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My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), who moved the motion, referred to an amazing array of institutions and people from his constituency. Of course, it is a London constituency and we should expect that to be reflected. In my borough
and my city of Wolverhampton, we could not possibly match that array-the clusters of diamonds that my right hon. Friend told us about-but I can tell the House that Wolverhampton university takes more working-class students than any other university in Britain and it does very well with them, despite being harassed by the Higher Education Funding Council. None the less, the university is succeeding in the noble task of ensuring the widest possible opportunities for people who want to take advantage of and will benefit from higher education.
We are the home of large companies: Goodyear, Goodrich and Birmingham Midshires, which is now part of Lloyds and a little bit MIA-missing in action-but I am pleased that the Midshires office in my constituency, employing 1,200 people, is unaffected by the redundancies announced by Lloyds earlier this week. I am happy to say that the service it has been giving for many years, under the old name of Birmingham Midshires, to people in the midlands with mortgage problems will continue in the future.
We also have the, not quite as redoubtable as they were, Wolverhampton Wanderers-the Wolves, which provided successive England captains in Stan Cullis, the youngest ever captain of England, and Billy Wright, who achieved more than 100 caps at a time when a player had to start and play every game. There was no coming on for five minutes at the end and getting a cap; every cap was earned with 90 minutes of hard running. He will remain a hero, not just of Wolverhampton, but of the game of football wherever it is played.
Above all, Wolverhampton is home to thousands of skilled workers in the aerospace and automotive industries. The city is proud to have played an important role as part of that workshop of the world and the Commonwealth, the west midlands area, which also includes Birmingham, Dudley and Telford. It is the cradle of industry and we are proud of the part that we have played in ensuring that the wealth of this small country is still almost unparalleled outside the top half dozen countries in the world.
I was a councillor in Wolverhampton for 20 years and I brought to this place my interest in housing and education. I am therefore disappointed that the Queen's Speech did not contain more about rebuilding our stock of council houses. I have never-not even in the deepest days of Mrs. Thatcher-opposed the sale of council housing. I live in a house with a garden and I believe that what was good enough for my children is good enough for other people's children. I want to see houses with gardens that people can buy or rent, whichever suits their circumstances, so I do not oppose the sale of council houses. What I also want to see, however, is the building of many more to replace the stock that is sold.
I have to record, with great sadness, that now in Wolverhampton and, I believe, in many other boroughs and cities, more people are registered for council housing than were in the dark days of Mrs. Thatcher. I am not proud of that. We may well have modernised and improved 2 million houses in our time, which is very worth while, albeit expensive and time consuming.
Mr. Stewart Jackson: Will the hon. Gentleman record his sadness that whereas between 1979 and 1997 successive Conservative Governments built an average of 46,000 social housing units a year, the present Government have built only about 17,000 units since 1997?
Mr. Purchase: I have to acknowledge that as a matter of fact. It does not please me. I have to add, though, that the building of social housing almost entirely by housing associations has led to a serious problem. Both main parties-mine, too-have adhered to the idea that there have to be market rents. The only people who can afford the market rents for housing association dwellings are those who pay no rent at all. That is leading us to a position where we have a residual welfare sector, which is not good for our country. That has to be redressed, so that we can continue to build our society in the way that all of us want.
I was, am and will remain a great supporter of the ideals of comprehensive education. Throughout the 1960s, '70s and '80s, I and people like me who held that ideal engaged in a battle-a battle of minds and of ideas-so that we could extend the opportunity of having the very best education to every young person and prevent the stigma of having failed an 11-plus or 13-plus examination. We fought the good fight and we were winning-indeed, Mrs. Thatcher closed more grammar schools than any other Secretary of State in history, although that is not my point. Now, however, since the advent of city technology colleges, academies, specialist schools and so on, we have more selection than we had for 20 years. That is a grave disappointment to me, even though specialist schools are supposed to be able to choose only 10 per cent. of their pupils, and many of them have chosen not to go down that route. In fact, many head teachers and governing bodies have shown a great deal more allegiance to the ideal of comprehensive universal secondary education than many Governments.
I really hope that people will begin to understand that there is no way that we can pick out at 11 who will benefit most from an academic education and who will not. We need to push this nation along to ensure that every child in the secondary sector, whether they mature at 11, 12, 13 or later, has that opportunity to be taught by people who know their subjects and are enthusiastic about them. I have met teachers who would be happy to teach in a comprehensive school rather than a grammar school, if only they could be assured of getting the A-level group that really challenged them, that made them prepare, and that tested their knowledge of their subject. Those teachers would then be more than happy to work with the other girls and boys who were not on that academic strand and who were not giving the same attention to their studies. We must press on. That is the biggest barrier to Britain advancing in science and education. We must not lose sight of that.
I take considerable interest in international relations. As I mentioned, I was greatly fortunate to be a bag carrier-PPS-to the late Robin Cook. I had known him for many years before that, and his death in 2005 was a great disappointment to me. He made a remarkable speech on Iraq. I can tell the House that it was a very considerable torture to Robin: he had determined that he would go as far as he could and remain a member of the Blair Government, as long as he thought that there was even a glimmer of a hope that the outcome would be different from the one that ultimately unfolded. He then showed absolute courage in saying that he could make no further progress, and resigning with great honour, then making an amazingly good speech to this House. It was a great honour for me to work with him and I remain extremely sad at his passing. He is sorely
missed, especially from his work as Leader of the House, which he did with such great good humour, knowledge and preparation. I wish I had more time-I could regale the House with one or two anecdotes of that great man.
The Leader of the Opposition often talks of the "broken society." He is referring to families that are simply dysfunctional-in a terrible state, with children who have no understanding of how to behave or to relate to others, and who therefore cause great difficulty through their unsocial behaviour. I think that there is another aspect of the broken society which you can hold between your finger and thumb and say, "This is one of our big problems."
Hon. Members may have read in the papers about a 29-year-old woman who is pursing a case of harassment at work and unfair dismissal. The case has been making the headlines, and although I make no judgments about it, I will say this. The young woman is paid almost £600,000 a year. She is an advertising executive and assistant to the chief executive of the company. He is alleged to have sent e-mails with dirty jokes and made rather lewd remarks, although he says that they were just jokes and not insults.
A 29-year-old-she must be good-is earning £600,000 a year as an advertising executive. I have in my constituency aerospace workers on whose skills hundreds of lives depend-skills that those workers have learned and honed over years of apprenticeship and going to college. Yet those workers, even today, get perhaps £30,000 or £35,000 a year, tops. Now is the time to take stock of this broken society, when a man worth millions can spend his time sending rude e-mails to women workers telling them, in one of them, "You must work more and dress less." When we have that outrage in our society, we need to tackle it, just as much as we need to tackle the problem of youngsters ignored by their parents, who seem to have no idea of how they should be helping those young people to develop.
We are crying out for a more equal society. That does not mean perfect equality-it means a more equal society, and narrowing the gap. As hard as my Government have tried-and I know that they have-we are not closing the gap at anything like the right speed. I do not know whether it is widening, but it is certainly not as narrow as it should be. That is a No. 1 priority for us to address. We simply cannot have a situation whereby someone working in the City or on some kind of financial instrument-even though they may be a good graduate or a very good worker-can earn £600,000 a year at 29, but a skilled artisan working in the aerospace industry earns £30,000. We cannot tolerate that: it has to be changed. That is as much part of the failed society as the children who are failed.
On the subject of incomes, my favourite newspaper, The Guardian, printed a big page yesterday showing lots of people and the incomes that they received for their trade or profession. It started off with people earning millions, and the Queen, Her Gracious Majesty, was top of the list with some millions. Others were there with more millions, there were some more earning half a million, and more earning £250,000. So it went on, but not one of the pictures or headings illustrated either
a newspaper editor or a political editor-the people who talk about us. They do not do anything, or contribute anything.
It is useful to receive criticism from outside, but we need to get a grip on this income business-not to make everyone the same, but to make sure that people are treated fairly, and that there is some semblance of common sense in the pay of people at the top and of those at the bottom. With those words ringing in people's ears-and, I hope, being seen by their eyes tomorrow-I make a plea to Parliament. These are the key issues: education, addressing the income gap and making sure that it narrows, not widens, and real equality.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I am pleased to speak after the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase). The issue of council housing has a lot of purchase with me, too. In Birmingham, we can at least say that we are building a small number of new council houses, even if that is done through a municipal housing trust, so that we are not trapped by the housing revenue account calculations and the tax on tenants.
The issue of housing is important not just in isolation but because of its wider effect on people. I have visited two organisations in my constituency that deal with family support: Home Start, which is a voluntary organisation, and a Sure Start centre. I asked Home Start what proportion of family problems arose primarily from housing, and it said 50 per cent. I asked Sure Start what proportion of problems in families with whom it dealt arose primarily from housing, and it said 75 per cent. It is extremely clear that the difficulties at the bottom end-the hon. Gentleman made a point about the poverty trap and the fact that it is difficult for people at that level-have a continuing effect.
It may have been conscious Government policy to try to drive up housing prices, and thus debt on housing, through the constraints on the availability of housing, but there has been a massive social cost. That issue has to be addressed, whoever comes into government, because in practice other costs arise from it. For example, children go into foster care at £40,000 a year, which is a lot of money. A family with a number of children-and I have discussed this with a senior social worker-may go into crisis because of bad housing, and it suddenly costs £150,000 a year to deal with a situation that has arisen as a result of bad housing, rather than from a lack of intent or of ability.
Turning to the Queen's Speech, we face a complex situation arising from the fact that there is a relatively short period before a general election is definitely held. I think the latest date for an election is June-everyone expects one in May at the moment-which in itself causes difficulties. One of the bigger problems is the failure to use processes properly. I am a glutton for punishment, and I serve on the Select Committees on Regulatory Reform, on Procedure, and on Modernisation of the House of Commons. I took the fact that the Modernisation Committee had stopped meeting to mean that we are now modern, but I am not sure that that is true. I am interested to see what happens with the Committee chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), because the basic problem with the House of Commons stems from the fact that it is controlled by the Executive, who control what is debated
and when it is debated. They also control standing orders, although interestingly an Opposition day could be used to modify them.
The fact that the Executive control Parliament's rules and timetable means that Parliament is hobbled. Parliament does not do too good a job of scrutinising legislation. If a mass of Government amendments are tabled to a Bill on Report, for example, and everything is cut out by knives, it is impossible to exercise such scrutiny. The relevant Bill Committee does reasonably well, but we must resolve that problem. We should not have an immigration Bill every year-points have been made about the chief executive of Birmingham city council, who is now running Birmingham international airport-and unless we have less legislation, and unless we get it right as it goes through the House, we have a problem.
Legislation is used for things for which it should not be used. There is a Bill to cut the deficit, but that is not what Bills should be used for. They are meant to establish law. I disagree profoundly with the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) and with the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), as I believe that judicial review is a mechanism to make the Government follow the law, which is set by Parliament. Judicial review is a function whereby Ministers, civil servants, quangos and public authorities generally are required to follow the law. As for the issue of how judges are accountable, they make decisions or orders, and they explain the reasoning for their decisions in a judgment. If there is a problem with a judicial review decision, people should read the judgment and find out about the point of law in which all the difficulties lie. If they are not happy with judges controlling Ministers through judicial review, they should change the law, but judges are there to make sure that Ministers follow the law.
Much as I am critical of the way in which Parliament manages to manage the legislative process, I am more critical of the way in which we hold the Government to account by tabling questions. For a long period, I have been concerned about the fact that, if those questions are not answered, nothing very much is done. The Minister for Europe told the Procedure Committee that, in short, if Members did not like the fact that the Government did not answer questions, they should beat the Government at the next election. That method of accountability is no good, and I have described it as trying to avoid a car crash by looking in the rear view mirror at the car crash that happened two years ago. We are not monitoring what the Government are doing now-what we are monitoring is the report that came out about a disaster some time ago. Nothing is done to address the serious problems that affect different aspects of the system of accountability today.
Silly things have arisen such as the fact that the Government suddenly announced that the uniform business rate was not going to go up but, in practice, councils could not change their computer systems, so everyone was charged the increased rate. That sort of nonsense goes on all the time. A lot is driven by the media agenda, rather than by good government, and what we get is a disaster from government. I take an interest in legal issues, particularly in the family division. One of my constituents came to see me about her son, who had been jailed for five years, because he had set fire to the house in which they lived. We looked through the
paperwork, which said that the Crown Prosecution Service had looked at his case, and thought that he should be sectioned, because he was a bit inadequate and doolally. However, he could not be sectioned, because the health service would not accept him, so the CPS wanted a hospital order, and therefore prosecuted him. He ended up with a five-year jail sentence, and the barrister said that there was no way in which the family could appeal it. The mother came to see me, we filled in all the forms and sent them to the Court of Appeal, and her son was released.
The issue there is the advice desert. If someone gets legal aid and loses in a case, they get an opinion from the same barrister as to whether they would win on appeal. That is a mistake, because the barrister is asked to write an opinion about what they got wrong. When a case is lost and an opinion is written as to the chances of an appeal, it would be far better procedurally if it were written by somebody other than the person who handled the original case. One of the problems is miscarriages of justice. In that case there was a clear miscarriage of justice.
John Hemming: I like to look at cases in detail and I do not know enough about that. Much of the time, what we do in this place is pick on a case that seems wrong. There are cases that seem wrong superficially, but we need to consider a set of cases. There are systematic problems in child protection, for instance-take the Climbié inquiry or the case of baby P-but often we focus on one case. I am sorry, but I do not know enough to answer that question, which may seem an odd thing to say.
I spend a lot of time looking at individual cases. The case that I cited is still grinding through the system. I wrote to the Ministry of Justice and asked who takes responsibility for stopping miscarriages of justice. The answer was the judges. Another area of concern to me is medical evidence, particularly in areas such as shaken baby syndrome, where there is no settled scientific opinion. There is no scientific proof that the opinion relied on in court is reliable. A number of people have been released after miscarriages of justice in such cases.
That brings me to another interesting point about miscarriages of justice. We spend considerable amounts of money on people who are released from jail and who were guilty. That is a reasonable thing to do, in the sense that we do not want to dump people straight away. But we spend no money on people who are released from jail and who were innocent. That is absurd. I had a meeting with a number of people who were innocent and jailed. They raised a number of issues, and we looked at compensation for miscarriages of justice.
It is interesting that a number of people have died before getting their final compensation, which does not seem very good from my point of view, although there are interim arrangements. The number is about 20, although four of those were posthumous. Those people had been sentenced to death in the past, and the miscarriage of justice was identified only after the person had died, so we cannot complain that compensation was not paid until after they had died. In the other 16 cases, there is a
concern that we are not treating with respect people who have been jailed wrongly. In fact, we are treating them with less respect than those people who have committed the offence and been properly jailed. That is an issue that the Government need to examine, although it may not require legislation.
Another area about which I am concerned is the lack of action by the Ministry of Justice on the Crown dependencies. Because I undertake work in the family division, many people contact me. I currently have two cases relating to the Isle of Man, and I have a senator living in my flat in London. Senator Stuart Syvret was elected by the whole island of Jersey. He revealed on his web log that a nurse, Andrew Marolia, had been found to have probably murdered a number of patients. He was then prosecuted under the Data Protection Act by Jersey. He was not allowed to adduce as evidence the case to which he referred on his web log, which is a public interest defence-that he needed to reveal the failures of the judicial system in Jersey.
Anyone who has been following the case will know that there are great concerns in Jersey. A number of people have written to me from Jersey expressing concerns about the failure of the criminal justice system. The argument has been put that people should take everything through the judicial process in Jersey, but when there is a failure to prosecute child abusers in Jersey, which is happening-people have seen the "Panorama" programmes on that-and there is no process of judicial review for the prosecuting apparatus, which is what the Attorney-General in Jersey says, that is a serious problem. It is a problem for which the Ministry of Justice is responsible.
Although Jersey is not part of the United Kingdom, the Ministry of Justice is responsible for good law in Jersey. Someone who was elected by the whole island of Jersey, and who got the largest number of vote across the island-it is not a big island, so 15,000 was the largest number of votes-is effectively in exile in London, while warrants for his arrest continue to be issued on Jersey. He wants to come and talk to hon. Members and I am sure we will sort that out in the near future. Although something was done about the Turks and Caicos islands, nothing is being done about Jersey. That is a clear failing of the Government.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said. There is a difference between the Turks and Caicos islands, which is an overseas territory, where competence for good governance and European norms rests with the Foreign Office. Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are separate jurisdictions. Provided they meet European Union norms, their systems are their business and the business of their voters.
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