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I know that it is the convention to avoid controversy in a maiden speech-I certainly intend to try to do that-but I have to disagree with the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), who has now left the Chamber, and with the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who said that Labour Members were in denial. In my view it is the coalition Government who are in denial. I would urge hon. Members to look at
their history books and learn from the lessons. They should look at what happened in the 1930s when the Government in this country made big cuts in public spending, and at the similar situation in the 1980s-it was not quite as bad, but it was a recession-when the Government also made big cuts. That had a devastating impact on the economy and, more importantly from my point of view, on the people whom I represent, because unemployment went through the roof. My father grew up in the 1930s, and he told me about the grinding means test that his family were subjected to as a result of the policies pursued at that time.
Hon. Members should also look at what happened in the 1930s across the Atlantic when Franklin D. Roosevelt came to power. He did not make big cuts in public spending in the face of the worst depression the world had ever known-an economic downturn perhaps on a similar scale to what we are facing today-and nor did he say, "Let's cut public spending." Far from it: he used the power of the state-the power of Government spending-to put American people back to work. Before Roosevelt came to power, 25% of the American population were out of work, yet at the end of that decade, America emerged as the No. 1 global economic superpower, never to be surpassed again.
It is also worth remembering that in 1937 the Government in America sought to reduce the economic stimulus, but it was too soon. The economy started to go into decline, and they quickly had to retreat and take a different course. I would therefore say to Members that they should look at their history books and not be too quick to condemn the record of the previous Labour Government, because we were committed to investing in our economy, to ensure that we kept people in employment and protected front-line services.
It is necessary to make efficiency savings and reductions in Government spending-we accept that some reductions need to be made-but it is worth bearing in mind that we need to look at how we can grow our economy. If we can put more people back to work, more people will be paying national insurance and income tax, and businesses will be paying more corporation tax. More resources will therefore be flowing into the Exchequer, making it possible to reduce the deficit. However, my fear is that if we remove the stimulus too soon, our economy will go into decline again, which is the last thing that I want to see.
I welcome a commitment in the Gracious Speech to reduce health inequalities and improve public health, but that prompts the question: if big cuts are going to be made early on in this new Government's term of office, how will that be delivered? One of the biggest contributory factors in undermining public health and increasing health inequalities is increasing unemployment. In my view the policies being pursued by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will increase unemployment in this country, and therefore increase health inequalities and worsen public health.
I also welcome the commitment to devolving more power to local authorities. As a former leader of Derby city council, that is something for which I have been arguing for some time, but I wonder: why now? Why are those powers being devolved at this time? Is it simply the right to make cuts that is being devolved, to deflect attention away from the coalition Government's proposals? That is my fear.
Speaking of efficiencies, I do not understand the proposal in the Government's programme to unpick the proposals to create more unitary authorities. Further, I do not understand the suggestion that that will save money. I do not think that that stands up to examination. I was the leader of a unitary council, and I know that the creation of such unitary local government cuts out a lot of duplication. My advice to the coalition Government would be that, rather than reining back from creating unitary local authorities, they should create more of them. In my view, that would be a way of reducing the cost of local government.
I welcome the commitment to tackling climate change, and I hope that the new Government will build on the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), who did so much to move forward the agenda on addressing climate change. It is one of the biggest challenges-if not the biggest-that humankind has faced since the second world war and the rise of fascism and Nazism.
The Government's reference to removing barriers to flexible working fills me with dread, because that could result in a race to the bottom. I remember when, prior to 1997, before Labour came back into power and introduced the national minimum wage, the wages councils were abolished and millions of people in our country, including thousands in my constituency, had to endure extremely low wages. They were forced to put up with poverty pay. I remember doing a jobcentre survey in 1996, and about 50% of the jobs on offer paid £1 an hour or less. Unemployed people who were subject to the regime that had been brought in were forced to take those low-paid jobs on pain of having their benefits reduced, even if they would be worse off in work than on benefits. My concern is that this talk about flexible working and about changes to welfare will take us back into a period in which people are forced into poverty pay and forced to be worse off in work than they were when they were out of work.
One of the achievements of the Labour Government that I am most proud of was the introduction of the national minimum wage, tax credits and Sure Start. They made it possible for work to be a genuine pathway out of poverty. My fear is that, if this Government's proposals go ahead in the way that is being articulated, we shall go back to that dark period before 1997 when people in our country were living in abject poverty.
I should also like an assurance from the new coalition Government that there are no plans to move away from the commitment that has been put in place to ensure a legal entitlement to paid holidays. Before Labour came to power in 1997, and before we signed up to the social chapter, if people in this country-particularly low-paid workers-wanted to take time off work, they had to do so at their own cost. They received no paid holidays at all, and it would be a retrograde step if we were to consider reverting to that.
Regulation sometimes receives a bad press, and we all know of silly examples where it has perhaps been a little over-zealous. I used to work in the building industry, however, and when I was a bricklayer in the 1970s, the health and safety standards on the building sites where I worked were woeful. Indeed, there were 54 fatalities in the building industry only last year. That illustrates an
absolute need to continue to be vigilant and to support health and safety legislation to protect the workers of this country who work in those hazardous occupations.
I know that there is a commitment to identify efficiency savings, and I am all in favour of that, but there is a danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I understand that one of the areas in which the coalition Government want to make what they deem to be efficiency savings is the regional development agencies. My local RDA, the East Midlands Development Agency, has done an excellent job in supporting business in our region. It has helped to create many thousands of jobs in the east midlands. If we start to take away that support to business at a time of economic uncertainty, it will undermine those businesses and create difficulties and more unemployment. I therefore urge the coalition Government to reconsider that proposal, so as not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. They should consider the good work that the agencies have done around the country.
On the subject of efficiency savings, I would also urge the Government to consider the work that was done by the Local Government Association on the development of the notion of Total Place. That involved bringing together different public sector organisations to cut out duplication and protect front-line services. I also urge the Government not to reject the work of Ian Smith's review, which followed on from the Lyons review, on taking civil servants out of the capital, where accommodation costs are extremely high, and putting them into the regions. I would certainly like to see some of those jobs coming to my constituency, as that would not only create new job opportunities for those directly employed in those occupations but bring the benefit of their additional spending to other businesses in the area.
I should like to say a few words about my constituency, and about Derby in general. A year or so ago, Jeremy Paxman asked why the rest of Britain could not be like Derby. I think that he was referring to the fact that Derby's local economy has performed extremely well and, although it has suffered as a result of the economic downturn, it has not suffered as badly as other areas have done. We are the UK's leading aerospace city, and 11.8% of our work force are employed in high-technology occupations. Derby is the last place in Britain still to make trains. It also has a vibrant creative industry sector; indeed, it was the birthplace of Lara Croft.
Derby has been transformed in the past 13 years. Not only have we seen 13 new schools, a new hospital and 19 Sure Start centres created in our city; we have also seen huge investment in new shopping facilities and hotels. We also have 701 additional nurses, 327 extra doctors and 92 midwives. All of these things have made a massive difference to the quality of life of people in our city. It is almost unique in that it is one of only five towns or cities in the UK to have a world heritage site in its city centre. Indeed, it was the birthplace of the industrial revolution, as the very first factory in this country was located in Derby.
Derby also hosted the country's first public park, and it is a city of firsts in many other ways, too. The programme of the coalition Government leaves Derby's future hanging in the balance, however. They would do well to recognise the importance of the city's high-tech industries to the UK economy as a whole and to learn
some of the lessons that we have learned in making Derby's economy so successful. I am proud to represent a constituency in the great city of Derby and, whatever happens, as long as I am a Member of this House, I will stand up for Derby at every opportunity.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on his speech. Anyone who looks at Parliament and thinks that we do not get quality people has not spent time listening to today's maiden speeches and, I am sure, those that we look forward to hearing later. He will be able to look back on today as the time when he first impressed the House of Commons. I hope that he will do well and that other council leaders will also ask whether they might, in time, follow him here as others have before him. The range of talents and experiences that we need in our Members includes those who have served and done important things in local government. I congratulate him again, just as I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) who did equally well, if at slightly less length. I think that the two of them will have much to contribute to the House.
On the subject of public service, I want to refer briefly to the obituary of Sir Peter Baldwin in today's The Times. Anyone who reads about his life story and work, before and during his time in the civil service and later in voluntary organisations, will see evidence of his being one of those impressive people who offer themselves not just to Parliament, but to the civil service and for that matter local government as well. The obituary provides an exemplary account of a really fine man, showing how, for example, he helped people who use motorways and made it easier for disabled people to get around. He helped others in so many other ways, too. One would not have thought that this man was also involved in the cypher school at Bletchley, helping to decode Japanese signals. He was involved in a range of activities that were so important.
Of equal value on the spectrum are people who are often called bureaucrats or managers. As our health service goes on improving, I intend to pay more attention to medical records. There is not much point in asking consultants, nurses and other clinicians to do their job more effectively if the paperwork and the computer back-up do not work. I offer my helpful interest in this issue to Worthing hospitals. I would like to be taken around by those involved at all levels of the medical records process to see how we can free up our doctors and nurses to provide the care people need in hospitals and to make it possible to say to someone in hospital, "If you're here, can we help make you better. If you should not be here, can we make your transition out to recuperation or back home as fast as possible?" All that requires keeping proper records. I am glad that we have managed to throw out most of the NHS IT system, which required my local hospital, on a budget of £140 million, to be given an extra £2 million a year to provide manual back-up for the new computer system, which worked even worse than the previous one. The NHS and the Government were warned, just as they were warned about the completely useless effect of the modernising medical careers and the medical training application service-MTAS-systems a year or so earlier. People must take responsibility for what they do.
The general election has not finished as there is still an election in Thirsk and Malton. My wife and I were there last Saturday, helping with the campaign. My grandmother's first cousin represented the constituency for 44 years; if I manage to stay here another nine or more years, I shall beat him, which would be quite a joy. I recommend colleagues new and old to get involved in elections-this one is not a by-election but part of a general election-because it helps people to see what is going on around the country. We should continue to help in that way.
Even if we decide to pass the referendum Bill on the alternative vote system, I hope people will be warned against bringing in the single transferable vote system, which would have the effect of giving a permanent place in Parliament to the British National party and a permanent place in government to people in the position of the Liberal Democrats now. That is not to say a word against them, just as I would not say a word against the Free Democratic party in Germany, but there is absolutely no reason why they should be guaranteed a place in government. The ability to throw certain people out is an important part of the democratic process. I shall therefore oppose that. I shall also oppose it for the additional reason that under STV more MPs seeking re-election are assured of getting re-elected. I believe that fewer of us should be assured of re-election-or re-selection, for that matter. I think that it should be based on merit all the time.
To the person in my constituency who in a letter to the local newspaper committed herself to the electoral system that is used for the European Parliament, I say, "That is awful." A closed regional list system is just about the worst system that can possibly be designed. It is easy to describe and fun to operate for the winners, but the number of places that can be changed is very limited. I shall support the Bill on the AV referendum and my constituents can make up their own minds as to whether they want it. AV by itself cannot do too much harm, but I give warning that STV would do a great deal of harm to our parliamentary democracy.
Radio 5 was one of a number of media commentators on the election. It has produced a book called "Commons Sense", making some recommendations and offering advice from three former MPs. The first is Clare Short, who said:
"Stay close to the people who vote for you. That keeps your feet on the ground. And don't be a clone; be true to yourself."
"The most important thing to remember is that you are no more important than the people who put you there, and your job is to do your best for them. Self importance is the politician's original sin, and self interest the greatest vice."
"The prayer I made when I became an MP was 'Please, Lord, never let me lose my sense of outrage'."
Instead of just processing constituents' problems, we actually need to care about them. If the answers we get are inadequate, we need to be persistent. One of the nicest tributes ever paid to me came from John Sentamu, the current Archbishop of York, who described me in terms of "veni, vidi, velcro"-he comes, he sees and he sticks to it. One thing I am going to stick to-let me send out a warning, or rather an invitation to Ministers
to co-operate-is seeing how many NHS consultants have been dismissed on grounds of breaking data protection rules.
I heard about a case from a doctor in my constituency whom I enormously respect, although it is about someone who is not in my constituency. I think that it was the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) who spoke about diabetes and the special needs of people with south Asian backgrounds. The consultant I am talking about knew that diabetes could be treated not only in hospital, but by educating people and helping them to change their lifestyles. She decided to get a project going under the primary care trust-part of the NHS and where confidentiality is supposed to be involved-and invited 80 such patients to participate. She sent out a list of names and addresses from herself in hospital to herself as part of the PCT-funded project, which had been approved by everybody, and she got sacked. It is difficult to understand quite why. The hospital trust that sacked her referred her to the Information Commissioner's Office, as if she had committed a criminal offence, and to the General Medical Council, which has still not got around to deciding whether there is a case to look into.
I want to arrange a meeting with the people who run the employment tribunal, which found that she may have been wrongfully dismissed but not unfairly dismissed. They should be put in the same room with employment tribunal experts, the Information Commissioner's experts, the General Medical Council's experts, the hospital trust and preferably someone from the very top of the NHS as well as a Minister. Let us get it out into the open why a doctor who cares so much about her patients that she is willing to go the extra mile should get thrown on the scrap heap for doing something that someone else did not like.
I have been invited to the Biobank. I shall be attending for a three-hour session at Croydon. It wrote to me asking whether I would like to take part. I do not see the difference between that and someone being asked to come to a specialist education clinic for diabetes. I am going to be persistent on this issue. Until we get some kind of explanation and some kind of justice, I and others will be right to continue to do so.
I make a plea about standards relating to councillors-parish, district and borough councillors as well as county councillors and those in unitary authorities-as an incredible situation exists at the moment. If a complaint is made about a councillor, that councillor does not get a copy of it. Why should any invigilating committee or independent standards group on a council be expected to look into a complaint from a member of the public about a councillor if they do not tell that councillor-apparently, they cannot under the existing regulations-what the complaint is. I have seen that happen to a person who kindly acted as my agent at the election in respect of a case that both he and I had taken up. They cannot complain about me-well, they can, but there is no committee of MPs to look into it-but they did about him. There was nothing in the case whatever, yet it ran on month after month at enormous expense and to the great worry of my colleague, and with no representation made to him.
"identity of the complainant (unless the complainant has sought and been granted anonymity)"
"paragraph(s) of the Code of Conduct alleged to have been breached."
"be sent a copy of the complaint at the same time as being notified that a complaint has been made";
"before the Assessment Sub-Committee meet, the"
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