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Nottinghamshire police, along with the county council, have attempted to stop the problem, and have found a number of barriers to finding legislation to stop what is happening on the public highways. I shall lobby the Association of British Insurers to try to get them to recognise that driving without due care and attention
should attract a three-point penalty. At the moment, it attracts only a fine. That would prevent some of those members of the public from using their vehicles to obstruct the highway. If we can pass some of the power down to our local authorities, so that they have byelaws to deal with such antisocial behaviour issues, we can save ourselves and the police a lot of hassle, hard work and taxpayers' money, all at the same time.
The other example that I should like to draw to the House's attention is that of gating orders. Members who represent rural constituencies will recognise that there are methods of creating quite quickly in law and in byelaws a public right of way so that members of the public who have used a stretch of land for a regular period can establish a footpath. However, the problem in some urban areas is that there is no reverse process, and some people use jitty ways, gunnels-whatever we want to call them-in order to create antisocial behaviour and cause trouble for residents who live next to those little jitty ways. To put a gating order in place is an enormous challenge involving hours and hours of legislation. One can do so temporarily, but then one has to go to the Secretary of State to keep the order in place, and I should like a mechanism by which we pass power down the structure to local authorities. They could then deal with and close problem areas-where there are antisocial rat-runs for people to escape from police officers and run off in different directions-so that local residents are well protected from the abusive and intimidatory activity of unscrupulous members of the public.
I also very much welcome the proposed legislation whereby we will lose regional spatial strategies. They have put enormous pressure on the greenbelt in my constituency, and they fill residents with fear. Those people live in villages and towns, but they cannot escape them at rush hour, because of the amount of traffic on the roads. I hope that we can find a method to give local authorities the power to look much more strategically at where they place housing, because there are areas of my constituency that need extra housing, and we would welcome developments not only for younger people who want to live near their families, but for older people who want to stay in their village. Often, such people live in five-bedroom or four-bedroom houses, when a nice one-bedroom, warden-aided flat in their village would assist them. Much more local thinking on development would be most welcome.
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab):
I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), who was making his maiden speech. His predecessor was a very good friend of many people in the House. The hon. Gentleman made his speech in a very knowledgeable way on all kinds of issues that are important to people here. That gives us a good sense of how this new Parliament is going to be. As someone who has been re-elected more times than they can almost remember-I think it is six times now-I have to say that on returning to this place there is no difference: one always feels the important weight on one's shoulders,
and the importance of this House as the place where we speak up for our constituents, not just for those who elected us.
I say a very big thank you to everybody who re-elected me as their Member of Parliament. We owe it to such people to ensure that this Chamber is the place where we not only speak knowledgeably and shape the debate about the legislation that will be brought forward from the Gracious Speech, but influence matters and debate issues. Indeed, we Back Benchers might become more influential than we have hitherto been. I note the earlier speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), a very distinguished former Minister; it is clear that ex-Ministers have a very important part to play. I hope that that will be an important way in which this Parliament goes forward.
The hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) referred to my former constituency neighbour and very good friend, Mark Fisher, the former Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, and the hon. Gentleman was right: Mark Fisher did a huge amount of work behind the scenes to make Parliament the place where we can start to discuss the issues, rather than just what the Government Whips tell us to discuss.
Normally, we have one old lag and one new person as proposer and seconder of the motion on the Loyal Address, but this time we had two old lags, and it is very clear from that and the debate so far that the way in which we do business in the House is changing. That has all kinds of repercussions for our new Members, particularly the large number of women Members, and we need to find out how we can use that to everybody's best advantage, so that the best parts of the Gracious Speech can be delivered to benefit all our constituents. I hope that we can all have an input into that.
As always, it is difficult to discuss a Queen's Speech without understanding the enormity of the budget cuts that are being made, and I really want to put on the record my displeasure at the fact that an announcement was made yesterday. It talked about £6 billion of cuts, and many of my constituents fear that it could lead us into a double-dip recession, which so many of us want to avoid. There is a lack of detail and clarity about where those £6 billion of cuts will be made and whether they will be fairly distributed throughout the whole country.
I very much hope that the new Government-the coalition Government-will look at, and have flagged up, the areas of greatest need, because I tell the Ministers on the Government Front Bench right now that if there is any area of high need in the country, it is Stoke-on-Trent. Huge inequalities exist there, not because of a lack of action previously, but because the scope of the challenge is so great. That also applies to other heartland areas that previously depended on manufacturing, and I want the new Government to understand those inequalities and ensure that the £6 billion of cuts and whatever follows are looked at through the prism of how such areas as my constituency can best be protected. I want to ensure that this place is where I can best safeguard my constituents' interests.
I was particularly interested in the part of the Gracious Speech that related to climate change, and I hope that the coalition Government will consult and work closely with all those in the House who have experience on the issue. I am mindful of the fact that the Committee on
Climate Change, which the previous Government set up, belongs to this House, so I hope that in new legislation on the environment and climate change we have regard for that committee's important role and ensure that, whatever cuts apply across the board, that role is protected. We cannot afford reductions there given the importance of taking forward the climate change agenda.
I put on record also the importance that I attach to ensuring that that Bill transforms the nation's electricity system. We have to move from that system's fossil fuel basis, and from coal and gas to clean forms of generation. That means clean coal and, especially, renewables, and I shall discuss the role of areas such as Sherwood in that, because I have visited and seen for myself the huge amount of pioneering work taking place in those regions.
The new Bill on the environment, climate change and energy efficiency must somehow embrace the concept of a broader, green economy. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), who served with me on the Environmental Audit Committee, understands that agenda entirely, and I hope that we will legislate for more than just electricity and ensure that there are provisions for supporting residential energy efficiency and electric vehicles.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Lady on her re-election and thank her for the role that she played on the Environmental Audit Committee. She and I both argued for a low-carbon economy and support for renewable energy and clean forms of energy generation. I assure her that any Government of whom the Liberal Democrats are a part will continue to have that climate change agenda absolutely at their heart.
Joan Walley: That was a most welcome intervention; I am glad that I gave way. I give the hon. Gentleman notice that I shall be watching very closely and holding him to account. I hope that a newly formed Environmental Audit Committee will also do so in due course, after the House decides on the role of Select Committees.
The whole issue of electric vehicles, and a charging network and infrastructure to support them, is really important. I want to flag up the important research done by the Public Interest Research Centre, which launched the Offshore Valuation in Aberdeen a couple of days ago. That work, which was part-financed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, shows that the UK's offshore renewable resources have enormous potential. It is vital that we find ways of putting the research into practice so that we become a net exporter, which would give us huge benefits as far as new manufacturing jobs are concerned, across the country and particularly in the west midlands.
To go back to something that the hon. Member for Sherwood said, I should say that there is an issue about the legacy of our coalfields. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) is here, because he understands the issue as keenly as I do in Stoke-on-Trent. I speak as one whose constituency was the first to produce more than 1 million tonnes of coal a year, during the good old Victorian age. We have a legacy, and I say to this Government that that legacy was addressed by the previous Government. We had the coalfield regeneration
work that arose from research work originally done by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. That set up funding to deal with the legacy of coal mining in areas such as mine. I am proud that £15 million land reclamation work has been under way; if that did not take place, there would be huge problems of land drainage and the collapse of culverts. The work also pays for the Coalfields Regeneration Trust. It is vital that the new Government should ensure that that work can continue in one way or another. Former coal mining areas such as mine still need that support.
Mention of education policy is made in the Gracious Speech. I have great concerns about the role of academies, as I firmly believe that local authorities should be able to make sure that there is equal provision of education right across the local authority area. I say one thing to those on the Government Benches on this issue. As I understand it, the Building Schools for the Future programme in Stoke-on-Trent is due to get its final financial sign-off in September this year. The plans are well advanced and partners have been chosen. I would not want any of the new investment that will be taking place, in new schools or the so-called free schools, to be at the expense of a carefully thought out programme such as the one in Stoke-on-Trent. We cannot afford to lose it. I hope that the relevant education Bill will look at that issue carefully.
The money brought forward by the new Government must not be at the expense of the needs of areas such as Stoke-on-Trent. In previous Budgets, there was mention of the relocation of 150,000 civil service jobs from the south-east. Will that plan be involved in the new efficiency savings? We need to know. We need to discuss the Gracious Speech in the context of the Budget and the cuts that are going to be made. I, for one, could say that there are great sites in Stoke-on-Trent. The momentum for securing a relocation of Government jobs from the south-east needs to be carried forward. I hope that Ministers will listen.
I speak as an honorary doctor of Staffordshire university for my work on regeneration. In respect of the regeneration agenda, ambitious plans are already under way for the Staffordshire university quarter, which is linked to the wider budget of the regional development agency and the Homes and Communities Agency. We need to make sure that we have ministerial input into addressing the needs of such areas, so that what is already under way and progressing is not stalled as a result of blanket cuts that take no account of the needs of people whom I represent in Stoke-on-Trent North.
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): It is a great honour to be called in the Queen's Speech debate, particularly on the first day, and it is great to be back on these Benches. Like the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), I have been returned for the sixth time and it is a humbling experience. I sincerely thank my constituents, of Bosworth constituency, for returning me. I agreed with the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) when he said that the feel of the House had changed. It has certainly changed for us-there are nearly 100 new Conservative Members, who give a new energy. Furthermore, the gender balance is different and there are so many more from ethnic minorities.
We can look forward to many exciting things with this Parliament. Looking back at the last coalition, in
the 1970s, we see that it had the seeds of its own catastrophe in its creation. It did not have any kind of solid majority and Jim Callaghan was defeated because a minority party changed sides. He said afterwards that it was the first time in history that turkeys had voted for an early Christmas, and he was right. In this new Conservative-Liberal coalition, however, we have a chance to go the distance and make a big difference.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given us a wide-ranging programme, as we would expect. The deficit issue, about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) talked at length, is clearly the key issue. We have to get control of our nation's finances. Many interesting and important Bills have been put forward. I will touch on the health reform proposals and education reform later. There is also the "I" word-immigration. It is funny how in every election campaign there is a defining moment when the campaign changes. In this campaign it undoubtedly came with the former Prime Minister's interview with Mrs Duffy. Many of the media completely misunderstood the issue at the time. The issue was not that the Prime Minister had been caught describing Mrs Duffy as a bigot; it was that he did not understand that what she was talking about really concerned ordinary people in Britain. If those remarks have done anything, it has been to enable us to talk about some of the more controversial issues in a sensible way. We were not able to do that before.
Before I get to those issues, I want to say what a delight it was to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), who delivered his speech without notes. He spoke cogently about issues of food production and energy-the issues of the future. I absolutely agree with him that increased food production will be absolutely essential. I also much enjoyed the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Richard Harrington). He was very generous to his predecessor, Claire Ward, and his points about wanting to take people on in business and being unable to do so because of regulations and red tape were well made. This new Bill, whatever we call it-the big reform Bill, perhaps, or the bonfire of the vanities Bill-will be one of the crucial aspects of this Parliament, because there is no doubt that in this country we are caught in a spider's web of our own creation. We have to release the energy and do away with many of the regulations that have been imposed on us over the past 13 years.
When I toured my 100-square-mile constituency during the election campaign, with its 23 villages and a large town, I was astonished that all the time national identity and national security came up as the key issues. This is linked to cultural identity, to immigration, to a feeling of disempowerment among ordinary people because of the flouting of planning law-I have an issue with Travellers in my constituency-and to anger about people working the system and claiming benefits to which they are not entitled. I was given the example of a man on disability allowance who was walking to the pub with a stick in the evening and laying paving stones in the morning, and was clearly not eligible. It is a good idea that we are going to review that.
One of the failings of the outgoing Government is that they put us in a situation whereby minority interests have become almost sacred, and at the expense of the majority. That is fundamentally wrong. I am all for protecting minority interests, but we now have a situation,
certainly with planning law, in which the boot is very much on the other foot as regards advantage. We need to stop treating the minority as if they were the majority and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we need to stop treating adults like children and children like adults. We need to get back to a rather more realistic regime.
Let me deal with the "I" word, which came up in Mrs Duffy's conversation-immigration. I am pleased that the incoming Government are tackling this issue head on and are going to do something about it, because it is what people were talking about. In my acceptance speech, I gave a pledge to deal with the issue of immigration, as well as schooling, which is crucial to the county. I believe in my heart that it is frankly absurd for us to complain about the British National party and some of the other fringe parties, which are articulating these concerns, if the mainstream parties will not deal with them. Whether we like it or not, this is what people want us to deal with, and we have to listen. We do not have to do this in a racist way. I spent some years at university looking at policing and public order in a multi-racial Britain-I did it for a degree-and I am very sensitive to this issue, but it has to be addressed.
The proposed cap for non-European Union immigration is certainly in accordance with what people want. I am afraid that the Labour Government were very remiss in failing to deal with the accession of new states to the European Union and in allowing such a fast inward migration of people, particularly from Poland. One can talk to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) about the enormous problems that he faces with so many people coming into his constituency. This is very regrettable. Having studied race relations over the years, one of the things that comes through is that the way to really upset communities is to overload them with new communities. I think that this is probably the most tolerant nation in the world. We have a wonderful record of accepting people, going back to the Huguenots. If one looks at London now, it is the most amazing mixture of different races, colours and creeds. People from all over the world love living here because it is largely safe compared with other major cities, although I am not saying that we do not have our problems. It was remiss of the Labour Government not to tackle inward migration from the European Union by getting the derogations that other European states such as Germany and France obtained. If we are to bring in Ukraine, Turkey, Croatia and other such states, I say to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that we must deal with this.
The decentralisation and localism Bill, which hopes to devolve greater powers to councils and local communities, will certainly have an impact on my area. The top-down imposition of planning instructions has been very cack-handed and out of tune with local people's requirements. We have to make some changes in this respect. One of the issues that we have faced in my area is a huge allocation of housing under the old plan, and I want this to be looked at again. We also have in my constituency Travellers' sites that are unauthorised; they have been developed on land that is owned by the Travellers, completely riding roughshod over local planning requirements. There is a site called the Good Friday site, which, predictably, was built on Good Friday. I hardly need tell hon. Members why-it was because the
council officers were all off work. There was no stop order, and by the following bank holiday Monday the tarmac had been laid and the concrete and infrastructure were there.
I have been approached by councillors from Ratby-Chris Boothby and Ozzy O'Shea-who deal with this all the time. They tell me that the most difficult aspect is circular 01/2006, issued by the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which tips the balance by enabling planning officers to claim that they have to treat the needs of the Traveller community above those of the established community. I do not mind an even playing field, but this tips the balance; it is also used on appeal. I ask my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench to consider immediately suspending this circular. [ Interruption. ] As my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) says, this is a major and difficult problem for us. There is an unfair advantage, and it must be put right.
I referred to the man who was claiming disability allowance when he should not have been doing so. I welcome the Bill from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to co-ordinate, slim and make more effective the benefits system and welfare generally. I pay great tribute to him for all the work that he has done. The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) has also worked very strongly on this. It irritates ordinary people so much to think that people are in there fiddling the system, and it must be made better.
It is a rare privilege, Mr Deputy Speaker, to talk in the Chamber without having a time limit, but I am not going to abuse the situation. In the old days, when we carried out filibusters, I have spoken here for an hour and a half, but I am not going to do that tonight, I can assure you; I shall finish fairly soon. However, I want to say a few words about the academies Bill. I very much welcome the idea that every outstanding school can be an academy. There may be a high take-up in Leicestershire, because we have several excellent schools. However, I have a question: is this going to apply automatically, or will they have to apply for it? In my county, the funding of schools has been an absolutely crucial issue. I would not want academy schools to attract more funding than the other schools maintained by the county council. We are in a most dreadful position. The designated schools grant in Leicestershire is the lowest in the country, and for many years I have been campaigning, with colleagues, to have that situation rectified. We are very much disadvantaged. If we take a lot of schools out of the system and make them academies, that may make it harder for the county council to provide the excellent services that it provides now. However, they will not miss the 4,000 instructions that come down from the Education Department every year. If we can get rid of this top-down, Stalinist structure, that will be very welcome.
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