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8.27 pm

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): It is

22 Nov 1995 : Column 739

always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) because it brings us back from "Alice in Wonderland" to the real world. I often wonder, when I drive through Sutton and Cheam occasionally, in which part of Sutton and Cheam the hon. Lady finds those examples, because I do not believe that people in her constituency accept her model of the world.

It is curious that the debate on the royal speech has not received a great deal of press coverage. We all know the reason for that. A friend of mine suggested to me that the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) is on the carpet in front of the Prime Minister for daring to attack the Princess of Wales. She kept the Queen's Speech out of the media.

However, some serious things have been discussed in the past few days and it is a great pity that the debate has not had a great deal more coverage.

Let me start with nursery education, the bedrock of our investment in the future, in people, in our society.

What has happened? There was a pilot scheme for vouchers--the Government decided to start with a pilot scheme for a change. After all the experiments in social planning had gone disastrously wrong, perhaps the Government thought that it was a good idea to have a pilot scheme instead of going full blast into a new programme that collapses in disarray. What was that pilot scheme? It was offered to local authorities to take up. Time after time we have heard criticisms of Labour and Liberal-controlled local authorities for failing to take up that programme.

Mr. Jacques Arnold: Quite right.

Mr. Miller: The hon. Gentleman says, "Quite right." That is interesting--perhaps he can say why Conservative-controlled Cheshire county council also refused the pilot scheme. It refused the scheme because it was bound to fail--

Mr. Arnold: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Miller: I shall not give way as the hon. Gentleman does not represent Cheshire.

Mr. Arnold rose--

Mr. Miller: Oh, very well. I shall give way.

Mr. Arnold: Cheshire county council did not take up the scheme for precisely the same reason as can be clearly seen in Kent. We have always pioneered projects; the only time that we did not do so in my county of Kent--which is one that I know about--was precisely because it is controlled by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who are under instructions not to participate in the scheme. Poor old Kent.

Mr. Miller: The hon. Gentleman is clearly not listening. Cheshire county council is one of the last bastions of Conservative administration and it refused to adopt the programme.

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Mr. Peter Butler (Milton Keynes, North-East): Cheshire county council is not Conservative-controlled.

Mr. Miller: Cheshire is Conservative-controlled; I represent a Cheshire constituency, so I should know.

The Conservative party has rejected the pilot scheme. The issue needs to be considered in terms of the overall programme of investment in education which is not taking place throughout that county. It is interesting that there is an all-party alliance--all three major parties working together to seek to persuade the Government that they are wrong. That is an interesting little concept about which we never hear from the Conservative Benches. All we ever hear are criticisms of Labour-controlled authorities which are seeking to do their best in impossible circumstances.

Earlier we heard about one aspect of investment. I listened briefly to the contribution of the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) who criticised the Labour party for having discussions with British Telecom. He has the gall to criticise the Labour party for talking about investment in the nation's future. It seems extraordinary that, when the Labour party starts to promote ideas that will create competition, it becomes the subject of criticism from Conservative Members.

Last year, we heard the Deputy Prime Minister, on his crusade for deregulation, say that every regulation had to be wiped out of industry's way. But when it comes to British Telecom, he says that the asymmetry rules must stay in place. Those rules were devised in 1984, when they may have had some logic--history will determine whether they did--but by the time those small cable companies were taken over by American multinationals, the logic had disappeared. There must be an agreed and phased programme of release from those regulations on a region-by-region basis, which is what the Labour party was saying. It is extraordinary that a mechanism to create greater competition in one of the industries that will provide the basis for the regeneration of the British economy has been criticised by Conservative Members.

On several occasions I have heard criticisms of industrial relations under previous Labour Administrations. I have heard the phrase "Red Robbo" used about six times--it must have been in a Conservative party handout which I have not seen. I met a group of trade unionists from Slovakia just yesterday who were complaining bitterly about the problems they faced in making progress with some of the multinational companies in their country. I asked them specifically, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), how they ensured that trade unions were recognised. They said that it only took five people to be in the union and it would be recognised. In this society we have destroyed all rights of recognition.

Mr. Butler: Hear, hear.

Mr. Miller: The hon. Gentleman says, "Hear, hear." We have destroyed all rights of recognition and the Government now claim that as the basis for making progress. How can removing rights at the workplace be the basis for progress?

We have heard about transport issues. In my constituency, large and successful businesses are desperately crying out for investment in the west coast main line. Two Budgets ago promises were made. It was

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said that magical private sector money would rescue the west coast main line. Where is it? Not one penny piece of that money has emerged so far. How can businesses such as Shell, Vauxhall and Kemira, which desperately want to get to the market place by improving the rail infrastructure, be expected to make the sort of contribution that they could have made had that investment gone ahead?

My hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) talked about the failure to invest in housing. In my constituency, 4,500 families are on the housing waiting list--an extraordinary number. An authority that as recently as 1986 could guarantee to any family--

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman, who has I think misled the House--I am sure not intentionally. Cheshire county council is Labour-controlled. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to correct what he told the House.

Mr. Miller: I stick to my guns, and the record will prove that.

Investment in housing is important. Some 4,500 families are waiting on the housing register in my constituency. As recently as 1986, a couple with one child would have been housed within one month; it now takes four years. That is as a direct result of this Administration's failure to invest in the housing infrastructure. The money is there and only if it is released on a phased basis will we achieve progress in providing low-cost, affordable housing. Such investment will result in the sort of progress that we need to house those people and revitalise the building industry. That would have an enormous spin-off effect on a wide range of industries across the country.

Everyone who drives up the motorway or travels on the train through Bedfordshire will see the problems faced by industry--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

8.38 pm

Mr. Stephen Day (Cheadle): I shall take the opportunity, at the beginning of my speech, to give the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) the information to allow him to correct what he said. I am a Greater Manchester Member of Parliament, but my postal address is Cheshire and my understanding is that the Conservatives hold 22 seats, Labour 35 and the Liberal Democrats 14 on Cheshire county council. It is only right to put those facts before the House. I should like to think that such circumstances led to Conservative control. If they did, we would be in control of many authorities.

I welcome the Loyal Address. During the debate this evening, many Labour Members have done nothing but run Britain down. I think that my Whips will agree that, on occasion, I have rebelled when I did not believe that my Government had got it quite right. However, it should not be inferred that I, or any other Conservative Member who has occasionally disagreed with the Government, believe that the Conservative Government have been anything but good for the British people since 1979.

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I do not recognise the picture that Labour Members have painted of Britain before 1979. I went to school and on to further education during the 1960s, and I remember Labour Britain well. It is an experience that I do not wish to repeat. I remember a Britain where industry created more jobs than there are now, but unfortunately-- especially for those who ultimately lost their jobs--that industry produced goods that the rest of the world did not want to buy at a price that the rest of the world could not afford. That reality, and not Conservative Government, cost people their jobs.

Companies struggled under the economic regime imposed by a Labour Government and many industries were put under public ownership. I remember well companies such as British Steel and British Leyland that were cobbled together by a Labour Government. They were a disaster for their own long-term future and a disaster for all who worked in them. The companies were almost destroyed. It was a Conservative Government who privatised those industries and turned them into successes. They are the real benefits of Conservative Government for Britain since 1979.

I remember when the Labour party went to the International Monetary Fund. It would embarrass anyone with pride in Britain to see any Government of any political persuasion grovelling before the IMF, with the economy in a mess. I remember an inflation rate of 27 per cent. in Britain. I remember that at one point the highest rate of taxation reached 97.5p in the pound. That is a typical result of Labour attitudes to taxation and to the economy. Labour policies produce not growth but the devastation that was Britain in the 1970s. I do not believe that the British people wish to return to that situation. They will reflect upon that in the polling booths, and vote accordingly.

There were calls for local authorities to be allowed to use receipts from council house sales to invest--that is a magic word beloved of Labour Members. Labour Members do not seem to understand that the proceeds of council house sales must be offset against the massive debts incurred by local authorities. Local people face enormous cost burdens largely because of the mismanagement of Labour-controlled authorities. The debt burden is enormous, and the Labour party cannot ignore that if it claims to believe in financial rectitude and good management of the economy.

Labour has proved again tonight that it is unfit to run a market stall, let alone an economy. It does not understand what wealth creation is all about. People have the talents and the Government must release those talents so that the people can create wealth. The people do not need politicians to direct them. The last thing they need is a Labour Government trying to control the economy, telling people how to spend their money and telling businesses where to invest. The people will make the right decisions in that regard. This Loyal Address proves that the Conservative Government hold basic, clear principles that are right not only in theory, but have been proved right in practice ever since the Government were elected.

I am proud to be a Back Bencher in this Conservative Government. Much mockery was made of an earlier comment that this Parliament may yet run 18 months. However long it runs, I hope that, at the next election, the people will do what they have done in the past, in spite of the pollsters' predictions: return a Government who are capable of running the economy.

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