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7.53 pm

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), but I think that he will understand why I will not be led down the path that he paved.

A number of good speeches have been made in the debate, in particular that from my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). I agreed with much that he said, especially about the need for more planning in the economic sector. His view comes from the experience of Merthyr Tydfil over the 1930s and the period of the 1980s and into the 1990s. The experience of my constituency is similar to that of his. That is why the Government's economic policies, which have brought stability, are so important.

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In a constituency such as mine and in an area such as Barnsley, where the local economy is in transition, there is a need for stability. New industry is being attracted to the Barnsley area, which will be helped by the Government's management of the economy.

To attract more industry, the local authority has adopted a visionary approach to the development of its education policy. In the past, much of Barnsley's post-16 education was provided by two major industries--the steel industry and the coal industry. After the crash of the coal industry, it was necessary to re-assess post-16 education in the area.

Education results in the Barnsley area have tended to be well below the national average. Because of that, the local authority introduced a five-year plan about a year ago. The intention is to attain the national average level of achievement by the end of the five years. That means that 45 or 46 per cent. of pupils should gain five O-levels at grades A to C by the end of the five-year period. That is essential if we are to attract the industry that is required to bring the jobs to the area.

Three years ago, the local authority estimated that we needed 19,000 jobs by 2001, just to bring Barnsley up to the national average level of employment. So far, almost 8,000 jobs have been brought into the area, so there is still a long way ago. That is why stability is needed. The Government's economic package will bring that.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, which was an initiative of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, has helped to rebuild some of the communities around Barnsley. Many hon. Members misinterpret the location of the coal industry. It is basically a rural, village-based industry. The Coalfields Regeneration Trust has allowed moneys to be channelled into projects that have contributed to the rebuilding of our communities, helping with community structures so as to create partnerships.

The tenure of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust will come to an end in March next year. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Lock), will make my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister aware of the need to ensure the continuity of the trust. Anyone who believes that the coalfields can be regenerated in three or four years is living in cloud cuckoo land. It will probably take two generations to regenerate those areas.

The coalfields range from Scotland through south Wales into Kent, and the population of those areas is well above 5 million. We must ensure that the necessary opportunities are created for people living in those communities. I hope that my hon. Friend will make my right hon. Friend aware of the need to extend the tenure of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.

At the same time, it is fair to say that this Government have done more than any other to recognise the commitment that the UK owes to mining communities. That is reflected by the fact that only a fortnight ago they introduced the state aid system for the few remaining coal mines. In addition, compensation schemes have been introduced for chronic bronchitis, emphysema and vibration white finger, which will bring about £2 billion back into the mining communities and ensure that we meet the debt we owe to former miners.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), who is not in his place, referred to the Government's approach to crime. He criticised the fact that they have not

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established a mechanism for issuing anti-social behaviour orders. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 provided the plank for the involvement of the community in dealing with crime. That involves community partnerships, which generally consist of the two main partners--the local authority and the police--and the probation service, the drugs action team and many voluntary bodies.

It was said earlier that the Government have not recognised any of the bodies that deal with the victims of crime. Many victim support organisations sit on the board of the community crime partnerships. If they are not members of the board, they are generally members of the forum, if there is one. I accept that there is a need to establish a mechanism to drive through best practice in crime partnerships. That would ensure that the best that is applied in one part of the country could be applied in another. If we did that, the community nationally would be involved in tackling crime.

The results can already be seen. The Leader of the Opposition said that crime was increasing, but that is not so. I shall rebut his suggestion with an example from my constituency and across the Barnsley borough. I happen to chair the crime community partnership in Barnsley. As a result of its work--from its crime audit to its crime strategy--we have secured a substantial reduction in reported crime. In district D, which covers the town of Barnsley, there has been a fall in reported crime of roughly 35 or 36 per cent. In district E, which covers my constituency--a rural constituency--there has been a 28 per cent. fall in reported crime. Across the three Barnsley constituencies, there has been an increase in detection rates. That is evidence that the partnerships that were formed as a result of the 1998 Act are effective.

It has already been said that the Gracious Speech should have provided for an extension of the rural White Paper. Many of the White Paper's proposals relate to the Government's package, which is leading to a stable economy. In my area, the market town of Penistone, which has little unemployment, is beginning to feel the benefits of the Government's actions. From the White Paper flows an opportunity for market towns such as Penistone to apply, via their projects, for assistance from regional development agencies. According to the White Paper, RDAs will have more moneys available to secure the regeneration of market towns. We are all aware of the importance of market towns to the regeneration of the rural environment. I hope that Penistone in particular and other market towns will, during the next year, apply, via projects or the mechanism that will be set up, to draw down moneys from the RDA to help with their regeneration. That in itself must be good.

Part of the Gracious Speech that has not previously been mentioned, but which is extremely important, relates to the new health and safety legislation. Hon. Members may be aware that earlier last year, the Deputy Prime Minister launched a consultation document, "Revitalising Health and Safety". As a result of that consultation, he produced a response, which will be built on. Health and safety legislation will be strengthened.

The Gracious Speech refers to rail safety, but we must await the Cullen report before taking action in that regard. It is important for road risk to be embraced in the new safety legislation. The construction industry, for example, shows why health and safety legislation needs to be revitalised. Last year, there was a 22 per cent. increase in fatalities compared with the previous year. I am sure that

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hon. Members will send their condolences to the family of my constituent Shane Ryan, perhaps the latest building site victim, who was killed a week ago last Friday. I understand that his death occurred in circumstances that led the health and safety inspectorate to believe that he may have been dragged into a machine by his clothing.

There is a real need to tackle such problems on building sites, many of which arise through subcontracting. When a larger company subcontracts, and that subcontractor further subcontracts, the result is no accountability down the line. We need to have thorough discussions with all the parties involved--employers, unions and insurance companies--perhaps with a view to developing a procedure whereby all subcontractors must have their health and safety policy in their contracts of employment with the main contractor. That health and safety policy should become part of the contract of employment of individual employees. Doing that would result in greater training and people would be made more aware of the dangers. That approach, and the increased number of Health and Safety Executive inspectors, would allow us to start to reduce the number of accidents on building sites.

Another approach to the problem on building sites would be to have a roving health and safety inspector. Hon. Members will be aware that, as a result of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, the workers safety inspector became a main instrument in tackling safety in the workplace. We need to extend that provision. There should be a roving safety representative who can visit sites in a given area. In many cases, there is no such representative in situ. That, along with the measures I suggested earlier, will enable us to tackle the large number of fatalities and serious injuries that occur on building sites. The new health and safety legislation will be extremely important.

The Gracious Speech mentions a free vote on the issue of hunting with hounds. As one who represents a rural constituency, I can say that most letters I receive call for a ban: I have received very few from people who wish to retain the practice. I describe it as a practice because it is certainly not a sport. It does not have the ingredients of a sport. I think that it offends against decency, and that it is time to call it a day.

Recently, I was visited at one of my Saturday surgeries by a number of constituents who were in favour of hunting. One young man's business is based on the practice, and I well understand his trepidation about the fact that it might be banned; but I believe the rural White Paper will encourage people like him to diversify. The White Paper offers hope. Although the Burns report spoke of a loss of some 8,500 jobs, I think that in the context of the economic policies Labour is following--and, in particular, the context of the White Paper--those who would otherwise be displaced as a result of a ban can be found alternative employment.

The Gracious Speech is a step forward. It gives us an opportunity to build on the blocks already established by the Labour Government. I believe that it will result in a society that is fairer and more equal, in which people will have a better quality of life.

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