Albert Costain – 1978 Speech on the Loyal Address

Below is the text of the speech made by Albert Costain, the then Conservative MP for Folkestone and Hythe, in the House of Commons on 1 November 1978.

The arc lights are now out, the ceremonies to which we looked forward today are over and we are back to reality. When history comes to record this last Session of a somewhat pathetic Parliament, it will be described as the marking time Parliament. It is marking time because the Prime Minister is waiting until the gush of oil from the North Sea is sufficient to give this country an income which will allow him to make up some of the defects which the Government have brought upon themselves.

It was perhaps unusual for the general public this morning to see a House crowded with Members and tonight with as many empty spaces as there were Members this morning. It is hard for the public to understand what it is all about. But those of us with parliamentary experience realise that it is the custom of the House that certain days are given to certain subjects and that Members have gone away to prepare their speeches on specific subjects.

I should like to deal in some detail with the hospital services referred to in the Queen’s Speech. Indeed, I promised the Secretary of State for Social Services that I would correct an impression which I gave in a speech in July when I drew attention to the fact that he had special priority for hospital treatment. The right hon. Gentleman took it the wrong way. Indeed, he wrote saying that I did not appreciate how ill he was. However, in my speech I said that we hoped his ​ illness was not severe and that he would soon be able to come back to the House.

The point that I wanted to make was not that he had priority for hospital treatment. I should point out that my brother died from a heart attack because he could not get medical treatment quickly enough. His illness did not allow it. What I wanted to point out and would point out again—the Secretary of State will have the right to reply if he winds up the debate tomorrow—was the extraordinary situation of a Minister of the Crown saying that he would only go into a public ward and would expect to receive the same treatment as perhaps one of my constituents who might come from a more lowly background.

The Minister rightly had conferences with his officials in a public ward. We know that took place. I do not suggest that he should not have done it. If he can do it and keep his health, so much the better. What I find so extraordinary is that, for doctrinaire purposes, the Government should feel that it is all right for a Minister to go into a public ward and to have press facilities when in fact it would be better for the hospital and everyone else concerned if the Minister were to go into a private ward, just like the director of a large company, and have his meetings there.

I make no more of it. I apologise to the Secretary of State if I misled him into thinking that he got priority because he was ill. Anyone who is ill should get priority. However, the Minister should not boast that he went in to a public ward. I promised that the next time I spoke on the subject I would make the matter clear. I hope that I have made it clear. If the Minister speaks tomorrow, he may wish to add to what I have said. If he disagrees with what I have said, I shall be happy to intervene in the debate to make it clear if I have not done so.

This Queen’s Speech is a marking time speech. It hopes to collect votes. It has been designed to appeal to and bring together the smaller parties. Therefore, we find promises and tempting bait for the smaller parties. We find that it makes reference to the national aspirations of each country of the United Kingdom. But let me leave that and come to the Speech itself.

​The first statement which I find particularly interesting is:

“My Government will seek to ensure that respect for the law is maintained”.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen) has dealt with that matter in some detail. I shall not bore the House further, except to say that, as long as we have Cabinet Ministers in picket lines defying the police, I do not see how the Government will ensure the respect for law and order which they claim in the Gracious Speech they intend to maintain.

I found another item interesting. It is an attempt to catch votes. It reads:

“My Government are resolved to strengthen our democracy by providing new opportunities for citizens to take part in the decisions that affect their lives.”

No hon. Member would deny the right of an individual to state his case. I was once PPS to the then Secretary of State for the Environment, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon). He was anxious that individuals should have the right to state their case, particularly at planning inquiries. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of State for Transport in the Chamber because a number of such inquiries affect roads.

Something has gone basically wrong. People seem to feel that the only thing that they should do when they are given an opportunity to state their case is to oppose. We have had the pathetic experience of public inquiries being interrupted by those who oppose a particular proposal. Such people act in an undemocratic manner. They act in that way because of the strong lobby which believes that that is the only way in which to state a case.

Perhaps we should take this opportunity to give greater thought to a more constructive approach to planning. I can remember saying that the most important thing in a person’s life is to have a house of his own, and the next most important is to form a society to ensure that no one else comes along to spoil the view.

Punch once published a cartoon showing someone at a half-built house saying to his bride “We have bought our house, let us now form a residents’ association to see that no other houses are built here.” We must have machinery to enable ​ people to express an alternative rather than a negative or positive view.

I found it difficult to pick out the proposals which are intended to provide a greater opportunity for public participation. I presume that the public should have the opportunity to discuss the White Paper on broadcasting. All hon. Members receive many letters expressing opinions about programmes and broadcasting procedures. Hon. Members are regarded with slight suspicion by the broadcasting authorities. Perhaps arrangements could be made to enable constituents to communicate their views to the authorities without having to write to them. Some people find it difficult to write letters. Sometimes they sign petitions which they have not read, but they find it difficult to write letters.

I am particularly interested in constituency terms in the Bills which will seek to improve safety and discipline at sea and to help control marine pollution. My constituency is particularly susceptible to the effects of Channel collisions. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dover and Deal (Mr. Rees), who is present tonight, knows very well that if the ships get past Folkestone they then have to get past Dover, with all the danger of the Dogger Bank and the Goodwin Sands. The difficulty is in meeting the need for more experienced officers and crew to control these ships.

I have the honour of having Trinity House headquarters at Folkestone. I frequently have discussions with the pilots who operate from this station. I am always greatly impressed by their devotion to the service. They will board ships in the most treacherous conditions of storm, wind and wave because they feel it essential for them to guide the vessels through. I understand that the Government have consulted Trinity House, and it appears to be reasonably satisfied with the legislation which is proposed. Until we see the Bills, we are unable to judge them, but when they appear we shall study them most carefully.

The next aspect of the Gracious Speech which concerns my constituency greatly is the part dealing with fishing policy.

The Speech contains the extraordinary statement:

“My Government will continue to press for improvements in the Common Agricultural Policy”.

​Of course they will. We always intended to do that. When I had the honour of working with the then Secretary of State for the Environment, he always said that until we got into the Common Market we would be unable to make our proper contribution; but having got into the EEC we are in a position to make it.

The Gracious Speech continues:

“They will also take all measures necessary to conserve fish stocks and will continue their efforts to achieve an acceptable Common Fisheries policy within the EEC.”

I have never had any doubts, and those who have been connected with the negotiations and with our fishing policy know very well that we have always contended that the most important part of that policy is the conservation of stocks.

I have a great suspicion that the Minister of Agriculture, when he thought that an election was about to be cast upon the country, over-exaggerated the difficulties so that he could solve them to his own satisfaction and try in that way to win votes.

The Health Service is another item in the Gracious Speech which is to be debated at length—I believe it is tomorrow. It is extraordinary, in view of the amount which is now being spent on the Health Service, to realise how much it has deteriorated. My hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree represents an important part of Liverpool. I have been sitting on the Public Accounts Committee where we have been investigating in great detail the additional cost of the Liverpool teaching hospital. It is extraordinary that a hospital which cost nearly £50 million should be delayed from opening because of a disagreement between people in the hospital wondering whether they would be made redundant. A hospital of that sort, which costs so much in interest charges, should be used to the ultimate and not be delayed by bureaucratic procedures.

In my own constituency we fought to get a new hospital built at Folkestone. In the event, it was built at Ashford. Again, we have a hospital which has been completed and ought to have been commissioned, but it has not been commissioned because there are some disagreements between the parties concerned.

I hope very much that when the Secretary of State speaks tomorrow he will ​ explain in some detail and tell us what positive steps he is taking to get these hospitals running as the public expect them to run. I hope that he will say how he will cut down the numbers of bureaucrats, which have been building up. Many of the staff in the hospital services joined them in order to save lives. Many of them now say to me that all that they are doing is wasting paper. This is one of the problems. I hope that the Secretary of State will take the opportunity tomorrow to explain what positive steps he is taking to help to carry out what the hospitals are intended to do, which is to alleviate suffering and save lives.