The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1993Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Commons Statement on the Loyal Address – 18 November 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s Commons statement, made on 18th November 1993, on the Loyal Address.


The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : The House will wish me to congratulate my hon. Friends who so ably moved and seconded Her Majesty’s Loyal Address.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) reminded the House, we have both contested parts of St. Pancras in our time. My hon. Friend did so rather earlier and with rather more success than I. He won Holborn and St. Pancras, South and held the seat between 1959 and 1964, whereas I regret that I lost St. Pancras, North to the noble Lord Stallard in 1974. However, it is as the hon. Member for East Grinstead, and now as the hon. Member for Wealden, that my hon. Friend has become best known in the House.

During his lengthy public service the House has benefited from his expert knowledge in many areas of policy, and perhaps above all in defence, in which he was a Minister during the 1970s. He was also the Chairman of the Conservative Back Bench defence committee for many years. He is an acknowledged expert and is recognised as such by every hon. Member. During that time, my hon. Friend has built a reputation as being someone who speaks when he has something to say, and as someone who deserves to be listened to. That is an enviable reputation for any hon. Member to obtain.

I looked back at the maiden speech by my hon. Friend. At that stage, he was much exercised by a traffic scheme which turned much of St. Pancras into what was then called a “pink zone”. Alas, that area has turned into a political red zone, and my hon. Friend has moved onwards.

The Leader of the Opposition, like me, has passed the age of 50 and recalls my hon. Friend’s other distinguished career as a television interviewer. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, my hon. Friend interviewed the famous, the notorious, and the not so famous on “Tonight”. When my hon. Friend did so, he was watched by four times as many people as will watch “Newsnight” tonight. That may speak volumes for the discrimination of those who watched television at that time, rather than those who will engage in late-night television watching this evening. The House will be grateful to my hon. Friend for the way in which he moved the Loyal Address. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) is one of the House’s survivors. He has been targeted three times by the Labour party at elections ; on three occasions, it has missed. At the previous election, the bookies gave odds of three to one against my hon. Friend. He laid a hefty sum of money on himself and cleaned up. I advise my hon. Friend to lay his money now for the next election before the odds begin to change–as they surely will. My hon. Friend has been an outstanding businessman. He started his own business which now employs hundreds of people in different parts of the country. He is held in respect here, not only for his expertise as an engineer but, as the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) generously acknowledged, for his deep and abiding compassion for disabled people and others who are unable to help themselves.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East, is a formidable fighter for his constituency. Week after week he persuades Minister after Minister to visit it. Those Ministers are brave men. When I visited Bolton with my hon. Friend, a large crowd kept throwing eggs at him, very nearly hitting me. Curiously, none of my other right hon. and hon. Friends who have visited Bolton with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East faced that difficulty.

This will be a memorable week for my hon. Friend. Today he seconded the Humble Address. Tomorrow, following the marriage of his daughter, Sophie, in the Crypt Chapel, he will address an audience on an occasion that will be more memorable even than today’s. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing him and his daughter and her husband a happy day.

Neither convention nor conviction compels me to be as complimentary about the speech by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East–as ever, it was Monklands music hall. It was excellent for the Palace of Varieties, but a touch light for the Palace of Westminster. It was the old content-free regime. [Interruption.] It was an agreeable speech that said nothing at length, as always. I shall turn to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in a few moments– [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Hon. Gentlemen must contain themselves or I shall have to take action against them. I do not wish to do that so early in the Session.

The Prime Minister : To the extent that anything is written here, it is a compliment on my powers of anticipation. I shall return to some of the observations of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in a few moments. I first wish to speak of other matters of concern to every hon. Member.

Despite the legislative programme, Northern Ireland must remain at the head of our priorities in the foreseeable future. Our outrage in this House and elsewhere at repeated carnage must not be blunted simply because we have lived with the problem for so long. The stark fact is that terrorism has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people in Northern Ireland since 1969 – 75 of them this year alone. There are, I believe, two moods in Northern Ireland. There is a palpable mood for peace. But there is also, among some people, a feeling that the dead must be endlessly avenged and that any accommodation with the opposing view would betray those who have died. Surely the right memorial to those who have been murdered is to ensure that no one else is murdered in future. Unfortunately, avenging the dead means more dead, and they then call out to be avenged as well.

We are not looking for peace at any price. A peace that involved conceding to terrorism or negotiating under its shadow would not be acceptable to the Government or, I believe, to the people of Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, there may now be a chance that we should try to take. I do not wish to raise false hopes. History and deeply entrenched positions can all too easily bring a sense of despair, as we have seen so often in the past. However, there may be an opportunity for progress, and we must explore that opportunity. If we do not succeed on this occasion, we must go back and keep exploring again and again that opportunity for peace.

Our chances improve if we have the support of both sides of the community, of all the constitutional parties and of the Irish Government. But no party and no organisation can exercise a veto on progress. That has been the basis of my consultations, and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, over recent months–those consultations with the constitutional parties and with the Irish Government. We hope to make further progress before, during and after my meeting with the Taoiseach in Dublin next month. Our aim is clear. We seek both a permanent end to violence and a political settlement. We have made substantial progress in the three areas of the political talks. We are talking bilaterally, because a premature attempt to convene a round table conference would probably be counter-productive. But if at an appropriate time it would help the process to put proposals of our own on the table, we shall be ready to do so. We are certainly prepared for that.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister : In one moment, if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

I said earlier this week that Sinn Fein could enter the political arena if the IRA’s violence ended for good and was so demonstrated over a sufficient interval. If they send such a message, we are ready to listen to them. Indeed, it would be irresponsible not to. But, by itself, a statement of intent by them is not enough. The violence must stop and it must be seen to stop.

The position of the Government should not be misunderstood. The democratic process is there for all who show that they can abide by its rules. But there will be no rewards for terrorism. Nor will we compromise on the vital principle that there can be no change in Northern Ireland’s status without the freely expressed consent of its people. It is for the people of Northern Ireland freely and democratically to determine their own constitutional future. I warmly welcome what the Irish Prime Minister and deputy Prime Minister have said to support the principle of consent, and the talks process, and to accept the need for changes in the Irish constitution. That is the framework within which we and the Irish Government will work for peace, stability and reconciliation. We are ready to respond to a cessation of violence. I said so with the Taoiseach in Brussels on 29 October. I said so at the Guildhall and I say so again to the House. It is now for Sinn Fein and the IRA, and equally for the loyalist paramilitary organisations, to draw the right conclusions.

Mr. Ashdown : The House will have heard the important statement that the Prime Minister has made on the subject of Northern Ireland. To the extent that the Prime Minister has–and he has–put his personal authority behind that, he deserves the support of the whole House and ought to get it.

The point that he made earlier about being prepared for the British Government to put down their proposals if agreement cannot be reached between the constitutional parties is an extremely important one. I put it to him that it is probably equally important that he does not leave it too long before doing that, and that there is a moment arriving–surely not far away–when that step, if agreement can- not be reached between the constitutional parties, will have to be taken and the British Government will have to put their own initiative where agreement cannot be fully reached.

The Prime Minister : We are still seeking to talk and reach that position through dialogue bilaterally with the constitutional parties. That clearly is the first prize, but we have prepared for the proposition that that may not be possible. I very much hope that it will.

Mr. Norman Lamont (Kingston upon Thames) : The House will have listened extremely carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said. Will he give the House a clearer indication as to what he thinks the negotiations would be about? Is not it the case that Sinn Fein is not interested in pure power sharing with Ulster? Is not it the case that the only conditions on which the IRA would give up violence, and with the agreement of Sinn Fein, would be if there were further moves towards the unification of Ireland? Is not that the point?

The Prime Minister : I think that my right hon. Friend will have heard me a moment ago, for I said it quite deliberately so that nobody could misunderstand it. The House heard me repeat the constitutional guarantee that was set out before. I have repeated it publicly on a number of occasions so that nobody seeking to make judgments on these matters can be in any doubt about the seriousness with which the Government take that constitutional guarantee. It is a cast-iron guarantee. The future constitutional position of the people of Northern Ireland is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland to determine and for no one else to determine. I am happy to repeat to my right hon. Friend that that is the firmly established position of the Government and that it will remain so for so long as I lead the Government.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : Does the Prime Minister accept that, while it is desirable for the constitutional parties to be involved, if at the end of the day agreement cannot be reached with the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland, an agreement of a wide-ranging kind for a political settlement can be reached between the two Governments which obviously accepts the wish of the present majority in Northern Ireland to remain in the Unit, would mean that there would be no chance of peace in Northern Ireland? Is not there one constitutional party, the Democratic Unionists, which cannot be relied on to provide the progress that we all wish to see?

The Prime Minister : I chose my words with great care and with some consideration a few moments ago. The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised that I do not wish to add to them. The consent of the people of Northern Ireland, to whatever is determined, is clearly going to be the central and most important requirement of any successful settlement.

While Northern Ireland touches us all, the economy affects us all. The whole House will have welcomed the increasingly good news in the past few days–

Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East) : I missed it.

The Prime Minister : The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) says that he missed it. Where has he been? There were better than expected trade figures last week ; better than expected inflation figures yesterday–down from 1.8 per cent. to 1.4 per cent. in October–and there were better than expected unemployment figures today. The figure is down by 50,000 and that is the biggest monthly fall for four years. Unemployment has now fallen by 137,000 this year.

I can pinpoint with great accuracy the moment when the figures started to turn downwards. It was exactly the moment when the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) predicted :

“I make one Budget forecast–that, after the Budget, unemployment will rise this month, next month and for months afterwards.”–[ Official Report, 17 March 1993 ; Vol. 221, c. 289.]

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East is, alas, clearly engaged on more important matters than the debate on the Queen’s Speech. However, he does not have much luck with predictions. He is always wrong. For him, the laws of probability and statistics are suspended. If I could persuade the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East to tell me which horse was bound to lose the grand national, I promise him that I would put my shirt on that horse with a great deal of confidence.

As other countries remain in recession, we are emerging from it. We now have the opportunity of a long period of sustained growth with low inflation. There has been a great deal of pain, effort and difficulty in getting inflation down, but we can now see the rewards. Inflation has been under 2 per cent. for the past nine months, a situation not seen for more than 30 years. As a result of that, recovery–as we said it would–is following : gross domestic product is up; manufacturing output is up; retail sales are up; and export volumes are up. It is no wonder that a recent survey of international business shows that Europe’s business leaders think that the United Kingdom is now the best place for manufacturing investment.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister : I will give way in a little while. Those business leaders know that we have the lowest inflation rate in the G7; the second lowest inflation rate in the Community; among the lowest interest rates in the Community; the predicted highest growth rate in the Community this year and next; and that we are one of only two Community countries in which unemployment is falling. Business also knows that, contrary to the position that was honestly stated again by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, we are determined to keep social on-costs down. The right hon. and learned Gentleman went to Brussels last Friday to sign up to every dot and comma of the socialist European manifesto. But that was Friday. On Saturday, he said that he had not meant what he signed up to. I do not know why–perhaps he had not read it or he had not understood it. At any rate, on Saturday he did not mean it. The right hon. and learned Gentleman obviously thought that it was unfair of those beastly foreign socialists to take him at his word. I sympathise with him–they are difficult–but the right hon. and learned Gentleman really should read what he signs. It is tedious, I know, but it is very worthwhile, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman found out.

One other thing that the right hon. and learned Gentleman signed up to, which he neglected to mention in his speech today, when he had a great deal to say about VAT on fuel, is the European socialist manifesto which says :

“We stand for a tax system which penalises work less and environmental pollution more Forms of taxation which can improve the ecological and energy situation have a role to play.” I could only assume that that was another part of the socialist manifesto that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not read, did not understand, or had his earphones on and did not hear. The economic news that I outlined a few moments ago is the background against which we bring forward our legislative programme. At the heart of the Gracious Speech are measures to tackle crime, improve teaching in our schools and make our economy more competitive. I believe that those are the right policies because they provide the foundations for a successful, tolerant and responsible society. We can raise standards in our schools, make our streets safer and make our economy more competitive by building on those basic values.

I am not surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot understand the point about going back to basics. How can we expect him to understand basic values when Opposition Members repeatedly vote against increasing sentences for violent crime, when they oppose tests in schools, when, in the same breath, they call for lower taxes and higher spending, and when they still do not trust people to make their own decisions in health, in education, in pensions, in housing and in many other aspects of life? “Basic values” means basic economic values such as low inflation, free markets and a climate that encourages free enterprise, basic social values such as self-discipline, respect for the law, concern for others, individual responsibility and an emphasis on getting the basics of education right first. That means taking on as well the spread of politically correct thinking.

I am afraid that the Labour party is all too often out of touch with the values and instincts of the British nation. Labour Members voted against every piece of legislation to introduce tougher penalties for crime, voted against the measures that allow people to appeal against over-lenient sentences, against testing in schools, against grant-maintained status, against A-levels, against city technology colleges, and against rents for mortgages. They have voted against every one of those–against stopping people jumping the housing queue, against privatisation and against a great deal else. They have voted against every single measure to extend choice and give greater opportunity to individuals, every single measure to help people to take more responsibility for themselves, and every single measure to make life more difficult for the criminal and to make people safer in their streets. It is no wonder they do not understand back to basics.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : Since it is the Prime Minister’s vogue word, I ask the Prime Minister the basic question : if back to basics is suddenly the right policy, who is to blame for the past 14 years?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman clearly has not been listening, but I will tell him about the past 14 years. It is a time when average incomes have risen, when there is more spent on the national health service than ever before, when the number of young people going into further and higher education has gone up to one in three in the community, and when the value of pensions has gone up. But there is one battle which I concede we did not win. That was the battle against fashionable opinion and the theories of those who are light years away from the interests of the British people. I turn directly to the centrepiece of the difference between the Government and the Labour party. The centrepiece of this programme is a criminal justice Bill. The whole House shares a deep concern about the level of crime. To prove that, I hope that the whole House will unite behind our proposals to tackle crime instead of, as Labour Members have done on every occasion in the past, voting against every measure that we have brought forward to tackle crime.

Our proposals respond to people’s fear. Crime is not just a problem for the well-to-do. It often hits hardest those people who have the least, which is why the right hon. and learned Gentleman utterly failed to understand the quote of mine that he misused a few minutes ago. Nor is the loss of material possessions the only damage done by crimes like theft. Often, the greatest hurt by far is the loss of treasured possessions of sentimental value and the loss of that feeling of security that people have an absolute right to feel in their own homes.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?– [Interruption.]

The Prime Minister : If the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) is so concerned about crime, why did he vote against every measure that we brought forward to curtail it? It is no wonder that he is against back to basics. He is certainly pretty basic himself. He makes Neanderthal man look chic.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

The Prime Minister : I shall make a little progress. I share the view of most people in this country that the balance has been tilted for too long in favour of the criminal and away from the victim. The criminal justice Bill will correct that. We shall continue to give the police greater flexibility in the use of their resources to fight crime.

Mr. Campbell-Savours rose —

The Prime Minister : I shall give way in a moment. We will provide extra prison places so that sentences can reflect the gravity of the crime, not the availability of prison cells. We will crack down on people reoffending while on bail. Some people seem to think that bail is a licence to commit crime. The new Bill will show them that they are wholly wrong about that.

One of the most serious problems we face is that of juvenile crime. Far too many crimes against property are committed by young people. The Bill will introduce new secure units for persistent offenders to break the cycle of offending. The fact is that, unless we are prepared to make clear to people at a young age that some behaviour will not be tolerated, we cannot be surprised if they continue to reoffend as they get older. To be too lenient in the short term means that we fail our children in the longer term, and it is time that that was faced up to. The Bill will also deter criminals by making sure that, once caught, they are prosecuted and, if convicted, effectively punished. There will be less cautioning and an end to the abuse of the right to silence that has been exploited by so many.

Mr. Campbell-Savours rose —

The Prime Minister : I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

In some areas, the current law has been too slow to act. If squatters, travellers or trespassers occupy people’s property, they should be able to get them out–and quickly. The new Bill will ensure that they can do so.

The Bill covers a range of other matters. I will mention just one of them today. It will provide stronger powers and heavier penalties against child pornography. Previously, possessors of child pornography could only be fined. For the first time, the Bill will provide, in appropriate circumstances, for a prison sentence, and the police will have stronger powers of arrest and search and seizure of those who make and sell this material. I hope that the whole House will welcome that.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : The Prime Minister has much to say about crime. Can he answer a simple question? Why has the incidence of crime doubled during the past 14 years of Conservative government?

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman’s question was not quite complete. He should have asked why the incidence of crime has doubled in every western country. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to help us, perhaps he and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East will tell us that they will support the proposals that we now put before the House.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : The right hon. Gentleman knows that in the Home Office’s recently published figures it was revealed that 5.7 million crimes were committed in the latest recorded year. Is that because he has been neglecting the basics for the past 14 years–or is it because the 64 pieces of legislation that he has already produced have failed to tackle the problem?

The Prime Minister : I am not sure that it was entirely wise to give way to the hon. Gentleman, for he trails over very old ground. Will he now tell us whether he will support the measures that are before the House? I suspect that the Labour party will not support them. The shadow Home Secretary, the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), was already preparing his escape route when he referred to my right hon. Friend’s new measures to tackle crime as “gimmicks”. Tougher powers for the police to stop terrorism are apparently a gimmick, as are cutting down paperwork and putting more policemen on the streets. Tougher measures to stop people offending on bail are, according to the Opposition, a gimmick. New prisons are a gimmick. That is the triviality of their response to the battle against crime.

As for the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, who is sitting their shouting, he is no one to shout about the law. It was the hon. Member who said :

“do you obey the law or not obey the law? We”

–that is the Labour party–

“don’t have any firm principles of how we might deal with this problem.”

The hon. Gentleman said that in late 1989 and early 1990. I will give him the quote. If he is worried about that quote, perhaps he can tell me this : why, just last month, did Labour Members vote against a provision in the National Lottery etc. Bill to prevent lottery proceeds funding terrorism ? What sort of party and what sort of values do they have ?

Let me turn to the deregulation Bill that the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East spoke about. One significant difficulty for business lies in meeting the demands of regulations. Over the years we have repealed examples of ludicrous over-regulation. Many of those that we repealed recently have lasted since the Labour Government of 1929, such as regulations on the temperature of bath water, on animal feed factories and on the distance between clothes pegs in cotton factory cloakrooms. There is still a long way to go to minimise regulation on companies. Earlier this year, we set up a series of task forces chaired by business men and business women to identify regulations that might be repealed. I thank the noble Lord Sainsbury and his colleagues for their report. As a result of their work, we shall introduce a deregulation Bill that will sweep away rules that tie firms up in excessive red tape. It will be the biggest package of deregulation since the 1950s and we shall bring the legislation forward in January. That approach is far more likely to help business than the policies of increased burdens, minimum wages, social chapters and more detailed regulations that are favoured by the Opposition. We want to repeal legislation that is a burden on business; the Labour party wants to repeal our legislation that removes burdens on business, especially trade union reform. As the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East made clear–with that candour that we like so much–if given the opportunity, Labour are

“going to repeal”

–in terms of our trade union legislation–

“all of it–there is no little bits you can keep It all has to go”.

That means back to the closed shop, back to flying pickets, back to unions above the law and back to no more compulsory ballots. That is what the hon. Gentleman stands for.

Mr. Prescott : The Prime Minister is earning an unenviable reputation as a Prime Minister who constantly quotes from Labour Members’ recent speeches without giving any evidence of where those quotes come from. It is about time the Prime Minister produced the sources of his quotes. I challenge him to do so.

The Prime Minister : I will provide the hon. Gentleman with the sources. He probably thinks that he has been a victim of impersonation. I will give him another quote, together with the source, and perhaps that will help him.

The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East, in his celebrated speech to the Confederation of British Industry, in which he said so little about the matters on which it would have wished to hear, did not remind the CBI that he had described ballots for union elections as

“intellectually disreputable”. Perhaps that explains why the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) remains a member of the shadow Cabinet, despite losing in the ballot. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East is having some trouble containing himself. We have learnt what one member, one vote means : the right hon. and learned Gentleman is the member and his is the vote, despite what Labour Back-Bench Members vote.

In the Gracious Speech we propose to introduce legislation to improve the training of teachers. Our best schools are as good as any in the world, but we aim to raise the standards of all our schools to those of the best. The process is already under way with the national curriculum, annual reports, regular inspections and regular pencil and paper tests, not beloved by some Labour Members. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East should take a sedative and calm down.

The education Bill this Session will underpin the reform of teacher training. For too long teacher training has been based too heavily on theory. The Bill will create a new teacher training agency in England and will extend the powers of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. It will build on the arrangements for teacher training in the classroom, which we have already put in place. The agency will bring together funding for all types of courses and will be able to fund the most cost-effective to ensure the growth of the best courses.

The Bill will end one of the last closed shops in the United Kingdom–the student unions. Students should not be compelled to join their student union. In future they will not be so compelled. We shall introduce local government Bills to establish unitary authorities in Scotland and Wales.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : Is it the Prime Minister’s intention to dismember Scottish local government and to remove Scottish water from local democratic control by the expedient of stuffing Commons’ Committees with English Conservative Back Benchers? Can he confirm that?

The Prime Minister : I would not put the matter remotely like that, so I cannot confirm it.

Alongside the reforms in Wales and Scotland are the reforms still being developed in England. We intend these to be the last significant reforms of local government for many years. We are putting in place a structure to endure and to pass the test of time.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) rose —

The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman’s intervention is too tempting to miss.

Mr. Canavan : How can the Prime Minister possibly justify local government reorganisation in England being referred to an independent commission while proceeding immediately with legislation for Scotland and Wales without any reference to an independent commission? In view of the widespread concern, indeed outrage, throughout Scotland about this most expensive and extensive political carve-up in the history of local government, will the Prime Minister do the decent thing and refer the matter to an independent commission?

Otherwise, people in Scotland will rightly conclude that their country is being governed by a gang of gerrymandering crooks.

The Prime Minister : I do not think that they will remotely conclude that. The hon. Gentleman may believe it, but that is his problem and not mine. He is rather more of a problem to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition than to me or my colleagues.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : Earlier in his speech the Prime Minister said several times that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide, freely and democratically, their own constitution. Why does the Prime Minister deny that right to the people of Scotland? Why does he resist the demands of the constitutional parties in Scotland for a multi- option referendum? The constitutional parties in Scotland–the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National party–represent 75 per cent. of the voters in Scotland whereas the Conservative party represents only 25 per cent.

The Prime Minister : There was a referendum, and it failed. The hon. Gentleman has clearly forgotten that the necessary majority was not achieved.

The Queen’s Speech will introduce a range of Bills–to privatise British Coal, to reform Sunday trading, to enable the preparations for an environment agency to proceed, to reform elements of the social security system and a Bill to make the security services more accountable ; the Bill will place the secret intelligence services and the Government communications headquarters on a statutory basis. That follows on from the announcement I made in the debate on last year’s Gracious Speech, and represents a further step towards greater openness and accountability for the three intelligence security services.

This is a realistic programme that will meet the concerns of the country. It addresses practical problems in a practical way, and is light years away from the policies of the Opposition. Many people have complained about the Opposition’s lack of an economic policy, not least a number of Opposition Members. As the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) said :

“Where we”–

the Labour party–

“are absolutely deficient is in suggesting that, in any respect, we have a clue about how to manage the economy. Or whether we should even try.”

Now he has his answer. His leader has signed up for an off-the-peg economic policy made in Brussels. The socialist European manifesto that the leader of the Opposition signed commits him to a single currency, with no mention of the opt out which we negotiated and which the Danish socialist Government retained. That manifesto also commits him to restrictions on free trade, European works councils, a guaranteed minimum wage and higher taxes for British businesses so that they do not compete “unfairly” with European firms. It may well be that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not read all that, but that is what he signed up to.

The Labour party is not a party that is seriously seeking power. The Guardian said recently that the Labour party is like “a natural party of opposition”

–and it will remain a natural party of opposition. We are in government and will stay in government.

I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends will give a warm welcome to the programme outlined in the Gracious Speech, and I commend it to the House.