on the Opposition Benches. They all wanted to do a good job. With their trade union backgrounds, they wanted to build a better nation. They all thought the Conservative party was making a mess of things and that everything would be better under a Labour Government.

Matters got worse, however--dramatically worse. People of my age with small children will tell their three-year-old kid not to put his hand in the fire: "Tommy, you'll burn your hand." They tell the child the same thing two or three times, but one day when they are not looking little Tommy puts his hand in the fire and burns it. He never does it again. I think that the 16 million people who have never voted in a general election when the Labour party has won are rather like Tommy. They are going to put their hands in the fire just to see if it is really as bad as granny says it is. They are in for a shock if they do--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. It would be a good idea if the hon. Gentleman now turned to the Queen's Speech and the amendment to the Loyal Address.

Mr. Devlin: All this is why I welcome the Queen's Speech--it builds on the achievements of the past 16 years.

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It is staggering that the Leader of the Opposition called it irrelevant. I have always thought that a Government's first responsibility to the nation is to provide peace and security, on which score this Government stand second to none. The Queen's Speech includes three Bills that deal specifically with military security.

Times have changed, however. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, questions of military security loomed large. Nowadays, our security is threatened not so much or so immediately from any military quarter as by an economic problem, which is why I welcome some of the economic measures both in the speech and in the forthcoming Budget. Another threat to our internal order is posed by crime and drugs, which constitute a significant threat to the peace and security of the realm. I am pleased to see measures in the Gracious Speech to tackle them as well.

In terms of economic security, we find ourselves in a position that no Labour Government have ever been able to achieve. Inflation is under 4 per cent., and we have had one of the longest runs of low inflation that we have experienced for 30 or 40 years. Industrial investment is at an all-time high.

I was amazed that the shadow Chancellor had not managed to find time in his busy day to look at today's Financial Times, which published an article headed

I know that the hon. Gentleman is not very good on detail, however. Let me read hon. Members the first paragraph of that report:

    "Manufacturing investment in the first quarter of the year was the highest for more than four years, official figures showed yesterday."
I do not want to embarrass the shadow Chancellor by reading the rest of the article, but its general tenor was that Britain's economy is doing extremely well.

Labour has now set up an industry forum. It charges companies to go along and tell its members what they do not really want to hear, hoping that they may nevertheless glean something from it. I have attended a number of such meetings. Last night, I heard Sir John Egan addressing the Air league. He told us that the only companies that would succeed in the 21st century were companies that excelled-- companies that were of high quality, and did whatever they did better than anyone else in the world. Indifferent performers would not survive, he said. Europe should play to its strengths--and Britain in particular was playing to its strengths better than many of its European competitors.

A couple of months ago I attended another forum, at which the chairman of BMW said:

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From time to time, unlike the shadow Chancellor, I look at OECD reports. The latest report states:

Forgive me if I am getting it wrong--I am no economist--but that strikes me as a fairly glowing endorsement of Britain's current and economic performance.

I do not want to talk about abstract measures; I want to talk about specific issues that affect my constituents. My constituents have undoubtedly been affected by the continuing fall in unemployment. That is the topic about which they always ask me, and the topic about which I worry most. I tell them that we have had month-on-month improvements in employment rates. Under Labour Governments, unemployment never fell; it always increased.

Moreover, we in the north of England have seen the fruits of the one third of all inward investment that comes into the European Union. Recently--along with the Queen--I attended the launch of Samsung's investment in Stockton-on-Tees. I also went to the Siemens launch on Tyneside. Fujitsu has just launched a huge expansion in Newton Aycliffe, and, according to a recent edition of Electronics Weekly, the north of England has become a globally significant area for the production of semiconductors. That has happened as a result of the Government's policies.

There is no possibility that the industrial renewal that I see when I visit factories in the north and the midlands would have come about if we still had Red Robbo and the old trade union bosses. They did not want to know. People now say that the British work force is one of the most flexible and highly skilled that can be found, and we are now exporting cars all over Europe--cars built by British workmen to better standards than those built in Japan. The north-east, and Britain as a whole, should be proud of that.

When the Leader of the Opposition visited Newcastle university recently, he said that the north of England had made fantastic changes and he poured praise on the region for its marvellous achievements, but did he mention the Government policy that had brought that about? Did he heck. That is amazing. No one would have known that the Department of Trade and Industry had been involved in the various investments; the name of Michael Heseltine would not have passed the right hon. Gentleman's lips as he passed the site of the new Siemens factory. People do not want to know where all the good news is coming from; what they want to hear from the Labour party is that everything is wrong.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Devlin: I do not want to waste the House's time by listening to the hon. Gentleman, who may make his own speech if he is called.

Not only are we living in a highly competitive country in terms of industrial relations; we are one of the most technologically advanced countries in terms of our investment in cable. I find it unbelievable that the Labour

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party wants to sign up to a deal with British Telecom to link every school, hospital and library to the information super-highway. The Leader of the Opposition's constituency is next to mine. My constituency is currently being "cabled up" by a company called Comcast Teesside, which is connecting every school, library and hospital free of charge--not five miles from the constituency of the Leader of the Opposition. Either the right hon. Gentleman does not know, or he does not want to tell the British public. Either way, there is something very wrong with what has been going on in the Labour party.

Labour's sole strategy now is to be an idea and commitment-free zone, as it tries its best--having paddled furiously for all these years--to let things drift and see whether the tide will take it into government. That is the ultimate counsel of despair; Labour has nothing to offer.

I welcome the marvellous opportunity provided by the Queen's Speech for us to tackle the problem about which our constituents are most worried: crime. Having recently spent a night on the beat with the police force at Stockton-on-Tees, I know that drugs are behind a good deal of crime. Given the state in which people are brought into the cells having been arrested at 4 am, I can only pay tribute to the heroism of our police officers. If I may use that great old LSD phrase, these people are completely out of it: they do not know what they are doing. They are as high as kites on all sorts of drugs. We must do something about that.

I believe that tackling the drug problem is the most important priority for the Government in the years to come. That is why I welcome the deployment of MI5 in the fight against drugs. I would very much welcome the redeployment of the Royal Navy in the Caribbean, where our solitary ship is doing marvellous work in tracking drugs that end up in this country. I also welcome--as will my constituents and local police force--the 5,000 extra police officers who will be deployed on the beat.

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