I beg to move, as an amendment to the Address, at end add—
'but regret the absence of measures in the Gracious Speech to reduce the burden of political targets and bureaucracy in the public services and of measures which would deliver high standards throughout the public services by promoting autonomy for professionals, creating genuine choice and removing over burdensome regulation so that new and existing providers can expand capacity and develop innovative approaches to service delivery;
deplore the absence of measures adequately to support the NHS in delivering cleaner hospitals rather than just imposing sanctions on them, or to introduce a reformed legislative and organisational framework for public health;
further regret the absence of measures which would take account of the proposals by the Joint Committee on the Draft Mental Health Bill in the last Parliament for substantial amendments to proposed mental health legislation;
further deplore the absence of measures which would recognise the need to achieve the basic requirements in education of discipline, rigorous examinations, choice for parents and the freedom for staff to do what they do best;
and further regret the absence of measures which would deliver the real improvements needed in the public services.'.
It is a great pleasure first to welcome the Secretary of State for Health to her new responsibilities. I hope that she will not find that her predecessor's evident desire to move from his responsibilities was more to do with his ambitions than with a desire to leave the problems behind him. The NHS has welcomed the Secretary of State's expression of her wish to listen. She said that she would listen for months. There was therefore a certain degree of dismay when her willingness to listen seemed to have lasted about a week before she determined on the policies that she would outline to the NHS. None the less, I hope that in the course of this debate we will give the Secretary of State many things that it would be to her advantage to listen to.
Might I also express a farewell to John Reid, now the Secretary of State for Defence? Before the general election, at a Labour party press conference, he called for a debate with the Conservative party on health. Curiously, during the course of the subsequent general election campaign we had debates at the King's Fund, at the Patients Association, at the Royal College of Nursing congress and at the British Medical Association, but he did not come to join in any of those debates. That was left to Mr. Hutton who is now the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and we wish him well in his new responsibilities. He served in the Department of Health for several years and I think that it is fair to say that he understood it, even if he did not admit to that.
We also welcome the Minister of State, Department of Health, Jane Kennedy, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Caroline Flint and the other Under-Secretary of State for Health, Mr. Byrne to their new responsibilities. We are delighted to see them in the Department of Health. The hon. Member for Don Valley appears to have brought her interests with her. She has already issued proposals for football and health, so I hope that public health will be the beneficiary of her enthusiasms.
There has been almost a clean sweep in the Department of Health, except for Lord Warner in the other place. [Interruption.] Ms Winterton, too, is still here—I beg her pardon; I said almost a clean sweep. It is curious that the Minister in the Lords has become the Minister responsible for NHS delivery. One would have thought that we would have the Minister with that responsibility in this House. It is particularly surprising that it is the Minister who showed a conspicuous failure to act on health care-acquired infections in the course of the last Parliament who is now, ironically, to be in charge of NHS delivery.
While I have the chance I also welcome Steve Webb to his responsibilities and, I hope on behalf of the House, thank Mr. Burstow for his contribution in the past. I do not see him at the moment, but I am sure that those thanks will be conveyed to him. He did many services for the House over his years as a health spokesman, not least in identifying the extent of hidden waste in the NHS, which the Government belatedly accepted, and the work that he did on hospital cleanliness, to all of which I pay tribute.
The election campaign taught us many things. As one went around the country and visited places such as Dover, for example, one met people in the hospital there providing long-term rehabilitation to people living with head injuries. When we visited Kent county council offices, we could talk to staff who were developing innovative ground-breaking work on tele-medicine initiatives that are about providing not only an alert if elderly people are in trouble at home, but continuous screening and virtual consultations, so that people living with chronic diseases have to spend far less time in consultations with practitioners and, more to the point, are far less likely to be admitted to hospital.
As we visited the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital, where Abigail Witchalls is currently being treated, we saw a specialist hospital that is not only providing the finest quality of care, but doing so in old buildings that urgently need renewal—and achieving minimal rates of infection after surgery notwithstanding those difficulties. One could visit community centres, as I did in Crawley, where staff are working to support carers as well as to provide care to service users. In Derby, for example, one could meet enthusiastic staff who are designing and providing a service that is optimised for children and adolescents, and not treating children merely as young adults to be put into national health service hospitals on the same basis as adults. One could also visit Leeds general hospital and meet staff who are initiating new pilot work on the use of primary angioplasty so that instead of patients having thrombolysis when they have a heart attack, they go straight to angioplasty, opening up their arteries so that the long-term outcomes are dramatically better even than with thrombolysis. The pilot project found that a surprisingly large volume of work would have to be done.
As we went around the country, the first thing that we discovered—[Interruption.] Notwithstanding the apparent derision of Labour Members, the first thing that we discovered was the first thing that one discovers every time one visits hospitals, GPs and NHS staff—the commitment of those staff. Our first responsibility is to pay the fullest possible tribute to all of them.
The hon. Gentleman has spent eight minutes both congratulating people on their new appointments and going on a Cook's tour of the United Kingdom. He has already taken as long as Back Benchers will get to speak, as they are limited to 10-minute speeches. Will he get on with the debate, or is he going to speak for an hour?
It is curious that Labour Members do not want to hear about NHS staff and what they are achieving across the country. We will come to the issues; the hon. Gentleman should not worry.
This is a proper intervention, as my hon. Friend obviously cares about the staff who work in hospitals. Has he had a chance to look at the community hospitals in this country, and particularly at Wells community hospital, which does so much hard work on behalf of many of my constituents in the northern part of my constituency? Is it not vital that small community hospitals be given major priority?
My hon. Friend takes me on to the second part of what I have to say about when one goes around the country. Perhaps Mr. Sheerman will think that this is a more appropriate subject for the discussion. One discovers other things as one goes around the country. General practitioners from Lancaster to Leicestershire, and in Milton Keynes, are concerned about bureaucracy and the impact of targets on the care that they can provide for patients. In places such as Wells and north Norfolk, or Hornsea in the Beverley and Holderness constituency, people are seriously worried about the closure of local services in community hospitals. In places such as Bury, and Chatham and Aylesford, people are deeply concerned about access to maternity services and the closures that might occur.
I do not know what point the hon. Gentleman thinks that he is making, because many hospitals chose not to let any politicians on to their premises during the general election campaign—which is their prerogative. Is he disparaging the campaign run by local people who have used maternity services at Fairfield hospital—if I discuss that matter, the hon. Member for Huddersfield will tell me to get on with my speech—because the people of Bury, North would find it surprising if he were to disparage people who want services to be maintained in Bury?
During the election campaign, I met people from Crawley to Cornwall who are concerned about the impact of deficits.
The hon. Gentleman did me the courtesy of pointing out that he visited my constituency rather than that of Mr. Lancaster. When he talked to GPs in Milton Keynes, it would have been unnatural if the GPs had not made various complaints, but did he note that Milton Keynes primary care trust has received record funding under this Labour Government, and that funding will be provided on projected population growth for the first time from next year?
During the election campaign, the Prime Minister visited Milton Keynes hospital, where he said that he discovered that many women who are routinely referred for examination for breast cancer turn out to have tumours. Eighteen months before that discovery, Breakthrough Breast Cancer and some hon. Members told the Government in no uncertain terms that up to 10,000 women a year were being routinely referred, and that those women were waiting for longer than previously for diagnosis for breast cancer. The Prime Minister suddenly discovered that issue during the general election campaign. He discovered the damaging impact of targets during his visit to Milton Keynes, and it is about time that he discovered what is going on in the national health service.
Later in the election campaign, the Prime Minister appeared in a television studio, where a concerned mother told him about the adverse impact of the 48- hour target on booking GP appointments. That was news to him, although the health press reported last November that the issue was on his agenda. During the election campaign, we learned that the Prime Minister does not know what is going on in the NHS and that the Government are in denial about the effects of targets on the NHS.
One year ago, the Government were in denial about cleaner hospitals, but they have suddenly discovered that cleaner hospitals are a priority. One year ago, the NHS chief executive's report did not refer to cleanliness in hospitals or infection control. One year ago, the Department of Health annual report referred to cleanliness in hospitals by pointing out that no hospitals had a poor standard of cleanliness. That situation has changed because Opposition Members, by which I mean Conservative Members and Liberal Democrat Members, together with the media and patients—here I pay tribute to MRSA Support and others—have forced on to the Government's agenda the necessity of greater cleanliness in hospitals and improved infection control.
One year ago, the Government were in denial. The section of the Queen's Speech on health shows that during the election campaign we forced on to the Government's agenda the necessity of dealing with cleanliness in hospitals, of admitting the problems with targets, of improving efficiency and of introducing choice and competition into the NHS.
Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to apologise publicly to patients in north Wales for the misleading statistics provided by the Leader of the Opposition? Those statistics led an old lady to ask me whether she should go into hospital, because the Leader of the Opposition had told her that she should be afraid of MRSA.
People the length and breadth of the country were asking, "Can I be safe if I go into hospital?" Conservative Members' objective, which we have set out time and again, is to make hospitals safe so that people going into hospital know that those who treat them have the ability to deliver the necessary standard of care. In the run-up to the election, Nursing Times carried out a survey of nurses, and the Government should apologise for its astonishing findings: 27 per cent. of nurses said that their cleaning services were poor or very poor; 68 per cent. said that they did not have 24-hour-a-day cleaning available on their wards; 48 per cent. said that they did not have a designated uniform-changing area; and 41 per cent. said that there was not enough time to clean beds between patients. Listening to the Government during the election campaign, one would have imagined that the fault for deficiencies in cleanliness and infection control in hospitals lay with front-line NHS staff. That has never been our argument. Our argument has been that the Government have never provided the support and framework necessary to deliver better infection control.
Let me give one example. The Secretary of State for Health has discovered that food hygiene standards in the food manufacturing industry are higher than hygiene standards in hospitals. Where was the Secretary State's predecessor when, on three occasions last year, we highlighted exactly that fact? We asked precisely when the Government would introduce hazard analysis and critical control point technology, which is used in the food industry and which the chief medical officer said in December 2003 should be applied through a pilot scheme and an evaluation in the NHS. Has that happened? Not a bit of it. We have asked the questions time and again, and the National Patient Safety Agency, the Department of Health and other organisations talked about it in December 2003, but they do not get on and do it. The rapid review panel did not meet for eight months; there has been no urgency and no action from the Government.
The hon. Gentleman will know that there are a number of technologies, and I will give him one example. A company in my constituency, Phico Therapeutics Ltd, received grants—the Secretary of State for Health should be interested in this—from the Department of Trade and Industry to develop a new type of antibiotic to beat MRSA. The hon. Gentleman is a scientist so he will appreciate that rather than being a normal antibiotic, the drug impacts on the DNA of the bacterium. If the drug is successful in use, the bacterium will not be able progressively to develop resistance to it by reproducing, so it could be a very effective antibiotic. Has the Department of Health taken an interest? [Interruption.] It is a rhetorical question because I know the answer, which is that the Department of Health has done nothing about it. In December 2003, the chief medical officer said that £3 million would be spent on additional research to support infection control activity. I understand that as of last week, little of that money has been spent.
We learnt many things during the election campaign, but I shall now say a word or two about the specific legislation highlighted in the Gracious Speech. [Interruption.] We are here to help patients in the NHS, but the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Phil Hope does not seem to understand that.
Four measures were anticipated in the Gracious Speech. We have called repeatedly for action on mental health; one only has to go back to the start of the previous Parliament, when mental health legislation was promised but was not delivered. I do not dispute that the Government should bring forward legislation on mental health, NHS redress, public health and choice and diversity. They are all necessary, but there are potential problems with all of those measures.
With mental health, the starting point has to be appropriate treatment for patients and an understanding that the definition of mental illness should be clear and confined rather than stretching into other areas such as sexual orientation and dependency on drugs or alcohol. Ensuring compliance with treatment is a vital component in the delivery of successful treatment for those with mental illness, because if there is no co-operation, there is often no treatment at all. Therefore, compulsion should be a last resort.
The principles of legislation in Scotland, with which some Members present will be familiar, were set out. They include the idea that compulsion should be a last resort, and we established that principle in our manifesto. However, the Government seem instead to be working towards legislation that treats coercion and compulsion as the general choice for psychiatric services. There are enormous dangers in that approach. Instead of patients being in secure in-patient psychiatric beds, there is a real danger that they will be out in the community. By introducing community treatment orders more widely than is necessary, the Government will make them available to the services, and close in-patient psychiatric beds. As a result, patients in the community will find that the stigma of compulsion has apparently been applied to them. The assumption in the community will be that all those patients are a threat to other people, which they may not be. Many patients may well be treated in the community when in fact, they should be in in-patient beds not only for their benefit, but for the safety of the public. So there is a serious potential problem with the structure of the Government's legislation.
Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that another important element is access to the facilities? There is no point in pushing through this legislation if—as in many rural areas, including much of Wales—one cannot obtain the services that the Government require people with mental illness to access.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. There is a risk that the structure of the legislation will lead the Government to assume that community treatment orders can be applied. By their very nature, such orders will tend to pre-empt services, and the general level of access to services will diminish, particularly in rural areas. Action does need to be taken, and to give the Government due credit, they have tried to push measures such as early intervention. However, those will be lost as a consequence of their proposals. So I urge the Government to think very hard about their proposal.
The pre-legislative scrutiny Joint Committee rightly called for substantial amendments to the legislation, and our amendment to the motion makes it clear that we want that to happen.
I had the privilege of sitting on that Joint Committee. Given both the importance and the sensitivity of mental health legislation, does my hon. Friend agree that there are two overriding requirements in this context? First, the Government must include in the Bill all the main features and should not seek to sneak through substantial change via order-making powers and secondary legislation. Secondly, in bringing forward an important proposal that ought to attempt to command cross-party support, my hon. Friend should, through the usual channels, seek to ensure that there is adequate time to debate the matter on the Floor of the House, so that the Government, if they have the confidence to do so, can test the veracity of, and support for, their arguments.
I am sure that all Opposition Members will agree with the latter point; in fact, I agree with the former point as well. The proposed legislation as structured relies far too heavily on order-making powers and on the use of codes of practice, instead of the relevant provisions being included in it. The Bill does not include the principles to be applied in designing mental health services, as the Scottish legislation does. My hon. Friend Tim Loughton and his colleagues published only yesterday a document including independent contributions on the structure of the legislation, which I commend to the Secretary of State and to the whole House.
I shall make one or two points about national health service redress. The Government do not appear to be considering the introduction of conditional fee arrangements in clinical negligence cases beyond the point of fact finding and investigation. I commend that approach; otherwise, there is a risk under the legislation that the process of fact finding and fault finding will simply lead either to a distortion of fact finding, because it is combined with fault finding, or to fault finding simply feeding more and more clinical negligence cases that do not necessarily have merit, but are funded through legal aid. There is a serious problem with the introduction of no-fault provision in respect of birth defects. The definitions will be intensely difficult to make and where does one draw the line—during pregnancy, with congenital birth defects, or with medical accidents occurring shortly after birth? It will be extremely difficult to deal with that problem.
I have already spoken about hygiene and public health. The Government intend to introduce a provision on hygiene, which is interesting, but in the light of all that I have said about what needs to be done on cleanliness and infection control in hospitals, they hardly seem to be acting with any urgency to deliver. Indeed, they have not even acted with the urgency recommended to them by the chief medical officer, who suggested legislation to introduce enforcement powers for dealing with hygiene in hospitals. He wrote to Ministers in October last year urging legislation in the last parliamentary Session. Ministers did not act on that, but are proposing to do so now.
The problem with imposing fines on the NHS and on hospitals if they do not meet hygiene standards is that it is a counsel of despair and an admission of failure. We need a successful NHS, and during the election campaign we set out clearly how we could provide specific additional help to get technologies and other forms of support through to front-line staff in order to deliver improved infection control.
The Government are also proposing a partial ban on smoking in public places—a typical Labour Government approach in that the rhetoric is all there, but the actual proposal is utterly unworkable. Apart from anything else—[Interruption.] I am sorry that I neglected to mention the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Doncaster, Central, so I mention her now. Doncaster metropolitan borough council reported to the British Medical Association that 36 per cent. of their pubs do not serve food. If a ban on smoking in pubs is linked to whether pubs serve food, we shall end up with a large number of pubs, particularly in northern and midlands cities and in less prosperous areas, continuing to allow smoking because they do not serve food. It will not deliver the objective that Ministers want. In Leeds, 88 per cent. of pubs reported to the BMA that they did not serve food; clearly, the impact of the legislation will be to increase health inequalities.
No, we will not—[Hon. Members: "Ah!"] There are two perfectly viable ways of proceeding: either having a legislative ban everywhere, or move forward on a voluntary basis. [Interruption.] Labour Members jeer, but yesterday the British Beer and Pub Association announced that its pubs would get rid of their happy hours, so action on public health is already being taken. We have set out clearly that we should proceed on a voluntary basis—it is perfectly possible—to deliver an environment in public houses and other public places that is smoke-free for all those who want it and smoke-free for children. Frankly, if the Government are really interested in the public health aspects, rather than talking about a partial ban they should devote more attention to delivering effectiveness in smoking cessation services.
The evidence is very clear that the real dangers lie in smoking, in being the partner of someone who smokes or in being the child of parents who smoke. Those are the critical issues. If we can continue the downward trend in the number of people who smoke in this country, we will deliver substantial improvements in public health. That has not happened in the past few years, but it did happen—
No, I am finishing in a few moments.
There are many other issues to which the Secretary of State should devote herself in this Parliament, but I am not going to cover them all. My apologies to the House and to my hon. Friends if I have left out specific issues.
During the 2001 general election, the Government announced that they would have 10,000 more doctors and 20,000 more nurses, but we did not hear a peep from them about those objectives during the recent campaign. It was the Conservatives who set out clearly how they could deliver 20,000 more doctors, 30,000 more nurses and 30,000 more allied health professionals. If the Secretary of State and the Government are keen to increase capacity in the NHS—and I hope that they are—they must learn from what we have been saying. The private sector must be used more efficiently and fully, but the total health care capacity in this country must also be increased, and that means more doctors and nurses. More resources must be put in and we have set out how that could happen, not just through to 2007–08, but to 2009–10 as well.
Resources in the NHS must be used more efficiently. The Office for National Statistics has shown that there has been an 8 per cent. reduction in productivity in the NHS since 1997, but what does that mean in practice? The number of finished consultant episodes—that is, in effect, the number of operations carried out in hospitals—rose by 26 per cent. between 1990–91 and 1996–97, but by only 14 per cent. in the six years since 1997. My right hon. Friend Mr. Dorrell was responsible for part of the rise between 1990–91 and 1996–9—and if that trend had been maintained, the NHS would be performing 1.4 million more operations a year.
The Secretary of State announced with some fanfare that she was going to buy 1.7 million more operations from the private sector in the next five years. If the earlier productivity rate in the NHS had been maintained, we would have had 1.4 million more NHS operations every year. That is the difference, and the key to the problem.
No, as I am about to finish.
When the next general election is held, perhaps in four years' time, we will ask whether the resources have gone in and whether they have delivered increased capacity, efficiency and productivity through the application of competition and choice. The most important question will be whether the resources have delivered results. In four years, our health spending will broadly equal the European average, but matching the European average in respect of respiratory disease would save 35,000 more lives a year; achieving the European best in respect of cancer mortality would save 23,000 more lives a year; and doing the same in respect of mortality from heart disease would save 41,000 more lives a year.
As things stand, we lag far behind the European best. The appropriate amounts of money may be going in over the next few years, but results are what count. In the general election, the electorate told the Government the simple truth—that they have not delivered on the results. In four years, they will be held accountable for that, and they will no longer be the Government of this country.
It gives me enormous pleasure to take part in this debate, which is my first as Secretary of State for Health. I begin by thanking Mr. Lansley for his kind words to me and my ministerial colleagues at the start of his speech, although he omitted to mention my hon. Friend Ms Winterton, who is one of my Ministers of State. However, I join him in extending a warm welcome to Steve Webb as he takes up his new post on the Front Bench.
The health and education measures outlined in the Gracious Speech—and I shall say more about them in a moment—are firmly rooted in the values represented by Labour Members. They are the values of equality of opportunity and of mutual responsibility. All Labour Members came into politics to help create a society in which all individuals, irrespective of background, have the opportunity to fulfil their potential. We want every family to be able to give their children the best possible start in life, and every child to be inspired and valued at school. We also want every patient to feel that their health is being safeguarded and improved by our NHS.
The Secretary of State mentioned her commitment to equality of opportunity. Can she explain how a headline came to be printed in The Times which reveals that 11,800 of the best performing pupils do well in grammar schools and the better comprehensive schools, but 16,500 are failing—after eight years of Labour Government—in inner-city and poorly performing comprehensive schools?
I am responsible for many things, but they do not include the headlines printed in The Times. My understanding is that that headline does not reflect the evidence, to which the piece refers, of the way in which standards are rising in our schools—and rising even faster, I am glad to say, in schools serving our most disadvantaged areas than in other parts of the education system.
The values that I referred to are timeless, but they have to be applied in changing times, in a society in which people are better educated and informed and have higher expectations than in any previous generation. Everybody wants to be treated with full respect as an individual, with their particular needs and abilities properly recognised. So our challenge and our goal, as we embark on our third term in government, is nothing less than to create world-class public services that are fair to everybody and personal to each. That is our vision of public services for all of our people and not, as the Opposition tried to propose in the election campaign, just the privileged few.
It was interesting listening to the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire and reflecting on the election campaign in which we have just participated. In that campaign, the Conservatives did their best to avoid saying anything about their vision of public services and had nothing whatever to say about the economic policy that might enable the creation of world-class public services. They certainly did not want to talk about their policy to take billions of pounds out of public health and education to subsidise private provision for the few. I notice that the hon. Gentleman said nothing about those policies today. Indeed, his speech was, in most respects, a policy-free zone. He will certainly have to do better than that in the next election campaign that he intends to fight—I believe that it is a little less than four years away.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that when public money is used to treat patients of the NHS through private sector provision, they remain NHS patients? In what sense are people taken out of the NHS or the maintained education sector if the taxpayer buys better care and better education for patients and pupils from providers best placed to meet their needs? [Interruption.]
Order. When someone intervenes, it is best to let them speak.
The difference between the right hon. Gentleman and Labour Members is that the policies on which he stood in the election campaign would have required those who wished to take advantage of additional capacity and faster treatment in the private sector to pay half the charges for their operations. That is why that policy would have benefited only a few. Our policies are benefiting everyone within the NHS.
I pay heartfelt tribute to my predecessors as Secretary of State for Health—my right hon. Friends the Members for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), for Darlington (Mr. Milburn) and for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid). I feel enormously privileged to have been appointed to this office. It is an enormous responsibility and my Ministers and I are extremely fortunate in being able to build on the strong foundations that have already been laid.
A moment ago the Secretary of State set out a noble vision of delivering the best services for all that would also be personal to each of their individual recipients. Given that in this country no fewer than 350 children are diagnosed with brain tumours each week, that only 20 per cent. of those children survive five years after that diagnosis, and that brain tumours have now overtaken leukaemia as the biggest single killer of children under 15, can the Secretary of State—aside from the inevitable party politics—say something about how the Government will improve on a record which, alongside the other provisions for cancer treatment, is not especially to be welcomed?
The hon. Gentleman raises an enormously serious and important point and I hope that there will be many more such interventions during the debate. As I have been in office for only two weeks and two days, I am sure that he would not expect me to give him a detailed response at this stage, but I shall certainly look at what we are doing and at what more we need to do to ensure that those children, and of course their families, receive the support and treatment they need. If I may, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with more details on that subject.
Before my right hon. Friend leaves the question of private care in the health service, will she tell me what is the Government's objective in the provision of private care? Are they expanding the use of private care facilities as a goad to NHS hospitals to improve delivery times, or as a way of ensuring that the NHS is not the only provider, or is it an indication that in the long term private health care will be treated equally with NHS hospitals?
We are bringing more independent providers into the national health service—I shall say something about education in a few moments. In the NHS, we are commissioning more treatment from private and independent providers to raise capacity in the service so that we can cut waiting times and continue to raise the rate of innovation in the NHS, thus ensuring that patients have more choice and more control over the treatment and care they receive.
Last week, just five years through the 10-year programme of investment and reform in the NHS, we published the latest NHS annual report. The achievements it describes are remarkable. To take just one example, the waiting time for heart bypass operations is now within three months, compared with a two-year wait before 1997. Cataract patients, too, are operated on within three months; there used to be a 15-month wait. We achieved those maximum waiting times four years earlier than the promise we made in the NHS plan. Ninety-eight per cent. of accident and emergency patients are seen and treated or admitted within four hours. One million more patients are being treated in the NHS each year, and as a result deaths from lung cancer among British men and from breast cancer among British women are falling faster than anywhere else in the world.Many people said that those things could not be done, but they are being done.
What would my right hon. Friend say to critics such as those in the Royal College of Surgeons who say that moving the more routine and profitable health care procedures from the NHS to the private sector will destabilise the financial integrity of NHS provision and also reduce the availability of such routine work for doctors in training?
The most important thing, and our starting point in all this, is the needs of the patients themselves. Both the NHS and the independent sector treatment centres are showing that where certain kinds of, on the whole, routine operations are concentrated in a single centre, far more patients can be treated far more rapidly. That is what patients want. Of course, as we introduce payment by results, we must ensure that those system reforms work in a way that does not destabilise core services that will never be available in the independent sector—particularly, of course, accident and emergency services—and we are doing that. On training, we are already in discussion with the British Medical Association to ensure that doctors in training can receive some training at the independent treatment centres, where there are some excellent practices from which they can learn.
May I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on her appointment to a very important portfolio? She is right to suggest that the needs of patients are very important, but the needs of those who visit patients are also an issue. As she knows, charging people for using hospital car parks is an issue in Leicester and both she and I have been involved in it, as have my hon. Friends the Members for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) and for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby). Will she look at that issue, because people are concerned that they have to pay such very heavy charges and that their cars are clamped on some occasions when they visit hospitals?
My hon. Friend raises an issue of great concern, particularly in Leicester and Leicestershire. I have, of course, discussed it with the chief executive of the Leicester hospitals trust, as have my hon. Friends. I do not intend to issue instructions from my office as Secretary of State about how hospital trusts should best balance their budgets or how they should make provision, which we would all want them to make, to ensure that, for instance, patients who need repeated hospital treatments or people who have to visit regularly can be exempt from such charges.
We have spelled out in the latest annual report the really remarkable achievements that are a tribute, first and foremost, to the hard work and dedication of the 1.3 million staff—considerably more staff than eight years ago—in the NHS. We should be proud of those staff, just as we should be proud of the unprecedented investment that has made those achievements possible. Health service investment has doubled since 1997 and is set to be three times as much as eight years ago by 2007–08. But we should also be proud of the reforms that have made those achievements possible. We will certainly continue those reforms, such as NHS Direct and the walk-in centres—I visited one 10 days ago in New Cross—that are available to patients, whether or not they are registered with a GP, 12 hours a day, 365 days a year. That is a model of primary health care in a disadvantaged inner-city area. We should be proud, too, of reforms such as the specialist treatment centres, including the mobile cataract surgery units, that are giving patients more control and choice over their health care. All that is available free at the point of care, as NHS treatment always will be—at least, under a Labour Government.
Before we move on too quickly to the great successes in the health service, of which there are indeed many, will my right hon. Friend say something about the public-private provision of dental services in this country? Does she have a plan for a new dental school somewhere such as Norwich?
We certainly do have a plan for a new dental school. Of course, that is in addition to the 1,000 new dentists that we are recruiting this year to improve access to, and the availability of, dental services.
I wrote to the Secretary of State last week pointing out that the Government have a policy of building large numbers of new houses in rural areas and that a consequence of the centralised manner in which the Government deliver health services is that primary care is simply not keeping up in rural areas. I know of doctors in Wem and Ellesmere who are desperate for a new primary care centre—the filing is held in the shower, the parking is totally inadequate and the waiting room is totally indiscrete—so will the Secretary of State look at my letter and reply to it? Will she agree to meet a delegation of local doctors to hear about the problems that are imposed by one section of the Government building large numbers of new houses in the countryside and bringing in a new population, while her Department is simply too inflexible and rigid to cope with the increasing demand?
Of course I will have a look at the hon. Gentleman's letter. I will ensure that he gets a reply and that his delegation is seen as soon as possible.
Despite the achievements that I have summarised, we would be the first to say that there is a great deal more that we have to do before patients and users can really be satisfied with their care. The three health and care measures outlined in the Gracious Speech will help us to meet those public expectations. All of us know of constituency cases when something has unfortunately gone wrong with patients' treatment. Such cases are not sufficiently serious to warrant the expense and anxiety of a major court case, but are none the less bad enough to make people feel quite rightly that they want an apology, an assurance that the same thing will not happen to someone else and, when appropriate, a measure of compensation. We will provide for that through the NHS redress Bill, and I believe that patients and the public will welcome the new system as a real and sensible alternative to all the problems of litigation.
Of course patients and the public have made it clear that they want better health protection both inside and outside hospitals, so the health improvement and protection Bill will represent an important step forward. It will help us to cut MRSA infection rates and to raise standards of hygiene in hospitals. Rates of MRSA infection, which we have required hospitals to measure since 2001, have been falling over the past year or so. For example, in 2003 Guy's and St. Thomas' hospitals, which do some of the most difficult and complex operations in the country, had one of the highest MRSA infection rates in the country. They took concerted action to deal with each of the problems that they identified and the MRSA rate halved within 12 months. That is one of the many examples of outstanding practice on infection control in the NHS.
As you would expect, Mr. Speaker, we are already investigating how scientific advances can help the situation. For example, we are piloting the use of a new rapid test for MRSA to speed up diagnosis. However, there is no doubt that we need to do more, so the new Bill will ensure that every hospital and care home pays proper attention to the need for the best possible hygiene and infection control. It will establish a statutory code of practice, improved inspection arrangements and, as a last resort, appropriate sanctions in the both the NHS and the independent sector, including care homes.
The Bill will also promote better health by banning smoking in most enclosed public spaces. We are acting, as the Conservative party is clearly unwilling to do, to protect people from second-hand smoke and to make it easier for people who want to give up smoking to do so. There is no doubt at all that passive smoking is a direct cause of lung cancer, heart disease, asthma attacks, childhood respiratory disease and, most tragically of all, sudden infant death syndrome. We will of course consult further on the detailed proposals, which will include a consideration of the special arrangements that will be needed for places such as hospices, prisons and long-stay residential homes.
Our constituents also want to know that the extra money that they are putting into our national health service is delivering real value, so the Bill will help to cut the number of arm's-length bodies, to reduce bureaucracy and to improve efficiency, thus saving £500 million, which will be redirected to front-line services. The Bill will modernise community pharmacy and ophthalmic services and ensure the safer management of controlled drugs, following the recommendations of the Shipman inquiry.
The third health measure in the Gracious Speech is the mental health Bill, which will replace the Mental Health Act 1983. Contrary to the statements of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, that new Bill will provide better protection for patients, as well as better protection for the public from the tiny minority of mentally ill people who represent a real danger. I am extremely conscious that we must balance carefully the need to protect people with mental disorders from harming themselves or others and the need to preserve their personal freedoms. Before introducing the Bill, we will respond fully to the thorough report of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are considering carefully.
On mental health, will the new Bill do anything to address the deficiency, which has existed for many years since the closure of so many institutions, that when people suffer acute psychiatric breakdowns, the only residential care available to them mixes them in with other people who are often suffering from such severe psychotic conditions that the in-patient care makes their condition worse rather than better? Is any step being taken to give different forms of in-patient care to people who suffer from different acute mental health problems?
The Bill is designed to create the legal framework rather than to specify the detail of service provision in every part of the country. However, by making it possible to compel treatment if that is appropriate, and to do so not only by detaining people in an in-patient hospital, it will provide a much more appropriate and modern legal framework for the kind of treatment that the best psychiatric services want to give patients who are suffering the type of serious breakdown to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
On education, the dedication of staff, backed up by our programme of investment and reform, is achieving significant results in this sector, too. In 1997, Britain—the fourth richest economy in the world—was 42nd in the world education league. Today, our 10-year-olds are the third-highest achievers in literacy in the world and the fastest improving in maths. Three quarters of 11-year-olds now reach high standards in reading, writing and maths. That is still not enough, but far better than the situation we inherited eight years ago. On top of that, 2 million children and their families are benefiting from the new registered child care places that we have created in the past eight years; for the first time all three and four-year-olds are guaranteed a free part-time early education place—something that we will extend—and in our most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, as so many of my hon. Friends know, Sure Start is helping to transform children's life chances.
In education, as in health and care, the measures set out in the Gracious Speech will build on what we have achieved. Last December, we published our 10-year child care strategy, setting out how we believe the Government should give more support to parents so that they give their children the best start in life. We will continue to expand child care services and, at the same time, give parents more choice about how they balance their work and family responsibilities.
The legislation that we will introduce in this Session will place new duties on local authorities to secure high-quality child care places in children's services that are flexible enough to meet the different needs of different families, that give children the chance to learn, play and socialise while supported by skilled and committed adults, and that provide parents with the health and family support they need. We will also legislate in that Bill to bring the inspection of children's services into Ofsted, and we will consult employers on the future of the adult learning inspectorate, with the expectation that by 2008 its functions will also be part of a single inspectorate for education, children's services and skills.
We will legislate to give a new impetus to school improvement, raising standards and increasing choice, in particular in secondary schools. As standards improve in most schools, we will raise the bar for what is acceptable performance in every school, with particular emphasis on English and maths, on providing more personal tuition so that children can learn at their own pace, neither being held back nor struggling to keep up with others, and on better standards of attendance, behaviour and—a particular thing for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills—better school food.
The Bill will introduce new powers for Ofsted and local authorities to tackle school failure and underperformance quickly and effectively. We will give parents more influence on their children's education and more power to trigger prompt action to tackle weak and underperforming schools.
Just as we are giving patients more choice over their hospital treatment, we will give parents and pupils more choice within the state education system. Over time, we want every secondary school to become a specialist school, and we will allow good schools to expand in size and influence by taking over less successful schools if they wish.
I note the glowing terms in which the Secretary of State described the education policy in England. Why, if there has been such achievement, do so many Labour Members opt out of the system and buy places in independent schools for their children? Perhaps the right hon. Lady will ask the Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland why, if the Government are emphasising parental choice in this part of the United Kingdom, in Northern Ireland parental choice is being disregarded and, indeed, the views of parents are being ignored. We are seeing the destruction of grammar schools and the abolition of academic selection, which the majority of people in Northern Ireland have said they wish to retain.
Order. Before the right hon. Lady replies, perhaps I could say to the hon. Gentleman, for his advantage and for the benefit of all other new Members, that interventions are meant to be very brief.
I cannot help feeling that in the first part of his remarks, the hon. Gentleman was perhaps thinking of the Conservative, rather than the Labour, party. On the important point that he made about Northern Ireland, I hope that he will support the efforts that we are making to restore an Assembly in Northern Ireland so that decisions about the education provision for Northern Ireland's children can be made there.
As I said, we will give parents and pupils more choice within the state education system. We have a long tradition of independent providers, such as church and other faith groups operating within the state school system. More recently, we have seen academies opening in some of our most disadvantaged communities, many of them beginning to achieve superb results.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the dramatic improvement we have seen since the creation of the Madejski academy in my constituency? Since the new management regime began, we have witnessed a 79 per cent. reduction in the number of days on which students were excluded and a 54 per cent. reduction in the number of students excluded, and there have been no permanent exclusions, against five last year. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the academy project has the potential to turn round struggling schools?
I completely agree. That is exactly the kind of breakthrough that we need in the performance of schools in our most disadvantaged areas. It is partly for that reason that we will open up the education system to new providers where they can raise standards and spread opportunity locally—subject, of course, to parental demand, to fair funding and to fair admissions.
We will also introduce a Bill to provide better protection for children and vulnerable adults by creating a single vetting and barring scheme in place of the four different schemes that now exist. We will take forward the recommendations made by Sir Michael Bichard in response to the Soham murders. Checks will be more comprehensive in coverage; information will be comprehensively updated and available to employers online; and, for the first time, parents employing a home carer or a nanny will be able to check an applicant's history. That is all designed to ensure as far as is humanly possible that people who are simply unsuitable for work with children and vulnerable adults are not allowed to take up such jobs.
Finally, we will introduce a Bill to improve arrangements for children to have contact with their parents when those parents are no longer living together, and to strengthen the law relating to international adoptions. We have all dealt in our constituencies with those very painful cases where parents have separated, where the court has said that the child should have contact with the non-resident parent—usually, though not always, the father—but the contact simply does not happen. It is clearly wrong that a court order made in the interests of the welfare of the child should be disregarded by one of the parents. The Children (Contact and Adoption) Bill will give the courts more flexible powers to encourage parents to agree and stick to contact arrangements and, when necessary, to enforce a court contact order.
The hon. Gentleman says that the Bill will achieve nothing. He is wrong. Based on international experience and on the consultation carried out, I believe that the Bill will indeed help to achieve what I hope we all, on both sides of the House, want, which is for every child to have the close and loving support of both parents. The Bill will also deal with international adoptions: in particular, it will restrict adoptions from countries in which adoption procedures are simply inadequate to safeguard the welfare of the children involved.
In closing, let me stress that continued reform and investment in our public services are vital if we are to create a society based on fairness and social justice. In the recent election campaign, we were proud to emphasise not only our commitment to a society based on those principles, but our track record of achievement and our determination to do much, much more. The measures outlined in the Gracious Speech will ensure that our health and education services are firmly based around the needs of patients, pupils and their families and will give them more control over and more choice about the services they use. I look forward to the introduction of those measures, to the lively debate that will no doubt follow in the House and to the improvements—the transformation—of our public services that will follow in the months and years to come.
When I was returned to Parliament a couple of weeks ago, I was, naturally, itching to scrutinise the Department for Work and Pensions for the seventh consecutive year, but the call came from my right hon. Friend Mr. Kennedy, who tempted me into the health sphere, and—kicking and screaming—I agreed to take on a new challenge. It is therefore my pleasure to take part for the first time as an MP in a major debate on health.
I welcome the Secretary of State and her ministerial team to their roles or their new roles, as applicable. The House might not be aware that the right hon. Lady and I have some history—[Hon. Members: "Oh?"]—and later I might tell hon. Members all about it. In fact, 10 to 15 years ago, she and I were fellow members of the commission on social justice. The humble secretary of that body is now Mr. Miliband and the Minister of Communities and Local Government, and its vice-chair is now the Secretary of State for Health, so I think I made some good connections. The right hon. Lady encouraged me to stand for Parliament in 1997, and because I owe her that, for the first week in my new role I have not gone in too hard. I was concerned about how quickly I was supposed to come up with expert opinions, but it occurred to me that, despite having had only one week more in a new job, she was having to make expert decisions; I suddenly realised that we have both been thrown in at the deep end. Like her, I intend to a do a good deal of listening, not only for the next few months, but beyond, and this afternoon I thought it would be helpful to set out some of the key issues that I want to address in my new role and some of the philosophical approach that I bring to the critical area of health.
First, I thank Mr. Lansley for his gracious comments about my predecessor, my hon. Friend Mr. Burstow. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, my hon. Friend was extraordinarily thorough and meticulous in his research, he raised many important issues in a fair way and contributed greatly to our debates on health. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generous comments and for his welcome to me.
I believe passionately in the founding principles of the national health service and whenever my hon. Friends and I see them being threatened, we will speak out loud and clear. We believe in universal access to the health service, free at the point of use, and we believe that one's access to quality health care should not depend on one's needs. We will uphold those principles in whatever reform we argue for, because I have in common with the Secretary of State the belief that we need a reformed NHS.
I support the additional resources that the Government have committed. That is why I was pleased in the previous Parliament to back additional national insurance for the health service. We had campaigned for additional resources. We had argued that they were needed and we were willing to take the difficult decision to support them. Yes, resources need to be put in; yes, reform is needed. However, I have huge respect for the many of our constituents who work in different roles in the NHS. They are often unsung heroes and heroines in the work that they do. They deserve to be supported.
If over the coming weeks, months and years we criticise what is happening in the health service, that criticism will not be directed at the front-line staff, who are doing extraordinary work. Very often, the criticism will be directed at the Whitehall management of the service, which is often letting us down in the provision of the quality health care that we want to see.
I reject the philosophical approach that where a public service is struggling, we should help people to buy their way out of it. That is not the answer in health or in education. We must ensure that the health service is one that the vast majority of people want to remain within because it is excellent, and not one that the state helps them to buy their way out of. That cannot be the right approach.
Where the private sector is involved, it must be on level terms. One of my concerns—this is something that I will want to investigate—is how far the Government's involvement in the private sector is on the infamous level playing field. I am concerned, for example, that some of these operation factories, some of these treatment centres, may allow the private sector to get a better price than the NHS for the operations that they undertake. I understand that the providers at independent treatment centres will get a price that is not necessarily the same as payment by results or treatment delivered by the NHS. It cannot be right that private providers will get a better deal than the NHS, especially if private providers are doing easy operations and leaving the NHS with the difficult ones.
If the private sector is to be involved, it must, as I have said, be on equal terms, and I am not convinced that it is. I am concerned that NHS money is leaching out of the system to pay for private sector profits, and as a result is not providing as much health care as it should. Investigation is needed.
I am sceptical about over-reliance on the dogma of the market within the health service. The logic of the market, if the product is called baked beans, is that if it is no good, the company goes out of business. We cannot allow NHS hospitals to start going out of business, not least because the geographical coverage is critical. If the logic is that NHS hospitals cannot go out of business, how do we have a market mechanism that says that with payment by results, people choose where they have their treatment, with some hospitals getting less business? They then suffer financially. The logic is that they cannot be allowed to go under, so that cannot be the mechanism for improving their performance. If that is not the logical conclusion of the policy, what is the market doing in its place?
In the gracious Speech we heard about choice and diversity. As Liberals, we have no problem with that concept. Who could be opposed to giving people new choices and new options? However, when our constituents come to talk to us about the health service—this is my experience—I have yet to meet someone who says, "If only I had more choice and diversity." Ninety-nine times out of a hundred they say, "If only I had prompt access to quality health care."
In my part of the country, near Bristol, my constituents have a choice of three NHS trusts or hospitals. All of them, until recently, were zero star trusts in terms of the league table mentality. If my constituents were told that they could have three zero star trusts or one very good one, we would know the answer 100 times out of 100. Unless the Secretary of State can explain how the choice mechanism will drive up standards, and if so-called failed institutions cannot go to the wall, I do not follow the logic. The priority must be prompt access to local quality care. If we can offer a choice of quality care, that is great. However, that does not come first unless the Secretary of State can explain what the causal mechanism is. I have not yet heard a convincing account from the Government of what that is.
In coming new to a subject area, one is rather like the person who sees that the emperor has no clothes and asks the blindingly obvious questions. With NHS dentistry, the rhetoric is great. However, the reality startled me when I read the answer to a question that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam tabled just a few months ago. I discovered that adult and child registration with NHS dentists is falling. I had heard ministerial rhetoric and had assumed from that that things were getting better remorselessly. As my hon. Friend said, it was as if every day was the first day of spring. In fact, the reality is very different. I was startled to learn that between 2003 and 2004 NHS dentistry registrations for children fell until barely half our children were registered with an NHS dentist, and for adults fell to little more than a third. I know that there are plans for investment, but it looks as though things have been getting worse. We as a party will pursue the goal of not merely reversing that decline, but getting back towards an NHS dentistry service worth the name. We clearly do not have that at present.
Judging by the issues about which my constituents come to see me, there have been changes in the NHS over the past 12 months that do not seem to be working. I am sure many of my hon. Friends would agree. The system of out-of-hours GP cover is not yet working. I have heard horror stories in my constituency about people who call a GP in the middle of the night, and four hours later someone is being chauffeur-driven from Birmingham to Bristol. That cannot be a sensible use of taxpayers' money. I hope the Secretary of State's smile is a recognition of that, but that is happening now. The number of out-of-hours GPs is insufficient, yet the cost of providing the service has risen astronomically, compared with when it was provided in house. Those are the sort of nitty-gritty issues on which we intend to press the Government.
I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the out-of-hours service. Does he agree that one of the strange precursors of the present situation was the fact that the GPs who always used to be on call were given the option of taking a very modest reduction in their income in order to shed that major responsibility? Was not the present disaster an entirely predictable outcome of their being given that choice?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that what has happened was predictable, not least because the primary care trusts, which are now responsible for putting in place alternative provision, do not have the budget necessary to pay for the most expensive part of the provision, which is the bit that nobody wants to do—call-outs in the middle of the night and at weekends. That was foreseeable, and I am concerned that so far nothing is being done rapidly enough to address the matter. Lives are at risk as long as the problem is not addressed.
When things go wrong with out-of-hours GP cover, there is a knock-on effect on our accident and emergency departments. Again, I draw on my own constituency experience. Our accident and emergency departments are overstretched, partly because people often cannot get a GP out of hours, so they head down to the A and E department, which was never meant to provide many of the services that out-of-hours GP cover should provide. There are knock-on effects through the system when one part is not working properly.
I want to raise with the Secretary of State the issue of accountability in the NHS. For me, that is one of the biggest gaps. Trying to establish who is responsible in the NHS is like trying to grab hold of a greasy stick. To cite another constituency example, Frenchay hospital is set to be downgraded—to use the jargon—from being a major international hospital with more than 700 beds to being a community hospital with 50 beds. I have raised the matter in debates in the House on more than one occasion. Each time the relevant Minister of State has said, "Nothing to do with me, guv. This is a matter for the locals."
That sounds great, but when one finds out locally who made the decision, it is the unelected chairmen and chief executives of the trusts and the executives of the strategic health authority, none of whom we can vote out if we think they made the wrong decision. As far as I am aware, the overview and scrutiny committees are not in the business of sacking chief executives when they make the wrong decision. When my constituents and thousands like them are confronted with a decision that they do not like about a hospital trust or an accident and emergency department, whom do they hold accountable? The money for any reform will ultimately come from the Secretary of State, yet her Ministers tell me she is not accountable for what is going on. I should like to have a discussion with her about that.
There are other important issues that we should flag up. There is a huge problem of capacity in our health service. Very often, when reform and modernisation take place, new hospitals are built with fewer beds than those that they replace. I am not convinced that, with a growing ageing population, we can get away with cutting bed numbers. Recently GPs in my constituency were written to and asked not to send people to hospital. The hospital had eight or nine wards closed because of infection, which is clearly germane to our debate, and therefore could not cope. The accident and emergency department was overwhelmed. Against that backdrop, telling my constituents that there should be fewer beds, not more, is a hard message to sell.
The NHS will try to be more efficient by driving people through more quickly, with higher bed occupancy and shorter stays, but we all know the problems with that. Linking that with the MRSA debate, there is clear evidence that driving up bed usage beyond certain critical thresholds is damaging for infection control. If beds are essentially never empty, how can standards be maintained? I am pleased that the Secretary of State appears to recognise that. When the Government came to power, bed occupancy was around 80 per cent.; by last year it was 87 per cent., and there are plenty who feel that that is too high.
Professor Barry Cookson of the Health Protection Agency has said that that high bed occupancy is related to the rise in hospital-acquired infections. He says:
"We have got to get down to 85% . . . Patients should realise that there is a certain safety level above which we start having problems."
Without going on at length about the targets culture, the danger is that one bit of the Department will say that waiting lists must be brought down and we must achieve this and that goal, and another bit will say that if bed occupancy is driven up beyond 85 per cent., 87 per cent. or 88 per cent., quality health care, another goal, will be sabotaged. I hope that the Secretary of State will oversee—dare I use the phrase?—a joined-up Department whereby a target in one area does not have a counterproductive effect elsewhere, as a plethora of targets are wont to do. Clearly we need to monitor and know what is going on, but a plethora of centrally driven targets can be counter-productive, and MRSA is a classic example of that.
On the general issue of hospital-acquired infections, will the hon. Gentleman join me in condemning the scare tactics and downright lies put around in Conservative party advertisements during the general election campaign? In my constituency, we were treated to two separate advertisements on two separate days giving two entirely different figures for MRSA. In the Reading Evening Post the figure was 161 and in the Reading Chronicle the figure was 69. The true figure was 38. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Conservatives have lost all credibility on this issue?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that some outrageous scare stories were put out. As was mentioned earlier, for people to be afraid to go into hospital because of an exaggerated fear of what they might get is unacceptable.
Many practical things can be done, and we await the Government's Bill. Simple measures, such as more isolation facilities, have an important part to play. There is the danger that if we simply penalise hospital managers or staff, who often have limited room for manoeuvre, we may penalise the wrong people. We will look hard at what the Government have promoted, but practical measures can be taken to tackle these important areas.
Having taken on this role barely a week ago it would be presumptuous of me to lecture the House on the answers to all these problems. [Interruption.] Not that I would usually let that stop me. But one of the critical points that I want to make is that Liberal Democrats are passionately committed to making the health service, with its founding principles, work; that there are too many cases where the hard-working individuals within the health service, who are doing their best to deliver quality health care, are thwarted at every turn, whether by centralised targets or by counter-productive instructions from the Government; that we believe that there is an urgent need for health service reform; that many of the market-driven approaches and perhaps dogmatic approaches to private provision need looking at again—but that our health service has the potential to be great once again, and we, the Liberal Democrats, will be at the forefront of ensuring that it is.
It is with great pleasure and some humility that I rise to make this, my maiden speech. I am conscious of the trust placed in me by the constituents of Swansea, East, and I am pleased that I have the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Queen's Speech, in which we are discussing the most innovative and challenging proposals of an historic third-term Labour Government.
Being aware of the conventions and traditions of the House, I begin by recognising the contribution made here by my predecessor, Donald Anderson. His work and commitment to all parliamentary and constituency matters are legendary, and in a career that has spanned more than 30 years he has served his country and the people of Swansea, East well. His roots are deep in the communities of Swansea, but it is a less well-known fact that Donald has Norwegian blood. One of his forefathers, a Norwegian sailor, came to Swansea and settled in Aberdyberthi street, and the rest, as they say, is history.
I have often wondered whether it is this unique racial mix and the blood of his seafaring ancestors that have given Donald his interest and great insight in all matters foreign. I dare say that they were the seed of his diplomatic career and subsequent involvement in the Foreign Affairs Committee. In his role as Chairman of the Committee, he achieved recognition across the world and gained the respect of many diplomats and leaders. It is true to say that he always undertook his role with charm and ease.
Donald is known to everyone in Swansea, East, and I hope to achieve a similar level of recognition and respect over the next few years. I am confident that he will continue to play a full and active role in British politics when he becomes a Member of the other place. Lord Anderson of Swansea will, I am sure, be a working Lord, contributing his huge experience of foreign affairs and a lifetime of public service to the upper House. He has been and always will be a true son of the city of Swansea, and in his new role, he will have even greater opportunity to promote Swansea and its people.
There is much that I can say about Swansea at this point. Many people are aware of its links with Dylan Thomas, but we in Swansea, East have our own poet, who, through his music and words, will be well known to many of you. Gwrosydd, the famous Welsh bard, lived and died in Treboeth, and here he wrote the words to one of the most well-known and beloved hymns in the Welsh language—"Calon Lan", "A Pure Heart", a hymn that is sung with hwyl and often hiraeth wherever Welsh people gather to celebrate their language and culture.
The history of Swansea stretches back even further. Tradition tells us that the settlement was founded by Viking raiders and grew steadily over the centuries, but it was in the 18th century that Swansea came to prominence, with the expansion of the copper smelting industry, and it exploded with the arrival of the industrial revolution. It is a city built on the wealth of its natural resources—coal, an abundant water supply, a navigable river and, of course, its greatest asset: a supply of hard-working people willing to undertake the work needed to develop industry and sustain a growing population.
Landore, Llansamlet, Hafod, Plasmarl, Morfa, Port Tennant, Danygraig and Bonymaen are areas of Swansea, East where industry flourished. The eastern side of the town grew quickly to meet the needs of those who flocked here to work. Names synonymous with the area are Morriston, Mynnyddbach, Penderry and Cwmbwria, which developed alongside industry and today are vibrant communities.
Recently, developments in the area have swept away the old traces of our industrial past. New developments such as the Morfa stadium, which is soon to be home to the Ospreys rugby team and Swansea City football club, have risen phoenix-like out of the ashes of industrial waste and now stand as beacons for the future. They are the visible signs of a new, more confident city that is able to meet the needs of future generations. The SA1 project is another flagship development. This ambitious project is transforming the old dockland area of Swansea, East into a place where business and innovation will work hand in hand, developing new ideas and providing companies with the ingredients that they need to create more jobs and generate further development in the city.
Working in partnership with local business people, the Welsh Development Agency and the Welsh Assembly have established the Technium centre, which is supporting a range of innovative local initiatives. The development has also attracted local companies, keen to take advantage of business opportunities. One of those is the Ethos project, which is encouraging a cluster approach to business support and will provide businesses with the environment that they need to succeed.
I am proud that those projects are in Swansea, East and that our communities are yet again embracing changes that will affect them, but deliver even more security and opportunity to greater numbers of people. It is that flexibility and willingness to develop and embrace change that enabled our forefathers to establish Swansea and help develop it as one of the major ports of Wales, and it will help to ensure that we meet the challenges of the future.
I am a Swansea jack, born in the constituency and raised in the Swansea valley. Swansea has always been the linchpin of my life and it is now the centre of my working life. I am for ever linked to the city by birth and now commitment. I believe that my political career mirrors the guts and determination of the people of Swansea. From an early stage, my parents Martha and Melbourne encouraged me to stand up and be counted. I left school at 16, married and raised a family. My husband of almost 30 years, Martin, and my son Rhodri and daughter Rowena have always been there, keeping my feet firmly on the ground. My commitment to issues affecting my family and wider community encouraged my early interest in politics, but it was the miners strike of 1984 that catapulted me into direct action and got me involved with Labour party politics.
I learned valuable lessons during that strike. I learned that I was a woman, not a mother or wife; I learned that I was strong; and I learned that I could stand side by side with my husband to try to keep his pit open and our community alive. In that year of struggle, other women and I in the Neath, Dulais and Swansea valley miners support group found a new political voice that we wanted to be heard further afield than our own community.
At the end of that bitter struggle, I was chairwoman of the south Wales women's support group. I realised that I wanted to follow a different path from that of my mother and her mother, so I enrolled as a full-time university student in Swansea and, having graduated, worked for a variety of community-based organisations. My career has involved, and always will involve, working with people, particularly women and children. My most recent post was director of Welsh Women's Aid, an umbrella organisation for 35 groups across Wales that provide services for women and children who are experiencing domestic abuse.
My association with women and children nurtured my interest in women's rights, equality issues and children's matters, which are issues that are dear to my heart. As MP for Swansea, East, I intend to promote the wonderful work undertaken across my constituency by the myriad organisations dedicated to supporting the rights of women and children. Those organisations include Morriston children's centre, which was founded to work with less advantaged families on estates such as Clase and Caemawr and which encourages community participation. The Spark centre in Blaenymaes is another first-class project, and the dedication and enthusiasm of its team, which works day in and day out to support children and their parents, are an inspiration to us all. The Gap project, which is based at Cornerstone church, Portmead, provides excellent support and encouragement to disaffected young people. At Daniel James community school, the OWLS project takes young people who have been excluded from school into the community to work alongside the elderly, which helps to develop the community.
I welcome the proposals in the Queen's Speech, particularly those that will deliver improved services to women and children. As a member of the Labour party, a community activist and, now, a Member of Parliament, I am proud of all that the Labour Government have achieved. I thank the people of Swansea, East for putting their trust in me, and I promise to work alongside them and to continue to improve the quality of their lives. I want to ensure that the issues that we all hold dear, such as community, respect and hard work, are recognised. I am committed to providing high-quality public services and ensuring that our homes and communities are safe and secure for everybody.
Finally, I want to thank an old-age pensioner who wrote to me during the recent election. In a shaky, barely legible hand, he told me why he was voting Labour and why he was telling his family and friends about our achievements. I was humbled by how positive he was about all that we have done and what a difference a Labour Government have made to him and countless others. His words reminded me what a privilege and honour it is to be a Member of Parliament.
It is possible to achieve a great deal on behalf of others, which is always the litmus test of effectiveness. When I ask myself the question, "What have I done to help others?", I want to be able confidently to answer, "As much as I can."
I am delighted to follow Mrs. James, whom I congratulate on her succinct speech.
This is my maiden speech. Yesterday, while I was waiting all day to be called, it struck me that a maiden speech is a bit like a first bungee jump, leap from an aeroplane or chance to walk a girl home—while one is waiting, one does not know whether one will get one's chance; while one is waiting for the chance, one is not sure whether one has done the right thing.
It is an honour to speak as the new Conservative Member for Lancaster and Wyre and to represent my constituents in this House. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Hilton Dawson, who represented the people of Lancaster and Wyre for the past eight years. He was a friendly and approachable constituency MP who always managed to get out and about, and, more often than not, he put the people before his party or his politics. He worked tirelessly for the rights of children at home and abroad and always did his best to better their welfare. I wish him well in the cause to which he has returned since leaving this House, and I will always support him in the community if he needs me to.
Geographically, Lancaster and Wyre is sandwiched between Preston and the Lake district. It is bordered on the west by Morecambe bay and on the east by the Yorkshire dales. The constituency is steeped in Jacobean and mediaeval history; indeed, the seat of the Duchy of Lancaster has been there since the 14th century. The city of Lancaster was also the first city in England to welcome the young pretender on his march south in 1744–45, so it was no surprise that, as a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I always received a warm welcome from the city. To this day, the constituency has strong links north as well as south, and I look forward to doing my best to represent the north in this House in the south.
The constituency also has ancient history. The town of Garstang has been a market town for the past 800 years and it historically prided itself on its rural economy and trade. Now, it prides itself on being Britain's first fair trade town, and I look forward to supporting that and increasing what is on offer to the people. The settlements of Poulton-Le-Fylde and Thornton have been in existence for nearly a millennium.
The rich history of the constituency is reflected in the two local regiments: the King's Own Border Regiment, which recruits from around Lancaster, and the Queen's Lancashire Regiment, which recruits in Preston. They are well-recruited regiments with a first-class history in serving the Crown. It is a great shame that the Government, under their proposed umbrella for reform, are due to abolish those two proud regiments. It may be of note that the commanding officer of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment is perhaps due to stand trial for action in Iraq. It is a scandal that the country does not stand by the soldiers that have been sent to Iraq on Government business. As an ex-serving officer, I would say that if our senior officers are to stand trial, perhaps some people from other Benches in this House should face a similar fate.
I wanted to speak yesterday in the home affairs debate, because I wanted to point out that a major factor in the history of Lancaster and Wyre has been law and order, in which it has a great tradition. Lancaster castle is the oldest and longest continually running prison in Europe. It has housed debtors, executed witches and deported thieves. Poulton-Le-Fylde boasts some of the best examples of antique stocks and whipping posts. That is a bit too tough on crime and the causes of crime nowadays, but it shows the great theme in my constituency for upholding law and order.
On a more positive note, there are good examples in the education sector, from first-class primary schools, such as St. Hilda's and Carlton, to Garstang high school and Lancaster university. They all turn out first-class students, and the challenge for economic development in the constituency is to provide jobs for those skilled people to enter the labour market. In manufacturing, British Aerospace is south of my constituency and Glasson Grain is in it. Both struggle with fierce overseas competition and it is hoped that the Government will do more to help the manufacturing sector.
During the general election, I campaigned on three main issues. The first was cracking down on crime, especially youth crime and antisocial behaviour, which now blights all streets across the country. I wanted to campaign also for local communities to have more of a say in planning so that, as so often happens, their decisions are not overruled from the centre. Thirdly—and more appropriate to this debate—I campaigned for better access to national health service dentists. A recent survey found that only 30 per cent. of dentists in Lancaster and Wyre would take NHS patients. If all the investment is going in at the top, why can people not get access to dentists? That surely shows that there is a flaw in the plan somewhere.
It is appropriate in this debate for me to speak to the Conservative amendment, because my constituents are not concerned about who delivers their health care, but who commissions it. They want access to a GP out of hours, an NHS dentist and health visitors, and they also want their primary care dictated predominantly by their needs instead of being anticipated by the centre and targets.
I want to thank the electorate of Lancaster and Wyre for sending me here, and I shall try to do my best over the next four or five years to represent their needs. I want also to thank my association, which obviously backed me; otherwise, I would not be standing here.
I came here because I believe in defending, not denying people's liberties. I came here because many of the constituents whom I represent live on the edge of the means test. They are not eligible for any of the benefits, but are eligible to be taxed. They do not have the cushion to absorb such measures as tuition fees or higher council tax. I came here because my constituents deserve good government, not big government. During the next few years, I shall do my best for them and for the party.
The maiden speech of Mr. Wallace was a fine speech. I have listened to several maiden speeches over the past few days and I have been impressed by their high calibre. The hon. Gentleman and I will obviously differ on many issues, but he will provide us with good debate during the coming years.
I must make special mention of my hon. Friend Mrs. James. I lived in Swansea for 13 years and taught at the university there. Indeed, I took Donald Anderson's job when he was elected to Parliament a very long time ago, and later joined him here. My hon. Friend's speech was very good and it brought back many memories of happy days in Swansea, where I still have close associations. Her robust speech makes me conscious of the fact that she will be a great parliamentarian and will fight the corner for Swansea.
It is wonderful to have a robust discussion about everything, so let us start with education, as not much has been said about it today. I want to say only three things, the first of which is that there is a remarkable amount in the Queen's Speech that I salute. It contains a great deal, and opens with a commitment to the
"long-term growth and prosperity" of our economy. None of our achievements in education, health or any of the public services, nor anything that we have done during the past eight years, would have been possible had it not been for our successful running of the economy.
As the former Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee, I have considered our achievements in education. Part of my job during the past few years has been to scrutinise and to point out matters to the Government. Colleagues will know that when my Committee and I thought that the Government had got it wrong, we were pretty robust in our criticism—constructive criticism—of them. The Government have a very proud record in terms of investment in education, the early years programme and Sure Start, the secondary schools programme, and skills and higher education.
That does not mean that we have accomplished everything, however. One interesting phrase that leapt out of the Queen's Speech was the commitment to achieve
"safe and secure communities . . . fostering a culture of respect."
Many of us in this House will remember "respect" for a long time to come; indeed, there is a Member of this House associated with that title for whom I do not have a great deal of respect.
On returning to the House after an election, it is sometimes important to point out not only the easy things that one heard on the doorstep, but the difficult things. I was most worried to discover on the doorstep in the recent election that although there is not an actual dislike of politics or politicians, there is an undercurrent of resistance, almost, to the democratic process. Once we start to pick up that feeling, it should worry all of us—not just the Government, but the Opposition. The feeling is not just about party politics.
As a young MP, I remember hearing Harold Wilson when he was chairing a Committee on new communications technologies. It was a time when satellite communications and 24-hour media were only dimly perceived. In the 20 years since, we have seen the rise of 24-hour media. From talking to many of my constituents I gain the impression that they feel inundated and fed up with it. There is far too much of it and they have had enough. If we think of the constant barrage of news and information that comes in so many ways and if we add to it the rather nasty tone of the last election, we gain an understanding of the problem.
I realise that the Conservatives no longer want to be seen as the nasty party, but many aspects of their behaviour during the election—their use of the Australian term, for example—made me think that they had forgotten that. I remember when I first went to Australia hearing politicians call each other liars in the chamber. We would not countenance that in this Chamber. The Tory candidate who stood against me called me a liar in his election address. I never experienced that before in all the seven elections that I fought. I thought that it was inappropriate for the Leader of the Opposition and my Conservative opponent to use that term. It feeds back to the ordinary people I talk to, who do not want the tone of British politics lowered in that way.
I also recall the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference taking place during the election. These days, the Secretary of State and junior Ministers cannot get a fair hearing even from headmasters. We then ask ourselves what to do about disruptive behaviour in schools. My Select Committee took considerable evidence on disruptive behaviour, and it is a real problem. All the evidence that my Committee took over five years suggests strongly that such behaviour greatly reflects what is happening in society. Kids do not become different people or step into a different culture when they come to school. They bring what they have learned from outside into the classroom.
Teaching becomes the toughest job in the world when children who show no respect at home, no respect on the streets and no respect in their communities also show no respect at school. For such children, it is inevitably difficult to enter a regime in which they are expected to behave themselves, to be quiet and to allow others to learn. It is a challenging problem for our society and there are no glib answers. There is no silver bullet for improving the environment in all our schools.
I go to a school of one sort or another once a fortnight. I often find good schools, well-behaved students and an atmosphere in which pupils can learn—in short, everything that parents would expect of a school that they want their children to attend. I go mainly to state schools—I do not visit the private sector very often—and it is those schools to which I am referring. I believe that we should be proud of the teaching, leadership and environment in which most of our kids are educated in this country. It does no one any good to exaggerate the problem, though behaviour is not what it could be and there is some low-level bad behaviour in some schools, which stops others from learning.
We can probably agree on both sides of the House that what we want from our education system is quality learning in the classroom. We want a teacher to be able to teach and a student to be able to learn. Teachers, heads and all those associated with our education system sometimes need to be congratulated, not criticised, on doing a very good job in most of our country's schools. We should remember that.
I have two more points about the Queen's Speech. First, precisely what is going to appear in the education Bill is rather a mystery. We know about only some parts of it and it seems rather a miscellaneous Bill. I should like to tell the Secretary of State that the battleground for ideas and actions over the next four years may be slightly different from what she anticipates. I shall tell the House what I think, which is that we will return to what happens to children between the ages of 16 and 18. The manifesto contained a pledge that I hold very dear—that no longer will any child be allowed to go into employment without any training or educational qualifications. That is not a plea for making compulsory a school-leaving age of 18, but we must ensure that no child goes into the labour market without some educational or training guarantee.
Finally, the Tomlinson report will not go away. We must make vocational education a genuine alternative for children aged between 14 and 19. That alternative must not be a lesser choice or second class in any way, but making it available will be the challenge for the next four years.
I hope that we have a good debate on education and that new Members will continue to contribute to it when they have delivered their maiden speeches, as it is a wonderful sector in which to take an active part.
I begin by joining Mr. Sheerman in congratulating my hon. Friend Mr. Wallace and Mrs. James on their maiden speeches. Sadly, it is some time since I made my maiden speech, but one's first contribution in a new Parliament is an opportunity to reflect at least briefly on the vote of confidence received from the constituents.
As the hon. Member for Swansea, East noted, being elected to this House should always be a humbling experience, whether it be for the first time or, as in my case, for rather more than the first time. In congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre, I must say that I detected a certain robustness of tone which I think that we shall come to enjoy in the years ahead. I look forward to his contributions to other debates, in particular in respect of matters to do with law and order and other topics for which the necessary traditions and expertise apparently still reside in Lancaster.
It is a cliché that public services lie at the heart of modern political debate, but anyone who doubted that had only to listen to the reaction on the doorstep during the recent general election campaign. That reaction, and the evidence from opinion polls, made it clear that electors considering the performance of a modern Government put the delivery of health care and education services that match their aspirations at the very heart of their choice at the ballot box. Hon. Members of all parties must take that very seriously. The signal from voters also reflects a growing disparity between what they expect to receive from the core public services of health and education and what they receive in reality when they visit a school, hospital or GP surgery.
That is not unlike what happened in the British economy in the 1970s, when a dangerous disparity developed between what we wanted to achieve and what we managed to achieve. As every hon. Member knows, that led to a radical reform of the way in which the economy works—a reform that is now common ground across the House. It is no exaggeration to say that a similar process of rethinking the delivery of health and education in the modern world now faces the Government and all political parties if we in this House are to be seen to take this matter as seriously as our voters take it at election time.
I shall deal with two sectors of the public service, apart from schools and hospitals, that illustrate some of the more difficult and uncomfortable choices that we will have to face up to. The first sector is the universities. We heard a lot during the election campaign from the Government, and a little from the Lib Dems, about how the Conservative party planned to introduce new charging regimes for public services. It is a matter of history that the NHS has three charging regimes, one for dentistry, one for opticians and one for prescriptions. Two of those three charging systems were introduced not by Conservative Governments but by Labour Governments. More importantly, and much more recently, the core public service of the delivery of university education was subjected to a new charging regime for tuition, introduced in the last Parliament by the present Government. Therefore, I accept no lectures from the Government on charging regimes in public services. Across those four specific examples, the score for introducing new charging regimes is 3–1 to Labour. That is a convenient party political point, but it has some uncomfortable lessons that need to be taken more generally into account.
We must recognise that some difficult issues must be addressed in the university sector. The British university system has fallen behind other comparative systems, in particular that in north America, in terms of available resources and the degree of comfort with which university staff work within that sector. If we wanted a university system in which professional people felt that their professionalism was undervalued and subject to too many targets, it would be hard to find a better example than our present system. That is not a party political point, because the target setting started under the last Conservative Government. We have to develop a system in which universities trust more in the professionalism of those who work in them. We need to see universities more as private sector institutions, which—strictly speaking—they are, delivering a service to their students.
I must say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I think that the Conservative party went up a dead end when it opposed the introduction of tuition fees. Reform of the public services involves reassessing the balance between individual and collective responsibility, and accepting that some matters that were regarded in the post-war world as the responsibilities of the taxpayer will increasingly have to be regarded as responsibilities that the individual at least shares with the taxpayer. The Government were right to conclude that the university sector was a good place to start.
The universities are one area of public service that needs to work through difficult issues. The other area that I wish to mention is NHS dentistry, for which I used to be responsible. Nobody can surely believe that the model for the provision of NHS dentistry is one that we should admire or claim great credit for. The fact is that access to public services should be one of the key determinants of whether our policy mix is right. Access to NHS dentistry is too often denied to people who should—we would all agree—have ready access to those services.
NHS dentistry is another area where the issue of charging for public services arises. It has an appalling charging regime, not because charges are always wrong but because, unlike private sector insurance schemes for the provision of medical or clinical care, the charges are imposed on the patient at the time of clinical need—despite the formulation that Steve Webb used. If we are to introduce further charging, we must think about establishing a way for the patient to accept shared responsibility without imposing the charge at the moment that they might be put off from accepting care that they need by the financial consequences.
I raise those two services—universities and dentistry—because I do not believe that any party in the House will accept the suggestion that we should abolish all charges for them and go back to total state funding. We need to think through how we can make co-payment—that dreadful jargon word—consistent with the core principle everyone should accept: equitable access to those services for all who should have access to them, when they need them and without regard to the financial consequences.
I end with a rhetorical question: does anybody seriously believe that the issues I have raised in connection with dentistry and universities are unique to those services?
I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I compliment and congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs. James and Mr. Wallace, who also made their maiden speeches this afternoon. It is with trepidation and humility that I begin mine.
I choose to speak in this debate because of my direct experience of our fantastic national health service and my desire to see it flourish in the 21st century, and also to allow me to do what my constituents expect of me—to be an active and effective advocate and representative for them in the House. Today, I begin that in earnest.
My first act will be to inform hon. Members of the heritage and history of my constituency. Geographically, Lancashire West—or, as it is now known West Lancashire—borders the Liverpool conurbation to the south and Preston to the north. To the west lies the coastal town of Southport and to the east Wigan and Greater Manchester. That places us right at the heart of a thriving north-west.
The constituency is made up of several small villages, including Burscough, Parbold and Newburgh, which can be traced back to medieval England and the Domesday book, while the bulk of the population is concentrated in the towns of Ormskirk and Skelmersdale. West Lancashire is a mix of opposites: history and modernity, urban and rural, agriculture and industry, which are reflected in the type of issues that will exercise me over the course of this Parliament. They include rural transport, supporting farmers and agricultural producers, the long-awaited Burscough bypass, continued regeneration of the more deprived urban communities and the improvement and development of public services locally.
In the post-war era, a list of illustrious and infamous male predecessors have represented my constituency, including Harold Wilson, Douglas Glover, Harold Soref, Robert Kilroy-Silk, Kenneth Hind and Colin Pickthall. When I reflected on that list, the significance of my election to this place struck me. I am the first woman to hold the seat—a vindication of Labour's commitment to make the House more representative of wider society.
The recent election was the fourth successive election at which West Lancashire returned a Labour MP, making Labour the natural party of Lancashire, West. That is indeed a testament to the hard work and commitment of the local Labour party and of my immediate predecessor, Colin Pickthall—a fitting legacy. Having wrested control of the seat from the Conservatives in 1992, Colin went on to be a great champion of the people and places of West Lancashire. His approach to his responsibilities reflected a deep affection for the area even though, like me, he was not born in the constituency.
Colin dedicated his life to the advancement of Labour party values and to representing the people of Lancashire, West, both as an MP and, before that, as a county councillor. During 13 years as the MP, Colin presided over an upturn in the constituency's fortunes. Many improvements are a direct result of the Labour Government's commitment to equality of opportunity and social justice. Unemployment now stands at just 2.2 per cent. Colin has been instrumental in the regeneration effort, which has improved the quality of life for many people.
Colin played an important role not just in the constituency but in the House, where he served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at both the Home Office and the Foreign Office for the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend Mr. Straw. In his retirement from the House, I wish Colin and his family good health, and I hope that he enjoys having time to pursue his interest in fell walking and poetry—it is well deserved.
On health, I have many years' experience of working in the national health service, culminating in being the chair of Liverpool women's hospital—a three-star hospital, although we believe that it has five: three awarded annually by the Department of Health, another for being one of only three hospitals in the country with CNST—clinical negligence scheme for trusts—level 2 for general and maternity services, and the fifth for the foundation status awarded last April. And for the record, it has the lowest rate of MRSA for a special hospital in the country.
Health service provision is a major issue in West Lancashire. The people of Skelmersdale, for example, were promised a new hospital more than 40 years ago, but it was never delivered. However, thanks to a Labour Government investing in the health service, the area now has a magnificent walk-in centre. I can personally vouch for the excellent quality of the service, after receiving a dog bite—the scars of campaigning.
West Lancashire wants the best and safest health service that it can possibly get, and as its MP, I will take a lead in working to realise those aspirations. To put that another way, delivery must be at the heart of the Government's every thought, decision and action. We must not let this once-in-a-generation opportunity to embed modern progressive values into our health service pass us by. The cornerstones of that new settlement are being put in place—foundation hospitals, payment by results and wider public involvement. I commend the Government on introducing such potentially radical reforms. We are witnessing a fundamental shift in the culture of the NHS.
Frustration is evident among my constituents: for many years, they have felt marginalised and powerless to get their voices heard in the health service. Many of the reforms now offered give them some redress and will enable them to effect change and influence priorities. Foundation hospitals return the health services to the hearts of the communities that they serve. With greater local freedom, local choice and local accountability, hospitals are better able to meet local needs. The people who live the day-to-day experiences of the health service, either as staff or users, will now have the ability to shape the future of the health service in their locality.
We are saying boldly that we must trust the people to make decisions in the best interests of the entire community and for individuals. We must back the judgment of health professionals to use the investment in health to deliver a more effective and responsive health service. Nowhere is that better captured than in the membership councils of foundation hospitals. The values of local control, local accountability, empowerment and choice are enshrined by bringing together health professionals, local people and lay members as the strategic decision-making body for foundation hospitals.
Payment by results, which represents the most far-reaching reform in the NHS in recent memory, ensures a direct relationship between what hospitals deliver and funding. However, for all my support of those reforms, I must raise a note of caution: we must implement the reforms with care and attention to detail. We must not leave people behind in our eagerness to reform. There is a responsibility to encourage people to engage with the new governance arrangements.
What I am talking about is education. The underlying threat is that information inequality can serve to entrench health inequality. As a daughter of deaf parents, I fully understand the need for inclusivity and for information that enables people to make the right choices for themselves. At the same time vigilance is needed because certain aberrations and anomalies remain inherent in the payment-by-results system.
I thank previous Health Ministers for helping me to resolve issues that I encountered during my time at Liverpool women's hospital. I hope to be a voice from the front line on the Back Benches and to bring my experience to bear constructively. A successful national health service for the 21st century depends on getting the reforms right because we will otherwise have wasted a once-in-a-lifetime, or generational, opportunity.
Foundation trusts offer the opportunity for partnership between the professionalism and expertise of health care providers and the knowledge, first-hand experience and enthusiasm of our communities. That partnership can provide creative solutions to problems that we face and ensure that we have clinical excellence and a 21st-century, patient-centred health service, which is what we all need.
It is with some considerable honour and humility that I rise to make my maiden speech: honour because it is a great privilege to be elected to the House and humility as I contemplate the trust put in me by the electors of the Forest of Dean.
I start on a note of agreement with my immediate predecessor from the Labour Benches. In her maiden speech, she took issue with two of her hon. Friends—the hon. Members for High Peak (Tom Levitt) and for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire)—who had described their constituencies as the most beautiful in the United Kingdom. She claimed that description for the Forest of Dean, and I am delighted to agree with her most strongly. She did not contest the seat at the general election and I wish her and her family well in her retirement from the House.
The Forest of Dean constituency lies between the Rivers Wye and Severn in the west of the county of Gloucestershire. It has had a tradition of industry, mining, farming and forestry in the past, but its employment patterns today are becoming more typical of our county. Increasingly, more of the working population are forced to commute out of the area to work—about 40 per cent. each day. I want to focus on working to encourage more high-quality local jobs in the area during my term of office.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor but one, Paul Marland, the former Member for Gloucestershire, West and to thank him for leaving behind a very positive reputation that cannot but have helped my campaign to be elected to the House. I have lived in the Forest of Dean for more than five years and the most enjoyable thing about the years leading up to my election has been getting to know many remarkable people. There is a strong tradition of independence and individuality in the Forest of Dean, so I hope that I will demonstrate at least some of that while I am here—I hope, for fear of damaging my career for ever, that the Whip on the Front Bench will forget that part of my speech.
I understand from those that note these things that my election to the House marks the first time that a Labour Government have not been able to count on the Forest of Dean to return a Labour Member of Parliament. It is also the first time, with the current boundaries, that the Forest of Dean has elected a Conservative MP.
Probably the best known former MP for the Forest of Dean was Sir Charles Dilke, who held the seat in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He won the seat in 1892, successfully defended it in 1900 with a massive majority, and was unopposed in 1906—that is an electoral record worthy of emulation. His name lives on, as one of our two fine community hospitals, the Dilke Memorial, carries it proudly. The location of the hospital and the services that it provides are currently under review by our primary care trust. I have been contacted by many local people, an overwhelming number of whom wish to see the hospital developed on the existing site with an increased number of services available locally. I shall campaign strongly for that.
One of the issues that occupied a great deal of my interest and concern as a candidate—it continues to be a special interest for me as a Member of Parliament—is provision for special educational needs. The parties that ran Gloucestershire county council until
The school closures were passionately opposed by the parents, children, heads and teachers. My Conservative colleagues and I supported them in their campaign, but were not able to stop the closures in time. The new special school to replace Dean Hall and Oakdene—the Heart of the Forest community special school—will provide education for children with severe learning difficulties, profound and multiple learning difficulties, and complex needs. For those children, I am sure that it will provide an excellent service and do an excellent job, and it will have my full support, but that leaves an important gap in provision.
Children with moderate learning difficulties, who would once have been taught at Dean Hall, will now be expected to cope in mainstream education. I am pleased to say that the new Conservative administration, which took power in Gloucestershire on
A number of children with special needs from my constituency attend the Alderman Knight special school in Tewkesbury, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr. Robertson. This school was also scheduled for closure by the previous regime at Shire hall. I am pleased that the Conservative administration gave a commitment to keep the school open and has started that process already. My hon. Friend should be congratulated on the vigorous campaign he waged, which is now paying off.
The lesson I learned from those experiences is that while it is right to include children with special needs in mainstream schools where that is appropriate, it should not be the only option. There are children for whom a special school is the right and best option for their future. They must be given that opportunity. As politicians, however, we must also be wary of second-guessing their parents. They know their children better than any bureaucrat or so-called expert, and we should do them the courtesy of listening to their views and be wary of prejudging them.
I conclude with this thought. My experience of the campaign to retain special needs education in Gloucestershire highlights something else, touched on by other hon. Members—the importance of voting and participating in political debate, and the impact that has on the lives of ordinary individuals in our communities. Special needs education was an example of something on which different parties had different views, and was an issue of tremendous personal importance to those involved. The decision to close or not to close a range of important schools depended directly on the votes cast in an election. Regardless of the view one takes on the issue, it cannot be denied that voting made a difference. I hope people learn from that example, get involved in political debate and participate in the process. They may not be able to change the world, but they can certainly change their part of it for the better.
As a new Member, I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I also congratulate and compliment my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea, East (Mrs. James) and for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper), and the hon. Members for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) and for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) on their excellent maiden speeches.
Like Sammy Wilson, whose maiden speech I listened to last week, I, too, was advised on the importance of the same three things: say nice things about my predecessor, say nice things about my constituency and say nothing controversial. In following the hon. Gentleman, Mr. Moore said:
"two out of three was not bad in the circumstances."—[Hansard, 18 May 2005; Vol. 434, c. 223.]
I leave it up to right hon. and hon. Members to judge how I fare.
I am extremely proud and honoured to have been elected to the House by the people of Dundee, West, and although boundary changes have meant a substantial increase in the geographical area covered by the constituency, I believe that most people would accept my predecessor as being Ernie Ross.
Ernie represented the people of Dundee, West with great distinction for 26 years, and I hope that I can serve the constituency as well as Ernie did. Hon. Members will no doubt remember that Ernie's great interest during his time in Parliament lay in foreign affairs, in particular the middle east. He has made a great many friends via those interests, and is quite rightly held in high regard both at home and abroad for his work in these areas over the years.
I took the liberty of obtaining a copy of Ernie's maiden speech and in it he said that Dundee was the first place in Scotland to elect a Labour MP back in 1906. Ernie now holds a record himself as the longest serving MP Dundee has ever had. Again in his maiden speech, he had high praise for the Dundee council department then known as the direct labour organisation. Having myself been employed there between 1987 and 1997, when it had changed its name to the public works department, I can vouch for the excellent and efficient work force right up to the present day, although following another name change it is now known as Dundee contract services. Looking back at Ernie's maiden speech of May 1979, it was in many ways quite visionary. For example, it looked to the day when Scotland would have its own Parliament, which of course came 20 years later. I wish Ernie a long and happy retirement.
A new part of Dundee, West that I have inherited was formerly part of Dundee, East and as such was represented in the House for the past four years by Iain Luke. Iain is a good and valued friend of mine, and one that I know I can turn to for advice when required. Obviously, I would have preferred Iain to be here as a fellow Member, and perhaps that may yet happen in the future.
The new Dundee, West constituency also includes a part of what was previously Angus, and as Mr. Weir has been returned to represent his newly formed constituency I have to admit that the advice I mentioned in my opening remarks was silent on whether I had to say nice things about a predecessor under such circumstances. The fact that he was returned surely tells its own story, and I congratulate him on that.
I have to confess that I have never met the hon. Gentleman, but I did meet some of his Scottish National party colleagues during the election campaign. My campaign team would open a book on how long it took any SNP speaker to mention the "O" word. For the uninitiated, the "O" word is oil, and I think that the record was 90 seconds. I should make it clear that 90 seconds was not the shortest time it took to mention oil, but actually the longest. On that subject, I must congratulate Stewart Hosie on a fine maiden speech yesterday. I commend him not only for the content and presentation, but for the fact that he lasted seven minutes before mentioning the "O" word. Of course, the subject of oil has been in the news again recently, although not the North sea variety. I have to commend Mr. Galloway, himself Dundee born and bred, for his recent Stateside performance.
Moving quickly on, my constituency of Dundee, West is now a marvellous mix of rural and urban areas, business and technology parks, teaching hospitals, colleges, universities, a thriving cultural quarter and much more. Dundee has always welcomed people who choose to live and work or, study there, and so side by side in Dundee, West we now have ethnic communities, student communities, professionals in science and research and, of course, Dundonians themselves. As both the city's universities are situated in Dundee, West, the student population in particular is substantial, and not only have Dundee people welcomed them with open arms, but occasionally we try to help keep them on the straight and narrow.
A story is told of a student who was seen leaving the students union in the wee small hours, having obviously had a good night of it. A police car drew up and one of Tayside's finest got out and inquired, "Do you know where you're going sir?", to which the student replied, "I'm going to a lecture." The policeman continued, "It's half-past 2 in the morning, sir. You cannot possibly be going to a lecture." Back came the response, "Have you met my landlady?"
Also located in the Dundee, West constituency are the city's two senior football clubs, Dundee FC and Dundee United. In fact, they are situated in the same street. I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate Dundee United on reaching the Scottish cup final and to wish Dundee FC a speedy return to the premier league.
May I also congratulate two local junior football teams that will be contesting the Scottish junior cup final at Tannadice Park this Sunday. Tayport junior football club, which plays its home games just across the Tay bridge in the constituency of Sir Menzies Campbell, will take the field against Lochee United junior football club, which plays its home games in Dundee, West. I am sure that a great game is in prospect.
For many people, Dundee was always famed for the three Js—jute, jam and journalism. Jute and jam are now gone, but most people remain familiar with Desperate Dan, Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids, not forgetting Oor Wullie and The Broons. Obviously, the DC Thomson empire is responsible for many more publications, but those are probably among the most instantly recognisable characters for a lot of people.
I believe that even in the 1950s the overwhelming majority of Dundee families would have had one or more members working in the jute industry. My mother and grandmother both worked in the mills, and even in that environment there was a pecking order: they always made a point of telling people that they were weavers, not spinners.
In the post-war years many new factories opened in Dundee, West, such as NCR, Timex and Veeder-Root. Of those companies only NCR remains, but wise investment, particularly in research and development, allied to good working relationships with the trade unions, means that it remains one of the city's major employers, and I will do all in my power to ensure that that remains the case.
What has replaced the jute mills, the jam and confectionery factories and the light engineering companies? Many new businesses have started up in recent years in the city's industry and technology parks, most making use of the help provided by the regional development agencies, and they now employ many Dundonians. Where we have seen a major upsurge in Dundee, West though, is in the numbers of people employed in research and development—for example, in biochemicals and other sciences. Many of the leading authorities in those fields are now living and working in Dundee, West, and having met some of them both before and since the general election, I am delighted when I hear the credit that they give Ernie Ross for the fact that they are in Dundee.
Unemployment is less than half what it was in 1997, so obviously we are moving in the right direction. However, one area of concern regarding employment remains; it was touched on by the hon. Member for Dundee, East yesterday. That is what people perceive as the unacceptably low number of civil service jobs located in Dundee. I would like to help to address that situation.
Full employment has to be our aim, not only in our own constituencies, but throughout the UK. Without work, there are no wages, and no wages means poverty. We must strive to ensure work and wages for all. I want to see a radical third-term Labour Government continue towards their goal of the eventual eradication of child and pensioner poverty. Of course, the forthcoming G8 conference at Gleneagles, just down the road from Dundee, must ensure a collective effort in striving to make poverty history internationally.
I intend to represent all parts of Dundee, West equally and to the best of my ability, and I say that in particular to those people who, because of boundary changes, now find themselves constituents in Dundee, West. I remember reading that Peter Ustinov, the famed actor and a former rector of Dundee university, on being asked why he had not gone into politics, replied, "I couldn't bear to be right all the time." I hope that I have the good sense and humility to realise when I am wrong, although I do remember my wife Norma once saying to me, "When you said I was marrying Mr. Right you never told me your first name was always . . . " She was joking, I think. Seriously, I hope that I have the good sense and humility to know when I am wrong, although I will certainly have the courage of my convictions when I know I am right. The people of Dundee, West would expect no less.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech, which I do with what I hope is forgivable trepidation and some jangling of nerves, emotions that are only made more acute by the excellent fluency of the maiden speech by Mr. McGovern.
I like to think that at least I will make this maiden speech with greater confidence, and that I will make myself more clearly understood than the last time I gave a maiden speech as a new parliamentarian, which was back in 1999, when I had just been elected as a Member of the European Parliament. In my maiden speech in that place I made a joke that was, thankfully, good enough that the English speakers in the audience laughed immediately. Those who received the translation through their headphones in languages that are rapidly translated, such as Italian, French and Spanish, also laughed. I then moved on to a much more sombre point, in the middle of which the German speakers burst out in raucous laughter because, as those hon. Members who speak the great German language know, the verb comes at the end so the punch line is deferred. I cannot vouch for the quality of what I say today, but I hope at least that I do not encounter those problems again.
It is customary of course to praise one's predecessors, and I have been deeply impressed by the rhetorical dexterity with which other hon. Members have made maiden speeches in which they have lavished praise on individuals who, I assume, were until very recently their bitter foes and opponents. Thankfully, I do not face that dilemma because I stand here as the successor to Richard Allan, the previous Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield, Hallam, who I know was as liked and admired in the House as he was in his constituency. I am sure that I speak on behalf of many hon. Members when I say that he was a Member of Parliament who discharged his duties with a unique mix of integrity, modesty and talent. He won the seat in 1997 with an extraordinary swing of 18 per cent. in his direction, and the generosity and sincerity with which he then became the MP for Sheffield, Hallam was rewarded with an even bigger majority in 2001.
Richard Allan's generosity was my good fortune in the two years in which I shadowed him as the parliamentary candidate for the constituency. I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude not only as a close friend but, latterly, as my campaign manager in the election. I am sure that, again, I speak on behalf of many here when I say that I hope his voluntary withdrawal from the political scene will prove in time to be a temporary interruption rather than a permanent departure.
Sheffield, Hallam is unique. It has the city centre just moments away, yet it flows deep into the Peak District national park. Where else can one go rock climbing one moment and attend some of the best theatre outside London's west end the next? Poets have waxed lyrical about Sheffield, Hallam. John Betjeman famously said about Broomhill, a particularly beautiful part of the constituency, that it was the "finest suburb in England". Although I know that many of my constituents might bridle a little at that characterisation and certainly are rightly anxious about the relentless and often insensitive over-development of properties in Sheffield, Hallam, they would still recognise Betjeman's accolade.
There is an unusually heavy emphasis on education in the constituency. I saw a statistic somewhere showing that the percentage of school leavers in Sheffield, Hallam who go to university is among the highest in the country. The two universities, Sheffield Hallam and Sheffield, are the two largest employers. The commitment to our great public services is extremely strong, with over 40 per cent. of all people employed in the constituency working in the education and health sectors.
I have heard it said that those who work in those public services are most likely to resist any change, however merited, in the reform, development and evolution of the sectors. Having spoken to countless nurses, doctors, researchers and teachers in Sheffield, Hallam, I flatly reject that characterisation. My view is that my constituents are perfectly aware that change is an inevitable and often healthy discipline for large public sector organisations, which are often quite cumbersome. What they object to is change driven by whimsical political fashions that change from month to month. It is worth recalling that our public sector workers are those who need to pick up the pieces when new schemes that might seem plausible when invented here in Westminster or Whitehall go awry in practice in our schools, our universities and our hospitals.
I have also heard it said that general elections are times when voters will not lift their eyes to the larger international scene, times in which everyday bread-and-butter issues will always predominate. Again, my experience in Sheffield, Hallam challenges that. I was very encouraged by the number of times that international issues, particularly the plight of many countries in the developing world suffering from grinding poverty, were raised with me on the doorstep.
As someone who is inured to the almost relentless daily diet of antagonism to all things European in much of our national public and media discussion, I was also quite encouraged by the number of times that my constituents raised the great unresolved and vexed issue of our place and our future in Europe in a manner that was measured and driven by sincere concern and interest. I would certainly like to play my part in advocating an approach to the future of Britain in Europe which emphasises a balanced and unprejudiced approach.
I do not mean to say that we should be uncritically in favour of everything that emanates from the European Union—it is as flawed as any other political and economic institution—but I have always believed that it is perfectly possible to be pro-European and, at the same time, in the forefront in advocating far-reaching improvements to the EU. However, our approach should be one that states and restates, in a forthright and unflinching manner, that we should always remember the wider benefits that will accrue to this country from our continued commitment to our European vocation.
I am only the 10th Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Hallam since the constituency's creation in 1885, but it has exported well in excess of its quota of politicians. Joe Ashton, Sir Irvine Patnick, Angela Knight and Spencer Batiste are only some of the more recent politicians from the constituency who have made their presence felt in the House, and I am acutely aware that I have my work cut out to honour the tradition that they have set. On the day of the election, with Richard Allan I visited all 19 of the polling stations in the constituency—
My hon. Friend might have difficulty in his constituency, but we in Sheffield, Hallam organise ourselves efficiently. I was encouraged to see the number of people who waved at us and gesticulated at us—[Laughter.]—with their thumbs up, I hasten to add. My joy at seeing that was only slightly dented by the realisation that all the salutations were directed specifically at Richard Allan, and they almost entirely ignored the grinning candidate at his side. It is my sincere ambition to do all I can on behalf of all my constituents, regardless of political party affiliation, so that during the years and elections ahead I may merit an occasional thumbs-up and wave. I am grateful to all hon. Members who have listened to me take my first, somewhat ginger, steps towards achieving that ambition.
It is a great delight to be present on a day when there have been so many sparkling maiden speeches. As Parliament proceeds, some hon. Members might discover that debate in this Chamber is not always regarded as the most exciting or amusing pastime of the talented, so it is a privilege to listen to the new Members. They are, of course, most welcome here, each one with their own style, each one with a strong commitment to their own constituency, and each one capable of giving every one of us a tremendous boost by bringing fresh ideas and a fresh approach to this place.
After all, this is going to be an extremely interesting Parliament. When they are facing their third successive period of legislation, Governments must think deeply about their objectives. I am privileged to have been a member of the Labour party since I was 16, which of course was not very long ago, and to be present today to see the way in which my Government plan, not only to build on the exciting things that have happened in previous Parliaments, but to shape the future of the United Kingdom.
The general election provided interesting examples of the problems now facing any elected Member. Going from door to door and talking to many people throughout my constituency, it became clear to me that there is an extraordinary disconnection in the public mind between what elected Members do and have achieved and what in fact happened in people's ordinary lives. We talk about the money spent on education, but people seem to regard that as money dropped, like manna, from heaven and distributed on the ground. I pointed out to them that the fight for the just-completed primary school of which I am hugely proud had lasted 15 years before we got it going on the ground, and that the remarkable headmaster of that school had marched every step of the way with the architects to secure, not only a highly imaginative design, but one that responded to the needs of the primary schoolchildren in that area in a way that has not always been seen in the past. Only then did people recognise that Government have a strong role to play. To those of us who educate our children and grandchildren only in the state system and who use only the state system of health care, it is important to make that connection.
I hoped that we would have the odd debate on transport. Perhaps when the Select Committees are reconstituted, I might once again have a word or two to say on the subject. I look forward to the time when I, with my excellent colleagues from all over the United Kingdom, am able to examine in detail the Government's plans. Some transport topics are quite controversial—for example, the speed at which people are allowed to drive—and other parts of the transport system are equally interesting and important. Today, however, I shall concentrate on one issue.
I spent many years of my early married life involved in the national health service. Three of my children followed me into the NHS, although only one is now left—the others, quite extraordinarily, decided to go on to make money. When we examine the Queen's Speech, it is important that we ask a number of questions. Let me make it clear: I believe that the cash that has gone into the NHS over the past seven years is not only exemplary, but essential. In my constituency, we had 17 years of people saying, "Each year, we will cut the budget. We won't announce that that's what we're doing. We'll simply say that we want efficiency savings: give us those, and you'll get a much better health service." In fact, we got nothing of the sort. We got rundown facilities and primary care services that were not modernised and did not respond to the needs of the population. Since 1997, the major district hospital for my constituency—because of the boundary commission's inability to get these things right, it is in the constituency of Mr. O'Brien—has had a new mental health ward, new accident and emergency facilities, and a new eye service, which I opened. In addition, one of the new, famous and controversial special centres has been built alongside—but as part of the national health service, and specifically part of the Leighton hospital.
Let me tell the Government that, in this Parliament, they will have to think and behave differently. I am not saying that they were uncaring, but they must now think seriously about the sort of legislation that they introduce. First, they need to take more time. There are no brownie points to be gained by simply having lots of legislation. Legislation has to be good legislation, properly and carefully scrutinised, not only by the other place, but by this House. Secondly, legislation has to respond to the real needs of the people of the country.
Where the national health service is involved, the Government need to make clear where they want to be at the end of this Parliament. I am prepared to believe that, despite the large sums of money, the NHS has not responded with the speed and flexibility that some of us hoped for. I have spent my whole life among doctors and I know that, whatever they might say, they are not the most flexible creatures, although they have a high level of expertise and a great deal to offer. However, the aim cannot be only to increase throughput of patients, as if what is sought is simply a form of modernisation. That is not what the NHS is about.
I ask the Government and the Secretary of State for Health to state one or two things plainly. If we are to expand private care, what is the object? Is it a goad to produce better results within the NHS? Is it a replacement, based on the assumption that only private care provides a higher standard of care? That is nonsense. Or is it, in fact, designed to deal with an immediate problem, in the hope of bringing money back to the NHS after the problem has been resolved? If so, the system does not work like that—it never has and it never will. The Government have a special responsibility. They must tell the people of this country, "You cannot do without a national health service. It is your right—your fundamental and important right—to have health care when you need it and not based on your ability to pay." That is the reason I joined the Labour party, the reason I remain in the Labour party, and the reason why, until the end of my days, I will fight for a national health service that is capable of responding to the needs of the United Kingdom.
Above all, the Government must be clear. We talk about a customer-led service, but what do customers do? Customers go where they can get the best for their money—not necessarily the best goods, just the best for their money. That is not what the provision of health care must be. We must have balance; we must have breadth of view. Above all, we must never find that we have created machinery which, irrespective of what happens in future—God save us from ever having a Conservative Government again—could lead us directly towards the privatisation of all services, so that we go back again to the situation that existed when I was a child. That meant that working-class people did not get proper health care. They did not receive preventive care. They did not get intelligent support. In this House or anywhere else, I will not support anything that does not understand the difference between the provision of health care and the provision of moneyed services. I will have other things to say. I am a silent creature, but I would say that it is important that the future of the health service is fundamental and clear. We need the Government to spell out their intentions.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech this evening. I stand at the far end of the Opposition Benches, but that does not mean that I have fallen out with my colleagues already. I stand here as a tribute to an ex-Member who stood in this place for many years, and that was Sir Teddy Taylor, the Member for Rochford and Southend, East, who brought me into politics about 11 years ago.
I am a former boy soldier and I was a fireman in Essex. I had an unusual incident on going into a second-floor window and coming back out again rather quickly. That terminated my career as a fireman. I wrote to my Member and said, "I don't know what to do. Can you give me some guidance on my future career?" Those who know Teddy Taylor will recognise that he was a fantastic constituency Member. He typed a letter in the most interesting grammatical way. There was a cigarette burn on one corner of the page and a coffee stain on the other. He wrote, "Why don't you come and shadow me here in the House of Commons for a couple of weeks?"
I came to this place and I took Teddy's pass for a couple of weeks. I was proud to hand back Teddy's pass when I walked into the House as the Member for Hemel Hempstead two weeks ago.
Teddy never once asked about my political persuasion. He did not ask about my views on Europe or on the health service. He just genuinely wanted to help. When I said to him, after a few months, "Do you think that I could actually make it into the House of Commons in a political career?" he said, "Why not?" I said, "I left school at 16. There are many great speakers in the House of Commons." We have heard many such Members making their maiden speeches today. Teddy said to me, "That does not make any difference. The test is whether you want to serve your community. That is what matters." I hope that I can take that tradition on in Hemel Hempstead.
I will be moving from the place where I speak on the Opposition Benches this evening in the not too distant future, not least because in my 48th year I need glasses. I will in future find it difficult to catch the eye of the occupant of the Chair without being a little closer to him or her.
I have replaced a good constituency Member. Tony McWalter was the Labour Member for Hemel Hempstead for eight years. He worked extremely hard for his constituents. He worked hard for the Select Committee on Science and Technology, for example. Tony has a great claim to fame because he asked the Prime Minister what his philosophy was, back in February 2002, during Prime Minister's questions. Those Members who were in the Chamber at the time—I was in a different position—were probably intrigued to hear the Prime Minister's reply. That was nearly two and a half years ago. I do not think that the House has quite worked out what the Prime Minister's philosophy was. Perhaps I will be able to ask him in the not-too-distant future whether he has an answer to Tony's question.
Tony replaced a great constituency Member in Robert Jones, who was also a good Minister. Having listened to so many good speeches, not least that of Mrs. Dunwoody, it is interesting to learn about what people believe in. If someone really believes in something, that is what matters.
Hemel Hempstead is commonly known these days as a new town—a new town that was conceived in 1947 as a London overspill town for the bombed-out parts of north London. I was born and bred in north London, in Tottenham. However, Hemel Hempstead goes back, as I am sure right hon. and hon. Members know, to Roman times. It inherits the traditional name Dacorum, which is the name of the borough council. That goes back to the time of Henry VIII, when he gave the royal charter for the borough of Hemel Hempstead.
Hemel Hempstead is not about the new town alone. Really, the constituency should be called East Dacorum because it goes from the south from the village of Kings Langley all the way to the villages of Flamstead and Markyate in the north, by the A5. Even though about 45,000 people live within the town of Hemel Hempstead, with all the problems that a new town which was built in the 1950s has, there are serious rural issues that have to be addressed.
Some new Members have described just how beautiful their constituencies are. I can say that I have a beautiful constituency. One has only to look at the Chilterns, including the Gade Valley, which is one of the most beautiful areas of Hertfordshire. I recommend that right hon. and hon. Members come to the area to spend a day in one of our local rural pubs—or two or three.
In 1947—this is relevant to today's debate— Hemel Hempstead had three public hospitals. They were in place to serve the community. When the new town was built, there was a new general hospital. So for a short time there were four public hospitals. That is something to which I shall return. During the election campaign, the greatest issue on the doorsteps—I hope that the Minister is listening intently—was the future of Hemel's hospital. It was built for the people of Hemel Hempstead, a new town. The other hospitals were all closed. We have a full general hospital. There is a maternity unit, an accident and emergency unit and all acute services to meet the needs of the community.
There was a big debate during the run-up to the 1997 election on the future of the hospital. The debate was won by the people of Hemel Hempstead and the Dacorum hospital action group which fought so hard for the hospital, and £60 million of investment went into the hospital. Shortly after the 1997 election—it was a big issue—the maternity unit closed. It took the intensive care baby cots with it. They went to Watford. In the run-up to the election, I was contacted by two families. The mother and the baby needed intensive care baby cot provision. That was found for them in Yarmouth and in Nottingham. No intensive care baby cots are available for the families of Hemel Hempstead in Hemel Hempstead because they were taken away from the hospital.
This is sad. We have a birthing unit in Hemel. That is all right, we think, because we have a children's ward, so that paediatricians are around. That will help if there is a problem. Unfortunately, the children's ward will open only from 8 am to 8 pm. That is a new decision, which was implemented in the past couple of weeks. The result is that paediatricians are not available at night.
All right, we have an accident and emergency department, which will have specialists for acute services. They will be available if babies, children and elderly people have problems. Well, the House will have guessed it, the A and E is to close. It is going to Watford. All the acute services in Hemel, including the fantastic new stroke unit, which was opened with 18 beds—it is down to 12 already—will close and be moved to Watford. On the doorstep in Hemel Hempstead, people are saying to me, "All this money is coming into the health service but where on earth is it going for the people of Hemel?"
It is true that we shall have a new day stay centre, and there will be facilities there for minor injuries and minor care. Many people will come in from other areas around Hemel for this provision. However, that does not help the people of Hemel Hempstead.
I do not want to be too controversial this evening, but these things matter to the people whom we represent. Violent crime in Hemel Hempstead has risen by nearly 150 per cent. in the last two years. In 2002–03, there were 739 violent assaults. On the figures available for 2004–05, 1,824 lives were damaged by violent crime.I do not blame our police force in Hemel Hempstead, which is stretched to the limit. There are no extra police in Hertfordshire this year. We do not have a single extra policeman on our streets. For every one coming in, another is leaving to join the Met. Other hon. Members have raised the matter in debates in the past few days. We must remedy the situation whereby Hertfordshire taxpayers are paying for the training of the Metropolitan police force. That was a major issue on the doorstep.
The voluntary sector in Hemel is a vital part of the community. Without it, our community, like many others throughout the country, would not survive. I shall speak briefly about an aspect which I am sure is close to the Minister's heart—the hospice movement. We need to look urgently at the funding streams for the hospice movement. It does not want to be taken over by the public sector, but it needs help.
I conclude as I began, by referring to Sir Teddy Taylor. He was known as a great constituency MP who worked for every man, woman and child in his constituency. That is what I hope to be known for when the time comes for me to leave the House at some time in the distant future.
It is with great pleasure that I rise to make my maiden speech, days after being presented to the House. I congratulate all who have made and will be making their maiden speech during the debate on the Queen's Speech. I speak with pride at being elected in an historic third Labour term.
I made a promise to my constituents that if elected, I would be a strong ambassador for Brent, South, speaking out on local and national issues. I cannot do that by sitting quietly on the Benches, so I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity. I am grateful to the ever helpful and friendly staff of the Serjeant at Arms, without whom many new Members would never find their way to the House.
I am particularly proud and privileged to be a Member of Parliament for the youngest and most diverse and vibrant constituency in Europe—Brent, South, home to Wembley stadium. I have the honour of succeeding the right hon. Paul Boateng, who put Brent, South on the political map and raised the expectation of more than 66 per cent. of his constituents as the first black Cabinet Minister. It was even more reassuring that the first black Minister was Labour. There are many stories about my predecessor on which I could elaborate, but I have only 10 minutes. He made his maiden speech on
Campaigning with Paul Boateng was a testament to how much he engaged with his constituency. When walking down Harlesden high street with him, one would think that one was walking with the No. 1 pop idol. He would be randomly accosted in the street, hugged so tight that he would become short of breath, kissed erratically all over and have sweet nothings whispered in his ears—and that was just by male constituents.
I wish Paul Boateng well as the UK's ambassador to South Africa, and I salute him and thank him for his leadership and the doors that he helped open, along with the late Bernie Grant, Oona King, my hon. Friend Ms Abbott, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend Mr. Lammy and my hon. Friend Keith Vaz. These former and current MPs—not all were mentioned—played a crucial role in extending the representation of our democracy and in encouraging me as the first black female MP for Brent, South and the third black woman in Parliament. There will be many more to follow.
My first priority is to be a conscientious and diligent MP, accessible and open to my constituents. I will ensure that issues and problems brought to me by my constituents are heard and debated in the House to achieve change, as I believe that Brent, South is a shining example of integration at its best. Brent, South deserves a chance to prosper, a chance to benefit from opportunities and a chance for my constituents to live independently.
Brent, South is diverse, vibrant and buzzing, but that comes with inherent problems. Wembley and Harlesden are our main town centres and regeneration is key to bridging the poverty gap. We need highly paid jobs for local people and education to match the skills gap. Brent, South has an unemployment rate of 9 per cent., compared with 7 per cent. London-wide. However, our Labour Government have ensured that that figure has improved, with new deal helping almost 2,000 Brent, South youth into employment.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the London divide. Brent residents, like many other London constituents, suffer from a high cost of living. Labour has ensured that one in five residents have enjoyed a pay rise through the minimum wage. Returning a Labour Government has ensured that for the first time my constituents will earn more than £5 an hour, but we need to investigate the London element so that my constituents can continue to live out of poverty, with the hope of becoming home owners some day.
I am proud to represent the Labour party, which established the minimum wage, which some Opposition parties could not find time to support. The minimum wage, combined with the working families tax credit, has put on average an extra £50 per week in the pocket of the poorest families in Brent, South, ensuring that work pays and work pays the bills.
I am proud to represent the Labour party, which has pledged to end the equal pay gap. My constituency has more women living in it than men—52 per cent.—and equal pay has a direct effect on economic stability and business prosperity, and a direct correlation with child poverty. If we are serious about tackling those issues, the gap must be closed, and soon. I am confident that I will be working hard with my Government to ensure that that will be achieved.
I, like my fellow hon. Members, am encouraged by the fact that in the 2005 intake of new Labour MPs, 66 per cent. are female and 7 per cent. are black and minority ethnic. As my leader said, these are no Blair babes, as he pointed to our two expectant mothers. This is modern, progressive politics reflecting our society.
I am proud to be a GMB member and a former officer. I strive to ensure that my contributions continue to aid the historic constructive working relations between the Labour party and the trade union movement. The Warwick agreement, which was referred to in our manifesto, is another historic agreement which only the Labour party could achieve.
I end by thanking again my constituents in Brent, South for their trust in me and the Labour party. Brent, South spoke clearly on
It is my job as Brent, South's ambassador to ensure that we deliver on the Labour promises. With only 33 per cent. of my constituents in high-paid jobs compared with 50 per cent. for London as a whole, and with 24 per cent. having no qualifications compared with 15 per cent. for London, it is important that as Brent, South's MP I lobby hard to ensure that initiatives are developed and that they work in Brent, so that my constituents have a fighting chance to achieve their full potential.
I promised the youth that they would have a voice through me. We must encourage our youth, listen to them and help them to resolve youth issues. After all, they are our future. Guess what—not all youth are yobs, and not all yobs are youth. Furthermore, youths are victims of antisocial behaviour, more than any other group in our society. I will campaign and lobby extremely hard for my constituents in Brent, South to further their concerns and to put forward the case for social justice in Brent, South, the UK and worldwide.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to address the House with my maiden speech and I look forward to many other occasions when I might catch the Speaker's eye and further the aforementioned issues.
I congratulate Ms Butler on an excellent maiden speech. She and I have something in common. She mentioned that her predecessor was accosted on the streets. Mine also was accosted on the streets, but for different reasons, which we will not discuss today.
Coming from a working-class background and a small village just outside County Armagh I am humbled, honoured and proud to represent the people of Upper Bann. I come to the House as part of a greatly increased number of MPs from my party. In the 2001 election we won five seats; now we have nine. If making gains at elections is a sign of progress, an increase of 80 per cent. is a good day's work.
Upper Bann was created in 1983. I follow Mr. Harold McCusker and Mr. David Trimble, two very different men who did things their own different ways. For my part, I shall do things my way. However David Trimble was thought of back home, and whatever verdict the people of Northern Ireland ultimately delivered on him, I know that there are many here who held him in high esteem. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I can say of David Trimble that while we were at loggerheads for the past four years, when the declaration was made and I was announced as the winner, David Trimble, in his final act as a Member of Parliament and in his first act as a former Member of the House, behaved with dignity, and I have to applaud that. Although I suppose that he must think that me saying something complimentary about him is a bit like the hangman saying, "You have a lovely neck."
Upper Bann nestles right in the heart of Ulster and contains three of Northern Ireland's largest and most important towns—Banbridge, Lurgan and Portadown. Lurgan and Portadown make up the borough of Craigavon, named after Lord Craigavon, and I have the pleasure of being the mayor of that borough. Recent Government figures inform us that in two council areas that incorporate Upper Bann, unemployment is lower than both the national rate and that of Northern Ireland as a whole. Northern Ireland was once an employment blackspot, and it is to the great credit of local entrepreneurs and the many small businesses that we have emerged from a 35-year nightmare so well.
However, those figures hide some serious issues. The entire Northern Ireland economy competes in export markets against the low-cost manufacturing bases in eastern Europe and the far east, and business in Upper Bann today centres on retail, textiles, construction, pharmaceuticals, food companies, IT and electronics. Manufacturing jobs today have been lost in Upper Bann because of the recent or potential implications of rating revaluation in the Province. We have sought to encourage new high-technology jobs, promote development opportunities and build relationships across the business community.
Today we are debating education. Northern Ireland boasts one of the best education systems anywhere in the United Kingdom. Our educational achievement has always been one of the Province's key selling points. Almost two thirds of people living in Northern Ireland support academic selection, including teachers, parents and the majority of politicians. They value an education system where the doors of grammar schools are open to everyone, not just the rich, or only those whose parents were educated at grammar schools. The new direct rule Minister should set aside the ideas and rhetoric of her predecessor and work with politicians and the education sector to deliver a system that commands support right across the community.
The Democratic Unionist party has highlighted our concerns over proposed education cuts affecting local education and library boards. We recognise the difficulty that boards are experiencing living within the 5 per cent. budget, especially with expanding special needs provision. I will continue to fight for the retention of front-line services and vigorously pursue the issues of school meals, crossing patrols, classroom assistants and safety on school transport.
In my constituency, small rural schools are threatened with closure. Loughbrickland primary school outside Banbridge and Ardmore primary school outside Lurgan face closure, despite the pleas of parents and the clear need to retain them. I urge the Government to take their responsibilities and pledges to the people seriously.
Today we are also debating health, and Craigavon area hospital has struggled to accommodate the large number of new patients following the withdrawal of acute services from south Tyrone. The introduction next year of an extra 20 beds and a new protective elective ward is greatly welcomed, but the £11 million shortfall facing the Southern health board over the next two years must not compromise plans for a cardiac catherisation lab and a 32-bed admissions unit. There is a severe shortage of allied health professionals in the Southern health board, and we seek more speech and occupational therapists, particularly for children with special needs.
I am pleased that a new mental health Bill has finally been brought forward and I am also aware of the escalating problems of medical negligence and will take a close interest in the NHS redress Bill.
As for education and health in Northern Ireland, the overriding concern is to return these matters to the control of local elected politicians in a devolved Government. Some years ago, the story was told of a new Secretary of State—we are well used to new Secretaries of State in Northern Ireland—who on his arrival was given a security briefing by senior police and Army personnel. They showed him a map of Northern Ireland, just to make sure that he knew exactly where he was, and they set about giving him all the information about Northern Ireland in an afternoon. In the process, they explained the various shadings on the map to him. Parts of it were shaded orange, which they explained were predominantly loyalist or Unionist areas. "Golly," said the new Minister, in a good Ulster accent. Parts of it were shaded green, which they explained were predominantly nationalist or republican areas. "Well I never," said the Secretary of State. As they were about to finish, he stopped them and pointed at Lough Neagh and said, "Who are the blue chappies in the middle?" That is a true story.
Northern Ireland does not need any more of that inflicted on it. We currently have direct rule because of republicans and their failure to abandon terrorism and criminality. Democratic parties are held back and the entire Province is being punished because of their unwillingness to face reality. When I met the Prime Minister last week, I was heartened to hear that he seemed to be adopting a more realistic position in this regard. We will hold him to account on these solemn issues.
With due respect to hon. Members from every corner of the United Kingdom, Ulster people are the best, kindest and most resilient anywhere on the globe today, and I am deeply humbled to have been given the opportunity to represent them here, and deeply honoured to think that they have entrusted me to do so.
I want, if I may, to leave the House with a verse of scripture. I know that it is not very popular in today's society to quote scripture, but this verse is very poignant, and if everyone would attend to it, we would have a different country today. Chronicles II, chapter 7, verse 14 says:
"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin"— and the punch line is this—
"and will heal their land."
I look forward to that day and pray that with God's help we will see it.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my first speech to the House. I am very proud to stand here as the Labour and Co-operative party Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch. I was delighted to hear the speeches of my hon. Friend Mrs. James, Mr. Wallace, my hon. Friend Rosie Cooper, Mr. Harper, my hon. Friend Mr. McGovern, the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) and for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), my hon. Friend Ms Butler and David Simpson. I particularly commend the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South. She has something to teach all of us new Members and some perhaps of greater experience, and if she carries on like that I am sure that her parliamentary career will be a glittering one.
It is customary to comment on one's predecessor. My predecessor served Hackney, South and Shoreditch for 22 years. At some time I will pass on to the Liberal Democrats some of his comments about their party to various Labour party meetings during that time. But I can reassure hon. Members that I shall not be following his example. I am here, and I am here to stay, as a Labour Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch.
Hackney, South and Shoreditch is a very diverse constituency, stretching from Broadgate in the City up to Dalston via the trendy bars and squares of Hoxton and through De Beauvoir town, and from Old street in the east through to Hackney Wick on the edge of the Olympic village area, via the beautiful areas north of Victoria park and Homerton, which boasts one of London's best hospitals, which takes the same name, and an Elizabethan National Trust property.
Hackney has one claim to fame in terms of the tube map, as Hackney, South and Shoreditch has one staircase at Old Street station; my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Ms Thornberry) is welcome to pass the other over in the next boundary review. That is one reason why residents of Hackney, South and Shoreditch are supportive of the East London line extension and why I support the 2012 Olympic bid, which will improve transport links, particularly on the North London line, more quickly than otherwise might have happened.
Hackney is a wonderfully diverse area, with well over 60 languages spoken by people from all continents. We have large communities from Africa, both west and east, Turkey, Cyprus, Kurdistan, Pakistan and India, and many people from the nations of eastern Europe, including those within and outside the EU. That lends itself to a range of cuisine that I enjoy eating, as hon. Members can perhaps tell from my figure. I was heartened to read in some literature from the House that there is a Members' weight watchers group; perhaps I shall join it in a year or so. [Hon. Members: "No!"] Hon. Members are too kind—perhaps just this once, anyway.
Hackney is a young borough with a higher than average birth rate, and it is packed full of hard-working families of all backgrounds. It has benefited enormously from a Labour Government who have introduced Sure Start, the working families tax credit and tangible improvements to many of the council homes that make up more than 50 per cent. of the homes of people living in my constituency. However, in a borough that has been one of London's poorest for more than 100 years, there are still challenges in housing, health and education. In health, we see starkly the impacts of poverty, with higher than average levels of heart disease, cancer and tuberculosis. Infant mortality is higher than the national average, and something that we need to address. HIV and AIDS are also important issues, but contrasting with those problems, we have some of the best health services working on those challenges. The Homerton hospital is a foundation hospital that is rigorous in its management of finance and patient care, and the primary care trust is at the cutting edge in tackling those problems.
Hon. Members in all parts of the House have mentioned NHS dentists. In Hackney, there is no shortage of NHS dentists, but only about a quarter of Hackney residents are registered with a dentist. But the primary care trust is making a difference. Already, eight surgeries are taking up the new dental contract promoted by this Government to focus on preventive and proactive dental health care, and the trust is promoting registration. I urge the Secretary of State to visit Hackney to see how well that is working.
Hackney may be a borough of poverty in areas, but there is no poverty of aspiration there. That is one of the reasons why I welcome the three city academies that are being or have been built in the constituency. There was a need to restore confidence in Hackney's secondary school system. The combined force of a local Labour council and a Labour Government is making a difference.
Hackney faces other challenges. The population turnover is about 20 per cent. a year. I visited a primary school in my constituency just last week. In year 6, only about a fifth of pupils had been at the school since their reception class. These are big challenges, but in Hackney we are blessed with top professionals in our schools who are already solving them. I am delighted that already in this third term of a Labour Government we have hosted a ministerial visit. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills has a problem in education, I urge her to look for the solution in Hackney, for she is sure to find it there. I applaud the Government's focus on the 14 to 19-year-old agenda. For many young people in Hackney, there is a gap between their education and the skills that they need to take on jobs in the locality.
I was the first woman in my family to go to university. My mother was the second, after she had had 10 children. There are many women and men in Hackney, South and Shoreditch who are similar, as they have had careers and families and are going back into adult education. We must not lose sight of the needs of adults while we are debating the 14 to 19 agenda. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to look closely at how further education for adults is funded, so that in east London in particular, where there is still a very great need, people do not lose out.
One of the themes of this Labour Government in their first two terms has been Sure Start. We all know about Sure Start for under-fives and the support for children and their parents. We have seen huge support and funding for primary schools, and more funding is going into secondary schools. Sure Start is there at five and at 11. We also see it in the 14 to 19 agenda, and we should see a Sure Start for adults as well—adults who need to upskill to contribute to the economic success of this country.
I am delighted to be the first woman to represent Hackney, South and Shoreditch. I am delighted that my hon. Friend Ms Abbott is here supporting me today. Ours is the only borough in London represented solely by women. The women are taking over in Hackney, and I look forward to a similar turn of events over the years in this House. I remind hon. Members that there are still more men in this Parliament than there have ever been women in Parliament in this country.
One of the other inspirations to me has been my mother-in-law. Sadly, she died aged 88 last December. She arrived in this country as a poor Irish immigrant in 1932, aged just 16. She suffered then the discrimination that many Irish migrants have suffered then and since. As she lay dying on a London pavement last December, the hands that came to help her were those of Africans, Indians and Europeans, London's new migrants, who have contributed so much to this country. The Hackney that I know, where I travel on the bus and walk down the street, is the London where I live and the London that I see, but the world that I work in, unfortunately especially in this House, does not reflect that. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South made the point very well. We need an improvement and a greater reflection in the House of different minority groups, so that people can see for themselves that their Government reflect them.
I grew up under Mrs. Thatcher's Government. My children are growing up under a Labour Government, and they are seeing the direct benefits. I am proud and honoured to represent the constituents of Hackney, South and Shoreditch in a historic third-term Labour Government.
I am delighted to have the pleasure of following Meg Hillier, who has given the House a very polished performance, if I may so describe her maiden speech. It was fluent and knowledgeable about her constituency, and there was an element of passion as well. On behalf of everybody else here, I can assure her that she will not need to worry too much about weight watchers, because she will be run ragged in her new post, as her constituents will soon find out her e-mail address; she will then not have time to go weight watchers, and she will be running around the streets of Hackney in any case.
The hon. Lady took great pride in the fact that she and her hon. Friend Ms Abbott, as two ladies representing the borough of Hackney, represent the only borough represented only by women. It is clear on the Labour Benches that the Labour party is revelling in the idea that there are many women Members on that side of the House, but I remind the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch that the first woman Prime Minister came from the Conservative party, and that it was she who rescued this country from oblivion. I can assure her that the ladies in this party have played an important part in the life of this country as well as of our party.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend Mr. Wallace and my hon. Friend Mike Penning have been able to make contributions, which I have much enjoyed. They both bring a military flavour to the House. As one who is involved in defence activities on behalf of my party, I am delighted to welcome them to the fold.
I want to raise the serious plight of the primary care trust that serves my constituency and two other issues, although I recognise that I am out of place as an old lag in a field of maiden speeches. The Gracious Speech refers to the Government's intention to
"continue to improve the quality of health services", which implies that health services are already improving. My constituency is served by Blackwater Valley and Hart PCT, which suffered a £2.6 million deficit last year, even after it implemented a £3.8 million cost reduction programme, and is set to incur a further £8 million deficit this year.
The Government claim to have provided a very generous settlement, but half of the £13.8 million increase will go on the increased cost of the acute hospital tariff, over which the PCT has zero control. That money will not buy a single additional operation. The rest of the money will be swallowed by other costs such as the unfunded part of the new GP contracts, revised hours for junior doctors, continuing care, prescriptions and so on.
Dr. Nigel Watson, chief executive of the Wessex local medical committee secretariat, which represents GPs throughout Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset, has said:
"The current situation is the worst I have experienced in 23 years of working in the NHS. The financial pressures for 2005–06 are so serious that unless significant action is taken money will have to be taken out of the system and services cut or reduced . . . The PCTs are looking at reducing the whole work force, including managers, by 5 per cent. The result is that there will be no additional doctors or nurses appointed in Hampshire, and natural wastage means we will lose a few more."
That statement is a savage indictment of Government policy that flatly contradicts Ministers' extravagant claims.
My constituents are suffering as a result of the biased funding formula, which discriminates heavily against the south-east. Blackwater Valley and Hart PCT attracts 22 per cent. less funding than the national average, yet our problems are similar to those in the rest of the country, and we face considerably higher local costs. It was no mean feat to meet the targets on 78 per cent. of the national average allocation and with only £2.6 million overspend, but to fund my constituents on that false basis in perpetuity is simply unacceptable. The Department of Health now proposes to deduct any overspend in the current year from next year's allocation, which is an extraordinarily vindictive arrangement, the ultimate logic of which is that the PCT will end up paying the Department.
The second issue that I want to raise has a bearing on both health and education. The Prime Minister has suddenly discovered that respect is a commodity in short supply in this country—a message which was doubtless personally reinforced by his recent encounter with the electorate. The biggest problem facing Britain today is the breakdown in family life. It is hardly surprising that so many young people have so little respect for other people or property when they have no resident father and when the Government pump out an incessant message about knowing your rights and place so little emphasis on accepting responsibility.
My point is graphically illustrated by this article, "Sisters pregnant at 12, 14 and 16. So what does their mother do? She blames the school", which appeared in The Daily Telegraph yesterday—if hon. Members have not read it, I urge them to do so. Collectively, those children receive benefits of £31,000 a year. The mother of the three girls was astonished that her daughters had become pregnant so young, stating:
"It just doesn't seem possible".
It is hardly surprising that we have so many problems in our country when that sort of activity is becoming prevalent.
According to an excellent and well-researched report, "Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family", produced by Civitas in 2002, children living without their biological fathers are more likely to have emotional problems and to get into trouble at school, and they face a higher risk of experiencing health problems. That message may be unpalatable—unlike hon. Members who are making their maiden speeches, I do not have to be uncontroversial—even to the so-called modernising tendency in my party, but the message is crystal clear. We owe it to today's young people to rescue them from growing up in an environment that is devoid of respect. We need to frame a benefits system that rewards those who do the right thing instead of, as now, rewarding the feckless, and we need to reinforce the message that marriage is the surest foundation for raising children.
My third point relates to my principal passion outside politics, which is aviating. I have held a pilot's licence since I was 17, and I am very proud to represent the birthplace of British aviation, Farnborough. Sadly, the Gracious Speech does not refer to any form of aviation. On
Today, general aviation faces a range of threats. As early-day motion 141 and the letter in yesterday's The Daily Telegraph, which was signed by such legendary figures as Neville Duke and Raymond Baxter, testify, the wonderfully evocative vintage aircraft "Sally B", the B-17 immortalised in the film "Memphis Belle", is grounded thanks to new EU regulations, which demand that it be insured as if it were a passenger-carrying Boeing 737. How ironic that an aircraft that contributed to the liberation of Europe should be taken out of the sky by European bureaucrats. I hope that the EU will see the error of its ways and enable the B-17 to participate in the combined 60th anniversary VE-day/VJ-day celebrations on
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that example is typical of the kind of stresses faced by general aviation in the United Kingdom? This country should be a centre of global excellence for training tomorrow's pilots, but we face some serious legal restrictions. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should listen to existing aviators and try to change that dangerous and negative trend?
The hon. Gentleman is right. We are making common cause because, as he has said, the Civil Aviation Authority, otherwise known as the "Campaign Against Aviation", is about to publish a new policy on charging for its inspection and licensing functions, the effect of which threatens to increase general aviation's costs by up to 170 per cent. I understand that British Airways and Monarch Airlines are driving that policy, because they want to see transparency of charging by the CAA. Today, I will do little more than serve notice that I intend to mount a vigorous challenge to that attempt to inflict severe damage on general aviation. I am delighted to be joined by my fellow aviator of 17 years' standing, my aviating friend, Lembit Öpik, and we hope that Government Members will join us.
The CAA is due to publish its proposals on
The airlines are apparently seeking to transfer about £1.5 million of CAA costs to general aviation, which is less than British Airways paid a few years ago to have absurd, politically correct graffiti, over which my noble Friend Baroness Thatcher put her handkerchief, painted on the tail fins of its aircraft. It is simply galling that an organisation which has just reported annual profits of £540 million is intent upon inflicting such damage on general and sporting aviation. We—this includes me, and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire—pay about £5 million in VAT on the fuel that we consume as private aviators. British Airways pays no VAT on fuel or tickets, so we more than pay our way—I hope that Mr. Rod Eddington notes that point before he returns to Australia.
The issue is not confined to those of us who engage in recreational and sporting aviation. Air displays are the nation's second largest outdoor spectator sport, attracting 6.5 million people according to the 2002 figures. I hope that hon. Members will take the time to visit their local airfields, to attend an air display, to sign early-day motion 141 and to support me, the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire and some clandestine operators on the Government Benches in our attempt to resolve the matter.
The Queen's Speech is a mixture of platitudes laced with inaccuracies, wishful thinking and damaging proposals. I hope that it will be challenged by a Parliament that has been reinforced with so many able new Opposition Members who are prepared to hold the Government to account over the next five years.
It has been a privilege to listen to a string of such extraordinarily good maiden speeches this evening. Whatever people say about the decline of public speaking as an art, the new intake of Members on both sides suggests that it has not deteriorated as much as people say.
I want to pick up on one point made by my hon. Friend Rosie Cooper, who spoke of the expertise that she hopes to bring to health service debates in this House. In some ways, she echoed a comment about the Government's health policy made to me in an e-mail by a local general practitioner, who said:
"My concern is to maintain sufficient contact between the centre and those of us working on the ground. If messages only travel one way—top down—the richness of local knowledge and experience is not capitalised."
I look forward to the implementation of our Government's manifesto and the health service measures in the Queen's Speech, but I want to raise a few concerns about how they might be implemented in relation to the health service in Southampton.
I am in favour of choice; public services should offer choice. We want our local services to be good, but that is no reason why we should not have a choice of service to fit our lifestyle, working arrangements, family patterns and personal preferences. However, there is sometimes a sense from the Government's agenda that there is a more profound set of beliefs on choice and a set of tenets of faith. The suggestion seems to be that choice will be the major driver of improvement in public services, that a quasi-market in which the public, as consumers, exercise their choice and switch money from hospital to hospital or school to school is the best way to make choice a reality, that the same quasi-market has enough power to make providers provide a better standard of service, that providers have sufficient ability to respond to those markets to provide a better service, and that those ideas are all better than alternative ways to improve public services. Those ideas are not stated in our manifesto, but they come across in some current thinking, and I want to raise concerns about that.
First, it must be acknowledged that there is no published body of evidence to justify that series of claims. I hope that the Government will be more transparent on this area of policy making in the future. We know, for example, that the NHS pays over the odds for private sector operations to build up the capacity of the private sector so that there will be greater future efficiencies from more contestability. The Government should publish the evidence on which their current investment is judged so that we know what we will get for the money that goes in.
My second concern is that in the pursuit of that series of quasi-market changes, the immediate danger is that we end up with a mish-mash and hotch-potch of market and non-market approaches to public sector management—a bit of socialist planning, a bit of state capitalism and a bit of liberal markets. That makes it hard to work out how it all fits together.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that that system also leads to inefficiency? In my local hospital there is a brand new £97 million magnetic resonance imaging scanner, of which we are very proud. It is not being used, yet the private sector is bringing a van into the car park of a neighbouring hospital to carry out scanning. If that money was directed to the new capacity at my local hospital, it would be far more efficient than trying to generate the so-called market to which my right hon. Friend refers.
I was going to make the observation that we know that expanding private sector capacity works in particular circumstances. For example, there is no doubt that the development of a direct treatment centre in the private sector in Salisbury has cut orthopaedic waiting times in Southampton. However, we cannot generalise that experience to say that investing in private sector capacity will always produce benefits.
I want to address the dilemma that we face in Southampton. I shall not go into great detail, but I hope that the House will take it that there has been a huge amount of good news. Long waits have been slashed, the great majority of clinical targets have been met, there has been expansion and innovation in primary care, and there have been good public health gains such as falls in teenage pregnancy. However, the current challenges are huge. The combined deficit of the local health economy—the main hospital trust and the three primary care trusts—is £30 million, which puts the issues of the Blackwater valley into perspective. That figure will rise; it is only that low because of one-off financial savings.
There is a consensus in the area that the problem is not overall NHS underfunding, but that investment has come in and the reforms necessary to use it efficiently have not been made. In other words, only half of the message of investment and reform was carried out. There is broad agreement on what needs to be done: we need to make more efficient use of beds in the hospitals. However, it is challenging to build up the community care capacity in the face of those deficits. We need better co-ordination of services between Southampton and Winchester—two major hospital trusts. That is not easy politically, perhaps less so for the residents of Winchester than those of Southampton because the former may have to travel further for some services. We need improved commissioning of primary care and further improvements in the capacity of primary care trusts to plan and develop new services in new ways. That is happening, but probably not fast enough.
We must deal with those problems in the next three years, before the pace of NHS expansion slows. They can be dealt with, but the process will be fairly painful and will require exceptional leadership. I am particularly pleased that Sir Ian Carruthers, who was the head of the Dorset strategic health authority, has been seconded to our area to assist.
The challenge for this Labour Government, whom I support wholeheartedly, is to manage their new reforms without making the challenges in the Southampton area more difficult than necessary. Some individual reforms are going well. Practice-based commissioning seems to be going well within the overall PCT approach. Targets, which are much maligned—I have maligned them myself sometimes—have driven some real improvements in the quality of service. As I mentioned earlier, the use of private sector capacity in Salisbury has helped. However, it is brave to make the leap from those individual success stories in reform to assume that the whole picture is as coherent as it needs to be. We must remember that the health economy needs to make a reduction in its overall costs of at least £30 million a year, while not only protecting but improving patient services. That will mean a massive change in the organisation of services.
The people who have to deal with the problem not only have to deal with central targets and PCT commissioning, they have to work with the commissioning of new capacity in independent surgical treatment centres, with payment by results, and with patient choice. The rules for each are different. The independent sector gets money under different rules, without competition, and at a higher cost than NHS hospitals. The way that NHS hospitals get money depends on whether they are foundation trusts. Payment by results and patient choice leads to a bewildering range of possible outcomes depending on the effectiveness of PCTs, the choices made by patients, the cost-effectiveness of hospitals, and the extent of gaming and dysfunctional activity in the new market. Tertiary care—the world-class services that the university hospital trust offers to patients from all over the country—is inadequately and unpredictably funded under the current regime.
In a steady state, those different elements might not be a problem, and market signals alone might produce a more effective configuration of services. However, the bewildering range of outcomes that one can envisage over the next three years will directly affect the confidence of the system to make much-needed investment, for example, in better community facilities for the elderly. It also brings the danger that areas not as subject to market forces, particularly mental health services, will be stripped out to make up the shortage of money in other areas.
Much as I support the broad thrust of everything that the Government are doing on the NHS, I fear that we may end up with a curious mixture of the worst of the old and the new. The old central planning mechanisms, with all their flaws, may have been sufficiently weakened to prevent the necessary radical changes, and the new flows of money may create instability when long-term certainty is needed. Many individual reforms are working well. However, pushing market reforms blindly, without looking at the capacity of the local NHS to accommodate those changes, may overload the system and the decision makers in it.
I finish with a plea to Ministers to examine carefully areas such as Southampton and the challenges that we face, and to bring in the new reforms and greater patient choice at the right pace and with sensitivity to challenges on the ground. Let us make sure that the underlying structural changes are in place before expecting patient choice to work fully. If we do not, I fear that there may be some perverse outcomes that we will find difficult to defend. We could experience difficulties—not in the short term but in the longer term—if operations in private hospitals cost more than in NHS hospitals and the latter are closing their own wards. We could experience problems if there are conflicts between care trusts and providers as deficits are pushed from one to the other, along with the possible undermining of long-term investment in the management of chronic disease.
I have raised these points in a fairly straightforward way this evening. Much of what the Government have done in the NHS has been tremendous. My worry is that we are pushing untested policies into the system so fast that in areas such as mine, which face critical challenges, it may prove more than the system can take.
I congratulate the many new Members who have made their maiden contributions this evening. The hon. Members for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) and for Brent, South (Ms Butler) expressed great pride at being the first women to represent their constituencies, and I am particularly proud to be the first man to represent mine in more than 20 years. I am also proud to be standing next to my hon. Friend Anne Milton. She worked extremely hard to win her seat, and no one is prouder than I am to be with her this evening. [Hon. Members: "Love on the Benches!"] I believe that my hon. Friend is married.
Let me now undertake the enormously pleasurable task of paying tribute to my predecessor, Virginia Bottomley. This House will know that she played a distinguished role on the national stage as Secretary of State for Health and as Secretary of State for the then Department of National Heritage. The House may be less aware that she was also a hugely conscientious constituency MP, a determined champion of local causes and a passionate advocate of the many charities and voluntary organisations in my constituency. She is also immensely photogenic and cuts a wonderful dash in the hills of Haslemere, the gardens of Godalming and the fetes of Farnham. That, I fear, is an area in which I will be unable to follow in her distinguished footsteps.
I am grateful for that compliment from the Labour Benches; I fear that that may be the end of them.
My constituency consists of three historic towns and a number of villages that lie between them. Farnham is the largest of the towns, Haslemere is a town of great charm and character, and Godalming has a special place in my heart as I went to school there and my family are originally from there. My late grandmother was still alive when I was selected as a prospective parliamentary candidate, and no one could be happier than she would have been to see me standing here today.
In many ways, both the problems and the opportunities in my constituency reside in the same fact: we are only an hour from London. That creates not only huge economic opportunities—more than half the working population in my constituency commute to London—but huge development pressures that threaten the special character of my constituency's towns and villages. I do not wish to depart from the tradition of not being controversial in a maiden speech, but I want to let the House know that I will be campaigning vigorously against the housing targets set for my constituency by the Deputy Prime Minister, who used as his vehicle the unelected, unwanted and unnecessary South East England regional assembly.
I will also be campaigning strongly for a tunnel for the A3 at Hindhead. There is a huge traffic bottleneck there and enormous problems for traffic coming from London to Portsmouth. The tunnel is a project of national importance, and I urge the Government to reconsider their decision last December effectively to withdraw funding for it.
The final issue currently of great concern to my constituents is the future of Milford hospital, which is a specialist rehabilitation hospital. More than a quarter of my constituents are retired, and the demand for the services offered by Milford is only likely to increase. However, I am told by my primary care trust that a short-term cash crisis leaves its potential future funding in doubt. I will be campaigning very strongly, locally and nationally, to ensure that Milford hospital does not become a victim of that cash crisis.
My own background is in education. With a business partner—he is in the Gallery—I set up an educational publishing business that produces guides and websites to help people choose the right university, college or course. I will mention it in the Register of Members' Interests, and I declare it today because I want to say something about education. I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for Education for sparing time from her schedule, and for making the effort to come and listen to what I have to say.
We live in a highly competitive world, and most Members in all parts of the House would accept that some inequality is the inevitable consequence of maintaining the link between effort and reward in our society. But given that that is so, there is surely not just an economic necessity but a moral duty to ensure that we give every child in this country the best possible start in life.
As a prospective parliamentary candidate, I followed in the footsteps of Clare Short and did a week as a teacher in a local secondary school; I also did a week as a classroom assistant in a primary school. I welcome some of the changes in education that we have seen in the past eight years, particularly the literacy and numeracy hours, which have been important contributions. However, if we are to address the shortfalls in our education system, we have to recognise that it is not just a question of funding; we also need a disciplined learning environment and academic rigor. Respect for teachers is vital, but we also need to pay due attention to academic standards. If everyone gets a prize, in the end the prize itself becomes worthless, and the people who suffer most are those with the least. For them, a credible exam result is the very passport that they need to help them to break out of the cycle of low expectations with which they may well have grown up.
I come briefly to education in the third world, given that the developing world will be discussed at the forthcoming G8 summit. I was recently involved in setting up a charity to fund education for AIDS orphans in Kenya. I did so after sponsoring an HIV-positive child for a couple of years, and I make no apology to the House for coming to the problems of Africa through the prism of a small child's experience, because in the end this is about individuals and individual suffering.
I was greatly helped in setting up that charity by Estelle Morris, who was willing to work across party lines to help me get it off the ground. She once said to me, "Jeremy, you care a lot about education and you care about the developing world. Just why are you a Conservative?", to which I say this: no party has a monopoly on compassion—the challenge is how to apply that compassion in a modern context. For my part, compassion alone is not enough; it needs to benefit the people to whom it is directed. Compassion should lead to independence for those who lack it, to freedom for those who need it and to opportunity for those who crave it. Creating opportunities for those who really need them—whether in this country or in the developing world—will be a major preoccupation of mine for as long as the people of South-West Surrey give me the privilege of representing them in this House.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am delighted to make my maiden speech to the House on a debate about education and health—two key issues for my constituency. First, however, I want to congratulate new hon. Members on their maiden speeches today. I greatly enjoyed hearing the speeches over the last few hours and we have ranged from Swansea, East to Dundee, West and Brent, South, which has been a real education. I also pay tribute to Mr. Hunt, who provided an interesting tour of his constituency and spoke with authority on education both here and abroad. I wish him every success in his parliamentary career.
My constituency of Kingston upon Hull, North is situated in a proud and famous city, which continues to play an important role in the political life of the nation. I want to commence by paying tribute to my predecessor, Kevin McNamara, and then to explain a little of Hull's history and what is happening there today.
Kevin first entered Parliament as the MP for Hull, North in the famous and hard-fought by-election of January 1966. At that stage, Harold Wilson had a majority of just three MPs, which puts Labour's majority of 67 on
Kevin served the area for the next 39 years. In campaigning with Kevin in recent months, I was struck by the warmth and fondness that local people felt for their MP. In Yorkshire, of course, we do not have the displays of emotion that we saw on the streets of Brent, South, but I was gesticulated at on many occasions, as was my colleague in Sheffield, Mr. Clegg.
Kevin is a man proud of his Catholic faith and he has strong principles and values, which he never shied away from voicing. Members will be aware that Kevin served as Labour's principal spokesperson for Northern Ireland—a cause dear to his heart—between 1987 and 1994. He held many other roles, including Opposition spokesperson for defence and the civil service. In recent years, he has been a member of the Council of Europe and a key member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Kevin took a passionate interest in human rights, championing the rights of groups, including Travellers and the young soldiers who died at Deepcut, which society often wants to ignore or forget.
Kevin was always a strong advocate of animal welfare, and I am pleased that before he retired, fox hunting was finally legislated against. Kevin is quoted as describing his most important work as an MP as putting
"the final nail in the coffin of capital punishment by moving the amendment to include protocol 6 (which prohibits the death penalty) to the Human Rights Bill."
I am sure that the House will join me in wishing Kevin and his wife, Nora, a healthy and happy retirement.
I move on now to deal with Kingston upon Hull and its fascinating place in the political, constitutional and social history of this country. When people drive into Hull, they are greeted by a sign stating that Hull is a pioneering city: if we consider its history, we realise why. First, in 1642, Hull slammed the gate shut in the face of King Charles who was trying to access arms held in the city—an action that preserved the political liberties, rights and privileges of this House against the monarchy.
Secondly, Hull is the birthplace of William Wilberforce, who was born in 1759, later became an MP for the city and fought to abolish slavery. The cry of the abolitionists—"Am I not a man and a brother?"—still resonates today as we see slavery, people trafficking and especially women being trafficked for sex, still continuing around the world. In 2007, we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery and Hull will lead the way in marking that event.
Thirdly, as Hull's first woman MP, I cannot miss the opportunity to celebrate the wonderful life of another Johnson from Hull who reached great heights. It is not my right hon. Friend Alan Johnson, remarkable though he is, but Amy Johnson, a strong, independently minded woman who lived in Hull for many years and followed her dream to become an aviator. She was keen to succeed in a project that would demonstrate that women could be as competent as men in a male-dominated field. She qualified as the first British-trained woman ground engineer and, of course, made her historic flight as the first woman to fly alone to Australia in 1930. I shall certainly look to Amy Johnson as an inspiration.
I am lucky that my experience in local government and as a member of the London Assembly—together with other new hon. Members, I grappled with holding the Mayor of London to account—will stand me in good stead in the cut and thrust of politics at Westminster.
Today, Kingston upon Hull, North consists of leafy avenues in the south of the constituency, filled with students and academics from the university, up to the council estate at Bransholme, bordering the East Riding. Although it suffers from poor planning in the past and the economic blows of the 1980s, a strong community spirit survives in many of the people who moved from the fishing area in Hull to the new council estate in the 1970s. This area is now part of the pathfinder in Hull, which is very welcome. We have already seen community attempts at regeneration, with the award-winning community gym at the Dales working to get local people fitter. Work has also been done with disaffected young people to get them back on track.
Even after eight years of a Labour Government and massive investment in our community, we still have more work to do in health and education in Hull. Hull is leading the way, however, in the introduction of free healthy school meals, alongside the Labour Government's fresh fruit scheme, in all our primary schools. Those initiatives have been an amazing success. In one city centre school, there has been 98 per cent. take-up of healthy school meals. It is heartening to see small children either enjoying a healthy lunch of "cowboy pie", consisting of fresh meat and vegetables, or leaving school at the end of the day munching carrots and fruit. The long-term public health benefits of such innovations will take time to see, but I believe that they are essential if we are to reduce the gap between the life expectancy of a baby born in Kingston upon Hull today—six years less—and a baby boy born in Kingston upon Thames today.
Continuing with the theme of education, we also have a well established music service in Hull, which gives any child, including those with special educational needs, an opportunity to learn to play an instrument. That service survived the massive cuts to music education in the 1980s and has been fiercely protected in Hull. We need only to go along to a school concert at Thoresby or Fifth Avenue primary school to be impressed by the talents of the youngsters.
I know that in Hull we need to build on the excellent work of our primary schools in order to get the results in the secondary sector. I am delighted that the Labour Government have awarded £200 million under the "building schools for the future" initiative to refurbish and rebuild our secondary schools, including—and, hopefully, at the top of the list—the Sir Henry Cooper and Kelvin Hall schools.
The university of Hull sits in the heart of the constituency and I am particularly proud of the Hull and York medical school, which, opening only two years ago, was ranked second in The Guardian league tables of UK medical schools for 2005. The course attaches particular importance to good communication skills in medical training and clinical placements from early on in a student's life. We now have the opportunity to develop a dental school on similar lines and I will be supporting and lobbying the Government on that in the coming months.
I also want briefly to mention another innovation in Hull—the community warden service, which provides a reassuring presence on the streets of my constituency. It befriends and works with the elderly and the young.
As a port city and a gateway to Europe, Hull has always had international links. It has just been awarded Fairtrade status to show the outward-looking nature of many Hull people. Meanwhile, our local football team, Hull City, the Tigers, has just won year-on-year promotion and will be playing in the championship. We have a marvellous new stadium, known as the KC stadium, built in partnership with the Labour council, which has aided our team's success.
I am humbled to have been elected to represent such an interesting and challenging area. I will promote the city whenever possible and never forget my duty to improve the lives of people throughout the constituency. I will strive to serve all my constituents to the best of my ability.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful to you for calling me to speak for the first time and I am grateful to hon. Members for the traditional courtesies, which I hope they are about to show me. I congratulate Ms Johnson and other new Members on the worryingly eloquent examples that they have set me. In return, I shall try to observe tradition by being as uncontroversial as my liberalism allows.
Through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would also like to thank the House authorities for the support and advice that they have give to new Members this year. I gather that the service is rather better than that of previous years and it is much appreciated. Of all the things that have been explained to us newcomers, the complex web of allowances, final-salary pension scheme and expenses is what attracts most attention outside the House. There are easy political points to be scored in attacking those provisions, but they do not seem particularly outrageous to me when compared with what is provided to some people in business. However—and I must declare a family interest in this, as my wife is a doctor—they place on Ministers a responsibility to treat very carefully the pension arrangements, in particular, of other public servants, including my constituents in GCHQ, the NHS and Cheltenham's schools and colleges.
It is appropriate that a Cheltenham maiden speech should be made on a day devoted to debating health and education, as our town motto is, after all, "Salubritas et Eruditio". The educational tradition is very long, and dates back to the foundation of our grammar school by Richard Pate in 1578. That tradition of educational excellence continues today, not least in our best comprehensive and special schools, the Gloucestershire college of arts and technology and our new university. I am also proud that the tradition includes first-class education for many disabled students at the national star college, parts of which are in my constituency. However, I am bound to say that the perception locally is that education provision is underfunded compared with other counties, and that pupils' experiences across Cheltenham can be very mixed. Those are serious issues, to which I am sure that I will return another day.
Health has been equally central to Cheltenham life. Today, we boast a three-star hospital foundation trust, a three-star primary care trust and a three-star partnership trust for mental health. While I share many colleagues' reservations about the accountability of foundation trusts, I hope that Ministers will look kindly on the mental health trust's current application for foundation status. Under the current system, that seems to be its best way forward.
Cheltenham's association with good health began in earnest in 1716, when our future prosperity was assured by a pigeon targeting a mineral spring. It was drinking the first Cheltenham waters. The spa soon became a magnet for visitors, including George III, his Prince Regent, Lord Byron, and Jane Austen, who took the waters for their health-giving properties. The spa water is, to be perfectly honest, an acquired taste that is unlikely to have mass market appeal in the near future, but I would recommend it to the Secretary of State's colleagues in the Department of Health for analysis, especially since water-borne bacteria phages have recently been suggested as possible antidotes to MRSA.
Cheltenham soon developed into the beautiful and friendly town that it remains today, but that brings its own problems. A high quality of life, relative prosperity and easy access to the beautiful Cotswold countryside attracts people to live and work in the area. As a result, we have been told by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to expect tens of thousands more homes to be built on our green belt, perhaps even merging us with nearby Gloucester. However, what is the logic of concentrating development on already prosperous towns that neither want nor need it, when smaller rural communities are dying for lack of families and less prosperous parts of the region and the country need and want development more?
In the end, our quality of life will be compromised and our traffic and services will be overloaded, while outlying estates will become even more of a focus for the antisocial behaviour that blights Cheltenham too, and which stretches police resources to the point where people are losing confidence in the force's ability to respond. Nor will that development of relatively expensive housing do anything to help the people trapped on our housing waiting list who are already beating a path to my surgery door.
There is inequality in Cheltenham. I have been elected not just by readers of The Guardian living in elegant regency properties—although I think that I probably did count on their votes—but by people who have to work hard just to make ends meet on streets and estates that suffer very significantly lower incomes, worse health and fewer educational opportunities than those in the more affluent parts of town. Those people expect me to fight for change in this House, and I promise to do so.
Cheltenham continues to welcome visitors, especially through a succession of festivals, many of them giving the town an international flavour. During the national hunt festival in March, the Queen's hotel flies the Irish tricolour, and our pubs take euros. In fact, the horses race in the constituency of Mr. Robertson, but I would not embarrass him by suggesting that his pubs should take euros too.
Our international festival of music attracts world-class talent every year, as befits the birthplace of Gustav Holst. We also offer fantastic festivals of literature, cricket, science, folk and jazz. Visitors to Cheltenham in recent years have also included a succession of Labour and Conservative general election candidates, who perhaps are ignorant of the fact that, for the past 30 years and for much of its earlier electoral history, Cheltenham has returned only MPs born and bred in Cheltenham. I am proud that I, too, am representing my home town in Parliament.
Cheltenham has had a great liberal tradition in this House and not just among those wearing my party colours. Our parliamentary representation was born in the Reform Act 1832 and our first MP, Craven Berkeley, was a staunch supporter of more democratic reform. However, I am afraid that he did not set a very good example in other ways, going so far as to shoot at an opposing Tory MP on one occasion, in a duel in 1842. Luckily, both were equally bad shots. On another occasion, Berkeley allegedly guarded the door of a Regent street bookseller while his brother beat up the proprietor. Nevertheless, he was very popular with his constituents and was re-elected many times, being unseated only once—for offering rather too many refreshments to his electors during the campaign. He thereby established a powerful Cheltenham tradition for electing local, liberal and independently minded MPs with a strong association with food and drink.
In the late 19th century, the best example of that tradition was James Agg-Gardiner, a successful Tory brewer. I went to school with the smell of hops from what was once his brewery wafting through my classroom. Agg-Gardiner, too, had liberal ideas. In particular, he championed the cause of women's suffrage as early as the 1870s. Then, as now, Cheltenham was a Liberal-Tory marginal. Agg-Gardiner lost the seat in the Liberal landslide of 1906, but only by 401 votes. The seat changed hands at each of the two subsequent elections, with increasingly tiny majorities, and was finally regained by Agg-Gardiner with a majority of just four votes—which makes 66 sound like a comfortable majority.
Another colourful and independent-minded Tory was Charles Irving, the first Cheltenham MP whom I knew as a constituent. Older hon. Members will remember him with affection for his skills in reforming and improving House of Commons catering. However, as with Agg-Gardiner, food and drink went side by side with more serious fare. Charles's maiden speech was a passionate attack on capital punishment, bravely delivered at the height of the IRA's bombing campaign. It reads as a timely defence against the curtailing of civil liberty in the face of terrorist atrocity. Charles was a genuine social reformer; that did not always endear him to his colleagues in the party to my right, but it made him well loved in every part of Cheltenham.
Charles's successor was my predecessor, Nigel Jones. In good Cheltenham tradition, he became chairman of the all-party parliamentary beer group and was once named parliamentary beer drinker of the year. He, too, was a committed political reformer, championing, among other things, the trade union rights at GCHQ, which he did see restored while sitting in this House. At times, Nigel served Cheltenham as its MP under more difficult circumstances than any of us would ever want to face, and his courage and good humour in the face of injury and later ill health earned him much respect. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in congratulating him on his imminent ennoblement. I hope that the other House will prove a suitably restful environment, in which he will return to the best of health.
My election result was modest compared with Nigel's, but I was pleased to have raised not just important local issues but also critical global issues, such as the need to make poverty history and—the single most important issue of all—the fate of the planet's environment. However, local issues featured strongly in the election, and I cannot sit down without finally referring to one local issue that is relevant to the subject of today's debate. The previous Secretary of State for Health found himself in an embarrassing situation after he met me and local campaigners concerned at the loss of children's services from Cheltenham general hospital to Gloucester, and specifically at the loss of Battledown children's ward as a 24-hour in-patient facility, as proposed by the foundation trust. The petition handed to the right hon. Gentleman that day apparently ended up in a skip in Oxford, and that caused huge offence in Cheltenham. We did get an apology, but the best way for the Government to regain a little of their tarnished reputation locally would be for the Secretary of State to say that she will look afresh at the case of Battledown ward, and support a 24-hour in-patient service. As the Department said only last year,
"people have a right to expect . . . high-quality, locally accessible health care".
I am sure that the Government will want to prove that that was more than just words.
I am honoured to be here representing Cheltenham, and I am very grateful to the House for its patience.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech to the House. I congratulate Mr. Horwood on his excellent maiden speech, and I should also like to take this opportunity to thank hon. Members and the staff of the House for giving me so much help to settle into this role during the past few weeks. That help has been invaluable.
It is a great privilege to speak in this debate, as the House has never before been able to debate the legislative programme of a third-term Labour Government. This situation is not only historic, but provides us with further opportunities to improve this country for everyone.
At the outset, I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Gerry Steinberg. Gerry served his constituents very well, and worked extremely hard to bring jobs and prosperity to Durham. He was for many years a diligent member of the Education Committee. I know that he will be missed, and the Public Accounts Committee, on which he also served, will be a less lively place without him. Right hon. and hon. Members might like to know that I have it as an aspiration to be as quiet and retiring as Gerry!
I also consider it to be an enormous privilege to be the Member of Parliament for my home, the wonderful city of Durham. Those of us who are fortunate to live there know of its extraordinary beauty and outstanding cultural heritage. In an effort to introduce the rest of the world to it, the travel writer Bill Bryson wrote:
"Why, it's wonderful—a perfect little city . . . If you have never been to Durham, go there at once. Take my car. It's wonderful."
I extend the same invitation to all right hon. and hon. Members.
I wish to return to the subject of Durham's amazing heritage. Durham's history is founded on the life of St. Cuthbert, a seventh century Northumbrian saint. He was noted for his fair and placid manner, for having a remarkable talent for athletics and a reputed gift for working miracles—so not much for me to follow there then! Durham cathedral was of course built as his burial place. The magnificent cathedral is still a place of pilgrimage and worship: it is central to the life of the city and I pay tribute to the work of the cathedral today.
The cathedral is also remarkable for its Galilee chapel where the Venerable Bede is buried. Bede, a religious scholar and early academic historian, became known as one of the most learned men in Europe. As the final resting place of one of the earliest academics, it is perhaps fitting that the cathedral is now surrounded by Durham university. Our university is considered to be one of the best in the country. It is renowned internationally and it too provides essential jobs and a valued contribution to our civic life. I think it must be one of very few universities to have a beautiful castle as one of its colleges.
Durham has another heritage that needs to be equally celebrated, and that is a heritage built on the city's mining industry and Labour inheritance. It is a joy to many of us in Durham that the miners gala is not only still held in the city every year but goes from strength to strength. It acts as a real focus for progressive politics in the city and involves a wide range of voluntary and community organisations. Long may it continue.
In his maiden speech, Gerry Steinberg admirably chronicled the problems facing the ex-mining villages surrounding the city centre. He pointed to the devastating levels of unemployment created by mine closures and de-industrialisation, and the absence of any policies by the then Conservative government to tackle them. So unemployment became an intergenerational experience because of the lack of jobs. It also created acute deprivation and the associated problems of poor health and the waste of human talent. Thankfully, I am able to stand here some years later and talk about the positive changes Labour has made in Durham. Unemployment in Durham city has halved over the past eight years, and that downward trend is continuing as new jobs come on stream. While many of those jobs have been created as a result of Labour's investment in the public services, Durham's private sector is also thriving. For example, the rate at which new firms are starting up in Durham has increased by 30 per cent. since 1997. That compares well with the north-east as a whole, which saw new firm start-ups increase by 11 per cent. over the same period, and both Durham and the region outstrip the national rate of increase.
That economic success depends on having a well-educated and skilled work force. Progress with raising educational achievement has been one of the Labour Government's most impressive achievements. Durham city has seen a 20 per cent. increase in pupils achieving five good GCSEs. Durham's quality of life is also much better than eight years ago. The burglary rate, for example, is down by 36 per cent. People are also living longer under a Labour Government. Durham city's death rate from circulatory diseases has fallen by a quarter since 1997 and from cancer by a fifth.
One has only to look around my constituency to see how investment in public services is making a difference. In Durham, we have a new hospital, a new state-of-the-art further education college, and we are shortly to have new buildings for Durham Johnston school. We have a Sure Start scheme with a children's centre already being built, and more children's centres on the way. And Durham is, I think, typical in that regard.
My job as an MP will be to ensure that progress continues. That will mean working with a range of agencies, businesses and the local councils to continue the regeneration of the urban areas and former mining villages. It will involve bringing schools, colleges and the university together to continue to improve educational attainment in the city, to provide innovative training models for the workplace and to promote Durham as an international centre of excellence for science development. My background in higher education means that I am simply passionate about education and its capacity to transform whole communities as well as individuals, and I will work to improve education at all levels in Durham.
It will also be necessary to continue to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour and local policing teams should help to reduce the fear of crime especially for the elderly. I want to continue to engage actively with communities in the city and listen to and act on their concerns. That includes establishing a mechanism for the voices of young people to be heard so they can see that democracy works for them too.
Finally, I return to the theme of heritage that I started with. Durham also has a tradition of reaching out to troubled communities throughout the world. I am very pleased that the Government have put the middle east peace process and reducing poverty in Africa at the top of their international agenda and I look forward to working with the many groups in Durham that have overseas development issues as their focus. I will of course be there to represent all my constituents and I will bring hard work and commitment to that task.
I am especially pleased to follow Dr. Blackman-Woods. Although I suspect that we will disagree on many issues in years to come, I agree with her about the beauty and scenic majesty of her constituency, as I pass through it on the train from Edinburgh to London.
I was also pleased to hear today the maiden speech of my hon. Friend Mr. Wallace. I also had the pleasure of hearing him make his maiden speech in the Scottish Parliament in 1999. I was also pleased to hear the maiden speech by Ms Butler, who gave us all considerable encouragement that if we are able to do our job well we will be routinely embraced by our constituents in the street. I aspired to the recognition and affection that one of my predecessors, Sir Hector Monro, received from his former constituents. Some 22 years after he ceased to represent the Thornhill area of Dumfriesshire, people still come up to shake his hand.
It is my honour and privilege to have been elected as the first Member of Parliament for the newly created constituency of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, to which I have often referred by the acronym DCT—although people then think that I am talking about some unfortunate medical condition. Some have suggested unkindly that my constituency was created just to bring together the bits that the boundary commission for Scotland had left over after it had created the 58 other constituencies. I prefer the boundary commission's own explanation that it wanted to bring together those diverse and disparate small towns and areas to create a constituency that would require its Member of Parliament to focus on rural issues. That is certainly the commitment I make to my constituents.
The constituency covers about 2,000 square miles and takes in the river valleys of the Annan, the Esk, the Clyde, the Tweed and the Nith. It contains about 100 communities. If I were to follow the example of other Members and list the merits and concerns of those communities I should take up all the time remaining for our debate this evening, so I can only summarise my remarks about a part of Scotland that has great scenic resonance and history. The one thing that I can say about William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and Robert Burns is that all those great Scots at least passed through my constituency.
The constituency begins at the English border at Gretna, now as famous in Scotland for its football club as for being a location to marry. The constituency stretches along the route of the M74 beyond Coalburn. To the west lie the communities of Thornhill, Kirkconnel, Sanquhar and Upper Nithsdale, which still has unemployment rates well beyond the national average. I am committed to working with our local MSP, local councillors and relevant organisations to increase employment opportunities in the area. I am also pleased to be playing a part in the A76 corridor action group, lobbying for improvements to Scotland's forgotten trunk road, which will play a vital part in the regeneration of the area.
In the east of the constituency lies the community of Langholm, which is steeped in rich border history and the history of the border reivers. Unfortunately, of late we have a new border reiver in the form of the Environment Agency, which has tried to introduce rod licences on the Scottish section of the River Esk—as unwelcome as any cross-border raids of the past. As a Member of the House, it is my intention to try to bring that matter to a resolution.
In the north and east, the constituency follows the A702, passing through communities such as Biggar and West Linton. Biggar has an interesting motto to which all of us from small towns can subscribe: "London's big but Biggar's Biggar". Many people living along the A702 believe that its designation as the main trunk route between the M74 and Edinburgh is unsustainable, and I hope to persuade the Scottish Executive that they must take action on that matter.
Biggar and the areas of south Lanarkshire that fall within my constituency have not had the benefit of Conservative representation since the election of 1959 when Patrick Maitland was defeated by Judith Hart. West Linton and Peebleshire have not had the benefit of Conservative representation for 40 years since the death of Colonel Donaldson. However, in accordance with convention, I shall pay tribute to more recent Members rather than those long past. In fact, because my constituency is newly created, three of the four predecessor Members are still Members of the House. Indeed, I have the pleasure of being the Conservative MP for the hon. Members for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown) and for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood). Mr. Moore would have been a constituent but he moved a few weeks ago. I am sure that the two things are not related.
Like many Members on the Conservative Benches, I was greatly saddened that my friend Peter Duncan was not successful in his attempt to return to the House. As many Members representing constituencies in England will find, changes proposed by the boundary commission can be harsh to even the most hard-working Members. Peter's win in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale in 2001 was a remarkable achievement. If its boundaries had been retained, he would have been elected with a greatly increased majority, due in no small part to his diligence as a hard-working constituency Member, speaking out on issues that really mattered to the people in his far-flung constituency. Those issues included the lack of dental services—the registration of dentists being one of the health matters reserved to the House—the future of the King's Own Scottish Borderers and fuel duty.
Peter also made an enormous contribution to political debate, both in the House and in Scotland in his role as shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. He has much still to give to the Conservative party, Scotland and the House, and I very much welcome his continuing role as chairman of our party in Scotland, carrying out the structural and organisational reforms that our Unionist party needs to adopt to succeed in the future in Scotland and across the United Kingdom.
When asked which single issue is of particular importance to my constituency, I often reply that it is energy policy. At the northern end of the constituency are the largest opencast developments in Europe. At the southern end is the Chapelcross power station, which is being decommissioned. One of the roles that I hope to play in this Parliament is to persuade the Government to make a quick and positive decision on nuclear power so that Chapelcross can play host to a new nuclear power station, which would be most gratefully welcomed by the community and the local work force.
As I have said, I am the first serving Member of the Scottish Parliament to be elected to this place. The Scottish Parliament has had a difficult birth and continuing growing pains, and faces many challenges if it is to live up to the expectations of the people who voted for its establishment in 1997. However, we should never forget that it is the settled will of the people of Scotland that the Parliament should exist in its present form, and there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that they have changed their view on that matter. However, devolution is a process, not an event. The inevitable next steps are to replace the system of nods and winks between the Labour party in Edinburgh and the Labour party in London with protocols and procedures between the Parliaments and Governments that will stand up to scrutiny and that will work when we have Governments of different political persuasions in Edinburgh and in London as we surely will.
It is with some sadness that I will be leaving the Scottish Parliament and the many friends and colleagues with whom I have worked there over the past six years. However, I look forward to the new challenges, which are already evident to me as the new Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale.
I congratulate David Mundell on his able and interesting speech. I look forward to hearing his future contributions.
I applaud the Government's commitment to education and health, as shown in the Gracious Speech. Indeed, Liverpool has already benefited from the Government's investment. We have received additional spending of more than 50 per cent. on education and additional investment in health of more than 80 per cent. I hope that high level of investment will continue.
I want to draw attention to two concerns about education. The first is under-achievement. Liverpool is a city with growing success, yet despite that it contains some of the strongest concentrations of deprivation in the country. I should like the Government, with the local authority in Liverpool, to consider the areas of under-achievement that I consider to be of great concern. Take-up of higher education is still far too low. Take-up of skills training is also low and I look forward to the impact of the Government's new policies on that area, where more opportunities are required. Young people need to be attracted to the opportunities that are available. The Greater Merseyside learning and skills council is considering new proposals to try to capture the imagination of young people, too many of whom leave school with inadequate qualifications, and I hope that those efforts are successful.
I have a particular concern about the educational under-achievement of many black and ethnic minority pupils in Liverpool. I hope that Liverpool education authority will hold an inquiry into what is happening in relation to those minority groups in the city.
I have been very shocked to see figures that reveal falling attainment rates among some Somali and Yemeni children in Liverpool's schools. I am not clear whether any proper record is kept of how many children in those groups, and indeed others, are not being entered for examinations, so looking simply at percentage success rates in examinations is not an adequate reflection of what is happening in those schools. That issue has been ignored for far too long, and I should like to see renewed interest in it.
The second issue about which I should like to express concern relates to higher education and the appearance of insidious anti-Semitism in some of our universities. I ask the Government to intervene in accordance not only with their own race relations policy, but with their obligations under the Berlin statement of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which the Government took such a leading part in putting together and ratifying in December last year. One of the commitments in the Berlin declaration was that all the signatory states would do everything in their power to act against anti-Semitism.
I am extremely concerned about the harassment of Jewish students at the School of Oriental and African Studies, which is part of London university, about the failure of the National Union of Students to act and, indeed, about the apparent indifference of the university authorities. The harassment at SOAS has led the NUS anti-fascist and anti-racist convenor, Luciana Berger, to resign from the NUS executive, together with two of her colleagues. The regrettable—indeed, deplorable—incidents that led to that action include Luciana Berger being spat on. They also include university and student authorities taking no action whatsoever against the General Union of Palestinian Students stall displaying a leaflet advocating the protocols of the elders of Zion—the lie that Jews are in an international conspiracy to rule the world—and the Israeli embassy official, Roey Gilad, being banned from speaking at the students union until the head of the university informed the union that that decision was illegal. Despite that, disruption still followed.
If hon. Members read the evidence that was given to the recent inquiry set up by the Home Affairs Committee, they will see that there is growing concern about intimidation on the campus. The situation that I describe exists at SOAS, but there is concern that it could spread to other university campuses. I hope that the Government will accept that that is unacceptable and that it is something on which we should act.
My second concern relates to the current Association of University Teachers boycott of Haifa and Bar Ilan universities in Israel. That decision was taken on the eve of Passover, when relatively few Jewish academics were able to be present at the debate. It is indeed curious timing for Israel, of all the world's nations, to be singled out for such treatment, because it was only in May last year that Israeli and Palestinian academics signed a joint declaration on how they wish to improve co-operation by working together. The boycott is opposed by Sari Nuseiba, the president of al-Quds university in East Jerusalem, and it takes place against the background of an improving peace situation, with Israel preparing to evacuate from Gaza, as a first step to full negotiations to reach peace between those two peoples.
It is pretty clear that the boycott of Israeli universities—two have been named at the moment, but I understand that a third is under consideration—is nothing to do with what is happening in those universities, which is alleged to be so much worse than anything that is happening in any other university anywhere in the world. It is part of a long-running campaign to attempt to delegitimise the state of Israel.
Sue Blackwell, the mover of the motion, has said that Israel is an "illegitimate state". Indeed, she was forced to remove from her website links to neo-nazis, including links to Wendy Campbell, who wrote about so-called "unrivalled Jewish power", and to Marwen Media, which repeated the views of Kevin McDonald, who referred to Jews having "breeding programmes to conquer other races". All that is deplorable. What happened at the AUT conference should be recognised for what it is—discriminatory and part of a long-running campaign to delegitimise the state of Israel at the very time when we see the hope, at long last, of bringing peace. I hope that the boycott will be overturned at the special meeting of the AUT council, which will take place this week.
Again, I ask Ministers to intervene and to show their concern for equal opportunity and their concern against racism. If there is a policy against racism, it should include a policy against anti-Semitism. I find it increasingly disturbing that policies that would be rightly condemned and abhorred if carried out against black people are somehow found to be rather different and perhaps acceptable when carried out against Jewish people. That is not acceptable, and I hope that the Government, with their strong record on race and as a major signatory to the Berlin declaration against anti-Semitism, will play their part in trying to resolve the issue.
The Government have an excellent record on education. We have seen major improvements nationally, and I and my constituents have seen dramatic improvements in the opportunities being given to people in the city of Liverpool. I call on the Government not only to continue their policies for investment, but to ensure that there is indeed equality of opportunity. That involves looking at under-achievement in our schools. I have referred to the situation of Somali, Yemeni and other black and ethnic minority children in Liverpool, but the problem relates to all those children in Liverpool who are not achieving their full potential. I ask the Government to continue with their determination to secure opportunity for all and with their programme of investment to give all people opportunities for the future.
My grateful thanks to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the time to make my maiden speech today. I congratulate the many other hon. Members who have made their speeches, particularly Mrs. Ellman, on raising such pertinent issues.
I should like to thank the people of Guildford for putting their trust in me and electing me to the House. I feel immensely privileged and honoured to have the opportunity to serve them. I look forward to the challenges ahead with considerable awareness of the responsibilities that I must now fulfil.
I should also like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Sue Doughty, who served Guildford for the past four years. She worked vigilantly for the constituency and went to considerable efforts to support all the wonderful charities that help local people so much. I am aware of her concerns about environmental issues and that she sought every opportunity to address them. Politics is, at times, a rather harsh business and there are never any second prizes. However, each of us has an opportunity to leave something behind, and Sue has done just that: she is held in considerable affection by many for her work both in the House and in the constituency.
Guildford town is located where the River Wey cuts into the north downs, and it has always been an important staging post between London and the coast. In fact, it remains so today, with many thousands of young people coming into Guildford on Friday and Saturday nights. Perhaps not so much has changed for the people of Guildford. Due to fears of violence and antisocial behaviour, that staging post has become a no-go area for many residents on weekend evenings.
The High street is full of history, and we are proud of both the guild hall, which was built in the 16th century, and Abbots hospital, which was founded in 1619 by George Abbot, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, to provide housing for the elderly poor. In fact, it still provides housing today and is testimony to the fact that the Government do not always have to provide everything themselves because other providers often do so better.
We have a little bit of everything in Guildford. Spectrum leisure centre is home to the national ice hockey league, and the cathedral on Stag hill is one of only four built since the Reformation. We have the vibrant and successful Surrey university with the research park that it owns and manages, which is regarded as one of the most successful in Europe.
Business is booming in Guildford, but it is an increasing challenge to embrace its success and deal with the consequences for our local environment, such as the imposed increases in house building, threats to our countryside and green belt, the ever-growing mountain of waste and planning rules that do not allow local people to stop the unending march of mobile phone mast technology. The farmers in our area still try to preserve the countryside, yet they are drowning in paperwork and bureaucracy. The pressures on Guildford are immense.
Going south from Guildford, my constituency stretches down to the Sussex border, with beautiful villages and countryside in which one can still find real pubs, proper village fairs and village greens. I am not quite sure how warm the beer is, but suffice to say that during the campaign, the village pubs brought colour to my skin, lightened my weary bones and were a welcome resting place for me and my footsore troops.
Guildford, and even the town itself, still has strong local communities and charities, so people have a strong sense of belonging there. Many of our charities pick up shortfalls in statutory services and the benefits that they provide are almost always entirely funded by local fundraising events. The saving to the state due to such charities is immeasurable. Charities that are concerned with health care include the Beacon centre, which offers help to people affected by cancer and other serious long-term illness and also treats people with lymphoedema, and Christopher's, which offers respite and support for families and children with life-limiting illnesses. Many mental health charities fill the gaps where state provision is woefully inadequate.
We also have Cranleigh village hospital, which was founded in 1859 as the first cottage hospital in the country. It is still open today only because of the stubborn efforts of the local community. Every time that closure raised its head, fundraising by the local community saved the day. In 1998, the people of Cranleigh decided that the only way to avoid the repeated threat of closure was to own the hospital, so Cranleigh village hospital trust was born. Seven years later, with land from a local benefactor and considerable local fundraising, they are ready to build their own new hospital. The people of Cranleigh have had enough of promises about the NHS. The village will ensure that it has the hospital that it wants and deserves.
Guildford has a generous community in which people willingly care for those less fortunate than themselves. Guildford might look like a prosperous and contented place, but we have our problems. Crime and antisocial behaviour keep people in their own homes, and worries about MRSA stop people attending accident and emergency departments. People stay in their cars and put up with traffic jams because of the woefully inadequate public transport. We have ever-soaring council tax and significant areas of deprivation, and Guildford, like many other places in the south-east, needs a fairer deal from the Government.
I trained as a nurse at Barts hospital in London, of which I am immensely proud, and worked in the NHS for 25 years. I have four children and should also declare that my husband is a doctor. That background gave me the opportunity to work with people from all walks of life and understand the issues that those ordinary people face day after day. The experiences of the people whom I have met over the years in my work, and more recently on their doorsteps, will never leave me. When I sit in these magnificent surroundings and am treated wonderfully by the staff here, my constituents and their individual stories will sit by me every day.
The gap between people and politicians has never been greater. People feel a long way away from where decisions are made and feel that they are not listened to by government at all levels. I look forward to the experiences ahead and the opportunity to contribute in this place to reinforce my belief that a difference can be made and that the Government can listen and change their mind through rigorous debate. Indeed, if people start to see argument and debate changing the course of events, perhaps more of them will start to feel that it is worth voting and that politicians are worth voting for.
I thank the House for listening to me and the people of Guildford for electing me. I will do everything in my power to bring politics closer to people, to ensure that the Government listen and to change the lives of those in Guildford for the better.
I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House for the first time on behalf of those whom I represent: the people of Islington, South and Finsbury. I compliment Anne Milton on her speech. We have quite a lot in common because we have both been watched from the Public Gallery this evening by an experienced Labour politician of some 50 years from Guildford—my mother.
I have the honour of following in the footsteps of one of the brightest men in the Cabinet of his day and a man of principle and pragmatism, the right hon. Chris Smith. He is recognised nationally as the man who delivered the right to roam and free admission to museums and galleries, and internationally Chris is probably best known as being the first openly gay Cabinet Minister in the world. Inspired by the testimony of Nelson Mandela, he decided to speak publicly about how he had been living with HIV since the 1980s.
To the gay community and many others, Chris is a hero, but to the people on the estates of Bunhill, the street properties of Milner square or on the Packington estate, none of that cuts a great deal of ice. What really cuts ice is that they had an MP who would always stand up for them and always had time to listen. In the past year I have knocked on 11,800 doors. Most people were out, but from those to whom I spoke I learned that Chris's constituency work had made a difference to about one in four of them. When I was out campaigning with him, I was moved by the number of people who rushed out of their homes to thank him and say goodbye. If, after 20 years, any of us from the new intake get that sort of reception when we stand down, we will know that we have done a really good job. Of course, we should not be thanking just Chris. We should also thank his partner, Dorian Jabri, who has been Chris's rock for nearly 20 years.
I also have the honour to represent a constituency that has made an enormous contribution to the labour and socialist movement. It was in Islington that Watt Tyler and the peasants' revolt stopped for the final time. The people of Islington successfully demonstrated for the return of the Tolpuddle martyrs, and we played our part in the Chartist movement.
I should also mention John Platt Mills, the late and much missed member of my last place of work, Tooks Court, who was elected to represent Finsbury in 1945. In those days, before the Lib Dem council decided to sell off that piece of our heritage for a few pieces of silver to the private sector, Finsbury town hall was the centre of passionate debate about the future direction of the Labour Government. The Labour party took the view that John wanted to take us somewhere that resembled the suburbs of Moscow, so they parted company fairly soon after. Islington also provided a refuge for Marx and Lenin and provided a home for Eric Blair, who wrote under the name of George Orwell. Of course, Islington provided the last home before Downing street for another Blair, who has become the longest serving Prime Minister the Labour party has ever had.
For me, though, the most remarkable thing about Islington is that everybody has a pretty clear idea of what it is like—even people who have never been there. This pseudo-familiarity probably comes, in part, from the fact that we seem to have the entire media living in the constituency. I even have the editor of The Spectator as a constituent. But while they report on the chatter in the cappuccino bars and on the leafy lanes, there is another side to Islington and Finsbury—a side that the media either does not know about or does not care about.
We are the eighth most deprived borough in Britain. Forty-one per cent. of the children in Islington live below the poverty line, and
"my constituency lies only four miles from the House . . . yet it contains within it extremes of poverty and wealth in as stark a contrast as will be found anywhere in Britain."—[Hansard, 27 June 1983; Vol. 44, c. 404.]
That is a quote from Chris Smith's maiden speech some 22 years ago and it applies as much today as it did then.
Chris Smith also referred to the smouldering anger of ordinary working-class people, because when Chris was first elected in 1983 Mrs. Thatcher and her Government had abandoned us. The estates of Islington and the people in them had been left to rot. We do not forget that. The eighth poorest borough in Britain needs a Tory Government like we need a hole in the head. We know that only a Labour Government will look after the interests of a community divided, as mine is. Yet after eight years of a Labour Government, while nearly all of our estates have had money spent on them; while there is another £158 million about to be spent on them; while we have a new hospital, new health centres, two new schools, a new sixth form centre and more police officers; while we have four Sure Start centres and free nursery education for all our three and four-year-olds; while the unemployment rate has halved since 1997, and many people, especially women, have benefited from the minimum wage—while we have all benefited from this, it is still not enough. We remain, despite the famous wealthier bits of my constituency, an area that is poor, with ingrained deprivation that is transferred from generation to generation.
Just as people make assumptions about Islington, they are also in danger of making assumptions about Islington's new Labour MP, who is, after all, a resident of Barnsbury, a barrister and a woman. But it is actually my own early experiences that called me to work proudly with this Government on poverty. I was brought up by a single parent on a council estate. My mum struggled for years to bring up me and my brothers on benefits. I wear the chips that I have on my shoulder with pride. As the Islington Gazette rather pithily put it this week:
"You can take the girl out of the estate, but you can't take the estate out of the girl".
I am deeply proud to be following in Chris's footsteps and I am proud to represent Islington, South and Finsbury, which is a fabulous constituency. We have people from all over the world and from every background, all living on top of one another. Islington is a noisy and confident place. We have the best restaurants in London. We are home to the all-conquering Arsenal football team. Finsbury elected the first Asian MP more than 100 years ago. We elected the first openly gay MP. From the late 1920s until 1945, people could not get elected to represent Islington East, a corner of which is now in my constituency, unless they were women. The constituency had three women, one after another: Ethel Bentham, the 15th woman ever to be elected to Parliament; Leah Manning, the 23rd; then Thelma Kier, the 24th. The last was an even rarer creature—a Tory woman MP. However, I am the first woman to represent Islington, South and Finsbury and I sit on the Labour Benches, where we finally make up more than 25 per cent. of Labour Members. So we are halfway there, girls.
In the end, what I am most proud of is the fact that I am a Labour MP. We may not be perfect, but only my Government are serious about tackling poverty and lack of opportunity. I joined the Labour party to ensure that children like me did not only do well if we were lucky. I joined the Labour party to change the world. We are committed to ending child poverty, not just on the Market estate, or even just in Britain. We have an obligation to do all that we can to make poverty history internationally. It is not possible to end poverty overnight; it will be a hard slog. Islington's ingrained problems show that, but we are building a more cohesive society where everyone is valued and everyone has a place. That is very good news for the families on the estates who elected me.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak this evening. May I also say how very pleased I am to have been able to make my maiden speech in front of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, a long-standing friend of mine? I know that Muqtadir would be proud of her, and I hope that he will one day be proud of me, too.
It is a daunting prospect to speak after a number of good maiden speeches. I have to say that my mouth opened slightly when I heard Ms Thornberry mention Marx and Lenin. That is a first for Labour Members, at least in my experience here. I am afraid that I misheard the hon. Lady and thought that she referred to Marx, Lennon and Blair, and my mind inevitably turned to Groucho, John and Lionel.
I want, with my new-found status as an old lag, to say something encouraging to the new Members who have spoken, which is that following those who previously represented one's constituency can be a daunting task. I am only the fourth Member for Caernarfon since 1890, following on from Dafydd Wigley, Goronwy Roberts and Lloyd George, who was the Member for 55 years. Climbing into those enormous shoes is not always easy, but hopefully one gets there eventually.
I want to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about health, and in particular mental health and the mental health Bill. I speak today for Plaid Cymru and the SNP, and I speak in place of my hon. Friend Mr. MacNeil—I hope that I pronounced that correctly—who is unfortunately indisposed this evening. My background is in mental health, and there are few opportunities for Welsh Members to talk about health in this place because it is a devolved matter. I am probably the only social worker in the House approved under the Mental Health Act 1983 since the retirement of the former Member for Wakefield. I was also a member of the Joint Committee that examined the Government's draft Mental Health Bill over the winter, and I agree with the Committee's conclusions. As I said, health in Wales is a devolved matter, so it is problematic for Welsh MPs to address the issue. This, however, is an opportunity because the Bill deals with England and Wales.
There has been much criticism of the NHS in Wales—not, I should say, of the staff, but of the structures. Some of that criticism is justified, especially in respect of waiting lists. The NHS in Wales has followed a significantly different course, especially since devolution. There is not much use of the private sector and very little use of private finance initiative. There is an emphasis on public health outcomes, not just on delivering a sickness service, and health is seen as something that the NHS contributes to the pot, not something that it alone produces. There is an emphasis on localism, with the establishment by the Labour- controlled Assembly of 22 local health boards. That has not been free of criticism, but it is a particularly Welsh model. Setting up those local health boards cost some £15 million, and apparently they cost another £15 million annually to run. That is the model that we have—one, some people would say, that we are stuck with, and it is different from the model in England.
There is also significant emphasis in Wales on joint working with local authorities, which again is somewhat different from England. That has a long history arising mainly from the all-Wales strategy for learning difficulties, or mental handicap, as it was then called. That is a joint project between local authorities, health authorities and, importantly, the voluntary sector. That difference between the systems in Wales and England has led to arguments that legislation such as the Mental Health Bill should be formulated for Wales either by having a specifically Welsh Bill or at least by tailoring the provisions of the England and Wales Bill to the particular circumstances in Wales. The Joint Committee looking at the draft Bill came to that conclusion. In fact, in a very startling recommendation, No. 105, we said:
"The standard of Mental Health Services in Wales must be at least as good as it is now in England before the provisions of the draft Bill can be implemented."
The Committee also said that
"Resources should be allocated in order to enable the service to be brought up to the English standard."
That services in Wales are not good enough to implement the legislation is a startling and damning conclusion. We are very far behind in many respects.
I hope to take the matter further if I am called to speak on Second Reading. I also hope to be a member of the Standing Committee on the Bill. I will not go into the detail now, but the significant features for us include the continuing dependence on large institutions; the severe lack of professional staff, which has strong implications for the expansion of tribunals; and the paucity of community resources if we are to provide for compulsory treatment in the community. For example, there is only one approved social worker on duty at night and at the weekends for the whole of Powys—an enormous area comprising almost a third of the land mass of Wales. Problems may arise because of the rural nature of Wales and the difficulty of accessing care—both in-patient care and out-patient care in the community, which may be made compulsory.
Specific and cogent criticisms of the Bill have come from all quarters in Wales, especially the Mental Health Alliance and the Wales mental health organisation Hafal. Again, I shall not go into detail, but I note that they have criticised the lack of a statement of principles in the Bill—the Scottish equivalent of the legislation has in it a statement of the Milan principles, which cover fundamental matters such as a patient's rights. Criticism has also been made of the fact that the power to compel treatment is not matched by a concomitant reciprocal right to treatment—treatment can be forced on someone, but there is no right to assessment or treatment—and the Bill's emphasis on compulsory treatment of the tiny minority of dangerous people, rather than on services for the overwhelming majority of people with mental problems, who pose no risk to anyone apart, perhaps, from themselves. Because of that focus, there is a danger of stigmatising anyone who receives mental health treatment. Finally, the great extension of compulsion to groups that are currently excluded, such as people with severe and dangerous personality disorders, has also been criticised.
Another obvious deficiency of the Bill is its failure to treat Wales as a multicultural and diverse community. For me, as a Welsh speaker, that is particularly marked in the lack of attention given to Welsh-medium services—the apparent assumption that Wales is monocultural and monoglot, with English being the norm. It is significant that the Joint Committee recommended that the language of provision in Wales should be a matter for the Welsh Assembly and that it could be dealt with through a code of practice. I hope to press that point on the Government. If we want to achieve equity of provision throughout England and Wales, we must be much more aware of cultural and linguistic diversity. The Government have a fine opportunity to develop mental health law. Such a development is long overdue—the Mental Health Act 1983 was passed 22 years ago and needs reform. I hope that the Government will grasp that opportunity, but not by means of the Bill as drafted, given that the Joint Committee said that it was fundamentally flawed. There is too close a focus on the public misconception of people with mental health problems as dangerous, and insufficient emphasis on protecting people's rights and providing services for people in their own community.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I congratulate those who have today made their maiden speeches. In particular, I draw attention to the speech of my hon. Friend Ms Johnson, who spoke about school meals. I am sure that it is an initiative that will have a positive impact on children's well-being and on their fitness to learn, and consequently on their educational attainments.
The House will no doubt be aware that there are now two Members named Angela Smith. It may be of some assistance to right hon. and hon. Members to remember that the other Member with my name is tall, blonde and possesses a southern accent. I am relatively shorter and darker, and possess the flat vowel sounds of a northerner. Unlike me, my hon. Friend Angela E Smith has been a Member of this place for some time, and long may she continue to be so.
Right hon. and hon. Members will also be aware that the previous Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough, Helen Jackson, was a hard-working representative who was respected everywhere she went. She is a hard act to follow. Helen was well suited to her constituency with her no-nonsense approach and her recognition that sometimes we have to fight long and hard to get what we want. No one got anything fancy with Helen. It was just hard work, commitment and a recognition that achievements never come cheap.
Helen could dig her heels in hard. She is passionate in what she believes; she is warm-hearted and caring. For instance, she led tributes to her agent, Alan Wray, when he sadly passed away. She was quick to recognise in her tribute that her work was built on a collective effort by all those Labour members like Alan who worked for her and her constituency.
I have known Helen for more than 10 years, and I pay tribute to her work. She fought for equality for women and championed the interests of the developing world. She worked with Mo Mowlam to establish the Good Friday agreement for Northern Ireland. It is something of which I am extremely proud, as one of the greatest achievements of the Labour Government.
Helen also worked tirelessly in tackling the mass unemployment which Sheffield suffered in the 1980s and 1990s as a result of the savage destruction of the city's economy under the previous Conservative Government. Helen was instrumental in establishing the earliest attempts at economic regeneration in Sheffield. That is now bearing fruit, with higher economic growth in the city than the national average, and above average reductions in unemployment. In Sheffield, Hillsborough, unemployment is now down by more than 70 per cent. since 1997. That is thanks to people such as Helen and thanks to the policies pursued by this Labour Government.
My final comment about Helen refers to her maiden speech back in 1992, when she talked about the plight of refugees from the brutal regime established by Pinochet in Chile. Sheffield extended a warm welcome and a helping hand to many of those refugees, and Helen played a key part in all of that. To this day there are Chileans in Sheffield who talk about how much Helen did to help them when they came to the city. That is what Sheffield is like. It is a city with a warm heart. The media, politicians and churches work together to ensure that the city remains welcoming. Only last week it was announced proudly by the local press that the city is to provide a safe haven for 51 refugees from detention camps in Burma. I am proud to represent a tolerant city in Parliament. There is nowhere quite like Sheffield and I am proud to call it my home. It sets an example which in my view should be followed by those who make an issue of asylum and immigration and exploit these matters in a cynical and unscrupulous manner.
I shall make a few comments about Sheffield, Hillsborough itself. It has within its boundaries 10 reservoirs, including the beautiful Broomhead reservoir. However, that is an indication of how wet the area is. It takes in a large part of the Peak district. A previous Member for the area, Alan McKay, joked in his maiden speech that there were more grouse than people in the area. I do not know about that, but I sometimes think that there are more bogs than people in this part of my constituency, as I have often realised to my wet and muddy expense.
Despite all this, a significant proportion of my constituents enjoy rambling in this beautiful part of the world. The Government's right-to-roam legislation has therefore been welcomed, again as one of their great achievements.
Alan McKay also talked at length in his maiden speech about a dispute between shop stewards and management at the Hepworth factory in the Loxley valley. I find that ironical because the factory is now closed, and I am delivering my maiden speech when the Hepworth site is at the centre of another controversy. Proposals are being developed to build a large number of new homes on the site—500—much to the dismay of the Loxley Protection Society and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England. The site is in the green belt and I, for one, will support those who fight to protect that lovely valley from overdevelopment.
Loxley cannot be mentioned without referring to its other main claim to fame. Research has suggested that Robin Hood was born in the village of Loxley. Hon. Members will form their own view on the strength of this research, but I am confident of its validity and am pleased to claim Robin Hood for Yorkshire, which I am sure will be hotly disputed by hon. Members from Nottinghamshire constituencies.
On a more serious note, my constituency is home to manufacturers varying from Corus to Cadbury, from specialised steels for the aviation industry to liquorice allsorts. The constituency is also home to a large number of public service workers, and it is clear, therefore, that we have a wide range of needs in relation to education and training. One of my main priorities will be to ensure that people living in Hillsborough, young and old alike, are able to benefit from Sheffield's growing economy.
To that end I am pleased to support wholeheartedly the Government's investment and focus on developing a highly skilled work force. This investment has already produced a new further education facility for the people of my constituency, Hillsborough college, which will open later this year. I look forward to further developments in relation to 14-to-19 education and adult learning. Our people are our future, and I am excited by the challenge of ensuring that more of our young people engage in education post-16 and that more of our adult population engage in extending their education and their skills.
I come originally from Grimsby, and I am very proud of that fact. On my mother's side I come from several generations of steelworkers who were born and bred in the Don valley. I am therefore honoured to represent Sheffield, and particularly proud to represent Sheffield, Hillsborough in Parliament. Finally, I take this opportunity to congratulate Sheffield Wednesday on securing a place in the play-off final on Sunday. I wish our team all the best for victory in the match against Hartlepool.
I am grateful to you for calling me this evening, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is an honour to have been elected to serve all the residents of the Kettering constituency. I must be one of the few speakers today who has a constituent in the audience. I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Phil Hope. I promised to represent all those in my constituency, but I am sure the hon. Gentleman can best represent himself and will want to do so on most issues.
I pay tribute to the tremendous maiden speeches of all new Members today, particularly Ms Smith, whose contribution I particularly enjoyed.
I have the honour to be a local councillor in the Kettering constituency for Kettering borough council and I am delighted to be asked to contribute to the debate today on health and education, not least because I had the privilege of serving on the community health council in Kettering before the Labour Government abolished it. I then served on the health scrutiny partnership for Northamptonshire county council. I also have the privilege to be a school governor at two local schools, Avondale infants and Montsaye community college.
The Kettering constituency is situated in the very heart of England. Its people, its heritage, its strong community spirit and its enterprising approach to life make it an example of England at its very best. I am delighted to be able to represent the constituents of Kettering in the United Kingdom Parliament. Kettering touches the lives of many of us in ways that may be surprising. Anyone who had Weetabix, Alpen or Ready Brek this morning will have sampled the products of Britain's leading cereal manufacturer, Weetabix, which is based in Burton Latimer in the Kettering constituency. All the wheat that goes into those breakfast cereals comes from the rich farm land within 50 square miles of Weetabix's headquarters.
Anyone who reads a paperback book will be reading a publication that has been produced on book presses made by Timsons, which has almost a complete monopoly of book printing presses in Great Britain. Many hon. Members here today may be wearing shoes from Loake's, Cheney's or Padders, which are among the last remaining shoe manufacturers in Britain, and which have a proud heritage in Kettering.
Also located in the constituency is the battlefield site of Naseby where there was a major battle in the civil war in 1644, which is a lesson for us all because there the parliamentary forces overcame an overmighty Executive.
Not so long ago, the back of the £10 note had a scene on it from Charles Dickens' "The Pickwick Papers", of the cricket match between Dingley Dell and All Muggleton in 1836. It may interest you to know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Dingley Dell is located in the Kettering constituency and Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor to my part of the world. Indeed, he followed closely a local election that took place in Kettering in 1835, and which is faithfully recorded in the marvellous history of Kettering by R. L. Greenall, who says:
"rough housing the Tories became part of nearly every contested election. On occasions, election day was more than boisterous. The most violent was a by election in 1835, reported by a horrified Charles Dickens in the Morning Chronicle. When Tory supporters rode into Kettering they were so intent on taking over proceedings that one of them produced a loaded pistol and might well have committed murder had he not been restrained by his friends."
I am pleased to report that this last election was a far more civilised and fair-minded fight than that in 1835.
Perhaps at this point I should pay tribute to my eminent predecessor, Phil Sawford, who remains a constituent in his home town of Desborough. I said at the time of the count how grateful all of us who live in Kettering are to him for the tremendous service that he gave this House and his constituents during a distinguished eight-year period in office, and all of us, I know, will wish him well in his retirement from this place. I would also like to pay tribute to the Member of Parliament for Kettering before Phil Sawford—the right hon. Roger Freeman, now Lord Freeman of Dingley, who serves in the other place. He too was greatly admired by his constituents, who were grateful for his role as the Member of Parliament.
I should like to take this opportunity in the debate on the Queen's Speech to thank all the public service workers in the Kettering constituency for the marvellous work that they do for and on behalf of local residents. But I am afraid to say that despite record investment in local public services all is not well with local health and education services and policing. There is grave concern about waiting times at Kettering general hospital. There is also concern about the cleanliness of both Kettering and Northampton general hospitals. There is great concern too about the lack of NHS dentists in and around Kettering. During the campaign, one resident said that he had found an NHS dentist but that it was in Bedford. That was the closest NHS dentist that he could find.
Some of our schools are close to bursting point, others cannot find enough teachers, and there is great concern about how local schools will fund the 10 per cent. non-contact time being dictated by the Department for Education and Skills. Advice from the Secretary of State on how local schools can meet the funding gap would be most welcome. There is also huge concern among aspirant students who want to go on to university that they are about to be burdened with thousands of pounds of new debt.
I could not leave this debate, however, without mentioning policing and the local concern about antisocial behaviour and crime. The chief constable of Northamptonshire has said that he needs at least 200 more officers to police Northamptonshire to the standards required, yet the Government consistently refuse to provide him with the resources that he needs.
Perhaps one of the most worrying aspects over the next four to five years will be the growth proposals for the Kettering area made by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Local people welcome new housing, but they do not welcome the scale and extent of the housing plans put forward by the Government. Our local public services are already overstretched, and local people have come to the conclusion that that situation will not improve if tens of thousands more houses are built in and around the Kettering constituency over the next 20 years. Already, crucial infrastructure projects are being delayed. Very quietly, just before the election, improvements to the A14 were postponed by five years, from 2012–16 to 2017–21, and there are now no plans to upgrade the A43 Kettering to Northampton road until at least 2021.
I see it as my role as the local Member of Parliament to stand up for residents in the Kettering constituency, whatever their political colour and whether they voted or not. I will do my very best to ensure that I am a good constituency Member of Parliament, and I am proud to represent a constituency that, in my view, represents England at its very best.
I congratulate Mr. Hollobone on an admirable maiden speech. Listening to it, I was nostalgic, as I am a native of the Kettering area, and I was remembering with some alarm that it is exactly 40 years ago that I was the chairman, while I was at school, of the Kettering young socialists, and exactly 50 years ago that I was the mascot of the Desborough Town football club, after which life has been something of an anti-climax. I congratulate him and all the other hon. Members who have made maiden speeches today. When I came to the House, we did not have time limits, and we could luxuriate in paying tributes for maiden speeches. Now we have to be rather brisk, but that makes what we say no less genuine and heartfelt. We have heard some extraordinarily impressive maiden speeches today, which bodes well for the Members concerned and for this House.
Listening to the exchanges at the beginning of the debate, I felt that we were still in the middle of the election campaign, certainly in relation to the health service. The health issue that dominated my election campaign concerned one six-year-old girl called Olivia Clarke. At the beginning of this year, Olivia was at school at Moorhill primary school, and she contracted meningitis. There were complications. Blood poisoning set in, and it was said that she had to have her feet amputated, and her hands amputated. This was done. When she was in hospital—this coincided with the beginning of the election campaign—it was announced that she had also contracted MRSA.
I cannot pay tribute enough to Olivia's parents. They were absolutely unstinting in their praise for the devotion of the health service staff concerned with her care. They refused absolutely to join in any cheap politicking around an issue that was too important for that. I got very upset during the election at the people who wanted when they saw a problem to exploit rather than solve it. Olivia's parents wanted MRSA sorted, but they also knew that they depended on the national health service for their daughter's life and future, and they were not going to bring the matter down to any kind of game that politicians played.
I am delighted to say that Olivia has just returned home from hospital. She is doing very well, and it looks as though the MRSA bug has been conquered. What has happened is a reminder to me that we should not play games with such issues. The Conservative party does not like targets. I am very pleased that the Government have a target for reducing the rate of MRSA infection in our hospitals. We should have targets because they galvanise effort. I am glad that we are implementing an inspection system to make sure that targets on MRSA are reached.
In these few minutes, I want primarily to discuss a word, "respect", which surfaces in the Queen's Speech and about which I have been worrying a good deal during the past few days. What worries me most is the way in which it has been discussed. Worthy people have been wheeled out to tell me what it means, and, in one way or another, head teachers, bishops and social workers have all sought to tell me that it is something that must be earned. If we believe that, we have not begun to understand what we are talking about.
Respect is simply about treating other people as one wants to be treated oneself. People do not have to earn that right; it is their right as fellow human beings. My neighbour does not have to earn the right to be treated as a decent neighbour; it is his right as a neighbour, and the same is true of people who use the road or who attend schools. We have lost sight of what we mean when we discuss such things.
The Government are right to talk about respect, because everyone in society is talking about it. Society cannot function unless people have basic respect for each other. We know—at least we think that we know—that the causes associated with the loss of respect go far beyond anything that we might say in this House or measures that might be contained in the Queen's Speech. The Government's job is to pass legislation, and this House's job is to process that legislation. We should not pretend that we have reached the heart of such issues.
We know that the matter probably has something to do with what has happened to parenting in recent years. The figures are frightening: in the past 25 years—a generation—the number of children who are living with their two natural parents at the age of 16 has dropped by a quarter, which is a phenomenal change in the structure of our life. In some minority communities—for example, the Afro-Caribbean community—the absence of fathers is simply frightening. When some other hon. Members and I were children, the cry would sometimes go up, "Wait until your father comes home." For many children in this country, there is no father to come home.
We know that the matter has something to do with behaviour and the fabric of social relations in our society. In addition, we suspect that the portrayal of the matter in the media has something to do with the situation. Years ago, we did not worry about the media, because people had the buffer of community, family and neighbourhood. That barrier no longer exists for many people in our society, and the images of behaviour that people see are images of the life that it is said that they should properly lead.
To return to the subject of the debate, our health service staff in accident and emergency departments are terrified on Friday and Saturday nights. Why do they inhabit a sea of violence and vomit, which was never previously the case? Why must we put up signs in all our public service institutions to say that it is an offence to behave in certain ways against the staff who work there? Why, as Ofsted tells us, does behaviour in one in 10 schools make learning extremely difficult? We know that something has happened out there to cause the problems that we discuss in here.
There was a nice exchange in Question Time today about the two political satires, "Yes, Minister" and "The Thick of It" but let us consider the difference: one is witty and civilised and the other is witty and coarse. In a generation, we have witnessed the coarsening of society. We are then told, "You have to reflect that because that's how we are."
Government can do only so much. We cannot fix the matter in the way in which we might fix other things but if we do not attend to it, people will begin to walk away from civic life. If a state ultimately cannot guarantee order, it cannot even ask to be treated as a state. That will lead to an erosion of civic life of which we have so far caught only a glimpse.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. I follow Dr. Wright, who will understand if I do not debate the excellent points that he made in his speech. I congratulate all hon. Members and hon. Friends who have made their maiden speeches.
My predecessor and I had our political differences but I would like to pay tribute to Barbara Roche. It was clear on the doorstep during the election campaign that she was held in high regard as a good constituency Member of Parliament. She had a meteoric rise in politics as a member of the Whips Office, Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and Minister of State in the Home Office until the general election in 2001. However, I should like to pay particular tribute to her strong and warm support in 2002 for civil partnerships for same-sex couples. She rightly earned an excellent reputation among that community for her work.
What can I say about Hornsey and Wood Green? I moved to the constituency when I was five—demonstrating prescience unusual in one so young in understanding that, some decades later, being a local girl would stand me in good stead for getting selected for the seat. It was clearly a hotbed of Liberal Democrat success, cunningly masquerading for 13 years as a Labour seat and for the previous 26 years as a Conservative seat, then served by the much-loved constituency Member of Parliament, Sir Hugh Rossi.
I went to Highgate primary school and Muswell Hill youth club. I played kiss-chase in Highgate woods and, occasionally, depending on the boy, I let myself be caught. I took part in the early days of the Mountview theatre school and I was married at Haringey civic centre—divorced by post.
The constituency is a vibrant centre for the arts, and the Mountview theatre lies in the cultural quarter of Wood Green, which is a lively, bustling and busy town centre. It is also home to the Chocolate Factory, which has nothing to do with chocolate but is an enterprise that houses a colony of visual and performing arts, individuals and small companies.
In the Crouch End area, the council is in the process of handing over Hornsey town hall to a community trust to become a new community arts, entertainment and education facility. I will work to further that aim and, in doing so, seek the help of the Deputy Prime Minister in exempting the council from best value. I am sure that he will help and understand that it is an exception that proves the rule.
Hornsey and Wood Green is full of history. The Alexandra Palace, birthplace of television, dominates the west of the constituency around the Muswell Hill area. I hope that the Government's ambition for super-casinos will pass the Ally Pally safely by, and that it will be an asset for the people with its future decided by the people.
I want to mention my constituency in the context of today's Queen's Speech debate on health and education. Because of the wonderful family housing stock and leafy streets, parts of Hornsey and Wood Green understandably attract young couples starting families. But their influx and apparent fertility—five years on from the "big bang", if you will excuse the expression, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the millennium—has resulted this year in 140 sets of parents not getting their first, second or third choice of school. I know that the Prime Minister cares passionately about education and choice, and I look forward to being able to tell those parents that the Government have learned and are listening, and that local parents will not face such a shortfall again.
On health, I turn to a constituency issue that is doubtless replicated throughout the whole country. Hornsey and Wood Green is the target of monthly, if not weekly, applications by mobile phone companies. A protest group of parents or residents springs up around every application that is made. They are occasionally successful but only for a moment—until the applicant reapplies. We all use a mobile phone, and we may yet pay a hefty health price for doing so; it gets very hot if one holds it for too long, and I am deeply suspicious. But while the health risks remain undetermined, I am hopeful that all Members, regardless of party, will welcome the powers being given to local authorities to enable them to refuse such applications under the precautionary principle, in order to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
Hornsey and Wood Green is a complex constituency. It is home to the very rich and the very poor alike, geographically encompassing wonderful open spaces and leafy streets, cheek by jowl with deprivation that is off the Richter scale—where concrete rules, unbroken by any kind landscaping. Our campaign headquarters was above a pub: the Three Compasses, in Hornsey high street. I attribute at least 1 per cent. of my 14.6 per cent. swing to the popularity of our headquarters with London activists, who came to help—again and again. One of them gave me a "congratulations" card that showed the pub standing in splendid isolation in fields a century ago. I was reminded that the march of time will inevitably paint and fill our landscape, but we must not be powerless to guide that march.
The urban architecture in my constituency ranges from world-class design to developer nightmares that pepper and blight residents' lives for decades. More often than not—although not exclusively so—it is the poorer areas that end up with the worst-designed or poorest-quality buildings, when in fact, we need the best there to raise people's eyes above the awful and to give inspiration and expectation in life. Mayor Livingstone's London plan—I recently spent five years in the company of Mayor Livingstone, so I know that plan well—is intended to deliver desperately needed housing in Hornsey and Wood Green. But the plan is being taken in vain, as carte blanche for cramming and for the lowest common denominator of design, without providing the proper infrastructure for education, health and transport.
Lastly, I turn, metaphorically speaking, to crime and antisocial behaviour. In parts of my constituency, gun and knife crime not only blight but end lives. Although the local police force has had much success in reducing crime in general, this deadly malaise appears intractable. Some young people seemingly have no way out of, nor even a desire to be out of, an environ of crime where aspirations are virtually non-existent.
A woman telephoned me during the election campaign to explain that her son and grandsons were facing possible life sentences for violent crime. She said that she had done everything she could as a mother to bring them up right—she was crying on the phone—but they did not care: they wanted only to be admired by their peers and sadly, that admiration was based on criminality. She asked whether I could please help. That is a charter of despair that must be addressed.
Hornsey and Wood Green, like other constituencies mentioned today, has its share of antisocial behaviour. But it is not how young people look or dress that should concern us; rather, our concern should be how they behave, and when that behaviour is abusive or criminal, it needs to be dealt with, not just moved on. Yesterday, my hon. Friend Mr. Oaten talked of volunteering as a possible route. We should look at that, but we also need revitalised youth services and facilities, because without them hanging around is often all that there is.
While there are many issues and challenges that need addressing in Hornsey and Wood Green, it is the most wonderful place. Why? Because of its people. In the end, it is always people that count. The ethnic mix of the constituency is exciting: there are hundreds of languages and many different communities that live, work and play in our fantastic melting pot. The challenges that that brings are huge and I look forward to working with all residents to help them achieve their aspirations. This rich tapestry, where all human life percolates, is Hornsey and Wood Green. I love this area and I am honoured to serve its residents. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
It is a great pleasure to follow Lynne Featherstone, who spoke with great clarity, great confidence, generosity and poise. As chairman of the all-party parliamentary beer group, I commend her on her choice of election campaign headquarters—above a pub. I hope that, in honour of her headquarters, she will join our group and maintain its status as the largest all-party parliamentary group.
I am happy to be here, Mr. Deputy Speaker, having defended Labour's 15th most marginal seat. I noted the exit polls and departed for the count. It tends to be a slow count in Selby, so I arrived at 3 am without any great expectations. When I was declared victor at 7.10 am, I had to borrow a bottle of champagne from my opponent for the obligatory local newspaper photos.
We have heard a lot today about hugging in the streets in London, but that certainly does not happen in Selby, where people take these things in their stride. I just had time for a bacon sandwich and went into my office. My first call went something like this: "Did you win, then?"; "Yes, actually, I did"; "Well, what about my housing benefit?". That brings one down to earth, but it is with great pride that I am in my place on these Benches for the third time, supporting a third-term Labour Government.
I sometimes look back on some of the people who inspired me to get involved in Labour parties, and, in the 1970s and '80s, they included my late father. At that time, it would have been difficult to believe that a third-term Labour Government could be in place now with ambitions to end child poverty; ambitions to lead the world in debates on development, trade, the environment and climate change; ambitions to replace primary and secondary schools with new builds over the next decade; ambitions to provide 15 hours of free nursery care for all three and four-year-olds and then to increase it to 20 hours; and ambitions to bring waiting times down to 18 weeks from GP referrals. It is truly a great programme to support.
Ministers remind us of the importance of the manifesto. Speaking as a top-up fee rebel in the last Parliament, I certainly think that the manifesto is an extremely important document. I have read it three or four times and Ministers will be pleased to know that I see plenty of scope for debate about some of the detail. I would like to touch on a couple of aspects of the detail on education and health.
First, I want to deal with the proposed partial smoking ban. As chairman of the all-party parliamentary beer group, I believe that the hospitality industry should now press for a total ban. I agree to some extent with Mr. Lansley—that we should have either a voluntary system or a total ban. I fear that the market could be become distorted by the scheme that the Government are proposing at the moment. There is a danger of encouraging drinking dens in the old style. I believe that it is sensible to encourage pubs to serve food. Yesterday, the British Beer and Pub Association produced a code of practice.
If our concern is for the staff, we should really be pressing for a total ban. Some amendments may well be proposed to test opinion on that issue. If I were speaking for the industry, I would stress that clarity and certainty are required above all. From the pub company's point of view, it would be better to argue for a transitional period towards a total ban and perhaps additional rate relief for pubs on the margin rather than go down the present rather uncertain route.
As to hospitals and choice, my constituency exemplifies the rich diversity of NHS provision. We are looking forward to three new hospitals. The first is a new cottage hospital on the Selby war memorial site. The second is a fast-track treatment centre, involving the private sector, on the former Clifton hospital site in York. The third is a new acute hospital, or series of hospitals, in mid-Yorkshire at Pinderfields and Pontefract. I support the agenda of choice in the NHS. It will be marvellous when people in Selby can choose and book through their GPs—
Order. Conversations are breaking out among hon. Members, and I am having some difficulty hearing the hon. Gentleman addressing the House. Perhaps the House will do him the courtesy of listening.
There is merit in the new choose-and-book system, but I am not so sure about the targets being set, such as the one for 15 per cent. private-sector provision. The York hospital trust is interpreting that in an interesting way. The treatment centre at the York hospital site is being built in partnership with Capio, and will be staffed entirely by doctors on secondment from the NHS. In phase two of the development, the trust wants to build, with the help of a private sector provider, as many as four wards for elective surgery on the York hospital site, but again it wants to second doctors from the NHS rather than bring them in from developing nations. The private sector providers think that that will provide greater continuity, and it will be interesting to see how Ministers react to the proposals.
In the run-up to the next general election, if we do not manage choice properly, there will be the danger that some hospitals will be under severe pressure. In mid-Yorkshire, for example, the plans for a private finance initiative new build at Pontefract and Pinderfields are delicately balanced. They could be unbalanced if the private sector has to provide 15 per cent.
I also support the new dental school proposed for York, but I want to move on to education in the minutes that remain to me. When, at 7.10 in the morning, I made a rather bleary-eyed acceptance speech in response to my unexpected election victory, I stressed that, in this Government's third term, I wanted the schools in the poorest areas of Selby to achieve as much as those in the more affluent areas. The signs are already very good.
For example, in a school in the Fairburn with Brotherton ward of my constituency, only 52 per cent. of 11-year-olds achieved level 4 or above in English and maths in 1997. The total is now 82 per cent. That is above the national average, and it stems from the tremendous leadership shown by the head, John Evans. The success is also down to extra resources—the school is a new building—and it shows what can be achieved. Other programmes, such as Sure Start, have proved tremendously successful.
I am more or less an observer of the city academy debate, as we are not going to get one in Selby. I have heard hon. Members supporting the establishment of city academies in other locations, where they have been agreed with local authorities and local residents, and I am sure that, in those circumstances, they are a good thing. However, the Labour manifesto makes no mention of removing the power of local authorities or communities to say no to such academies, if that is what they choose to do.
I am pleased that the Queen's Speech contains no proposals to remove the power of local authorities to resist city academies. Perhaps that is a victory for the Secretary of State over Lord Adonis. New schools and new investment must be welcomed, but do we really need to follow the Government's model, under which all power is given to a person who may donate only £2 million out of the £30 million needed to build a school? One person who successfully resisted a city academy in Waltham Forest said:
"We haven't got anything against this man"— in this case, Jasper Conran—
"as an individual, but why should all this public money and power be handed over to people just because they happen to be very rich?"
The principle involved is not especially modernising, and does not offer much in the way of accountability. Ministers should proceed very cautiously when it comes to city academies: they should abide by the spirit of the manifesto, but not go beyond it. That is the big challenge for the two Secretaries of State on the Front Bench today. They must get right the balance between the public sector ethos and the proper use of market forces in both education and health. If they can do that, they will be heroines of the Labour movement.
We have been promised that, at some stage in this Parliament, there will be an orderly transition between Prime Ministers. It will be a test of Cabinet Government to ensure that there is a smooth transition of policies on health and education when that change takes place. I am sure that both Secretaries of State are well up to the task. I want our Chancellor and Prime Minister to be as close, in the next two or three years, as they were when they ate ice creams together during the general election campaign.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Grogan. Obviously, in many ways, I would rather he were not here, but he always speaks with great courage and independence. I noted what he said about opposing top-up fees and tuition fees, and he will be pleased to know that the Welsh Assembly today voted against top-up fees. He is not alone and—one never knows—the Opposition might give him another chance to vote on the issue before this Parliament is out.
We have had an excellent debate and I am delighted to respond to it on behalf of the Opposition. We have heard a remarkable set of maiden speeches from people who are genuinely passionate about the areas that they represent including, most recently, Lynne Featherstone, who gave a very good speech.
I agree with the Prime Minister about one thing—there is no more important issue for our country than education. It is not just that we desperately need to raise standards and release the potential of our young people. Education lies at the heart of the challenges we face—the skills problem, the crime problem, the drugs problem and the frustration of unfulfilling lives problem. At the root of all those problems, much of the solution lies in education.
I say to the Secretary of State that huge common ground exists on this issue between the parties. Everybody knows that we must move away from the idea that one size fits all in state education. Meg Hillier, in a great maiden speech, spoke in favour of academies and she was right. Everyone knows that we have to give schools freedom to make more decisions about their culture and their spending. Everybody knows that we have to break down the Berlin wall between state education and independent education. We all know that we must end the snobbery about vocational education, and that means investing in it, so that young people do not switch off from learning at 14 and 15. We all know that choice and involvement of parents should be encouraged.
As the hon. Lady will obviously know, we have just lost an election and we have to look at all the policies that we had. We think that what we put forward at the election had great merit and that the principles were right, but we are beginning a policy review, which is the right thing to do after an election—[Interruption.] I am glad to have given such delight to Ministers.
The issues are too important to try to find differences where none exist. The issue is people's futures. These are our children, not some guinea pigs to be subjected to endless experiments in public policy. My hon. Friend Mr. Hunt made a remarkable maiden speech on that point. In many ways, we have had a friendly debate, but perhaps the most friendly moment was when he said that he was not as fragrant and beautiful as Virginia Bottomley, and the Minister for Schools, Jacqui Smith shouted, from a sedentary position, "Well, you're not so bad yourself." [Interruption.] I am afraid that it is on the record now and the Minister cannot deny it.
While there is an emerging consensus in some areas, there is a pressing need for tough choices in other areas. David Simpson spoke about his experiences in Northern Ireland and I am sure that there is much that we can learn from the educational success there. Literacy is an example. If children cannot read properly, they cannot learn properly. If they cannot learn properly, they misbehave and wreck the education of others. So discipline is tied to literacy, but we still pussyfoot around the need to apply the best method of teaching, which is phonics. We should get on with it.
The curriculum is another example. It is right that we have one, but it has become stuffed full of unnecessary and occasionally damaging prescription. It badly needs slimming down. Streaming is another issue. To me, it is common sense. We need to stretch our brightest children and we need to help those who are falling behind. How can we do that with an outdated and unquestioning adherence to mixed-ability classes? Those are big challenges ahead for those of us who are committed heart and soul to giving every child the start in life that they deserve. They are challenges that I am prepared to confront.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on retaining her position. Despite the rumours, she did not get the sack. Instead, she has been given what we have to call a new "colleague". I am told that many women dream of the day when their Adonis will arrive. I am not sure that the Secretary of State is one of them. From what I have read about Lord Adonis, we should wholeheartedly welcome his appointment. He supports parental choice; so do we. He supports school freedom; so do we. He sounds admirable, and as he started life in the Social Democratic party he can presumably rely on support from all parts of the House. As someone in the other place said, he started in the SDP, now he is in the Labour party and he is introducing Tory policy. Truly, he is a man for all seasons.
It is a pity—[Interruption.] Perhaps Mr. Sheerman will listen to this bit. It is a pity that the Prime Minister could not find one of his 355 Labour MPs in the House of Commons to do the job but presumably he was hard pressed to find anyone who actually agreed with him. Anyway, we are in the unique position of having two Secretaries of State for Education: one in the Commons, who was elected, and the other in Lords, who was anointed.
I shall try to help the right hon. Lady, however. If she ever has any problems with Lord Adonis she should remind him of an article he wrote in 1996 about the House of Lords. I think she will enjoy this: Mr. Adonis, as he then was, wrote that the other place is
"a valuable source of social security for retired politicians".
He went on to say that—I think she will like this bit too—apart from the Lord Chancellor
"no Ministers of importance sit in the Lords".
I am sure that the right hon. Lady will agree.
We agree with the words in the Gracious Speech—school discipline, parental choice, freedom for schools—and if real tangible actions follow those words, we will back them. But if we have a stream of initiatives that are not followed through, or gimmicks, we will oppose them. The same applies in health. If hospitals are given real freedom, and power is devolved to professionals, we will back the Government. If it is all talk, we will not.
Mrs. Dunwoody warned the Government on that front. She said that they should take time with their legislation. She is right. The Opposition believe that choice has a role to play in meeting rising expectations on health.
John Denham made a thoughtful speech about private sector involvement. He was sceptical about it. It is clear that the Government will have a tougher time on that issue. Who knows? They may need support from the Conservative Benches. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Huddersfield says that there is nothing about policy, so I shall turn to policy and to his speech.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about school discipline. I agree with him; he has great experience and I look forward to reading the reports of his Select Committee. Discipline in schools, ordered classrooms where teachers can teach and children can learn are vital principles. We backed them with policy at the last election and we shall continue to do so. The Government spoke about those things before the last two elections, but let us look at what happened.
There were policies, such as targets for cutting exclusions, that actually made the problem of discipline worse. That is why we have a situation where a teacher is attacked every seven minutes of the school day and truancy is up by a third. If the Government want to get serious about school discipline, they should give heads full power to exclude unruly pupils; they should abolish appeals panels; they should allow schools to make home-school contracts enforceable and they should invest in turnaround schools. Is that enough policy for the hon. Member for Huddersfield? If the Government do those things we shall back them.
I have to say to Labour Members that the start was not good. The first act of the Secretary of State was to set up a new high-level group and then to rush on to the "Today" programme to tell us all about it. What happened? She was asked about the number of schools with serious discipline problems and she started talking about 5 per cent. of schools. According to the chief inspector, the number is one in 10—10 per cent. of schools. When asked about the number of appeals that are overturned, the right hon. Lady said that it was 2 per cent. In fact, it is 20 per cent., and when John Humphrys put that point to her, she said that it was a misprint in Hansard. I hope that she has been upstairs to give Hansard a full apology.
When the Secretary of State was asked about changes in the guidance to schools about exclusions, she said that there had been none. In fact, the rules were changed in 1998 and new guidance was introduced in 1999. It was amended in 2000 and again in 2001. It was reissued in 2002 and changed again in 2004. I suppose that for a Government who are obsessed with meddling that probably does not count as intervening very much but the rest of us would take a different view.
I want to turn to the speeches made in the debate. My hon. Friend Mr. Harper made an excellent speech about involving parents in schools and referred specifically to the importance of special schools. He spoke with great clarity and passion. He said that parents know their children best. That is so right, especially about children with special needs. If the Government understand the issue, they will put a moratorium on the closure of special schools so that a proper investigation can be made about why so many parents are having choice denied them. If they do so, they will be supported by us and, I am sure, by my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean.
Mrs. James made a powerful maiden speech. She spoke about the regeneration of Swansea. She told us that her parents told her to stand up and be counted. That is what she did today, and I am sure that she will be counted. She rightly said that the test of being a good Member of Parliament is what the MP has done to help others.
My hon. Friend Mr. Wallace made an excellent speech, with very few notes. He told us about the history of Lancaster prison and that, in the past, it was a place where prisoners were put in chains and whipped and where witches were killed. It was a powerful speech, but perhaps I should warn him that care must be taken when describing such policies in the House—if the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions or the current Home Secretary overhears, such things may well turn out to be Government policy, so we ought to be a little bit careful.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Dorrell made a thoughtful speech. He talked about the growing expectations in public services and said that quality costs money and that we need to rethink some of our policies, and I hope that he will help us when we do so.
Rosie Cooper made a serious and weighty speech. She told us that her predecessors included Harold Wilson and Kilroy-Silk. I can only hope that she emulates the career of the former, rather than the latter. She has great knowledge of the NHS. She talked about foundation hospitals and payment by results. She is clearly on the Blairite wing of the Labour party. I hope that she has not picked her team a bit too late.
My hon. Friend Mike Penning made an excellent speech from Sir Teddy Taylor's old seat. He spoke clearly and passionately about service. He talked about the need to protect Hemel Hempstead hospital, and I am sure that he will fight a great campaign.
"Brent, South today; Soweto tomorrow", and he is now our ambassador in South Africa. We do not know what her slogan is, but after that speech, I am sure that she will go a long way.
My hon. Friend Mr. Howarth spoke about a range of things. He raised the case of the mother whose three teenage daughters had all become pregnant and the fact that she blamed the school. Dr. Wright made a powerful speech about that issue as well. They are both right. We need to talk about such issues, and we need to recognise that we are all in this together. It is a matter for parents, teachers, governors and the Government, as well as for schools.
My hon. Friend Anne Milton made a powerful maiden speech, talking about the dangers of overdevelopment. She was generous to her predecessor, she was passionate about the voluntary sector, and she talked about the gap between people and politicians—and I am sure that she will close that gap in Guildford.
Mr. Horwood made an interesting maiden speech. He started by defending MPs' pay and pension arrangements. I am sure that that will be go down well in some parts of the House. I am not sure how well it will go down in Cheltenham. He then went on to discuss overdevelopment and the housing targets. That will probably go down better.
My hon. Friend David Mundell made an excellent speech. It is only right, as we have only one Scottish MP, that his constituency's name is by far the longest. It was such a good speech that it will not be long before he is pulled on to our Front Bench to speak about Scotland more often.
Ms Thornberry made an interesting maiden speech. She said that she knocked on 11,000 doors during the election campaign, but she found that most of the people were out. We suspect that they were at Islington dinner parties, but we were not told. However, it was a powerful speech, like many others, some of which, I am afraid, I have not had time to mention.
This is an 18-month Session, so there is plenty of time for the Government to get it right and to flesh out the Queen's Speech with measures and action that would really make a difference. That is what we in the Opposition want to see. We want an education policy that gets the basics right, that gives head teachers full powers over discipline and abolishes appeals panels, and that gets to grips with our examination system and restores rigour and confidence. We want to see real school freedom, with all head teachers in charge of all their budgets and all their admissions. Above all, we need Education Ministers who are prepared to take a stand on issues, face down their critics and actually make things happen.
The Government still do not seem to understand that real change cannot be achieved by forming a committee, by issuing another press release or even by passing another law. A Government must set out what they believe in and follow it through to the end, and they must recognise that we are all in this together—the Government, teachers, parents, governors and children. Central Government do not, and cannot, have all the answers.
In the past eight years, we have had three manifestos, nine Acts of Parliament, five Green Papers, three White Papers, two strategy documents and four Education Secretaries—or five if we count Lord Adonis—but look at the record: truancy up by a third, one in three pupils leaving primary school unable to write properly, and a teacher attacked every seven minutes. It is time for all the words in the Queen's Speech to be backed by action, which is why I urge all Opposition Members to join me in the Lobby tonight.
We have indeed had an excellent debate. First, let me welcome Mr. Cameron to his new role. We have had the opportunity to debate issues before. I enjoyed my encounters with him when I was a Treasury Minister, and I am sure that there will be many opportunities for him and me to debate education in the coming months.
I worry that the hon. Gentleman might be a tad distracted and that he might have a little more on his mind than simply whether to continue the education policies that were recently rejected by the electorate. I fear that his most difficult challenge will be deciding whether to stand in the forthcoming Tory leadership election, or to let this one go and run to be Leader of the Opposition in a Labour fourth term. I see that the hon. Gentleman has brought many of his hon. Friends with him tonight—[Hon. Members: "Where are yours?"] I am not running for the leadership of my party.
If the hon. Gentleman throws his hat in the ring, I know that Labour Members will want to join me in wishing him success in the forthcoming Tory leadership campaign. Indeed, we will wish him more success than he enjoyed during his time as policy guru during the latest Tory election campaign. Labour Members, who are committed to social justice and believe that all young people should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential, hope that he can indeed overcome the odds and bring about a triumph of compassionate conservatism over the SAS darling of the Tory right.
I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's speech and his typical ebullient style. It was perhaps a wise strategy for the bright young thing of the Conservative party to concentrate on personalities rather than defending his party's policies, not least because he was the architect of a school voucher policy that was so extreme that it was rejected by not just Keith Joseph, but Margaret Thatcher. After all, the hon. Gentleman recently admitted to his local newspaper that he was "biased" about the education chapter of the Conservative manifesto because, in his own words, he "helped write it". What is his policy on school reform? Is he going forward, or back? Is his policy the same prescription of selection, vouchers and under-investment, or will he think again? I challenge him to come up with some fresh ideas and look forward to debating them.
Let me take a moment to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's predecessor, Tim Collins. He and I never quite saw eye to eye on education policy, as might be expected, but he argued his case here in Parliament and throughout the country during the election campaign—so much so, in fact, that it cost him his seat. However, he showed great dignity in defeat and I respect him for that.
I also take this opportunity to welcome Mr. Davey to his new role. I knew him before he entered the House, and I am sure that he will make a great contribution to the debates in months to come.
It is a privilege to wind up the debate. Hon. Members will know that the Government's general election manifesto promised continued investment and reform in the public services. Several hon. Members on both sides of the House made remarkably strong contributions about the need for continued investment in child care, schools and local hospitals and health services. Indeed, several of them lobbied for more resources, especially in the health service.
I was most impressed by some of the contributions from Labour Members, although there were also outstanding contributions by other hon. Members. My hon. Friend Mrs. James gave a passionate and personal speech about her life in Swansea and her campaign—[Interruption.]
Order. An awful lot of private conversation is going on. It is good manners to hear the Secretary of State.
My hon. Friend drew on her experiences from the miners strike. She focused in particular on her campaign for women and child care, which I know she will continue during her time in the House.
My hon. Friend Rosie Cooper brought her front-line experiences of the health service to the debate, and pledged to continue to campaign to improve health services in her constituency and across the country. My hon. Friend Mr. McGovern talked about how his constituency is a university town and has benefited from the Government's education policies.
In particular, I enjoyed the speech of my hon. Friend Ms Butler, who, in succeeding Paul Boateng, will contribute in months to come to ensuring that her constituency has a strong representation in Parliament. Her focus on skills as an agent of regeneration is something to which I am committed. As a Government, we intend to ensure that skills transform opportunities for all young people and adults.
My hon. Friend Meg Hillier welcomed the new city academies, bringing aspiration to people in her community. The city academy programme can do an enormous amount to transform opportunities for the most disadvantaged children in the most deprived areas. I look forward to working with her on that agenda over the months to come.
My hon. Friend Ms Johnson mentioned the contribution that Hull has made to improving school meals for children in the city. That is another way in which we can do an enormous amount to ensure that children benefit from healthy living.
My hon. Friend Dr. Blackman-Woods noted how unemployment had halved in Durham since the Government came to power. We had a strong contribution from my long-standing friend, my hon. Friend Ms Thornberry. I learned much more about her constituency than the common perception that normally prevails. I wish her well, and a great future in the House. We also heard from my hon. Friend Ms Smith, who wanted more 14-to-19 vocational provision. I want to join her in ensuring that we deliver that across the country in the years to come.
In the Gracious Speech, we set out a serious programme for government. We want a world-class education system in which every child matters and is helped to reach their full potential.
I am reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Lady's fascinating and lively peroration, but will she explain to my constituents why they cannot get an NHS dentist, which led to 1,600 people queuing for eight hours in Spalding in an attempt to register for a dentist? That is not good enough. It is down to this Government. Will she either defend it or do something about it here tonight?
The hon. Gentleman has a short memory. It was his party that closed two dental training hospitals. It is this Government who are employing 1,000 more NHS dentists this year.
In our party's manifesto and in the Gracious Speech we explained how we would continue to reduce the number of failing schools, how we would open up choice for parents, how we would tailor education to the needs of every child, relentlessly focusing on the basics, as the hon. Member for Witney acknowledges we should, but also how we would provide opportunities for every child to be stretched to their full potential. Central to this party's programme is school discipline, and I hope that we can establish a consensus across the House on the need for orderly classrooms and good school discipline, and that we can work with parents, with teachers and with everybody in society to develop a culture of respect which means that we have good discipline in our schools. We have made real progress in tackling bad behaviour in the classroom, but zero tolerance of bad behaviour, and the culture of respect, good behaviour and firm discipline, must be the norm in all classrooms, in all schools, all of the time.
This Government have given schools the powers, training and guidance that they need to deal with destructive behaviour, but we know that the real work is done not by Government, but by teachers and classroom assistants working on the front line with those pupils. That is why we, as a Government, will continue to back head teachers and teachers so that they can take the necessary action to address this issue. The hon. Gentleman also knows that we cannot just legislate for good order in the classroom; it has to be delivered with the full backing of teachers and parents. That is why we will work with them on making sure that there is a cultural change, and that effective practice in the best classrooms is translated to every classroom across the country. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support us when the expert group of head teachers reports, that he will support our work with the teaching profession and that he will back the measures that we take as a result.
If the hon. Gentleman had done his research before coming to the House, he would know that it takes eight years to train an NHS dentist, and it is this Government who are employing 1,000 more NHS dentists this year. That will have an impact over the coming years.
I will continue to listen to teachers and parents as we deliver our manifesto commitments in the Gracious Speech to extend opportunities for all children to succeed on the basis of their hard work and merit, not on the basis of their privilege or social class. Our 10-year child care strategy, published last December, set out our plans to ensure that every child gets the best possible start in life. By 2010 there will be 3,500 children's centres, one in every community, so that every family with young children has easy access to high-quality integrated services. Every child will be able to benefit from activities taking place before and after school, as schools open up their facilities for use by the community—pupils and parents.
We will continue our efforts to raise standards in primary and secondary schools, working with teachers to provide tailored support for children, with catch-up for those who struggle in the basics and challenge for the more able. We will raise the bar in schools, recognising that all young people should achieve GCSE standard in English and maths by the time they leave. For the first time, as a result of our policies, our young people will have access to high-quality, high-status vocational education. We will introduce four specialised diplomas by 2008 and seven by 2010, leading in time to a full entitlement of 14 in each locality. We want far more of our young people to be staying on in education or training or entering an apprenticeship—far more than we have at the moment.
On this side of the House, we have always been clear about one thing: we want parents to choose schools, not schools to choose parents. That is why we have continued to invest in our state schools. We want to improve quality and choice in the provision of schooling and build on the progress already made to improve educational standards for all, including—