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Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD): I am grateful for the privilege of being able to give my maiden speech on the Gracious Speech. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) on her interesting exposé of Bridgend and on her comments about her community.
I am privileged indeed to represent the home town of John Bright, the town where the Co-op was founded and where the Workers Educational Association started. I pay tribute to my predecessors. Like me, Lorna Fitzsimons is a fellow Rochdalian. Though we are from different political parties, we have over the years worked well together, I latterly as leader of the council, she as the Member of Parliament. She has been a feisty campaigner. Many people remember how well she marshalled troops and former troops to fight the cause earlier this year when there was a threat to the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. I know that many Lancashire Fusiliers are proud of what she did to ensure that the Royal Regiment is still here. I wish her well.
I am the third Liberal Democrat to represent Rochdale since 1970. I would like to say a few words about my predecessors. Liz Lynne represented Rochdale from 1992 to 1997. She quickly established herself as a campaigner, particularly on disability and Kashmir. It is something that I hope to take up in my time here, too. I know that, in the European Parliament, she continues to fight and speak up for freedom for Kashmir.
I pay tribute to Sir Cyril Smith, who represented Rochdale for over 20 years and who, before that, did over 40 years' service as a local councillor, alderman and mayor of Rochdale. I owe him a lot. He is the reason that I got involved in politics in 1972 when, as a 17-year-old, I took part in his famous by-election. This year, almost approaching the age of 77, he came out of retirement and fought for me. He has been a fighter all his life. The town owes him much. Many charities in the town would not be there but for his hard work. Again, I pay tribute to the work that he has done both for the town and for me.
In Sir Cyril's maiden speech, he included a reference to mill closures and the effect that yarn imports were having on jobs in Rochdale. Sadly, most of those mills
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have closed. Like many people in Rochdale, my father was a spinner. With typical Lancashire grit, we have pulled ourselves up and now Rochdale is beginning to motor. I was privileged earlier this year to see work start on the Kingsway industrial estate, which is the largest industrial estate in the north-west. I look forward over the next few years to that bringing improved jobs and prosperity to Rochdale.
In order for that to happen, we need support from Government. I hope that members of the Government will take heed of some of the things that we need, in particular the new bus station that was not approved this yearI hope that it will be approved next yearand the Manchester Metrolink. I have here a leaflet that was produced in 1989 by the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority. That clearly stated: "Metrolink will start running" in Rochdale "in 1992". Sixteen years laterafter eight years of a Conservative Government and eight years of a Labour Governmentwe are still waiting. I hope that in this Session we will see progress on that. It is vital for the Oldham-Rochdale loop lineif it does not go ahead, an additional £60 million will be needed just to keep that line operational. That is a quarter of the cost of the Metrolink. The money would be much better spent on a brand-new "super-tram" system than on keeping heavy rail going.
One of the legacies of Rochdale's textile past is the Turner Brothers asbestos site in Spotlandthe site of what was once the largest asbestos factory in the world. As we know, that magic mineral has since turned into a killer dust, and many Members have been involved in fighting for pension rights for some of the former employees of Turner and Newell. I want to draw attention to the importance to the town of redeveloping that site, which has been bought by developers. Residents and council members of all political parties have no problem with such redevelopment, but we are concerned that the site be redeveloped safely. I am afraid that the developer, in his dealings with the council or with residents, has sometimes been less than open. Part of the problem is that a derelict industrial site such as this falls between three agencies: the Health and Safety Executive, the local authority and the Environment Agency. The HSE has only one person in the north-west looking after dereliction issues and there is no way that she can give the site the necessary attention. The Government need to consider giving local authorities greater power to act independently to ensure that developers comply with health and safety legislation. That is vital for the Rochdale site and for sites elsewhere.
Rochdale is a vibrant, multicultural community that includes, for example, people from Ukraine, Pakistan and Poland. Our council is a beacon council for cohesion and I am pleased with the steps that it and the good people of Rochdale have taken to ensure such cohesion. We are currently participating in a housing market renewal pathfinder for Oldham and Rochdale, and later this year, we will submit a bid for wave 2 of the HMR, which will include my own ward of Milkstone and Deeplish. When Ministers receive that bid, I hope that they focus not on the bricks and mortar but on our efforts to maintain community cohesion and the natural environment. Often, what is important in maintaining viable communities is not just what one spends on bricks
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and mortar. Our plans require that some money be spent not just on the bricks and mortar, but on the people and the environment.
I am pleased to have been selected to speak this evening, and to have been elected to serve Rochdale. We have a tremendous reputation for having outspoken politicians who always put the town first. I am following some illustrious predecessors, and I hope to follow in the proud Rochdale tradition of representing our constituents in this House and of helping to contribute to the development of our country.
Mr. Frank Doran (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and all the other new Members who have made their maiden speeches today. It has been fascinating to hear about the diverse constituencies and backgrounds, and I am sure that they will all make a solid contribution to the work of this House and to their constituents' welfare. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) made special mention of the jacket that she is wearing today. I do not want to make a political or a sexist point, but I congratulate her on wearing the colours of my football team.
I want briefly to address two issues. First, I welcome the Government's commitment to introducing legislation on corporate killing. I was slightly disappointed, however, in that no Government or Opposition Front Bencher took the trouble to mention that very important Bill, which is welcomed by the trade union movement generally and by workers throughout the country. Such legislation has had a long and troubled history. In the late 1980s, a string of disasters, each shocking in itself, together showed that there was something seriously wrong with our whole approach to safety in the workplace, in transport and in public places. No individual or company was punished for any of those tragedies, yet in every case the inevitable subsequent accident investigation or public inquiry showed that disaster could have been prevented had the company or organisation involved taken steps to ensure that it operated safe systems of work within a strong safety culture.
There is a common law offence of corporate manslaughter or culpable homicide in Scotland, and in England this offence can be committed by companies or individuals. [Interruption.] That "Hear, hear" was perhaps a reference to the amount of money that a certain individual may have made out of such cases. An individual commits manslaughter when it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that they caused death through gross or wilful negligence. Under current law, there is no separate test that allows the court to consider whether a company has acted with gross negligence. It is not possible, for example, for a court to consider the various failures on the company's part and to determine whether it could be said that, in aggregation, they constituted gross negligence. Corporate guilt is entirely dependent on individual guilt. As a result, it has been virtually impossible to prosecute the larger companies.
A vivid example of this situation emerged in the past 10 days or so. The practical difficulties were illustrated in the Solway Harvester case, in which seven Scottish
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fishermen lost their lives after a catalogue of the most appalling negligence on the part of the company's owners. The sole director of the company that owned the vessel successfully persuaded the court that he could pass his duty of care on to an experienced skipper, who died in the tragedy.
The main purpose of legislation on corporate killing is to improve safety, to act as a disincentive to poor safety systems, and to encourage companies and others to recognise that poor safety is much more expensive in every way than good and strong safety cultures and practices. If the only result of this legislation is a queue of companies before the court that are to be punished under it, we will have failed. But I am certain that the Government will not fail, and I look forward to the Bill's introduction.We have the Bill in draft form, and although there are many observations that I would like to make, this is probably not the best time to do so, given that the consultation period has not yet finished. I am conscious that the health and safety legislation has been under review for almost as long as we have been promised this Bill. Specific provision is made in the health and safety proposals, as in the corporate killing legislation, for removing Crown immunity. However, it would be helpful if that issue were dealt with in a single Bill, rather than in two separate Bills, particularly given that such a provision ought to be introduced as soon as possible.
The second issue that I want to discuss is antisocial behaviour. I am a Scottish Member, so the legislation that I deal with is different from that proposed in the Queen's Speech and that which the Government have passed in recent years, but the circumstances are the same. It is useful to consider how we operate under such legislation either side of the border, and I want to refer to a recent experience in my constituency and to some of the practical difficulties that I have experienced.
The Beach boulevard, in my constituency, is a road that runs down to the beach, as Members may have guessed from the name. It is a very wide road that attracts a lot of antisocial behaviour. Such behaviour does not always come from juveniles and the yobs to whom reference has been made in the press and occasionally here today; sometimes, quite respectable people are involved. In fact, there has been a problem with antisocial behaviour in that area for more than 35 years. People want to go there to show off their motor vehicles, and 35 years ago it started with motor bikes and scooters. Now, people drive souped-up cars around, rev their engines and sometimes race. Recently, someone was convicted of travelling in a 30 mph zone at 104 mph, which is pretty shocking in a built-up residential area. These people want to show off their cars and to race, and they cause my constituents misery. Some 300 households in that area are affected, along with the business community. The Patio hotel has had a number of instances of people leaving the hotel because they just could not cope with the noise. The council, police and everyone else have been scratching their heads for a long time, trying to work out how to deal with the problem.
In March, using new legislation introduced by the Scottish Parliament that mirrors English legislation, my police authority got a dispersal order under the antisocial behaviour legislation. It made a dramatic improvement in the lives of my constituents. I shall
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make one partisan point. When that order was granted, a local MSP, Mike RumblesI gather he is a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliamentdescribed it as "verging on the illegal" and went so far as to offer his services to the defence teams of two of those who had been prosecuted under the legislation. I am not one who likes to make slogans and to vilify without evidence, but we have said for a long time that the Liberal Democrats were not serious about crime, and the statements of Mr. Rumbles give evidence of that.
We are now at a crucial point. One of the peculiarities of the legislation is that it is temporary. The order made in March lasts for three months and is due to be reviewed at the end of this month. It is there to give a local community respite and to give the authorities the opportunity to put in place a more permanent and sustainable solution to the problem. We have a difficulty, because no one has yet come forward with a solution and the police must decide whether there is evidence to justify a renewal.
Tomorrow, my local authority will consider a proposal from a Labour councillor to provide a permanent solution. The proposal is the closure of Beach boulevard, the area affected. I do not know which way the decision will go, but I have seen the report submitted by the local authority roads department, the lead department in this area. The report is totally and utterly negative. We have not yet addressed the problem that we are giving temporary powers to the policegiven the gravity of the powers, they can only be temporarybut the permanent solution depends on local authorities and perhaps other agencies making decisions.
What I see in my authority is everything operating in boxes. The people who have written the report for the meeting tomorrow have addressed it as a roads issue and not as a social issue, and there seems to be no overall policy. The Government need to take a lead in this area and to work across Departments to translate that into a system with which local government can work. At Question Time today I heard a number of people criticising local authorities for their failure to act, but until we have a unified and co-ordinated approach, people will continue to have problems.
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