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Mr. Love: I note my hon. Friend's agreement. The Bill will give local authorities better controls over street works and thus minimise disruption. We have certainly experienced difficulties in my north London constituency, and I am sure that every hon. Member will have experienced disruption, either as a driver or through complaints from constituents. For example, a busy street in my constituency, which is used morning and night as a commuter run, was dug up by one of the utilities. I do not doubt the purpose for which the street was dug up, but the utility discovered that it did not have the part necessary to resolve the problem. So did it close up the hole and come back later? No. It left the hole in the middle of the road, not just for a week or a month, but for six months. During that time the street could carry only one line of traffic, instead of two. Eventually, so many complaints were made that the local authority contacted the utility to find out what was happening. As a result of a full and frank discussion, the utility filled in the hole without completing the work. Two months later, it came back, dug up the road and did the necessary work over three weeks, which concluded the matter. It took advantage of the public, which cannot be allowed to continue. If the powers that the Government will give local authorities mean anything, we may win the next general election on that issue alone. The level of frustration felt by London drivers is so great that this measure will be shouted from the rooftops, certainly in my constituency.
I hope that the Bill will also recognise the need for the public to be given information about street works. The most common complaint from members of the public is that they do not know why a street has been dug up, and local authorities should play a role in informing the public, especially in cases of significant disruption. Utilities should justify delays to the public. The warning of public works is usually a little card on a lamppost. If one happens to be in that particular street at the right time, one might find out about the works. The Government need to think seriously about how to inform the public about public works. That might involve local newspapers or other avenues, but some information should be provided two or three weeks in advance if street works will cause significant disruption.
I know that the pensions Bill is outside the remit of today's discussion, but I have some important constituency points to make on the issue. A significant number of employees of a major company lived in my constituency, although the headquarters was not located there. Some years ago the company was subject to two failures of management that led to its liquidation and left its pensioners in some difficulty. The pension fund lent a subsidiary of the company a significant sum of money several months before it went into liquidation. The subsidiary also went into liquidation and the pension fund lost that sum. The pension fund also lent money to someone who swindled the company. The person was caught and received a prison sentence, but the pension fund lost a further significant amount. Those events occurred at around the same time as the
As a result of that experience, I commend two aspects of the pensions Bill to the House. The first is the pension protection fund, which is urgently needed and which would have addressed part of the problem faced by my constituents. The significant sums that were lost would have been replenished by the protection fund, which would have secured my constituents' pensions. I hope that the Bill will ensure that that happens in future.
Mr. McWalter: Does my hon. Friend agree that in addition to that welcome measure we need transitional arrangements to ensure that those who are being robbed of the money that they have put into pension schemesoften over 35 or 40 yearshave some entitlement to a proper pension?
Mr. Love: I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I have listened carefully to Ministers on the subject. Retrospective legislation would suck the Government into every pension fiasco that has occurred in recent years, so we must be circumspect. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and I have both made significant representations on that issue, including holding Adjournment debates, to no avail. I would like to see some support for my constituents, but I recognise the difficulties that the Government face.
The second problem that I hope that the pensions Bill will address is the ranking of those who should receive pensions. Currently, the fact that people who are still in employment have made significant, long-term contributions to their pension schemes is not recognised appropriately in the ranking that they are given in respect of the pension that they receive when the company and therefore the pension fund have closed. That must be changed. We need to recognise the significant contributions made by members of those schemes, and I hope that that will be done in the pensions Bill.
Lots of measures in the Queen's SpeechI have chosen four of themwill do excellent work in responding to the concerns and problems faced by my constituents and by those of other hon. Members, and I commend them to the House.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead) (Lab/Co-op): It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love), but I must apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House for the fact that I have not been present throughout the debate. First, I have a heavy cold and was not sure that I would be able to speak. Secondly, so many hon. Members seemed to be waiting to speak when I was present earlier that I thought it would be difficult to take part, so I attended a Select Committee sitting only to return to find that the large queue had dissolved. I am not sure how that happened, but I mean no discourtesy to the House for not having been present for the full two speeches prior to speaking.
The Queen's Speech would have been stronger if there had been an explicit underlying philosophy, and the Government would be stronger if they had an explicit philosophy underlying what they do. If they had such a philosophy, we might not be subject to the criticism made by an ex-Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), who said that the Government are like a Jackson Pollock paintingthere are many bright patches, but there is no overall theme.
There is and should be an overall theme, and that theme ought to arise by reflecting on and asking how we can address the deficiencies of the governmental process that we have inherited, and how we can try to make it better not just for our generation but for succeeding generations. The theme that I recommend to the Government is a general one of freedom for all, because in one piece of legislation after another we as a Government have sought to liberate people from the yoke that so many generations of people in this country have suffered, and we have tried to so in a way that combines the power that people working together have for liberation, for improving quality of life and for realising people's capacity for liberty.
I recommend that general theme, but I ask whether we are matching up to those obligations, because there are two very different versions of what a Government concerned with freedom might do. Some people regard freedom almost entirely as the materialist freedom to spend their money how they like. That materialist freedom is but a very small portion indeed of what a Government should be about. We as Members of Parliament have an obligation to look much wider than that in fashioning those social systems that can liberate, as well as ensuring that the Government do not encroach where they should not do so. We are the custodians of that responsibility.
Two hundred years ago, the population of the city of Bath was about 25,000 to 30,000. The number of people who represented Bath in the Chamber was one, but the number of people who voted for that person to be their representative here was 31. That person could ensure, by giving his electorate a decent dinner in Dining Room A, without filling it, that he had wined and dined all those who could secure his continued occupancy of one of these seats, and the job as a Member of Parliament was correspondingly hugely different from that which we have today.
The Chamber is sparsely attended, but each hon. Member represents, including children, 100,000 or more people. Sparsely attended it may be now, but we who are present represent more than 1 million citizens of our country. Whether we do that job well or whether we do it ill, the quality of representation available to people today is infinitely different from what it was 200 years ago. Our capacity to respond to our constituents, to
I am, among other things, a member of the Procedure Committee, which has recently published a report on how the House conducts some of its affairs. One of the things that we do in conducting our affairs is to leave a great deal of power in the hands of the Whips. The last time we considered the local government settlement, the Whips decided that there would be only three and a half hours' debate in the Chamber.
The result was that most of our constituents' and citizens' concerns that Members wished to portray to the House were suppressed. We had arrived already at the absurd situation of having only one person representing 100,000 peoplea hard enough job if one wishes to do it properlyand then only a mere handful of them expressed their concerns before we arrived at a conclusion of our debates about what the settlement for local government was to be. Those settlements bear hard on our constituents.
In a huge variety of ways, the quality of people's lives is very strongly influenced by what we can or cannot do with local government. That means, however, that we must have systems whereby our powers of representation in this place are devolved down through the system in a satisfactory way, so that citizens are empowered to change the circumstances governing their lives. In my area, we have recognised some of those factors. Those in the town of Hemel Hempstead look with a certain amount of envy at those in the villages around who have parish councils, because parish councils are the most basic level of representation for citizens, give people a direct involvement in their environment and quality of life and play an important role in the structure of our communities. If we go into the town, however, we find no such structure available.
The town of Hemel Hempstead has tried to establish what are called neighbourhood councils, whereby a particular area of the town might have something like the same level of involvement in the fashioning of its circumstances of life as those in the parishes. Those neighbourhood councils, however, do not function, because the borough council responsible for their funding decides that it cannot afford to be really responsive to their expressions of desire for change, and unlike the parish councils, they do not have the capacity to levy a small, modest precept to address some of the most serious concerns of their communities. Therefore, what is decided centrally means that people living in a neighbourhood do not have the freedom and the power to change their life circumstances for the better in ways that they believe that they could were they thus empowered.