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Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon): In rising to make my first speech in the House as the new Member for Aberavon, I am struck by the significance of 7 June. That was the date on which this year the British people for the first time returned a Labour Government for a second term with a substantial majority. They are committed to a programme of social justice, abolishing unemployment, pensioner poverty and child poverty, and achieving an advancement of opportunity for all. The date of 7 June was also the day in 1984 when I was outside the House with tens of thousands of people from mining communities all over Britain, seeking that very same justice. For many Labour Members, there is a certain poetic justice about the date of 7 June.
In paying tribute to my distinguished predecessor, Sir John Morris, who served our constituency for almost 42 years, I am reminded that I am only the fifth Member to represent Aberavon since the constituency was created in 1918. Sir John served Aberavon, Wales and the United Kingdom with great distinction. He had the vision to campaign successfully for greater investment in the steel industry, for better road and sea links through the M4 and our deep water harbour, and for the diversification of the local economy, culminating in the recent development of the Baglan energy park. The arrival of our new regional hospital is also a tribute to his diligent campaigning.
Sir John will also be recognised more widely as both a Welsh and a British statesman. He was latterly the Attorney-General, and in the late 1970s he was the architect of the first attempt at devolution in Wales. It was Sir John who said of our defeat in 1979:
Aberavon is a very special constituency. It has a remarkable history, and because of the talents of all its people it has a bright future. It is the birthplace of Dic Penderyn, the first martyr of the Welsh working class. It is also the birthplace, at Cwmafan, of William Abraham--Mabon--the great champion of the Welsh miners, who was the first Welsh worker to be returned to the House. Aberavon was the constituency to have the distinction of returning the first Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, who remained steadfast to the Labour cause, at least while he was in Aberavon.
The constituency has long been distinguished for its tolerance and for its radical, dissenting, co-operative, community, socialist and internationalist values, which we still proudly embrace today. On Friday, I attended a charity concert for the benefit of children of Chernobyl; on Saturday, in the Upper Afan valley there was a fund-raising event to protest against land mines. Those values are also clearly demonstrated by the success of co-operative enterprises at Glyncorrwg and Blaengwynfi, which deserve further support. Historically, the internationalist values are perhaps best expressed by the old Independent Labour party centre at Briton Ferry--visited frequently by such remarkable speakers as Emma Goldman, James Maxton and the Afro-Caribbean writer C. L. R. James, who, it is said, completed his masterpiece "Black Jacobins" in our locality.
Today the constituency faces great economic, landlordist, educational and environmental challenges. The steel industry at Port Talbot, as elsewhere, has lost many jobs in recent years, but the skills of its work force deserve a long future, and I will campaign for that alongside our local authority, the National Assembly for Wales and the steel unions. We have witnessed an ordered withdrawal of the petrochemical industry--a model of corporate social responsibility--and its replacement by the private-public partnership in the context of the new energy park and the planned urban and sports villages envisaged for Llandarcy.
In my first speech to the House, I want to focus specifically on the citizenship rights of disabled people and their carers in relation to the economy and to the whole of society. Our new Labour Government should and will be measured by the extent to which we tackle, in partnership, the fundamental inequalities faced by disabled people and their carers.
Already in my constituency good progress is being made through the local authority's special needs provision at Briton Ferry and Sandfields schools, the new special needs activity centre for very young children at Taibach, the work of the Shaw trust at Llandarcy--including its disability action centre, which is soon to be officially opened--and the thousands of volunteers often working with disability groups, and networked through the local council for voluntary service.
Government, in Westminster and in the National Assembly for Wales, have demonstrated their serious commitment by setting up the Disability Rights Commission and the recently launched carers strategy in Wales. Three organisations--Mencap, the Down's Syndrome Association and the Carers National Association--recently held awareness-raising weeks. The House would do well to reflect on the vital matters that they raised in relation to employment and wider social issues, and I urge our new Labour Government to listen to their concerns in order to achieve a sense of full citizenship for disabled people and their carers in the new millennium.
Disabled people are twice as likely as others to be out of work. Fewer than one in 10 people with a severe learning disability are in work, and more than 1 million people with disabilities want to work. There is a shortage of at least 40,000 supported employment places. The benefits system is a barrier for many people wanting to work, and most employers have no experience of employing people with a learning disability.
We need an expansion of the access-to-work scheme, offering on-the-job support. We need new rules for the disabled persons tax credit, making work pay for part-time workers, and we need a Government strategy to promote employment of people with a learning disability. We need statutory provision to support carers in the workplace, and young--and not so young--carers who are in education. For all young adults with a learning disability, we need structured programme routes from school and college to the world of work, and we need to involve carers in decision-making bodies.
We need proper and sensitive national consultation with the Benefits Agency, and a new development of the new deal to break down barriers and remove benefit traps for many people with a learning disability who are able to
The aspirations of disabled people and their carers mirror those of the general population: a good standard of health, educational opportunities that lead to a meaningful occupation in adult life, sufficient income to afford a comfortable standard of living, a safe and secure home environment, a fulfilling family and social life and a valued place in the community. Those are, after all, universal rights, whether they apply to a disabled child in Soweto or to a disabled miner or steelworker in Skewen.
We have a more benign and friendly elephant on our doorstep now--our great Labour majority. Let us use that power wisely and swiftly to achieve social justice--the power which we did not have on 7 June 1984, but which we now have following 7 June 2001.
The Queen's Speech began by referring to our aspiration for a more prosperous and inclusive society. We can do no better than recognise the need to make that essential and courageous journey of hope from social inclusion to social justice, to build a truly inclusive society. The people of Aberavon and the people of Britain expect nothing less.
When wrong to right shall bow,
And but a little courage, man!
To make that future--now!"
It is a very pleasant duty to congratulate the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr. Francis), on behalf of the House, on his maiden speech. He did all the right things: he paid proper and generous tribute to Sir John Morris, who was much liked on both sides of the House and, I am sure, carries the best wishes of all of us in his retirement--if, indeed, he is retiring; he never seemed to retire before.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke eloquently about his constituency, as is right and proper, and spoke particularly eloquently of the interests of both the disabled and those who care for them. We look forward to hearing from him again on that subject, which stood out from a remarkably well thought out and eloquently delivered speech.
The hon. Gentleman produced something of a first: I think that that was the first time I had heard a Labour Member speak highly of Ramsay MacDonald. Perhaps he has now been rehabilitated. Who knows? Perhaps he is becoming new Labour again. I suspect, however, that we may not hear of Ramsay MacDonald again quite so swiftly--although we certainly want to hear from the hon. Member for Aberavon again. I repeat my congratulations on behalf of the House, and, indeed, congratulate all who have delivered maiden speeches so far.
This was a good Queen's Speech. Before I am misquoted, I must add that it was a good Queen's Speech in terms of its intentions. It focused on public service reform and on the quality of life of all the people who send us here. In one sense, of course, that is an admission of failure. The one phrase that was missing from the Chancellor's speech this afternoon, long though it was, was "the last Government"--because he, of course, was Chancellor in the last Government. It was under his chancellorship that productivity stayed flat, that our position and competitiveness declined so markedly, that the poorest 10 per cent.--as he was sharply reminded by one of his own Back Benchers--were falling further and further behind. Above all, it was under this Government that the failure to deliver public services--now the mantra from both sides of the House and from every Tory leadership candidate--became most apparent.
I remember canvassing in Archer way, Swanley, and meeting a lady whose husband had been referred for an important eye consultation. She showed me, in disbelief, a letter from the Dartford and Gravesham NHS trust, telling her that the current ophthalmological wait was 99 weeks. That is not something of which I would have been proud had I been a Minister speaking in today's debate.
I encountered general practitioners--I had never found this in five previous parliamentary elections--who were seriously considering leaving the service altogether. I found schoolteachers who were overwhelmed with bureaucracy--that was the last Government's legacy. It is up to the Minister who is summing up the debate to answer that honestly and properly. Before I get into detail, perhaps I should welcome back to the Department of Trade and Industry, as an Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths)--I never understood why he was dropped in the first place; perhaps he did not. Anyway, it is good to have him back. I hope that he will concentrate all his energies on his responsibilities, which I think include the Small Business Service which does not so far seem to have had much impact.
I want to speak on three points: the enterprise culture that the Chancellor is now promoting, the hospital and school reforms that are at the heart of the Queen's Speech, and some of the difficulties that we have experienced in my constituency with law and order. On enterprise culture, I came here today to praise the Chancellor; I certainly give him five out of 10. At least he has shown in his speech last week and in some of his earlier measures that he understands the problem.
We have had nine years of continuous growth--five under the Conservatives and four under Labour--but productivity has not been rising and we have only slowly become more entrepreneurial as a society. Some of the Chancellor's solutions are clearly right. I welcome the reform and lowering of capital gains tax--it helps to keep serial entrepreneurs in the United Kingdom investing in new businesses, and I applaud the Chancellor for that.
I applaud measures to promote enterprise in schools. The Chancellor must be right to move education business partnerships forward from the old, rather shaky foundation of sponsorship and vouchers into real partnerships where businesses play a part in schools that serve the local community. That is important. I look forward to seeing those ideas fleshed out with some practical proposals to make a reality of those partnerships.
The Chancellor was right to widen the opportunity for share ownership. He has come at that in a rather zigzag fashion, but the extension of the enterprise management incentive scheme is good news. Where I differ from the Chancellor is that he still thinks that enterprise culture can all be done only by or through Government. I have my doubts. Over the past four years, we have seen how too much tax tinkering can frustrate enterprise. Complexity Brown has introduced many different rates of company car tax; he even introduced many different rates of capital gains tax before he started to reform his own reforms. There are new and rather complicated research and development credits. That seems to be getting in the way, rather than reducing the tax burden, simplifying the tax code book and lowering rates.
Alongside much of that fidgeting, the Government have almost unhesitatingly accepted far too much of the Brussels agenda, piling rights upon rights, all of them defensible as individual measures--who could be against more maternity leave, more paternity leave and workers councils? Who could be against any individual part of that agenda? However, the cumulative burden on enterprise is taking this country in exactly the opposite direction to the economies of the United States and far east, which are leaping ahead in productivity and competitiveness.
All those measures--we will see more of them, I suspect, in the next couple of years--distract management from its key job, which is raising productivity and improving competitiveness. They also act as something of a deterrent to small companies. It is the larger companies that have the human resources departments which can hire the lawyers and deal with all the new legislation. It is the small business that is not formed--the self-employed business man or business woman who does not start up--that cannot cope.
Too much Government monopoly, or quasi-monopoly activity, is still getting in the way. Perhaps we did not see it clearly enough then, but it is easier to see now how, for example, British Telecom's dominance of internet access has frustrated new enterprise and new internet services. I support the reforms in competition that the Chancellor is promoting. The more one believes in markets, the more important it is that the regulatory framework for markets is robust and regularly renewed.
On public service reforms, it is all about that magic word "delivery". No speech now is complete without it, but there is, as I said in my question to the Chancellor some four and a half hours ago, some confusion at the top. The Chancellor is still responsible, as I understand it and as he clarified today, for public service agreements negotiated between the Treasury and the spending Departments, but the Deputy Prime Minister in the Cabinet Office is responsible for overall public service delivery, and now we are told that the Office of Public Service Reform will report to the Prime Minister, there is a role for the performance and innovation unit and even a delivery unit--all those central bodies in Whitehall will be chasing each other around and no one Cabinet Minister will have clear responsibility for overall delivery of public services.
It seems that the approach is still top down. There is a reference in the Queen's Speech to more freedom for head teachers, but the Government cannot give more freedom to head teachers if, at the same time, they are demanding from Whitehall more and more targets. They cannot talk about freedom in delivering primary care when they
As for the budgets themselves, they have been increased over the past four years and I welcome that, but there is no point keeping on increasing them if they go on being top sliced for Whitehall initiatives and different schemes. That reduces the amount of money available in the front line and demoralises front-line staff. Every Government initiative requires co-ordinators, conferences and area managers and takes people out of the ward, the classroom, the police section. If we are serious about public service reform, we must believe in competition within the public sector--above all, competition in ideas. We must enfranchise police area commanders, head teachers and hospital managers, and set them free to develop their own ideas, rather than rely on ministerial targets and 10-year plans.
We need to be much clearer about the role of the private sector. It seems to be an accepted nostrum among Labour Members--there were a couple of brave exceptions earlier today--that the private sector is good, but I have not yet seen any clear thinking from the Government as to exactly how the role of the private sector is to be developed. If it is to be involved in current expenditure as well as capital expenditure, in managing existing provision rather than establishing new provision, some more thinking is required. Too many of the contracts that are currently available are still controlled and managed by the public sector. Some Labour Members will want precisely that--they want the public sector always to be in control--but the private sector will not necessarily welcome that.
The contracts will have to be longer term than some of the contracts so far and they will certainly have to involve longer leases than have so far been made available, if those same private sector companies are expected to make a considerable capital commitment. We may need to think again about the ability of staff to transfer between the public and private sectors. It is not a question simply of TUPE--the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981. The private sector lives with TUPE all the time: TUPE is a fact of life. However, sometimes, it wants to be able to offer new contracts that may indeed involve higher, if slightly different, conditions and may be framed in slightly different ways.
We need to involve the private sector not simply in running public sector contracts, but much earlier in the design of those services, the design of the delivery and in the process of delivering public services. We need to get the best in innovation, in ideas, in management of design as well as in actual delivery.
I should like, finally, to say a few words about law and order. As I have told the House before, we seem to be much better at law than we are at order. Every year, we have a new police Bill or criminal justice Bill, putting rafts of new regulation and new offences on to the statute book. Returning from our constituencies, however, all of us will recall our constituents' growing refrain about the quality of life that they have to endure--the petty vandalism, the aggressive behaviour in public places and the problems of late-night drinking and drug dealing.
I think that both the current Government and the previous one have gone in the other direction, away from local solutions. Smaller police stations, for example, are being closed. Indeed, when Sevenoaks police station is closed, I shall have no police station at all in my constituency. Moreover, our magistracy has been enfeebled and is unable to deliver the type of local sentencing and local policies that their communities might want. Furthermore, our local councils have been emasculated.
Communities need real powers to deal with those problems. I am not at all convinced that some of the solutions that we have offered so far are really working. Antisocial behaviour orders, for example, do not seem to be biting properly. We shall also have to see whether the penalty notices provided for in recent legislation can work properly. We have to look again to see what works, and we need Government to be a little more humble and work with local communities for local solutions.
I tell Ministers to go a little easier on the 10-year plans, the great national schemes, the ministerial targets and the Office of Public Service Reform. Let them look again to local solutions and support different approaches. If Government have a role, it is to clear away some of the practical second and third-order barriers, many of which have been imposed by Parliament itself. Ministers should approach the problems with a little more humility. If they succeed, I shall certainly cheer them on. The past four years, however, are not really an encouragement.