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27 May 2010 : Column 367

I am also delighted by the announcements on Equitable Life. For too long, its policy holders have been denied justice, and it is about time that the ombudsman's recommendations were implemented. It is good news that they are going to be.

I was reassured by what I heard from our Front Bench about the fact that we are going to work towards an obligation for energy companies to provide information on the cheapest tariffs on all domestic bills.

I was pleased by my Government's commitment to bear down on the deficit. The larger the size of the deficit, the heavier the weight on our economy. That is something that the Opposition do not realise. If we want a prosperous economy in which we will be better able to pay for our public services, we must get the deficit down. The argument that any reduction in spending is somehow taking money out of the economy is fundamentally flawed. Every pound that is borrowed and spent, by any Government, is a pound taken from the private sector. A private sector-led recovery will be essential in our fight to reduce the deficit.

I have one or two questions to put to those on my Front Bench about the new coalition agreement, one of which the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) is particularly well positioned to answer. It is about Travellers. She will know that the issue of Travellers is an important one not only in my constituency but in others, particularly in the south-east. My constituency has the largest illegal Traveller camp in the country-some say it is the largest in Europe-at Dale Farm. Travellers bought some green belt land there-there is nothing wrong with that-but they then illegally and speedily developed it, to the point where it is now the largest site in the land.

A forced eviction is now due. We have gone through the planning process and that has been flipped over into the legal process. We have gone through both processes and we are now, sadly, at the point of a forced eviction. I say "sadly" because I have been to see the Travellers, and I have tried to persuade them that we all want a peaceful resolution to the issue, and that the best way to achieve that is for them to move off peacefully. To date, however, they have refused to do that.

No one is seeking to penalise or discriminate against Travellers. All we are saying is that anyone who lives in our community should abide by the same set of rules. There should not be one rule for the law-abiding majority and another for the Travellers. I say the same thing to anyone-Traveller or non-Traveller-who asks me about developing on the green belt, or who has already done so. The law needs to be upheld. I am concerned that there is no mention at all of our policies towards Travellers in the coalition agreement-

Mrs Spelman rose-

Mr Baron: I trust that my right hon. Friend is about to put me right on that.

Mrs Spelman: I might be able to help my hon. Friend on this matter. In the Communities and Local Government brief, there is mention of a Bill from that Department that will contain measures on this subject, as has already been made public. Those measures will close the retrospective planning permission loophole in this regard
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and extend the power of stop notices so that they can go beyond 28 days. Most importantly, given the part that my hon. Friend's local authority has played in providing authorised sites, the measures will give an incentive to local authorities to provide more authorised sites. They will also recognise that the cost of that should not fall on the council tax payer, and that will be recognised in the local authority grant. I hope that that gives him some comfort.

Mr Baron: It does, indeed, and I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. However, the Conservative Green Paper also discussed the provision of more sites. While I have been a strong advocate of the need to give councils much stronger powers to deal with Travellers who illegally develop the green belt, I also believe that we must look at the issue in a balanced fashion and realise that there is an acute shortage of sites across the south-east. It worries me that although our Green Paper mentioned the need for greater provision of sites, that was not in the manifesto and it was certainly not in the coalition agreement. Perhaps in the fullness of time, my right hon. Friend might be able to provide further clarification.

The all-party group on cancer, which I chair, conducted an in-depth inquiry into cancer inequalities in this country. All the evidence suggests that inequalities in both treatment and outcomes for cancer patients have been growing. We came up with eight recommendations, the most important of which was the introduction of a one-year survival measure. We felt that we should try to move the focus of the NHS away from input-based targets and more towards measuring how well the NHS actually performs in making people better. The one-year survival measure was our key recommendation, as it was clear from all the evidence that if we were to catch up with our European neighbours on average one-year and five-year survival rates, we had to improve on early diagnosis. That was key: the sooner we could get people diagnosed, the sooner the treatment could begin. That could save literally thousands of lives in this country.

The pledge in the coalition agreement states that the aim will be to measure success on results like improving cancer survival, so the question I am asking now-I do not expect an immediate answer, but one in the fullness of time-is whether that commitment extends to introducing one-year survival measures. The required statistics and information are already being produced, courtesy of the NCIN-national cancer intelligence network-so there would be no additional costs. We have to bring this out of the cupboard, shine a light on it and make sure that PCTs know that we are looking at the figures and seeing how well they are performing in improving survival and the outcomes for patients at the one-year mark. The eventual aim is to apply a five-year measure, as happens on the continent, but we felt that a one-year measure would be enough to get the ball rolling. I shall seek further clarification on this issue from my Government.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about Afghanistan. As you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and some other Members will know, I was against our involvement in Afghanistan from the very start. I felt that we fundamentally underestimated the task in hand and that it was never clear quite what the mission was. That was borne out last year when the Prime Minister seemed to flip-flop between justifying our presence there by
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saying that we were somehow protecting the streets of this country from terrorism, and threatening President Karzai almost in the same breath by saying that unless he cleaned up his act politically, we would withdraw our troops. Those two statements and positions did not, and still do not, sit well next to each other.

As an ex-soldier, I fully welcome the promise to rebuild the military covenant to support our troops and their families, particularly when it comes to mental health issues, and to make sure that our troops are fully equipped. I urge our coalition Government and Front-Bench colleagues to understand that on this issue we need not just fresh thinking, but a fresh approach. We need to ensure that our aims are clearly stated, so that we can measure according to them the criteria for bringing our troops home. If we cannot do that and the mission continues to be the fudge that was, unfortunately, only too apparent under the last Government, lives will be needlessly lost and we will be no closer to bringing our troops home.

3.30 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I am grateful to you for calling me to speak today, Mr Deputy Speaker. As I am sure you know, the environment is a subject dear to my heart, and I shall return to it in a moment.

I think that anyone would find making their first speech in the Chamber daunting, given its history and traditions and the many momentous events that it has witnessed. However, I have an additional responsibility, which is to speak not only as the new Member of Parliament for Brighton, Pavilion, but as the first representative of the Green party to be elected to Westminster.

We must go back several decades, to the election of the first nationalist MPs in Scotland and Wales, to identify the last maiden speech made by a member of a new national political party. Perhaps a better comparison would be with the first socialist and independent Labour MPs, whose arrival over a century ago was seen as a sign of coming revolution. When Keir Hardie made his maiden speech after winning the seat of West Ham South in 1892, there was an outcry, because instead of a frock coat and top hat he wore a tweed suit and a deerstalker. It is hard to decide which of those options would seem more inappropriate today.

What Keir Hardie stood for, however, seems much more mainstream now: progressive taxation, votes for women, free schooling, pensions, and abolition of the House of Lords. Although the last of those is an urgent task that is still before us, the rest are now seen as essential to our society. What was once radical, even revolutionary, has become understood, accepted and even cherished.

I am helped today by the admirable tradition that in their first speech to the House, Members should refer to their constituency and to their predecessor. David Lepper, who stood down at the election after 13 years' service as Member of Parliament for Brighton, Pavilion, was an enormously hard-working and highly respected Member whose qualities transcended any difference of party, and I am delighted to have the chance to thank him for his work on behalf of the people of Brighton.

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It is also a great pleasure to speak about Brighton itself, or Brighton and Hove as the city is rightly called. It is, I am sure, well known to many Members, if only in connection with party conference time. My own party has not yet grown to a size that would justify the use of the Brighton Centre-although I hope that that will change before long-but I can tell Members who are not familiar with it that it is one of the United Kingdom's premier conference venues. There are also the attractions of the shops and caf├ęs of the Lanes and North Laine, the pier, and, of course, the Royal Pavilion itself, which gives its name to the constituency. Beyond the immediate boundaries of the constituency and the city is the quietly beautiful countryside of the south downs and the Sussex Weald.

Brighton has always had a tradition of independence, of doing things differently. It has an entrepreneurial spirit, making the best of things whatever the circumstances, and enjoying being ahead of the curve. We see that in the number of small businesses and freelancers in the constituency, and in the way in which diversity is not just tolerated or respected, but positively welcomed and valued. You have to work quite hard to be a local character in Brighton.

We do not have a single dominant employer in the constituency. As well as tourism and hospitality, we have two universities, whose students make an important cultural as well as financial contribution to the city. A large number of charities, campaigning groups and institutes are also based there, some local, others with a national or international reach, such as the Institute of Development Studies. All those organisations do excellent work, and I look forward to supporting them during my time in this place.

Many of my constituents are employed in the public and voluntary sectors. They include doctors and teachers, nurses and police officers, and others from professions that do not always receive the same level of attention or support from the media or, indeed, politicians. But whatever role they play-as social workers, planning officers, highway engineers or Border Agency staff-we depend on them. I am sure that Members on both sides agree that all those who work for the state should be respected and their contribution valued. Particularly at a time of cuts, with offhand comments about bureaucrats and pencil-pushers, that becomes even more important.

There is also a Brighton that is perhaps less familiar to hon. Members. The very popularity of the city puts pressure on transport, housing and the quality of life. Although there is prosperity, it is not shared equally. People are proud of Brighton but they believe it can be a better and fairer place to live and work. I pledge to do everything I can in this place to help achieve that, with a particular focus on creating more affordable and more sustainable housing. We have more than 11,000 people on the housing waiting list in the city and we need urgent action.

Brighton was once the seat of the economist Henry Fawcett, who was elected there in 1865. Shortly afterwards, he married Millicent Garrett, later the leader of the Suffragists, a movement he himself had encouraged and supported. He lent his name to the Fawcett Society, which is still campaigning for greater women's representation in politics. The task of ensuring that Parliament better reflects the people it represents remains work in progress. As the first woman elected in Brighton, Pavilion, this is
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work that I will do all I can to advance. I pay tribute to the wide range of organisations in Brighton and Hove that work with women, which do some fantastic work. They include Rise, which works with women who have been subject to domestic violence.

I said when I began that I found this occasion daunting and perhaps the most difficult task is to say a few words about the latest radical move that the people of Brighton have made in electing the first Green MP to Parliament. It has been a long journey. The Green party traces its origins back to 1973 and the issues highlighted in its first manifesto for a sustainable society, including security of energy supply, tackling pollution, raising standards of welfare and striving for steady state economics, are even more urgent today. I cannot help thinking that if our message had been heeded nearly 40 years ago, we would be much closer to the genuinely sustainable economy that we so urgently need than we currently are today.

We fielded 50 candidates in the 1979 general election as the Ecology party and began to win seats on local councils. Representation in the European Parliament and the London Assembly followed and now, after nearly four decades of the kind of work on doorsteps and in council chambers with which I know hon. Members are all too familiar, we have more candidates, more members and now our first MP. A long journey; too long, I would say.

Politics needs to renew itself and to allow new ideas and visions to emerge. Otherwise, debate is the poorer and more and more people feel that they are not represented. I hope that if and when other new political movements arise, they will not be excluded by the system of voting. Reform here, as in other areas, is long overdue. That chance must not be squandered. Most crucially, the people themselves must be given a choice about the way their representatives are elected and that means more than a referendum on the alternative vote. It means the choice of a genuinely proportional electoral system.

Both before the election and afterwards, I have been asked the question, "What can a single MP achieve?" I may not be alone in facing that question. Since arriving in this place and thinking about the contribution of other MPs and what they have done over the years, I am sure that the answer is very clear. A single MP can achieve a great deal. A single MP can contribute to debates, to legislation and to scrutiny, work that is valuable if not always appreciated outside. A single MP can speak up for their constituents and challenge the Executive. For example, I am pleased that the Government are to introduce legislation to revoke a number of restrictions on people's freedoms and liberties, such as identity cards. But many restrictions remain; for example, control orders are to stay in force. Who is to speak for those affected, or for the principle that people should not be held without charge even if it is in their own homes? House arrest is something we deplore in other countries and I hope that, through debate, we can conclude that it has no place here either.

A single MP can raise issues that cannot be raised elsewhere. Last year, hon. Members from both sides helped to shine a light on the actions of the international commodities trading group, Trafigura, and the shipping of hazardous waste to the Ivory Coast. There was particular concern that the media in this country were prevented from reporting the issues fully and fairly. That remains the case, for new legal actions concerning
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Trafigura have been launched in the Dutch courts and are being reported widely in other countries but not here. Those are the kinds of issues I will hope to pursue.

Finally, I wish to touch on the subject of today's debate. I have worked on the causes and consequences of climate change for most of my working life, first with Oxfam, for the effects of climate change are already affecting millions of people in poorer countries around the world, and more recently for 10 years in the European Parliament. If we are to overcome this threat, we in this Chamber have a vital role to play. We must take the lead. We must act so the United Kingdom can meet its own responsibilities to cut the emissions of carbon dioxide and the other gases that are changing our climate, and we need to encourage and support other countries to do the same.

This House has signed up to the 10:10 campaign- 10% emission reductions in 2010. That is very good news, but the truth is we need 10% emission cuts every year, year on year, until we reach a zero-carbon economy, and time is running very short. If we are to avoid irreversible climate change, the current Parliament must meet this historic task. That gives all of us in this Chamber an extraordinary responsibility, but also an extraordinary opportunity, because the good news is that the action we need to take to tackle climate change is action that can improve the quality of life for all of us: better, more affordable public transport; better insulated homes; the end of fuel poverty; stronger local communities and economies; and many more jobs. I look forward to working with Members of all parties to advance these issues.

3.41 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to be called to make my maiden speech during this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on her speech, and may I also say that it was a pleasure working with her in the European Parliament for 10 years, especially on animal welfare issues? The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) has just left the Chamber, but I thank him for his comments on miners and for reminding us that so many are killed during mining operations. I also want to pay a quick tribute to my wife, who is sitting up in the Gallery; not only do I pay tribute to the fact that she has put up with me for almost 30 years, but I thank her for helping me through my political career, and I hope that that will continue.

It is a great pleasure to have the duty of thanking Angela Browning, the retiring Member for Tiverton and Honiton. Not only was she an Agriculture Minister between 1994 and 1997, but she was shadow Leader of the House for one year, from 2000 to 2001. She was also vice-president of the Alzheimer's Society and the National Autistic Society, and a patron of Research Autism.

I have looked up her maiden speech, and I want to quote the end of it:

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