Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech during the 1994 Queen’s Speech Debate on 16th November 1994.
Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield): As Members may know, my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip was taken ill this morning, and before beginning my speech I am pleased to tell the House that his condition is described by the hospital as stable, and not a cause for alarm. I know that we all wish him and Anne well, and we also wish him a speedy return.
It is the custom of the House that the Leader of the Opposition has the pleasant duty of congratulating the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address, and I am delighted to do so. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) gave a somewhat unusually combative proposal of the Loyal Address, and at some points I was not entirely sure whether he was moving the Loyal Address or giving an after-dinner speech to his local Conservative association.
Nevertheless, I hope that I shall not do the hon. Gentleman irrevocable damage if I disclose to the House that, as he will know, I have personal reasons for being extremely grateful to him. When he was an Education Minister, although he may have done many things wrong, he did one thing right: he reversed the planned closure of a vital special needs school in my constituency of Sedgefield, despite the fact that the education experts wanted it closed.
At the time, I thought that that was merely a one-off act of compassion on the hon. Gentleman’s part, but last year in the House he threw greater light on his decision, when he said that the last thing any Minister should sensibly do is to listen to the educational world for advice. The only advice he could give was to listen to what they say and “then do the opposite”. Given such an attitude, the only surprise is that the hon. Gentleman never made it to the Cabinet. However, I wish him well most sincerely.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) seconded the motion with great flair, humour and wit, and said that he had the dubious pleasure of being in a House containing no fewer than three other Members who at one time had represented his constituency but had then lost it, only to win again somewhere else. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will understand if I say that, given the size of his majority, I hope that at the next election he will be able to satisfy at least half the requirements of that elite club. Both speeches, the proposing and the seconding of the Loyal Address, were able. I congratulate both hon. Gentlemen.
It is also the custom at this time to review one or two personal events for the House over the past year, and I hope that I shall be forgiven for saying that the past year has been marked by deep sorrow for my party. Twelve months ago, John Smith gave the kind of spirited, witty and principled speech that earned him respect across the Chamber and throughout the nation. I believe that we united across party lines then, and that we still do so now, in his memory. I pay particular tribute to the life and work of Jo Richardson, who, despite immense physical pain, never wavered in her tireless work for her constituents and for the cause of women everywhere. To those two names must be added the sad loss of colleagues on both sides of the House–James Boyce, Stephen Milligan, Ron Leighton, Bob Cryer and John Blackburn, all of whom served their constituents and their country with dedication, and will be sorely missed.
Parts of the Queen’s Speech we welcome. Thanks to the efforts of the British and Irish Governments and the constitutional parties in Northern Ireland, there is room for cautious optimism about the future of the Province–more room than at any time, certainly in my generation. The Opposition will continue to support the peace process and to play our part in building a future of conciliation and prosperity. Her Majesty’s Opposition exist not only to oppose Her Majesty’s Government, and we shall be pleased to continue to support the Government in the peace process. Indeed, we shall take an active part in next month’s conference on the economy of Northern Ireland.
We also rejoice at the defeat of apartheid and the return of South Africa to the Commonwealth. The Opposition, at least, are proud of the part that we played in the battle against the evil of the old regime. I play particular tribute to the steadfast work of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), who has made such an outstanding contribution over the years.
We also welcome plans to expand the European Union, and look forward to the entry of new members from northern and eastern Europe, and we shall continue to make constructive suggestions for the reform and improvement of that Union and to press for the Government to regain our influence within Europe.
Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Blair: In a moment, if I may. On the detail of the Address, we have long urged legislation on the regulation of pensions, the establishment of an environmental protection agency, a new criminal cases review authority, and rights for disabled people. We shall, however, carefully scrutinise the detail of all those Bills.
The pensions regulations must be comprehensive and clear. We all know of the scandal of people cheated of their savings by unscrupulous advisers who abused poor regulation. Our people will not be satisfied unless there is proper protection for the hard-working majority who save for their retirement and who should have the absolute right to see the benefits in old age.
On the environment, we wish the new agency to be able to take action to protect our environment and to have proper powers of enforcement. I welcome the fact that, as I understand it, there will be legislation on the criminal cases review authority. The new system for investigating miscarriages of justice is long overdue. I very much hope that the method of investigation is independent and fair, and can be seen to be fair.
Disabled people across Britain were greatly angered by the Government’s conduct during the passage of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. We welcome new legislation in the Queen’s Speech, and we look forward to it being implemented properly.
Millions of people are desperate for changes in the Child Support Agency. Currently, the agency is a complete shambles, which is causing misery to tens of thousands of families. I very much hope that a radical reform of the agency is on the agenda in the coming year.
Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey): Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he supports the Bill on European own resources–yes or no?
Mr. Blair: I am coming to that very point in a moment. I will then answer the hon. Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw).
Taken as a whole, the Queen’s Speech expresses the central quandary facing the Conservative party today: whether to praise Thatcherism or to bury it. Four years after the right hon. Lady’s departure, the Conservatives still cannot decide. The result is the hallmark of this Government: dogma tempered only by dithering.
Nothing could make the point better than the debacle over Post Office privatisation. There are two extraordinary features of it. The first is not that 10 Tory rebels opposed it, but that 340 Tory Members, including the Prime Minister, supported it. One message at least is clear: “If you don’t want the Post Office privatised, don’t vote Tory at the next election.”
The second extraordinary feature is the manner of decision-making; that is what is most extraordinary. One faction demands privatisation, so the deed is done; it is then the centrepiece of the Queen’s Speech. Then another faction rebels, so the proposal is removed. Then the first faction mounts another rebellion, and Ministers fall over themselves to proclaim their sorrow and anguish at this omission from the Queen’s Speech. Finally, the Government cast around for any hapless part of the public sector to privatise. Air traffic control is floated as a possibility, until even the genius of this Government’s public relations understands that the notion of Group 4 being in charge of air traffic control is not an immediate vote-winner.
Ultimately, what do the Government privatise? They privatise the Atomic Energy Authority commercial services department. It is alighted on as a victim to be sold off. What does that tell us about this Government? It tells us that they are so riven by faction and buffeted from one day’s headlines to the next that they cannot address the interests of the country, and that they are woefully out of touch with public opinion. The combination of those factors makes them incapable of delivering good government.
There should be a Bill about the Post Office in the Queen’s Speech–not to privatise it, but to liberate it within the public sector. Such a Bill would pass with virtually unanimous support. Why is it not in the Queen’s Speech? The reason is that, although the Government do not have the courage to privatise the Post Office, their dogma prevents them from adopting the only sensible alternative. The result is bad government.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury): In reviewing my party’s attitude to various issues, would the right hon. Gentleman also review his own party’s attitude to clause 4, and whether his party really–[Interruption.] Does his party really intend to abolish it, or is it just the rhetoric that he opposes?
Mr. Blair: I did not hear the last part of the question, but I am absolutely delighted that the hon. Gentleman is so interested in clause 4. He will no doubt want to participate in the discussions on the matter in the months ahead.
Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton): On the issue of factions, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether he agrees with the 61 members of his own party who signed an early-day motion calling on a future Labour Government to scrap Trident? Does he agree with that–yes or no?
Mr. Blair: The position of the Labour leadership has been set out very clearly in the national executive statement at conference, and the hon. Gentleman can read it if he is interested.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West): Since the right hon. Gentleman commented a little earlier on praising or trying to bury Thatcherism, does he regret voting for the changes in trade union reform which the Government have taken through the House over the past 15 years? If he does, which of the trade union reforms that the Government brought in, despite opposition from the Labour party, would he seek to reverse as a Labour Prime Minister?
Mr. Blair: I have set out many times our position on trade union legislation, and I have said exactly what parts we will change and what parts we will not change. Since the hon. Gentleman intervened in my speech, perhaps he would answer this question. How did he stand at the previous election on the specific promise that he would not raise tax in this country, since he joined the Government in raising it straight after his election to the House?
Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak): In reference to the right hon. Gentleman’s comments on the public sector, does he think it right that inefficiencies in public services should be tolerated at the taxpayers’ expense if they lead to greater employment? Does he agree on that comment with his deputy leader? Will he tell the House if he disagrees?
Mr. Blair: I am surprised that, after a week in which it has been revealed that a private health institution in Scotland received £30 million of public money, the hon. Gentleman should ask us about the efficiency of public services.
Hon. Members: More, more.
Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point) rose —
Mr. Blair: I will have to press on, but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.
Dr. Spink: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with his right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) that the minimum wage would cost tens of thousands of jobs in the country? Will he support the job seeker’s allowance, which will help this Government to get the long-term unemployed back into work?
Mr. Blair: The hon. Gentleman should be aware of recent evidence, published in the United States, of precisely the opposite effect. Indeed, it is the case that setting a proper floor for wages is a sensible way in which to operate the labour market. Secondly, let me tell the hon. Gentleman that I think that many people in this country see this Government failing to take action in relation to those privatised utilities and the pay increases awarded to their chairmen and directors, and find it quite obnoxious that the Government oppose a decent living and wage for people at the bottom end of the income scale, but do nothing about the abuses at the top.
I was talking about the conduct of government. We see the same conduct not only in relation to the Post Office but in respect of the quite extraordinary furore which has been whipped up among the Tory party over Europe, with briefings and counter-briefings rolling around the press rooms of Britain today. So desperate are the Government to get their rebels into line that the chairman of the 1922 Committee has been dispatched to tell us that, if the Government are defeated on the Bill about own resources, or “even if there is any amendment to it”, a general election will immediately ensue. [Interruption.] There is at least some support for that proposition from the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), but that may simply be because he is retiring.
It has surely come to something when a Government can secure the passage of their own legislative programme only by threatening their own demise. The Government might threaten a general election. I think we can be sure that they do not dare call one. However, what a way to run a party and a Government. That underlines the degree to which all those questions become a matter not of the nation’s interest, but simply a ball played from one part of the Conservative party over to the other and back again.
I can tell Conservative Members that the country sees the gap between what the Conservative party today represents and what it wants a Government to do, and the country is appalled at how that gap ever widens. That shows that the politics of the 1980s has run its course. The concerns and needs of the British people have changed, and it is the Labour party that speaks for them.
The British people want an end to the laissez-faire economics and the boom and bust of the past 15 years. They want a new economic approach, based on partnership between the public and private sectors and between management and employees to invest in industry to make our performance more dynamic and to give business and families the stability to plan for the future.
The British people want strong public services, decent schools and well-run local hospitals, where pupils and patients, not bureaucrats, receive the resources. They do not want them to be sold off or broken up. They want poverty, inequality and mass unemployment to be attacked, not treated as of no consequence. They want safe communities liberated from violence, drugs and gangs of hooligans, where, in place of piecemeal initiatives, there is a comprehensive strategy– [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. I believe that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) is not giving way at the moment. Is that correct?
Mr. Blair: I must make progress.
Several hon. Members rose —
Madam Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman has indicated to me that he is not giving way at the moment.
Mr. Blair: The vast majority of people in this country want safe communities, and they do not believe that the Government are delivering them. Above all else, perhaps, they want to feel that their voice is heard and that political institutions work for them and not for the people in charge. They want real democracy, with power devolved downwards, not an ever-increasing centralised state. The vast majority of people want to feel that they can trust their Government. The truth is that today no one believes a word that the Conservative party says–and no wonder. Let us consider tax, and the promises made at the last election. In March 1992, the Prime Minister said:
“I have made it clear, we have no plans and no need to extend the scope of VAT.”
The former Chancellor of the Exchequer said:
“We will not have to increase taxes. I cannot see any circumstances in which that will be necessary.”
That was said weeks before the general election. They now say that they did not know how bad the economic situation was.
One might get away with that if one had been in power for 13 days. However, by the last election, the Government had been in power for 13 years. They knew the truth. Look at how many taxes the Conservatives have introduced. Let us consider the new Tory taxes and what they will mean for the average family: home insurance tax, car insurance tax, airport tax, petrol tax, VAT on fuel and cuts in the married couple’s allowance and cuts in mortgage tax relief. In total this year, they mean £360 on top of the £500 a year that families are already paying extra in tax since the election; 7p on the standard rate of income tax; £860 for the average family. In the light of the gap between what they have promised and what they have done, is it any wonder to them the cynicism and disgust with which their record is viewed by the majority of British people?
Mr. Norman Lamont (Kingston upon Thames): As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Government found it necessary to put up taxes in order to reduce borrowing, which was greater than anticipated. The right hon. Gentleman’s party fought the election on putting up taxes not in order to produce sound finances, not in order to reduce borrowing, but in order to spend more money. That was why the right hon. Gentleman wanted to put up taxes. The right hon. Gentleman now tells us that he has changed his party’s policy. Will he tell this House now that the policies of tax on which his party fought the election are wrong?
Mr. Blair: I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what the difference is. We told the truth at the previous election. [Interruption.] I suppose that the Prime Minister will be relieved that, at least for once, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) has come in on the Government’s side.
Mr. Heald: The right hon. Gentleman was asked whether he would support the European own resources Bill. He said that he would answer the question. He has not. Will he answer now?
Mr. Blair: We will judge that Bill in the light of the principles that we have set out. We have supported the settlement at the Edinburgh summit, but the hon. Gentleman knows that of course we have our differences with the Government over the social chapter. I can tell him, although I was going to deal with it later in my speech, that, in the light of the allegations about fraud and waste in the common agricultural policy, and in the light of the discrepancy between the position set out by the Chancellor last week and the figures given in some newspapers this morning, we will of course press the Government on all those issues.
Now let me ask the hon. Gentleman, or perhaps the Prime Minister, a question: is it the case that the chairman of the 1922 Committee was speaking on behalf of the Conservative party when he said that the own resources Bill would be treated not as an ordinary piece of legislation but as a motion of confidence in the Government? I have to tell them that, if that is how it is to be treated, life becomes much more difficult, not less difficult, for the Government. The hon. Gentleman will understand that.
I was about to deal with the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s interview in today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph , which, as ever, is interesting to read. The right hon. and learned Gentleman described himself as “fairly panic-proof”, which is a reassurance to us since he is in charge of the nation’s finances. He went on to say that his policies “have so far delivered very little to Mr. and Mrs. Smith up and down the country.”
So far–they have been in power for 15 years; how much longer do they want before their policies deliver something? What they have delivered is an election programme secured on one basis, then broken with a series of record-breaking tax rises straight after the election.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Blair: No. I really must move on.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Kenneth Clarke): The right hon. Gentleman keeps giving way to interventions, then failing to answer them and returning to his speech. He was asked a moment ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston (Mr. Lamont) how he now reacted to his election promises of the last election to raise taxation in order to raise public spending. If he now criticises what we are doing, which of the tax increases that he has attacked would he reduce and which spending would he cut–in contrast to the tax increase promises on which he fought the last election?
Mr. Blair: Last week, we published a comprehensive set of tax reforms to close the tax abuses that the Government have allowed to go on. What is more, we set out the huge windfall profits that have been made by utility companies, and will be made on the sale of the national grid. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer wants to get spending down, there is one good way of doing it: get unemployment down, and let the unemployed get back to work.
The tax failure of the Government is in the end the product of their economic failure. The mismanagement of this country’s economy over 15 years is a story of incompetence on an epic scale: the two worst recessions in living memory; bankruptcy and insecurity for millions of people; the decimation of large parts of the industrial base. With the boom-bust economics comes the inability to plan or invest for the future.
It is not even as if the living standards in our country had soared above those in other countries. The opposite is the case. According to the latest Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures for average income compared with that in other countries, Britain is just above Finland–lower than Germany, France and Italy, to be sure, but lower now than Belgium, Iceland and many others.
Sir Cranley Onslow (Woking): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Blair: No, I am sorry.
Of course, now the economy has reached a different point in the economic cycle. There is recovery and growth, and inflation is low. We welcome that. However, the question is not whether we are at a different point in the economic cycle. The question is whether this burst of growth will be different from the others that have preceded it. This time, the Government say, the long term will come first, which is precisely what they–noticeably the Prime Minister himself–said at the beginning of the 1980s and at the end of the 1980s.
What is the Government’s over-arching priority now? What is the clamour throughout the Tory party for next year’s Budget? It is for tax cuts, and the bigger the better. Whether they will be given or not will depend not on the state of the economy but on the state of the Tory party.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Blair: The lesson of the past 15 years is that, unless we put the long term first, unless we have an economic policy that is stable and geared to the needs of the real economy, unless we strengthen our industrial base and make the investment in industry and people that we need, the reality is lower prosperity for all of us. Look even now: when we are barely out of recession, interest rates are raised. The chairman of the Conservative party promises that it will be the last such rise in interest rates. There are capacity constraints on output already. There are skill shortages–with 3 million unemployed–in parts of our economy.
Most galling of all, the Conservative Government uniquely had the one-off, God-given bonus of North sea oil, and squandered it. They had hundreds of billions of pounds’ worth of North sea oil. On top of that, they had the privatisation proceeds. They were used not for investment but merely on current spending. What other country with all those resources would have had such a record of failure as the Conservative party has presided over?
If reports are true, there are new oil finds in the west of Shetland field. For heaven’s sake, let us not squander that natural advantage as earlier natural advantages were squandered. Let for once the short-term interests of the Conservative party take second place to the long-term interests of the country.
The same prejudice has led the Government to ignore the danger signs of the tearing of the social fabric of our country. We are as a nation more divided and less equal than at any time this century. Millions of people live on benefit, in poverty and without hope for the future. Of course there is a social and moral case for tackling that inequality, but there is an economic case, too. In parts of our inner cities, a generation of young people grows up in a culture of low employment prospects, poor education opportunities, family instability, drug abuse and crime. With no stake in society, it is hardly surprising when they show little responsibility towards it.
Mr. Duncan Smith: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Blair: The Government have doubled dependency on welfare since 1979–the very Government who pledged to cut that dependency.
Mr. Duncan Smith rose —
Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) should not persist, as it must be obvious that the right hon. Gentleman will not give way.
Mr. Blair: After 15 years of Conservative government, tax and spending as a percentage of national income are up and not down. Why? Because we are paying the bills of failure. We are paying for the dole queues, poverty, low pay, homelessness and crime. The Government never learn that, the stronger and more united our society, the less we waste and the more we can invest. That is the difference.
Good public services are a part of that. A moment ago, the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) asked me about efficient public services. We should look at the national health service. We have been promised even more legislation now to improve
“the management of the National Health Service”.
What has happened since the Queen’s Speech 15 years ago, when the Conservatives said that they would do the same? Bureaucracy and administration are up £3 billion a year. There are 20,000 general and senior managers, compared with 500 a few years ago. Some £70 million has been spent on company cars.
This week, the true Tory philosophy on the health service was revealed by the chairman of an NHS trust–a serving Tory councillor. He said that the duty of doctors is to the balance sheet of their managers, and not to the needs of their patients. We can thank him for his candour, but that is not the national health service that the British people want.
Of course, we need efficient management, but we do not have that. We have expensive management, which is swallowing millions of pounds, while many people are on waiting lists and are forced to wait in indignity and injured on trolleys in hospitals when they should be getting proper care.
This week, it was revealed that £30 million was put into the collapsed Health Care International. That must be added to the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on railway privatisation and the poll tax, and the hundreds of millions wasted on the national curriculum. The Government have wasted public money at every turn, and they have wasted it on dogma.
Last week, one Minister had to admit that he had lost £30 million of public money in four months, while another was found guilty of breaking the law and misusing £240 million in relations with countries overseas. A third–the Home Secretary, no less–was found to have acted unlawfully in respect of his own treatment of the victims of crime.
The tale of how those victims have been treated is a scandal of arrogant incompetence from first to last. The new tariff system of compensation is manifestly unfair, and it was rejected by all victims’ groups. It has no support anywhere, and when the Government launched a consultation exercise about it, not a single representation was in favour of the Government’s plans. They were warned that it was unlawful–they took not the slightest notice. Meanwhile, the Home Secretary tells the Conservative party conference that he wants to put the victim at the heart of the criminal justice system. It is as rotten a tale of Conservative hypocrisy as is possible to imagine, even from this Government. The fact is that, whether on combating drugs, juvenile offending, illegal firearms, racial violence or the treatment of victims, it is the Opposition who have been standing up for law and order in this House and not the Government.
The chance of a new start for the Government and the country has been thrown away in the Queen’s Speech. It is no wonder that the public turn away from politics when the Government refuse to hear the voice that they are speaking with. It is the Opposition who will continue to speak up for what the people of this country want–a modern and dynamic economy, action on crime, decent schools for all, hospitals run for patients and unemployment and poverty attacked. The Prime Minister may scorn “the vision thing”. He promises “the action thing”, but where is it? His Government are not dictated by the action thing, but by the dither thing. That is where they are, all the way through from the Child Support Agency to whether Ministers should resign, the channel tunnel and the Post Office. There is a case for action on behalf of the people of Britain, and it will be put by the Opposition. We know what needs to be done–the people of Britain know what needs to be done–because we share the hopes and ambitions of our people. We share their schools and hospitals, their values and their basic decency and we share something more–their shame at what has happened to Britain under the Conservative Government.
The Queen’s Speech shows a Government who are out of touch and out of steam. At the next election, it will be our pleasure to put them out of office, too.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): I was sorry to learn earlier that the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) has been taken ill. I was delighted to hear the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) say that the illness does not seem to be serious. I think that I speak for the House in saying that I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will soon be fully recovered and back here carrying out his duties.
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield mentioned the sad loss of a number of colleagues on both sides of the House and I join him in the tributes that he paid to them. We may dispute and disagree often and violently in the House–sometimes that is our duty and our responsibility–but, whatever the interest or party that we represent, we are all here to serve the public. From time to time, therefore, it is right for us to put aside our party differences and acknowledge the work that is done by our political opponents. I happily do so today, not only on behalf of hon. Friends who are sadly no longer with us but on behalf of Opposition Members who sought to serve their country and their constituents.
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield had some grave charges to lay before the Government–I shall deal with those that are relevant later and with some other matters that the right hon. Gentleman overlooked–but if he is going to attack the Government he really should get his facts right. If he is going to disparage the Government, he really should try to keep a straight face while he does it. If he smiles when he does so, it will hardly be a surprise to him that the House and the country are unlikely to take him seriously on those issues. If he shows signs of not believing what he says, he cannot be surprised if other people do not believe him either.
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield was graceful about my hon. Friends and their proposing and seconding of the Gracious Speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) entered the House on the same day as I did. We knew one another for many years before we came to this place. I know him well and he has always been blessed with the gift of clarity. [Hon. Members:– “Why are you smiling?”] I am not laying charges against my hon. Friend; I am about to praise him. I come here to praise him, not to disparage him. One always knows where one is with my hon. Friend–sometimes that is very good and sometimes it is just very clear.
In this country, at least, we always know where we are with my hon. Friend, but abroad he has a slightly less certain touch. Seeking tickets while on holiday in Italy, he consulted his Italian phrase book, marched up to the booking clerk and, I am reliably informed, said something quite unspeakable in vile Italian. My informant did not tell me what it was, but I understand that it was emphatically not a request for a day return to Milan.
In Florida, my hon. Friend visited Seaworld– [Interruption.] Relax. While watching the Walrus of Oz–I do not understand why the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) smiles when I mention the Walrus of Oz–my hon. Friend became a volunteer from the audience to play alongside the walrus. The starring piece of his remarkable performance was a passionate embrace with the walrus. That was embarrassing enough for him, but it was made far more embarrassing by the most deadly words that any Member of Parliament can hear on holiday, uttered by a lady who rushed up and said, “Mr. Dunn, I am one of your constituents.” Only time will tell whether that will increase his majority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) entered the House only at the last election. He referred to his first term in this House, which I am sure will be one of many. What he did not mention–we all know that he has a healthy appetite–was his election battle bus, which became notorious in his constituency for being parked outside a fast-food hamburger stop nearly every meal time. Entering with three companions, he ordered four hamburgers. “One each?”, asked the attendant politely. “I don’t know what they’re having”, said my hon. Friend, “but these four are for me.” –Clearly, elections build up the appetite in Aberdeen, but both my hon. Friends added to their growing reputations in their speeches this afternoon. Last year, I placed Northern Ireland at the head of our priorities: self-evidently, it remains at the head of the Government’s priorities. The past year has brought a new atmosphere and measured progress, but there is still a very long way to go before peace is secure and life in Northern Ireland returns to the same gentle tenor that we would expect it to have and would wish to see elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Next month, so long as the ceasefire is maintained, we shall open the exploratory dialogue with Sinn Fein and the loyalist political representatives. In those talks, the decommissioning of illegally held weapons will be a vital subject. Last week’s outrage in Newry–the murder of Mr. Kerr–showed how urgent that remains. Gun law has no part in democratic politics and the paramilitaries of both sides must abide by democratic principles if they wish to take part in democratic politics.
The people of Northern Ireland, too, are impatient for political progress, and I believe that they are right to be. As part of an overall settlement, we shall make proposals for a possible way forward within Northern Ireland, including a locally accountable assembly.
We have made good progress with the Irish Government on a joint framework document that covers relations between the two Governments and between Northern Ireland and the Republic. I hope that circumstances will allow us to complete the remaining negotiations speedily. The two Governments are seeking joint positions on some difficult issues, including the territorial claim that remains in the Irish constitution.
Northern Ireland’s future must be resolved freely, and without prejudice or duress, and that was acknowledged in the Downing street declaration. As part of a balanced settlement, requiring change on both sides, the Irish Government agreed that the Republic’s constitution would need to change to reflect fully the principle of consent in Northern Ireland. It is obviously important for Northern Ireland to be recognised as a legitimate part of the United Kingdom while that remains the wish of the greater number of the people of Northern Ireland.
A more relaxed relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic is also important. Many people in the north want links with the south. There is already valuable co-operation and we would like to help it to evolve. Closer links would foster reconciliation and benefit business. Organisations in different sectors–tourism being an obvious example–will, in their own interests, wish to build up relationships. In the joint document, we shall suggest a framework for cross-border structures, working on common ground and on a reciprocal basis.
I know that there are fears about joint authority–not least in the House but also beyond it, and most importantly throughout Northern Ireland–so let me make it clear that joint authority is not under consideration, and has been rejected by both Governments. I emphasise that those will be proposals; they will not be a straitjacket. This is not a London-Dublin deal, worked out and set to be imposed. The proposals will be published for public consultation and put to the democratic political parties in Northern Ireland. When the final outcome of the talks process is known, it will be submitted to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum.
The tasks ahead remain formidable, but each and every day without violence is another small victory for Northern Ireland. The benefits of peace which people are now witnessing will be a powerful disincentive to renewed violence.
I cannot promise that those endeavours will be successful, but I can promise that we shall pursue them, with the hope of reaching a lasting peace. I express my thanks to right hon. and hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who put aside the normal political differences to support the process.
Before I discuss the contents of the Gracious Speech, I wish to mention our economic prospects, as did the right hon. Member for Sedgefield.
A year ago, many people had doubts about economic recovery. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) delved into his stock of gloomy soundbites and forecast “rising unemployment, falling output and shaky prospects for growth.”
Since then, unemployment has decreased steadily, month by month. Today it fell by more than 45,000, to below 9 per cent. for the first time since December 1991. Throughout the European Union– [Interruption.] — only Portugal and Luxembourg now have less unemployment and, overall, the average is much greater throughout the Union, at 11.5 per cent.
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield told us that one of the ways ahead was to reduce unemployment, but he would have been more gracious if he had acknowledged that we have reduced unemployment far more successfully than any other large country in western Europe, and that only two small countries have a lower rate.
Mr. Skinner: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?
The Prime Minister: I shall give way later.
As for growth, output is currently increasing at more than 3.5 per cent., and we are forecast to have the fastest growth among the main economies in the European Union this year and next.
The problem for the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East, is that his every forecast turns out to be wrong–not some of them, but all of them. The laws of statistics and probability are suspended for the hon. Gentleman. If any hon. Members wish to win the lottery that we have established, they should ask the hon. Gentleman for numbers that are certain to lose, and their fortune will be guaranteed.
I do not wish to be unfair to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East. He is by no means the only misery merchant on the Opposition Front Bench who is seeking to spread despondency. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who is enjoying an agreeable chat with the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), was a trainee misery. He spoke of “big concerns” about how long the recovery would last. He did at least have the honesty to admit that there was a recovery. He spoke of
“big concerns about how long the recovery could be sustained before it led to a balance of payments crisis.”
As it happens, the trade balance is narrowing as output grows, and the hon. Gentleman was wrong.
The hon. Gentleman has heavyweight company. The new deputy leader of the Labour party, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), was in the gloom stakes as well.
Yes, he was. He is smiling now, probably because he knows that I am going to remind him that he said
“I don’t see much inward investment flooding in, but I see companies flooding out.”
I do not know what country the right hon. Gentleman was in when he said that, because it certainly does not apply to this country. The only things that are flooding out are exports, at record levels. The right hon. Gentleman also seems to have missed the inward investment. Last year, this country attracted 40 per cent. of the total inward investment from the United States and Japan that was made in the European Union. Black and Decker, for example, moved a production line to Britain from Germany–not even from the United States or Japan. Why? Because, in the words of one of its workers,
“Industry is flexible and the social chapter isn’t.”
Where is the Black and Decker factory? In a place called Spennymoor, bang in the middle of the constituency of the right hon. Member for Sedgefield.
The deputy leader of the Labour party should ask his right hon. Friend whether he has seen any inward investment flooding into this country–or he could ask the hon. Member for Livingston. NEC is investing hundreds of millions of pounds to create hundreds of jobs in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I could have mentioned that Samsung is creating more than 3,000 jobs, that Fujitsu is creating 1, 600 or that Asat is creating 1,000. Up and down the land, there has been a vote of confidence from external investors in this country’s future, and in this Government’s management of the economy.
Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North): At the 1992 general election, the Prime Minister and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear that they could conceive of no circumstances in which they would increase taxes if they won the election, yet afterwards they increased taxes. Can the Prime Minister help the House? At the time of the election, did the Prime Minister and the Chancellor know the true state of public finances and mislead the public, or did they not know the true state of public finances–in which case, why should anyone listen to the Prime Minister’s predictions now?
The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman could have done better than that if he had tried. He may live in his own little dream world, and he may have overlooked the fact that there was a worsening recession not here but elsewhere, which was why, right across Europe, unemployment rose and others ran into the difficulties that we ran into in this country.
If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about inconsistencies–perhaps in view of what his right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield had to say about taxes–perhaps he or his right hon. Friend could tell us why they now propose to introduce a windfall tax, a payroll tax, a health tax, an entertainment tax and a development tax. Perhaps, as they are so concerned about expenditure and taxation, they will tell us which of their spending commitments–to the minimum wage, the emergency employment programme, the new technology trusts or the abolition of compulsory competitive tendering- -they will scrap. For if their oratory is honest now, their policies are not; and if their policies are honest, their oratory is not. The sooner they square that circle, the sooner we will hear little lecturettes from them.
Up and down the land, there has been a vote of confidence in the British economy from foreign investors. The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East and the hon. Members for Livingston and for Dunfermline, East say none of that. They can, if they wish, remain the three blind mice on the Labour Front Bench, but foreign investors see what is happening in this country. To quote the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, they have been “flooding in”, they are “flooding in” and, while they have a Conservative Government with the policies that we follow, they will continue to “flood in” and to provide jobs in the right hon. Member for Sedgefield’s constituency.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): Is the Prime Minister aware that, for every pound that has come into this country, more than two in the last year, and well over two in the past 15, have left? British Steel is investing £97 million in America, but nothing in this country. What policies does the Prime Minister offer to develop manufacturing based on investment by British firms in their own country?
The Prime Minister: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned British Steel. I was in Port Talbot a fortnight ago–one of the most efficient steelworks in the world. It has the longest export order books that it has had for a long time and it is hugely successful. The hon. Gentleman may know nothing about steel making, but I suggest that he goes to Port Talbot to see for himself what I saw–the efficiency of that manufacturing industry in the United Kingdom. If the hon. Gentleman went to the motor show he would see a British motor industry that will soon be a net exporter of cars. If he visited Triumph motorcycles, which was killed by the Labour party, he would see it producing top-of-the-range motor cycles to sell to Germany, Japan, the United States and elsewhere. The Opposition run so well the story about British industry doing badly that they believe it. In reality, British industry is up off the knees on which it found itself when the Labour party was in office. It is now growing, investing, expanding and exporting to each and every part of the world. It is about time that the Labour party stopped knocking British industry whenever it has the chance.
Mr. Skinner: Earlier, the Prime Minister talked about unemployment coming down. Is he aware that large sections of the British people do not believe his Government and their fiddled statistics? Does he understand that the other day independent figures were compiled on every British coalfield where many of the pits have shut? In Bolsover and north Derbyshire, the Prime Minister’s figures show unemployment at 12.5 per cent., but independent statistics show it to be 23.5 per cent. In Durham, the figure is 33 per cent. and it is the same in Ayrshire. In Wales, the figure is over 30 per cent. The truth is that all this twaddle, which has probably been written by Sarah Hogg, is a stranger to the truth.
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is such a believer in conspiracies that he probably does not yet believe that there is really a Wednesday in the week. He should not squeak until he is squoken to.
Dr. Spink: Will my right hon. Friend explain to me, to the House and to the nation why the Opposition are always running down this nation, running down our industry, our schools and our health service? Why do they not start talking Britain up?
The Prime Minister: I suspect that there may be millions of people asking the same question over the next two and a half years.
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) rose —
The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I suspect that he or his hon. Friends may want to intervene later. I want to make some progress.
I want to deal with the legislative programme for next year contained in the Gracious Speech. Over the years, we have introduced many controversial supply side measures, privatisations and deregulations. Time after time the Opposition have opposed them, yet they do not seem to follow that opposition through. They do not commit themselves to reversing those privatisations. We all know why. They know that the privatisations are right, but they want to capitalise on public concerns when the measures are going through the House. If the Labour party’s opposition is genuine, let it commit itself now to reversing all the privatisation measures that we have carried out. If it does not do so, it should keep quiet and realise that those measures have greatly improved the efficiency of British industry in recent years.
The Opposition will not commit themselves to that because they know that privatisation works. They know also that renationalisation would blow for good and all the belief that this is a new Labour party in any sense. Whatever the balance between public and private sector might be, the Opposition usually, and grudgingly, think that it happens to be right at the time. They do not know whether to go forward or back. They do not say yes and they do not say no. They loathe private ownership, but they dare not reverse it.
We intend to proceed with privatisation. This year, we shall privatise the Crown Agents. [Hon. Members:– “Oh.”] I am glad to hear support from Opposition Members–I hope that it will be translated into support in the Division Lobby. Crown Agents plays a significant role in delivering our aid programme. We have agreed with its board that the best way of developing its services is in the private sector.
We shall introduce a Gas Bill to bring genuine competition into the gas industry. Consumers already benefit from a fall, after inflation, of more than 20 per cent. in gas prices and they will reap further benefits. New suppliers will be able to enter the gas supply market, giving customers more choice and better service. Safeguards protecting price, safety, standards and social obligations will remain for as long as they are necessary.
The Agricultural Tenancies Bill will make it easier for tenants to rent land and to benefit from the improvements that they make to it. Landlords and tenants will gain greater freedom in negotiating the terms of a tenancy, within a framework that protects legitimate interests and that guarantees that tenants are rewarded for any improvements that they may make. That has been agreed by landlords and tenants alike and will open up opportunities for young farmers to take their first step in the industry.
Mr. William O’Brien (Normanton): The Prime Minister gave a catalogue of successes in industry. Will he comment on how the building industry will prosper in the coming year? There is a need for rented houses and for improvements to houses, yet no reference is made in the Gracious Speech to the building industry. Has he a comment to make on the future of the building industry?
The Prime Minister: I am not sure what legislation, for that is what the Queen’s Speech deals with, the hon. Gentleman may have in mind for the building industry. The growth in the economy, which we are now seeing, will bring the building industry back to greater health. That is the way in which to bring it back to proper health. We shall introduce the Jobseeker’s Allowance Bill to help more and more unemployed people back into work. The new allowance will replace unemployment benefit and income support and will underline the bargain between job seekers and taxpayers. Job seekers are right to expect benefits but the taxpayer is right to expect a job seeker to seek a job, and the Bill will ensure that that is so.
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth): Come to my area.
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman should get his head out of the sand and look at the falling total of unemployed people. The figure has been falling for nearly two years. One day he might acknowledge that this country is doing better than almost any other in western Europe in putting people in work, in keeping people in work and in having the highest level of adult population in work. The Channel Tunnel Rail Link Bill will allow private finance to contribute to the development of one of the most important infrastructure improvements of recent years. Both public and private sectors will have a role to play and the project will be likely to create between 10,000 and 15,000 jobs.
The Pensions Bill will implement all the main recommendations of the Goode committee. It will offer greater protection for members of occupational pensions schemes and it will implement a common pension age for men and women at 65, which I was interested to note was accepted as reasonable by the Commission on Social Justice.
Mr. John Prescott (Kingston upon Hull, East): Has the Prime Minister read the report?
The Prime Minister: I have read the commission’s report. I recommend it to insomniacs. We have a meaty programme of supply side reforms and I look forward to introducing them to the House. We shall also introduce the European Communities (Finance) Bill to give effect to the financial arrangements reached at the Edinburgh summit.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): Will the Prime Minister tell us whether the £250 million predicted increase in the United Kingdom’s contribution includes forecast increases in gross domestic product by the end of the century? Can we have a straight answer to the question?
The Prime Minister: The straight answer is yes. I hope that that is straight enough for the hon. Gentleman. I must say that, having asked for a straight answer, he looks very discomfited to have actually got one. I suggest that, if he does not want a straight answer, perhaps he should have asked his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) rose —
The Prime Minister: I will make some progress, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.
I am still saying it: consistency is a virtue. Those financial arrangements were warmly welcomed at the time, and for good reason. They safeguarded our rebate–worth £2 billion a year. They produced the smallest-ever increase in own resources, and over a longer period, and they moved this country significantly down the list of net contributors to the European Union budget. The difference that the new arrangements will make, compared with what we would otherwise have paid, is to increase this country’s net contribution to the European Union by £75 million next year, rising to around £250 million in 1999, with the qualification that I conceded a moment ago. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has set out the figures clearly to all hon. Members.
I have seen suggestions that the new arrangements would double our net contributions, which is nonsense and can safely be dismissed out of hand. The outcome of the Edinburgh agreement was reported to the House and strongly supported here. This Bill is necessary to honour that agreement. We shall introduce it early in the Session and take it through speedily.
No one should doubt the importance of securing the Bill unchanged and early. I know that some hon. Members dislike it, but it is not an optional measure that can be used as a bargaining counter for other European negotiations. It is an international commitment, entered into two years ago with the full support of the Cabinet. No British Government would have credibility in international negotiations if they failed to implement the agreements that they had freely entered into with their partners abroad, so for that reason there is no room for compromise on the Bill. That means that its successful passage in all its essentials is inescapably a matter of confidence, because of the agreements reached with our European partners. I hope that there is no doubt in the House about that.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Is the Prime Minister making it clear to the House that, if the Government were to lose any vote on the Bill, he would seek a dissolution and the country would have the opportunity of a general election?
The Prime Minister: I have just made it perfectly clear that the Bill must be passed in all its essentials to ensure that we honour the obligations that we entered into with our European partners.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North): In the spirit of friendship, may I put it to my right hon. Friend that if the passage of the Bill were made contingent on effective measures and results in combating European fraud he might have a more coherent response?
The Prime Minister: I made it clear in my speech at Leiden earlier this year that it was important that the whole of the European Union attacked the outrageous problem of fraud that exists in Europe. The figures that we have just seen were produced by the Court of Auditors, which, I remind the House, has its present powers because the British Government in general, and I in particular, demanded them in the Maastricht treaty. I must tell my hon. Friend that I did so because I believe that fraud in the European Union is unforgivable and must be rooted out.
The British Government have been the leader in the European Union in rooting out fraud. We have less fraud in this country than anywhere else in the European Union, and my right hon. Friends and I intend to press again and again to ensure that the Court of Auditors has the powers necessary to root out fraud across the Community. I shall say something else to my hon. Friend, because I hope that he will back me here, too. In order to do as I have said, it may be necessary for the Court of Auditors to have greater powers to go into each country in the Community, including this country as part of the European Union, to root out fraud. I believe that it should have those powers, and I support them. We shall do all that we can to minimise, and then to eliminate, fraud in the European Union. I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance, but he need not tie it to the Bill, for we embarked on that several months ago.
The House will know that earlier this summer the Government began to consult on a range of proposals to improve the position of disabled people. Following the consultation–
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) rose —
The Prime Minister: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. Following the consultation, we decided to go further and, contrary to our original intimation to hon. Members, to propose a Government Bill in the Gracious Speech, rather than producing a hand-out private Member’s Bill. We have an excellent record over the years, and a great deal has been achieved.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) rose —
The Prime Minister: I have already promised to give way to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), and I shall do so in a moment. A great deal has been achieved, but we can and should do more. The Bill will follow an exercise that focused not only on what should be done but on how it could be done and how quickly. The Government will announce the details of the Bill shortly. Let me simply say now that it will include a right not to be discriminated against in employment, a right of access to goods and services and the establishment of a national disability council to ensure that the voice of disabled people is heard more clearly within Government.
Mr. Wareing: The Prime Minister will be aware that in 1983 I introduced a private Member’s Bill to outlaw all discrimination against disabled people, but that it was outrageously attacked by the Government and Conservative Members were dragooned into the Division Lobby to oppose it. The same thing happened to the Bill recently introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry). I was told at the time that education and persuasion represented the way forward.
The Queen’s Speech says only that the Government will introduce a Bill to “tackle” discrimination. It is not enough simply to select employment and one or two other aspects. Will the Prime Minister give an undertaking that the legislation will make it illegal to discriminate against disabled people, as it is to discriminate against people on the grounds of race, sex or religion?
The Prime Minister: I have set out what will be in the Bill, and the hon. Gentleman will have the chance to read it as soon as it is published. The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People will make the details clear.
Mr. Tom Clarke: Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister: I am replying to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby. If the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) will do me the courtesy of listening, I shall contemplate giving way to him when I have finished.
I have set out the details of what will be in the Bill, and I advise the hon. Member for West Derby to wait until he sees those details, which will be debated fully in the House and in Committee.
Mr. Tom Clarke: Is the Prime Minister aware that nothing that he has said corresponds with the measures in the Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood sought to introduce, which was disgracefully talked out by Conservative Members? As a former Whip, and as a former Minister responsible for disabled people, will he discourage The Guardian from saying that simply because the Government have introduced a Bill nobody else can introduce a Bill on the same subject? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if my hon. Friend or any other hon. Member introduces such a Bill, he should discourage the Government Whips from talking it out and denying the rights of 6.5 million disabled people and their carers?
The Prime Minister: I have limited influence over The Guardian, as recent events have shown; the hon. Gentleman must take up his complaints about The Guardian with that newspaper. As for the position of disabled people, he, too, would be wiser to wait and read the Bill before making judgments on it.
The remainder of the legislative programme will honour a number of important commitments that we have given. The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill will be another important step in the Government’s battle against crime.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) rose —
The Prime Minister: I shall make some progress now; I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.
Dr. Godman: Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister: Not on this point. Like the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill will crack down on those who offend on bail, increase the courts’ powers to confiscate the assets of crime and streamline the operation of the courts.
The Environment Bill will set up an environment protection agency and a Scottish environment protection agency. I suspect that that will be widely welcomed in the House and elsewhere.
The Health Service Bill will take forward our programme of reform by streamlining the national health service management structure. The right hon. Member for Sedgefield spoke about expenditure in the national health service on administration. I look, therefore, for his support for the abolition of one entire tier of the management structure in the regional health authorities. They will be abolished while the district health authorities and family health authorities will be merged. We shall judge whether the right hon. Gentleman’s words are matched by his actions in the Division Lobby as we seek to cut administrative expenditure.
We will introduce a Bill to provide for the supervision of those discharged under the Mental Health Act 1983. This is to ensure greater security for the community and better welfare for those recovering from mental illness. Many hon. Members will be aware of the problems that have arisen in that area. I believe that the Bill will be warmly welcomed and I am grateful for the intimations from the Opposition that they will help to speed the Bill through to law. There are three important additional measures that we intend to introduce under the general heading of law reform. The Criminal Appeals Bill follows the Government’s acceptance of the recommendation of the Royal Commission on criminal justice that a new body is needed to consider possible cases of miscarriage of justice. The new body will be independent of both Government and the courts and it will be able to review wrongful convictions.
The Children (Scotland) Bill will ensure a comprehensive reform of child care in Scotland. It follows the reports of the inquiries into the Orkney and Fife incidents, and the White Paper of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, “Scotland’s Children: Proposals for Child Care Policy and Law”, published last year.
Dr. Godman: Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall tell him bluntly that I shall not give way to him on this occasion. The Bill’s welfare measures include the introduction of more flexible arrangements for local authorities to care for children in need and the introduction of more stringent criteria for taking children into care.
We shall also introduce a Medical Act (Amendment) Bill to introduce new procedures to enable the General Medical Council to deal with the very small minority of doctors whose performance is found to be seriously deficient.
Those are measures of reform which, I believe, will command widespread support in the House. I am encouraged by the overt support already given to these Bills across the House and I trust that we shall be able to agree speedily on their handling. Those are some of the things that are important across the House.
The right hon. Member for Sedgefield spoke of many things, but we did not hear a great deal about practical issues from him. We have heard a great deal from the right hon. Gentleman about new Labour, although no one seems quite sure what that means. We are now getting some clues. I was especially interested in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman allocated his shadow Cabinet portfolios.
Whom did the right hon. Member for Sedgefield choose as his shadow Foreign Secretary–Britain’s ambassador abroad? He picked the hon. Member for Livingston– [Hon. Members:– “Hear, hear.”] I agree: it is a choice entirely appropriate for the Labour party. Surely the hon. Member for Livingston is not the man who, as the cold war was heating up, “pleaded with” and “begged”–his words–the Labour conference to vote for unilateral nuclear disarmament. Surely this is not the same man who spent much of his political life equivocating over whether Britain should be in the European Union. Apparently, the answer is yes. There is not much new there.
The hon. Member for Livingston is not the only clue–
Mr. Campbell-Savours: Tired old arguments.
The Prime Minister: They are tired old arguments, I know, but they are the best that the Labour party has got.
The hon. Member for Livingston is not the only clue; there are other square pegs in round holes. Let us take the shadow defence team. What do they have in common? The answer is consistency. They are consistently against Britain’s nuclear defences. The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), the man to whom the Leader of the Opposition would entrust Britain’s nuclear defences, is a member of parliamentary CND. Indeed, he is not alone. I have a list, which my hon. Friends may care to hear. It includes the right hon. Member for Derby, South and the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)– [Hon. Members:– “More.”] There are lots more Opposition Members who are against our nuclear capacity. I am just telling the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) who they are. The list includes the hon. Members for Peckham (Ms Harman), for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and, of course, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield. All that gives a new meaning to being brothers in arms. They would scrap our nuclear weapons.
It is another clue– [Hon. Members:– “You have missed one out.”] I missed one out. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I am not sure who the hon. Gentleman is, but someone will tell me. It shows that they are not only against Britain’s nuclear capacity but are proud to be against Britain’s nuclear capacity and would scrap it. Why did we hear so much about Rosyth from Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen if that was the case?
Mr. Campbell-Savours: Yesterday’s arguments.
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman says that they are yesterday’s arguments. They do not care about Rosyth now. The hon. Gentleman should keep quiet. He is digging himself a bigger hole by the minute.
Another clue to Labour’s new team is the right hon. Member for Sedgefield’s choice for his shadow Treasury team–the team responsible for setting and collecting taxes.
Dr. Reid: He said something about taxes.
The Prime Minister: I shall say something on taxes in which the hon. Gentleman will be interested. Only a fortnight ago, the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo) was talking about the importance of collecting tax–absolutely right, vitally responsible. But, some small thing nagged away at my memory. Was not it the hon. Lady who supported a campaign urging people not to pay their community charge? So there we have it–new Labour. The person that the right hon. Gentleman has put in charge of collecting tax was part of the campaign inciting people to break the law and refuse to pay their tax. So, there is not very much new about Labour there either. Over the past four years, I have consistently pursued a number of long-term objectives.
Mr. Campbell-Savours: Tell us then.
The Prime Minister: I am about to. They include low inflation. For the first time, we may be in a position where we have broken the inflationary psychology that has damaged this country time and again since the war. We have pursued objectives of supply side reform for lasting growth, a better quality of life for all our citizens, a higher standard of public service and a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. They remain at the centre of my objectives for this year and for the future. The programme outlined in the Gracious Speech will take those objectives forward and I warmly commend it to the House.