Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)
I thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I add my congratulations to those that have been offered by those who have spoken before me.
I pay tribute not only to my predecessor, Sir Geoffrey Finsberg, but to his predecessor, Ben Whitaker, who represented my constituency and my party from 1966 to 1970. I mean to emulate his dedication, if not his length of stay in the House. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Sir Geoffrey Finsberg, but he served my constituency well for more than 20 years, and I know that my constituents would wish me to extend their thanks to him, and best wishes to Sir Geoffrey and Lady Finsberg for a long and happy retirement.
My constituency has long exercised a particular fascination for the creative spirit. Many of the greatest artists, writers, musicians and philosphers that not only this country has produced but that the world has ever seen have chosen to make their homes there. My constituency has been blessed with great natural beauties, the glorious expanse of Hampstead heath being but one. The Vale of Health was so named because it was rumoured that the springs that rose there contained mystical power—a rumour somewhat belied by its proximity to that other famous landmark, Highgate cemetery.
There is a popular myth regarding my constituency, one much loved by the press, of a leafy suburb populated solely by millionaires whose only drink is champagne and whose only conversational exchange could be deemed to be chatter. The facts make a rather different picture. The largest single group in my constituency consists of pensioners, and the largest group within that group consists of those on some form of social benefit. This month, 5,000 of my constituents are unemployed. In the borough of which my constituency is part, 1,000 families have no home of their own. The Royal Free hospital, much loved by my constituents, which was, against their wishes, made into a trust, has announced waiting lists for in-patients running at 2,500.
The Prime Minister has spoken of his wish to provide ladders of opportunity for our people. However, a ladder can be a dangerous place if it is not rooted on a solid foundation and leaning against an equally solid wall. If it is dangerous for the most able bodied among us, how much more dangerous is it for the very old and the very young, the frail and the disabled? My constituents welcome the idea of greater opportunities being provided, but the opportunities must be available to all our people and they must be based on the solid building blocks of education, training, health care free at the point of delivery and, perhaps most important of all, decent affordable housing.
What rung of the Prime Minister's ladder will be earmarked for one of my constituents who has been unemployed for five long years? On what rung will be my elderly constituent who has been paralysed from the waist down with her arms and hands crippled with arthritis, who has now been denied bathing facilities in her own home because it has been decreed that such a facility will be provided on medical, not social, grounds? What part of that ladder has been earmarked for the young homeless who have no bed but the pavement, the doorway? What about the families who live for month after month in bed-and-breakfast accommodation?
Some in the private rented sector are suffering harassment and sometimes even violence at the hands of greedy, unscrupulous landlords. Surely the Government must acknowledge that it is time to release capital grants so that a programme of rebuild and repair can begin, and that more effort must be made to relieve the enormous burden that so many councils are having to carry, faced, particularly in London, with the continually rising tide of homelessness.
My constituents have always been concerned with the pursuit and obtaining of social justice, not only at home but abroad. My constituents are particularly concerned about the position of the third world. They ask why it is that in 1979 this country was the second largest donor nation of the G7 countries but that this year it is the second smallest. They acknowledge, as do I and my party, that aid alone cannot relieve the almost unbelievable burdens facing the people of the third world, but our country could do more than it is doing, and the aid that we supply could be more efficiently targeted on the poorest countries and the poorest groups within those countries. Our aid should be targeted on the basic requirements of health care— children are dying in their millions—and on providing clean water.
Another particular concern arising from the Gracious Speech, on which I believe that I shall be joining hands with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms. Jackson), is the Government's promise to reintroduce the Asylum Bill. Many of my constituents came to this country as refugees. They were fleeing the appalling political and religious oppression that existed both before and after the second world war. Within my constituency they found sanctuary, a great welcome and the possibility to create for themselves and their family a future. It would be a tragedy if our nation's reputation for always taking in those suffering from persecution should be lost.
It is a great privilege for any person to be called to the House as a Member. It is a particular privilege for me to represent the people of Hampstead and Highgate. I am grateful and deeply proud that I represent them.