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Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the newly elected hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Gill). I am pleased that in his very interesting contribution he referred to his predecessor, who was well liked in this Chamber and worked hard for ethnic and cultural diversity in Leicester.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) and the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer) said that the Queen's Speech is tantamount to an election address. If so, it certainly builds on what this Government have done for communities and for society in general, and I want to start from that position.
A number of things in the Queen's Speech cause me concern and I shall refer to them a little later, but I want to begin by concentrating on three aspects: education, crime and drugs. I shall say a little on the latter by discussing the impact of drugs in my constituency, while also pointing out the clear need for a sustainable eradication programme in Afghanistan.
The Queen's Speech refers to two Bills on education: one to streamline standards and the other to extend the education maintenance grant and assistance for 16 to 19-year-olds. Such assistance is particularly important in a constituency such as mine and in Barnsley overall.
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The objective of the Bill to streamline standards relates to a policy to allow more individuals to reach their full potential. One argument that I have always made on education is about the difference between individuality and individualism. I see individuality as being about enabling a person to reach their full potential. There was a setback in the form of an Act passed by Parliament during the past year, but I will not go into that; it is now history.
Chris Grayling: I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman does not want to be drawn on the history of the past 12 months, but does he accept that it appears that the measure announced in the Queen's Speech to improve educational support for 16 to 19-year-olds will involve a substantial increase in fees for those above the age of 19 doing level 3 and other qualifications? Does he welcome such a measure?
Mr. Clapham: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East pointed out, there has always been a fee structure in further education. Indeed, I did my O and A-levels as a student at night classes and I paid a fee for doing so. Previously, I worked for an employer who paid a fee for me to attend the local technical college for two years. There has always been a fee structure; the question is how we assimilate it in such a way that people can afford the fees. There is an absolute difference between that and the Act of last yearbut I do not want to get further involved with that. I want instead to refer to the notable developments that have taken place in education in my constituency and in Barnsley overall.
We have a number of new primary schools. Previously, the primary schools were run-down; we had not had a new one for more than 25 years. Now, we have two brand-new primary schools and a number of major refurbishments, which create an environment much more conducive to learning. At the same time, there have been a number of developments in the local secondary schools. On Friday, I had the privilege of attending Elmhirst secondary school to give out achievement certificates. It is the most improved school of last year; there has been a 31 per cent. increase in attainment. The headmaster could say with great commitment that this year the improvement will be even more marked. Watch this spacebut the investment that the Government have put into education has clearly done a terrific amount to help to renew Barnsley.
Education is at the heart of the renewal plans for Barnsley. Some people here may even have seen references in The Guardian to the Tuscan hill villagethe concept of Will Alsop, the international architect, who was asked to come to Barnsley and help with the planning. That planning has involved the entire community looking at what Barnsley will be like in 30 years. Education is at the centre of where we expect the town to be in 30 years. We expect that, in the next decade, students will leave schools in Barnsley with the same qualifications as children anywhere else in the country. People from Barnsley will work in Manchester, Sheffield, Bradford and other cities, but they will come back to Barnsley, which has beautiful countryside. It is
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not always appreciated that Barnsley is a rural town with exceptionally beautiful countryside that is ideal for walking. People working in the surrounding cities will, as I said, want to live in Barnsley and return there after work.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I look forward to the day when Chianti is served in working men's clubs in Barnsley. Does my hon. Friend agree that in former mining communities such as those in my constituency, parents have high aspirations for their children? Is it not important that investment in education is supplemented by the support offered in the Queen's Speech for 16 to 19-year-olds, conferring the financial independence to meet those aspirations?
Mr. Clapham: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. That support will be a great help. Although the maintenance grant attracted more people into further education, its extension will reach some of the people whom we were previously unable to reach. It will certainly be a big help.
We have had a crime reduction and disorder partnership in Barnsley since 1995, and I have had the privilege of chairing it since that time. Much of our work has been recognised and adopted by the Government. I know that the Conservative party is rather sceptical about the role of support officers, but Conservatives should reflect further on the value of providing a framework in which community support officers work with the police. Right across the borough we have created what we call LPTs or local police teams, which consist of police officers working with community support officers and estate tenants with the help of local authority professional officers. The team has a social worker, a housing officer and has access to a legal adviser. As soon as a problem arises in a particular location, it can be dealt with and resolved pretty speedily.
The LPTs have had a progressively effective impact. Comparing the last quarter with that of a year ago, Barnsley has seen a 51 per cent. reduction in crime. There has been about a 30 per cent. reduction in domestic burglary and a 20 per cent. reduction in car crime. The co-ordinated approach is clearly working well. If Conservative Members want to know how crime support officers actually work in the LPTs, I invite them to visit Barnsley to see how it is done.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): I am pleased that such measures seem to be working well in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but I have to tell him that in my constituency the burglary clear-up rate is deteriorating all the time. Does he accept that the picture that he paints of his own constituency is by no means mirrored across the country?
I would accept that it is not mirrored across the country, but statistics show that, across the country, there has indeed been a reduction in domestic burglary, as in car crime, right across the piece. Although it is not exactly the same from one constituency to another, there is certainly clear evidence of improvement. We now have between 138,000 to 140,000 police officers, the largest number ever to operate in the UK, and they are working with
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community support officers in the sort of framework that I have described. That shows how the improvement has been brought about and that positive results are achievable. If the same provisions in the hon. Gentleman's constituency are not working as well as they are in minewhen I talk about Barnsley, I am talking about three constituenciesit might be worth his looking further into what has happened. It provides a template that many other local authorities are actively considering. Positive developments in tackling crime are therefore evident and they are built on the back of what the Government have proposed for tackling antisocial behaviour.
Drugs are a big problem in Barnsley, as they are across the piece. In the late 1990s, we had an enormous problem with heroin. In 199798 the drug action team, which is part of the partnership, suggested that as many as 5,000 people regularly took heroin. Since then, we have provided a number of overlapping programmes, with some going into primary schools and some into secondary schools, and a recent report from the DAT suggests that great improvements have been made. There has been a fall in the number of people taking class A drugs and the number of young people starting to take such drugs, which shows that many of the national framework's programmes are indeed beginning to work.
This year's heroin crop in Afghanistan, estimated at 3,500 tonnes with a market value in excess of £30 billion, could undo much of the good work that has been done in our communities. We need to concentrate on what we, as the lead nation, can do in tackling opium eradication in Afghanistan. Although eradication is vital to that country's future as it is to the welfare of our communities in the UK, we need to be aware that sustainable eradication programmes take considerable time to work through. It is necessary to build viable communities and replace institutions.
Some have suggested that aerial spraying is the best way to eradicate the poppy crop and get on top of the opium problem in Afghanistan, but it would be a disaster and would undermine much of what has already been done. The provisional reconstruction teams have an opportunity to engage effectively with the community, but if we were to embark on an aerial spraying eradication programme it would undermine the good relationships that have been built up. Rather, we should put in place an income substitution programme and help to introduce new crops for farmers or to create industries in which the farmers could earn incomes other than from poppy growing. If we were to do otherwise, it undermine all that has been achieved in Afghanistan. I hope that Front Benchers are listening and taking notes, because it is crucial to get that message across to those who are proposing aerial spraying as the way forward.
The Gracious Speech's reference to corporate manslaughter is to be welcomed. The proposal is long overdue, and it shows the country that the Government are tough on the causes of death and injury at work. Any measures in that regard should be complemented by increased fines for health and safety breaches.
In conclusion, I want to say a little about my concerns. I am worried that we are in danger of eroding civil liberties under the banner of the fight against terrorism. I do not think that identity cards will help in
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that fight. Indeed, I suggest that false cards will be available on the market even before the real thing has been rolled out to every individual. That would undermine a project that would cost an enormous amount. I am therefore rather sceptical about identity cards.
We must move carefully and cautiously when it comes to dealing with terror. I am sceptical about judge-only trials. I agree with the Law Society that such trials represent an unacceptable erosion of citizens' rights. We must be very careful about how we take forward legislation to deal with terrorism.
In large part, the Gracious Speech builds on what has gone before. It offers a chance to build strong and progressive communities. We must weigh some of the proposals in respect of terrorism carefully if we are to retain our civil liberties. Freedom is precious, and we must not sacrifice it.
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