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.

Anthony Meyer – 1985 Speech on Rail Services in North Wales

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 1 July 1985.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport for coming here at this late hour to listen to the debate. I wish to make it plain that I am not setting out to denigrate British Rail. I enjoy travelling with it. The intercity service which I have used for many years has been, on the whole, clean, fast, comfortable, and remarkably punctual. Much of the tourist trade which is so vital to north Wales continues to arrive by rail, as it has for many generations, and in what is now the second consecutive bad year for the tourist industry we desperately need our trains.

In north Wales, there has, however, been a steady—I do not wish to say dramatic — deterioration in service over the years, not so much in speed, comfort and punctuality as in the convenience of the timetable and the facilities available.

I accept that where trains are not full the railway cannot go on running them indefinitely. Services must be cut to reduce losses. The problem with that process is that it feeds on itself. As services are reduced, fewer and fewer people use them and further cuts are required to reduce the loss and so on. However, it is no necessary part of this dismal downward spiral that facilities also be reduced. My first complaint against British Rail—it is the least that I shall voice tonight — is the extreme reluctance and dilatoriness that it has shown in allowing private caterers to take food and drink trolleys on trains on which it no longer operates an acceptable buffet service. Some headway is at last being made thanks to the efforts and persistence of enterprising individuals, among whom my constituent, Mr. Osbiston of Dyserth was one of the first, if not the first, in the area to offer a most attractive trolley service to British Rail travellers in the region.

I shall not renew my plea that decent rolling stock should be allocated to the north Wales line, although that is a sore point in north Wales. The new Sprinter units are coming in slowly, oh so slowly, to replace the bone rattling diesel multiple units in which it is impossible to read, let alone write and still less to drink a cup of coffee. They are being well received and represent a huge improvement. Nor shall I press for the electrification of the Crewe-Holyhead line, although there is a powerful lobby in north Wales arguing for it. I am not at all sure that it would be a justifiable investment, and the effect on the landscape where the train skirts the coastline would be deplorable.

The essence of a railway service is that it should be reasonably predictable. Hold-ups are, or should be, less frequent than on even the best roads, and journey times are shorter — or were when the trains ran direct from London to north Wales. In the past few years, an increasing number of trains have been routed to north Wales via Birmingham, thus adding three quarters of an hour to the journey time. Instead of running direct to and from north Wales, more and more trains now require a change at Crewe. I have no strong objection to either of those things, provided that there is a reasonable connection at Crewe and no excessive wait.​

The main burden of my complaint concerns the effect on services to north Wales of the railway works being carried out at Crewe. I fully accept their necessity. I spent one night a few years ago with British Rail being taken round the signal boxes and junctions at Crewe station. All of my colleagues were as shattered as me at the primitiveness and inadequacy of the equipment, which has to handle the hundreds of trains that pass every day through this immensely complicated station layout. It is clear that the work has to be done, and I do not quarrel with the decision to do it all in one go. I have a serious complaint to make, however, about the period chosen—2 June to 21 July. It is just about the busiest holiday period of the year. Had it been possible to start the work two months earlier, the effect on train passengers — north Wales is still heavily dependent on the railway to bring in tourists—would have been much less.

Once the work started, the trains had to be diverted round Crewe, which has clearly resulted in longer journey times. That is a pity, and might lose us some day trippers, but we have to accept it. The real burden of my complaint is that we in north Wales, and a good many others who are served by Crewe and stations beyond it, do not know what we have to accept. A great deal of time and effort is required to find out, and the answer is quite likely to be wrong.
The remodelling of Crewe station started on 2 June, and had been planned several years ahead. On 13 May, and quite independently of the Crewe operation, British Rail introduced new timetables for the area. They are radically different from the old timetables to which travellers to and from north Wales had become accustomed and for which the convenient pocket timetables, which can readily be found in the Travel Office, were available at all stations along the route.

The new timetables are radically different, but as no new pocket timetables have been issued, it is not too easy to find out about trains. Why on earth have they not been issued? How are intending travellers expected to find out the new times of their trains? British Rail has two suggestions to offer. One is that one should buy its complete timetable, price £3, and far too big to go into an already bulging briefcase, let alone the most capacious of pockets. The other is that one should ring up British Rail inquiries and find out. Has anyone at British Rail ever tried doing that from a pay phone box—if one can find one that is not out of order—with no doors?

British Rail admits that the plan to produce pocket timetables “ran into difficulties” — nothing like the difficulties that passengers are now running into without them. But I suppose that BR would now argue that it would not have been much use printing the new timetables because the Crewe remodelling, which began only three weeks after the new timetables came into force, would have made them inapplicable anyway. In desperation I wrote on 12 June to the manager of the midland region in Birmingham and asked him how I could now get to my constituency by rail. So far I have not had so much as an acknowledgement, let alone a substantive reply.

I have managed to procure a document that purports to be a temporary timetable. It is called a “reissued” timetable, whatever that may mean. It gives the timing of the trains to north Wales during this period. It is illegible to the naked eye of anyone over 40. It has now been supplemented by a batch of scarcely more legible leaflets, each one covering a section of the journey. One is entitled ​ “Crewe-Chester-North Wales”. It is the only one that covers the north Wales stations. It also shows the connecting trains to and from London.
According to that timetable, there are only five trains a day from Rhyl to London, whereas until 12 May there were 14, and there are to be 13 when the remodelling at Crewe is finished. According to the timetable, there is no way to reach Chester from Euston before 12.30 pm or Rhyl before 2 pm. The position for the return journey is very slightly better with six trains, including two morning ones.

As a matter of fact, I do not believe that the situation is as bad as that. Travellers have been spotted on Rhyl station at 11 in the morning who claim to have come from London that same morning. It may be that there are morning trains, but it is just not possible to find out and, as I said, the midland region of British Rail does not answer letters.

I do not criticise British Rail for doing the work at Crewe—it had to be done. I could have wished that it had chosen a time of year less vital to our already hard-pressed tourist trade, a period during which, incidentally, anyone hoping to travel from London by coach to north Wales instead of by train will encounter the horrendous problems on the M1 near Hemel Hempstead during the first fortnight of July.

However, I understand that the work at Crewe must produce extensive changes to the schedule and a lengthening of journey times, but why, oh why does not British Rail take the trouble to get proper timetables printed and have intelligible notices put out well in advance at the railway stations concerned? Travelling by rail from London to north Wales at present is more akin to hitchhiking than travel by any scheduled service.