Below is the text of Mr Major’s contribution during the Commons Debate on the Loyal Address, held on 31st October 1991.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : I join the Leader of the Opposition in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) on their splendid speeches in moving and seconding the Loyal Address. I am also grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for his generous remarks about Alick Buchanan-
My right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester has been a distinguished Member of the House for 30 years and he was a Cabinet Minister for almost half that time. To all the posts that he held he brought not only an acute mind, but an intensely independent one. He brought genuine concern to the problems that he faced. Twenty years ago when my right hon. Friend was Secretary of State for the Environment and I was a local councillor, I saw those qualities at first hand in Lambeth and I am happy to thank him for them all these years later.
I was intrigued by my right hon. Friend's reference to Oliver Cromwell's ill-
More recently, my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester served as Secretary of State for Wales. At the time, some thought that that appointment was surprising, but it turned out to be inspired-
When I was Chief Secretary to the Treasury I learnt that Wales was the first priority of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester. Public spending control came perhaps a narrow second during those turbulent years. It was therefore always a relief when he applied his powers of persuasion overseas to attract record levels of inward investment to the Principality. He attracted the money and then he opened the factories. He opened so many that when I visited Wales recently, I heard him referred to affectionately as "Peter the Plaque."
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South ably seconded the Loyal Address and, as he said, followed a family tradition. His father, Sir William Aitken, proposed the Loyal Address 29 years ago and referred to a subject in terms that may be familiar to the House today. He referred to it as
"a matter of controversy in the days, weeks and months to come."-
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South is also something of a political forecaster. In his book many years ago, "The Young Meteors", he picked as rising stars three men then aged 30 or under. They are now my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Social Security and the Leader of the House. My hon. Friend's percipience was very remarkable so many years ago. It says something, perhaps, of my hon. Friend's independence of mind that, although he has sometimes taken a sceptical view of politics, he has always taken a very vigorous stand for the interests of his constituents, of this House, of Britain and of Europe. I believe that he showed that again today in his remarkable speech.
I will refer to the substance of the Queen's Speech in a few moments, but before I do so, I wish to respond to some of the points which the Leader of the Opposition made. He said, as he has said on a number of occasions in recent weeks, that he would like to have an election. But what is he going to tell people about his programme? Who was it who said in 1983,
"If we were to abandon the definition of our Socialism and the policies that go with it there is no reason why anybody should vote for us"?
It was the right hon. Gentleman. So upon that test, does he still believe, as he said then,
"We want out of Europe"?
There was some hilarity a few moments ago as the right hon. Gentleman tried to reconcile his past with his present on that subject. Does he still believe in what he referred to as
"a major extension of public ownership of control",
or has he ditched that as well? Does he still say :
"We do not subscribe to the effective defence of our country by the possession of nuclear weapons"?
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that he still believes those things-
Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian) rose-
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) rose-
Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central) rose-
The Prime Minister : I shall give way a little later.
We will keep to an enterprise economy, the power to choose and the right to own, for our philosophy has not collapsed around the world, as has the right hon. Gentleman's socialist philosophy. Our philosophy is getting stronger while socialism disappears in the dustbin of history. Our policies emphasise our belief in personal ownership.
Mr. Eadie rose-
The Prime Minister : I shall give way later.
We must give each and every person the chance to build up for themselves and for their families something of their own-
Mr. Eadie rose-
The Prime Minister : No-
Mr. Eadie rose-
The Prime Minister : Just a moment. The hon. Gentleman can intervene when I have finished this point.
But why did that Labour candidate buy shares? His minder told us why. He said :
"He bought them when they came on offer because he has a family of four and wanted that security."
But what about the security of the 8 million people who have bought shares and who the Labour party will threaten with its policies at the next general election? The Labour party's motto is clear. It is, "Don't do as I do, do as I say."
Mr. Eadie : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Based on what he is telling the House about the confidence that he feels in his Government when he compares their policies to those announced by the Opposition, can he tell us why he decided to announce to the nation in that clandestine way that he would not hold an election in November if he is so confident about what he is telling Parliament today?
The Prime Minister : It comes ill from a party that is now committed to fixed Parliaments to complain that we are going on-
Mr. Speaker : Order. The Prime Minister.
Hon. Members : Answer.
The Prime Minister : I have here-
Hon. Members : They do not like it.
The Prime Minister : The Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. and hon. Friends may not like it, but they are going to get it. I have here a leaflet that is a remarkable endorsement of Conservatism. It states :
"Many people today are wealthier than they imagine, especially those who have been able to buy their own home."
I am very glad to have that endorsement of Conservative success. It comes from the Labour party. But the people of this country might feel more reassured if that same political party was not at the same time threatening to increase taxes on ordinary people-
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you in a position to know whether the Prime Minister is quoting from a Labour party leaflet or from some brief that he has been given by Conservative Central Office? Is he quoting or not?
Mr. Speaker : That is not a point of order. The House should now get on and settle down. I call the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister : I shall show the House a leaflet explaining how legacies can help the Labour party. It states :
"Whatever the size of your donation to the Labour Party, no inheritance tax whatsoever is payable on it."
Of course, what Labour does not state is that under its plans inheritance tax would be paid on smaller legacies and at a higher rate than today. So now we know ; under Conservative legislation, one can pass on one's wealth to the Labour party-
A year ago this month Britain entered the exchange rate mechanism. In the debates which followed, the shadow Chancellor made it clear that he accepted that we were right to join the ERM. He agreed with the rate at which we entered. He asked me to forecast the benefits of membership and posed two perfectly fair questions. "Was it my judgment", he asked,
"that the rate at which we agreed to join is sustainable?"-
We now know the answer. Sterling has remained firm against other Community currencies and the mechanism has given business the exchange rate stability that it wanted.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked whether the balance of payments deficit would be progressively reduced. Yes again. Our exports to the rest of the Community have shot up. Our imports have fallen. Our trade deficit with Europe has been slashed and manufactured exports, far from declining, recently hit record levels.
Of course, some of the right hon. and learned Gentlemen's colleagues were less cautious. The Leader of the Opposition asserted that inflation was still rising. Wrong. I said that we would bring it down. We have done so and we will carry on doing so-
"be negotiating entry into the ERM".
What changed in those three days other than that we did what he had advised us to do? What changed was the right hon. Gentleman. He may or may not have changed his mind. But he certainly changed his tune.
Mr. Foulkes : The Chancellor of the Exchequer made a major announcement yesterday that there had been an increase-
The Prime Minister : If the hon. Gentleman looked at the surveys from the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors and the Confederation of British Industry, he would see the return of confidence that is coming and the way in which it will lead to a return of growth. During the past year our policies within the exchange rate mechanism have brought inflation down to 4 per cent., allowed eight reductions in interest rates, reduced our balance of payments deficit and kept sterling stable. That has set the basis for steady growth with low inflation in the years of Conservative government that lie ahead.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) : Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister : Not at the moment.
Getting inflation down is not easy. It is painful. But the measures are unavoidable and necessary for stable growth in the future. It is always tempting to call for interest rate cuts and the easy course, but that carries great dangers. We are not prepared to play fast and loose for some short-
"The country is unmistakably experiencing a turnround in economic performance commerce and industry is on the road to recovery".
The Institute of Directors says the same and so does the CBI. The CBI's latest survey shows business confidence up, more businesses expecting new orders, more businesses expecting to increase investment and more businesses intending to take on new workers. The International Monetary Fund also forecasts that our growth next year will be as good as or better than that in France, Italy and Germany.
Mr. Bell : The House is listening with great interest to the Prime Minister on the state of the economy and our relations with Europe. If things are so good, why cannot he give us an election date?
The Prime Minister : Things will get better and then the hon. Gentleman will get one. Britain is getting back on track again, back to the growth that provides the only way of putting people back in permanent work so that we can add to the 800,000 extra jobs that we have created since 1979.
Mr. Bell : Jobs are being lost.
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman talks about jobs. We will turn to that. The Leader of the Opposition says that he is concerned for the unemployed. Let us test it. Let us put it into action now. He could persuade his own union, the Transport and General Workers Union, to drop its boycott on youth training, employment training and the training and enterprise councils. Will he do it? No, he will not. Let me try him on another point.
Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South) rose-
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman could tell the Trades Union Congress that it was wrong to boycott employment action even before the scheme had started. Will he? The right hon. Gentleman will not.
Ms. Primarolo rose-
The Prime Minister : Perhaps most importantly of all, the right hon. Gentleman could drop his plans for a statutory minimum wage.
Ms. Primarolo rose-
The Prime Minister : The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) says that no jobs would be lost as a result of that policy. But that is not what every independent commentator says. It is not what the CBI says. The CBI says that the first phase would cost 200,000 to 300,000 jobs. "Oh, no", says the hon. Member for Sedgefield,
"it will make industry more competitive".
There is a gem of Labour newspeak-
Ms. Primarolo rose-
The Prime Minister : We hear a lot from Opposition Members about the supply side. When they are not lecturing the CBI or threatening to sack the Governor of the Bank of England they are keen to quote those sources. Earlier this year they were very keen to quote the CBI as saying that we were in recession. They can update that. They can tell us who said recently :
"There is at present one economy in Western Europe where manufactured exports have been increasing faster than world trade ; where import penetration remains below that in West Germany ; where investment in skills and innovation is at record levels and still rising ; where private sector inflation is under 4 per cent. and falling."
Opposition Members do not like to hear such words because they can only talk the country down, but those were the words of the director-
Ms. Primarolo rose -
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, South) rose -
Mr. Speaker : Order. The Prime Minister is not giving way, so the hon. Lady must resume her seat. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is anxious to participate in the debate. Let us get on with it.
The Prime Minister : I shall give the hon. Lady her chance in just a moment. The words that I quoted were those of the director-
Ms. Primarolo : Earlier this week the Prime Minister revealed his deeply held conviction that it is necessary to further the equality of women in our society. If that was a firm pledge, why are there no legislative proposals in the Queen's Speech to further women's equality, such as a proposal to introduce universal child care?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady should not doubt our commitment on that issue. She had better wait and see.
The Opposition like to talk about investment. What they usually mean by investment is more public spending of taxpayers' money.
Mr. Cryer : Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends had the opportunity to intervene on several occasions. I invite him to wait a while.
It is interesting that the principal paymaster of the Leader of the Opposition, the TGWU, refuses to welcome investment from Japan, especially in Scotland and Wales. What do they call it? [Interruption.] What do they call investment from Japan? They call it "alien". That is what Japanese investment in Scotland and Wales is called. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell us : does he personally think that Japanese investment in Scotland and Wales is alien? Does he want to see the £4 billion that Japanese investment adds to our trade balance, and the 400,000 new jobs that it could bring to this country, or not? Which does he back : the TGWU-
Mr. Kinnock : I had the great good fortune to have the first Japanese-
The Prime Minister : It is under our policies that that investment has come here. I assume that the right hon. Gentleman now condemns the TGWU motion.
The House and the country face a clear choice on the supply side. The Opposition propose new levies, new regulations and new quangos. We believe in lightening the burden on new business. The Opposition want to extend new powers to the unions-
The Opposition still believe in nationalisation-
Mr. D. N. Campbell-
The Prime Minister : Not at the moment.
In the months ahead we have a full programme for a Session of Parliament. Within it, we intend to carry forward the citizens charter, to extend parental choice, to raise education standards and to establish a stable and lasting relationship between local and central Government.
First, the citizens charter. The best guarantor of effective service to the consumer is competition. That is why we have already extended competition in telecommunications and why we are taking powers to end the monopoly in gas and we are increasing competition in the water industry. The legislation will also bring the powers of all the utility regulators up to the level of the strongest, so that they can set guaranteed service standards and secure compensation, if those standards are not met. The legislation will also include enabling powers to resolve disputes between the utilities and individual customers about the accuracy of bills.
The legislation will put more power in the hands of the individual. That is the essence. That is central to the citizens charter. The charter applies not just to the privatised utilities, but throughout the public services. We do not intend public service to mean second-
Several Hon. Members rose -
The Prime Minister : I have given way amply.
As well as making the big utilities more responsive to their customers, we shall give parents a greater say in their children's schools and make local councils provide a better service to their electors.
This Session we can put to the test the Opposition claim to care about public services.
Mr. Frank Cook : Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister : I have said to the hon. Gentleman, who appears not to understand, that I do not propose to give way to him now. We will wait with interest to see how the Labour party votes. Will it vote with us for the charter and for the public or against us, as usual, and for the trade unions and the second rate?
We shall introduce three Bills on education this Session. We will require the publication of local league tables on exam results, staying-
Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask the Opposition not to point across the Chamber. It is very bad behaviour indeed.
Mr. Skinner : The Prime Minister has sent the hon. and learned Member for Colchester, North (Sir A. Buck) off to sleep.
The Prime Minister : This coming year we will begin to introduce national vocational qualifications to schools, bringing in the high calibre technical qualifications that have been missing in education for so long-
I wish that we could get the support of the Opposition for those policies, but I doubt that we can. The Opposition voted against the teachers' pay review body and in favour of strikes. They voted to take schools out of the hands of head teachers and governors and to put them back in the hands of NALGO officials. They voted against the national curriculum and against simple tests. There is no doubt that they will vote against parents getting reports on their child's school. For the Opposition, parental ignorance is bliss. They simply do not trust parents to have the interest in their children that we believe parents should have.
In the national health service we will put patients first. The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) may care to listen as he professes such an interest in the NHS. The Opposition fight our reforms because they believe that compassion and efficiency are incompatible. In that they are wrong. Compassion without efficiency is mere sentimentality. Compassion with efficiency delivers more and better health care. That is not a new principle ; it is an old principle. It was understood very well 140 years ago by Florence Nightingale, but if the Labour party had been around then, it would undoubtedly have opposed her reforms with the same vehemence as it opposes ours.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North West) rose -
The Prime Minister : For our part, we will continue with our reform of the NHS because only by doing so will patients get the best possible care from the resources that we devote to the NHS. No one can honestly doubt the Government's commitment to the NHS. It is a commitment to the 1 million patients who use the service each day. It is a commitment that is re-
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) : Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister : Not at the moment.
As a result, the Opposition trot out the old canard about privatising the NHS.
We have seen that sort of trick before previous elections. Colleagues may recall the scare that we would reintroduce conscription, that no roads would be built in Britain and that we would stop raising pensions in line with inflation. Then in 1983 from Labour's health spokesman came a real scare-
Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister at last acknowledge that where there were once free services, and those free services are no longer available, so that people are obliged to purchase, because of the pressures of the system, he is privatising the health service and will continue to privatise it?
The Prime Minister : Were the Labour Government privatising in 1951 when they introduced charges? The right hon. Gentleman knows that there is no privatisation actual or intended in the national health service and that he is deliberately trying to scare people again and again.
The right hon. Gentleman's retreat on privatisation has been matched only by his creeping retreat on funding. Last month the Labour health spokesman affirmed that party's commitment to restore fully what he called the
"underfunding of the past decade"-
an amount that Labour has not identified and cannot identify. They have slithered back from that. Now the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) says :
"We very much hope to"
"we will seek to".
Even that is too much for Labour Treasury spokesmen, who say that only "some" of the alleged underfunding could be put right. What weasel words.
Even that game of grandmother's footsteps came to an end when the hon. Member for Livingston admitted :
"We shall do it next time because we did it last time".-
What did Labour do last time? They put up waiting lists, cut nurses' and doctors' pay and slashed the hospital building programme.
The Conservative party has increased the share of the nation's wealth given to the NHS. I give the House this further pledge now : in each and every year the NHS will, under us, get a real increase in its resources for patient care. That is what a Conservative Government can promise. Labour cannot promise, for their record shows that they cannot.
Mr. Allen rose-
The Prime Minister : I have given way enough already.
Our local government legislation will put the council tax in place. That system will reflect ability to pay and ensure that most people contribute something to council services. It will be certain and fair. It will be in place from 1993 and bills will be restrained. When we introduce the council tax my only regret will be that my former colleague Richard Holt, who played such a part in helping us to frame so many of the proposals, will not be here to see them carried through. We shall all miss him very much.
We shall extend competition into more council services and give new powers to the Audit Commission so that it can name names, authority by authority and service by service, so as to spread best practice and root out incompetence. We shall reform the structure of local government to give people councils with which they can identify, to which they can feel loyalty, and which deliver good services at a reasonable cost.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-
As the Prime Minister voted to abolish imprisonment for debt under the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987, will he now give a commitment to transfer that measure to England and Wales and stop this medieval barbarity?
The Prime Minister : That question comes ill from the hon. Member for Coventry, South-
The Opposition like to pretend that services do not have to be paid for-
Recent years have brought home to people the simple truth that high bills do not always mean better services, usually the reverse. Some councils are excellent, but too often standards are unacceptable. Shoddy service comes with the ready-
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
The Prime Minister : No, not even to a friend.
Why does it cost nearly three times as much in Labour Camden to empty the bins as it does in Conservative Wandsworth?
Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker : I have heard nothing that is out of order. What is the point of order?
Ms. Gordon : I want to check whether I heard the Prime Minister say, "If they can't pay, they won't vote." I want to make sure that Hansard does not alter that.
The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady knows exactly what the policy is ; if people won't pay-
Mr. Nellist : The right hon. Gentleman said "can't".
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman has set a standard of stupidity in this House that is rarely excelled. He knows what the policy is. He should not try to follow the lead of the Leader of the Opposition in another area and try to pervert what that policy is. Why does it cost seven times more in Lambeth to issue a library book than in the most efficient councils?
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker : I have heard nothing out of order. Is it a matter with which I can deal?
Mr. Wilson : It is a genuine point of order arising from the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon). The House is not interested-
The Prime Minister : Let me make this quite clear to the hon. Gentleman so that he will not find himself in the position of being able to scare people over this matter. The policy applies to councillors. That is perfectly clear and it is well known to the House. I am happy to reiterate that now. If, by a slip of the tongue, I said otherwise, I am happy to correct it in the interests of ensuring that the Opposition do not, as has been their habit elsewhere, seek to scare people with what is expressly not Government policy. Let me make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that we are referring to councillors. We are also referring to people who are in a position to pay, but do not. There is a full range of rebates in the scheme we propose.
Mr. Allen : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way-
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will not tempt me. The Opposition are clearly determined, if they can, to disrupt as much as they can. I think that that will be evident to anyone listening to this debate.
In the Labour party's own words, it says that Labour councils "demonstrate as far as the public is concerned what a Labour Government would be like".
There can be no more awful warning for people as we come to the next general election.
On developments in the European Community-
Mr. Haynes : Will the right hon. Gentleman give me further consideration?
The Prime Minister : Tempting though the hon. Gentleman is, I wish to discuss the European Community and Britain's place in forthcoming developments.
Britain belongs to the mainstream of Europe and must remain at the heart of the Community. In the past 20 years, despite many frustrations, we have gained enormously from our membership-
Mr. Frank Cook rose-
Mr. Speaker : Order. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that he puts his place on the list in jeopardy if he continues to interrupt in this way.
Mr. Cook : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With the deepest respect for you and for your position in the Chair, I remind you that the Prime Minister said that he had no intention of giving way to me at the moment. He said nothing about giving way later. He said that at 4.19pm.
The Prime Minister : I believe that it is within the knowledge of the House that I have given way rather more often than the Leader of the Opposition did. I now wish to consider something that I believe is of acute importance to every Member of the House and to millions of people beyond it -
In the past 20 years we have gained enormously from our membership of the Community. I believe that the Community has gained also from our membership because Britain has determined its direction in so many ways-
Mr. Frank Cook : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
The Prime Minister : I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman at the moment; not in this speech.
I do not doubt that over the next 20 years the Community's evolution will be as marked as it has been in the nearly 20 years since we joined. We cannot dictate what our children will make of the Community, but we must leave them in a position where they can effectively influence the shape of Europe, and that Europe must be one in which we retain our distinct national identity.
The intergovernmental conferences now under way raise vital issues for the future of this country. They involve hard judgments of where our best interests lie. In our approach to those negotiations, we have been guided by the views expressed in debates in the House. We have made progress in a number of areas. We are working to achieve an agreement at Maastricht in December, but it must be an agreement that I could make in the confident expectation that I could commend it to the House.
On economic and monetary union, it would be irresponsible for any Government to ask the people of Britain to decide now that we should adopt, at a future date, a single European currency which will have far-
This country is in the first rank of the European Community and will remain so. But I am not prepared to commit our country to a single currency. We must be able to judge nearer the time-
There is still some way to go before we have an agreement on economic and monetary union, but the discussions so far have shown that it is possible to thrash out a sensible position in negotiations. It is our aim to do the same on the draft treaty on political union. The issues raised are more diverse and just as difficult. They include the conduct of defence and foreign policy, and the powers of the European Parliament, the Commission and the European Court. We have to satisfy ourselves that, if we reach an agreement, it is an agreement in the overall British interest. It must be in Britain's interest to work more closely with like-
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
The Prime Minister : I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman in a moment.
It would not be in our interests to set up new defence structures that would undermine the role of NATO in safeguarding our defence.
Mr. Ashdown : As the Prime Minister has been commenting on changes in policy, I congratulate him and the Government on having moved so far on Europe since the summer. On the subject of defence, may I remind him that less than a month ago he signed an agreement containing the following words :
"Political union implies a common foreign and security policy and stronger European defence identity with the longer term perspective of a common defence policy"?
The Prime Minister said that on 5 October this year. Will he confirm that it remains the Government's objective?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman is taking that statement out of context and is not listening to what I am saying. I shall be explicit in a moment and then again later on these points. It makes sense to co-
The Labour party has consistently sold Britain short in Europe. Out of Government, its members opposed membership ; in Government, they bungled the negotiations on fair terms for our country. Now the Opposition have gone to the other extreme-
Nowadays the Opposition try to pass themselves off as modern and moderate. They say that they now accept the agenda which we set through the 1980s and which we will continue to set through the 1990s-
We know that what this country needs is sound money, competitive industries, accountable public services, the extension of ownership and choice, and strong defences-