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4.1 pm

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Loyal Address. One of the most gracious acts that I have heard about recently was the posthumous award of the George medal to Eliza Ward, who gave her life trying to protect her boss. Her family, who received the award at Buckingham palace and would not usually be associated with loyalty in some people's eyes, were thrilled with Her Majesty's graciousness, which was reflected in the Gracious Speech.

I sometimes wonder, however, how much Her Majesty thinks about the meaning of the Queen's Speech. Although I believe that some parts of yesterday's Speech

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are helpful for the country at large, I question other parts of it. As for a Bill to ban tobacco advertising, something seems to be wrong when we are spending money to help people quit nicotine but will not spend similar sums on people with mental health problems. I believe that the Chancellor has been wrong in the way in which he has taxed tobacco, to the detriment of our economy and work force. Nevertheless, recognising the number of people who die from an over-indulgence in tobacco, I am amazed that a tobacco advertising Bill was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech.

As the Secretary of State for Health will remember, I have previously raised the issue of general practitioner numbers and the reasons why so many of them are leaving the profession. Although Ministers have been talking about increasing GP numbers, I have learned that only about 100 people are in training to become GPs, whereas the Government's own targets show that 400 new GPs are needed across the United Kingdom. I therefore urge Ministers to reconsider the overall issue of GP practice.

Reform of the health service's management may be needed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, none of us should make the mistake of thinking that current health service managers will not continue to manage the health service if they sidestep into other positions. For years, that fact has been the secret behind all the reforms of the health service's management. It would be helpful if the Government, who have been urged to commission independent researchers to investigate the issue, were given some straight answers. Managers are practitioners of the art of presenting figures to suit themselves, and it is sometimes difficult for Ministers to learn what is really happening.

I was fascinated by some of the speeches in yesterday's debate, particularly by the comments on Northern Ireland by the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson). I do not know whether it was a confession or a slip of the tongue, but he said:

I believe that there are some principles for which we have to stand.

I pay tribute to the professionals in our public services. As in this place or in any other community of people, there are those who do their work better than others, whereas others will try to avoid work, which is about the only four-letter word that is still taboo. Nevertheless, most people in the professions do a magnificent job in difficult circumstances. Many of them work longer hours than some hon. Members seem to want to work. We should not presume upon those professionals, but provide them with the best back-up possible. They are the ones who teach our children and deal with patients. They are also the ones who do the social work that we leave them with while we criticise them. I pay tribute to them.

Nevertheless, one has to ask certain questions. I ask some of them now because, as I understand it, responsibility for law and order and security in Northern Ireland still rests with this place. For many years, there have been questions about secure accommodation for young people who need care and protection. At the beginning of this week, we had a conference that was attended by one of the magistrates who has regularly

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returned young people to family care as no secure accommodation was available. Social workers have done their best to care for those young people, and some of the families themselves have requested that those young people be placed in secure accommodation for their own protection, but magistrates have had to return some of those young people to their families.

Just a week ago, in north Belfast, one of those young people, a young man, fell from a block of flats and died. No one was prepared to understand that he needed special help. From all accounts, another young man, whose grandmother and other family members asked to be taken into protection, is now working for a gentleman who uses him as a rent boy. It is time that our authorities got their act together to provide protection for younger people.

I should like to address many other issues, but shall finish with a few remarks on regrettable recent events in Northern Ireland, where there were more riots yesterday evening. I wonder whether the British Government and other Governments around the world have begun to understand the message that they are sending to those who no longer want to use the parliamentary process but are prepared to riot, whether it is against capitalism or as happened in Oldham. What messages have we sent to those people by the way we have dealt with law and order in Northern Ireland? In a sense, we have crucified the protectors of the people. Yesterday evening, those protectors were again caught between two groups. As certain groups are not prepared to back the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Government have continued to go down the wrong road in dealing with the situation.

I have received a letter from Mr. Michael Sing, from Londonderry, in which he asks me to ask the Prime Minister a certain question on the Floor of the House. Although, as hon. Members know, it is difficult to ask the Prime Minister a question in such circumstances, Mr. Sing's question is fascinating--especially considering how difficult it was for some of us to discover what was happening in the discussions on the framework document. During those discussions, Ulster Unionist Members were not allowed to have any information from our then Conservative Government about the likely course of events. We went to see the then Minister, now the Conservative party chairman, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), and we were supposed to be told was happening. He was prepared to discuss only the heads of agreement, but was amazed to discover that we knew more about what was in the document than he had realised. We were getting the information from Dublin newspapers. The Dublin Government regularly communicated with Sinn Fein and the SDLP, whereas we in the House were not told, because the agreement was between two sovereign Governments.

The Belfast agreement is known for purposes of spin as the Good Friday agreement. If it had been signed on 1 April, we would have been quick to call it the April Fools or All Fools agreement. It was signed by two Governments, and I query whether Sinn Fein ever signed it, despite what people say about all the signatories.

The letter says:

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I thought that rather apt in the light of the comment made by the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley). The letter raises the question whether

the abandonment of Ireland's neutrality and its accession to NATO, with the price being the separation of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom.

I put it to the House that we are responsible for the whole of the Kingdom, be it the Welsh Principality, the Scots nation, the Province of Northern Ireland or the regions of England. The Government must pledge themselves in negotiations with the United States not to listen only to those who are not happy with President Bush's views on defence. It is important to learn from the past. If rogue states have bombed our territory by providing Semtex for terrorism here, the United States must be prepared, if it wants to use our country as a base for its activities, to provide the same protection for our people as for its own. Such protection must be in the legislation dealing with our international relationships, and I hope that the House will take cognisance of that.

4.12 pm

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith): It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to make my maiden speech so early in the Session. I am conscious of the honour bestowed on me by my constituents, and I thank them for electing me.

I pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, Malcolm Chisholm. He was first elected to the House as the Member of Parliament for Leith in 1992 and was re-elected in 1997 for the enlarged constituency of Edinburgh, North and Leith. He served as a Minister in the Scottish Office in 1997. In 1999, he was elected to the Scottish Parliament as a Member for the same constituency, and he quickly gained the respect of people there for his integrity and honesty. I am delighted to say that he was appointed last year as a Deputy Minister for Health and Community Care in the Scottish Executive. In addition to his commitment to the Scottish Parliament and Government, he continues to be an assiduous and hard-working constituency Member. He has given and continues to give me much support as a candidate and, since my election, as a Member of Parliament. He is held in high regard throughout the constituency and I will be well satisfied if I can earn a similar respect there.

The two parts of my constituency have been represented by a long line of right hon. and hon. Members who made their mark in public life in a variety of ways. In 1992, Malcolm Chisholm took the seat from Ron Brown, who, as some may recall, played from time to time what might be called a colourful role in the House. Before him, Leith's Labour Member was Ronald King Murray, who left the House in 1979 to serve as a judge in the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary, from which appointment he has recently retired, having fulfilled his judicial duties most ably.

The Edinburgh, North part of my constituency was for some years represented by the late Sir Alex Fletcher, who I know was held in high esteem across the political spectrum.

I note that I appear to be the first Leith Member to be not just a Labour Member but a Labour and Co-operative Member. I am proud to be the first to carry the Co-operative as well as the Labour banner.

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As its name indicates, my constituency brings together the port of Leith with part of Edinburgh proper. Indeed, notwithstanding the name "Edinburgh, North", it takes in much of the city centre, starting from Princes street and the New Town and running down to the Firth of Forth. It encompasses many distinctive local communities. Leith and Edinburgh both have a strong sense of community and civic identity, with proud histories.

Indeed, Edinburgh is one of those places of which it can truly be said that its origins are lost in the mists of time. In my researches for this speech, I was intrigued to discover that one historian in the 16th century suggested that Edinburgh had been founded in 889 BC. I am disappointed to say that modern historians consider that date a millennium or two premature. Nevertheless, Edinburgh has a long history, as does the port of Leith.

As is often the case with two neighbouring communities, the history of Leith has often been defined in terms of its uneasy relationship with its larger neighbour. For almost 90 years, up to 1920, Leith was independent of Edinburgh. Some of the port's older residents still speak with some resentment of its incorporation into Edinburgh by Parliament in the face of a 5:1 vote against in a referendum of the people of Leith in 1919. Controversy over local government boundaries is not a new phenomenon.

Notwithstanding their long and varied histories, it is probably the past decade, or even the past five years, that has witnessed the most dramatic changes in Edinburgh and Leith. Leith was traditionally the port of Edinburgh, making much of its living from the sea or from industries indirectly associated with it. Such activity has now declined considerably as a source of employment, although the port is still a major feature of central Leith. A massive redevelopment of the waterfront area is under way and will accelerate over the next few years.

Edinburgh as a whole is now a city of dynamism and confidence, a state of affairs to which the most significant recent contribution has been the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, helping to make it once again a true European capital city. Moreover, thanks in no small part to the Government's economic policies and the progressive leadership of the city's council, of which I have been privileged to be a member for many years, Edinburgh has a vibrant economy, and over the past four years unemployment has fallen by more than 60 per cent.

However, as in many cities in which the general picture is one of economic prosperity, there are areas in my constituency, and sectors of society, that suffer severe deprivation and social exclusion. I believe that the Government's tax and welfare policies give us for the first time ever the possibility of lifting such areas and the people who live in them out of poverty once and for all.

My constituency is a fascinating place, with a rich variety of people, communities and cultures. I am proud to represent it in Parliament, especially as I am not a native of the city, although I have lived there for more than 25 years and have grown to love it very much. The constituency is very mixed, but the benefits of Labour policies over the past four years and the improvements in public services can be seen everywhere.

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Much of our debate has concentrated on education. That is of course a devolved matter, but my constituents are pleased that the £83 million public-private partnership investment will bring to the constituency four new or totally refurbished schools.

My constituents also know that, in some cases, public services are not of the quality that they should be, and they want further improvements in them. Above all, they are interested in results and they want pragmatic solutions that will work, which is why I heartily welcome the Government's decision to place investment and reform in the public services at the centre of their agenda for a second term. Exactly how that reform will be achieved will doubtless be debated further today and will be debated in the House and elsewhere in future.

In closing, as a Labour and Co-operative Member, may I express the hope that the Government will bear in mind the special features and advantages that the co-operative and mutual model can bring to the provision of public services? I note with interest the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) on the rail industry; his idea on that issue is worthy of consideration.

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