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The Opposition now claim that community is in their DNA. Well, it was not in their DNA when they were last in government, when real, long-term mass unemployment was evident on every street corner and plagued our communities. If community was not in their DNA then, it cannot be in their DNA now. Their DNA has done nothing but mutate into a split personality, saying one thing and doing another. But we know the truth. We are mending the broken society that they left behind. We know because we took the tough decisions that they opposed on the economy. We know the truth because Labour has built more than 100 new hospitals. There are hundreds of new or refurbished schools. In the north-east, deaths by heart disease have fallen by 58 per cent., and cancer deaths by 28 per cent. We still have much to do, but Labour's intent is clear: we are on the side of the people. The truth is that we created the NHS, but the Tories voted against it; we introduced the minimum wage, but the Tories voted against it; we created Sure Start, but the Tories voted against it; we
stand for the many, but the Tories will stand by the few; we stand for fairness, but they will stand by the privileged. That is the choice that we face.
I am optimistic about the future. We need a Government who are smart and big in character to face up to the future-and they are this Government. There are challenges ahead. If ever there was proof that we live in a globalised world, it was the turmoil in the global economy over the past year. People who live in the villages and towns in my constituency need to know that we will look after them in the future; that the benefits of a globalised economy will not pass them by; that the people who run the global economy and financial markets do not remain faceless gamblers and that what they get up to is transparent and accountable, and not socially useless; and that the major economies act in unison through the G20 and, if necessary, a Tobin tax is introduced to dampen down the casino economy and to provide a safe and stable world of savings and investment for ordinary people.
As I look at the register of donors to the Conservative party, I see bankers, hedge fund managers, tycoons such as Lord Ashcroft and people who believe in a casino economy and who got us into this mess in the first place. I guess that they will vote for the Conservative party, because it represents their interests. That is another reason why I know that the Labour party will win the next election.
John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): I congratulate my neighbouring colleague, the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain), on an excellent maiden speech. I hope that he will be available to his constituents and take on some of the casework that I have been covering in recent months-I had to survive only three weeks of a campaign, but he had four or five months, which is extraordinary. He mentioned several important issues on which I hope he will press the Government, because there might be slight differences between him and his Front-Bench colleagues. For example, perhaps it is time that we saw an increase in the minimum wage. He suggested that a fiscal stimulus would help unemployment, whereas, I believe, his Front-Bench colleagues are planning cuts.
I will concentrate on the proposal to abolish attendance allowance and disability living allowance for over-65s, which would affect 2.4 million vulnerable pensioners-1.6 million claiming attendance allowance and 800,000 living on DLA. We have received various reassurances from Ministers suggesting that people will receive similar services, rather than money. On Thursday, the Health Secretary said that
"people will be guaranteed an equivalent level of support".-[ Official Report, 19 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 241.]
"Equivalent level of support" could mean cash, home help or similar support in kind, and people are asking, "Which is it?" It is not good enough. That phrase is worrying a lot of people and I hope that we will receive some clarification. Clearly, the same money cannot be in two places at the same time, so increasing services in one area will mean cuts in payments in another area, and presumably the people who lose attendance allowance will not necessarily be the people who receive the new services.
Attendance allowance and DLA do a lot of good. I shall quote from a briefing that I received from the Scottish Association for Mental Health. It provides several examples of how DLA and attendance allowance can be used to good effect, but we are short of time, so I shall limit how much I quote. It states:
"Disability benefits and free personal care enable older people in Scotland to remain independent in the community, providing older people with a personal budget to help with their care and support needs. This could include covering the costs of a friend or family member coming to the home in the morning to help the person get out of bed, prepare meals or do shopping and cleaning. Any changes to disability benefits could affect the provision of this care and support and result in an older person needing more costly forms of social care in the home or lead to a person moving into residential care if they were not able to manage their household."
"Changes could increase the pressures on informal carers which could limit the opportunities of carers being able to work and therefore lead to them not contributing through the income tax system."
The other concern is that I thought that we were aiming to support direct payments. In fact, the Welfare Reform Act 2009, which went through Committee only recently and which I was involved with, made some good statements in that direction. For example, clause 30 of the then Bill said:
"The purpose of this Part is to enable disabled people aged 18 or over to exercise greater choice in relation to, and greater control over, the way in which relevant services...are provided to or for them".
What will happen to the money if DLA and attendance allowance are abolished for Scotland and Wales? Will it be handed over as a lump sum? If so, will the amount be based on need or on the Barnett formula of population? Will it be open to the devolved Governments to continue with attendance allowance in Scotland and Wales, even if they do not continue in England? Perhaps we could also have some clarification about whether only new claimants are affected, or will some of the current recipients lose benefits? There seems to be a lot of uncertainty about that, too. Can we have a clear statement from the Minister? I do not think that disabled pensioners and their carers should have to wait for clarification on that key issue.
There is also the potential for an impact on carer's allowance, which is extremely low at the moment, at £53.10. However, what happens if carer's allowance is paid to someone who looks after a person receiving attendance allowance and attendance allowance is abolished? It seems bizarre to me that the party planning to cut benefits is the Labour party. That is the kind of thing that I would have expected from the Tories, who seem to be the ones trying to protect those benefits, although I do not entirely trust their version of events. That is a reverse from my younger days, perhaps 30 years ago, when Labour was to the left of the Tories. Many of my constituents now tell me that they cannot tell the difference. I fear that parts of the electorate still think that Labour is the party that will protect the poor and downtrodden, but when I hear things such as what I have described, it makes me wonder.
Clearly there are overlaps between work and pensions and other aspects of the Queen's Speech, such as health. Another example is the minimum wage. If the Government are strapped for cash, why are we subsidising profitable employers to pay below a living wage? Tax credits are a good thing, because they boost the income of low earners. I certainly welcome that, but the Government's policies effectively mean that we are encouraging some employers to pay a wage that people cannot live on. I consider that to be immoral. If we are looking at benefits and encouraging people into work, part of the equation has to be increasing the minimum wage.
Let me briefly discuss one or two other areas of concern that have been mentioned today. We certainly welcome the Child Poverty Bill. There has been a lot of support for the Bill from across the House, but there is concern that we will not be even halfway there by 2010-11. The Home Secretary said in opening this debate that he hoped to be there, but I do not think that he was widely believed. There are apparently no resources coming in to support the intention to abolish child poverty by 2020. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) said that there would be "real teeth" in the Bill, but I have seen no sign of teeth whatever. Indeed, I would like to see what those "real teeth" might be, and that is without mentioning the fact that taking child poverty down to only 10 per cent. is hardly abolishing it.
I do not want to spend much time on immigration, but it has been mentioned once or twice. There are just a couple of points that I would like to make, the first of which is about bogus colleges. We need action on that issue, on which there is agreement across the House. The colleges in my area, including John Wheatley college, which covers an area that I share with the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-East, are concerned about the issue, as I know Scottish colleges will be in future.
At the same time, while there is concern about people coming in in an uncontrolled manner, my experience is that the Border Agency can be extremely strict with a lot of people. As I have mentioned before, a pipe band from Pakistan was refused entry and I know that a number of people from north America who had been well funded to work with the homeless in Glasgow, for example, or who had come to speak at a Christian conference have been sent right back from the airport. Yes, we need border controls, but there also needs to be flexibility. I echo the point made previously that Scotland's population is such that we would welcome more people coming in and boosting our economy.
The final area I want to touch on briefly is the Calman commission, which I believe is an omission from the Queen's Speech. Whether it was there in the original version or not is a matter for debate, but the reality is that there is no firm commitment by the Government to take forward the Calman commission's proposals, despite the fact that many of them could very easily be brought into being. Sir Kenneth Calman himself said of his report:
"I think there are a lot of bits, as I mentioned, which I think can be implemented quickly and easily without too much fuss, others will take a bit of time to think through."
The drink-driving limit is one example. Clearly, there is an alcohol problem in Glasgow and the west of Scotland and I know that it exists south of the border as well. Minimum pricing has been mentioned, which we certainly welcome and encourage for Scotland. I hope that the hon. Lady and others who have spoken in support of this measure will speak to their colleagues in Scotland and encourage them to support it, too. If Northern Ireland can have separate limits for drink-driving, surely it would be helpful if we moved quickly so that Scotland can take a lead, as I argued earlier that it has on other issues.
Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): I congratulate my new hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain), who has unfortunately had to leave, having been in the Chamber all afternoon waiting patiently for his turn, as we all have. He made an excellent maiden speech-one of the best I have ever heard. Many people were in their places to hear it and a great deal of interest was created, which bodes well for a great future.
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst), who was in the Chair at the time, was listening avidly, as I was, for mention of my hon. Friend's sporting interests. Mr. Deputy Speaker was particularly interested in hearing about cricket, to see whether my hon. Friend would be attracted by the Commons cricket club, which the right hon. Gentleman runs, while I was waiting to hear whether he said anything about football so that I could involve him as a Glaswegian in the parliamentary football club.
I was reminded that next Tuesday the parliamentary football team, which has many distinguished Members from both sides of the House, is playing its annual fixture against the chefs of the House. The great Glaswegian player Kenny Dalglish is coming along. I had a word in my hon. Friend's ear, but I was most disappointed when he turned around and said, "I don't play football too well." The Labour party had better sort out its selection practices if we are not getting decent sportsmen into the Commons to fill our teams to play against other teams for charity.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson), who summed up why people should vote Labour at the next general election. He summed up what we have done over the years and exactly how this most gracious Queen's Speech will build on that. I was most impressed with my hon. Friend's speech. He went through so much that it made me wonder which constituency-not in the geographical sense, but in the sense of a group of people-would be voting for the Opposition at the next election. He mentioned pensioners and I wondered whether they would want to throw away the winter fuel allowance, the help with their TV licences and their bus passes. I do not think so. Pensioners are far too wise; they have been through the Tory period and seen what the Tories have done.
One Opposition Member said today that we keep going on about the past-we like to remind people once or twice-whereas the Opposition want to talk about the future. However, people cannot be told to look into the crystal ball when they have already read the book and know what the Opposition have been up to.
Among local government workers, who will vote for the Opposition? All the secondary schools in this country are being rebuilt. In contrast, let us look at the state of the schools before this Government came into office-the size of the classrooms, the state of the equipment. Now look at the excellent work going on. Which parent who remembers going to school during the 18 years of Tory Government will turn round and say, "Oh, no, I don't like all these changes. It's too extravagant for me. I want to go back to having a leaky roof. I don't want a computer, I just want to go and write on a bit of paper." They will never do that in a million years.
I admit that the Government have disappointed me in one area of social policy: antisocial behaviour. They have not gone as far as I would have liked. We all have antisocial behaviour in our communities, and we are trying hard to stop that blight. However, if we ask people in working-class communities such as Jarrow, Tyneside, Teesside, Durham and other parts of the country why we have that blight, they will say that it goes back to the past.
In the past, when those young kids who had a bit of cheek-we all remember the cheeky one in our classrooms-and the tough lads left school at 16, they went into the pits, shipyards and steelworks. They were not condemned to a lifetime on the dole, of nothing. They were not thrown out and told, "You're not wanted, you're nothing." They were taken in. On their first day in the workplace, they were put under adult supervision-the supervision of people who were respected in their own communities and who looked after their communities. Yes, they policed their own communities. They were a great hand to the police, because when young kids knocked around the corner, somebody would tell their father in work, and he would speak to someone else in work. Those kids would not be around the next week; they would be out doing something better, or they would be in the house.
We have not done as much as we could have on antisocial behaviour, social problems and crime in this country, but people in communities such as mine still refer all those problems back to the dreadful 18 years when they were cast out to despair.
The Gracious Speech rightly says that the Government are committed to giving everyone a chance and giving everyone fairness, and that more measures will be brought forward to complement those in the Gracious Speech. I want to raise one issue that is immensely important to workers of today, pensioners of today, and pensioners of tomorrow: pleural plaques. As the Minister knows, many of us have campaigned for a substantial period of time to get the dreadful decision of the Law Lords overturned, to ensure that pleural plaques sufferers, both now and in the future, have the rightful compensation that they enjoyed for so long.
Members on both sides of the House know that justice takes persistence and time, and requires us to break down the opposition of vested interests and other objections. Battling bureaucracies, building alliances and lobbying Ministers is part of the job of MPs, no
matter which side they sit on. We have all taken up causes on behalf of constituents or groups of people. Our job is about representing ordinary people whose voice would otherwise not be heard. That is why it is so important to raise the issue of pleural plaques sufferers in today's debate. I make no apology for continuing to campaign, along with other Members, and continuing to try to overturn that disgraceful and unjust decision by the Law Lords to bar this terrible illness from classification as a designated illness for compensation purposes.
Pleural plaques are a scarring of the lung tissue. They are caused mainly by negligent exposure to asbestos in the workplace. Although it is mostly the worker himself who has developed the condition as a result of exposure to asbestos, his family may have developed it as well. When the worker took his work clothes home and hung them up, the baby in the cot or the older son who had come home from school and was doing his homework may have breathed in the bits of fibre on the overalls. It is well known that a substantial number of such people, who are now grown up, have pleural plaques merely because of exposure of that kind. Moreover, it is estimated that pleural plaques sufferers are 1,000 times more likely than any other section of society to develop a more serious form of asbestos-related cancer.
For over 20 years, the courts recognised that this was a compensatable illness. Everyone accepted that, and the insurers and the Government put money aside, until this dreadful decision by the Law Lords. One of the sorriest aspects of the case was that the Law Lords agreed with the lawyers who said that pleural plaques did not constitute a compensatable injury and did not cause any sort of depression or illness.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): The hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) was making some very interesting points towards the end of his speech. It is a shame that they were overshadowed by the rather silly ones with which he began. He started off with a bit of a history lesson. "Take me back 18 years," he said. I will take him back 18 years, to the winter of discontent-to the last time Labour had been in power for a number of years. Just like the current Labour Government, they left the country socially and economically on the brink of utter bankruptcy.
I should be happy to take the hon. Gentleman even further back, to when Harold Wilson devalued our pound by 15 or 20 per cent. but told people that "the pound in their pocket" was worth the same as before. Or we could go back 40 or 50 years, to Clement Attlee building his new Jerusalem on the back of American war loans. I can go back as far in history as the hon. Gentleman likes, but I will find that history always teaches us the same thing: that Labour Governments always end in financial disaster, and that a Conservative Government are required to put things right once again.
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