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13 Nov 2002 : Column 36—continued

Mr. Kennedy: My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) will have more time at his disposal than I have this afternoon to deal with that. However, having listened to the hon. Gentleman's contributions on the issue over the years, I believe that he shares our view that there must be a fundamental shift in political management and aspirations for health care. We must move from crisis intervention to prevention and promotion. That is a difficult political hurdle to overcome, because the easier debate is the one about statistics. We again had a sense of XGroundhog Day" in the Queen's Speech. The Government preferred another reform Bill to targeting something in a more sustained way.

On the changes to broadcasting and communications policy—incidentally, it was interesting to hear how the Conservative Front Bench phrased the issue—it is

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important to get the new regulatory framework in place before fast and loose decisions are possibly taken about television ownership, monopoly provision and who has the right of control. However, the Queen's Speech included at last a piece of environmental legislation, which has not been mentioned by Conservative or Labour Members so far. We welcome measures on extraction policy, the prevention of abuse and licences on water management. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) is right that there is a significant omission regarding company pension policy. In addition, we expected a Bill from the Department of Trade and Industry on corporate responsibility and company reform, not least as the banking sector can easily be accused of manipulating the clearing system. There were high hopes that that would be something that the Government wanted to deal with, but unfortunately they have not done so. There is still too much centralisation in many of our public services, although we obviously we welcome one significant piece of decentralisation—the Bill to facilitate more regionalism, with elected authorities across England.

Finally, on the crime measures, in a joint statement earlier today after the Queen's Speech, the Bar Council, Liberty, Legal Action Group and the Criminal Bar Association described many of the measures as Xmisguided" and said that they could send more people to jail. They went on to make the central point that we will hear again and again in this House and in the House of Lords:


That is the fundamental issue of philosophical principle and policy distinction between ourselves and the Government on these matters. Making previous convictions available to a court is a trial of a person's past. What impact will double jeopardy have on juries, when they know that the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Court of Appeal have already sent a case back? That is bound to influence the way in which juries look at the issue. If the measure is allowed to be retrospective, it will be a potential Pandora's box, with profound consequences for the future administration of justice in this country.

We welcome the move to bring together magistrates and Crown courts, but we need more lay magistrates and more local courts. Over recent years there has been too much regression in that respect, which many of us have experienced at constituency and regional level.

Many of the antisocial behaviour measures strike one as gimmickry. Some have been tried out, but we have never seen the results of the pilot schemes published or heard what assessment was made. Some have never been tried out—they were not worth trying out, because they did not equate with common sense and were not worth pursuing. As regards young people and the kinds of issues that the Government are addressing—again, we all know this from our constituency experience—what is needed is not another full range of Bills in a Queen's Speech, but measures to redress the consequences of the closure and withdrawal of youth facilities at community level up and down the land. That is what will ameliorate the situation, rather than punitive measures which amount to applying a poop-scoop to a problem that is already out of control.

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On domestic, European and wider foreign policy, there is a need for effective opposition in the coming Session. Parliamentary democracy requires it and the country needs it. The Liberal Democrats are determined and best situated to provided it.

4.32 pm

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): I have been listening to the debate between those on the two Front Benches and the leader of the Liberal Democrats about the current situation in the firefighting industry and the likelihood of a strike beginning in a couple of hours. Many of us come into the House with some history and memories that stay with us throughout our lives, although we move on.

Thirty years ago, I was a coalminer working in the coal industry in south Yorkshire. Probably one of the most political events that I experienced was the strike in 1972, when we found ourselves working in an industry that was pretty bad in terms of the environment and that was about 19th in the industrial wages league. We went on strike for four or five weeks and returned victors. Our position in the industrial wages league moved up to about third place. Within two years, we were back on strike again, because every public sector union that settled with the then Government in 1972 settled for percentages as high as we had achieved, so back down the industrial wages league we went.

When we went on strike again in 1974, we became a special case. The trade union unit at Ruskin college—the college that I was to attend as a student a few years later—held an investigation into coalminers' wages at the time and settled the dispute. In retrospect, one of the benefits was that it cost the Conservative Government their time in office—the Labour party won the general election. More importantly, it was going on strike and being a special case that put the miners back up the industrial wages league, and no one followed in the way that they had between 1972 and 1974. The great pity of what has happened in Britain in the past few months is that the Fire Brigades Union did not take up the offer of a review to put forward its case about its terms and conditions and the reasons why believes it is a special case, if indeed it is. Given that its wage rates have remained unchanged for the past 25 years and how society has moved on, that might have been a better path. I had not intended to talk on that subject today, but I thought that I should say those few words.

I want to touch briefly on the subject of civic society and rights and responsibilities, with which the Prime Minister dealt today. We all have a right to employment, to have ambitions for our families, to security in old age, to good schools, to a good national health service, to good housing and to strong communities free of crime. Indeed, today the media have led on the measures in the Queen's Speech to combat crime and antisocial behaviour. Those are the rights that the Government rightly argue we should have. Our responsibility is to help to achieve those rights through what we do, what we earn through employment, what we contribute to our families and what our families contribute, what we contribute to our communities and to our country, and through our attitude to life in general, our behaviour and our values. Those are the responsibilities of everyone in society.

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However, in many respects society is not equal. It is easy for us to say that those are the rights and responsibilities that we should have. Some of us can have those rights and responsibilities because we can afford them, but many others in society cannot. We should always remember that when we talk about rights and responsibilities in society.

In my constituency I have seen those rights grow during the past five and a half years of a Labour Government. Unemployment has been drastically reduced and poverty has been attacked not just by people having better benefits and more targeted benefits, but by measures such as the national minimum wage. They have given my constituents great rights—if that is the correct word to use—and there is no doubt that life for the vast majority of people has improved. However, it does not follow that there has been less antisocial behaviour and crime. No matter what the statistics say, people do not believe that there has been an improvement in that regard. We still have a long way to go. Nevertheless, the management of the economy has greatly assisted individuals.

I do not know whether any hon. Members here today were present at Prime Minister's questions last Wednesday, when the length of time that people have to wait to get on to detoxification or drug programmes, as they are now called, was debated, but about two and a half months ago I was telephoned by a single parent in my constituency who was in despair about her son, aged between 20 and 21 years of age, and she subsequently came to see me at my surgery where I had a long chat with her. Her son has been homeless for many years in Rotherham. He used to live with his mother but he stole to feed his drug habit and she effectively turfed him out because she could not have him living there any more. She is a single parent who works a 12-hour night shift in a food processing factory. Her son decided to seek treatment for his drug problem and he was told that he would have to wait between six and eight weeks before he could be put on a detox programme, a fact which I later confirmed.

I spoke to my constituent again this morning—[Interruption.] It appears that the electricity supply has gone, or at least some of it, but I will not worry; people have never been known to be unable to hear me when I am speaking. Two and a half months ago, her son was awaiting a court appearance, and she said at the time that she could not do anything to bring him back into her home because the old habit of crime and everything else would start up again. [Interruption.] It appears that we are now back on course.

The son has recently been back in prison for a few weeks, at Her Majesty's pleasure. I did not know that he was waiting to go back to the magistrates court, and in due course he was back in one of the local prisons. He came back out on Friday with a recommendation that he should participate in a drug programme. I spoke to his mother today, however, and he is still homeless in Rotherham as the programme was not ready for him.

On drug-related crime in my constituency, it is estimated that in South Yorkshire, and particularly in Rotherham, somebody who has a heroine or similar habit that needs to be fed has to steal about #75,000-

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worth of goods a year to feed a habit of #15,000—the approximate cost of a year's supply of street heroine in South Yorkshire. Yet people have to wait weeks and months for a chance to join a drugs programme. The young man to whom I referred came out of prison last Friday to find that he is homeless in Rotherham again as of today. He stayed with his mum for the first two days after his release, but he is now back with his friends in Rotherham. I have no doubt that old habits will soon be picked up again. If we do not start to attack those issues, we will never get rid of crime.

All of us are conditioned by the circumstances into which we are born. For many years, it was denied in the House that poverty led to crime or anything else. I remember well the debates that took place year after year, when my constituency had unemployment of 25 or 26 per cent., but people still said that that did not lead to crime and other problems. It clearly did so. Nobody would argue that there has been no clear evidence of that in the past five years. What breeds crime is the communities in which it occurs and their run-down state. It is all right talking about airguns and ensuring that people take individual responsibility; I agree, but five years on my constituency still has some of the most atrocious housing estates in the UK.

The Government have done a lot, and I am not for one minute attacking them. The local authority—the main body that can take control of such situations—is a bit handicapped in terms of resources. My constituency has a legacy of public sector housing that is not local authority housing. Most of it was established by the National Coal Board, and the homes were sold to individual tenants when they were working. Many of those tenants—not hundreds, but thousands—have now retired and cannot afford to do anything about the condition of the housing stock.


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