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."