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3.5 pm

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): Things are looking up. On Monday, I was allocated an office with a window, thereby fulfilling one of my few remaining political ambitions. Today, I have the honour of seconding my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) on the Gracious Speech. This is the point at which to express my gratitude to the Chief Whip for giving me sufficient notice to enable me to transfer my suit from the north end of the country to the south in time for this occasion.

It is a pleasure to follow my right hon. Friend. It may be of comfort to him to know that I had the word "socialist" written on my election address and it did not do me any harm. [Interruption.] Time will tell. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend pointed out to me that there is a little known tradition in the House. Every time that Labour wins by a landslide, one of the hon. Members for Sunderland is called upon to second the Loyal Address. In 1945, it was Fred Willey, and today that honour falls to me.

As hon. Members know, we count the votes very fast in Sunderland. For 20 minutes on the evening of 1 May, I was the only Member of Parliament in the country. It occurred to me that there was a slim window of opportunity, should I care to seize it, to form my own

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Government. I would have had to be Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister, but that has not done the Sultan of Oman any harm--although, time will tell about that, too. On reflection, I came to the conclusion that, were I to do anything of the sort, some of my friends in high places would not be entirely amused. Had I done so, instead of standing here today addressing you, Madam Speaker, I might have been trying to smuggle you a message from the Tower of London.

My route to respectability has been an odd one. When I was first elected in 1987, The Sun published photographs across a full page of what it called "Kinnock's Top Ten Loony Tunes": I was No. 8. If my memory serves me right, at least one of those who was higher than I in that top 10 has been appointed to the Government--I shall mention no names.

I now keep my Sun headlines framed on the wall of my study at home. There is "Mr. Odious". Yes, I once briefly displaced my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) as the most odious man in Britain--the highest honour that The Sun can confer. There is

which was given a full front page, and

    "Twenty things you didn't know about crackpot Chris".

I did not know most of them either.

    "Poor Sunderland", wrote Lord Chapple in the Daily Mail on hearing the news of my selection in 1985.

    "First its football team is relegated and now comes even worse news."

Well, I am sorry to say that our football team has just been relegated again, but we do not need any sympathy from Lord Chapple. Sunderland has been through hard times in the past, and has survived; as before, we will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and come out fighting. Sunderland looks to the future, not the past, and we shall soon be back in the premier league.

Plenty in today's Gracious Speech will be welcomed by the people of Sunderland, who have suffered more than most in the past 18 years. In particular, my constituents will welcome the emphasis on tackling youth unemployment. Like the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, Sunderland contains a great deal of unemployment, which lies at the root of many of our problems. To move a quarter of a million people aged under 25 from welfare into work, education or other meaningful activity is not a small ambition; it is a large one, and a great deal hinges on it. Only by reducing the huge amount of public money that past Administrations have squandered to maintain millions in enforced idleness will we liberate the funds that we need so urgently to spend on schools, hospitals and all the other things that we care about.

The minimum wage and the social chapter will be especially welcomed by my constituents. Indeed, I think that they will be welcomed by decent people of all persuasions, who know full well that a bottom line must be drawn under the way in which people can be treated. The lowest wage that I have come across in my constituency in the past few years was 89p an hour, and wages between £1.70 and £2 an hour are not uncommon. The contracting-out culture has led to the creation of a new class of poor, who are often worse off than those on benefit.

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I am thinking of school dinner ladies, hospital cleaners, care assistants, private security guards and a host of others. They are all people who do important but undervalued work; they are all people who, as a result of the Thatcher decade, no longer qualify for holiday or sickness pay, or for a little basic job security--things that we used quaintly to associate with civilisation. The minimum wage and the social chapter will make the lives of such people a little easier: I welcome that, and so, I think, will most sensible people.

The minimum wage will also save us some public money. We shall no longer have to spend several billion pounds of taxpayers' money on subsidising some of our worst employers with family credit, earnings top-up and the like. Our opponents sometimes ask where we will get the money to fund our other programmes; well, there is a couple of billion for starters.

Like those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, my constituents will also welcome the Government's plans for reform of the youth justice system. We must deal more swiftly and effectively with the small minority of juveniles who are making the lives of respectable people a misery. No one is under any illusions, however. In the long term, the only way in which to reduce the tidal wave of crime and mayhem unleashed by the Thatcher decade is to provide all our young people with a sense of purpose in life.

I am glad to note that the Government intend to ban handguns. That measure interests me particularly, because last summer I drafted the minority report of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which recommended exactly that. I hope that, in due course, it will also be possible to tighten the laws relating to shotguns, and to bring air weapons within the licensing system. A great deal of low-level mayhem is caused by youths with air weapons.

I am delighted too that the Government intend to regulate the funding of political parties, another matter in which, you may recall, Madam Speaker, I have long taken an interest. It is about time that we had a level playing field in that area. How can it be right in a democracy for the funding of one political party to remain a secret even from its own members? While we are about it, we might consider the mysterious process by which at election time the drinks and tobacco industry make available many of the most prominent advertising hoardings in the country exclusively to the Conservative party.

Finally, I was heartened to see that the Government have chosen to highlight their commitment to tackling global poverty and to promote sustainable development. All civilised people are looking forward to our overseas aid budget increasing from the miserable level to which it has sunk under previous Administrations--[Interruption.] I said all civilised people.

It is not just a question of aid, however. We must work with our partners in Europe and elsewhere to reduce the huge burden of debt under which so many of the poorest countries labour. In my previous incarnation I was a journalist and, in that capacity, I travelled in some of the poorest parts of the world. I briefly attended the wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and I travelled widely in China, India and Afghanistan. Some of the scenes that I have witnessed remain printed indelibly on my mind. We cannot credibly talk of building one nation in Britain while ignoring the unspeakable suffering that afflicts so many of our fellow human beings.

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I would not be human if I did not derive a little pleasure from waking up in the morning and hearing senior Conservatives on the "Today" programme debating how to make their party electable again. This morning it was the turn of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). No doubt they will succeed one day--not too soon, I hope. Perhaps on the strength of 13 days in the party of Government, I could offer a word of advice: go back to one-nation politics. In the long run, it will be better for us all and better for the country as a whole. [Interruption.] Yes, that is the limit of my advice. There are several possible candidates.

Madam Speaker, you may vaguely recall that some years ago I wrote a novel about a Labour Government who achieved a landslide victory. It was skilfully adapted for television by Mr. Alan Plater--with a little help, if I am not mistaken, from Mr. Alastair Campbell, whose influence even then was considerable--and shown in more than 30 countries. My Prime Minister was a Sheffield steel worker called Harry Perkins, played by a great actor, the late Ray McAnally. Harry Perkins briefly became a cult figure. So popular was he that there was even a modest write-in vote for him in the 1983 Labour party leadership election.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister bears no resemblance at all to Harry Perkins, but he is in his way every bit as radical. He has the same steely determination to make the world a better place. He also possesses some great strengths that Harry Perkins did not have: he understands middle England, he thinks long term and he knows that, to make a serious impact, he must have two terms of office, not one.

The programme that today's Gracious Speech outlines lays the foundation of a new era; an era in which we will seek to heal the wounds of the past; an era in which we will compete for office on the basis of appeals to the best, rather than the meanest, instincts of our people; and an era in which, as I said on election night, Britain will be governed in the interests of all its citizens and not just in the interests of the fortunate. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.

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