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9.52 p.m.

Lord Richard: My Lords, this is an opportunity, I suppose, to discuss the debate that we have had today, and to say something on the debates on the Queen's Speech as a whole.

Perhaps I may start by saying one or two things about the debate today. In many ways it has been an interesting and fascinating debate for those of us who have sat through a fair part of it. In that context, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who dropped in and listened in the course of the day, and made his speech. He had been spotted a little earlier sitting on the steps of the Throne. However, we are glad to know that in the four hours' interval between his being spotted and actually making his speech, he was obviously in rude and good health.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord would like some explanation. I apologise to the House that I did have to leave during my noble friend's introductory remarks to go to the Select Committee on European Communities, where I felt I should be present, at least for the first item on the agenda. There then also was a meeting in the Moses Room which many of us were encouraged to go to. I do apologise that I was absent for some of the rest of the debate.

Noble Lords: No, no!

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I thought I was being criticised. If I am not being criticised, I have nothing more to say.

Lord Richard: My Lords, this is not the kind of point that I would usually make a great deal of; and I do not.

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However, I am bound to say to the noble Lord that a situation in which he appears for five minutes sitting on the steps of the Throne at the very beginning of the speech, and then disappears--

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, this is not true.

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Richard: My Lords, the noble Lord then breezes back in and makes a speech--a fairly predictable one, if I may say so. I do not believe, with respect, that that is in accordance with the best traditions of the House. He has choices the same as the rest of us. Quite clearly he should not have come in and made the speech that he did.

Perhaps I may say one or two things about some other speakers in the debate. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, is present. I always enjoy listening to the noble Lord. He reinforces my tendency to sit on this side of the House as opposed to the noble Lord's side of the House. After two minutes of listening to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I know where my loyalties and affections are and indeed should be.

We had an interesting duo. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, wanted to abolish PAYE. The noble Viscount, Lord Hood, wanted to abolish capital gains tax. Both speeches were notable contributions to our debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, blamed it all on economists. It was interesting because I looked up the noble Baroness's history in that terrible book that we have in front of us called Dod. I shall not embarrass her by reading it out but there is a long string of companies to which she was attached as a qualified economist. I have often heard of people repenting of their past misdeeds, but it is somewhat rare to have a renunciation quite so comprehensive and all-embracing as that of the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain.

The most notable features of today's debate were the two maiden speeches: first, the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, and then my noble friend Lord Gladwin. Interposed between those two speeches was that of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsdown. Listening to the three, what struck me was the amount of agreement between the industrialist, the trade unionist and the central banker on the analysis of the situation, particularly regarding the labour market and the nature of work. I should like to say a word on that in a moment.

Secondly, to a fair extent at any rate there was agreement as to what might be done about it. Both maiden speeches were remarkable, in the real sense of the word. They were memorable. I do not wish to embarrass the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, but after he sat down my noble friend Lord Eatwell turned to me and said: "I agreed with almost all of that. Why is he on that side of the House?" I shall not ask him to answer that, but his was a speech made from deep experience and I greatly enjoyed it. I hope he will make similar speeches often in the future and that we shall be able to agree with them just as much. My noble friend Lord Gladwin spoke from massive experience of the trade union movement and industry.

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I thought it was interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Nickson, my noble friend Lord Gladwin and the noble Lord, Lord Kingsdown, clearly agreed that the nature of work has changed. The one thing that people can no longer expect to do is obtain a qualification at the age of 20 or 21 and then pursue the field in which they have qualified for perhaps 40 years until they retire full of honours and with a gold watch. It will not happen in the future and I think everyone agrees about that.

We must have a workforce now which is adaptable, flexible and capable of changing. It may well be that people will do two, three or perhaps more jobs in the course of their working life. Therefore, the type of education they receive in their early years must be such that it is capable of being adapted to various occupations as they come along. That was one of the main points that emerged from the speeches to which I have just referred.

One of the other themes in the debate today was investment. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, made quite optimistic noises about the level of investment regarding the recent past. I think it is worth giving the figures which I have in front of me to the House. Investment is still 8 per cent. below the level before the recession. If one looks at investment as a percentage of GDP between 1980 and 1990--the whole decade during which the Government were in office--we find that it is the worst record of any country in the G7. That is the legacy we have. If noble Lords would like the figures, I can give them. The United States and the United Kingdom come sixth and seventh on the list with an investment as a percentage of GDP of 17.6. The United States achieved a growth rate of 2.2 per cent. and the United Kingdom unfortunately only achieved a growth rate of 1.7 per cent. That is the background against which a large part of the economic debate now has to take place. I shall have certain political points to make in a moment, but leaving those aside for this part of what I have to say, however one looks at it certain things must be done. First, the manufacturing base of the country must be restored, one way or another. Secondly, our workforce must be better trained, better equipped to deal with the new conditions we shall have to meet. The country lacks social cohesion at the moment. The cracks are beginning to appear and deepen. It is no good the Government coming along and saying, "Oh well, the way in which we deal with that is to cut public expenditure". The fact is that for many people in this country society is now less fair, more difficult and poorer. They now have a poorer life and standard of living than they had when this Government came to power in 1979. You have to deal with that. You cannot just push it to one side and pretend that if we get the investment and the training right, there will be some sort of "trickle down" effect and everybody will be happy thereafter. That is not going to happen. Positive steps have to be taken by the Government to try to deal with the unfairnesses that exist.

We have now nearly reached the end of our debate on the gracious Speech as a whole. We have heard views from all sides of the House on the nature of the Government's legislative programme in the Session ahead. Much has been said; there are in this House many experts in many fields, and we have benefited from their

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expertise. But these matters--jobs; safety on the streets and in people's homes; the opportunity that their children have; the time that they have to wait for a hospital appointment--touch ordinary people very closely indeed.

The point that struck me most when listening to government spokesmen in this debate is the quite extraordinary gap that must exist, if they are right, between what they say is happening and how it is perceived by the rest of the populace. Indeed, today we have been told on a number of occasions how well the country is doing and how prosperous we are all becoming. The old dichotomy between reality on the one hand and perception on the other is here, and in a somewhat extreme form.

It is perhaps time that the voice of the people who are most affected by government policy was heard. What story would middle-income people--perhaps those who have in the past supported this Government--tell now if we asked them their views on the state of the nation? They would surely identify a feeling of powerlessness; of insecurity about jobs and housing; about the health service; business; family values; and crime. They would surely say--would they not?--that there is no vision of where the Government are heading. What would they say about the recent news of a 75 per cent. pay-rise for the chairman of a privatised utility, while at the same time the London division of the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux--I put this at the other side of the balance because it seems to me to be important--finds that wages have now fallen as low as £1 an hour in some catering jobs since the abolition of the Wages Council? What on earth are ordinary people in this country to make of that? I wonder what the reaction would be. With respect, it is no answer to say that world-class companies like British Gas operate in the global market place and have to pay accordingly (whatever "accordingly" may be). The basic boardroom increase in salary in the UK is 7.4 per cent., not 75 per cent. Most people have to content themselves with increases at the rate of inflation or less. That 7.4 per cent. in the boardroom of British companies is in itself ahead of foreign-owned enterprises, where the figure is 5.2 per cent. The going rate of increase for British directors is twice that of their foreign counterparts when extras such as stock bonuses are included. What is important about that increase for the chairman and chief executive of British Gas is that we have not heard one word of condemnation of it from the Government. Their spokesmen come along in the Queen's Speech debate and elsewhere and tell us how well we are all doing, and how much fairer and better society is becoming. I have not heard a word of condemnation. With great respect, I should have thought that that is something that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House could do when he responds to this debate as a whole.

If we asked a group of ordinary people what they thought of all this, might they not feel that, although in the 1980s the Conservatives seemed perhaps to promote a classless society of opportunity, the reality now is that the rich are getting richer on the backs of the rest of us, who are getting poorer. I should have thought that that would be a fairly common reaction.

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Surely there is some hope for the Government--is there? --on the issues that they have made their own. What about privatisation? It is supposed to place power over public utilities in the hands of the person in the street. What do we hear about that? The fact is that privatisation has not been popular. Small businesses in particular feel let down. Again, is that perhaps due to a perception of unfairness? Perhaps it has something to do with increases in disconnections from essential services, soaring water rates or the enrichment of managers who claim higher salaries, bonuses and stock options while thousands of people have lost their jobs. State monopolies, whose motivation was to provide at least a public service or to try to do so, have now been turned into private monopolies. Ordinary people and small businesses have not shared in that privatisation lottery prize.

One could go on. Noble Lords will have realised that the quotes I have been giving are not mine. They come from the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party in the document that was published last Monday. Let me give one more so that noble Lords can get the full flavour of the analysis made by the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party of where the party opposite now stands:

    "Very few people think we are out of recession. While the Conservatives trumpet the recovery, the voters do not think the recession has ended. They still fear unemployment. They have no more money in their pockets because of tax increases. Real take-home pay is falling this year and will fall again in 1995-96. We will have had four or even five years of recovery with no rise in living standards. People feel that employees now have little or no protection against employers and that they need more".

The truth is that this is a Government which has run out of ideas. Even those who supported them in the past recognise their failure and the poverty of their attempts to cover it up. But perhaps we should allow Mr. Maples and his ordinary voters to have the final word. He said:

    "What the Conservatives are saying is at odds with voters' experience which leads them to conclude that the Conservatives are out of touch, lying or that they do not care".

That seems to me to sum it up pretty well.

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