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Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) on his able and interesting speech. I look forward to hearing his future contributions.

I applaud the Government's commitment to education and health, as shown in the Gracious Speech. Indeed, Liverpool has already benefited from the Government's investment. We have received additional spending of more than 50 per cent. on education and additional investment in health of more than 80 per cent. I hope that high level of investment will continue.

I want to draw attention to two concerns about education. The first is under-achievement. Liverpool is a city with growing success, yet despite that it contains some of the strongest concentrations of deprivation in the country. I should like the Government, with the local authority in Liverpool, to consider the areas of under-achievement that I consider to be of great concern. Take-up of higher education is still far too low. Take-up of skills training is also low and I look forward to the impact of the Government's new policies on that area, where more opportunities are required. Young people need to be attracted to the opportunities that are available. The Greater Merseyside learning and skills council is considering new proposals to try to capture the imagination of young people, too many of whom leave school with inadequate qualifications, and I hope that those efforts are successful.

I have a particular concern about the educational under-achievement of many black and ethnic minority pupils in Liverpool. I hope that Liverpool education authority will hold an inquiry into what is happening in relation to those minority groups in the city.

I have been very shocked to see figures that reveal falling attainment rates among some Somali and Yemeni children in Liverpool's schools. I am not clear whether any proper record is kept of how many children in those groups, and indeed others, are not being entered for examinations, so looking simply at percentage success rates in examinations is not an adequate reflection of what is happening in those schools. That issue has been ignored for far too long, and I should like to see renewed interest in it.

The second issue about which I should like to express concern relates to higher education and the appearance of insidious anti-Semitism in some of our universities. I ask the Government to intervene in accordance not only
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with their own race relations policy, but with their obligations under the Berlin statement of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which the Government took such a leading part in putting together and ratifying in December last year. One of the commitments in the Berlin declaration was that all the signatory states would do everything in their power to act against anti-Semitism.

I am extremely concerned about the harassment of Jewish students at the School of Oriental and African Studies, which is part of London university, about the failure of the National Union of Students to act and, indeed, about the apparent indifference of the university authorities. The harassment at SOAS has led the NUS anti-fascist and anti-racist convenor, Luciana Berger, to resign from the NUS executive, together with two of her   colleagues. The regrettable—indeed, deplorable—incidents that led to that action include Luciana Berger being spat on. They also include university and student authorities taking no action whatsoever against the General Union of Palestinian Students stall displaying a leaflet advocating the protocols of the elders of Zion—the lie that Jews are in an international conspiracy to rule the world—and the Israeli embassy official, Roey Gilad, being banned from speaking at the students union until the head of the university informed the union that that decision was illegal. Despite that, disruption still followed.

If hon. Members read the evidence that was given to the recent inquiry set up by the Home Affairs Committee, they will see that there is growing concern about intimidation on the campus. The situation that I describe exists at SOAS, but there is concern that it could spread to other university campuses. I hope that the Government will accept that that is unacceptable and that it is something on which we should act.

My second concern relates to the current Association of University Teachers boycott of Haifa and Bar Ilan universities in Israel. That decision was taken on the eve of Passover, when relatively few Jewish academics were able to be present at the debate. It is indeed curious timing for Israel, of all the world's nations, to be singled out for such treatment, because it was only in May last year that Israeli and Palestinian academics signed a joint declaration on how they wish to improve co-operation by working together. The boycott is opposed by Sari Nuseiba, the president of al-Quds university in East Jerusalem, and it takes place against the background of an improving peace situation, with Israel preparing to evacuate from Gaza, as a first step to full negotiations to reach peace between those two peoples.

It is pretty clear that the boycott of Israeli universities—two have been named at the moment, but I understand that a third is under consideration—is nothing to do with what is happening in those universities, which is alleged to be so much worse than anything that is happening in any other university anywhere in the world. It is part of a long-running campaign to attempt to delegitimise the state of Israel.

Sue Blackwell, the mover of the motion, has said that Israel is an "illegitimate state". Indeed, she was forced to remove from her website links to neo-nazis, including links to Wendy Campbell, who wrote about so-called "unrivalled Jewish power", and to Marwen Media, which repeated the views of Kevin McDonald, who referred to Jews having "breeding programmes to
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conquer other races". All that is deplorable. What happened at the AUT conference should be recognised for what it is—discriminatory and part of a long-running campaign to delegitimise the state of Israel at the very time when we see the hope, at long last, of bringing peace. I hope that the boycott will be overturned at the special meeting of the AUT council, which will take place this week.

Again, I ask Ministers to intervene and to show their concern for equal opportunity and their concern against racism. If there is a policy against racism, it should include a policy against anti-Semitism. I find it increasingly disturbing that policies that would be rightly condemned and abhorred if carried out against black people are somehow found to be rather different and perhaps acceptable when carried out against Jewish people. That is not acceptable, and I hope that the Government, with their strong record on race and as a major signatory to the Berlin declaration against anti-Semitism, will play their part in trying to resolve the issue.

The Government have an excellent record on education. We have seen major improvements nationally, and I and my constituents have seen dramatic improvements in the opportunities being given to people in the city of Liverpool. I call on the Government not only to continue their policies for investment, but to ensure that there is indeed equality of opportunity. That involves looking at under-achievement in our schools. I have referred to the situation of Somali, Yemeni and other black and ethnic minority children in Liverpool, but the problem relates to all those children in Liverpool who are not achieving their full potential. I ask the Government to continue with their determination to secure opportunity for all and with their programme of investment to give all people opportunities for the future.

8.17 pm

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): My grateful thanks to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the time to make my maiden speech today. I congratulate the many other hon. Members who have made their speeches, particularly the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), on raising such pertinent issues.

I should like to thank the people of Guildford for putting their trust in me and electing me to the House. I feel immensely privileged and honoured to have the opportunity to serve them. I look forward to the challenges ahead with considerable awareness of the responsibilities that I must now fulfil.

I should also like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Sue Doughty, who served Guildford for the past four years. She worked vigilantly for the constituency and went to considerable efforts to support all the wonderful charities that help local people so much. I am aware of her concerns about environmental issues and that she sought every opportunity to address them. Politics is, at times, a rather harsh business and there are never any second prizes. However, each of us has an opportunity to leave something behind, and Sue has done just that: she is held in considerable affection by many for her work both in the House and in the constituency.

Guildford town is located where the River Wey cuts into the north downs, and it has always been an important staging post between London and the coast.
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In fact, it remains so today, with many thousands of young people coming into Guildford on Friday and Saturday nights. Perhaps not so much has changed for the people of Guildford. Due to fears of violence and antisocial behaviour, that staging post has become a no-go area for many residents on weekend evenings.

The High street is full of history, and we are proud of both the guild hall, which was built in the 16th century, and Abbots hospital, which was founded in 1619 by George Abbot, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, to provide housing for the elderly poor. In fact, it still provides housing today and is testimony to the fact that the Government do not always have to provide everything themselves because other providers often do so better.

We have a little bit of everything in Guildford. Spectrum leisure centre is home to the national ice hockey league, and the cathedral on Stag hill is one of only four built since the Reformation. We have the vibrant and successful Surrey university with the research park that it owns and manages, which is regarded as one of the most successful in Europe.

Business is booming in Guildford, but it is an increasing challenge to embrace its success and deal with the consequences for our local environment, such as the imposed increases in house building, threats to our countryside and green belt, the ever-growing mountain of waste and planning rules that do not allow local people to stop the unending march of mobile phone mast technology. The farmers in our area still try to preserve the countryside, yet they are drowning in paperwork and bureaucracy. The pressures on Guildford are immense.

Going south from Guildford, my constituency stretches down to the Sussex border, with beautiful villages and countryside in which one can still find real pubs, proper village fairs and village greens. I am not quite sure how warm the beer is, but suffice to say that during the campaign, the village pubs brought colour to my skin, lightened my weary bones and were a welcome resting place for me and my footsore troops.

Guildford, and even the town itself, still has strong local communities and charities, so people have a strong sense of belonging there. Many of our charities pick up shortfalls in statutory services and the benefits that they provide are almost always entirely funded by local fundraising events. The saving to the state due to such charities is immeasurable. Charities that are concerned with health care include the Beacon centre, which offers help to people affected by cancer and other serious long-term illness and also treats people with lymphoedema, and Christopher's, which offers respite and support for families and children with life-limiting illnesses. Many mental health charities fill the gaps where state provision is woefully inadequate.

We also have Cranleigh village hospital, which was founded in 1859 as the first cottage hospital in the country. It is still open today only because of the stubborn efforts of the local community. Every time that closure raised its head, fundraising by the local community saved the day. In 1998, the people of Cranleigh decided that the only way to avoid the repeated threat of closure was to own the hospital, so Cranleigh village hospital trust was born. Seven years later, with land from a local benefactor and considerable
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local fundraising, they are ready to build their own new hospital. The people of Cranleigh have had enough of promises about the NHS. The village will ensure that it has the hospital that it wants and deserves.

Guildford has a generous community in which people willingly care for those less fortunate than themselves. Guildford might look like a prosperous and contented place, but we have our problems. Crime and antisocial behaviour keep people in their own homes, and worries about MRSA stop people attending accident and emergency departments. People stay in their cars and put up with traffic jams because of the woefully inadequate public transport. We have ever-soaring council tax and significant areas of deprivation, and Guildford, like many other places in the south-east, needs a fairer deal from the Government.

I trained as a nurse at Barts hospital in London, of which I am immensely proud, and worked in the NHS for 25 years. I have four children and should also declare that my husband is a doctor. That background gave me the opportunity to work with people from all walks of life and understand the issues that those ordinary people face day after day. The experiences of the people whom I have met over the years in my work, and more recently on their doorsteps, will never leave me. When I sit in these magnificent surroundings and am treated wonderfully by the staff here, my constituents and their individual stories will sit by me every day.

The gap between people and politicians has never been greater. People feel a long way away from where decisions are made and feel that they are not listened to by government at all levels. I look forward to the experiences ahead and the opportunity to contribute in this place to reinforce my belief that a difference can be made and that the Government can listen and change their mind through rigorous debate. Indeed, if people start to see argument and debate changing the course of events, perhaps more of them will start to feel that it is worth voting and that politicians are worth voting for.

I thank the House for listening to me and the people of Guildford for electing me. I will do everything in my power to bring politics closer to people, to ensure that the Government listen and to change the lives of those in Guildford for the better.

8.26 pm

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