Continuing our series of retirement speeches we highlight Michael Ancram MP's final words to the House of Commons. The MP for Devizes said that the next Parliament must hand on improved public finances and an improved natural environment to the next generation.
"Stewardship is a word that is used frequently, as it has been in this debate, to mean good and responsible management, but I believe that, in the context of the Budget, it should mean much more. To me, stewardship means handing over to the next generation what we in our time received from our predecessors in at least as good, if not better, condition than we received it. I want to deal with two aspects of that, the first of which is the economy.
I do not think that anyone in the House could claim that the economy is in a better state than it was at the beginning of the Parliament. We are facing almost unimaginable debt and it is still growing. Stewardship requires urgent action, of which I see little sign in the Budget. That is not a political or economic question; it is a moral imperative. Our generation-this Parliament and this Government-created the mess we are in, and our generation has the responsibility to clear it up. It is quite simply obscene to hand over to the next generation the cost of this generation's mismanagement. We have no right to lumber them with our debts or to expect them to pay for our profligacy.
We must rectify the situation not by fudging or finessing. This is a matter not for spin doctors or opinion polls, but for cold reality and stark truth, and the truth is that that will be painful. However, we must not shirk that pain. We must start immediately by cutting out inefficiency and waste not by tinkering with it, but by tackling it root and branch. It is not enough, year after year, to come and talk about inefficiency: if it is there, it must be got rid of. We must cut out the bloated bureaucracy that we have built in this country-the over-regulation that costs so many of our companies so much. If services have to be cut as well, we must, in the end, face up to that, because services can be rebuilt, and the resolution of problems can help to do that.
If we, as stewards, need to protect anything for the next generation, it must be those things that will never come again if undermined or destroyed. I want to touch briefly on this second aspect-the environment in which we live-which has been touched on tangentially in the Budget, but which is not central enough. There is a native American saying, "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." To my mind, it is not enough to tip our cap towards wind power or green banking, as the Budget has done. We have to address the fundamentals. Both the natural and built environments in this country are under threat. If, as I fear, we begin to reduce the support for those areas to avoid pain in the here and now, we will be in danger of damaging permanently the world that we shall leave to our children.
We need to take positive action now to preserve and conserve the environment and, where we can, to improve it. We need to recognise the coming challenges from over-consumption-the growing demands for energy, water and food-and the lasting damage that they, too, could do to the environment we shall leave to our children. I see little recognition of that in the Budget. To me, stewardship needs a courage and a foresight that the Budget sadly lacks.I conclude my career in the House by having to say that I regret the failure of stewardship in this Parliament; we have to look to a new Parliament and a fresh Government to provide it. I hope that they will see their responsibilities more clearly than this Parliament and this Government have seen theirs in these last years. I end by wishing the next Parliament well."
Yesterday we featured David Curry's striking warning about difficult years ahead for local government. In his valedictory speech to the House of Commons he also issued a warning to his party about Europe and Britain's place in the world.
Britain is still in search of its place in the world: "One of the reasons why I came into politics was a feeling that my generation had inherited a country that was in rapid transformation and, in many ways, had not come to terms with it. Britain was the sick man of Europe in my youth, when I was at university. When I was 18, in 1962, Dean Acheson, the American Secretary of State, made a speech in which he said:
"Great Britain has lost an Empire and not yet found a role."
I am leaving this House 48 years after Dean Acheson made that speech, and I believe that that dilemma for the United Kingdom remains unresolved."
Obama has further downgraded the UK-US relationship: "We cling to an increasingly asymmetric relationship with the United States. I would not want us not to have a particular relationship with the United States, but increasingly we cannot sustain it on the basis of that old idea that something very special is at its heart. The current President has less interest in that idea than some-perhaps less than any other-of his predecessors whose roots went back to Europe."
Tories need to be more positive about Europe: "Benches, given my party leadership's decision to have constructive engagement on Europe, and its extraordinarily elegant and, from my point of view, extremely welcome climbdown on the referendum pledge. We are perennially reluctant Europeans, yet no sane party has come up with a plan B on Europe. I look forward to seeing, from the perspective of my greenhouse, the changed reaction towards Europe of Conservative Back Benchers if they sit on the Government Benches, as opposed to the Opposition. I know that Europe has huge problems. In a sense, its bluff is being called: how can one create an economic union without the political union that goes with it? But the ability of the Europeans to cobble something together that works is absolutely astonishing. In a sense, there is something rather British about being able to put something together on an improvised basis that manages to carry on."
Britain needs to stop punching above its weight, but at its weight: "We talk about punching above our weight, but a person can only punch above their weight for a certain number of rounds, and then they get flattened. I do not want us to punch above our weight. I want us to work out what our weight is and punch at it. I do not want to go a gram above our weight. We send our young soldiers to die in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we do not have the means to sustain over a long term the total support that means that we can carry through those missions with complete success. If we are honest, we ended up in Iraq, in Basra, not in a glorious episode, but in a somewhat humiliating one. When it comes to the intervention in Afghanistan, I want to be able to say that we will see things through, so that I can say that those young people did not die in vain. If we cannot sustain those operations in the long term, we should not embark on them. I would say to an incoming Government: look hard at the UK. Look at us from the outside as well as from the inside. Turn the telescope around sometimes, and look through both ends. What can we really do? What is it reasonable to ask our citizens to sustain? What is the effective power or weight of the United Kingdom in the modern world, where we spend all our time talking about the impact of globalisation? In the end, of course things boil down to budgets and economic performance, but we need to look honestly in the mirror of our national identity and national capability. If we do that, the next Government will perhaps be able to answer the challenge that Dean Acheson set 48 years ago, which, in many ways, has governed my political life."
In his final speech to the House of Commons, David Curry MP warns of very difficult years ahead for local government. Mr Curry was a local government minister in the Major years, responsible for the highly successful City Challenge programme.
5% cuts are coming to local government: "The crunch for local government will come not this year but in 2011-12 and 2012-13, because the comprehensive spending review takes care of the present year. However, if there is a cut in grant of something like 5 per cent., which is not an unreasonable assumption, given the pressures that we are under and the fact that local government is not one of the "safeguarded" services, serious decisions will have to be taken and there will be serious consequences. Recession drives up demand. It drives up demand for free school meals. It drives up demand from self-carers who fall back on welfare because they can no longer finance their care, and it drives up the cost of home-school transport. Those are only three areas in which recession inevitably pushes up costs."
Cuts are coming at a time when local government faces flat revenues: "We must also consider demographic demand-we do not need to go into the familiar argument of what an ageing population means-and the fact that recession leads to income being constrained from things such as tourism, and car parking and planning charges. Many local authorities depend heavily on those charges to maintain a relatively modest council tax, or at least to mitigate its impact. However, the council tax is not a buoyant tax. We have already heard about house building, and a low level of house building means that there is no buoyancy in the council tax. Local government will therefore face a huge problem, even with the best will in the world."
Three factors that are pushing up local government costs: "If one then looks at the longer term, however, and considers the three big factors driving costs, the situation becomes much more difficult. First, there are the consequences of what we might call the baby P issue. Whenever there is one of these ghastly episodes where a child has suffered appalling mistreatment and has died, the impact on the reactions of social services departments is bound to come through, in the sense of them playing safe and not taking risks, and that enhances demand-and rightly so; one understands that. Secondly, there is the demographic time bomb of adult care, plus the special demands of high-dependency cases, which will now impact much more severely. Thirdly, there is the old question of the waste and landfill targets; as they are winched up, the costs for local government get higher and higher."
Public services cannot be safeguarded in this environment: "Those are three huge, emotional, high-volume and high-cost issues. Add that to the recession and we see that local government is facing the perfect storm. We can talk until we are blue in the face about safeguarding public services, but they will not be safeguarded. Nobody can, and nobody will, safeguard them. Some services can be hit harder than others, but even then we have to be careful, because there is no point in saying, "We're going to make a special case of the health service" if the consequence is that social services get particularly badly hit. So many of the outcomes in health depend on effective social services. They have to be treated together. If we dislocate the pair of them, what is gained on the swings will be lost on the roundabout."
Tomorrow we will highlight David Curry's valedictory words on Europe.
John Maples is stepping down as Conservative MP for Stratford-upon-Avon. Here are three highlights from his final speech to the Commons, made during the Budget debate.
Banks need to re-moralise themselves: "The banks have been one of the causes of the problems we have been experiencing, but, remarkably, they seem to fail completely to appreciate how unpopular they are, the problems they have caused or the need for any adjustment in how they are regulated and how they behave. They have gone back, remarkably quickly, to what seem to me to be their bad old ways. It is absolutely right for the Government, as the guarantor of retail deposits and the lender of last resort in terms of system risk, to say, "We're never going to have this happen again... "The big point that I wish to make is that the ethics and morality of the banking business need to change. When the closed shop of English gentlemen who ran the City for a couple of hundred years was broken up 30 years ago, we got an eat-what-you-kill philosophy from the Americans instead. It is pernicious, because it encourages an individual to take a very short-term view of what he or she does, in the interests of maximising his or her own bonus. Nobody is looking after the firm or much concerned about the customer. Bankers need to start thinking about the purpose of what they do, and they need to reintroduce strong ethics to it. They need to deal with conflicts of interest over proprietary trading, and they must put the good of the customer and the organisation that they work for much higher up their agenda."
Banks should have strong internal walls between riskier and safe activities: "The Americans have suggested bringing back the Glass-Steagall division between investment banking and commercial banking-the casino and the utility. I find that a pretty attractive idea, although I worry, on the other side, that big companies need banks that can do a lot of things for them. If we are not to go the whole hog, I do not see why we cannot put banks into silos. The bank could run its mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance business in one silo, with a certain amount of capital committed to it but not putting deposits at risk. If it wanted to run a proprietary trading operation-frankly, I do not believe it should, because it would basically be betting against its customers-that should be in a separate silo. The only thing that the Government should guarantee is the retail deposits in a separate subsidiary of the banking group, and we should regulate very tightly what it did with that money. If a bank wanted to run its own internal hedge fund and lost money on that, it would lose a certain amount of capital, but it would not put the rest of the business at risk, as Lehman Brothers did."
A windfall tax on banks is a good idea: "I believe that the idea of a transaction tax on banks is terrible, as it would just get passed on to customers. However, the idea of taxing the banks' profits a bit more might be good. The reason why they are making so much money at the moment is that they can borrow it from the Bank of England for next to nothing. The argument for a windfall tax on the banks is pretty overwhelming, and if my party is in charge of these affairs in a couple of months' time, as I hope it will be, I hope that it will take that on board."
I am relieved to be leaving the Commons because of public hostility to MPs: "I always imagined that when I was making my last speech and about to depart, I would be sad. Instead, I find that my uppermost sentiment is one of profound relief. I sincerely hope that future generations of Members of this House will be able to serve in an atmosphere free of the welter of public vituperation and vilification that this Parliament has been confronted with, and that there will once again be a recognition on the part of the public that the overwhelming majority of people who come here-on both sides of the House and in all parties-do so with some degree, and sometimes quite a lot, of sacrifice, in terms of either finance or family. My hope for the future is that some calmness and some respect will again prevail."
Labour has come to accept the need for nuclear deterrence: "My maiden speech was on Trident. Of course, at that time, I was very much in favour of keeping Trident, and those on these Opposition Benches, which were then occupied by the Labour party, were very much opposed to that. I am delighted that they have seen the error of their ways, and that they now in fact see the merits of Trident. That gives me great hope. They also now see the merits of privatisation, so I am very hopeful that at some stage in the future, they will see sense on a great many other things as well, and that a far more sensible and down-to-earth approach will prevail among them."
The health of the family: "If in our time there has been an assault on any great institution, it has been not on the House of Commons, but on the family. I am talking about the record levels of family break-up and the record numbers of young children who are growing up in houses where the parents have split, who are expected to split their time, emotions and whereabouts between those parents. But for all the many families like that, there are plenty of other parents who stay together in a committed and subsisting marriage, and who wish to bring their children up in a stable environment."
The plight of the non-working mother: "When a family decides that upon the birth of the first child, the mother-it may sometimes be the father, but statistically it is usually the mother-will stay at home to herself take on the full-time duty of bringing up that child, they are faced with a situation in which they move, almost overnight, from being two people living on two incomes, to being three people living on one income. Where that family is well off, that is not such a big issue, but for the majority of families that model, which many would like to follow, is now but a distant aspiration. There are many reasons for that, and it has not been helped by the prevailing social view that somehow there is something intrinsically second class about the woman who opts voluntarily to stay at home and bring up her children. While I have been in this place, I am pleased to say that I have lost three secretaries to full-time motherhood-I am not pleased that I lost them, but pleased for the reason that I lost them. The most recent said to me that she spends all her time trying to justify to her friends and contemporaries why she had chosen not to come back to work when the child was born. The social attitudes do not help, but there are also massive financial considerations. As a result of property prices and the huge mortgages that are necessary, it is simply impossible in many families for one of the parents to say that they will stop earning. Therefore, every shred of help that we can give to such families should be given by the Government of the day. It is especially iniquitous that there should be such a difference between the support given to a family where the mother has decided on full-time motherhood-which is the highest calling, because those mothers are bringing up the citizens of tomorrow-and to families where the parents have decided to carry on working. This example is given by Peter Saunders, professor of sociology, who points out that "if both parents go out to work and put their children into childcare, the government gives them each a £6,035 tax-free allowance, as well as heavily subsidising their child care costs. But if they prefer to look after their children themselves, sacrificing one income and foregoing all the child care subsidies, the government penalises them by making the stay-at-home parent forfeit her (or his) right to a tax-free income." That is one of the most scandalous inequalities that we have. We not only fail to support the non-working wife, but we positively pour support on those people who are existing on two rather than one incomes. Much of that inequality stems from the decline in the respect for marriage that we used to take for granted in our society. That is one of the groups of people about whom I wished to talk about today-the non-working mother. I see nothing in this Budget to help the non-working mother, but I see much in some of the Conservative proposals that might help the non-working mother if they are fully implemented. In any case, the Government are wrong to have ignored this problem, and in the wind-up I would like to hear what the Government will do-in the limited time available to them-to give some support to the non-working, stay-at-home, full-time mother."
People trapped on deprived, unpoliced estates: "The other group are those about whom I have spoken in this House before, and whom I have always called the forgotten decents. These are the law-abiding decent citizens, often but not always families-perhaps pensioners, a couple whose family has grown up and gone or single persons-who, because of a lack of resources, cannot escape from the environment in which they are trapped. I refer particularly, but not exclusively, to those big inner-city council estates where people have no aspiration but living a normal, unmolested life. That does not seem to be a ridiculous aspiration for a British citizen. But those people often do not dare even to leave their houses or flats after dark-not only after 8 or 9 pm, but even 6 or 7 pm-because they would be subjected to intimidation, robbery and thuggery. They live with that prevailing fear. Mothers who live on such estates have told me, and continue to tell me, as nothing much appears to have changed, that before they let their children out to play-which should be a normal activity-they have to check the surrounding area for needles. It is in those areas where the law-abiding live behind bars, because they fortify their homes like Fort Knox. There is wanton vandalism on those big estates and I vividly remember talking to one person who was disabled and had therefore no choice but to live on the ground floor. He could not live any higher: he had to occupy the ground floor. He had a pathetic, small patch in front of his flat where he had put pot plants to try to make a pleasant area in which to sit out in his wheelchair. Is that such a big aspiration? But his garden was regularly vandalised and finally every last plant was destroyed when some yob threw acid all over them. Are those areas policed? Is there a regular police presence on which those ordinary and modest British citizens can call? The answer is no. The regular plaint goes up, "We rarely"-they do not say never, because that would be an exaggeration-"see a policeman." There is no visible deterrent walking around these streets in the form of someone who could be called on by those who feel afraid. Money spent on policing those areas or bringing any other sort of hope to those areas would be money well spent. I do not see much encouragement for those people-the forgotten decents-in this Budget. I hope that I am wrong."
The Rev'd Ian Paisley retires at the General Election.
"This will be my last contribution to debates in this Chamber. My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) has just spoken about making his last speech on Northern Ireland, but I wish to remind myself that the reason that these Benches are not packed to capacity today is that things are moving in the right direction. If they were going in the wrong direction, many of these vacant places would be filled.
I made my maiden speech in this House sitting as near the door as I could, because I thought that I might be kicked out. I made some terrible mistakes, according to many people. For example, I spoke for too long and I was called to account by the Speaker for making attacks on certain elements in the IRA. But I learned as I went on so that I could come here and carry the flag that I believed I had to carry. I was grateful that people started to think that we must have an end to this matter and that we could not go on with part of the United Kingdom torn by such violence.
South Down has been mentioned, and I spent all my holidays as a boy in that area. But then the IRA burned down my father's house and I no longer had the privilege of spending my holidays there. I have been back many times since, however, and at the first meeting I attended there I mentioned that incident. I said to the people, "I'm sorry you burned down my home, otherwise you'd have seen more of me." A little old lady at the back shouted out, "It's a terrible shame." I thanked her and agreed with her.
The day has come when Northern Ireland must boldly face the simple facts. There are people in Northern Ireland who have diverse religious and political convictions, but they can live together as neighbours. When I was a boy, there was more neighbourliness than we have seen for many years. Something entered the hearts of the people that destroyed the reverence for neighbourliness and kindliness. The Ulster people are not a hard people: they are a loving and caring people. I am glad that there is no disturbance in the House today. We are meeting here in calm and peace, because that calm and peace is slowly but surely being established in Northern Ireland. We are making progress in the right direction.
The debate included a remarkable speech from Robert Key, the Conservative MP for Salisbury who is about to step down from Parliament. He explained that his passionate support for the Bill dates back to an incident from his childhood. As he explained:
"On Friday 13 May 1955, when I was 10 years old, I was on Swanage beach in Dorset with some 20 other children of about the same age. We were doing what children on a beach on a Friday afternoon in May do-building sandcastles, digging holes in the sand, making dams and so on. I was building my castle with a chap called Richard Dunstan: five of my friends were digging holes, and then one of them found a tin. He thought that it was Spam, or something really exotic-yes, Spam was exotic in 1955. He was wrestling to move it, because it was lodged between two rocks. He got out a shoehorn but could not break the tin open. The boys stood back, and were seen throwing things at it.
"My friend and I got bored. We turned round. We had our backs to our friends, and were about the same distance from them as I am from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when there was a huge explosion. We were blown into the sea, and lived. Five of my friends died. Five British children were blown up by a British mine on a British beach, within my living memory, and the living memory of many other people. It was an extraordinary thing. It happened in the middle of the 1955 general election. The front page of the following day's edition of The Daily Telegraph carried a story with the headline, "4 Boys Die, One Missing in Explosion". Below that, smaller headlines stated, "Big Crater Torn in Beach" and "Wartime Mine Theory".
"There was not much theory involved for the five who were killed, or for the two of us who were the luckiest people alive. I still think that I am the luckiest person alive in this House."
He went on to explain how, as a minister decades later, he had obtained the police and coroner's records from the time, which recorded that there were dozens of mines unaccounted for on Swanage beach after a clearance certificate had been issued.
He concluded, in what could yet turn out to be his final speech in the Commons:
"This is a horrendous story, and I repeat it to the House to point out that on the issue of mine clearance, whether it is cluster bombs, cluster munitions or mines of any kind, the impact is the same on a child of 10 at play, whether in Beirut or in Swanage. Personally, I would like to see the mystery of the missing mines of Swanage bay cleared up."
"I support the Bill-of course I do, after what I have been through in my life. I still think I am the luckiest Member to be alive. It motivated me in my politics, and it motivated me to be interested in defence once I came to the House. I have done that for 27 years. I hope the lessons of Swanage beach will not be forgotten. I hope the Bill will be but one step on the road to realising that although war may have to be fought, we should always strive to do it honourably, morally, with integrity, and always and everywhere with the minimum impact on a civilian population that has not put itself in harm's way. That is my wish, and that is why I support the Bill."