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The Gracious Speech is without a theme. Labour Members know that the Government have lost their way. They return to hear about another Bill on asylum and immigration. It is tiresome when the same subjects appear time and again. It was evident in the faces of Labour Back Benchers who listened to the Prime Minister that they believe that the Government have lost their way. What about the office for fair access? Surely we all believe in university places on merit. That measure will not even placate class warriors. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) called for a return to Labour values.
The Gracious Speech disappointed Labour Members. We shall oppose it, as the new Leader of the Opposition said in an excellent speech. It presents a dog's dinner of a legislative programme. The Government know it, as do the people of Britain.
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): I disagree with the claim of the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) that the contents of the Queen's Speech will not make a difference to people's lives. I shall try to show why I believe that in some of my later comments.
First, poverty remains deep, acute and chronic in the Yorkshire coalfield area that I represent. It is profoundsevere poverty exists thereand it is chronic because it affects tens of thousands of households in contiguous wards. For example, four adjacent wards are in the bottom decile of wards throughout the countrythey are therefore among the worst 10 per cent. One would expect the mining legacy to prove especially difficult for health, and we have serious problems. Health indices reveal three wards that are in the worst 5 per cent. for problems. We do not only have old men dying from lung disease; shockingly, cancer rates among young women are high in my constituency. Most depressing, suicide rates among males aged 18 to 25 are high. We live in troubling times.
Secondly, there are signs that the Government and their programmes have made a difference. Some areas are imprinted on my mind from my first visit to the constituency in my by-election campaign in 1996. The effects of changes are beginning to be clearly felt. However, the beneficiaries of the Government's programmes frequently do not recognise that a Labour Government introduced the changes. The welfare benefits programme, the tax reforms, the tax on benefit changes and introducing people, whom the Tories had thrown on the scrap heap, back to work are frequently not recognised as Labour initiatives.The combination of the two pointsthe continuing decline of some coalfield areas and many working class people not recognising reforms as those of a Labour Governmentreinforces detachment. I am deeply troubled, in a supposedly safe Labour seat, by the extent of disaffection with the political process and institutions.
The Queen's Speech reflects the Labour Government's strengths and weaknesses, but if we are not careful we will reproduce the conditions that I have described. The Queen's Speech clearly contains measures that are intended to help people in my constituency. For example, the trusts for newborn children will make a huge difference. I stress that to Conservative Members, who appear to have several sources of income. The sum of £250£500 for the poorestfor each newborn child will make a difference when that child enters adulthood.
The housing Bill will also make a difference. The housing market in former pit villages in my constituency has collapsed, and people in rented housing are migrating. The villages are imploding. They are dying before our eyes, and we are being left with ghost villages. Part of the problem is private landlordism. Responsible landlords are doing a fantastic job in my area, but too many are not responsible and tolerate antisocial
Decent people can leave the villages because they are in rented accommodation. It is then impossible to move anyone else into the properties involved, and a rapid process of collapse ensues. The pattern will be familiar to hon. Members representing areas in the M62 corridor generally, not just mining areas. It can be observed in Burnley and in other parts of Lancashire. Provided that the details are right, the housing Bill will make a real difference by allowing local authorities to license landlords, with the not-so-hidden threat of revoking the licence if they do not deal with nuisances committed by tenants. I look forward to working on the Bill.
The proposed employment legislation will also help. We have already seen the difference made by allowing people with difficult employers to face them in the company of a trade union or other representative. The legislation will be particularly helpful in areas where employers use agency and temporary labour as devices. Indeed, the Government's legislation has already made a difference. A senior trade unionist in Yorkshire told me only yesterday that many employers had adopted a much more civilised partnership approach.
The problems experienced by my constituents, many of which I think the Government's proposals will address, lie not with existing legislation but with the way in which the Government articulate their case. Their role is being reduced to that of technocratic managers. They are managing the system well, and introducing legislation that we wantlegislation that produces equity, equality and social justice. However, they do not always argue their case, and they do not always connect with those whom we aim to represent and whose lives we want to improve.
We must abandon the managerial vocabulary and adopt the vocabulary of values, equality and even redistributionnot for reasons of jealousy, as suggested by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), but for the sake of equity and a fairer, more decent society. I think that the Government have been afraid to tackle what they perceive as a conservativewith a small "c"political culture. We have introduced legislation in an attempt to solve problems left by the Tories, but we have done so in a technocratic rather than a value-driven way. That has been a mistake. It has resulted in the kind of behaviour that I described earlier: people who are benefiting from the Government's initiatives are not connecting that with the election of a Labour Administration, which I find deeply troubling.
Other parts of the Queen's Speech trouble me even more, because I think we have simply got it wrong, or are in danger of getting it wrong. Higher education is one example. Education is probably the only key to social mobility and to a breaking down of the ossified class structures that still exist.
Like many others who have spoken today, I can say that mine was the first generation to go to university, in my family and in my community. Going to university provided me with a fabulous opportunity. Many of my friends, neighbours and members of my family could not do the samenot because, in those days, they would incur debts, but because they had to go to work in order
The Government have a strong argument for enhancing entry to higher education. As I said earlier, we have allowed ourselves to fall into the trap of engaging in a managerial or technocratic debate on a funding crisis without first engaging the nation in a debate about why higher education constitutes a tool for social change and a modernised Britain. Had we tackled the latter debate first, we could have created the conditions for a sensible, mature discussion about finance.
The proposed planning Bill interests me. As I have said, my area is in desperate need of further regeneration. All too frequently, planning applications decided on by local authorities are called in by the Secretary of State, often for mysterious reasons. In fact, that is nearly always done by civil servants, with no political control. I hope that the Bill will return control to local level. In my constituency, for instance, a retail development is proposed. I know of no institution in the area that opposed the application, which, after some debate, was approved by the planning authority. The proposal is a purely local matter, relating to a town centre rather than an out-of-town area. There is high unemployment in the town, which is in danger of dying altogether. It is impossible to discover why the application was called in. If the planning Bill will enable us to regain control of what happens in our communities, it is a good thing.
I spoke earlier of the bridge between institutions and Government on one side and the people on the other. I believe that at the core of any political reform should be a closing of the gap between us and the electorate. House of Lords reform is desirable in that it will abolish the hereditary principle once and for all, and also bring about much-needed change in the role of the Lord Chancellor; but we shall be left with a House that will depend on patronage and appointments. We shall have a complex bicameral system, involving both an elected Chamber and a non-elected, appointed one. That is not an easy principle to argue with the population. I think that we will lose them, which will not at all help to make government more simple, and the House of Lords will believe itself to have a legitimacy that it did not have when it had an hereditary principle within it. In fact, the process of government will be made more complicated. At the same time, the proposals will not appeal to the electorate, who will not understand how we have produced such a complex, unresponsive and unaccountable second Chamber. I am troubled about that, although I am broadly happy to go along in the direction in which we are proceeding. I only hope that, if this is the second phase, very soon there will be a third, which creates a more legitimate upper House.
My final point is on asylum. Like many Members, my early ancestors were victims of anti-Jewish pogroms in imperial Russia. They set off on the long trek to America. Some got as far as Leeds, some got to Manchester and some reached Liverpool. The others finally got to the United States. My family remained in Leeds because there was an elderly relative there to be cared for. The city of Leeds, which is my native city, has had wave after wave after wave of immigrants and asylum seekers. They are part of my composition, and I believe that I represent this mongrel nation in my ethnic make-up.
I yield to nobody in taking a tough line on bogus asylum seekers, but my stomach turned when I heard the spin that was on the radio the other morningwe are going to separate families and take children into care. That is not something I could warrant. I hope that that was spin by some over-enthusiastic youngster who will be reprimanded in No. 10 or elsewhere. If such a proposal comes before the House, I would have the greatest difficulty in supporting it.
With those reflections, I believe that the Queen's Speech achieves a great deal for my constituency, although the Government need to articulate their case in a different way. They need to move away from managerialism and to look again at one or two of their proposals, which are either inhumane or will reproduce the iniquities that already exist in British society.