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12.4 pm

Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North): I am pleased to speak in this debate focusing on education and industry. Although I intend to cover issues relating to both subjects, I shall, with the House's indulgence, also comment on the important subjects of crime and health, in relation to which I have particular interests or local concerns.

I am delighted that the special educational needs and disability Bill has a place in the Government's programme, and I acknowledge the thoughtful contributions made on the subject by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) and by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). This long awaited and much needed measure will be particularly welcomed by parents of children with special educational needs.

For some years--ever since I served as a local councillor--I have been in contact with Redbridge Parents in Partnership, a group working for equal educational opportunities for children with special needs, which is a member of the Alliance for Inclusive Education. Redbridge Parents in Partnership and the alliance were invited to respond to the consultation on the Bill, and their members feel strongly about inclusive education. They say that parents seeking mainstream schooling for disabled children face


They want the Bill to instruct local education authorities to provide inclusive education for all who want it, without caveats that deny parental preference.

Redbridge Parents in Partnership and the Alliance for Inclusive Education raised several other concerns in their submission to the consultation, including the powers of special educational needs tribunals and the definition of SEN and disability, which the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough mentioned. They regret the omission of the issue of bullying on the ground of disability. They also highlight the proposal in the Bill for a new duty to enable students with disabilities to gain better access to further and higher education. We all welcome that proposal.

I have just completed a placement, organised through the National Council for Voluntary Organisations secondment scheme for MPs, with Skill, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities. I discussed the Bill yesterday with members of Skill's post-16 learning group.

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They welcomed it, having campaigned for it since the enactment of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Skill has been in existence for 25 years and provides an excellent information and advisory service throughout the United Kingdom for students with disabilities. It also conducts research and development projects, runs volunteer schemes, organises conferences and produces publications. Last year it received 6,000 telephone calls and there were nearly 40,000 hits on its website. Skill will pursue several issues during the passage of the Bill, but it is pleased to see its inclusion in the Queen's Speech. I was glad that to hear from the opening speeches of those on both Front Benches, and from the Liberal Democrats, that there is a genuine spirit of co-operation for carrying the Bill through.

Law and order and fighting crime are major priorities in my constituency. On behalf of the people of Ilford, North I welcome the strong emphasis in the Queen's Speech on continuing with measures to cut crime and crack down on disorderly conduct. The Government are set to be the first since the 1950s to have cut crime figures in their first term of office. The British crime survey shows that overall crime was 10 per cent. lower in 1999 than in 1997, with burglary rates down by one fifth to their lowest level in a decade, vehicle crime down by 15 per cent. and violent crime down by 4 per cent.--but my constituents expect more to be done.

Fear of crime remains high. Two years ago, in my constituency, I organised a public meeting about crime and fear of crime, with the local police, Victim Support, and the police community consultative committee. At that time, even after only a year and a half in office, the Labour Government had made substantial efforts to address the problems of young offenders, truancy, drugs, anti-social neighbours and child safety. Although the meeting was held in Woodford, which is generally not a high-crime area, local people expressed fears about burglaries, muggings, under-age drinking and drug taking.

In recent months, services on some bus routes were halted in parts of my constituency close to my home, after a spate of violence and vandalism involving groups of yobs. As a result, people in Hainault were deprived of a bus service after 9 pm. Only a few weeks ago, on the same night as a 26-year-old man was stabbed to death while travelling by bus in nearby Barking, a bus a few streets away from my house was vandalised. The local press quoted me at the time as saying:

I am pleased that a strategy action group, a sub-committee of the borough's public transport liaison committee, is being formed by interested parties, including the police, bus companies, schools and the council, to deal with the problem of youth disorder on public transport. I should like to pay tribute to the efforts of a Conservative colleague from Redbridge council, Councillor Morris Hickey, who chairs the public transport liaison committee. He has worked tirelessly with me, with the police and with other local organisations on that disturbing issue.

The problem of yob culture is one matter that I constantly raise with local police. One day towards the end of August I spent time talking to local magistrates and the police chief superintendent, and in the evening went on patrol with local officers to tour the constituency.

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The experiences of that day convinced me of the necessity for the measures in the Queen's Speech, especially fixed penalties for disorderly behaviour in public places and the prohibition on drinking alcohol in designated public places.

Yesterday I attended an event for secondary school children at Redbridge magistrates court. It was about drugs in the criminal justice system, and included a mock trial, a debate and presentations by the clerk and bench chairmen, the probation service, the senior drugs worker from the Redbridge drug and alcohol service and the court-based drug worker.

The drug referral project, funded by the Government office for London, was established last year by Redbridge magistrates court in response to a rising tide of alcohol and drug-related offences in the borough, which accounted for an estimated 70 per cent. of all offences at the time. I pay tribute to the Redbridge bench for introducing that initiative--although as a member of its supplemental list, I must declare an interest. Redbridge is the best performing north-east London court, and the seventh best in England and Wales, in respect of the average number of days from first listing to completion of criminal cases.

The problems of my local area demonstrate that the Government are right to concentrate on curbing drug and alcohol abuse. In tackling law and order issues, the Tories--with breathtaking hypocrisy--alternate between scaremongering and brushing their appalling record on crime aside. In its 18-year rule, the Conservative party allowed national crime to double, and let the number of criminals convicted fall by a third, yet local Tories recently demonstrated against the closure of Woodford police station, which the assistant commissioner tells me is not scheduled to close. The biggest threat to local police stations, and to the chances of getting more police officers on the front line, is the prospect of the Tory cuts guarantee.

I should also like to comment on the health proposals, which were debated yesterday. I welcome the announcement in the Queen's Speech of legislation to support many of the commitments in the national health service plan. I was pleased to be able to speak in the debate on the plan on 29 June, and I am sure that every hon. Member would agree that it is time to put the reforms in place.

The proposals cover many of the problems raised by my constituents in the three and a half years that I have served in the House. They include cutting waiting times for treatment by GPs and accident and emergency departments, shorter waiting lists for heart surgery, more doctors and nurses, empowering nurses to prescribe drugs, order tests, admit and discharge patients and run clinics, and the provision of cleaner wards and better hospital food.

As secretary of the all-party group on aging and older people, I am pleased with the proposals for national standards to combat ageism in the NHS, for the provision of new intermediate care services to end bed blocking by 2004, and for free nursing care in nursing homes from October 2001. However, although the Government are to put £1.4 billion of new investment into health and social services for older people, 125,000 people will still have to pay for personal care.

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I have campaigned for improvements in cancer treatment ever since I was elected, and I welcome the huge expansion in screening programmes proposed in the plan. I welcome in particular the extension of the breast cancer programme to women aged between 65 and 70--an extension for which I have worked with Age Concern--the upgrade of the cervical cancer programme, and the development of a programme for prostate cancer, which in September received an enormous boost in research funding, announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, of up to £4.2 million a year by 2003-04. Obviously, as a cancer campaigner, I am delighted that a Bill covering tobacco advertising and promotion is also in the programme.

On industrial matters, I endorse many of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill), who chairs the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, on which I also serve. Like him, I am glad to see a regulatory reform Bill in the Queen's Speech. I am sure that the prospect of the introduction of wider powers to scrap unnecessary regulations without the need for legislation, and the provision of parliamentary scrutiny and public consultation, will be music to the ears of the chorus of Conservative Members who continually bleat about burdens on business, conveniently forgetting that they introduced 3,000 regulations for each of their last three years in office.

I also remind Conservative Members that many employment protection and social justice reform measures put on the statute book over the years--mainly by Labour Governments--such as the race relations legislation in the 1960s and 1970s, the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, were originally seen as imposing burdens on business or restricting certain freedoms.

The Government's fairness at work agenda, much of which was enshrined in the Employment Relations Act 1999, introduced trade union recognition, the right to parental leave, paid holidays, rights for part-time workers, the national minimum wage--I was proud to stay up all night to see that legislation through--and other measures. All those hard-won rights, and the working families tax credit, have been labelled by the Opposition as burdens on business. Doubtless they will take the same view of the proposals issued yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, entitled "Work & Parents--competitiveness and choice". Those deal with paid paternity leave, the extension of maternity pay, flexible working options and other measures to support working parents and help them achieve the right balance between work and home responsibilities.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil, I am happy to be a member of a party that has continued the Labour tradition of improving the pay and conditions of working people, but, also like him, I welcome the Bill that will weed out unnecessary regulation in a number of areas. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry provide more detail about the parliamentary scrutiny role that is mentioned in connection with the Bill? Will it involve the Trade and Industry Committee?

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