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On a serious note, it is easy to forget what has been achieved in Northern Ireland, because nothing is more certain in politics than that, once a commitment is delivered, it is human nature to look forward, not back. None the less, Northern Ireland is a safer, more peaceful place thanks to many people, and Adam Ingram is one of them.
After his time in the Northern Ireland Office, Adam was moved by Tony Blair to the Ministry of Defence. He became the UK's longest serving defence Minister in modern times, dealing with many complex and difficult problems on the global stage. In total, Adam served for 23 years as the MP for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow and its predecessor constituencies, including 10 years as a Minister. During those 23 years, he never forgot who put him in Parliament, and he always put the interests of his constituents first. I pay tribute to Adam Ingram's service to my constituency and to our country.
My constituency is a mix of rural and urban. Its most densely populated area is East Kilbride, Scotland's most successful new town, where I have lived man and boy. Equally important is our rural area, an eclectic mix of villages, each one retaining its distinctive features. Other Members have asked me, "Which constituency do you represent?" They have been rather baffled by the triple-barrelled title of East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow; alternatively, they have had no idea what I am actually saying. However, they should be grateful for the brevity of the title, because many of my constituents remain upset that it does not include their areas of Auldhouse, Blackwood, Brockets Brae, Chapelton, Drumclog, Gilmourton, Glassford, Jackton, Kirkmuirhill, Sandford, Stonehouse and Thorntonhall. I suspect that after hearing that list, Members will be grateful that the constituency name was shortened.
My constituency has a history of providing jobs in both new and established industries, and my constituents do not fear hard work-in fact, they relish it. For the last 13 years, the constituency has had both private and public sector investment. Public sector investment has led to the building of a new hospital, six new high schools, 10 new primary schools, new care homes for the elderly and vulnerable, and new houses. However, that investment is now under threat, both from decisions that will be made in this House and in the devolved Parliament in Edinburgh. We have lost manufacturing jobs in the semiconductor sector and other parts of the economy, but the people of my constituency are resilient. If they are given the opportunities-and their fair share of Government support-they will succeed.
I turn now to the constitution. I learned at an early age in the trade union movement, from my former wise leader, Mr Barry Reamsbottom, that those who seek to amend constitutions rarely do so with the best intentions. That is why I listened intently to the Prime Minister on the day of the Queen's Speech. I have to say that I was disappointed. In attempting to justify the proposal to move to a 55% majority in order to dissolve this House, the Prime Minister used the example of the devolved Administration in Scotland to suggest that the proposal was constitutionally sound. In doing so, he revealed a profound misunderstanding of the devolved settlement.
The devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were created by legislation in this House. Under the principle of subsidiarity, decisions
previously taken in this place were devolved to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This House of Commons retains its overarching authority over the devolved Administrations because this is the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom. For the Prime Minister to pray in aid rules governing the dissolution of a devolved structure to justify a change in the rules of this House demonstrates an alarming lack of respect for the status of the United Kingdom. The argument of the tail wagging the dog does not stand up even to light scrutiny. My constituents have been steadfast in their support of this democratic Chamber, which is rightly revered around the world. Do not let us diminish its authority based on the result of one election.
This House comprises people of many different backgrounds and talents-business people, lawyers, economists, doctors and academics-but for this place to be truly representative we need diversity. It is therefore right that this House should also include trade unionists, plumbers, electricians and people who have worked in the voluntary sector. My late father, Charles McCann, was a boiler maker/plater, and my mother, Bridget, was a housewife who brought up five children, three of whom were born profoundly deaf. I have been a civil servant, a trade union official and an elected councillor; my parents taught me the values that have made me the person I am today. I am proud to have been elected on 6 May, and I will strain every sinew to represent to the best of my ability the people of East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow in my role as their new Member of Parliament.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): Mr Deputy Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to thank the people of the Hexham constituency for allowing me to represent them in the House of Commons. I will never forget that they are the people who put me here. I follow on from Peter Atkinson, and I must say that one could not meet a kinder, gentler man. He served Hexham for 18 years with great distinction and I pay tribute to the work that he did. I will do well to copy his calm and effective representation.
The Hexham constituency is the second biggest in England, stretching from the outskirts of Newcastle to the Scottish border, and down to the far reaches of south and west Northumberland. The town of Hexham, with its famous abbey, may be the centre of the constituency, but it is surrounded by hundreds of beautiful villages and towns, Hadrian's wall, the Pennine way, Kielder forest and reservoir, and Northumberland national park. While I am on the subject of tourism, I should mention that we are showing the way, as our scenery and history are second to none; ours is the land of the Romans, St Oswald, the marcher lords, Harry Hotspur, the border reivers and George Stephenson. Our area is at the heartbeat of history, having survived historical Scottish raids and political Liberal raids-I am pleased to say that both those former enemies are now our friends. I invite any hon. Member who has not visited our area to do so. Its people are second to none, and I shall do everything that I can to promote such a beautiful part of the north-east.
However, this special place also has serious issues that need to be addressed. My area contains hospitals that need to be retained, military barracks full of soldiers
who need to be supported and schools that, despite the best efforts of the amazing teaching staff, have been underfunded and poorly supported for years. I should also mention our wealth of small and medium-sized businesses that need assistance to get through tough times. My family has run manufacturing businesses for more than 100 years since coming to this country as immigrants, so I am acutely conscious of the fact that the creation of long-term jobs will be at the heart of my role as the Member for Hexham.
Farmers are struggling, hill farmers particularly so, and they all say that the Government of the past 13 years were totally disinterested in the rural way of life. However, our area's biggest problem is the chronic lack of social and affordable housing, which is having an impact on the local economy and schools. To put it simply, young people cannot afford to buy homes in my area. Some planners call this "Cumbriafication", whereby a community is simply priced out of its birthright as all the families have to move elsewhere to live. If we do not stop this process, we will see the ever greater loss of our vibrant rural communities. But there are answers to this problem, because what is a speech in this great House without hope, aspiration, and an ability to believe that one's reach can exceed one's grasp?
We face a simple choice between supporting either the British farmer or still higher profits for the big supermarkets. We in this House have to make that decision, because the farmer simply will not survive without support in this House. We have a simple choice to make, and we should provide local homes for local people, decided upon by local people. We have a simple choice: do we allow village communities to slip away or will we halt the closure of post offices, shops and pubs? Without such amenities, the rural way of life loses its heart, its soul and so much more,
I have chosen to speak in the home affairs debate because I have spent too long as a criminal and civil barrister watching while Home Secretaries meddle with the criminal justice system to little positive effect. There have been dozens of criminal justice Bills in the past 13 years, very few of which were any good. No one has introduced a prison reform Act since 1952. I, like others, have worked at the criminal Bar, prosecuting and defending in many murder trials, and I have seen enough of the inadequacies of prison life to know that wholesale reform is required. To fail to reform the Prison Service would be a crime, because we are simply not solving the problem of crime and punishment. We have doubled the prison population in the past 18 years, yet reoffending rates remain in excess of 70%. We send more people to prison than anyone else in Europe, yet we are not safer. I will campaign for a better focus on sentencing, rehabilitation, drug testing and simple education in prisons. It is often said that too often Governments consult but do not listen. I want to ensure that the victim has a voice in this House. I am proud of the fact that the previous Labour Government, in their wisdom, gave me two separate national awards, one for my help to victim support and one for my campaign to challenge the state on unlawful hospital closures. I expect no such generosity from my hon. Friends in this Parliament.
People do not expect government to solve everything; in fact, in my experience, people are amazed when government does anything good at all. But we have a fresh chance, after the dark days of economic meltdown
and a broken political system, to establish a new beginning. I accept that it will not be easy, but I am ambitious for my constituents and for this country. You will probably have noticed that I have fallen in love with the constituency of Hexham and its people, Mr Deputy Speaker-that is easy to do, because it is a very special place. I hope to play my part, however small, in delivering success for all the people of my constituency-that is an ambition worth striving for.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): It is probably just as well that this is not a maiden speech, because I would hate to have to compete with the outstanding contributions that we have heard today, not least that of the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman). On the basis of what I have heard, I am sure that he will make a major contribution to this place in the years ahead. This is not a maiden speech, but it is a long time since I have had an opportunity to address the House and I have a new constituency-new Selly Oak-which I am very proud to represent.
Apart from the rather dubious proposals on anonymity for rape defendants and the likely impact on rape victims, we have not heard much in the Queen's Speech about the victims of crime and antisocial behaviour. What plans does the coalition have to ensure that the needs of that group are put at the centre of our criminal justice system? It is the lack of consideration for victims that causes some people to think that the system is broken and many to believe that it is weighted entirely in favour of the offender. I have been working with victims for some time now, the most recent phase of which culminated in an input into Sara Payne's report. I take this opportunity to wish her well. I hope that she makes a full recovery, because she is a remarkable lady.
I have become convinced that we need local charters for victims that all criminal justice and public agencies must sign up to so that everyone knows what is expected of them, and that we must reweight the system by putting the rights and needs of the victim ahead of the demands and desires of the wrongdoer. I ask the Government to examine how to reshape the criminal justice system so that the victim becomes our top priority.
I understand the coalition's desire to abolish identity cards. I do not agree with its view, nor do a great many other people who have worries relating to the contribution that ID cards can make to combating crime and fraud. Will there be any compensation for those who, in good faith, have already purchased ID cards, or are they to become the first uncompensated victims of the coalition? As the databases are dismantled, what will happen to ID cards for foreign nationals? Without that infrastructure, how will we tackle illegal immigration?
I should like to know more about the priorities on police reform. Money is tight, so why, as the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) might well ask, is it a priority to have elections that nobody wants at a cost of perhaps £50 million per throw? Where will that money come from? Can my constituents in Selly Oak have an assurance that it will not be stripped from their policing budgets? What will happen to the policing pledge under elected police chiefs? Can it simply be ditched? If so, how will the Home Secretary safeguard
against massive variations in behaviour and performance across police forces? Is incentivised and common-sense policing still on the agenda? On DNA and reducing the retention period for DNA profiles-not abolishing them as a matter of principle, but reducing the period-is the Home Secretary convinced that her proposals will not result in an avoidable tragedy? How will she sleep at night if a murderer or rapist who could have been caught goes free and does it again?
Finally, what are the Government's intentions in relation to closed circuit television, and what was the purpose of the Deputy Prime Minister's outburst against it? Is he merely trying to rekindle his liberal credentials and using CCTV as an Aunt Sally? Remember all those warm words-"It doesn't have to be like this," "It can be different," and "We can change it"? That was rhetoric with the shelf-life of a TV debate from someone whose ambition is now exposed as being to acquire power and hang on to it by any means possible, no matter how illiberal or anti-democratic. Let me tell him that it will not wash. The people in Selly Oak want CCTV. Of course, they want it to be used responsibly, but they want it, and they will not accept any sham diversions.
I have experience of Lib Dem-Tory coalitions in Birmingham, and I know how poor they are at dealing with crime, antisocial behaviour and victims, and how poor they are at using tools that are regularly available elsewhere. I warn this Government not to make the same mistakes, not to rob us of the very tools that make people feel safe and that assist us in the fight against crime, and, for goodness' sake, not to do that to help to save face for an already tarnished Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Parliament has returned to a sea of fresh faces, but unlike you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I recognise hardly any of them. They include my brother-in-law, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Dover (Charlie Elphicke), and my former association chairman, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). The party political landscape is transformed and there is a feeling of refreshed optimism, but if we do not apply a new way of thinking to fixing our nation's problems, the very same old politics will, I fear, return.
I shall unashamedly concentrate my observations on economic matters, in my capacity as the Member for the City of London, and on constitutional reform, which I broadly welcome as a long-time and robust supporter of House of Lords elections. I fear that the spirit of the past couple of years has been uncompromisingly ugly for those of us who instinctively support capitalism, free markets and global trade. There is widespread, almost open, hostility to banks, bankers, big business, the wealthy, private education, private health and at times even to the profit motive. That stands in stark contrast to the last time that the Conservatives came into government 31 years ago, when the case for empowering people, the smaller state and individual responsibility had already been made.
The election is already behind us, but I fear that we have a coalition Government in place that lack any explicit mandate to take the very tough economic decisions that are required as a matter of great urgency to get our
public finances back on track. The key problem that faces the Government is a lack of public support for the urgent reductions in public expenditure that are now absolutely necessary. In large part, that is a result of the reluctance of the entire political class, during the recent election campaign, to level with the British public about the economic crisis that lies ahead. We are yet to strike at the core of the former Government's rhetoric, and their narrative remains too dominant for my liking. Labour will now be able to sit on the sidelines and blame the new Government for everything that it postponed addressing. For example, we acquiesce in levelling higher taxes on the wealthy without making clear the very practical reasons why, in an age of unprecedented global mobility, the brightest and best of our young people will simply leave these shores if their plans to create wealth and promote enterprise are stifled. If the coalition is to be a success-and, more importantly, if our country is to lift itself out of this economic mire-we need first to make the case for a smaller, more efficient state through public spending cuts, and, secondly, to be strong enough to make the case for an internationally attractive and competitive tax system.
I understand the public's appetite for retribution when it comes to the financial services sector, much of which is housed in my constituency, and the feeling that the banking fraternity should take the lion's share of new taxes. But we must somehow separate sensible measures to curb excess and to share fairly the national burden from very punitive measures that are designed only to twist the knife and that have great potential to drive away the wealth and employment creators of the future.
There has been much talk about revitalising Britain's manufacturing and export-led growth, but this prompts the obvious question, in the current economic climate, of who exactly will be doing the importing. The UK must be eternally grateful that we have stayed out of the eurozone, but the tumultuous events on the continent, which are only starting to play themselves out, will have a massive effect on us, regardless. After all, that struggling eurozone accounts for 60% of our export market. That is very bad news for the UK. Not only will our European trading partners be importing less, but the likely rapid depreciation in the value of the euro will also detrimentally affect our exporters. One of the most worrying aspects of the UK's economic performance, particularly in the past two years, has been our failure to take greater advantage of the significant 20 to 25% devaluation in our currency to expand our export markets. That will augur very badly for us if sterling appreciates against the euro in the months ahead.
On constitutional reform, I must confess to being rather less a Conservative and more a radical in this area. In my very first speech in the House, nine years ago, I made very clear my support for a wholly-elected House of Lords, and a few years ago I suggested a set of proposals that would have helped to tie up the anomalies that had been left by devolution and the incomplete reform of the House of Lords. As a result of this interest, I have found very disquieting the recent press reports that the new coalition proposes-in breach of both election manifestos-to ennoble 200 men and women in order to ensure that the composition of the House of Lords is
"reflective of the share of the vote"
Just before the election, I noted that there would be public outrage if a business-as-usual approach to House of Lords appointments was adopted by the political class in the months ahead. In particular, it would be totally unacceptable if any retiring Members of this House who have been reprimanded, been obliged to apologise to the House or had to repay substantial sums following the allowances scandal were now raised to the peerage. The same must apply to the former senior parliamentarians from the Commons who led the absolutely calamitous efforts to prevent the publication of MPs' expenses through the High Court or the inadequate attempts at reform after the entire scandal broke regarding the employment of relatives at the beginning of 2008. That might be the way that things were done in the past, but it cannot be tolerated now.
It would be unwise to underestimate the challenges ahead for our nation and the challenges that we in the coalition have to take on board. The previous Government left not only a dismal economic legacy, but a discredited political system and woefully inadequate attempts at constitutional reform. An extremely tough road lies ahead, and I fear that the early popularity of the coalition will be very fleeting and that the good will towards it will be very temporary in this country. Accepting that, it would be wise for us to apply integrity, common sense and principle to every political decision that we take. That approach is more likely to receive longer-term political support than the pursuit of an agenda set by public opinion and the media. In looking at both the economy and constitutional reform, I believe we need only take the efforts of the past 13 years as our lesson. Short-termist, incomplete and superficially popular measures have a terrible habit of unravelling before our eyes.
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