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I also get a sense of foreboding from the idea that the new settlements are going to be called eco-towns. I am not a signed-up member of the anti-eco tendency, but I wonder whether that is just another label that will be slapped on a poorly designed initiative that will get all the money rather than that money being directed into former mining housing in my villages, for example, and into local councils where it will do the most good. I am not sure that many of my constituents are bothered about what type of house they live in, or what it is
called, as long as they have one. A better way forward might be to invest money to things such as home insulation for existing housing stock.
Another welcome aspect of the Gracious Speech is the commitment to education. My constituency has some obvious social problems. South Stanley is in the top 20 most deprived wards in the country. Despite that, the local secondary school, led by a dynamic head teacher, Janet Bridges, is doing fantastic work not only in raising A to C grades to over 50 per cent. but in tackling the issue of pupils aged 14 or 15 who suddenly want to drop out of the education system. I would be completely opposed to trying to tie them into education until the age of 18 if it was just about trying to put them through the mill of examinations. The proposals are welcome because they will allow those people to stay in education and training, not suddenly drop out of the system as is happening now. I ask Ministers who will be piloting this piece of legislation to come to Stanley school of technology and look at the work that Janet Bridges is doing in trying to keep some very difficult cases in the education system. It may not be the system that we all recognise, based on trying to get exams, but it is about ensuring that people leave school with some basic life skills. That is important. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) said, in constituencies such as mine the problems of crime and antisocial behaviour involve exactly the kinds of children who are dropping out of the education system and cannot see that they have a place in the world. I am a big believer in the idea that people need what I call a place in the world. The first thing that most people ask when they meet someone is, What do you do for a living? That is difficult for a person who does not have a job or has no hope of getting a job or meaningful training. The commitment has to be seen as a great opportunity for communities such as mine.
Alongside that, we should be trying to raise aspirations. Stanley has one of the lowest education staying-on rates anywhere in the north-east. I do not accept that its pupils are in some way less intelligent than those in other parts of the north-eastwe just need to ensure that they, and their parents, are given opportunities and aspirations to stay on until university and go further. That is why I am pleased that Durham county councils latest proposals for academies look to bring sixth-form education back to Stanley, which is long overdue.
I turn now to the proposals on the NHS. Two weekends ago, The Sunday Telegraph carried a four-page spread about how bad the service is. It spoke about how terrible it is that long waiting lists mean that people have to travel as far as India to get operations. Interestingly, most of the people mentioned lived in the south-east of England.
I was elected in 2001, and the disgrace then was that waiting times for orthopaedic operations at my local hospitalwhich used to be the local workhousewere in excess of two years. Because mine is a former mining area, a lot of people need such operations, but there will be no waiting lists at all for them later this year.
In my constituency, we have a fantastic new community hospital and a general hospital that cost £97 million. Last week, I met representatives of the local primary care trust, which has earmarked money
for the new Stanley health centrethe fifth new GP or NHS facility in North Durham in recent years. That is a fantastic achievement, but the Government need to concentrate on the good things that have been done, and to tackle the bad management that can still be found in some parts of the NHS.
With the greatest respect to Ministers, I do not believe that we need the proposed care quality commission. That would be yet another quango, and what would it do? In my previous life as a councillor, I found that local councils were very good at doing such things as improving the care offered in residential care homes. Local environmental health departments looked after matters such as the quality of food and health and safety in such homes. In my capacity as chairman of the environmental health committee in my area, I more than once had to sign documents to close down residential care homes, but I am not sure that anything will be gained from having yet another commission.
Moreover, if the Government really want to empower local people and local government, they should give them more responsibility. Local people can scrutinise local NHS services and hold the relevant bodies to account. As an electorate, they also have what no commission or quango ever hasthat is, the power to hang a sword of Damocles over the heads of the people charged with running services. If those people do something wrong, they will get voted out.
Although I believe that local government should have a larger role in the NHS, we should also celebrate what has already been achieved. We in North Durham and the other Durham constituencies can be very proud of our record in that record.
I also welcome the local transport Bill proposed in the Gracious Speech. For once, I believe that the Government have listened to calls from me and others to give more responsibility to local councils. People in my constituency rely on bus transport, but two companiesArriva and Go North Easthave monopolised that provision in the north-east of England. Those companies are able to remove routes that they consider to be unprofitable, or to ask for subsidies from the county council to run a service.
For people without a car who live in a village such as Quaking Houses in my constituency, access to a bus is a necessity, not a luxury. I recognise that mass employment is not going to return to North Durhamthose days are long gonebut we do need good transport links to jobs along the A1 corridor, on Tyneside or down in Teesside. Since deregulation, however, bus companies have been able to cut routes willy-nilly, and I welcome the proposals in the local transport Bill to give councils more control over such matters.
I must mention the Go North East bus company, if for no other reason than to annoy it. It has continually taken routes away and left communities high and dry. Peter Huntley, its new managing director, seems to be quite an honest individual in many ways. When he was accused at a public meeting of not caring about the performance of bus services, he replied that his responsibility was to his shareholders. Some companies are interested only in profit rather than in social needs.
Mr. Huntley wrote to me in the summer asking to meet me, apparently because I had single-handedly upset his companys profitability. I replied, No problem,
but about two days before the meeting I was sent a briefing note that I was clearly not supposed to see. It claimed that my continued criticisms and my standing up for my constituents were severely damaging the business and set out how the company was going to sort things out. I wrote back pointing out that if I was seen as the problem there was not much point in meeting. I hope that the proposed Bill gives councils the right to take on operators such as Go North East and deal with them.
Another issue in the Queens Speech was youth provision, which will be welcome news to one of my constituents who raised the matter with me during one of my street surgeries a few weeks ago. It was also mentioned today by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield and is important in some of the small communities and villages in my constituency where there is no leisure provision except the local youth centre or the village hall, so I welcome the proposal to claim dormant bank accounts and direct the money to youth facilities, such as Chester-le-Street youth centre, which does fantastic work but needs investment. The early assignment of such funding is important.
The proposed employment Bill will tighten the minimum wage regulations and deal with employers who flout them. When the minimum wage was introduced, the Conservatives were all doom and gloom and said that it would lead to more unemployment. In the north-east, 111,000 people are better off owing to that legislation and nearly 60 per cent. of them are women, so anything that can be done to bear down on what I admit is a minority of rogue employers who are still trying to flout the rules will be welcome.
I welcome the proposals on flexible working. We live in increasingly difficult times when both parents work and people have to look after aged relatives and children, so I welcome the fact that the Government are taking flexible working seriously. If it is done properly it can lead to better productivity, as more enlightened employers are aware. I used to be a full-time GMB official and many years ago the Littlewoods organisations extremely flexible approach to care and facilities for its largely female work force improved productivity.
It is all right for the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to claim that those proposals are one of his great ideas, but we need to keep reminding people, and reinforcing the argument, that when the Conservatives had the chance to vote for proposals on paternity leave, they voted against them. We need to remind people of the fact that the Conservatives voted against measures such as the minimum wage, which has given an economic boost to many families in my constituency. We need no lessons from the Conservatives about decent employment rights.
Immigration is a topical issue. I think it is a good thing for the UK. Over the past few years, immigration from the aspirant countries of eastern Europe has led to more employment and has filled labour gapseven in the north-east we could not get people to fill certain jobs. The proposed points system is the correct approach in looking at the skills we actually need. The right hon. Member for Witney says that we need to have a grown-up debate about immigration. We do, and we need to
recognise that whether we like it or not we are a nation that has been built on immigrationfrom 1066 onwards. It is the Victorianised view of Britishness that skews that argument. In most communities, immigration has not only led to economic benefits, but enriched the culture.
People discuss Polish immigration to this country as though it were something new. When I was growing up in the South Yorkshire coalfield, I went to school with many children who had Polish-sounding names. After the second world war, when the communists took over in Poland, many Polish people stayed and worked in the coal mines of South Yorkshire, where they integrated well. It is important to recognise that Polish immigration is not new and that it can add to the economic good of this country, rather than detract from it.
Shona McIsaac: My hon. Friend is right that there are many hidden histories in the UK of people who have come to this country to work and who have integrated. Is he aware that in the Victorian era a lack of workers in the Fife coalfields was met by people from Lithuania?
Mr. Jones: I did not know that, but local communities across this country provide similar examples. In the north-east of England, for example, there was mass immigration from Ireland in the 19th century to build roads and railways, and Ireland also provided a lot of the labour for the Durham coalfields and the Tyne shipyards. If we are to have a grown-up debate, we must recognise that history.
There is an onus on people who say that we have had enough immigration and that it should stop to say what the number should be. Any artificial cap would be a mistake. For example, students studying in this country provide positive benefits not only by bringing cash to Durham university and other universities in the north-east, but by allowing people to understand the culture of the UKin many cases, people who have studied here are great ambassadors for the UK when they return to their countries. If we are going to have the debate, we should put it in its proper historical perspective, and people who want to talk about numbers need to say what the numbers should be.
I want to discuss two issues that were omitted from the Queens Speech. When the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) raised the issue of a coroners Bill, I was not pleased by the Lord Chancellors response. The Lord Chancellor implied that only the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk wants such a Bill, but many Labour Members want to see its introduction. The Bill exists in draft form, and it is long overdue, because we need to bring up to date the archaic coroner system in this country. The draft Bill followed an excellent report by the Constitutional Affairs Committee, which we debated earlier this year in Westminster Hall. The Bill would provide an opportunity not only to bring the coroner service up to date, but to tackle some issues that affect our constituents.
I chair the all-party group on cardiac risk in the young, and the charity Cardiac Risk in the Young is anxious to see the introduction of the coroners Bill. One issue is the need to introduce a system to ensure that when young people die suddenly of cardiac failure
it is properly investigated and the statistics, which can influence the debate, are kept. At the moment, the problem is that the sudden deaths of young people are investigated differently in different jurisdictions. Such cases are, for example, sometimes put down to drowning. In areas in which coroners are proactive, there is not only support for families, but the death is registered as a cardiac death. That is important because CRY estimates that eight young people a week die of sudden cardiac failure, and only a coroner system where such information can be held centrally will allow us to argue the necessary case for screening in the health service for young people who do sports. I hope that there is time during the Session to introduce a coroners Bill because I and many others would welcome it.
Finally, I was a little concerned that there was nothing in the Queens Speech about our covenant with the armed forces. There has been a lot of talk about the way in which we treat the men and women who serve in the forces, and their families. The Government have a good track record on delivery in this area, but we need a grown-up debate on the covenanta point that the Royal British Legion and others have raised. A Bill or even a White Paper that addressed the matter would have been welcome.
We need to consider what the Government should do and what charities should do. If people join the armed forces, we need to think about what they should expect from the Government if they are serving abroad, or the minimum standards for things such as housing. It appals me, having been involved in the report of the Select Committee on Defence into armed forces housing, that the Ministry of Defence can say that it is satisfactory when an emergency repair takes two days. If someone in local government had tried to claim that, they would have been shot. An emergency repair should be done within hours.
We need that debate and we must focus on what should be provided for servicemen and women, and their families. It is not just a political problem. Senior generals have turned a blind eye to the matter and concentrated a lot on equipment and warfighting. They have not considered the support we should give to members of the armed forces and their families. The matter is put into clear perspective when people are severely injured or dying abroad.
With those remarks, I welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech. It adds to 10 years of massive improvement in a host of areas throughout the country. In my constituency of North Durham, things are not perfect, but they are very much better than when I was elected in 2001.
Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I am sorry that the Lord High Chancellor has not returned to his place, because I wanted to welcome him to the Chamber in his plain clothes. We all enjoyed seeing him in the full garments of his position yesterday, but I wonder whether he noticed the comments made on television by his predecessor, Lord Falconer, who observed that he was not wearing a wig. He said that that was like wearing pyjamas with no top. I hesitate to say any more on this matter, because I know that Mr. Speaker has also elected not to wear a wig on many such occasions.
The Government must surely be worried that the former Lord Chancellor is growing to be an increasingly effective media commentator. Indeed, some of us might observe that he has become a loose cannon thundering around on the Governments deck. I suggest to the Lord High Chancellor and the Prime Minister that it might be a good idea to have a further conversation about the former Lord Chancellors pension if he is to be shut up, and made to stop giving advice about the Governments lack of visionmuch of it no doubt unwelcome to them.
There is much that we can welcome in the Gracious Speech. However, it was striking that the Lord High Chancellor dwelled so little on the Governments proposals and focused so much on ours. That is the mark of the current Government. He chose to focus first on our original proposal, which the Government have adopted, to introduce a British Bill of Rights. It was difficult for Conservative Members to understand his exact point when he criticised us for proposing something that the Government now wish to introduce. Indeed, when he wrote about the issue recently in The Daily Telegraph, he simultaneously called for a debate and accused anyone who questioned the impact of the Human Rights Act 1998 of regressing into narrow xenophobia.
Surely those remarks should be directed at some of the right hon. Gentlemans colleagues. The previous Prime Minister, Tony Blair, when dealing with the specific issue that the Lord Chancellor claimed that we had got wrongthe margin of appreciationsaid that he wanted to tackle
the issue of court rulings which overrule the government in a way that is inconsistent with other EU countries interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Too often we are fighting crime and terrorism with one hand behind our back.
In the summer, the Lord Chancellor told me at the Dispatch Box that there was no difference between him and the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts on the Human Rights Act. Apparently, there is. However, we will continue to lead the debate on the proper balance in relation to human rights. We will make the sensible case for a new legal framework, which balances rights and responsibilities and safeguards liberties while trying to fight serious crime.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Did my hon. Friend notice that the Lord Chancellor referred today to the British judiciary? Does he agree that there are circumstances in which it is imperative that our judges are required to follow United Kingdom law made in the Westminster Parliament and not law derived exclusively from the European convention or, indeed, European law generally?
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