Allen McKay – 1985 Speech on the Loyal Address

Below is the text of the speech made by Allen McKay, the then Labour for Barnsley West and Penistone, in the House of Commons on 6 November 1985.

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), and especially his comments on Sunday opening. Although there is need to get rid of the anomalies of the present Sunday trading law, a free-for-all would hurt and insult many people and organisations. When the Prime Minister spoke today about choice, she did not take into consideration all the people who would have to work in the shops, sweep the streets run the transport facilities to take people to the shops, or the police. What choice will they have? If we were to make Sunday a normal trading day, all the facilities would have to be available on a Sunday.

There is a limit to how much people can spend. There is only so much money to go round, whether it is spent during the week or on a Sunday. More money will be needed to service the facilities, so unit costs and the cost of living are bound to increase. We must study people’s choices before we introduce insulting legislation. I hope that when the Government introduce the legislation they will give Conservative Members the opportunity to vote according to their consciences and their constituents’ wishes.

There is a great deal in the Queen’s Speech that I can support. The Queen’s Speech states:

“My Government will continue to work for progress in arms control and disarmament negotiations”.

It would have been better had the word “negotiations” been left out. It would then have referred to “arms control and disarmament”. That would have shown a more positive attitude, because negotiations can go on for ever.
I support the proposition:

“My Government will give full support to the Commonwealth, and play a constructive role at the United Nations.”

In relation to famine and other disasters, it would be better if the Government put their money where their mouth is. We should increase our overseas aid to the amount of GNP that we promised years ago to the United Nations. There are many ways of providing overseas aid. I have spoken to people from overseas who said that we should not send them grain or food but should buy goods from them to create a flow of money in their area. In return, they would buy from us and pay back their debts. There is a case for rescheduling their debts so that they can provide facilities. We should buy their commodities.
We must seriously consider wiping out some of the debts owed to the world banking system. That does not mean rescheduling the debts and lending more money, because that merely increases the interest payments that they have to make. The United Nations must seriously consider wiping out some of the debts so that those countries can start again. I was always told when I made bad mistakes that I should rub them out and start again to see what I could come up with the next time.

I also support the protection of environmental sensitivity. We made mistakes with the Wildlife and Countryside Bill by passing it too quickly. Some of the environmental provisions need strengthening. I live in a rural area and appreciate what could be done for rural areas.

The protection of animals used for scientific purposes is an admirable proposal. I hope that when the Bill is introduced the issue will not be fudged and that there will be no covering up of the subject of animal experiments to get it out of the way and off the Government’s back for a while. It is a matter to which Governments will have to return time and again, because there is a massive lobby outside the House. People have a conscience about what is happening now that it has been brought to their attention. The Government should take the issue on board and not fudge it.

There is no mention of an energy policy in the Bill. Why not? It is time that we had an energy policy. It is suggested that, at the present rate of usage, oil and North sea gas will run out by about 2010. I have recently spoken to the chairman of British Gas. He recognised that by about 2010 the Gas Corporation would have to produce an alternative system for making gas from coal. It perfected the lurgi system. It is a modified form of the old German system and I believe is working and sells to some American states and Scandinavian countries. To supply the amount of gas that is consumed at present through the use of coal, 100 million tonnes will be needed, yet the NCB is suggesting that the industry will be geared to produce only 90 million tonnes. Indeed, Ian MacGregor is on record as suggesting that 71 million tonnes may be the figure to aim at.

In a talk with us, the chairman of the Central Electricity Generating Board gave notice that within the next eight years he will be wanting decisions or advice from the Government as to what he should do about the replacement of the present coal-burning power stations. Those stations will need to be replaced in 12 to 15 years.

Is the decision to be in favour of nuclear fuel? As I have already said, it will take 100 million tonnes of coal to produce the gas that is at present consumed, and the coal industry is now geared to produce only 90 million tonnes. ​ In those circumstances, where will the coal come from? Who is to supply the CEGB? If the coal is not available, it will have to be nuclear fuel. Have the Government an energy policy that they have not yet told us about? Is it their intention to go flat out for a nuclear energy policy? The Government should come clean on that issue.

If there is to be a solid fuel programme, are we to have the fluidised bed system? If so, decisions will have to be made in the next few years. I suggest that, because of the environmental issues, we shall have to adopt the fluidised bed system. Are the Government prepared to tell the House what type of energy policy they intend to adopt after the next eight years? It is ridiculous that the NCB, the CEGB and the gas industry should not be able to come together to produce a formalised and proper energy policy.

With regard to unemployment in my constituency, the area used to depend upon the main manufacturing industries which made Britain rich for many years—fishing and textiles and, in my area in particular, steel and coal. Those industries formed the basis of the wealth of the Yorkshire and Humberside region, which is now suffering.

The closure programme in the mining industry has already cost Yorkshire and Humberside 18,500 jobs. In my constituency, 1,800 jobs are scheduled to go. That is in addition to the problems that we shall have as a result of the control of public expenditure, which the Prime Minister mentioned.

We already have the abolition of the South Yorkshire county council. Barnsley, as the county town, will suffer the greatest, after the four south Yorkshire authorities. Not only has Barnsley lost 1,800 men from the mining industry; it will lose hundreds more because of the abolition of the county. The spending power that has existed in the township of Barnsley will also be lost, because the people working for the county will no longer be there. Either they will have lost their jobs or they will have been dispersed among the four other authorities. The township will be left with all the county buildings, for which it used to get rates, but those rates will no longer be available because the buildings will be empty.

There is another problem on the horizon resulting from the miners’ strike. The NCB pays its rates not on buildings but on production. There will be no money next year from that source because there was no production. It is all very well for the Government or the Minister to say that there will be compensation; but the compensation comes a year after the event. Therefore, there will be a great dip in the amount of rates that Barnsley will receive until the next year arrives.

The Government need to show a flexible approach to the problem so that the financial problems can be equalised over two years. It can be done, because farmers have that facility, but no one in industry has the facility of equalising tax returns over two years. What is to stop the local authorities having their financial problems equalised over two years? Controls on public expenditure will mean cuts in education, hospitals and health facilities.

There are also problems with the restricted drug list. I was very disappointed to receive a letter from the Secretary of State for Social Services stating that the drug Mukodyne will not be put back on the restricted list. The Secretary of State says that he has a number of advisers, but they are surgeons and people from universities. Have ​ they ever worked in a mining or heavy industrial area? Have they ever encountered the problems that are caused by chest diseases arising from the mining industry? Only the drug Mukodyne can give relief. My father died of pneumoconiosis, and for many years the only drug that would ease it was Mukodyne. In some cases there is no other choice than to buy the drug, and it now costs about £10 every time. It has to be paid by people who cannot afford it.

Housing problems in my area have been caused by Government legislation. No new houses have been built. Repairs and modernisation have been carried out to a limited extent, but it is ridiculous that there are unemployed building workers in the private sector of the building industry and that the council has £21 million in the bank, in capital receipts, which cannot be touched. We have many houses in need of modernisation and repair, we have builders who are fully capable of doing the work, and we have the money with which to do it. Unfortunately, we have not the will of the Government to allow the work to be done.

I am not against council house sales. I like people to buy houses that they can afford to buy, but there are times when people should not be able to do it. When people come to me and ask what they should do about buying a council house, I may say, “I will tell you why you should not,” or I may say, “You will be a fool if you do not buy.”

The problem has arisen because of the sale of the middle band of the best of the housing stock—the prewar council houses that were solidly built and modernised later. It is those that have gone from the housing stock. They were the seedcorn of the housing investment programme. They would have been paid for in the next five or six years, and all that revenue would have gone into the housing revenue account to provide the means of building and maintaining the next generation of houses. Selling them at a discount has cost the authority £21 million. Taking the £21 million lost on council house sales and adding to that the £21 million in the bank that cannot be touched, a total of £42 million would have been available to continue the local housing programme.

The authority has a special problem resulting from Government legislation. The National Coal Board owns vast housing estates which it would like to sell. They are in various states of repair, and the council or local authority is obliged to buy them. However, it has not sufficient funds to buy them, and even if it could buy them it could not repair them. That should be investigated.
Abolition will also affect the cheap bus fare system around which the area has been structured. If hon. Members consider what is happening in the area, they will understand why I am asking for special assistance through the rate support grant. The sports centres were built where they are because one could reach them by bus and because the bus fare was relatively cheap.

Because of cheap bus fares people went to town to shop, and local shops closed. Suddenly that will be reversed. People will have to pay higher bus fares, and although it will not be impossible to get into town, they will have less to spend because they will spend more on bus fares. Moreover, the sports centres which belong to the local authority will not pay their way because people will not be able to afford the bus fare to them and the entrance fee. That problem must be considered carefully and speedily.

My local authority was led to believe that it would receive about £91 million in GREA, but it received only ​ £88 million. Nobody can tell the authority how much of that relates to the abolition of the county council, because the Secretary of State for the Environment has decided to use a new target system. While authorities could aim at a target and be penalised for spending above it, they are now penalised from the start. Therefore, as soon as the authority spends above the £88 million, although it is under target, it will be penalised. That could cause rate increases. Therefore, there will be increases in rates, rents, and bus fares, and no income from the NCB and other industries.

Another omission from the Queen’s Speech relates to problems regarding the DHSS. We will fight a bonny battle for many weeks when the Fowler report appears as a Bill, and is debated in the House and in Committee. If anything in the Queen’s Speech is distasteful, it is the decision to interfere with—not reform—welfare benefits. Housing benefits, which are paid to thousands of people, will no longer be paid, and thousands will have it reduced. Family income supplement will be altered, and family benefit, which is now paid to the wife, will be paid to the husband. We shall examine that Bill closely and fight it tooth and nail because it is so distasteful.

There is yet another omission from the Queen’s Speech which I shall again try to introduce in my own way—concessionary television licences for old-age pensioners. It is time that provision for that appeared in a Queen’s Speech. It is unfair that some old-age pensioners get a coloured television licence for 5p while the majority must pay the full licence fee. Old-age people’s organisations are willing to have the subsidy equalised, and that should be considered. I hope that that will he included in the next Queen’s Speech, if the Government have not gone to the country by then. I give my colleagues notice that when they come to power that should be part of the legislative programme in their first Queen’s Speech.