|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
"human history is told and written in pots... more than in anything else."
He went on to quote Robert Browning:
"Time's wheel runs back or stops; potter and clay endure."
At the heart of the English enlightenment, and indeed global civilisation, Stoke-on-Trent makes its place in history, but out of the six towns has emerged more than just pottery-from the rise of primitive Methodism to the works of Arnold Bennett, from the football of Stanley Matthews to the lyricism of Robbie Williams and the social justice politics of Jack Ashley.
The area has also faced profound challenges, and to be frank, globalisation has knocked the north Staffs economy sideways. Cheap labour in east Asia sparked a freefall in ceramics employment, the steel industry could not compete with China or India, and Michael Heseltine did for the last of our coal mines.
This process of economic dislocation-when "All That Is Solid Melts Into Air"- has by no means ended, but there are signs of hope. A vibrant university quarter is springing up around Staffordshire university. Onshoring is seeing the return of ceramics jobs to Stoke-on-Trent, while a new generation of designer-makers, led by the likes of Emma Bridgewater, are creating high-value, high-design, locally rooted companies. The Portmeirion business, which produces the iconic Spode designs, is successfully growing from its Stoke base, exporting to Europe, America and South Korea.
However, we have much to do in rebuilding our engineering supply chain, raising skills levels across the constituency and exploiting the human capital of Stoke-on-Trent. While we welcome the Government's commitment to rebalancing the British economy, perhaps the best way to do that is not to begin by cutting the regional development agency funds or the Building Schools for the Future programme.
My seat is an old if not ancient one. It has a proud pedigree. Born of the Great Reform Act of 1832, of which the Deputy Prime Minister is now such a student, it was first represented in this place by Josiah Wedgwood, the son of the potter. Wedgwood was a liberal-in the proper sense of the word. Like his father, he was committed to the abolitionist cause and was a stalwart of the anti-slavery movement. It was a great pleasure to have seen that spirit reawaken in the general election this year as my constituents sent the racist, reactionary and frequently criminal British National party packing.
However, Stoke-on-Trent also knows that change has to be matched with continuity, and my constituents share a deep apprehension over the Government's ill-thought-out plans for constitutional reform. They want to know that when a Government fail to win a vote of confidence, Parliament can be dissolved by 50% plus one vote, rather than the absurdity of the 55% self-protecting ordinance.
Then we come to the five-year Parliament-again, a retrospective, constitutional fix to get this Government through some muddy waters, and that is before we get on to flooding of the House of Lords with new Members, redrawing the boundaries, leaving 3.2 million voters off the register and underfunding the individual registration scheme. However, my hon. Friends and I will come back to those issues in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I simply thank the House for the indulgence of this, my maiden speech, on the Gracious Speech.
Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me at this point in the debate. I beg the patience of the House in making my maiden speech, and pay tribute to and commend the maiden speeches made by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
For new Members such as me, this is a humbling experience. For me, it is especially daunting, as my predecessor, Ian Taylor, did such a good job over the past 23 years that when he announced his retirement last year, The Times described the constituency as
"the closest thing to paradise in the UK".
Ian set the bar high. He promoted our diverse local enterprise. He fought for our community hospitals, which are cherished in Walton, Molesey and Cobham,
and he promoted local charities, from the inspiring philanthropic legacy at Whiteley retirement village to more modest but no less vital groups such as Lower Green Community Association-the "little platoons" that define our local civic spirit, which we must revive and empower across Britain today.
Ian Taylor's contribution to national life was no less important, particularly as Science and Technology Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry from 1994 to 1997. He pioneered free trade, leading a business delegation to Cuba in 1994. He was the first British Minister to visit Cuba in 20 years-the only one to return with cigars from El Presidente. Ian's immense contribution to science and technology will be sorely missed as we seek to diversify and reinvigorate our economic base.
The history of Esher and Walton counsels against taking anything for granted. The constituency was once home to the Diggers-agrarian communists during the civil war-but later to US President Herbert Hoover, the intellectual architect of "rugged individualism", which inspired the economic liberalism of Thatcher and Reagan, but also the aspirations of a certain Derek Trotter from the TV series "Only Fools and Horses". When Rodney asks where the tenants will live if all the council homes in Peckham are sold off, Derek shrugs and, unblinking, replies, "Esher, or somewhere like that."
My constituency is an aspirational place, and generally my constituents enjoy a high quality of life-generally, but not uniformly. Last year, the "Hidden Surrey" report for Surrey Community Foundation found that child poverty in Walton Ambleside was double the national average, and that poverty among the elderly in Walton North was two thirds above the national average.
No county pays more to the Treasury than Surrey's taxpayers, yet we get back just one third of the national average level of funding for local services, resulting in the neglect that I have mentioned. The "Hidden Surrey" report concludes that the previous Government had choked money for local services in the area because there was "no electoral cost". I hope that in the forthcoming spending reviews we can ensure that the funding formula reflects a truly objective, and less political, assessment of local needs.
Turning to the national picture, there is much to cheer in the coalition Government's programme, and in particular the commitment to defend our freedoms by scrapping identity cards and by enacting a freedom Bill to restore our proud tradition of liberty in this country-eroded after 13 years of legislative hyperactivity and government by press release.
In particular, the coalition programme pledges to defend trial by jury-that ancient bulwark of British justice, dating back to Magna Carta. Steeped in our history, it was a jury that acquitted William Cobbett when he was prosecuted for campaigning for social and political reforms in the 1830s. But that is also relevant today, and not just to whistleblowers and political activists. Take the vindictive prosecution of Janet Devers, the east end market trader prosecuted for selling vegetables in pounds and ounces. She was convicted in the magistrates court of a string of petty offences, but the additional prosecution in the Crown court collapsed on day one when faced with the prospect of trying to convince a jury.
Juries are the reality check on bad law and abuse of state power. Lord Devlin famously described trial by jury as
"the lamp that shows that freedom lives".
That light has flickered of late. In 2003, the previous Government tried to remove juries from complex fraud cases, and in 2008 an attempt was made to remove juries from coroners' inquests-both with scant justification. Parliament defeated or diluted both those attempts, but a third attempt landed a more telling blow.
The Government enacted part 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, allowing for removal of juries where there is a risk of or actual tampering with a jury. In January, we had under those provisions the first criminal trial in 400 years to dispense with a jury. Four men stood charged with armed robbery of a Heathrow warehouse. Three previous trials had collapsed, at a cost of £22 million to the taxpayer, with evidence of jury tampering. The High Court refused on application to dispense with the jury, but was overturned on appeal. The four men were found guilty in March, and in the process we junked a fundamental safeguard of fair trial in this country. Immediately after that case, prosecutors lodged a string of applications to dispense with juries in further cases.
A dangerous precedent has been set. A slippery slope beckons. So I wish to put the question why, for the first time in our history, are we now uniquely incapable of protecting the integrity of our justice system? Why, after the billions invested and the enormous legal powers bestowed on our police are they today, in 2010, incapable of shielding juries in criminal trials? Let no one be in any doubt. This development is no sign of strength in law enforcement, but rather the most feeble weakness, and it is not a resource issue, given the huge amounts squandered on the previous trials that collapsed.
British justice should be firm but fair, two sides of the same coin. So I urge Ministers to review and consider the case for repeal of part 7 of the 2003 Act, in the forthcoming freedom Bill. The light that shows that freedom lives is flickering, but we have an opportunity to restore it. I hope we can take it.
Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) on his maiden speech. It is always daunting for Members in all parts of the House to make their first contribution to Parliament, but I wish him well in his time on the Conservative Benches. I also congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt) and for Darlington (Mrs Chapman) on their maiden speeches. In all maiden speeches and the coverage of their constituencies, it is important for hon. Members to remember that, whatever happens in the House, they are first and foremost constituency MPs. If anything weakens that link, it would be a sad day for British democracy.
I shall touch on three topics in the debate. First, in relation to the constitution and political reform, I understand that the coalition programme for government contains an agreement which states:
"Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber that is reflective of the share of the vote . . . in the last general election."
We have already heard today that there are plans to reduce the size of the House of Commons and redraw constituency boundaries to equalise constituency sizes.
To achieve the first objective would require the creation of more than 172 new peers. That would be an increase in Tory peers from 186 to 263 and in Liberal Democrat peers from 72 to 167. I question the size of the second Chamber. The House of Lords is already one of the largest parliamentary Chambers in the world. At present, it has 734 Members, and 56 new peers were created in the dissolution honours, taking the total to 790. It is extremely unusual to have a second Chamber larger than the first. Indeed, now that Burkina Faso has abolished its upper house, there is no other country in the world with a second chamber larger than the first.
Mr Tyrie: I entirely agree with the right hon. Lady. She may be interested to know-I have checked-that the other place is the largest democratic Chamber in the world, except for the national people's congress in China. We can all make up our own minds about the level of democracy available there. Does she agree that the only way we can deal with the issue is to dispense with a House of patronage and appointment, and get to a point where we can have a democratically elected second Chamber?
Caroline Flint: I absolutely agree. In previous votes, I voted to abolish the second Chamber. I do not think that is going to happen, but in the discussion about changes in the House of Commons, we must also discuss changes in the House of Lords, as well as the purpose of the two Houses, the purpose of constituency MPs and whom the other place represents.
Mark Lazarowicz: Does my right hon. Friend think it possible that those appointed to the House of Lords by the Government in such a generous spirit would find once they got there that they were not so keen on democratic elections as they might have been previously? Perhaps we should insist that any appointment of extra peers comes after we have changed the democratic basis of the House of Lords, not before.
Caroline Flint: I agree with my hon. Friend, and I have heard rumours of grandfather clauses, which is rather frightening. It suggests that whatever system we end up with, and whatever voting might take place in future for a second Chamber, those who are currently there could continue until they die. I have many friends in the other place, but this is not the right way to talk about what we are here to do in both Houses of Parliament.
The second chamber that comes nearest to the House of Lords in size is the French Senate. This year it will have 346 members, half the size of the House of Lords. We know that the United States Senate has 104 members, and internationally the average size of a second chamber is 82. It is a matter not just of size, but of cost. We have heard that one of the reasons for reducing the number of seats in this place is cost. In 2007-08, the House of Lords cost £121.5 million, which works out at £168,000 per Member. If the House of Lords were reduced in size to, say, 100, it would save more than £115 million a year-much more than the savings projected by reductions in the size of the House of Commons by 10%, yet the coalition is planning on creating nearly 200 additional peers, at a cost of more than £20 million a year, while at the same time cutting the number of MPs.
I object to the idea of reducing the Commons arbitrarily by 10% when, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) said from the Front Bench, the workload of MPs is growing, not decreasing. In addition, we have the proposal for a new super-majority of 55% of the Commons. What we see in the coalition's reform package is a manipulation of our democracy, not an extension of it. It is not new politics to pack the Lords and rig the Commons.
The second topic that I shall touch on is the DNA database. The coalition proposal is to remove people not convicted of a crime from the DNA database. The database exists to provide justice for victims and their families. Having one's DNA profile held on the database is not a punishment. It is intended to assist in the prevention and detection of future crimes, to help eliminate the innocent from inquiries, and to deal with past crimes. Many cold cases have been solved because of the DNA database. Without the database, thousands of crimes would go unsolved and many serious and dangerous criminals would be walking our streets.
Between March 1998 and March 2009, DNA evidence helped to solve over 304,000 crimes. In 2008-09, there were 252 homicides and 580 rapes with a DNA scene-subject match. In 2008-09, 79 rape, murder or manslaughter charges in England and Wales were matched to the DNA database from DNA profiles that belonged to individuals who had been arrested but not convicted of any crime. The only civil liberties being extended by the proposal from the coalition Government are those of rapists, murderers and other serious criminals to walk the streets for longer to commit crimes because a DNA record has been deleted.
The evidence shows that there is a justification for retaining the DNA of people who have been arrested but not convicted, because their risk of offending, as measured by the risk of re-arrest, is higher than that of the general population. Analysis suggests that this risk is higher than that of the general population for six years following the arrest.
We should also not forget the potential deterrent effect of DNA. People are less likely to commit crime if they know there is a good chance that they could get caught. So if people know that DNA could play a significant role in securing convictions, they will be less likely to commit the crime in the first place. I shall save my contribution on the proposal to give anonymity to defendants in rape trials for my Adjournment debate at the end of the evening.
My final point is on police accountability. We all agree that there should be police accountability, and perhaps we need to look at police authorities and how they could be made more accountable. I am worried about the proposal to introduce elected police commissioners. We must recognise that some of the policing at force level and between forces concerns serious crimes involving organised criminals and organised networks. It is about counter-terrorism. Those are always the issues raised by my constituents on the doorstep. We need to make sure that in relation to accountability, we do not allow the work of the police to be distorted by what is most popular in our communities. I understand that there are other sorts of crime that have to be dealt with.
We have Safer Neighbourhoods teams in Doncaster and elsewhere around the country because the Labour Government decided that local policing is important.
The Conservatives opposed them when we introduced them. We now have local police teams dedicated to one particular area who will not be moved to another part of town and who spend their time out on patrol working with police community support officers and setting their priorities with local people. At the regular monthly meetings with the public, residents can demand action on gangs hanging around near an off-licence, on speeding cars or on motorbike nuisance. The mixture of local intelligence and public pressure provides real and practical accountability. What worries me about the hype surrounding elected police commissioners is that we will lose not only the plot on local accountability, but the commitment and funds to ensure that it continues to grow, not decline and wither on the vine. At the same time, we need effective policing to ensure that the public are protected from increasingly complicated crime.
On all those issues, there are many questions that the coalition Government have to answer in the days, the weeks and, it would seem, the years ahead.
Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my first speech to the House. I congratulate all those who have also made their first speeches today. I am very struck, and a bit awestruck, by the erudition that they have all displayed. As the Member for Redcar, I am proud to be the first Liberal to represent the area since 1923 and also very pleased to hear this afternoon's debate about potential voting system changes, which might do something to add to the House the 100 Liberal Democrats who ought to be Members but, due to our current voting system, are not.
My constituency comprises the north-east corner of the historic north riding of Yorkshire, flanked by the River Tees to the north, the North sea to the east and the Cleveland hills to the south. The coast boasts miles of golden beach, the site of the recent British kite-surfing championships and is adjacent to Yorkshire's only proper golf links. Redcar is a bustling coastal town, incorporating the formerly separate villages of Coatham and Dormanstown, and it has a race course with one of the few straight, level miles in the country. There was much excitement in 2007 when for a few weeks our sea front became Dunkirk for the shooting of the Oscar-winning film "Atonement".
Local delicacies include chicken parmesans, which we all know as "parmos", and lemon top ice creams-probably not a diet that the Secretary of State for Health would choose, but nevertheless absolutely delicious. Down the coast is the pretty village of Marske, which has history going back to Viking times, and inland we have a port and industrial complex of national importance. Teesport is the second biggest port in the UK, and I am glad that this Government moved quickly to freeze the extra taxes that were imposed on PD Ports, because they put it at a disadvantage to ports in mainland Europe.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|