I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Gracious Speech, and I shall raise several topics, beginning with my concern about health and then moving on to education and other subjects.
The Queen's Speech has obviously already cheered up the economy. Yesterday we learnt that the annual rate of inflation had fallen by 0.7 per cent. to 3.2 per cent, and in October the budget surplus was £1.3 billion. The good news in the Queen's Speech is already showing in our economy.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new post, and assure him that whatever differences I have or will have with him, I respect him considerably as a person of integrity and of foresight. Two factors affecting health concern me and many other London Members. First, the number of beds in London has been cut more than the number in the rest of the country, and the figures seem to bear that out. That is a general concern.
Secondly, I know that the situation at Edgware hospital concerns several of my hon. Friends, as well as myself. I refused to vote for the Government after the debate on the health service in London because I was worried, and still am, about Edgware hospital. The Secretary of State willingly met me, and other hon. Members, soon after his appointment, and we put our views to him. I expected then, and I still expect, something to be done about Edgware hospital.
I was thus rather surprised to read an article in the Hendon Times a couple of weeks ago—an article that reveals the value of local newspapers. According to the Hendon Times, in a short debate in another place Baroness Cumberlege said that
the Secretary of State—
does not intend to revisit the decisions taken by previous Secretaries of State".
She also said that the Government had
gone to great lengths to explain the compelling benefits for patients from the planned changes".
I was concerned about that, because I did not know that the debate had taken place—I probably should have read the House of Lords Hansard. If the Secretary of State does not intend to revisit the decisions taken by previous Secretaries of State, that is his privilege, but I shall most certainly revisit them, and so will the people in my area. Those decisions have not gone away, and cannot be dismissed in that way.
People may have gone to great lengths to explain the
compelling benefits for patients from the planned changes",
but my people still do not believe them. They still believe that the Secretary of State is wrong, and that the decision on Edgware hospital—the single decision that concerns me most—was wrong too.
I shall not speak at length on the subject, because I want to speak about other subjects on which I can support the Government, but I must put on record the fact that I am still concerned about Edgware hospital, especially the cutting of the casualty department.
Other hon. Members will have their own views on the subject, but in my constituency the main difficulty is getting from one place to another. It can take 50 minutes to travel the step from the Edgware hospital to Northwick Park hospital on a Saturday afternoon, and a casualty could be dead before he got there. I do not know where the traffic surveillance is done, but that is one of the most difficult areas in London in which to move about.
I leave the matter there for now, although I trust that the Secretary of State understands that I am not leaving it on one side, because my people are so concerned about it. Obviously one does not expect everything to be granted, but one expects to be listened to in the House, and the people who live on the Edgware side of my constituency expect some concession.
As a London Member of Parliament I am concerned about several issues in London. I am a Lancastrian, but I have now lived half my life in London, and although my accent has not changed, my views on certain aspects of London have changed since I came down here. I saw London as a boy, and my father always referred to anybody south of Manchester as a "city slicker". I have noticed that most "city slickers" are as varied and as honourable as people in Blackpool. I cannot say more than that, because I cannot give a greater compliment. If I wake up in the next world and a green tram passes, I shall know that I am in heaven. If it does not, that will not be heaven. The Blackpool trams will be up there with the tower.
Several things concerning London worry me. I voted for the abolition of the Greater London council. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] At that time I was right, but we now have probably the only capital in the world without an elected body to speak for it. [Interruption.] Some of my hon. Friends may disagree with what I say, and that is their right, but the difficulty is: how are we to speak for London these days? There is no London body, although various bodies have tried to take on the role.
I am worried about the traffic in London, and I was concerned that there was no reference to crossrail in the Gracious Speech. My people want crossrail, and so does the rest of the city. Over the next 10 years we need not only crossrail but two new tube lines in London, if the city is to remain, as I wish it to, one of the six great capitals of the world. I regret the fact that there was no mention of crossrail.
I have heard rumours that the Treasury does not favour crossrail, but I hope that I am wrong. Indeed, I may be wrong in all that I say on these subjects. I hope that the rumour that I have heard is not true. There will be great disappointment among business men, in the City and among the population of London if we do not continue with crossrail.
Another matter that worries me is the future of the painted hall at Greenwich. We were sea people: in my childhood I read mainly books about the sea and I joined the navy as a boy seaman at the beginning of my naval career. Our history on the sea is finer than that of any other country, and that record will continue. People who forget have no future. We must never forget that we were and still are a sea people. We have a great river running through London; it is one of the finest in the world.
I am therefore worried about what is happening at Greenwich. We have a marvellous maritime museum there, which is one of the best in the world. Everyone should visit the exhibitions held there, as I do from time to time. I hope that something can be done to preserve the painted hall and the rest of the buildings so that the public can view them.
I know that Greenwich university has taken an interest in the site, and I am concerned about the status of the profession of which I was a member before I entered the House: teaching. There is a crisis of confidence in teaching in this country; it does not involve simply money, but status. The site at Greenwich could be used as a staff college for headmasters. They could learn about the country's history if they had not been properly taught at school and the college could become a great institution to raise the status of the teaching profession. There is much talk at present about the maritime museum and Greenwich university. The painted hall would provide the ideal place for a staff college, where senior heads could meet other people within the profession and further their teaching techniques.
There are some educational issues on which I agree with the Government—I am sure that my hon. Friends will be delighted to hear that. I agree with them on grant-maintained schools and the assisted places scheme. Although the subject was not mentioned specifically in the Queen's Speech, the Prime Minister has mentioned the prospect of doubling the number of students on assisted places schemes and an increase in the number of grant-maintained schools, which have been highly successful.
All but one of the secondary schools in my constituency are grant maintained. I took no part in their decision to become grant maintained, but left the matter entirely to the parents of the pupils. They made the decision, sometimes against the wishes of trade unions. The parents were balloted and, as a result, the schools became grant maintained. All the schools have improved—I visited one, Preston Manor, on Tuesday. Grant-maintained schools have proved to be an excellent innovation in this country.
When I was a headmaster I said that I was responsible to the parents, not to the governing body. I also said that if in any year when I was head of the school, fewer people wanted to attend it than there were vacancies, I would resign. The pupils and parents know whether the school is working properly or not. It is far better for the parent body to be in charge of the school than the local education authority, which is basically concerned about numbers.
Grant-maintained schools have been highly successful. I very much regret that the Labour party's policy is not to keep them, but to take away their freedoms. If, as the Labour party has suggested, foundation schools are introduced and we see the return of local authority representatives, we shall have taken a step back. There is no doubt that parents in my constituency will not vote to end the system of grant-maintained schools. I do not think that the Labour party realises the difficulties that it will encounter over such votes. Almost 100 per cent. of the secondary schools in my area are grant maintained—about 12 primary schools in Brent are grant maintained. I cannot always say that Brent leads the world, but perhaps it does in this case.