I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) on raising this matter in the House, and thank him for giving me—with his typical courtesy and kindness, which I have enjoyed for so many years—a little time in which to speak.
This is likely to be my last speech in the House, after some 27 years of service. It is right that my last speech should be, as the first was, so long ago, a plea to the Government for fairness and justice for the people of the city of Leicester. I am deeply indebted to those people and especially to my constituents from Leicester, North-West and now from Leicester, West for re-electing me for so long.
At one time I was the first Labour Member north of London up the Ml, and, alas, the only one in the city, and I remember that grim evening so well. I have survived, however, and have done so because of the confidence and kindness of my constituents. I wish them to know how much I appreciate them, as do my family, and as did my wife.
The purpose of being here in this House is to help my constituents and the people I serve to have better lives, but that has not been easy with this Government, partly because they keep cutting the funds and resources available to the council, so that it cannot provide the services it should. They do that in the hope, of course, that the council will be blamed, and that, when it comes to election time, it will be the Labour councils and the Labour candidates who are blamed for what is the disgraceful behaviour of the Tory Government.
I have read the proposals, and I echo every word that my hon. Friend has said tonight. I hope that the Minister will look again—please—at the capping on the budget, and will lift it sufficiently to enable the council to do its job. It is irrelevant to me whether my constituents who seek my help voted for me or not; it should be irrelevant to him and to the Government who controls the council they seek to cap. It is the job of the council to serve the citizens, and it should be job of the Government to enable the council to do so.
Finally, I wish to pay my tribute to the all the people of the city of Leicester of all parties who have been so kind to me, and, indeed, to my father for some 25 years before that. Our friendships have crossed boundaries, and the courtesies and kindnesses that we have received have not been of party, although I am deeply grateful to Councillor Janet Setchfield, to Councillor George Billington, to Councillor Ray Flint and to all my other friends who have helped me within the Labour party.
As a final gesture, I ask the Minister to do a final kindness to me, and to reconsider the Government's proposals, so as to enable Leicester city council to have the funding it needs to do the job that it should.