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6.27 pm

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth): I assure the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) that he rarely bores the House. I, too, pay tribute to the graceful and self-confident maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Bryant). He paid a justifiable tribute to his predecessor and constituency while giving a flavour of his political philosophy and what motivates him. He will have a long and distinguished career in the House.

I am pleased to speak in a debate that was opened by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. Much has been made of the distinguishing characteristics of this Parliament, but I do not believe that they will be the referendum on the euro or the involvement of the private sector in the public services. Instead, I hope that it will be distinguished by the fight against child and pensioner poverty and the campaign to bring about full employment, all built on a platform of fiscal stability and prudence. Major progress in those aims and adequate funding for public services will distinguish this Parliament.

Before I deal with public services and the role of the private sector, I want to address three other issues. My constituency, like the Rhondda, is a former mining area. Since the creation of the Labour party, such areas have been served by Labour party representatives and, before that, by trade union activists in the mining industry. Sadly, the mining industry was destroyed for vindictive reasons by the Conservatives. They can never be forgiven for that act and its impact on the communities that we represent. We are trying to lift them up off their knees, where they were left by the Tory Administration. The task of regenerating those areas, villages and communities has only just begun.

Four years seems a long time in an individual's life, but it is a relatively short time in the life of a community. During the election campaign, I was confronted with utter desperation, serious deprivation, absolute poverty and the most acute problems, not just in one or two areas, but throughout the former pit villages, which now have nothing at all, not even the infrastructure with which to attract new industry.

We face very difficult problems on the Yorkshire coalfield, especially in Hemsworth. Although we are bringing about regeneration at a macro-economic level,

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we must carefully consider the creation of micro- economic tools to attempt to tackle the acute pockets of deprivation found throughout the country, especially in the coalfields.

No doubt the Chancellor's emphasis on the role of regional development agencies is part of the thinking that suggests that we must somehow reach down much more sensitively into the areas where small pockets of deprivation continue to exist. I look forward to the regional development agencies being developed in the next four years. However, those agencies are not accountable in the way a democratic body would be, so at some time or other we should move towards elected assemblies, to which the local population gives its consent. I am sure that the consent of the local population would easily be found in Yorkshire. I should like elected regional assemblies to deal with regeneration.

There is a particular problem with long-term disabled and long-term sick people in our communities. Probably about 2 million people are not included in the economic register and thus not counted among the unemployed, but there are large numbers of long-term disabled people and we must find ways to help them back to work wherever possible.

Drugs have become a very serious problem in the mining villages and probably elsewhere as well. In the area that I represent, the people who push drugs into our communities are gradually winning the war and there is a sense of hopelessness among those communities. Only last Monday, I met some people in South Elmsall, in my constituency, who told me that the drug pushers are waging war on their community. We need to see rapid action.

The Queen's Speech refers to increased powers for those in the criminal justice system. I welcome those powers, but we need far more police on the streets and in the communities--perhaps more than we have committed ourselves to in the manifesto. The war against drugs must be won, because the cancer of drugs is rotting away all the neighbourhoods, villages and communities that we represent.

I want to mention the problem of housing. A housing Bill will be introduced to address some of the points made in the housing Green Paper. However, the most acute problems identified in the Green Paper will not be addressed in the first round of legislation. In particular, I refer to those areas where no demand exists for the houses that are for sale.

It is impossible to sell houses in communities such as the City and Fitzwilliam, or the Bronx, in South Elmsall, because there is absolutely no demand for them. A street of those houses could not be sold for £5,000 or £6,000. People are trapped in those communities. They are unable to escape and they are gradually sinking further into deprivation. We need urgent action to tackle such low demand, where it is a problem. I know that it is not a problem everywhere throughout the nation, especially not in the south, but it is a severe problem in my constituency.

Allied to that problem, but separate from it, is one that involves private landlords. Unscrupulous private landlords have taken over large amounts of very low-cost housing without a care for the tenants who have been placed in that housing. That has led to the further deterioration of the very communities that I have described. Somehow or other, I hope that we can find a non-bureaucratic

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technique to license and control private landlords, where their activities are clearly generating further deprivation, poverty and disorder.

In particular, I want also to refer to the public services. Clearly, the adequate funding of our public services represented the dividing line between the parties at the election. We know where the Tories stand; they are in favour of reducing public spending and, as a corollary, the public services. We must ensure that the public services are adequately funded, but reform is allied to that issue. I would not defend the existing structure of practices in the public sector in all its aspects. The Morrisonian model, on which most of our public services are based, is hierarchial and, in many cases, bureaucratic and unresponsive. Its structure is frequently insensitive to the needs of the customer. Its management systems are frequently uniform, rather than diverse. Clearly, it urgently needs reform.

I should be happy to see the modernisation of the public services, together with adequate funding. A modernising Government should be involved in reducing the number of layers of management, in tackling bureaucracy and in creating heterogeneity in the public services. I cannot however accept that introducing the private sector to the public services is the solution.

I stand on my political record as someone who has wanted to modernise the Labour party and our country. As the leader of Leeds city council, I did a lot to try to modernise services. When I was elected to the House at a by-election, I made it clear that I was a moderniser. For the first 18 months, I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson), who is the arch-moderniser, and I had no trouble with that at all. But modernising the public services in the public sector is one thing; introducing the private sector is entirely different.

I may be quite a rare being in the House--I was a manual worker in the private sector building industry for 12 years or so, and I know precisely how the private sector works and how poor its management often is. I do not believe that the private sector is a paragon either of managerial excellence or even of particularly cost- effective service provision. There is a range of reasons why one should be extremely cautious about the introduction of the private sector to the public services. I do not believe that it has yet been shown that private sector provision is cheaper than public sector provision. There have been several studies, and the best that can be said is that they are not conclusive.

From personal experience, I do not believe that private sector management is necessarily and inevitably more efficient than the public sector. The records of some of the larger public sector construction projects that have been led by private companies are, at best, uneven. The private sector is arguably good at cutting costs and making efficiency savings. That would be its claim, but that does not inevitably mean that it is good at providing high-quality public services, especially as those services tend to be monopolies such as those that exist in health, education and, in large parts of the country, transport.

The private sector does not understand social exclusion at all, while the public sector is largely about addressing the processes of social exclusion. In fact, I would argue

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that the private sector is in large part the engine of social exclusion rather than the solution to it. It remains to be demonstrated that private sector solutions to social exclusion can be found.

Geraint Davies: My hon. Friend mentioned that entire rows of houses in his constituency are worth £6,000. Does he agree that the keys to getting rid of social exclusion in his area are regional development agencies, lower capital gains tax, the attraction of venture capital, and investment in transport infrastructure in order to connect his people to the market and to provide more skills; and that the private sector is a crucial, central part of that process of creating prosperity?

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