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Mr. Bailey: The hon. Gentleman tempts me down a rather long and winding path, which I will not follow. Although a debate and discussion on sunset clauses may be needed, I am not sure that that is relevant to the point that I am making.
I wish to talk about another aspect of the Queen's Speech. It was mentioned in the background note: the so-called compensation culture. I welcome the comments on the need to address that matter. Although I am as committed as anyone to supporting good health and safety legislation, there are concerns in industry about the increasing use of frivolous and potentially expensive claims against companies and local and public authorities.
Two years ago, industry was hit by soaring employers' liability costs. There were a number of reasons for that. I would not put it down simply to the increase in the number of claims against them, but that was a contributory factor. That has been mitigated in part by companies improving their medical rehabilitation policies to pre-empt some of those claims. That has certainly taken pressure off industry. However, it remains a potential cost and driver of employers' liability insurance. More significantly perhaps, in my constituency it is an obstacle to getting industry and education together.
I am told by schools that teachers may have to fill in up to 40 forms to take children on a trip to a particular event. It makes me wonder whether we have the balance right. Foundries will not invite children to visit because of health and safety costs and the need to conform to regulations. It is essential that we fill young people with enthusiasm for science and industry. If regulations act as barriers preventing children from seeing industry and getting enthusiastic about it, we seriously need to do something about it. Will the relevant Ministries consider this issue? There is little point in investing large sums in scientific training if we do not also facilitate a connection between students and practitioners, so that those undergoing training want to practise what they have learned.
I have spoken for longer than I intended, but I feel passionately about some of these issues. In conclusion, first, the Government's macro-economic policy has been hugely beneficial to constituencies such as mine that were traditionally based on industry but suffered in the past. Unemployment has dropped and people are more prosperous. We are less dependent on manufacturing industry, which is to be welcomed. Secondly, the picture is not one of universal doom and gloom. We are still world leaders in any number of areas and we are surviving some of the most difficult international economic circumstances. Thirdly, I trust that the Government and the respective Ministries will ensure that regulation is designed to balance the need to promote industry with the need to promote health, welfare, healthy living and a good work-life balance. Ultimately, our prosperity and creativity are dependent on manufacturing industry. I look forward to the
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Government promoting a regulatory regime that promotes that and helps constituencies like mine, which need it perhaps more than any.
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my first speech to the House. I hope that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) will forgive me for not following him, although as the son of a Black Country foundry worker and as someone with an interest in compensation law, I am sorely tempted. Perhaps I shall do so on a different occasion.
First, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Anne Campbell. She served as Member for Cambridge for 13 years, in which time she made her mark as an excellent constituency MP. She helped a great many people who are grateful for her work. She also did a lot of work in this House to promote the discussion of science, for which she is to be praised. I also pay tribute to her predecessor, the late Sir Robert Rhodes James, a man of liberal temperament, deep erudition and great kindness.
Cambridge has had a turbulent political history. In the 19th century the seat changed hands many times between the Liberal and Conservative parties, frequently following the unseating of Members for corruption and briberyI have to say, mostly Conservative Members. There have been a great number of very close elections, none closer than the second election of 1640the election to what turned out to be the Long Parliamentwhen an opposition candidate was allegedly elected by a single vote. The name of the candidate elected was of course Oliver Cromwell, who sat for Cambridge in both the Short and the Long Parliaments.
Cambridge is then an ancient parliamentary borough, long represented in this House. The borough, now the city, of Cambridge is indeed older than the university of Cambridge. The city celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2001; the university will not celebrate its 800th anniversary until 2009. Nevertheless, the university of Cambridge is a major feature of the city. Despite its recurrent financial problems, it is still one of the world's leading universitiesa fact perhaps better appreciated in other parts of the world than in this country. In this country, universities tend to be judged sometimes by stereotypical and outdated ideas about what kind of students attend them. In the rest of the world, a university's reputation rests on the quality of its research. On that basis, Cambridge university is still a force to be reckoned with.
However, Cambridge university is not the only university in Cambridge. Anglia Polytechnic university provides excellent higher education to a diverse group of studentsstudents who will perhaps be even more adversely affected by increased tuition fees than those at the older university.
In sheer economic terms, however, higher education is no longer the most important activity in Cambridge. That title belongs to high-tech industry, which now employs tens of thousands of people in the city and nearby. The growth of high-tech industry in the past 30 years has transformed Cambridge. It is no longer a
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small market town with a university attached; it is an international centre of innovation in every sector of the new economy. It is a city of great diversity and energy.
However, there are also parts of Cambridge where tourists and business people rarely go that have not necessarily shared in the prosperity of the rest of the cityplaces with problems especially of housing and transport that are in some degree the result of economic success.
Cambridge is a city of high property values but ordinary salaries; a city of high bicycle usage, but one that is still plagued by traffic congestion. Housing is a pressing problem for many people. Many Cambridge families could not possibly afford to buy the property that they occupy. Many fear that their children will never be able to live in their own home in Cambridge. The pressure on social housing is immense. There is a crying need for more affordable housing. Subsidising buyers merely puts prices up even more. It is more housing that we need. I fear that in this I may differ to some extent with the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), although I should say that I agreed with every word that he said about identity cards.
Some hon. Members have said earlier in the debate, notably on Tuesday, but the Secretary of State said it in his opening remarks today, that the green belt should be preserved at all costs. I fear that there is some confusion here between "green belt" and "greenfield sites". I agree that greenfield sites should be the last development option, but green belt land is not necessarily greenfield land. The Cambridge green belt, as the Minister for Competitiveness, who is in his place, will doubtless remember, long included Cambridge airport. Far from an unused site, the airport borders the existing built-up area and many in local government believe that it would be an excellent site for a new urban extension to Cambridge, incorporating housing, open space, public transport and civic amenities.
Green belts are not always very green. The best environmental option is not always to prevent building on what is technically green belt land. Compact urban development can be more environmentally sustainable than spread-out rural and suburban development. Each case must be judged on its own merits.
Transport is at the centre of Cambridge's problems. Unusually, there has been a major increase in bus usage in the town, though the unregulated bus service is still letting some parts of the city down. Overall, Cambridge's public transport system is still that of a small market town rather than of a growth point in the new economy. We need major investment in infrastructure, but the system of local government finance means that we are unlikely to get it. The nationalisation of business rates and the obsession with centralised bidding for capital funding mean that we have to beg central Government for infrastructure fundsfunds that the Government seem inclined to allocate elsewhere.
Areas of economic success such as Cambridge need backing. The Government can either back that success with money or, better still, restore financial independence to local government so that local government can do the job itself. Over-centralisation plagues this country, affecting all aspects of public services, including health and education. My
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constituent, Lord Wilson, the former Cabinet Secretary, has spoken eloquently about the need to restore local democracy, and I agree with him. I want to see the culture of micro-management and control replaced by a culture of trust and democratic participation. If there is to be a theme to my time in the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that is what I hope it will be.
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