Mr. Clelland: I agree entirely. That is my point. We need a regional transport strategy and a regional transport authority to plan and implement it. The Tyne and Wear Metro system is badly in need of modernisation, upgrading and, some would say, extending. I look forward to the co-operation of Transport Ministers in the sensible and detailed proposals of the transport executive, Nexus, to maintain that popular system at the quality and level of service to which people have become used.
We need more adventurous thinking in the Department for Transport, and I hope that the Eddington review helps to provide that. Our manifesto said that we will consider options for a new generation of high-speed intercity trains. My recent question to the Secretary of State about the use of the linear motorthe Maglev systemto provide fast, efficient and environmentally friendly intercity trains met with the comment that only one small stretch had been tried in China, and it was still in the experimental stage. Why, when the linear motor was developed here more than 50 years ago, are we waiting for some other country to develop it before we are brave enough to put a toe in the water? We should be leading the way in innovative and climate-friendly transport systems, not following others.
The proposed provision of free local transport for the elderly is very welcome, but it is restricted to buses and local authority boundaries. Unless that can be extended and applied to systems like the Tyne and Wear Metro, which accounts for 20 per cent. of all public transport journeys in the area, the system will suffer a drop in revenue, the flexibility of travel modes will be restricted, and those who live in areas served mainly by metro will have to pay, while those where buses predominate will travel for free.
Transport is one of the major challenges facing the new Government, and I hope that we see new and radical proposals to drag it into the 21st century. That would cost money, of course, but a fraction of the money going into London transport and the proposed Crossrail system would provide much needed relief and a boost to the economy of the north-east.
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The north-south divide continues to dominate the harbingers of doom and despair in the northern press. Although things have certainly improved in the north-eastunemployment has tumbled, measures such as the minimum wage have hugely improved the lives of thousands of citizens, educational achievement has improved and new health services have been introducedthe disparity between the north and the south is not reducing as the current philosophy that all regions should advance equally maintains its breadth and its depth.
However, for most citizens the quality of life in the region remains high. Ours is a region of beauty and culture, with a proud history of contributing to the prosperity of this country. The efforts of people in the region to improve the lives and lifestyles of the population are showing real dividends. The Chancellor's target of full employment is welcome and achievable, but only if the region's economy is growing and sustainable. In that regard, Government assistance in bringing more research and development into the region, which has the lowest level of research and development, and the redistribution of the promised civil service functions out of London and the south, would be of much assistance. More respect for, and policies to assist, the manufacturing industry would be greatly welcomed in the north-east.
I also welcome proposals to bring about greater voter participation. Postal voting has proved popular. Although we need safeguards against abuse, the experience in Newcastle and Gateshead is that it has worked well, and more and more electors are requesting it. That was certainly the experience in the last general election.
In this historic third-term Labour Government, we have a great opportunity to bring about a fundamental and positive shift in the social and economic life of our citizens and the way in which our country is governed. I know that the basic principles of the Labour party will take us in that direction and that this Government will implement the policies to get us there. The Queen's Speech is the first step along the way.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): My first words in this new Parliament must be to thank the electors of Salisbury constituency for returning me and for lending me their trust in my sixth Parliament representing that wonderful constituency. It was an interesting election campaign for a number of reasons. The turnout, I am glad to say, was good. It was better than last time, at 68 per cent., but back in 1992 it was 80 per cent. So we still saw too few people voting, and we need to ask ourselves why.
I suspect that one of the reasons is the dysfunction between the style of election campaigning at national level and what actually goes on in our constituencies. I am sure we all experienced that in the past few weeks. We live in a traditional part of England, and my electors would not let me get away without attending a lot of public meetings. In fact, I spoke at 22 public meetings in the election campaign. Those who say that it cannot be worth it because no one turns out might be interested to
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know that in total more than 700 people came to those election meetings. Obviously, some were small gatherings and some were larger. What was interesting was that the people who attended those meetings, which were held in the eveningafter I had put in six hours on the battle bus each day going around the 106 villages outside Salisburyhad all watched the early evening news and wanted to talk about something completely different. Yes, they wanted to talk about our party's main points relating to police, school discipline, clean hospitals, controlled immigration, low tax and accountabilitythat was finebut they also wanted to discuss a great deal else that simply did not feature in the national campaign. They wanted to talk about climate change and the environment, waste and recycling, housing, sciencemy constituency has a large science baseeducation, the rural economy and farming. They even wanted to talk about religion and politics. They talked about Europe and the constitution and about Englishness, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) will be glad to hear. They wanted to talk about our cultural heritage, Stonehenge, transport issues, and Salisbury courthouses and why the Government appear to be reneging on promises in that respect.
What is the reason for that dysfunction? I suspect it is that the media pundits have a Westminster village agendathey sit in the Westminster village for a month and do not venture out into the real world. I wonder whether those who conduct the forensic textual analysis that continues day after day, night after nightthose excellent and highly professional gentlemen John Humphrys, David Dimbleby, Jeremy Paxman and Jim Naughtieare really in touch with the electors. Incidentally, they are all menwith one or two honourable exceptions, there was not a female voice to be heard among the commentators on the election. If they are not in touch, that might account for the low turnout.
One person whose passing I lamentthe next election will be the duller for itis the distinguished journalist Andrew Marr, who has lent an important dimension to reporting of politics in this country. He has come at us from all sides and he is no respecter of people or pomposityor, indeed, of party. He has given us a good run for our money and I wish him well for the future. He will be missed, but we look forward to seeing the nextno doubt even more distinguishedchapter of his life unfold.
I mind most something that is not specifically mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but throughout the Speech and the suggestions for legislation runs the theme of science, and it is science that I wish to discuss. The wreckage of
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science policy over the past decade or so is strewn across the political landscape of this country. Whether we are dealing with genetically modified crops, the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, nanotechnology, foot and mouth disease, the Energy Bill or global warming, the problem is that we in this country now have an anti-science culture. We have to tackle that problem, and as a member of the Science and Technology Committee in the last Parliament, I have no doubt that the right place to start is in educationin primary education, right at the bottom of the ladder.
It is extraordinary that, up to about the age of 10, young people are obsessed with dinosaurs and space. Their inquiring little minds look backwards, where they are enchanted by dinosaurs, and forwards into space, where they love sci-fi and all the games that are available. But after about the age of 10, they switch off. Science is too hard and too dull, the curriculum turns them right off and, in any case, all the other subjects are much easier. That is a real national problem. We have to grasp the nettle of science if we are to maintain our position as the fourth largest economy in the world and our nation's prosperity in the face of competition from China, India and the Pacific economies.