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The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths):
As Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, it is a pleasure to be able to respond to the excellent
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contributions that have been made today. There have been some maiden speeches of the highest quality, and quality contributions from both sides of the House.
I want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), the former shadow Leader of the House, for his work, courtesy and co-operation. I wish him well in his new post, as I do the Minister for Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas).
I begin by associating myself with the generous tributes paid to former Members of the House who have now left: Harold Best, Peter Bradley, Iain Coleman, Tony Colman, Adrian Flook, Melanie Johnson, John Lyons, Calum MacDonald, Jon Owen Jones, Marion Roe, Gillian Shephard and Tony Worthington. Each made a significant contribution to the House, as they did to their constituencies.
Ten impressive maiden speeches were made today, the first of which came from the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr. MacNeil). He spoke with great feeling about the avoidable deaths of some of his constituents, and about his attempts to improve transport and other links to ensure that that does not happen again. He reaffirmed his and his party's solid commitment to independence. I think that that is a bit of a relic in Scotland in this century, but one has to admire the hon. Gentleman for being true to his convictions.
The hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker) spoke with passion about the great sport of fishing, a passion that he shares with many hon. Members, not least among them my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster). My hon. Friend is a former champion at a pastime that is probably Britain's most widely practised sport today. The hon. Gentleman also spoke about poverty in this country. His constituency is home to Britain's largest private-sector employer, and I look forward to working with him to improve educational opportunities and to eliminate poverty in the UK.
Education was also the theme adopted by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), who highlighted the issue of town versus gown. That is a perennial issue among hon. Members representing university constituencies. The hon. Gentleman also showed his knowledge when he conjured up the memory of the great George Bernard Shawa GS praising a GBS. He was eloquent in his praise of the voluntary work done by local people in respect of learning disabilities, the area in which my own background lies. He also stressed policing matters and antisocial behaviour, and I am pleased that, since 1997, the force servicing his constituency has acquired 376 extra officers.
Policing was a common theme, and it was adopted by the hon. Member for Taunton (Jeremy Browne) in a highly impressive and effective maiden speech. He strongly supported the community support officers who complement the work of the local force, and I am sure that he will want to congratulate the local chief constableif not the Home Secretaryon supplying a further 410 officers to his force since 1997.
I welcome the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser) back to the House. His predecessor was, like him, a person of special ability and great courtesy in
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her dealings with hon. Members of all parties. She always put across her point of view, on behalf of constituents and party alike, with considerable effectiveness.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) spoke about the need to link respect for authority with society. He stressed the need for better laws rather than more laws. As a former DTI Minister championing the cause of business, I agree with that. Indeed, I hope that the hon. Gentleman has learnt the lesson from the 51,699 regulations that were brought in between 1979 and 1997, and that we can work together on a common agenda.
I welcome also the contribution from the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands). It was an historical tour de force on his constituency. It was not just the Cook's tour, but almost a Doctor Who style speed through time. He spoke, as several right hon. and hon. Members did, about the need to improve transport and in particular, in his case, the tube. He also spoke about a threat to a local hospital, and I am sure that that will have been noted. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) echoed that theme and also spoke about electoral reform, which was mentioned by other hon. Members, too. He spoke about how to strengthen democracy, an important theme to which we will no doubt return.
Care homes were the main theme for the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott) in an impressive maiden speech, although she touched on other themes. The issue of care homes was also taken up by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), who spoke of the frustration that many hon. Members feel on behalf of their constituents when care homes have funding problems. Relatives find that heavy pressure hard to bear.
The hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening) made health the key issue of her speech. She praised the world-class service that the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability provides, and I praise her for her work in raising money for a hospice. That was also emphasised by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink). On a personal note, when I took time out during the election to visit a hospice in my constituency, the Marie Curie clinic on Frogston road, I met a constituent whom I had canvassed some years before. She was bravely fighting a disease that will by now have claimed her life. It was a sobering meeting for a Member of Parliament for a marginal seat. Some people lost their seats on that Thursday, but many others were bravely fighting diseases such as cancer and lost the ultimate fight. That puts into perspective the difference in importance of the battles we have in this House and elsewhere. I was delighted that my constituent also praised the staff of the national health service, and I join her in that.
Like the hon. Member for Putney, the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) raised the issue of aircraft noise, which was reinforced by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown). It is a serious issue and hon. Members made balanced points, accepting the importance to Britain of commercial airlines and their business.
The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) spoke impressively on fair trade, a subject close to the hearts of many hon. Members, including
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mine. I helped to found Scotland's first fair trade organisation many years ago and I was delighted that that issue has also been taken forward in Leeds, North-West. I praise the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) on his work for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development.
I also praise the work of the local government service. On 5 May, I celebrated the fact that it was 25 years since I was first elected to a local council. Local councils do a tremendous amount of good work. One of our drives must be to ensure that all council services are brought up to the levels of the best.
I praise the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) for his speech. He raised, as he assiduously does, the case of a constituent detained abroad. He knows that this poses particular problems in particular countries. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is personally aware of the case and I believe that he has raised it with the authorities more than once. He will want to study the additional information that the hon. Gentleman gave us today.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the threat that he sees posed by Iran. I am not sure what action he was urging, but doubtless there will be plenty of time in this Parliament for that subject to be debated so that we can hear his views. I join him in congratulating St. Bernard's school on coming through a competition of thousands of people of talent. The talent of young people is important. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) used the word "aspiration" and spoke of how we all try to drive up people's aspirations to give them the job, the education, the apprenticeship or the opportunities that they deserve and, indeed, need.
Patrick Hall : Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not let it go unnoticed that today is learning at work day? Learning at work representatives have encouraged tens of thousands of people at work to improve their skills and confidence, and the Government have backed that initiative. Does he agree that there is more to be done on that constructive theme?
Nigel Griffiths: Yes, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the chance to reinforce his message. I praise the work of the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry in driving the skills agenda forward in the work place and encouraging people to ensure that they have the skills and personal confidence necessary. I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw for raising the initiative of schools twinning with Africa. James Gillespie's high school in my constituency has done so successfully, and I commend the experience that my hon. Friend and we in south Edinburgh have had.
More experienced hon. Members raised other issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) talked about school closures. She will join me in wondering how, when providing 28,000 extra teachers, one is faced with unnecessary school closuressome of course are necessaryduring an election period. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills will note her points. In all honesty, I am not sure that any moratorium of the type she suggested is practical or could be enforced. If she has further thoughts on that, I know that she will communicate them as effectively as she always does.
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My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird) spoke with detailed knowledge of the ports authority issue. She will know that the Department for Transport announced the Future of Transport White Paper. Its intention is to examine carefully the national framework of ports policy once decisions have been taken on outstanding applications for major container port development. She will track that with considerable interest.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) raised the issues of housing investment and of the economy. I know he will welcome the fact that we have tripled investment in housing capital from £1.65 billion in 1997 to £5 billion now, and that that has helped reduce the number of non-decent houses by 1 million in that time frame. None the less, it is clear that he has some advice for the Chancellor on how to run the economy. The Chancellor always welcomes such advice and I am sure that my hon. Friend will find a way during debates and Treasury questions to raise his views with the Chancellor, and have the Treasury specialists pore over them and see what might be gleaned and gained from them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Patrick Hall) raised the issue of local government funding. I have lived through several local government funding crises as well as the revaluationsindeed, my maiden speech was on that very subject, which allowed me to take a seat from the Conservatives for the first time in 100 years. That was, of course, the council tax, more popularly known as the poll tax
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