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Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) on an excellent speech in which she gave every indication that she will be a formidable Member of this House. It was a confident delivery of a very competent speech. I also congratulate the other seven Members who made their maiden speeches today; I am sure that the whole House will want to endorse their kind remarks about their predecessors. The House may want to consider making some adjustments to one of the camera settings, as if the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) continues to stand underneath it, a fast swing round might give us a safety at work issue to resolve.
There was some rancour at the beginning of this afternoon's proceedings, and it was clear that Front Benchers were bringing some of the arguments that they had had during the election campaign into the Chamber. I have no objection to thatit is just that I do not have anybody left in Northern Ireland to debate with. It is perhaps worth while my putting on the record the fact that my party has now established itself as the main party in Northern Ireland at local government level, Assembly level, European level and now here in the House of Commons. Sadly, although we have nine Members in this House, we have no representation in
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the other place; that is an issue that the Prime Minister must resolve, especially as a lot of business commences in the House of Lords and we require scrutiny in that House as well.
As I said, there has been something of a regime change in Northern Ireland, and it is important that the Government take time not only to respect the verdict of the people of Northern Ireland but to try to understand and to reflect the views that they so clearly expressed at the ballot box.
I was first elected to this House more than 26 years ago, and I can recall from those early days the details of the problems that I was asked to resolve at my advice surgeries. I am given very different problems today. I would barely have an advice surgery now without having to deal with problems relating to neighbour disputes, gangs, low-level crime, the problems of youths causing intimidation and abusing others, and the growing problem of crime against the elderly. There has been a transformation in society, not for the better in this instance, which must be addressed. I therefore have no compunction in supporting the Government's proposals on antisocial behaviour orders, although they will need to be somewhat tweaked as experiences are gained. The Government will also find in me a supporter of the principle of the promised legislation in the Gracious Speech to tackle knives, guns and alcohol-related violence. I trust that it will be competent to deal with the problems that the Government and I would seek to have resolved.
It will be useful if the Minister is able to tell us whether the violent crime Bill and the identity cards Bill will apply in all their aspects to Northern Ireland and, if not, the extent to which they will apply. I have no difficulty with the principle of the ID cards legislation in terms of the social liberty issues with which other Members may have difficultymy only concern is about its workability, as there are considerable doubts as to whether it will be capable of delivering the Government's intention.
All the measures in the Gracious Speech intended to protect and to safeguard communities require police on the ground and resources for them. Sadly, there have been massive reductions in the police service that looks after the people of Northern Ireland. That service has undergone very considerable change through the Patten commission report, but the downsizing is now such that it is scarcely possible to make the rapid response required to deal with many of the crimes that are taking place.
If the crimes that I have mentioned are bad in terms of the general national scale, there is a particular problem in Northern Ireland that makes them more acutethe fact that there is sometimes almost support, from some sections of our community, for criminal activity. That has blurred the edges, as people seem to think that it is all right, in certain circumstances, for certain causes, to break the law. We have found that
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many young people growing up in our society are equally flouting the law. I urge the Government to deal not only with the low-level crime in Northern Ireland but with the organised crime represented by paramilitary groups of all persuasions, but principally, clearly, by the Provisional IRA.
The mandate that I have in coming to this House is not a negative oneit is a mandate to make progress and to have political stability in Northern Ireland. However, that mandate can be achieved only if we build it on a stable foundation for political structures, and that cannot happen if those structures are to be built in partnership with a party that is still holding on to its weaponry, still continuing with paramilitary activity, and still heavily involved in gangsterism and criminality. Those must end. The Prime Minister, in what we now describe as the Blair necessities, indicated the standards that were required for entry into Government. It is not a question of the Democratic Unionist party attempting to put manners on the republican movement or saying that the republican movement has to be house trained. These are standards that are accepted by the Government, supported by the Government of the Irish Republic, and endorsed by the Government of the United States. I trust that the Prime Minister will not let the people of Northern Ireland down by fudging or blurring any of the edges in relation to those standards; they are essential.
Only on a firm, democratic basis, with completely peaceful politics, can Northern Ireland move forward. My party is willing to move forward on that basis. I personally experienced the republican movement's behaviour in December last year, when it and we were separately negotiating with the Government, and at the very same time it was engaged in the greatest bank heist in history. That indicates the mindset that we have to deal with, why we cannot fudge the issues, and why it is essential, before progress can be made in Northern Ireland, that the Government recognise that it can be made only with those parties that are exclusively committed to peaceful and democratic means.
Mr. Ian Austin (Dudley, North) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech. It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and to have listened to the eight previous maiden speeches this afternoon.
It is a great honour to be elected to Parliament at all, but representing Dudley, North is particularly special for me because I represent my home town and the community in which I grew up, went to school, got married and started a family. Dudley, North contains the historic town of Dudley surrounded by a number of smaller towns and villages, such as Gornal, Sedgley and Coseley, which it was my great privilege to represent on Dudley council.
Few places can match our history, stretching from our internationally recognised geological heritage with unique prehistoric fossils found only on the Wren's Nest. The name of the town is of Saxon origin, and the town and its castle, which watches over the town to this
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day, are both listed in the Domesday Book. The castle was held for the king during the civil war. Parliamentary troops laid siege, and its fortifications were subsequently largely demolished by order of Parliament, but hon. Members can rest assured that local people have pretty much forgiven Parliament by now.
The first Labour MP for Dudley was Colonel George Wigg, who was elected in 1945 after a distinguished military career. He was an early advocate of measures to address the problems of lack of respect in society, which have dominated the headlines this week. Politicised in the Army, he discussed in his memoirs ways of ensuring that young people lived
which is a major theme of today's debate. He left the Commons in 1968 and Donald Williams represented Dudley for two years before Labour won the seat back in 1970. I remember as a child in the very early '70s our home being visited by his successor, now the right hon. Lord Gilbert, who came to discuss plans for the Dudley community relations council, which my Dad helped set up. It was a moment of great excitement in the Austin household, and I can still remember being warned by my parents to be on my best behaviour.
John Gilbert served the town with distinction for 27 years. He must be the only person to have held the same ministerial job 20 years apart as a Member first of the Commons then as a peer, serving as Minister of State for Defence in 1976 to 1979 and in 1997 to 1999. However, I want to pay particular tribute to my immediate predecessor, Ross Cranston. He also served in Government, as Solicitor-General, and served Parliament as a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee. Many hon. Members will know Ross, as I do, for his dedication and hard work, and for his kindness and commitment to his constituents, which won him the respect and affection of his colleagues here and of the people of Dudley. He set high standards, and I will do everything that I can to live up to them as I represent such a great town.
Dudley is the capital of the black country, the birthplace of the industrial revolution and the home of manufacturing. Dudley's success and prosperity was based on the traditional black country traits of hard work, high skills, ingenuity, enterprise and innovation. However, our community has still not fully recovered from the devastating industrial and economic upheaval of the early 1980s. Those recessions sent the traditional industries on which Dudley's prosperity had been based to the wall. Factories and foundries closed and we lost thousands of manufacturing jobs. That experience had a profound effect on me. When I left school, Dudley was a high-unemployment area. At its peak, 3,300 young people had been out of work for more than six months. Today, the figure is just 220. Unemployment is down 40 per cent. and more than 1,000 local young people are in work through the new deal.
Nowadays, most people in Britain come into contact with manufacturing only as consumers, and status is too often determined by what one owns and consumes rather than what one makes. However, a quarter of the black country's economy relies on manufacturing, and 30 per cent. of the work force works in manufacturing compared with 18 per cent. nationally. In Dudley,
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manufacturers such as Thomas Dudley Ltd, Federal Welder Ltd and Boss Design Ltd are investing in new technologies, developing new products, opening up new markets, winning new business around the world and creating new jobs. Our problem is that we need more such world-beating firms because we suffer from lower than average wages, and although business start-ups are in line with the national average, survival rates are lower. We also need to improve skills, which is why I want to work with local schools, colleges, the work force, trade unions, employers and business organisations to make boosting skills our No. 1 priority. We will attract the high-wage high-skill jobs on which our future prosperity depends only if we have the skills that those firms need.
Among the other challenges that we face are how to reverse the fortunes of our town centre, and the priority must again be to work with the council and the private sector to regenerate the area by bringing in new housing, new investment, businesses and jobs into the town. I recently met tenants' and residents' organisations and community groups across the constituency, particularly in the Castle and Priory and St. Thomas's wards, which are the constituency's most deprived areas. I am pressing for new community facilities and a new community pharmacy on the Priory estate. Despite additional investment, there are still housing and environmental problems in many areas, and there is a need for additional community facilities particularly for young people.
I shall touch briefly on the rules that govern children's homes. A company called Green Corns is buying up homes in the black country to open new children's homes. Everyone knows that provision must be made for such children; no one is in any doubt about that. It may be that the company's approach has worked elsewhere, but its secretive behaviour in the black country and its failure to establish good relations with its neighbours and work with the local community has caused huge local concern. Local authorities should require planning approval so that local people know what is happening and can have their voices heard, as they would with any other building being turned from a family home into a commercial venture. Can we use the current review of regulatory organisations, which I am told covers the Commission for Social Care Inspection, to bring such homes under the planning process and require companies to work properly with the local community?
My constituency is extremely well served by three campaigning newspapers, the Express and Star, its sister paper the Dudley Chronicle and the Dudley News. However, instead of working with the community, Green Corns has disgracefully put its efforts into obtaining an injunction against the Express and Star, which is merely reporting the concerns caused by its approach.
On Friday I met Chief Superintendent Green from Dudley police, and I congratulate him and his officers on the fall in crime that they have achieved through proper partnership working between the police, the local community, businesses and other organisations. In particular, I want to tell my colleagues on the Front Bench of the difference made by the extra police and new community support officers that we have on the streets, and of my hope that we will see more CSOs patrolling
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our streets in the future. Chief Superintendent Green told me of the tough stance that he has taken with irresponsible licensees, so I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the Queen's Speech proposals to clamp down on pubs and clubs persistently selling alcohol to under-18s.
In conclusion, I hope that I have managed to convey my great pride in the wonderful place that I represent. I commend to anybody who would like further details the local websites yampy.co.uk and sedgleylocalhistory.org.uk. Alternatively, I extend to Members an invitation to visit the town, when I will personally escort them on a tour of its most important places, including the castle and the world-renowned Black Country Living museum, where they could see the skill and enterprise that made our region great. They can watch metalworking and glasscutting and, afterwards, I will buy them a pint of black country real ale in the Bottle and Glass inn, or we could go to Woodsetton for a pint of Golden Glow, or one of the other delicious beers brewed by the award-winning Holden's brewery in my constituency.
It is an enormous privilege to be elected to Parliament, but it is also a huge responsibility. It is not one that I take lightly, and I will do everything that I can to live up to the trust that the people in Dudley, North have placed in me. I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak this evening, and I thank the House for listening to me.
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