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8.56 pm

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): It is a very great and genuine pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband), who gave a powerful, clever, articulate and moving speech. I have been having a bet with my colleagues on the Front Bench that he will be in government within the next two years. I hope that that is not a curse; it is not meant to be. It is meant to be a compliment on the quality of his speech.

The hon. Gentleman's speech was particularly moving for me, because when I first became involved in politics the very first elected office I stood for was Parliament, and in South Shields in 1987. I like to think that the South Shields Gazette became known as a Tory rag at that time, because I frequently appeared in it. As a direct consequence, there was the biggest swing in 30 years--from Conservative to Labour. David Clark was elected on an even bigger majority than many in the north-east had expected.

It was a joy to be reminded of all the places that I went to in 1987. The hon. Gentleman referred to the tradition of curry in South Shields. I hope that I will not be accused of being racist, but I recall that Ocean road is filled with curry houses and, with the best possible intentions, is known as Asian road. I still go there; the cuisine is excellent. More importantly, the relationship between all the people in South Shields is excellent too, and perhaps a lesson to those in other parts of northern England where there are so many difficulties at the moment. I truly wish the hon. Gentleman well in what I know will be a long career in the House of Commons.

The Queen's Speech was interesting for its contents and for its omissions. We all expected two subjects to be included--one of which caused me to rebel ever so slightly in the previous Parliament. I was confidently expecting there to be a Bill to outlaw tobacco advertising, which would merely have been a continuation of the Conservative policy of banning it on radio and television. The Bill was not there. Is Bernie Ecclestone the real power behind the Labour throne? The other Bill that we all confidently expected was one to regulate cross-media ownership. That, too, was not included. One wonders what debt of honour the Labour Government owe Rupert Murdoch for ensuring that. Nevertheless, a number of matters were included in the Queen's Speech which I welcomed.

The Prime Minister said during the election campaign--and he was right--that the people of this country are interested in health, education, transport and crime. Indeed, that was echoed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo). It is a source of great mystery to me that we did not fight the election on those issues. Those are the issues on which I, however, chose to fight the election.

Although 70 per cent. of the population hold strong views on the euro and the European Union, the issue is of secondary importance to many people. Although I found my university studies in abnormal psychology far more interesting than those in normal psychology, I remember that in normal psychology the great

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psychologist Maslow determined what he described as a hierarchical ladder of needs. It is clear that people are more interested in health, education, transport and crime, and that only when those issues are rectified do they become interested in what they regard as the secondary issue of Europe.

I fought on health: the issues that I fought on in Lichfield could have been fought on throughout the whole country. The Victoria hospital, Lichfield, with which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are familiar, and the Hammerwich hospital in Burntwood both face closure. It is extraordinary that on 8 June--the day after the general election--South Staffordshire health authority issued its conclusions on the future of community hospitals in South Staffordshire, in which it announced those closures so as to save £1 million. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I raised that issue in the House month after month. When I raised it with the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health, they said--perhaps understandably--that they could not comment on leaked documents that had not yet been published. Was it not cynical of the authority to issue the document the day after the election?

Those are the very matters mentioned in the Queen's Speech. The Queen's Speech contained a commitment to improve health services in the United Kingdom. I urge Ministers to bear it in mind that health services in the United Kingdom encompass more than primary care and the great specialist centres, such as the traumatic injuries unit at the North Staffordshire hospital, Stoke-on-Trent; they also include the community hospitals that are found in all our constituencies.

I also fought on the subject of education. People out there feel that there is no difference between Labour and the Conservatives--that both parties are heading in the same direction. Today, Alastair Campbell had to announce that there is no great fight between the people--[Interruption.] I do not know why the Government Whip is gesticulating at me, but I am sure that it is not very interesting.

Education is tremendously important to most Members of Parliament and to our constituents. I am delighted that the Government are beginning to fund ever more centrally, direct from the Treasury. That is important, especially in areas such as mine. Staffordshire is second from the bottom of the table of shire counties in allocation of funding under the standard spending assessment mechanism. Such disparities put children in Staffordshire and other parts of the United Kingdom at a disadvantage. I praise the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who is not present, for leading a group of 40 constituencies--located throughout the United Kingdom but especially in England and Wales--that feel that they are underfunded.

Such underfunding is wrong and historical, but Labour owes a debt to the British people. In 1997, the party promised that the problem would be rectified within one year. The Prime Minister said that 2000 would be the year of delivery, but it was not. Perhaps this Parliament will witness the year of delivery. I hope that it will, for the sake of the people who use hospitals in my constituency and the children who go to school in my constituency.

The other issue on which I fought the election was crime. Last year, violent crime in Staffordshire rose by 43 per cent; it rose by a further 23 per cent. this year. One of the main reasons for that rise was the lack of policing.

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Two hundred and forty police officers have been withdrawn from the Staffordshire police force in the four years of the Government's stewardship of our police forces. That is wrong; there is a direct correlation between the number of police officers on the beat and crimes committed on our streets. I hope that the new Home Secretary will be given the financial wherewithal to ensure that something is done about that. Simply having new recruits is not enough; we need police officers with experience as well.

May I suggest to the Treasury that one way of saving money is to keep police officers beyond the age of 55? If they have the skills and are fit, perhaps they should be retained by the police force. Showing my age, I well recall "Dixon of Dock Green". At one point, Jack Warner, who was crippled with arthritis, was being wheeled about behind the desk in Dock Green police station. However, there are many fit people of sixty and over who could be retained by the police force and do good police work. It is wrong that 240 police officers from Staffordshire have been withdrawn; as I said, that consequently led to a rise in crime in our area.

There has been considerable mention of the debate on the euro. After all, our debate today is concentrating mainly on Treasury and Department of Trade and Industry matters. One reason why I fought the election on health, education, crime and transport, is that we have paid many taxes yet not seen delivery. If the stealth taxes that we have paid had been put on income tax, they would have raised it by the equivalent of 9.8p. That gives an idea of the huge increase in taxation that we have suffered, yet we have not enjoyed a concomitant growth in services.

Will the euro be the great panacea? I think not; the Chancellor is right to show caution. While the euro will provide the advantage of fixed currency exchange rates between countries in the eurozone, it will also magnify any preponderance towards boom and bust. The Chancellor is as aware as I am that the economic cycle in continental Europe is nothing like that of the United Kingdom or the United States of America. There are huge structural reasons for that. We--not the Japanese--are the largest investors in the USA and vice versa, so there are huge fund flows linking us to the USA. In the United Kingdom, just as in the USA and Canada, people have long-term mortgages. However, people who own their own homes in continental Europe are a minority and tend to do so because they have inherited them. Most people rent their homes; they do not have long-term debt. Given the damping effect arising from that, and for many other different reasons, we are not in synchronisation with continental Europe.

The Chancellor is therefore right to show caution: he knows as well as I do that if we were in the eurozone and there were a boom in continental Europe, but a bust in the UK, interest rates would rise in Europe, which would make our recession even deeper. Similarly, when Britain is doing well--as we are at the moment because the USA has been doing well, although other speakers have pointed out that we must show great caution about that country, which is already beginning to slow up--and Europe is doing badly, the last thing we want is lower interest rates, which would simply fuel inflation.

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The Chancellor of the Exchequer is right to say time and again that if we reach synchronicity with continental Europe, that must be sustained. It--[Interruption.] I do not know whether the Economic Secretary to the Treasury is disagreeing. Is there a split already on the Government Front Bench? I am quoting what the Chancellor has said, and he is right. There is no point in having synchronicity for only a short time. Just as two roads approach each other and pass at crossroads, there will be great dangers to business in the United Kingdom, and to the United Kingdom at large, if we enter the euro and are not in sustained synchronicity.

I can see there being sustained sychronicity only if we do not invest in the United States and it does not invest in us. That would be dangerous for employment. There will be dangers also if we decide that we shall not encourage people to own their homes. That would be wrong, too. One of the good things about the Government is that they have embraced what the Conservative party has long believed in, namely, the advantages of home ownership.

I should like the Treasury to be more transparent. In the 1980s, I worked in broadcasting. I used to travel three or four times a year to the Soviet Union. I was there when Mikhail Gorbachev was in power, and he talked about glasnost, or openness. I wish there were more openness about the five tests on entering the euro and about our position on membership of the European Union.

The Prime Minister has said repeatedly that it is right that we should stay in the EU, because it saves 3 million jobs. He may be right. Others have said, including the United States Government, that being in the EU is costing us 100,000 jobs and that if we were outside it we would, within four years, overtake Germany and become the third largest economy in the world. The US Government have produced a large document that they believe proves that fact. I do not know whether it is accurate. Perhaps the Americans are right or perhaps the Prime Minister is right.

I do know, however, that the Treasury has not produced any such document. I am not advocating leaving the EU, but I advocate an open investigation into whether the EU is benefiting the United Kingdom. What are we frightened of? Are we frightened of knowledge? Is it that the Treasury fears--it is the Treasury that will have to do the work--that if we quantify the costs of our membership of the EU and quantify all the undoubted benefits of our membership, the costs will outweigh the benefits? It they do, that is worrying.

If the Treasury is confident, as so many others are, that we are gaining from membership of the EU, it should produce the work to demonstrate that the benefits far outweigh the costs. We need some glasnost in this Parliament too.

The debate will be summed up by the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I welcome the right hon. Lady to her position; I am glad that she is listening to the debate. She will be aware that about £10 billion has been added to the costs of British business. That was the calculation of the British chambers of commerce and trade. She is aware also--she was in her place when I intervened on the Chancellor earlier--that over the past four years the UK has dropped from ninth to 19th place in the international competitiveness league. That is worrying. It has resulted in firms such as Corus axing jobs in Britain when it has not axed jobs elsewhere in the EU.

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It has resulted in Motorola closing factories in Scotland when it has kept open factories in Germany, which have high wage costs. One must ask the question: four years ago, when we were ninth in the league, would the British factories have been closing and the German factories staying open? Whether we are in ninth or 19th place seems an academic discussion, but it affects jobs and people's lives.

The Prime Minister said that 2000 would be the year of delivery. It was not. When he returned to 10 Downing street after the general election, he suggested on the doorstep that he knew only too well that it was the last chance for Labour to deliver. For the sake of the nation, I hope that the Labour party finally delivers.

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