|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): I recall my beloved mother telling me of a crooner in the 1930s who was known as "the whispering singer". I never understood the advantage or attraction of such a performance, but having listened to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I realise that it may have had a quality of its own, not usually heard in the human voice. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her sterling performance.
The Queen's Speech is a clear indication of the fact that the Government have been given not only a positive mandate, but a series of instructions. The general election proved conclusively that the electorate do not want Her Majesty's loyal Opposition back in charge: they have too many uncomfortable memories of what happened when they were in government. The electorate know that many fundamental services are sadly in need of renewal, development and improvement, and they decided that a Labour Government with a large majority would be capable of delivering the level of service that they want. That is what we expect of the Government.
At long last, legislation has been placed on the statute book to create the Strategic Rail Authority and support rural transport such as buses. Those measures can be used to transform the situation for the average person. The normal passenger does not want to stand on an unstaffed, dirty station wondering whether they are safe while they wait for a train which, if it arrives at all, will probably be late and filthy, with lavatories that are virtually unusable. Normal passengers want to know that they will have sufficient services to get them to work on time. They need bus services that meet train services and they want better facilities such as proper bus stations, in addition to fully staffed services, so that they can use those constant and vital parts of the public services in the most efficient and comfortable way.
If the Government are to deliver that, they face many difficult and sharp problems and they need to take some hard decisions. An incoming Minister needs to consider the Strategic Rail Authority. I am second to none in my admiration for Alistair Morton, but in the two years of its existence, the authority has delivered neither the agenda nor the decisions that are needed. In spite of the appalling accidents that have caused so much uproar in the railway industry, it is clear that the train operating companies and Railtrack have yet to address the difficulties that make it impossible for the average passenger to receive the level of care that he or she needs.
Why is it, in this day and age, that almost as soon as the train operating companies got over the trauma of what happened at Hatfield, they started to squabble among themselves? Why is it that Railtrack seems incapable of taking a major decision that will have an impact on the services or produce high-quality care and safety? Why is it that we reward very inadequate management on the basis that the previous general executive of Railtrack was rewarded for failing at his job? I would be happy to leave Parliament tomorrow with the same compensation that was handed out to Mr. Gerald Corbett, if failing in one's job is all that is required, but I see no obvious way in which I can demonstrate how incompetent I am. Having looked at what people get paid for these days, it is no wonder that there is real disillusion and disappointment among the general public about what is happening in our transport services.
I want to address two narrow points. Because of the length of time that it will take to have an impact on the transport system, great and immediate action must be taken on the control of the Strategic Rail Authority and the direction in which it is going. The train operating companies must be told that they will not be given franchises unless they guarantee high standards for the passenger. The passenger must come first, and it is about time that we said that over and over again.
Above all, Railtrack must cede many of its responsibilities. It is no use saying, "We don't want restructuring" and then saying, "Oh yes, we would like them to do this, but to keep that." We are talking about a private monopoly company, not a state company, and it does not do the job that it was set up to do. It appears incapable at director level of understanding that it is a railway company. It still has only one engineering director. It does not have an in-house engineering inspection department and, in many instances, it is incapable of insisting that its contractors comply with the terms and conditions laid down in their contracts. That cannot be acceptable. None of us would accept that quality of work in our own homes, so why do we accept it within the public services?
There is another matter that is dear to my heart. The Government had better sort out their attitude towards the mix of private finance and public funds. Railtrack is a classic example of how we hand over vast amounts of assets to private companies which then fail disastrously to provide what they have undertaken to provide. The Government had better think hard about that. If there is any suggestion that private companies with a legal commitment to make a profit for their shareholders will be brought in to run the NHS, I believe that the public are ahead of us in rejecting the idea. That is not the way to do it. It is not the way to provide high-quality clinical services or anything else.
Look at the private hospitals built alongside NHS units. Look at what they charge the NHS for the provision of services. Look at the poor standard of care that is still only too acceptable. At the weekend, some very nice ladies told me what they want from the local county social services for the care of the elderly in my constituency. Their complaint was simple. They said, "It's appalling. The Government are going to require providers to pay the national minimum wage. We will have to increase our wages bill." They will have to pay £4.10 an hour to people who have responsibility for the elderly in Britain. I do not regard that as acceptable; indeed, in this day and age, I do not regard it as defensible.
I will not support Government moves that lead Britain away from a national health service provided by people committed to public care, towards a service that is far too frequently looked upon by private health companies and insurance companies as a way of making massive profits. We have seen what that means in the transport industry. We saw what happened when companies such as British Rail Engineering were sold. Managers were brought in and told to run the company but they were incapable of doing what they had been asked to do. Private firms came in and asset-stripped entire companies. As always happens in such cases, the British public were left with the worst deal, paying all the bills, not getting the services and finding that it was unacceptable to question loudly what was happening. Many members of my family have been wholly committed to the NHS. I have never received
I say this to the Government: I expect results in the transport industry and I expect the national health service to benefit from large sums of taxpayers' money and to achieve high clinical standards of care. I do not expect a Labour Government in any circumstances to treat the workers in the national health service in the same way as workers in the transport system have been treated in the recent past. I see no hope of the Government getting support from many members of the Labour party if that is their intention.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): It is with a sense of enormous honour and no small degree of humility that I rise to present my maiden address following my election success in the constituency of Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. It is a privilege to follow the right hon. and hon. Members who have already spoken with great passion and ability in the debate on the Gracious Speech. My ambition is to prove, in the months and years to come, a willing ambassador and representative for my constituents, while paying due regard to the traditions and respect accumulated by the House over the centuries.
My constituency and its boundary-changed predecessors have been well represented in the past by some exceptionally able Members of Parliament, who have gained great respect on both sides of the House. Most recently, Mr. Alasdair Morgan was an eloquent and forceful advocate for the region and for Scotland as a whole during his term as Member of Parliament for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale between 1997 and the recent Dissolution. Although we may have disagreed about Scotland's place in the United Kingdom, Mr. Morgan was in all senses an honourable Member who set new standards in terms of being accessible to his constituents. I have spoken to many residents of the three counties encompassed by my constituency and have yet to speak to one who does not acknowledge the open and able way in which Mr. Morgan represented them. One of the most important aspects of party politics is to recognise quality on both sides of the House: Alasdair Morgan served us well.
Prior to Alasdair Morgan's arrival, between 1979 and 1997, the noble Lord Lang of Monkton was Member of Parliament for Galloway, and then for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. The Chamber has seen many exceptional talents in its long history, and Lord Lang was surely one of its most eloquent; he now brings his talents to bear on proceedings in another place. He served the House well throughout his time as Secretary of State for Scotland and as President of the Board of Trade and during his spells at the Department of Trade and Industry and the Scottish Office. During that time, by common consent, he never lost sight of his role as a constituency Member of Parliament and he was a forceful advocate for my region. They are big shoes to fill.
Galloway and Upper Nithsdale is a constituency that is rightly described as "Scotland in miniature"--although the fact that it covers more than 1,500 square miles means that "miniature" may well not be the most appropriate
The tourism and farming industries are the bedrock of the local economy, based around the small market towns of Castle Douglas and Newton Stewart. My constituency, by common consent, is host to some of the finest dairy herds in the UK and some of the most expansive upland hill sheep farms. Our pedigree farm stock includes the world-famous belted Galloway, to whose profile this particular new Member's has somewhat cruelly been compared.
Our tourism market has suffered greatly from the foot and mouth crisis that has gripped our region, like so many others, but we look forward to welcoming old friends and new to treasures such as the Scottish national book town at Wigtown, the fishing port at Kirkcudbright and the rugged scenery of upper and mid-Nithsdale, with its mining towns and small communities dependent on fishing, field sports and walking tourism.
As you will be aware Mr. Deputy Speaker, the climate in Scotland is not always the most clement. I am happy to reassure the House that the subtropical climate of the gardens of Galloway remains a huge draw for visitors, no doubt aware that the Mull of Galloway is further south than Hartlepool. The climate and the gulf stream have created a corner of Scotland where palm trees happily co-exist with the Scots pine.
The rural communities scattered across that half of Dumfries and Galloway are a delight to the visitor, but a challenge to maintain. I am sure that all hon. Members would support the view that Scotland's diversity is its attraction. Part of that diversity lies in its sparse population in rural areas. I am well aware of my obligation to play my part in sustaining those rural communities. Too often, families are separated far too early when offspring have to leave to find work or to further their education. We must find a way to keep those communities together by encouraging sustainable development and long-lasting rural and family communities that work.
This is an important time to represent Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. The challenge to create viable long-term communities has been made all the more critical by the arrival of foot and mouth disease earlier this year. Following its spread across the constituency, the sense of emptiness is in places palpable. Farmyards lie empty, fields lie overgrown and auction marts that were for so long the social centre of rural Britain lie sadly dormant.
Given that mine is a constituency in which farming and tourism are the major employers, the House will understand that foot and mouth has ripped the heart from Galloway. The worry, the despair and the torment have been unimaginable. We must all hope that the progress against the disease can be maintained, and that life can return to some degree of normality as soon as possible.
Mr. Speaker, you will be aware that my particular accent has not emanated much from the Conservative Benches in recent times. I am happy to be the advance party for others who will surely follow, and in the meantime I will make a habit of providing simultaneous translation for those who require it. It remains important that this House be a meeting place for all opinions the
I look forward to representing in this House a beautiful and unique part of the United Kingdom. I feel passionate, as hon. Members I hope will have understood, about the particular needs and views of my constituency. I look forward to playing my small part in moving the region forward.