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7.21 pm

Mr. Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington, East): I begin my maiden speech by thanking all those who worked so hard to get me elected: my party members who selected me, and the electors who returned me to the House on 1 May. I was born in the constituency that I represent. It gives me an extra special honour to represent people in the area whence I came.

I pay tribute to my predecessor, Roland Boyes. I do so not merely because it is a convention of the House, but because he is a friend of mine. He was the Member of Parliament for Houghton and Washington from 1983, before which he served for four years as Member of the European Parliament for Durham. Roland was a passionate campaigner for social justice. He represented his constituency with dignity and courage wherever he went. He also served as an Opposition spokesman on the defence and environment teams.

Apart from politics, Roland had another great passion: photography. He produced an excellent book of photographs of people who work in the House: Members and their staff. Hon. Members are aware that he suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Being an inveterate campaigner, he is very involved in raising money for the Alzheimer's research trust that he established. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have contributed to that trust.

I met Roland on Friday last week. He and his wife asked me to pass on their thanks for the hundreds of acts of kindness that hon. Members have shown to Pat and Roland. I am sure that I can say with confidence that I can take back the good wishes of the House.

I read Roland's maiden speech in 1983, and I was struck by one of his remarks. Fourteen years ago, he said that Labour's slogan should be "enough is enough". He was clearly a man ahead of his time, because I seem to remember that that slogan figured significantly in Labour's general election campaign.

The constituency that I represent is a series of mining villages in the Durham coalfield. Its past is very important. The hard work and talents of its people determine its future. I was born there 38 years ago into a mining family, and I know a little of its history. I beg the House's indulgence while I say a few words about the constituency.

The new town of Washington was a former mining village. It makes a great claim to be the ancestral birthplace of the founding father of the United States of America. The Shiney Row ward contains the Penshaw monument, the great beacon to returning north-easterners. It was erected as a tribute to the first Earl of Durham. It is not my intention to praise the former coal owners--I doubt whether any of my predecessors have done so--but it is significant that it was erected after he was given the nickname "Radical Jack", because he supported the extension of the franchise in the Reform Act 1832. He may be a role model for those in the other place who are contemplating opposing Labour's plans for constitutional reform.

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I make the proud boast that, every time the House or the nation hears Big Ben, they hear the tongue--the piece that swings in the bell--which was cast in Houghton-le-Spring. We are also proud that, in Hetton, George Stephenson, one of the founding fathers of the railway industry, designed a railway in advance of the more famous Stockton and Darlington.

It would be wrong of me not to mention football, which is another great passion in the constituency. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton(Mr. Kilfoyle), who is a good friend of mine and whose constituency contains the Anfield ground, will not object to my saying that we also produced one of the greatest managers of Liverpool, Bob Paisley.

The men and women I represent are decent and honest. They are descended from generations who have toiled underground to generate the wealth of this nation. The adversity they have faced has given them the strength and humour that run through their veins as richly as any coal seam in the earth, but there are also despair and poverty in many parts of the constituency. One can physically see it cut into people's faces as if by a surgeon's knife. All that the people I represent ask for is a fair deal and social justice. They are hard-working people, with talent and ingenuity. What they want is a fair crack of the whip and some decency.

I am proud of the traditions in the constituency and its past, but I know that it is the future which matters. The people's skills and talents, many of which have remained unused and wasted in recent years, can and will make a great contribution towards this nation. We are making a start. It is a proud boast that my constituency is the fastest growing automotive area in the United Kingdom, and long may that remain so.

It cannot be right that 40 per cent. of technological innovation since the second world war has originated in the United Kingdom, yet we have only 5 per cent. of those markets. Clearly, the Government must address that problem. We must nurture that innovation, and encourage the development of skills and sensible long-term investment, as well as forge links between education and industry, so that we can close the gap between our ability to invent products and our ability to manufacture and sell them on the world markets.

All of us in politics are regularly concerned by what we hear: occasionally it affects us deeply. I want to dedicate this speech to someone whom I had never heard of and have never met. On 1 May 1997, a man went into a polling station and asked the presiding officer if she could point out the Labour candidate on the ballot paper. With great courage, because there were other electors in the station, he admitted that he could neither read nor write. If I and the Government show one tenth of the courage, guts and determination that he showed in voting Labour on polling day, Britain will be a better place. The Gracious Address fills me with great optimism.

7.29 pm

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): I am very pleased to have been called to make my maiden speech today, when so many fine maiden speeches have been made. In particular, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for

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Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) for the great political passion which has obviously brought him to the House.

My predecessor in Sheffield, Hallam was Sir Irvine Patnick. He was and is above all a good Sheffielder--and in Sheffield that counts as much as, if not more than, one's party political allegiances. Sheffielders have the particular quality of speaking quickly and not wasting words, and I hope that I, too, will bring those qualities to the House.

As well as spending 10 years in this place, Sir Irvine was well known for the decades of dedicated public service that he performed on various local authorities in Sheffield. Indeed, legend has it that it was he who coined the great phrase "the socialist republic of South Yorkshire"--a phrase which, of course, needs updating nowadays, but the phrase "the new Labour (socialist values updated for the modern era) republic of South Yorkshire" somehow does not have quite the same ring.

The constituency of Sheffield, Hallam covers the south-west of the city of Sheffield. While in general it is an affluent area, it contains quite a mixture of people and places, as befits most of our metropolitan constituencies. I want to refer particularly to three key aspects of the Hallam division. The first is the part of the Peak district that it contains. That magnificent landscape of moors and gritstone edges was preserved by previous generations of far-sighted people who understood the deep meaning of the environment and the necessity to preserve it against development. We now enjoy it, along with our many parks and the wonderful tree landscape that we find in Sheffield.

Secondly, the constituency contains the two universities of Hallam and Sheffield, which are the biggest employers in my constituency. They have brought so much to Hallam and I am sure that much of my time in this place will be spent on issues concerned with them. Thirdly, there is the strength of our local communities in Sheffield, particularly in the Low Edges estate, where local residents have set up a community safety forum to work with the police and other agencies to deal with some of the problems in the area, particularly those relating to youth crime.

That brings me to the subject of the debate. I want to draw attention to the importance of the environment in reducing crime. If we are to tackle the causes of crime, we must create a high-quality urban environment that people will respect. As we can all see, when a house becomes derelict in our area, as it starts to fall down the vandalism begins. First one window goes; then the rest rapidly follow. The quality of our urban environments is crucial if we are to start tackling the causes of crime.

We should increase the visibility of the police in our communities. Our community constables in Hallam do a first-class job, and that should be built on so that we see more police on the streets.

Given all this--from the natural glories of the Peak district to the academic glories of our universities, and the human glories of our communities--I am filled with pleasure to have been able to speak on behalf of Sheffield, Hallam today.

7.32 pm

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): It is a great pleasure to be able to make my maiden speech as Member of Parliament for my home area of North-West

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Leicestershire. I am proud to inform the House that I stand here representing two parties, the Labour party and the Co-operative party. The Co-operative party is the political party representing the co-operative movement, and it is dedicated to the promotion of co-operative principles as a means of organising our society and our economic interests. I am therefore very happy to be the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for North-West Leicestershire.

Let me begin by thanking my predecessor, Mr. David Ashby, who had represented North-West Leicestershire as a Conservative since the seat was created in 1983. I first met Mr. Ashby when we were opponents in the 1992 general election, and I found him then--as I have since--to be a courteous, thoughtful and industrious representative of our area. Let me express the appreciation of the 85,000 people of north-west Leicestershire to David Ashby for his work over some 14 years: we are most grateful for his unflagging efforts on our behalf.

Some people are due little in the way of thanks.David Ashby owes no thanks to the press, which hounded him unmercifully following allegations about his personal life. I deplore that. He has nothing for which to thank the courts, where he was the victim of an appalling legal decision when he tried to clear his name. I deplore that, too. He was given few thanks by his local association when it deselected him because of the adverse media coverage. That was the most deplorable thing of all.

One of the first telephone calls that I received after the election was from David Ashby. He gave congratulations and much helpful advice about tackling the daunting role of a newly elected Member of Parliament. That is the true measure of the man.

North-West Leicestershire is at the heart of our country. It is very much middle England--the real middle England, not that of Ford Galaxies, second homes in Italy and nanny problems. We are a working area and proud of it. We are at the transport crossroads of the midlands, sitting astride the M1, beside the East Midlands airport. Our two major towns urgently need partly completed bypasses to be finished--but more of that on another occasion.

The main urban area in my seat is centred on the former mining town of Coalville, which, like the country, has endured the pain of unemployment. The pit closures that took place in the 1980s and early 1990s had a profound impact--economically, socially and environmentally--but the town has responded well to local authority initiatives, and now has good shops, a first-rate leisure centre and a magnificent discovery park celebrating the industrial background of North-West Leicestershire and the bright technological future that is now emerging.

To the west of the seat lies my birthplace, the pleasant market town of Ashby de la Zouch, famous for its castle and for being the setting of "Ivanhoe", reputedly the Prime Minister's favourite book. Further west still is another former coal mining area, around the communities of the Ashby Woulds. There is a sizeable rural core to the seat, containing numerous attractive villages, while in the north are the bustling and prosperous villages of Castle Donington and Kegworth.

Many hon. Members will have rushed through my constituency on the M1 without being aware of itsmany attractions. In view of the comments of the righthon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald

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(Miss Widdecombe), I am pleased to say that those attractions do not include any penal establishments. I urge hon. Members to stop for a little; they will probably stay very much longer. All we need to link this archipelago of communities is improved public transport, and especially the restoration of passenger rail services--the second flag that I will wave on another occasion.

Environmentally, North-West Leicestershire has contained vast tracts of derelict land, which are now being restored with great assistance from the national forest, whose headquarters are in the seat. The attentions ofR. J. Budge and others who want to opencast remaining coal seams on greenfield sites are a constant threat and handicap, and the circling opencast vultures will certainly form the basis of a future speech from me.

Socially, North-West Leicestershire's proud mining culture survives, as I am sure that it will for generations. It underpins a community spirit that remains sound and in good heart--but communities, like individuals, need to feel safe and secure in order to thrive. Various corrosive influences have been at work, which have made life difficult for the residents, businesses and towns of our area.

An example is the small town of Ashby, which has a population of 12,000. Its gracious Georgian market street, with its numerous pubs, shops and restaurants, acts as an entertainment mecca for a wide catchment area. That often means large numbers of people in a confined space, which frequently produces an unacceptable level of crime and anti-social behaviour on our streets.

Like those in other parts of middle England, we have called long and loud for more effective policies on crime in our part of Leicestershire, which has seen crime double and violent crime treble in a political generation. I am therefore pleased to have been called to speak in a home affairs debate on the Loyal Address. I particularly welcome the Government's programme for the reform of the youth justice system. I am a lay magistrate in my constituency, but I am not out of touch, as Conservative Members have suggested. Lay magistrates live in their constituencies, experience their problems and are open to their opportunities.

For many years, I have been concerned about the persistent problems caused for the many by the disruptive few who are the grit in society's eye. I welcome the commitment to fast-track punishment for some offenders, the creation of youth offenders' teams and the establishment of a national youth policy board.

My constituents have not stood idly by waiting for effective Government action on crime. Three years ago, we resolved to tackle the roots of crime rather than just wringing our hands and calling for harsher sentences for the few who reach our courts. We believed that, unless we acted, we would all take some blame for crime in our society. Acquiescence would merely be guilt by default. The North-West Leicestershire Safer Communities Forum was formed as our way of fighting crime, and I commend it to the House. It is a partnership of concerned people from the Churches, youth organisations, police and local councils, and it could be a model for the Government as they plan how best to extend the crime prevention and community protection roles of local authorities.

The forum took a long look at our area, analysed the facts and figures, the incidents and the trends. We put local criminality under the microscope and got to know it

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intimately. We tackled the roots of identified problems within our very limited resources. We backed a secured-by-design concept for the layout and specification of housing estates. Developers are now taking that up as a sales plus, and wider building regulations incorporating security measures would help us to make real progress.

We designed a closed circuit television system and lobbied hard for its installation to ensure that shoppers, residents and businesses would benefit from a more secure Ashby town centre. That system is to be switched on in a few weeks. Of course, it will not be a panacea because some crime will be displaced, and there are also civil liberties concerns; but the system is a big step in the right direction. We can at last reclaim the streets of our town.

We are also creating a youth council in north-west Leicestershire to involve young people in the running of the area. The council will be a grey-suit-free zone so that the young will have a real say. When they speak, we must listen, and when their demands are reasonable, we must respond. If we begin to nod because boredom or intolerance has set in, the time will have come to examine our behaviour because we shall be contributing to the alienation of the young with the sad results that we know only too well.

We all have the bricks in our hands to build a safer Britain together, but it cannot be done from the Floor of the House. Bricks can be laid only on firm foundations by local people throughout the community. I am certain that ours is the right way ahead. Building safer communities needs local involvement and a supportive national framework within which to work. The community safety plans in the Gracious Speech are the guiding lights for advance.

A statutory responsibility on local authorities to produce local crime prevention partnerships involving the police and other agencies is welcome, although it is much overdue. Of course, local plans must integrate with the Government's priorities on crime prevention and community safety, and the Home Secretary should report annually on those priorities.

For too long, the approach to crime prevention has been incoherent, ad hoc and, crucially, underfunded. We have relied on reports from a less than coherent Home Secretary, whose only solution to crime was to lock up yet more people. The Government's crime fighting initiatives are based on good practice by local authorities such as the one in north-west Leicestershire. I commend them to the House.

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