Anthony Meyer – 1985 Speech on the Loyal Address

Below is the text of the speech made by Anthony Meyer, the then Conservative MP for Clwyd North West, in the House of Commons on 6 November 1985.

I welcome many parts of the Gracious Speech, and I join the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Coleman) in welcoming particularly the proposals to limit severely the use of animals for medical experiments and the Government’s determination to find a way of depriving drug traffickers of their ill-gotten gains, although I have a nasty feeling that that will prove to be a lot more difficult than seems likely at first sight.

I also welcome the Government’s intention to seek to normalise our relations with democratic Argentina and what they say about the European Community. However, I warn them that if, as they say and as I hope, we are seeking to achieve a true unified internal market, we shall have to be prepared to dismantle the non-tariff obstacles to trade that we expect the rest of the Community to abolish urgently.

The Gracious Speech mentions the reform of the social security system and the planning system and the ending of restrictions on Sunday trading. In those matters, the Government are broadly right in their aim, but sadly astray in their timing. Such reforms should be brought in at the beginning of a Parliament and not towards the end of one.

The purpose of my speech is to express concern about some of the Government’s deeper purposes. That concern goes far deeper than mere electoral anxiety, because I am fairly certain that the Conservatives will win the next election. My concern is about what sort of country we shall be trying to govern after that. That concern is shared by a number of my hon. Friends and was eloquently expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon).

The three great achievements of the Government since 1979—the curbing of inflation, the restoration of respect, if not affection, for Britain overseas, and the humbling of the intolerable pretensions of trade union godfathers such as Mr. Scargill—are beyond price and would not have been won by a Government of any other party, self-evidently not by a Labour Government and not by an alliance Government, who would have been obliged to compromise on issues where it was essential to have a clear-cut result.

Furthermore, I am certain that the Government desperately want to bring down unemployment—and not merely for electoral purposes.

I am certain that the Government intend to preserve and improve social services and to safeguard the environment. What is more, when Ministers say that the best way to cut unemployment and to finance better social services is to ​ create more national wealth, and that the best way to create more national wealth is to cut all forms of taxation, especially personal taxation, they are totally sincere. They might also be right, although the evidence to support them is slow to appear.

The Government mix of higher incentives for the successful and less featherbedding for the unsuccessful might be the shortest route to a better future for all, but it is also the bumpiest. Unless we arrive at some recognisable destination much sooner than seems likely, the strains imposed upon the car of state may cause it to fly apart.

In other words, like a number of my hon. Friends, I am becoming worried about national unity. The Prime Minister does not like the word “consensus”. She is right to dislike the consensus of acquiescence in inexorable national decline. But in chucking out the soapy bath water of that consensus she might be chucking out a very delicate baby.

British society has been admired for its highly developed sense of solidarity or, at the least, for a respect and tolerance between different classes, regions and races. We do not, outside Northern Ireland, hate one another for our beliefs, as do the French, or despise one another because we are northerners or southerners, as do the Italians. We do not, thank God, despite the malign efforts of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), seek scapegoats among the minorities in our midst for our own failings, as the Germans once so dreadfully did.

Southern Britain, with its labour shortages, is properly worried that people in northern Britain, in Wales and in Scotland who want to work cannot find jobs. Those of us who live in safe, white, middle class areas are worried about what is happening in our big cities. We want to do something about it, even if it will cost us money. Most of those who have done very well, thank you, under this Government still want to maintain public health, public education and public pension provision even if it costs them more in rates and taxes than they get out of those services.

Many of us would like Britain to make a much more generous response not just to short-term crises of starvation in Africa, but to long-term projects for putting the developing countries on the path to sustainable growth.

I must say frankly that some of the Government’s policies as they seem to emerge from the sparse language of the Queen’s Speech, could only too easily damage the sense of national solidarity. Of course we all want tax cuts if that means that people with barely enough to live on will no longer have to pay tax or that people on low wages or training allowances will no longer be worse off than they would be on social security. Across-the-board tax cuts could widen still further the gap between those who have much more money than they can want and those who are in real need—unless of course tax concessions at the bottom of the scale are paid for by higher taxes at the top. However, that does not seem to be how the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s mind is working.

I am not entirely happy about the Government’s approach to the all-important unemployment issue. I welcome Lord Young’s appointment, and still more do I welcome the wide powers that he has been given. However, I am none too happy about all the talk about the number of new jobs being created. I do not mind that many ​ of them are part-time jobs because I am sure that that is the work pattern for the future. How are the part-time jobs being shared? Many seem to be going to married women whose husbands are already at work, and some of them seem to be going to people who already have a job. The impact of such new jobs on the total unemployed is worryingly small.

It is not helpful to say that many people, especially the young unemployed, do not want a job. That is untrue, at least in Wales and in the north. Young people finishing the admirable youth training scheme and middle-aged workers thrown on the scrap heap of redundancy are desperately, pathetically anxious to find work. Even if in such places as London it were partly true, that does not diminish the danger to our social fabric represented by so many thousands of unemployed, particularly young unemployed, and more particularly young black unemployed in our big cities.

That brings me to the last and deepest of my anxieties. Voices are beginning to be raised from Right-wing press commentators urging the Government to exploit the law and order issue to its utmost. I am sure that the new Home Secretary, who is widely admired on both sides of the House, will have no truck with any attempt to extract party political advantage from the natural worry that people experience at the spectacle of the police facing armed riot in our big cities or mobs of stone-throwing pickets. This is material far too explosive and volatile to be safely used for party political purposes.

Of course this Government—any Government—must give unwavering support to the police. Of course no Government can condone crime or permit no-go areas. The reaction of some local community leaders who appear to condone violence, even murder, is intolerable. But I warn the Government that, if we are seen to be trying to make party political capital out of the issue and to make it the “Falklands factor” of the next election, it will blow up in our faces. Even if that helped us to win—I do not believe that it would—we would be left with a country which was ungovernable.