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Ms Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House for the first time on behalf of those whom I represent: the people of Islington, South and Finsbury. I compliment the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) on her speech. We have quite a lot in common because we have both been watched from the Public Gallery this evening by an experienced Labour politician of some 50 years from Guildfordmy mother.
I have the honour of following in the footsteps of one of the brightest men in the Cabinet of his day and a man of principle and pragmatism, the right hon. Chris Smith. He is recognised nationally as the man who delivered the right to roam and free admission to museums and galleries, and internationally Chris is probably best known as being the first openly gay Cabinet Minister in
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the world. Inspired by the testimony of Nelson Mandela, he decided to speak publicly about how he had been living with HIV since the 1980s.
To the gay community and many others, Chris is a hero, but to the people on the estates of Bunhill, the street properties of Milner square or on the Packington estate, none of that cuts a great deal of ice. What really cuts ice is that they had an MP who would always stand up for them and always had time to listen. In the past year I have knocked on 11,800 doors. Most people were out, but from those to whom I spoke I learned that Chris's constituency work had made a difference to about one in four of them. When I was out campaigning with him, I was moved by the number of people who rushed out of their homes to thank him and say goodbye. If, after 20 years, any of us from the new intake get that sort of reception when we stand down, we will know that we have done a really good job. Of course, we should not be thanking just Chris. We should also thank his partner, Dorian Jabri, who has been Chris's rock for nearly 20 years.
I also have the honour to represent a constituency that has made an enormous contribution to the labour and socialist movement. It was in Islington that Watt Tyler and the peasants' revolt stopped for the final time. The people of Islington successfully demonstrated for the return of the Tolpuddle martyrs, and we played our part in the Chartist movement.
I should also mention John Platt Mills, the late and much missed member of my last place of work, Tooks Court, who was elected to represent Finsbury in 1945. In those days, before the Lib Dem council decided to sell off that piece of our heritage for a few pieces of silver to the private sector, Finsbury town hall was the centre of passionate debate about the future direction of the Labour Government. The Labour party took the view that John wanted to take us somewhere that resembled the suburbs of Moscow, so they parted company fairly soon after. Islington also provided a refuge for Marx and Lenin and provided a home for Eric Blair, who wrote under the name of George Orwell. Of course, Islington provided the last home before Downing street for another Blair, who has become the longest serving Prime Minister the Labour party has ever had.
For me, though, the most remarkable thing about Islington is that everybody has a pretty clear idea of what it is likeeven people who have never been there. This pseudo-familiarity probably comes, in part, from the fact that we seem to have the entire media living in the constituency. I even have the editor of The Spectator as a constituent. But while they report on the chatter in the cappuccino bars and on the leafy lanes, there is another side to Islington and Finsburya side that the media either does not know about or does not care about.
"my constituency lies only four miles from the House . . . yet it contains within it extremes of poverty and wealth in as stark a contrast as will be found anywhere in Britain."[Official Report, 27 June 1983; Vol. 44, c. 404.]
Chris Smith also referred to the smouldering anger of ordinary working-class people, because when Chris was first elected in 1983 Mrs. Thatcher and her Government had abandoned us. The estates of Islington and the people in them had been left to rot. We do not forget that. The eighth poorest borough in Britain needs a Tory Government like we need a hole in the head. We know that only a Labour Government will look after the interests of a community divided, as mine is. Yet after eight years of a Labour Government, while nearly all of our estates have had money spent on them; while there is another £158 million about to be spent on them; while we have a new hospital, new health centres, two new schools, a new sixth form centre and more police officers; while we have four Sure Start centres and free nursery education for all our three and four-year-olds; while the unemployment rate has halved since 1997, and many people, especially women, have benefited from the minimum wagewhile we have all benefited from this, it is still not enough. We remain, despite the famous wealthier bits of my constituency, an area that is poor, with ingrained deprivation that is transferred from generation to generation.
Just as people make assumptions about Islington, they are also in danger of making assumptions about Islington's new Labour MP, who is, after all, a resident of Barnsbury, a barrister and a woman. But it is actually my own early experiences that called me to work proudly with this Government on poverty. I was brought up by a single parent on a council estate. My mum struggled for years to bring up me and my brothers on benefits. I wear the chips that I have on my shoulder with pride. As the Islington Gazette rather pithily put it this week:
I am deeply proud to be following in Chris's footsteps and I am proud to represent Islington, South and Finsbury, which is a fabulous constituency. We have people from all over the world and from every background, all living on top of one another. Islington is a noisy and confident place. We have the best restaurants in London. We are home to the all-conquering Arsenal football team. Finsbury elected the first Asian MP more than 100 years ago. We elected the first openly gay MP. From the late 1920s until 1945, people could not get elected to represent Islington East, a corner of which is now in my constituency, unless they were women. The constituency had three women, one after another: Ethel Bentham, the 15th woman ever to be elected to Parliament; Leah Manning, the 23rd; then Thelma Kier, the 24th. The last was an even rarer creaturea Tory woman MP. However, I am the first woman to represent Islington, South and Finsbury and I sit on the Labour Benches, where we finally make up more than 25 per cent. of Labour Members. So we are halfway there, girls.
In the end, what I am most proud of is the fact that I am a Labour MP. We may not be perfect, but only my Government are serious about tackling poverty and lack of opportunity. I joined the Labour party to ensure that children like me did not only do well if we were lucky. I joined the Labour party to change the world. We are committed to ending child poverty, not just on the Market estate, or even just in Britain. We have an obligation to do all that we can to make poverty history
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internationally. It is not possible to end poverty overnight; it will be a hard slog. Islington's ingrained problems show that, but we are building a more cohesive society where everyone is valued and everyone has a place. That is very good news for the families on the estates who elected me.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak this evening. May I also say how very pleased I am to have been able to make my maiden speech in front of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, a long-standing friend of mine? I know that Muqtadir would be proud of her, and I hope that he will one day be proud of me, too.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): It is a daunting prospect to speak after a number of good maiden speeches. I have to say that my mouth opened slightly when I heard the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Ms Thornberry) mention Marx and Lenin. That is a first for Labour Members, at least in my experience here. I am afraid that I misheard the hon. Lady and thought that she referred to Marx, Lennon and Blair, and my mind inevitably turned to Groucho, John and Lionel.
I want, with my new-found status as an old lag, to say something encouraging to the new Members who have spoken, which is that following those who previously represented one's constituency can be a daunting task. I am only the fourth Member for Caernarfon since 1890, following on from Dafydd Wigley, Goronwy Roberts and Lloyd George, who was the Member for 55 years. Climbing into those enormous shoes is not always easy, but hopefully one gets there eventually.
I want to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about health, and in particular mental health and the mental health Bill. I speak today for Plaid Cymru and the SNP, and I speak in place of my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil)I hope that I pronounced that correctlywho is unfortunately indisposed this evening. My background is in mental health, and there are few opportunities for Welsh Members to talk about health in this place because it is a devolved matter. I am probably the only social worker in the House approved under the Mental Health Act 1983 since the retirement of the former Member for Wakefield. I was also a member of the Joint Committee that examined the Government's draft Mental Health Bill over the winter, and I agree with the Committee's conclusions. As I said, health in Wales is a devolved matter, so it is problematic for Welsh MPs to address the issue. This, however, is an opportunity because the Bill deals with England and Wales.
There has been much criticism of the NHS in Walesnot, I should say, of the staff, but of the structures. Some of that criticism is justified, especially in respect of waiting lists. The NHS in Wales has followed a significantly different course, especially since devolution. There is not much use of the private sector and very little use of private finance initiative. There is an emphasis on public health outcomes, not just on delivering a sickness service, and health is seen as something that the NHS contributes to the pot, not something that it alone produces. There is an emphasis on localism, with the establishment by the Labour-
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controlled Assembly of 22 local health boards. That has not been free of criticism, but it is a particularly Welsh model. Setting up those local health boards cost some £15 million, and apparently they cost another £15 million annually to run. That is the model that we haveone, some people would say, that we are stuck with, and it is different from the model in England.
There is also significant emphasis in Wales on joint working with local authorities, which again is somewhat different from England. That has a long history arising mainly from the all-Wales strategy for learning difficulties, or mental handicap, as it was then called. That is a joint project between local authorities, health authorities and, importantly, the voluntary sector. That difference between the systems in Wales and England has led to arguments that legislation such as the Mental Health Bill should be formulated for Wales either by having a specifically Welsh Bill or at least by tailoring the provisions of the England and Wales Bill to the particular circumstances in Wales. The Joint Committee looking at the draft Bill came to that conclusion. In fact, in a very startling recommendation, No. 105, we said:
I hope to take the matter further if I am called to speak on Second Reading. I also hope to be a member of the Standing Committee on the Bill. I will not go into the detail now, but the significant features for us include the continuing dependence on large institutions; the severe lack of professional staff, which has strong implications for the expansion of tribunals; and the paucity of community resources if we are to provide for compulsory treatment in the community. For example, there is only one approved social worker on duty at night and at the weekends for the whole of Powysan enormous area comprising almost a third of the land mass of Wales. Problems may arise because of the rural nature of Wales and the difficulty of accessing careboth in-patient care and out-patient care in the community, which may be made compulsory.
Specific and cogent criticisms of the Bill have come from all quarters in Wales, especially the Mental Health Alliance and the Wales mental health organisation Hafal. Again, I shall not go into detail, but I note that they have criticised the lack of a statement of principles in the Billthe Scottish equivalent of the legislation has in it a statement of the Milan principles, which cover fundamental matters such as a patient's rights. Criticism has also been made of the fact that the power to compel treatment is not matched by a concomitant reciprocal right to treatmenttreatment can be forced on someone, but there is no right to assessment or treatmentand the Bill's emphasis on compulsory treatment of the tiny minority of dangerous people, rather than on services for the overwhelming majority of people with mental problems, who pose no risk to
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anyone apart, perhaps, from themselves. Because of that focus, there is a danger of stigmatising anyone who receives mental health treatment. Finally, the great extension of compulsion to groups that are currently excluded, such as people with severe and dangerous personality disorders, has also been criticised.
Another obvious deficiency of the Bill is its failure to treat Wales as a multicultural and diverse community. For me, as a Welsh speaker, that is particularly marked in the lack of attention given to Welsh-medium servicesthe apparent assumption that Wales is monocultural and monoglot, with English being the norm. It is significant that the Joint Committee recommended that the language of provision in Wales should be a matter for the Welsh Assembly and that it could be dealt with through a code of practice. I hope to press that point on the Government. If we want to achieve equity of provision throughout England and Wales, we must be much more aware of cultural and linguistic diversity. The Government have a fine opportunity to develop mental health law. Such a development is long overduethe Mental Health Act 1983 was passed 22 years ago and needs reform. I hope that the Government will grasp that opportunity, but not by means of the Bill as drafted, given that the Joint Committee said that it was fundamentally flawed. There is too close a focus on the public misconception of people with mental health problems as dangerous, and insufficient emphasis on protecting people's rights and providing services for people in their own community.
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