I understand that it is rare for a maiden speech to be made in a debate such as this, but I feel that it is not inappropriate to make mine now in that the Bradford, North by-election result partly precipitated the crisis of confidence of many members of the Government and thus the resignation of the Prime Minister. I also understand that, while my share of the vote was 52 per cent., under current electoral law there will be no second or third ballot.
I must at this stage pay tribute to my predecessor, Pat Wall. All those who came to know Pat found him to be a man of the highest integrity, a thoroughly nice person, with a wry sense of humour and deeply held political convictions. In his all-too-short period of office, he gained the respect of friend and foe alike for his diligence, tenacity and compassion, and, despite his birthplace, an unwavering commitment to his constituency.
The people of my constituency have very little regard for the Government's record. For over a decade, Bradford has been a test bed for an alphabet soup of experiments, with a TEC, a CAT, a UDG, a TVEI, a CPVE, a LMS and, most recently and disgracefully, a CTC. The Conservative party's commitment to education was exposed under the Pickles regime, which cut £13 million from school budgets in 18 months, increased school meal prices by 78 per cent. and diverted scarce capital money into prestige city centre projects, despite Bradford being acknowledged as the crumbling schools capital of Britain.
The final insult to over 15,000 school children in Bradford, North is the recently opened city technology college, blessed with a capital investment from the taxpayer of £7,033 per pupil, while for local education authority schools the figure is a paltry £127·18.
On the housing front, we have seen homelessness double, the council waiting list increase by 18 per cent., and a 75 per cent. reduction in moneys for improvement grants. The 1980 housing capital allocation was £26 million. By 1990, this had reduced to £9 million—a fall in real terms of £47 million. This would finance the building of an additional 1,200 houses, or 11,000 improvement grants to maintain and retain the older housing stock of Bradford. The prospect of slum clearance once more looms on the horizon because of lack of investment and of Government commitment. The ultimate insult is the Government's latest foray into housing finance, which saw Bradford's housing revenue account robbed of £8 million of subsidy, in one fell swoop slashing repair programmes for public sector housing and losing some 120 jobs in the local construction industry.
The record is no better in employment generally. The 1980s have seen the loss of 32,000 manufacturing jobs in Bradford because of Government policies. Our once proud textile industry has seen 12,000 jobs disappear, which highlights the Government's disgraceful prevarication on the future of the multi-fibre arrangement.
Unemployment in Bradford, North is now 17 per cent. and rising, with over 2,000 people having suffered unemployment for more than 12 months.
The health service in Bradford will shed no tears at the departure from office of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). It remains to be seen whether his successor, the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), has any greater commitment to patients and staff. He should be aware of the opt-out proposals for four hospitals in Bradford—the Royal Infirmary, Bierley Hall, Woodlands and St. Luke's. I ask him to take note of the various ballots on this issue, which show that, of the nursing staff, 93 per cent. are against, of consultants 86 per cent. are against, of general practitioners 88 per cent. are against and of the general public 97 per cent. are against.
The proposed general manager of the hospital trust has described these ballots as unrepresentative, which equates with Joe Stalin being the father of democracy. I sincerely hope that the new Secretary of State will take account of the strong feelings in Bradford against this experimentation and instead offer the prospect of early treatment to the 9,000-plus on the waiting lists, 20 per cent. of whom have been waiting over a year.
Poll tax is the albatross of this Government, to which none of the contenders in next week's ballot have offered the only solution—its repeal and replacement with a modern property tax based on fairness and ability to pay. Some 93 per cent. of my constituents in Bradford, North are losers under the poll tax. This figure will rise to 98 per cent. when safety nets and transitional relief disappear. It is no good Conservative Members complaining about the impact of the implementation of the poll tax. Every one of them trooped through the Government Lobby to support the legislation that has produced it, and every one of them stands equally condemned and carries equal guilt. To cry foul now is the equivalent of Christie asking for a retrial on the ground that he was not aware that arsenic was poisonous.
Despite my love for and devotion to my constituency, I seek no special favours for its population. On 8 November, my constituents were given the opportunity to pass judgment on the Government. Being magnanimous in victory, I think that it is only right and proper that the rest of the country be offered the same opportunity as the people of Bradford, North—in a general election, and the sooner the better. I am certain that the majority of those in this place share the same sentiment.