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Mr. Jacques Arnold: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor: I am normally willing--

Mr. Arnold rose--

Mrs. Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman let me finish? I am normally willing to give way but, unfortunately, Conservative Members wasted time at the beginning of my speech so I shall not give way.

I have worked out why my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor is always asked for so many details. Quite simply, there is so much interest in my hon. Friend's first Budget because there is so little confidence in this Queen's Speech. There is little confidence that the Queen's Speech has any relevance whatsoever to the needs of the country.

The Chancellor, by contrast, has the luxury of sealed lips, and he cannot disclose the details of next week's Budget. I suppose that we will just have to wait until Sunday to read the briefings that the chairman of the Conservative party will give out. Nothing the Chancellor said today gives us confidence that he is anything other than incredibly complacent about the economic prospects for the country.

Throughout the week of debate on the Queen's Speech, many themes have emerged. The main one is that the Queen's Speech does not attack the fundamental problems that face the country. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked last Wednesday where the plan for job creation was, and how the Government proposed to counter insecurity. Do Ministers realise that, in the five years to the end of 1994, almost 11 million British people--or two in five of the work force--experienced unemployment? That insecurity is real.

Do Ministers realise that the amount of money that individuals have to spend has fallen, as a Financial Times article last week showed? That is not a state of mind, as the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry would imply. Do Ministers realise that 70 per cent. of all home repossessions are caused by job losses? That is not a state of mind, and those who suggest that it is insult the thousands of families who have been desperately hit by Conservative policies during the past few years.

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One issue that was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but which I wish to touch on briefly--not least because I have a constituency interest--is the inadequacy of regulation of the private utilities. There was a debate in the House this morning on the problems facing my constituents and others in west Yorkshire. The House heard during that debate that Yorkshire Water supplied tankers of water free of charge to soften training grounds for racehorses while it was threatening rota cuts in the rest of west Yorkshire.

Yorkshire Water told firms in Bradford that they should either relocate or boil 500,000 gallons of water a day during the crisis. It has shown sheer incompetence. That is the impression not just of Labour Members of Parliament, but of local industry. The company's incompetence shows that regulation of the private utilities is woefully inadequate, but all the Minister could say today was that if the situation did not improve, he might have to consider setting leakage targets. There are 600 tankers trundling through Yorkshire, but one in three is wasting its time because as soon as the water gets into the system it starts leaking out. All the Minister could say was that if the situation did not get any better he might have to consider what to do. The Minister wanted to wash his hands of that situation--[Laughter] That would be more than the chairman of Yorkshire Water did--he claimed that he did not do such healthy things.

Many other problems are created by the Queen's Speech. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) is not here. He talked about nursery education in Leeds and said that he welcomed the nursery voucher scheme because he thought that it would bring some nursery places. He said that the situation in relation to nursery places in Leeds was appalling. I have checked the figures since the hon. Gentleman spoke, which may be why he is not here.

In Leeds, 45 per cent. of all three and four-year-olds and 30 per cent. of rising fives are in nursery schools, so 75 per cent. of nursery age children in Leeds are in nursery education. The dreadful, appalling con trick of nursery vouchers is that they threaten that Labour-controlled council's excellent provision of nursery places, from which many children have benefited over many years. The Government's cynical contract will not be accepted by parents because parents do not want nursery vouchers, they want quality nursery education for their children, which the Government are failing to provide.

Throughout the Queen's Speech Ministers and Conservative Members have clearly been practising for their time in Opposition. They behave like an Opposition. They absolve themselves of all the problems that the country is facing. How often have we heard from Conservative Members during the past few days that something should be done about Government borrowing, interest rates, the quality of education and the level of crime? Those remarks were made by hon. Members who belong to a party that has been in office for 16 years.

Sir Terence Higgins: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Taylor: I do not have time.

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The Chancellor had no evidence whatever to give today when he was under fire from my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor. The sad fact is that Britain has fallen fror 13th to 18th place in the GDP league table. I have looked--perhaps the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dam E. Kellett-Bowman) would like to look as well--at what the Conservative research department brief says about the league table that shows that Britain has fallen from 13th to 18th place. It says:

The brief fails to mention that the source of the table is a document produced by the Government entitled "Competitiveness: Forging Ahead". The Chancellor chose to quote The Wall Street Journal as his only source of support. Perhaps he should come closer to home and look at last Thursday's Financial Times, which says:

    "The pound sank to a record low on the foreign exchanges yesterday as figures showing a rise in unemployment and the biggest fall in living standards for nearly 14 years".

The Chancellor said nothing to deal with that. He showed only utter complacency.

The Queen's Speech shows total complacency and gives no hope for Britain. It is a discredited Queen's Speech from a discredited Government who have failed Britain. The sooner they go, the better.

9.34 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton): I shall follow the pattern of the speech of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) by starting in a quieter tone. I recall that, on the first occasion that I had this task of winding up the debate on the Address in 1992, a senior former colleague, whose name I will not reveal, but some may guess, who was aware of the fact that the Leader of the House conventionally says something about House of Commons matters, advised me with words to the effect of, "Forget all that Leader of the House stuff and just sock it to 'em." Being of a naturally conservative nature, however, I stuck to the convention on that occasion, as I propose to do for part of my speech tonight.

Indeed, at a time when the House is so often much criticised for the way in which its business is conducted, it is worth spending a few minutes on the significant improvements of the past year.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way to allow me to mention a House of Commons matter. He may be aware that, last week, I wrote to Sir Gordon Downey after the publication of an amendment to the Loyal Address in which a number of the signatories, who had been sponsored by a trade union, did not declare that sponsorship. His advice on declaring the interest on the Order Paper was that

Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on the fact that a right hon. Gentleman--a member of the Transport and General Workers Union--sought not to do so when he put his name to an amendment today?

Mr. Newton: I note what my hon. Friend says. I also heard the exchanges between the hon. Member for Dewsbury and another of my hon. Friends about a quarter of an hour ago. While I note what my hon. Friend says, the proper thing for me to do is to say that, if there is thought to be a source of complaint, it would be proper

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for it to be directed to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, whom we have put in place precisely to consider such complaints.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): As we are on House of Commons matters, may I report to the Leader of the House that there is genuine confusion about the interpretation of the new rule? Does he not think, therefore, that it would be a good thing to expedite the setting up of the new Select Committee, to give the new commissioner clearer guidelines and instructions?

Mr. Newton: As the hon. Gentleman will know, I circulated a note setting out the position as clearly as was possible in the light of the report, the debate and the resolutions that the House had passed. I consistently acknowledged in the debate, as the report acknowledged, that there would be a need for further guidance and guidelines and that that would be the task of the Select Committee, working with the commissioner. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the usual channels are beavering away with a view to getting the new Select Committee established and I hope that it will be possible to proceed before too much longer, partly for the very reason that he reasonably mentioned.

Before I return to one or two House of Commons matters that I wanted to mention, I must say that I was particularly sorry not to have been in the Chamber to hear the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), but with the miracles of modern technology, I was able to follow some of what he said from afar. I want to assure him that the Government warmly welcome the programme for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the border counties of Ireland. It is a tangible contribution to the peace process, and the right hon. Gentleman might like to know that all expenditure incurred under that programme will be subject to the same standards of accountability and the need to secure value for money as apply generally to public expenditure in the United Kingdom. I hope that that will be helpful to the right hon. Gentleman.

To return to the House of Commons part of my speech, looking back on the speech that I made on this occasion a year ago, I noticed some reasonably optimistically worded paragraphs in which I hoped--and I was proved right-- that the hon. Member for Dewsbury would be similarly supportive. I had an optimistically worded passage about my hopes that we would find an agreed way forward on changes along the lines recommended by what has become known as Jopling.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury may see some irony in this, but against the background of our efforts at that time to suggest and subsequently to bring to the attention of our colleagues--that is perhaps the most tactful phrase that I can use--the desirability of 20-minute winding-up speeches in debates such as this, it is curious that we should find ourselves with more time than that on this occasion, for reasons that I do not wish to go into, but which we both understand.

Since that debate a year ago, we have not only achieved that agreement but conducted an experiment that I think is widely seen on both sides of the House as having been a very considerable success. It has brought about a reduction of the House's average sitting hours of something like an hour a day. It has made sittings beyond

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11 pm a rarity and sittings beyond midnight a wholly exceptional event. Combined with longer notice of business, earlier notification of recesses and the introduction of non-sitting Fridays, it has genuinely helped hon. Members to plan in a more sensible way for their constituency and family commitments.

The arrangements for Wednesday mornings have increased the time and opportunities available for Back Benchers to raise subjects of their choice. The Government have been able to get their necessary business through, but without the Opposition feeling that they have been deprived of the proper opportunity, which I, of course, respect, to probe, discuss and, where they wish, oppose.

I do not think that this has been remarked on before, but I asked for some checking to be done today. One result of the changes has been that we have just experienced the first Session for 35 years in which no guillotine motion has been moved, with the solitary exception, I should perhaps say--I do not know whether this will wipe the smile off the face of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), but it probably will not--of 1978-79, when the absence of guillotines was the result of the Government being guillotined and a general election taking place.

The changes that have enabled all that to happen have been turned into permanent changes in our Standing Orders, which should enable us, with what I hope will be continued good will in the usual channels--I was encouraged by what the hon. Member for Dewsbury said--to consolidate those sensible developments. Certainly that will be my aim. I take this opportunity to thank warmly the hon. Member for Dewsbury for her kind words about me. Whether they will still apply by the time I have got to the end of my speech I am less sure. Whether they would have been approved by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) I rather doubt, because last week at business questions he effectively suggested that I should resign for being too reasonable.

Meanwhile, other gains have been made by procedural changes. The introduction of new arrangements both here and in another place have markedly increased our ability to deal with non-controversial Bills arising from Law Commission reports, with the twin advantages of improving the statute book and reducing the frustration of the Law Commission at seeing so much of its excellent work apparently disappear into limbo. In the past two Sessions, 13 Law Commission reports have been implemented, which is a substantial increase on earlier periods. I should make it clear, as does the Gracious Speech, that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor will bring forward further such measures in the Session now getting under way.

Another significant improvement is the changes brought forward by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, then the Secretary of State for Scotland, which have enhanced the role of the Scottish Grand Committee. In the past year, the Committee has met in Glasgow and Aberdeen as well as in Edinburgh and Westminster. There have been extra sessions of Scottish questions in the Committee, as well as statements by Ministers and debates initiated both by Government and by the various Opposition parties. As the House knows, the Government are considering how those new

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procedures can be developed further, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be making an announcement in due course.

Then, too, and certainly no less important, there is the matter to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) referred. I refer to the changes that the House agreed just before the end of the previous Session, following the work of the Nolan report and the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life. Although inevitably obscured, perhaps rather unfortunately, by the controversy on one point, people are less well aware than those of us who were concerned with the work of that Committee would like them to be of the fact that it was largely on the basis of consensus, in an all-party Committee, and with the support of large and sometimes overwhelming majorities in the House, that we put in place the most significant strengthening of our rules in many decades.

I hope that I make the following claim rightly on behalf of the House as a whole. In short, over the past year, the House has done a great deal to adapt to new needs, new circumstances, new conditions and new moods, showing exactly the strength that has made it probably the most enduring institution of its kind in the world. Although I note, as I have had to note on one or two radio programmes, the pressure for faster or more radical change, I believe that the evolutionary development of this place is a fundamental part of its strength and the reason why it has lasted so well and so long.

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