Below is the transcript of Mr Major's Commons speech during the 1995 Debate on the Queen’s Speech, on 15th November 1995.
Mr. Tony Blair (Sedgefield) It is traditional at the beginning of our debate, before commending the right hon. and hon. Members who have just spoken, to note the deaths of hon. Members in the past year. I am sure that the House will want to record its appreciation of the work of Sir James Kilfedder, Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, Geoffrey Dickens and Derek Enright -
I am delighted to commend the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) and the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth). The speech of the right hon. Member for Witney was, of course, as elegant as ever. As Northern Ireland Secretary, Home Secretary and, indeed, Foreign Secretary, he was never less than decent, assiduous and honest -
After the election, of course, the right hon. Gentleman will have more time for his own writing and Conservative Members will find food for thought in at least two of his earlier offerings. Written in the 1970s, they tell of a rather different age and, indeed, a different Conservative party. One is called "Truth Game" and the other "An End to Promises" -
The hon. Member for City of Chester came to the House with a great reputation for loudness; indeed, that was only for his sweaters. He also runs a teddy-
Before I come to the main part of the Queen's Speech, I should mention the issue of Northern Ireland, which was mentioned in the Queen's Speech. The Labour party will continue to back the Government in their efforts to secure peace in Northern Ireland, and we will do so even when progress is difficult.
All of us know that for the current ceasefires to be turned into a lasting peace, there must be all-
We appreciate the enormous pressures on all involved in the search for peace -
On the rest of the Queen's Speech, I cannot, of course, comment -
The programme has another purpose. In an extraordinary move -
Let us look at the problems that our country faces. They demand a radical Queen's Speech, a giant of a Queen's Speech and one that matches its ambitions with the nation's problems. Instead, we get a rag-
Let us look at the problems that we face. There are the scandals in the privatised utilities; there is nothing in the Queen's Speech about that. One in seven 21-
Britain is 35th in the world standard of education-
It is extraordinary. Britain is 18th in the league of prosperity -
Of course, what happened to the great relaunch of the Prime Minister -
That bit at least we can accept: this Queen's Speech has the Prime Minister written all over it, with the imprint of the last person who sat on him. It is a Queen's Speech designed to appease those who kept him in his job. It has been dictated by his party's craving for survival rather than this country's need for change.
We will, of course, examine each Bill on its merits. Some Bills are likely to be uncontroversial. There must, of course, be a broadcasting Bill. We have accepted the principles of the White Paper, and we shall examine the contents of the Bill with care. There must be legislation on defence, the reserve forces, Army discipline and chemical weapons. Some of the housing proposals in the Queen's Speech are those that we urged on the Government. We 16 will scrutinise carefully legislation on the disclosure of evidence in criminal cases to see that it is fair, although we have supported the royal commission's recommendations on making the system more open.
The divorce and domestic violence legislation is now back on the agenda, but where is the scope and the vision that matches up to the problems of Britain today? Surely that is the point that Conservative Members should understand. In so far as there is an agenda of substance, it is one dominated by the right -
There will be no choice when the nursery places are not available. A huge bureaucracy is to be created and £5 million will be needed to administer the pilot projects alone. Many local authorities -
What else did the right demand? It demanded more money for assisted places. Why? Not because that will even begin to address the problem of under-
Resources mean choices -
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) rose -
Mr. Blair indicated dissent. The rowdier Conservative Members get, the more beaten they show themselves to be. [Interruption.] They appear to have a new tactic -
Mr. David Shaw (Dover) He is losing his temper.
Mr. Blair I gather that I am being accused of bad form by the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw).
We all know the purpose of the asylum Bill. The former Tory research director, who is now a Conservative candidate, said when he left: "Immigration, an issue which we raised successfully in 1992 and again in the 1994 Euro-
We oppose bogus applications and fraud and we recognise the need for immigration controls, but race and immigration should not be the plaything of party politics. Let me suggest to the Prime Minister how the issue may be tackled to ensure that it is not.
We should be clear in our minds what the real problem is -
The Prime Minister denies that that issue is being used to play the race card in any sense. Let the new Bill go to a Standing Committee of the House, so that evidence may be taken and considered, and let it be a genuine consensual exercise in getting at the truth. I am delighted to see that some Conservative Members are nodding at that.
Dame Elaine Kellett-
Mr. Blair It is not an unreasonable proposition. It would be a way to take the issue out of party politics and have it dealt with sensibly and with reason. I very much hope that we shall hear a pledge in the debate, especially in the light of events of the past couple of weeks, that Nigeria will not be on the list of nations decreed by the Home Office to be free of internal repression.
On housing, the Government have removed the duty to find accommodation for priority homeless households. That duty on local authorities is to be scrapped despite warnings from charities and local authorities of the effects of doing so. It is a cruel and senseless measure, which will harm some of the most vulnerable people in Britain.
Every issue that is now considered by the Government is considered on the following basis. I want to describe the way in which government now works, and I believe that many Conservative Members know, in their heart of hearts, that this is how it now works.
These are the tests that are applied. What can put Labour on the spot? What can squeeze a headline out of tomorrow's papers? What can keep the two wings of the Conservative party together? As a Minister said to a newspaper the other day, it is government by tacking. It is a tawdry, low-
Consider the year since the previous Queen's Speech. [Interruption.] It is very interesting. Conservative Members all want to shout sedentary interventions, but I do not think that they want to intervene today. No -
I shall take advantage of the fact that Conservative Members are not going to interrupt me. Let us look at the past year -
Dame Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston) Conservatives recognise convention and tradition. We recognise that during the speeches this afternoon, on this special day, we do not intervene.
Mr. Blair First, in that case, Conservative Members broke the convention at least 10 times last year. Secondly, I think that the hon. Lady means the Budget speech, not this one. [Interruption.] Let us break a rule -
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe) As someone who was. a one-
Mr. Blair If the hon. Gentleman considered the current position and policy of the Government on the immigration issue that has just been raised, on Europe, on tackling poverty and on employment, he would probably find that he had a lot more in common with what we say than with what the Government say.
Let us consider the past year since the Queen's Speech. If the BBC were to run a review of the Tories in the past year, it would not know whether to get the news, sport or light entertainment departments to put the compilation together. The country needs to know how the Government are run. Let us consider the Nolan inquiry. There were allegations of sleaze and we were told that there was no need for an inquiry. Then, there was an inquiry and the Government accepted the findings, but their Back Benchers did not like them so the matter was put in the hands of a new committee. There was then a vote -
On the issue of the utility bosses -
On the subject of arms to Iraq, first, we heard that there was no need for an inquiry but then we were told that there would be an inquiry and that we were to wait for the Scott inquiry. We are still waiting. On the subject of Europe, the Whipless wonders were expelled to darkness for daring to defy the Prime Minister. They were propelled into fame; they were so in demand by the media that they should have paid council tax on No. 4 Millbank. They were brought back into the fold having conceded nothing, having given up nothing and having won the policy battle.
Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey) While the right hon. Gentleman is on the subject of Europe, will he say whether a Government led by him would join the single European market and retain our controls on immigration?
Mr. Blair We are in the European single market and we have made it clear that we shall retain our veto on immigration issues. We have always said that. As to the family and domestic violence Bill, imagine trying to portray the Lord Chancellor -
Never was there a greater show of appeasement or a better indication of how the Government work than at the Conservative party conference when the Defence Secretary made one of the most ill-
The Prime Minister does not believe in that policy -
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) As we are talking about supposed cave-
Mr. Blair The hon. Gentleman is wrong on every point, and if he were to read the relevant Labour party documents, he would realise that. I will tell him what the difference is between Labour and the Conservatives. If we make a change, we do so in the interests of this country and we stand up for that change. What is more, if there needs to be a change, I lead it; I do not follow it.
Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) Why should we believe the right hon. Gentleman's views on Europe today when they are the complete opposite of his views 12 years ago? What will his views be in 10 years?
Mr. Blair I have heard it all now. Twelve months ago, the right hon. Gentleman sat in the Cabinet and agreed with the Government's policy. He is the man -
Madam Speaker Order. Hon. Members will stop shouting so much.
Mr. Blair As I said last year -
Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth) Does the right hon. Gentleman know that last year there were 38,000 bogus and 1,700 genuine applications for asylum in Britain? Bogus applications damage race relations in this country.
Mr. Blair I hope that no one will suggest that we or anyone else are in favour of bogus asylum applications. I hope that the Government are not either. Earlier, I made a suggestion that is worth considering. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman would agree that the Bill should go to a Special Standing Committee that would take evidence. That would take the matter out of party politics altogether.
Not a promise has been kept on tax, VAT, mortgage relief, the value of the pound, Europe, education and health. The Conservative Government have created a less equal, more unfair and more divided country than any Government this century. For decades, our nation, under Governments of both political persuasions, tried to pursue policies that brought the nation together because it was fair and efficient. Today, there is not even a pretence at it by the Government.
Britain as a nation is less fair, less united and less cohesive. It thinks and acts less like one nation than at any time this century. The Tories may wrap themselves in the language of the nation state, but they have done more to destroy the fabric of Britain than any party in living memory.
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) A few minutes ago, the right hon. Gentleman suggested that he would rather belong to a party that had constructive and objective views on Europe, so why does he not come and join us? Why does he not accept that he has already moved down a whole pile of avenues that the Conservative party has advocated over the years? Perhaps he should recognise his true position in future.
Mr. Blair At first I thought that it was an error of judgment by the Whips to stop interventions. Now I know that it was a canny and intelligent move. For heaven's sake, we know perfectly well that there are different views on Europe in the Cabinet, but now the Government cannot even discuss certain issues connected with Europe as they are so worried about disagreeing.
We needed a Queen's Speech for Britain. We needed measures to lift Britain up the prosperity league by raising investment in skills, infrastructure and the regions and to bring knowledge and information to the people by harnessing new technology for our schools, in the workplace and in the home. We needed a Queen's Speech to provide new opportunities for the young unemployed, to build homes for the homeless and to allow people a decent standard of living. We needed a Queen's Speech to reform welfare and allow people back into work who need and want to work, to cut class sizes, to raise standards and to take tough action against failing schools. We needed a Queen's Speech to restore the health service as one unified system of proper public service in Britain. We needed a Queen's Speech to make the streets safe again by legislating for a proper crime prevention strategy in every part of Britain.
We should and could have had a Queen's Speech to revive local government, to bring real democracy to the nations and regions of Britain and to clean up politics after years of Conservative sleaze. We should have had a Queen's Speech with a foreign policy based not on the need to appease people within the Conservative party but on Britain's true national interests.
The Queen's Speech was not designed to make Britain proud, hopeful or confident. It will merely strengthen the desire of millions of people to see the Government put out of office. They have been there too long, they have told too many lies and they have made too many mistakes. They have nothing whatever to offer the future of Britain.
A Queen's Speech designed to smoke out the Labour party has instead smoked out the Government. It exposes them for what they are -
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) At the outset of his remarks, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the Leader of the Opposition, paid tribute to those of our former colleagues who sadly died in the past 12 months. I willingly join him in that tribute. They each in their own way made a distinctive contribution to the House, and we shall miss them. I reiterate our sympathy to their friends and families.
No one who knows my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) will be remotely surprised by the quality of his excellent speech. I sat alongside my right hon. Friend often enough at international meetings to know his worth. Time after time, often in a hostile environment, he won arguments for the United Kingdom, and won them well.
In the House, my right hon. Friend has a particular reputation. Throughout the years I have known him -
My right hon. Friend has been a generous source of wise counsel to the country as well as to the Government. He has been a great servant of the state. I am most grateful to him. All of us in the House who wish our country well should join in those sentiments.
I congratulate also my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) on his amusing speech. He was very amusing but not wholly frank. My hon. Friend had a dark secret that he declined to mention -
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) He was a good one.
The Prime Minister The hon. Gentleman says that he was a good one. Well, he was known as the hopeless radical, and so good was he as a left-
Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) So far.
The Prime Minister The hon. Gentleman may unknowingly be right. I have not told the House that Jeremiah was arrested by a Mr. Waldegrave, an illustrious predecessor of my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary. I warn my right hon. and hon. Friends: if they consider that the spending round is rigorous, let them know that my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary is in no mood for compromise.
My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester was president of the Oxford union. He had an endearing habit in debate. If he found -
We have heard U-
We had the usual nonsense and absurdity that we have heard over the past few days about lurching to the right. That is this week's approved soundbite from the thought merchants who govern the right hon. Gentleman in his back room. I hope that one day he will learn to give up this silly name-
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister I will later. I hope that, one day, the right hon. Gentleman will learn to give up this silly name-
The right hon. Gentleman had something to say about "one nation". Only one party -
Those policies would not create one nation. They would weaken it, split it and divide it -
Dr. Reid Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister In a minute.
Let us just examine the latest soundbite: "lurching to the right". Giving parents more choice -
The Opposition conduct policy by finding their cheap sneer of the week and using it, whatever happens. When -
Dr. Reid I believe that the Prime Minister personally has not lurched to the right. We are suggesting that he has been caught in a trap by those on the right. There is, however, a way in which he can illustrate his moral fibre -
The Prime Minister I shall turn to the asylum Bill later. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that there is one party in the House that is using the race card, and it is not mine: its members sit on the Opposition Benches.
When the right hon. Member for Sedgefield next talks about world prosperity, he might get some of his facts right. The countries that have risen in the prosperity league include low-
Mr. Peter Hain (Neath) Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister Not for the moment; I may do so a little later. The right hon. Gentleman sees his job as being to disagree with everything -
Taxes would not rise, although the deputy Leader of the Opposition says that they will rise for the highest-
Unemployment, the Opposition think, would vanish. The sun would shine. That is the substance of the right hon. Gentleman's soundbite, day after day. His position is, of course, total baloney, and he knows that it is total baloney. I intend to concentrate on the real world of sound policies, not on the right hon. Gentleman's world of soundbites. This country is now enjoying a more sustained and secure recovery than it has known for many years.
Several hon. Members rose -
Madam Speaker Order. Hon. Members should not persist. They heard the Prime Minister say that he will give way a little later, and having heard that, they should not persist.
The Prime Minister I reiterate that I shall give way to some Labour Members in a few moments. Britain is back in business in a big way. The changes of the past 16 years have transformed this country's prospects for the better. Sixteen years ago, the dead could not be buried in Labour Members' constituencies; 16 years ago, we could not take our own money abroad; 16 years ago, people could not run their own companies, because of the way the trade unions ran amok; 16 years ago, Britain had an incipient inflation problem.
The Leader of the Opposition may choose to forget, but I do not think that the nation will have forgotten the shambles that emanated from Labour policies. Whenever the Opposition talk about this country, they try to talk it down, and refuse to recognise what has happened. Inflation is no longer a serious issue: it is under lock and key.
The number of people out of work -
The number of people out of work has fallen by almost three quarters of a million. It is now below Germany, and well below France. A higher proportion of British people are in work than ever before in our history, and more than in any comparable European country. [Interruption.] Labour Members do not like it, but that is the real world, from which they try to hide.
Strikes are at their lowest level since records began, interest rates are at half their peak, public spending is under control, and growth is firmly based on rising exports and rising investment. It is the most secure platform for prosperity that this country has known for generations.
Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-
The Prime Minister We have moved, over the last few years -
Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. I want to ask a question similar to that asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-
The Prime Minister I can tell the hon. Lady directly that Britain is now the fastest-
Mr. Tristan Garel-
The Prime Minister The Leader of the Opposition certainly seems to have lurched quite a long way to the right, but I sometimes wonder to what extent his party has lurched with him. I think that Labour's heart and soul are where they always were -
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) Will the Prime Minister give way?
The Prime Minister I should like to make a little progress now, and I trust that the hon. Gentleman will permit me to do so. I have set out the platform for prosperity that we now have, but it is not a platform that the country can afford to take for granted. Getting there has not been easy. The policies that picked Britain up from its knees were fought tooth and nail by the Labour party, and those who fought them are not the people to build on them in future.
As the Leader of the Opposition said, we still face many challenges -
Conservatives are clear about how to deal with those problems. First, we have an unswerving commitment to an enterprise economy. That means low taxes, for the economic benefits they bring. It means incentives to encourage investment and create wealth, policies to increase personal prosperity and choice, and Government accepting that they should not always interfere. There are times when Governments do damage by interfering. In short, ours are policies to make Britain the enterprise centre of Europe.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) rose -
The Prime Minister I shall not give way to the hon. Lady now, but perhaps I shall a little later. Opposition Members will hate our policies, because they hate choice. In their hearts, they hate the private sector, and believe that our great public services can be built only by higher taxation. As usual, they are wrong. People do not want, and in the 1990s they do not need, every choice to be taken for them by the Government or by some other central bureaucracy.
Of course, there will always be a role for the state. I do not favour a totally laissez-
We care for our public services -
We must also win the war against crime, protect the stability of the United Kingdom and stand up for our sovereign interests abroad. In the future, as in the past, that will mean tough action to deliver safety and security.
Mrs. Mahon As the Prime Minister was talking about public services and choice, is he aware of the serious problem facing people in Calderdale and Kirklees, who face having their water cut off in a few days? Why was there no provision in the Queen's Speech to try to prevent that from ever happening again'? This is a first-
The Prime Minister In addition to everything else, the Opposition have a policy to make it rain when it is convenient. We have just heard from the hon. Lady the absolute instinct of the Labour party to oppose the private sector whenever it can. Were there never problems in the old nationalised water industry? Of course there were.
A year ago, I spoke about the changing situation in Northern Ireland. Since then, the ceasefire has held, and there is a new atmosphere in Northern Ireland. There is a new situation: a growing economy, more jobs, policemen patrolling without armed soldiers in tow; in a word, Madam Speaker, peace. For weeks -
If Sinn Fein is committed to exclusively peaceful methods -
That may not be murder, but it is not peace, and it is not behaviour which merits Sinn Fein's entry to talks. I want Sinn Fein to denounce such behaviour and to stop it. I have given Mr. Adams and Mr. McGuinness the freedom to appear face to face on the media and express their views. Let them do so, and express their opposition to the punishment beatings which go on day after day after day in Northern Ireland.
Almost every day brings a fresh atrocity -
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) I agree with the Prime Minister. There was a recent case in Londonderry when individuals took refuge in the cathedral. Martin McGuinness -
On the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-
The Prime Minister We all look forward to the day when the road is open, not just for the preliminary talks we are looking at currently, but beyond them to the round table talks between all the constitutional parties which can find a proper settlement in Northern Ireland. I look forward to that day, and I pledge to the House that I will continue to work for that day -
Dr. Joe Hendron (Belfast, West) I totally agree with the Prime Minister's comments on the punishment beatings by both sets of paramilitaries. But on a slightly different aspect, bearing in mind the fact that the promotion of jobs in Northern Ireland is mentioned in the Gracious Speech, that the Prime Minister has played a noble role in the peace process in Northern Ireland and that he is aware that the Republic of Ireland has a 10 per cent. corporate tax which helps the Irish Government and the business people in the Republic of Ireland to attract investment from the United States and elsewhere, will the Government consider introducing a 10 per cent. corporate tax in the north of Ireland, in order to treat both parts of Ireland equally and to help to attract inward investment? I bear in mind the Prime Minister's conference in November, when I had the pleasure of hearing him, and I congratulate him once again on that. Surely the introduction of a 10 per cent. corporate tax in Northern Ireland would be a big step forward.
The Prime Minister I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his special pleading -
Our commonsense, practical programme of traditional Conservative values is set out in the Gracious Speech. The centrepiece of our economic strategy will be unveiled later this month in the Budget. It will show our determination to turn Britain into the enterprise centre of Europe. As I said a moment ago, I do not intend to anticipate its contents, but it will be consistent with sound public finance and our resolve to move further towards a more enterprising economy. We have brought public spending under control. We will reduce it further, and, when prudent, we will cut taxes on companies and individuals.
For Britain to compete in tomorrow's world, more of our young people will need to be taught and trained in the skills and knowledge of the new century. Already, our education reforms offer parents more choice and pupils more opportunity. Up and down the country, parents are choosing grant-
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
The Prime Minister I shall not give way for the moment. I have given way quite a lot, and I want to make a little progress. We will take a further significant step in that direction by giving parents the power to choose the nursery place they think is the right one for their children. Parents expect that choice, and they will get it.
Those young people will be entering a world of rapid change. One of the key areas of change is broadcasting. Digital technology will revolutionise broadcasting, just as much as the switch from black and white to colour television. Britain will be right at the forefront of those changes, and the broadcasting Bill will ensure that we stay there.
The Conservative party has a long tradition of helping those in need. [Interruption.] It is fashionable for hon. Members to dispute that. The Conservative party has provided more social advance than the Labour party has ever dreamt of. But to help those people to best effect, we must ensure that only those in genuine need receive that help, and our programme will do that.
In housing, our measures will ensure that those in greatest need get the help they deserve. We will raise the standard of social housing by increasing competition in its provision. We will introduce measures to ensure fairer access to social housing, and we will give new opportunities for tenants of housing associations to buy their own homes. Those are the measures that the Leader of the Opposition forgot to mention in his catalogue of what was not in the Queen's Speech.
We intend to offer further help to disabled people. Fate has robbed our fellow citizens who are disabled of a great deal. Governments should not rob them of choice. We will give disabled people themselves the funds to pay for the equipment and services they need. We have extended, and will continue to extend, the choice available to them.
Britain has always opened its doors to those who are in genuine need of asylum, but our current system has been abused. This year, some 40,000 claims for asylum will be made -
Sir Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) Will my right hon. Friend give way?
The Prime Minister Not at the moment.
Only a small number are likely to succeed, and they deserve to be determined speedily. The asylum and immigration Bill -
Genuine asylum cases will always receive a ready refuge in our country. That is our tradition, and it will continue. Of course we will continue to honour our United Nations convention obligations, just as we always have. Of course genuine asylum seekers will be treated with sympathy, as they always have been. But further action, including legislation, is necessary to deter bogus asylum seekers and to speed up the consideration of spurious applications, which, I regret to say, form the vast majority of asylum claims.
Several hon. Members rose -
The Prime Minister I will give way in a moment. We will take that action in the interests of fair, but firm, policies. Those who attack that Bill, as the right hon. Member for Sedgefield did, do our excellent race relations no service whatsoever. He said that he opposed bogus applications. So do we, so he should support us on that issue.
On the criticisms that have come from some Labour Members, I have always believed strongly in racial tolerance in Britain. I grew up in a multiracial community. I am proud of the way in which race relations have improved in the past two or three decades. It did not always seem likely that they would do so. Today, many members of ethnic minority groups are role models for all of us, not just for those of their own race and colour. They are Britons. They grew up here. They represent their country -
In the interests of good race relations, I will ensure that we have a fair system of asylum -
Several hon. Members rose -
The Prime Minister First, I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Sir M. Shersby) who, I think, has a particular interest.
Sir Michael Shersby Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in the past year or so, the United Kingdom has been a target for a sustained and planned campaign of illegal immigration, employing the use of sophisticated forged documentation? Is he further aware that my local authority, the London borough of Hillingdon, is paying more than £1 million a year to care for unaccompanied child refugees, who have been brought to this country as part of that campaign? Does he agree that, in dealing with the problem of illegal immigration and asylum, we have to deal with those issues?
The Prime Minister I agree that those difficult issues exist, and we should address them. But I must tell the whole House that we are seeking to address a particular problem. It is not a help to good race relations to leave that problem unresolved; nor is it a help for Opposition Members, for political reasons, to turn that Bill into a Bill about race, when it is about proper asylum procedures.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) In that spirit, will the Prime Minister take some time to reflect on the suggestion of the Leader of the Opposition that the proposed Bill be considered by a special Committee? Also, following the suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth, will he investigate why only one Nigerian national has been given refugee status in the United Kingdom so far this year? Will he also take the necessary action to declare Nigeria a country of significant upheaval, thereby enabling Nigerian nationals whose applications for refugee status are subject to appeal to claim benefit pending the outcome of the appeal?
The Prime Minister We shall deal with everybody, from whatever country, on asylum on a fair and free and open basis. That includes those people from Nigeria. I saw some of the rumours about Nigeria a few days ago, and fair old nonsense they were. As far as the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is concerned, of course, as a matter of courtesy, I will consider what the Leader of the Opposition said. I have to say to the House that I do not immediately find myself attracted by it, for this Bill will be the subject of the proper, wide-
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
The Prime Minister I will give way on this issue to one more hon. Member.
Mr. Corbett I am most grateful to the Prime Minister. The whole House will welcome the way that he has spoken about the issue, and the language that he has used in doing so. In that spirit, rather than simply as a matter of courtesy -
The Prime Minister I have borne that in mind in the manner in which I have approached this issue, but I have to say that it is those who raise the question of race when we are dealing with the question of asylum abuse -
What we are seeking to do -
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) Will my right hon. Friend give way?
The Prime Minister For the last time, I will give way.
Sir Peter Emery My right hon. Friend started this section of his speech talking about education. Will he bear it in mind that there is a vast campaign by Labour and Liberal Democrat-
The Prime Minister I am grateful for what my right hon. Friend says. I know that there have been real problems there. Whenever our country has been faced with change and difficult circumstances, the family has been a rock for the people of this country. No Conservative Government led by me could introduce legislation that would undermine marriage and the role of the family. At present, almost three quarters of all divorces are completed in less than sixth months, on grounds such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour. In future, no divorce would be possible in less than one year.
The family law Bill will put in place a framework to ensure that married couples face up to the responsibilities they have to each other, and, critically, to the children of that marriage. It will remove the incentive for couples to make allegations one against the other, often harming their children, and usually for the purpose of obtaining a more speedy divorce.
This Bill ensures that arrangements for children precede divorce, and it allows divorce to be barred when it would cause grave hardship. I believe that these measures are emphatically pro-
I have no wish to seek to ride roughshod over those convictions; so, as far as the Government are concerned, we shall propose free votes on matters of conscience in the family law Bill, and I hope that other parties will follow that lead. The Bill will also deal with domestic violence, a crime from which every person should be protected, whether married or unmarried and in cohabitation.
Over the past two years, we have seen the largest ever fall in recorded crime. However, one of the most frustrating features of our criminal justice system is that cases have to be dropped because of the current rules on disclosure. That may mean that too many guilty people walk free. We will introduce changes to ensure a fairer balance of disclosure between the prosecution and the defence.
One of the most worrying problems we face is the growth of organised crime, which does not respect international borders. Such crime is often a trade in drugs, bringing untold misery for profit. Only in the past few days, we have seen a particularly highly publicised and tragic case of how drugs can devastate a family. In such an evil trade, no drug is soft, and no drug is safe. We must use every resource against this threat.
We will remove the present barrier to the Security Service helping the police and other agencies against organised crime. The usual statutory safeguards on the actions of the Security Service will, of course, continue to apply.
Mr. Ronnie Campbell Will the Prime Minister give way?
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-
The Prime Minister Not at the moment.
Many of the drugs from south America are smuggled to northern Europe through the Caribbean. Over the past few weeks, I have consulted Caribbean leaders about ways in which to break the chain. At their request and with their agreement, I will ask the European Union to give them effective help. The intention would he to find 33 the resources to stop the Caribbean being used as a way station for drugs from Latin America en route for northern Europe. If we can stop the drugs trade there, we shall damage it significantly, and do a great service to many hundreds of thousands of people throughout northern Europe.
Mr. Campbell Will the Prime Minister give way on the topic of drugs?
The Prime Minister No, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I have taken the attention of the House for a long time. I know that there are right hon. and hon. Members who are waiting to speak. Those are new approaches, but they are necessary. I believe that they can succeed.
The tradition of voluntary military service is an important thread in our national fabric. The reserve forces make a vital contribution to this country's security and well-
Our legislative programme will allow us to build on the successes of the past, and to meet the challenges ahead. The policies that Labour advocates would squander our opportunities as a result of its readiness to increase spending, its readiness to put up taxes, the certainty that it would let inflation rip, and its discouragement of investment with more red tape. Labour will try to square its tax and spending inconsistencies with windfall taxes of one extraordinary sort or another. Such policies do not add up to a credible programme of opposition, let alone of government. They add to the reasons why Labour, as it has admitted in its own documents, is unfit to govern.
We have served our nation well, and we have built a strong economy. Labour's policies do not add up. We have been tough on crime; Labour has been soft. It is not remotely fit to govern. We have offered choice and high standards in schools; Labour Members exercise choice themselves, but would deny choice to others. They are not fit to govern. We have raised the quality of care in our hospitals. Labour would rip up our reforms and plunge the hospital system into chaos. Again, Labour is not fit to govern. We have stood up in Europe, often alone. Labour Members would not; they are not fit to govern, because they are not prepared to stand alone.
Our legislative programme is the right programme for this country; it will also be a litmus test for the Opposition. Let those who say that they support the market support the measures in the Finance Bill. Let those who rightly, and merrily, take the opportunity of choice in schools support our plans for choice in schools. Let those who would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime join us in being tough on the criminal. That is the litmus test, and we shall see what comes burning through.
While we set out important long-
Madam Speaker Order. Will hon. Members now leaving the Chamber do so quietly and quickly?
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) I join the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party in congratulating the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address.
The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Hurd) has an elegance of phrase that we will, frankly, miss in the House, because it is not found in too many other right hon. and hon. Members. I must say to him, bluntly, that I am not sure that we will miss his management of the nation's foreign affairs, though his long commitment to the business and affairs of the nation has been diligent and is highly regarded.
I seem to remember that the right hon. Gentleman was once famously described by Andrew Rawnsley as "Sir Geoffrey Howe on speed". That is an interesting description. We have all noted how quickly he left the Government in order to spend more time with his bank manager. I think he will be missed as well when he leaves the House.
I had intended to remind the House of the ancestors of the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth), but unfortunately the Prime Minister got there before me. I had intended to say that the fact that his ancestor was beheaded by an ancestor of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), was perhaps an early example of being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.
The hon. Member for City of Chester has often said that he has spent the past few years trying to live down being a past television personality. I suspect that he will spend the next few years trying to live down being a past Conservative Member of Parliament, and I wish him luck in that.
Of course there are some things which we welcome in the Queen's Speech, and I will touch on them in a moment. But overall, a glance at this programme tells us, frankly, all we need to know about the Government. It tells us that they are no longer a Government of direction, let alone of any kind of long-
Let us admit, since the Opposition parties know it, that this Queen's Speech is not the event that matters in the month of November. It is an example of going through the motions. The Queen's Speech is a charade -
The Government believe that we will not remember that the tax cuts pledged before the last election were paid for afterwards with higher taxes, higher mortgages, lost jobs, bankrupt businesses and broken lives. They think that we will forget that. They think that people would rather have a little more money in their pockets today than decent schools and better chances for their children in the future.
The Government think that Britain can be fooled again. I think that they are wrong. Just compare Britain's economic situation last year with that achieved this year. Last year, borrowing was £1 billion above target at £35 billion or thereabouts. Today, it is not £1 billion above target, but likely to be £10 billion above target, at £30 billion. Last year, the inflation rate stood at 2.5 per cent., but this year it has nearly doubled to 4 per cent., and it is going up. Last year, the growth in gross domestic product was 4 per cent., but this year it is barely 2 per cent. Last year, growth in sales and manufacturing output in Britain stood at 4 per cent., but this year there was zero growth, and more bad figures were published today. However, last year, the Government said that things were so bad that we had to have record tax increases, but this year, they say that they are so good that they can afford a tax cut. Who the hell do they think they are fooling? They are not fooling anyone. Everyone in the country knows what the Government know, and they know beyond peradventure that the Government are preparing to risk responsible management of the nation's economy for short-
We now learn that the Labour party will stand idly by and allow the Government to do that -
On Monday, at the Confederation of British Industry conference, the Leader of the Opposition said that he was "unashamedly a long-
I believe that Labour cannot do what it rightly and understandably seeks to do -
In two weeks' time, we shall see the cynicism of the Government by the Budget that they present, but we shall also know the mettle of the Labour party by the way in which Labour Members vote on that Budget. The nation will be watching both of them. Today, however, we debate a Queen's Speech that -
The one thing that drives the Government -
Turn as he will, the Prime Minister has not a clue about how to handle that. Blown hither and thither by the gales that rage in the Conservative party, he now tacks frantically from one side to the other, driven on by his own weakness and rebellions all around him. One week, he leads the applause for his Defence Secretary, who has grabbed the wheel and swung it towards clear blue water with a speech of such juvenile right-
Mr. Skinner What, in his wedding dress?
Mr. Ashdown However, a week later, there he is, throwing overboard long-
I predict that it will not be long before the Prime Minister is off again, blown on by a news headline or a minor revolt of Conservative Back Benchers or a Minister who has now become too weak to control. Behind him he will trail that sorry, bedraggled Armada that now passes for the Government of our country.
Mr. Skinner You can't drag an Armada.
Mr. Ashdown Oh, he can; that man can. He can drag them behind. The albatross of the past 16 years hung around their neck, weighed down by broken promises and political sleaze, paralysed by internal divisions and ministerial incompetence, they will limp on until they make their final rendezvous with the ballot box. What drives the programme is fear -
The Government will raise fear over constitutional change -
Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) The right hon. Gentleman talks about changes in the structure of government. Over the past 18 months the right hon. Gentleman and I, and our colleagues in Somerset, have worked together with success to save the tier of Somerset county council; indeed, we have succeeded in saving the county council tier across most of the country. Given the two-
Mr. Ashdown A tier of regional government already exists. The only difference is that it is not democratically accountable. The Government have gone round constructing it -
The Government will raise the fear -
Many of the things that we and everyone else want for our people in the years ahead -
The Government will raise the fear that if we try to invest in education, we will become bankrupt. But the opposite is true: the one certain way to bankrupt Britain is to fail to invest in our people. For they are the most important resource that we have.
The Government will raise the fear that long-
The Government will raise the fear that the country cannot be safely governed except by people who have had as much experience as they have had. I presume that they mean people like the Home Secretary, whose chief experience since his appointment two years ago is that of being found guilty eight times by the courts for breaking the laws which he is supposed to be there to protect.
Mr. Skinner Nine.
Mr. Ashdown The hon. Gentleman says that it is nine -
If it is experience that the Government value so much, if it is experience that gave us the poll tax or the arms to Iraq scandal or sleaze on the Back Benches or economic bungling and mismanagement or the misappropriation of aid for the world's poor into the Pergau dam scandal or the timidity and failure of three years of fatal hesitation in Bosnia, then frankly I think we can do without it. It is not that sort of experience that Britain needs, but new ideas, new energy and some new policies to prepare it for the next century.
Mr. Gallie Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Ashdown If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a little progress I shall happily give way later. The Government's programme for the next year should have contained such measures. But it does not. There are some measures that we can welcome in the Queen's Speech, as I said earlier, but they are few in number and small in character.
If the Bill on asylum is designed to speed up the procedures for dealing with applicants and to weed out bogus applicants, we would welcome it. But that will not be its purpose. Instead, I believe that it will be a disgraceful attempt to play the race card by blacklisting certain countries' nationals and preventing them from even applying for asylum. I speak of countries such as Nigeria, from where there have been 9,000 applications for asylum since 1993, of which only four have been granted. I am happy to give way to the Prime Minister if he is prepared to answer the question. It would put many minds at rest.
The Leader of the Opposition quoted from an article -
The Prime Minister I indicated earlier to the right hon. Gentleman that I grew up in a multiracial area. [Interruption.] Will the right hon. Gentleman do me the courtesy of listening? I grew up in a multiracial area and, from time to time, I lived in a rented house with people of more than one race. While I lead it, the instincts of my party will not be to play race at any time, in any way, on any occasion or upon any provocation. That will not be our policy.
I believe passionately in the equal rights of everyone in this country -
Mr. Ashdown The Prime Minister's emotions and his sincerity about the matter are not to be doubted; what must be doubted is his control of his party. The Prime Minister has not done what I asked him to do. Is he prepared to stand at the Dispatch Box and repudiate the words of his parliamentary candidate, Mr. Lansley? He is not prepared to do that, and therefore we must infer that at the next election Conservative candidates will be free to put forward that sort of policy.
The Prime Minister The right hon. Gentleman is doing exactly what I said earlier, and it is contemptible. I have set out the Government's policy, which is the policy of the Conservative party. It is the policy of every hon. Member and of every parliamentary candidate. Is that clear enough for the right hon. Gentleman?
Mr. Ashdown The Prime Minister is not prepared to repudiate Mr. Lansley's words: I think that the nation and the House will recognise and understand that deficiency.