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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas): The hon. Gentleman makes a serious speech and I respect his point of view, although I disagree with much of what he says. Does he acknowledge that the Government introduced a lower tax rate of 10p for lower earners as part of the strategy to attack poverty?
Sir Michael Spicer: Yes, but that has not worked. Because taxes as a whole have been going up, there is a massive increase in the number of lower-paid people entering the tax bracket. That is an historical fact.
It is also true that as well as the lowest paid being proportionately hardest hit by tax, they are the most vulnerable to unemployment, which is the inevitable secondary effect of high taxation. That is why the Conservative party is right, from the point of view of good economic management alone, to place the lowering of taxes high on its agenda for its return to office. A low-taxed economy happens to be a recipe for greater fairness and economic well-being. Economic management and social fairness are, however, not the only factors that guide Conservatives to the fundamental belief in the merits of low taxation. We Conservatives believe that, above all, it is a guarantee of personal freedom.
The issue of how to cut taxes is not easy to address, particularly when the momentum towards ever-increasing taxation is as fast as it is at the moment. Certain taxes, such as the death tax, which is what the inheritance tax should be called, are theoretically easier to cut because, despite the emotion attached to them, they do not bring in much money to the Exchequer. In the case of inheritance tax, it is between £2 billion and £3 billion a year. As for the merits of the current level of inheritance tax, why should a person's home be taxed just because he has the misfortune to die in it? Why should he be able to sell it free of tax in life, but be taxed on its disposal in death?
Cutting income tax in a way that carries real benefit to the general public is more difficult because the short-term loss of revenue is large. My personal view is that the way forward is to stabilise public spending to the rate of inflation and to divert real increases in GDP to tax cuts. In that way, national wealth will grow at a faster pace and in the medium term it will allow us to improve public services with budgetary impunity. There is also, of course, much that can be done to improve efficiency within the public services, about which parties on both sides of the House have talked. The need to cut waste is clear. In that context, I chaired the Treasury Committee Sub-Committee, which recommended the amalgamation of Customs and Excise with the Inland Revenue, so I suppose I have to welcome that aspect of the Queen's Speech.
Mr. Woolas: We will remember that.
Sir Michael Spicer: Of course.
Raising taxes is not the only way in which Labour threatens to destroy the Thatcher legacy. The Government made it clear that they are once again willing to link arms with their founders and paymasters, the major trade unions, whose demands are firmly on the table. This summer, the four big unionsUnison, Amicus, the Transport and General Workers union and the GMBbegan speaking clearly again with one voice.
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Kevin Curran, the GMB general secretary, was quite explicit some weeks ago when he said that his union, backed by others, would insist that a re-elected Labour Government should engage in a programme of renationalisation
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): Hear, hear.
Sir Michael Spicer: The hon. Gentleman will cheer even harder at this: the union will also insist on the right of trade unions to engage in secondary action. Mr. Curran also called for a substantial rise in the minimum wage. One wonders whether reference in the Queen's speech to a law that streamlines railways is a direct response to that, in particular the call for renationalisation. Certainly, Tony Woodley, the general secretary of the T and G, wrote in the quasi-Communist Morning Star in support of Kevin Curran, and he has attacked new Labour for being "pro-business". What, in effect, those increasingly powerful trade unions are saying is that one cannot be a true member of the Labour party and support business at the same time. All that is having an effect on business confidence, and thus on this country's economic prospects.
The third great issue threatening this countryone to which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East addressed himself at the end of his speechis mentioned directly in the Queen's Speech: our relationship with Europe. As matters stand in the European Union, the process towards a federal state continues relentlessly, constitution or no constitution. The acquis communautaire, which is endemic in the Union treaties, ensures through the judgments of the European Court that the process moves in one direction and cannot be reversed. In the United Kingdom, the judgments of the European Court are supported by our courts under the terms of the European Communities Act 1972. That is true even when, as with the 1978 Merchant Shipping Bill, the British Parliament tries to reverse the judgments of the European Court.
The significance of the proposed constitution is that its adoption would mean that European law had primacy over our law and over member states in its own right. The primacy of European law would no longer rest on the foundation of an Act of the British Parliament which was reversible. A new system of law would be established in the UK of its own right. The only escape from that would be for the UK to leave the EU. Currently, that would be possible under article 59 of the proposed constitution, but the article itself would be amendable through qualified majority voting in order to force countries to stay in the EU against their will. Although it is arguable that, in those circumstances, force majeure would apply, there would at the very least be legal chaos in which two separate systems of law would work side by side, in competition with each other.
For those reasons, the Government's determination to adopt the new constitution needs to be resisted at every turn. For those who question the benefits of British membership of a European state, it is the single most important reason for rejecting the Government's claim in the Queen's Speech for continuing in office. Once the constitution is rejectedand with it, de facto, the acquis communautaireit will become possible,
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especially taking into account the new moods in Germany and France, to renegotiate new arrangements in Europearrangements that will accommodate the desires not only of the British, but of those many new members of the EU, to live in harmony with their European neighbours and to retain their ultimate sovereignty, in the interests above all of democracy and the accountability of Governments to their peoples.
It was bound to be the case that a Labour Government, if left in office for too long, would destroy the legacy of the Thatcher revolution on which this country's economic recovery has been based. The case for Labour in the mid-1990s was that it would be best able to reform public services, in particular the health service. Beginning with the sacking of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and, with him, throwing out pension reform, Labour has reverted to type. It has raised taxes and blown the proceeds, and now it is consolidating its return to its true roots by embracing trade union socialism.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): I wish.
Sir Michael Spicer: I suspect that the hon. Gentleman will get his wish.
History is turning on itself. Labour is once again losing the middle ground, and with the Liberal Democrats on the left-wing fringes of the political spectrum, middle England has nowhere else to go but back to the Conservatives. The Queen's Speech merely serves to underline that fact.
Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab): Earlier today, we enjoyed the pageantry of Her Majesty reading her speech, which was printed on vellum. She keeps a company in my constituency in gainful employment, and I welcome that.
Conspiracy theories abound, and we have just heard one from the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer). Post-11 September, such theories are multiplying, and the politics of fear, as espoused in his speech, demonstrates that. I have no doubt that the Conservatives will continue that in the run-up to the general election, and that they will pretend that Big Brother is here. It is all too easy to lump together disparate groups. It is important that we recognise that the actions of David Omand in the Cabinet Office are vital not only to the security of this country but to its liberty. What he does in the reorganisation of the civil service and in responding to threats is vital.
We also need to understand what those threats are and what the nation truly faces. The Spanish Government failed to do that and mixed up the terrorism of ETA and of al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is not some super-terrorist group with a centralised command. We should recognise that we are dealing no longer with individuals or entities but with networks. The way in which a networks react and operate is fundamentally different from that of individuals and entities, as any systems analyst would say. That is why I am particularly pleased that the counter-terrorism Bill will be published in draft form. There will be are a range of things in that Bill that it will be important to get right.
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We must remember that the key objective of any terrorist group is to get the Government and the security services to overreact. The biggest single recruiting sergeant for the IRA in the 1970s was the introduction of internment. That turned out to be a big mistake and turned the IRA into a coherent, organised and supported organisation. Why does Hamas survive? It is because it has tacit support in the community. Terrorism thrives only where there is a political vacuum, so a counter-terrorism Bill must include proper safeguards, however frustrating introducing them might seem. The law must be not only flexible enough to respond to terrorism but robust enough to prevent miscarriages of justice. Such details need to be examined in pre-legislative scrutiny.
Animal rights extremists have support and do the things that they do only because we have not tackled as effectively as we should the problems of animal welfare and the issues on which they campaign. Now that hunting is not the focus of the House's attention, we should spend some time on the important animal welfare Bill. We need to close some of the key loopholes. I particularly welcome the new definition of cruelty, and the new powers that will be introduced, as well as the improved standards for kennels, catteries and so on.
One key issue that we all face in our constituencies is that of antisocial behaviour. I agree with the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), that if we intervene early enough, we can start to tackle the problem. The whole point of antisocial behaviour orders was to enable intervention as early as possible. We need to tackle the problem of graffiti. We have already given local authorities and the police extra powers, and the Bill on clean and safe neighbourhoods will provide more powers.
A change in culture is also required, and that is not easy to achieve when the powers are distributed across the police, local authorities and magistrates. Such a change in culture is essential. We must ensure that different agencieswhether local, regional or central Governmentwork together. We must address cross-boundary issues, too.
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