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My Lords and Members of the House of Commons

I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.

26 Nov 2003 : Column 8

Debate on the Address

[First Day]

Mr. Speaker: It may be helpful if I announce to the House that the proposed pattern of debate for the remaining days of the debate on the Queen's Speech will be as follows: Thursday 27 November—international affairs; Monday 1 December—local government, environment and transport; Tuesday 2 December—home and constitutional affairs; Wednesday 3 December—public services, health and education; Thursday 4 December—economic affairs.

I now call on Mr. John McFall to move the Address, and Mr. Parmjit Dhanda to second it.

2.38 pm

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) (Lab/Co-op): I beg to move,

I am most grateful to be moving the Address, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), and particularly proud since I am the first Member from my constituency ever to do so.

I have been a Member of Parliament for 16 years, but I can honestly say that when I emerge from Westminster underground on a Monday, I still experience the same sense of elation at the sight of Big Ben and the magnificent edifice of the Palace of Westminster as I did on my very first, nervous day as a Member of Parliament in 1987. Like every other Member in this august place, I have had my ups and downs and highs and lows, but I have never lost sight of just what a privilege it is to serve the people of the area where I was born and grew up, nor my sense of reverence for this place, which, down the centuries, has seen so many dramas enacted and crucial decisions taken that have helped to shape our nation.

One of the highs of my parliamentary career was the time I spent as a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office. No one who has served in that capacity has left Northern Ireland without the fondest memories of the place and the people.

After my departure following the establishment of the Northern Ireland Assembly, I was delighted to be invited back, as a Back Bencher, to address a conference in the Waterfront hall in Belfast. I was booked into the Hilton hotel. When I arrived a great fuss was made of me, just as it was at all times when I was a Minister there. I was surprised and delighted to find that I had been assigned a suite on the executive floor, but when I had been in my room for only five minutes there was a knock at the door. It was the bellboy, who asked "Is your name McFall?". I replied "Yes". There was a moment's hesitation before he said, "There is a bowl of strawberries and a bottle of water on the table." "Yes," I said. He said, "Can I have them back? I thought you were a VIP." They were meant for someone else along the corridor.

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All ex-Ministers will recognise that instant when the trappings of office, however modest, slip away.

The Government are to be commended on their consistency, energy and commitment to making the peace process in Northern Ireland work. Past Governments of all complexions have failed to make progress because, all too often, there has been a presumption of failure. When difficulties have occurred, there has been a Micawber-like readiness to leave things for a while in the hope that "something will turn up".

We all know how far there is to go until we can be confident that a real and lasting peace has been achieved in Northern Ireland, but make no mistake: we have already travelled much further in that direction than many people thought possible a few short years ago. That is in no small measure due to the huge personal efforts of the Prime Minister, who, no matter what other pressing matters he has attended to—and there have been many—has never failed to give Northern Ireland the attention it deserves. Today, when elections to the Assembly are taking place, I am sure that the best wishes of all Members are with the people of Northern Ireland.

Like the Palace of Westminster, the Dumbarton constituency is redolent of history. It includes the town of Dumbarton, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Strathclyde—a kingdom of the Britons until the 11th century. It stretched almost all the way to Merseyside. I was greatly disappointed, when the devolution settlement was reached, that we did not take the opportunity to reclaim the territory we had lost. I think that Blackpool could have rivalled Edinburgh as capital of a devolved Scotland—and building a parliament there might have been a little cheaper.

Dumbarton castle sits astride a 500-ft volcanic plug, and has dominated the Clyde coast skyline since before the beginning of recorded time. Scotland's Braveheart, Mel—sorry, William Wallace—took control of the castle at the end of the 13th century. In fact he was later held there as a prisoner, before being transferred to this very Palace of Westminster to stand trial in Westminster Hall.

The first king of a newly independent Scotland, Robert the Bruce, had many associations with the town, and retired there. He began the 700-year tradition of shipbuilding in my constituency, which sadly ended with the demise of the world-famous Denny's shipyard in 1963. Bruce's heart was buried in the grounds of a church whose ruins can be seen in the local Levengrove park. As a child, Mary Queen of Scots resided at the castle as she waited to sail to the safety of our old friend and ally—France.

The history books record that in 1494 a certain Baldred Blackadder was appointed keeper of Dumbarton castle. It is open to question whether a cunning plan was executed to install him in that position. In more modern times, shipbuilding has shaped and energised the town of Dumbarton. It was there in Denny's shipyard that the fastest clipper ship of all time, the Cutty Sark, was launched in 1869. It is now a significant tourist attraction not in Dumbarton, but in Greenwich. Mr. Speaker, we would like it back. I implore you, as protector of Back Benchers' interests, to help in this matter.

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The first helicopter capable of flight was also constructed in Dumbarton in 1909 and one of the greatest champions in motor racing history, Jackie Stewart, is a Dumbartonian and a friend. In the Vale of Leven area in my constituency, there is a small village named Renton, which has a proud history. In 1888, the greatest event in Renton's history occurred when the local football team won the first ever World cup, beating the then mighty West Bromwich Albion 4–1 in the final. I am told that that was an even more convincing victory than the only other time a British team won this particular competition, which I believe was around 1966.

Recently, however, a third world cup has come Britain's way, and I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating the English rugby team on their— [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Take it easy. The English rugby team won a magnificent victory in Australia, and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), the Leader of the Opposition, has also added his congratulations, singling out Clive Woodward as standing out above all, as he was written off completely just four years ago. We can understand why that particular comparison comes to his mind.

Tobias Smollett, the man generally acknowledged as the author of the first English novel, was a Renton man. A few years ago, I visited a primary school in Renton and a teacher asked the children if they knew who I was. "Yes," one child retorted, "he's John McFall, the Prime Minister of Renton." So my right hon. Friend, the real Prime Minister, should be aware that when he visits my area again it is I who will be primus inter pares.

A few miles from Renton lies the gateway to Scotland's first national park. For 16 years, I have had the privilege of working with the community to ensure that there is national park status for Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. The history associated with Loch Lomond is impressive, from the Viking invaders to the colourful Rob Roy, who lived on the lochside. Its beauty is famed world wide and it is developing its full potential as a tourist attraction, enhanced by the new £60 million Loch Lomond Shores development, which has already attracted 1 million visitors in its first year and is already in the top 10 tourist attractions in Scotland.

Further west lies the elegant seaside town of Helensburgh, renowned for its architecture. Famous names associated with Helensburgh include Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the world renowned architect; Henry Bell, pioneer of steam-powered navigation; and John Logie Baird, inventor of television. Indeed, Andrew Bonar Law, Conservative Prime Minister in 1922, lived in Helensburgh for 30 years. Following a funeral service for Bonar Law in Westminster abbey, Asquith bitingly remarked:

I welcome the 30 Bills—seven in draft—in this heavy legislative programme, and I am delighted to see in the Queen's Speech a Bill dealing with employment relations. The Bill rightly highlights the importance of management-worker relations in the workplace. This Government have always recognised the fact that employment is the key to both economic prosperity and

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a fulfilled life. It is to their credit that more than 1.5 million extra jobs have been created since 1997.

Only a few weeks ago, I was privileged to present a certificate of achievement to a young constituent, Paul Devine, to celebrate his success in obtaining full-time permanent employment through the assistance of the action team for jobs programme set up by the Department for Work and Pensions. Paul was the one thousandth action team client to be helped into employment in my area.

Paul had sadly become addicted to heroin when he was at school. Now, 15 years later, he is free of drug use and has launched a successful career in social work. He recently won the Daily Record/Sunday Mail Young Scot award for an outstanding contribution to his community. The credit for that transformation must go to Paul for his determination and effort to succeed. However, without Government initiatives, such as the employment action team, the prospect of such success stories would be slighter. Happily, in the past few years the scourge of youth unemployment has been almost eradicated in my constituency, thanks to the new deal for young people.

We all lose our way at some time or other, and we need a helping hand to guide us, to get back us on track and heading in the right direction. The late Cardinal Winning, of the archdiocese of Glasgow, could testify to that. A few years ago, he came to Dumbarton for a civic reception for a retired primary head teacher, Sister Julie Marie. He was informed that the event would take place in the Burgh hall in Church street. Unfortunately, he entered the building on the opposite side of Church street and found himself in the entrance of the Masonic lodge. There was consternation when the person to whom he introduced himself informed the brothers, as they were about to undertake their Friday evening rituals, that there was a cardinal in reception looking for a nun. However, their composure was quickly regained, and his eminence was soon redirected and sent on his way with the best wishes of the brothers ringing in his ears. There was even an offer for the cardinal to call in at any time for a pint. There is no recorded sighting of such an event.

As a former teacher, I am deeply interested in the Bill on education. One of my areas of specialisation was pastoral care and guidance for pupils. The main focus was on encouraging all young people to use their talents and to maximise their educational opportunities. Nothing is so gratifying to teachers as to know that those whom they have taught have gone on to better things. Sadly, that is not always the case.

In the mid-1990s, as Opposition spokesman for home affairs, I was invited to Barlinnie prison in Glasgow to open "Prisoners Week". There was a full turnout, not least because the prisoners had heard that sandwiches and delicious home baking would be available. A very large inmate said to me, "You'll have had your food, wee man?". On learning that he was inside for grievous bodily harm, I readily concurred.

On the way out, I witnessed a young man coming out of the back of a prison van, handcuffed to two policemen. The look of recognition on his face was followed by the shout, "John!". Surprised and pleased at

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what I took as a sign of my growing fame as a politician, I asked him, "How are you doing?". He cast a glance at his handcuffs, then back at me and said with incredulity, "How am I doing? How do you think I'm ******* doing?". Hon. Members can guess what the omitted word was. As he was led away, he looked up at his guards, and gesturing to me with an obvious sense of pride said to them: "He used to be my guidance teacher". We all fail, and we all have to pick ourselves up and start all over again.

The child trust fund Bill is a welcome measure. It is an entirely laudable attempt to ensure that all young people are given a boost as they stand on the verge of adult life. The Chancellor is to be commended for this measure. I am sure that nowhere in his reasoning is the thought that a certain John Macauley Brown will benefit from the trust fund. I am also sure that, like a good parent, he will add what he can to the fund as the years go by. I should like to be there when young John reaches maturity to hear what advice his father gives him. I hope that he does not begin with a brief explanation of endogenous growth theory; or curb the young man's natural exuberance with warnings about adding to the fund by borrowing only if it is to invest; or, goodness forbid, set five tests before a decision can be reached to spend any of it at all.

There is so much to do and so far to go, but a lot has been achieved in the last few years in expanding opportunities and extending social justice. None of that would have been possible without the sound economic basis achieved by this Government, and the Chancellor deserves enormous credit for his part in that. As a Government Back-Bencher, it is my responsibility to do all that I can to ensure that the Government do not lose sight of the goals nor slacken their efforts to transform our society. The programme outlined today shows that they are as focused and as determined as ever to achieve their objectives, and I therefore warmly recommend this Queen's Speech to the House.

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