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Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab):
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) on an admirable maiden speech.
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Listening to it, I was nostalgic, as I am a native of the Kettering area, and I was remembering with some alarm that it is exactly 40 years ago that I was the chairman, while I was at school, of the Kettering young socialists, and exactly 50 years ago that I was the mascot of the Desborough Town football club, after which life has been something of an anti-climax. I congratulate him and all the other hon. Members who have made maiden speeches today. When I came to the House, we did not have time limits, and we could luxuriate in paying tributes for maiden speeches. Now we have to be rather brisk, but that makes what we say no less genuine and heartfelt. We have heard some extraordinarily impressive maiden speeches today, which bodes well for the Members concerned and for this House.
Listening to the exchanges at the beginning of the debate, I felt that we were still in the middle of the election campaign, certainly in relation to the health service. The health issue that dominated my election campaign concerned one six-year-old girl called Olivia Clarke. At the beginning of this year, Olivia was at school at Moorhill primary school, and she contracted meningitis. There were complications. Blood poisoning set in, and it was said that she had to have her feet amputated, and her hands amputated. This was done. When she was in hospitalthis coincided with the beginning of the election campaignit was announced that she had also contracted MRSA.
I cannot pay tribute enough to Olivia's parents. They were absolutely unstinting in their praise for the devotion of the health service staff concerned with her care. They refused absolutely to join in any cheap politicking around an issue that was too important for that. I got very upset during the election at the people who wanted when they saw a problem to exploit rather than solve it. Olivia's parents wanted MRSA sorted, but they also knew that they depended on the national health service for their daughter's life and future, and they were not going to bring the matter down to any kind of game that politicians played.
I am delighted to say that Olivia has just returned home from hospital. She is doing very well, and it looks as though the MRSA bug has been conquered. What has happened is a reminder to me that we should not play games with such issues. The Conservative party does not like targets. I am very pleased that the Government have a target for reducing the rate of MRSA infection in our hospitals. We should have targets because they galvanise effort. I am glad that we are implementing an inspection system to make sure that targets on MRSA are reached.
In these few minutes, I want primarily to discuss a word, "respect", which surfaces in the Queen's Speech and about which I have been worrying a good deal during the past few days. What worries me most is the way in which it has been discussed. Worthy people have been wheeled out to tell me what it means, and, in one way or another, head teachers, bishops and social workers have all sought to tell me that it is something that must be earned. If we believe that, we have not begun to understand what we are talking about.
Respect is simply about treating other people as one wants to be treated oneself. People do not have to earn that right; it is their right as fellow human beings. My neighbour does not have to earn the right to be treated as a decent neighbour; it is his right as a neighbour, and
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the same is true of people who use the road or who attend schools. We have lost sight of what we mean when we discuss such things.
The Government are right to talk about respect, because everyone in society is talking about it. Society cannot function unless people have basic respect for each other. We knowat least we think that we knowthat the causes associated with the loss of respect go far beyond anything that we might say in this House or measures that might be contained in the Queen's Speech. The Government's job is to pass legislation, and this House's job is to process that legislation. We should not pretend that we have reached the heart of such issues.
We know that the matter probably has something to do with what has happened to parenting in recent years. The figures are frightening: in the past 25 yearsa generationthe number of children who are living with their two natural parents at the age of 16 has dropped by a quarter, which is a phenomenal change in the structure of our life. In some minority communitiesfor example, the Afro-Caribbean communitythe absence of fathers is simply frightening. When some other hon. Members and I were children, the cry would sometimes go up, "Wait until your father comes home." For many children in this country, there is no father to come home.
We know that the matter has something to do with behaviour and the fabric of social relations in our society. In addition, we suspect that the portrayal of the matter in the media has something to do with the situation. Years ago, we did not worry about the media, because people had the buffer of community, family and neighbourhood. That barrier no longer exists for many people in our society, and the images of behaviour that people see are images of the life that it is said that they should properly lead.
To return to the subject of the debate, our health service staff in accident and emergency departments are terrified on Friday and Saturday nights. Why do they inhabit a sea of violence and vomit, which was never previously the case? Why must we put up signs in all our public service institutions to say that it is an offence to behave in certain ways against the staff who work there? Why, as Ofsted tells us, does behaviour in one in 10 schools make learning extremely difficult? We know that something has happened out there to cause the problems that we discuss in here.
There was a nice exchange in Question Time today about the two political satires, "Yes, Minister" and "The Thick of It" but let us consider the difference: one is witty and civilised and the other is witty and coarse. In a generation, we have witnessed the coarsening of society. We are then told, "You have to reflect that because that's how we are."
Government can do only so much. We cannot fix the matter in the way in which we might fix other things but if we do not attend to it, people will begin to walk away from civic life. If a state ultimately cannot guarantee order, it cannot even ask to be treated as a state. That will lead to an erosion of civic life of which we have so far caught only a glimpse.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD):
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. I follow the hon. Member
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for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright), who will understand if I do not debate the excellent points that he made in his speech. I congratulate all hon. Members and hon. Friends who have made their maiden speeches.
My predecessor and I had our political differences but I would like to pay tribute to Barbara Roche. It was clear on the doorstep during the election campaign that she was held in high regard as a good constituency Member of Parliament. She had a meteoric rise in politics as a member of the Whips Office, Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and Minister of State in the Home Office until the general election in 2001. However, I should like to pay particular tribute to her strong and warm support in 2002 for civil partnerships for same-sex couples. She rightly earned an excellent reputation among that community for her work.
What can I say about Hornsey and Wood Green? I moved to the constituency when I was fivedemonstrating prescience unusual in one so young in understanding that, some decades later, being a local girl would stand me in good stead for getting selected for the seat. It was clearly a hotbed of Liberal Democrat success, cunningly masquerading for 13 years as a Labour seat and for the previous 26 years as a Conservative seat, then served by the much-loved constituency Member of Parliament, Sir Hugh Rossi.
I went to Highgate primary school and Muswell Hill youth club. I played kiss-chase in Highgate woods and, occasionally, depending on the boy, I let myself be caught. I took part in the early days of the Mountview theatre school and I was married at Haringey civic centredivorced by post.
The constituency is a vibrant centre for the arts, and the Mountview theatre lies in the cultural quarter of Wood Green, which is a lively, bustling and busy town centre. It is also home to the Chocolate Factory, which has nothing to do with chocolate but is an enterprise that houses a colony of visual and performing arts, individuals and small companies.
In the Crouch End area, the council is in the process of handing over Hornsey town hall to a community trust to become a new community arts, entertainment and education facility. I will work to further that aim and, in doing so, seek the help of the Deputy Prime Minister in exempting the council from best value. I am sure that he will help and understand that it is an exception that proves the rule.
Hornsey and Wood Green is full of history. The Alexandra Palace, birthplace of television, dominates the west of the constituency around the Muswell Hill area. I hope that the Government's ambition for super-casinos will pass the Ally Pally safely by, and that it will be an asset for the people with its future decided by the people.
I want to mention my constituency in the context of today's Queen's Speech debate on health and education. Because of the wonderful family housing stock and leafy streets, parts of Hornsey and Wood Green understandably attract young couples starting families. But their influx and apparent fertilityfive years on from the "big bang", if you will excuse the expression,
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Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the millenniumhas resulted this year in 140 sets of parents not getting their first, second or third choice of school. I know that the Prime Minister cares passionately about education and choice, and I look forward to being able to tell those parents that the Government have learned and are listening, and that local parents will not face such a shortfall again.
On health, I turn to a constituency issue that is doubtless replicated throughout the whole country. Hornsey and Wood Green is the target of monthly, if not weekly, applications by mobile phone companies. A protest group of parents or residents springs up around every application that is made. They are occasionally successful but only for a momentuntil the applicant reapplies. We all use a mobile phone, and we may yet pay a hefty health price for doing so; it gets very hot if one holds it for too long, and I am deeply suspicious. But while the health risks remain undetermined, I am hopeful that all Members, regardless of party, will welcome the powers being given to local authorities to enable them to refuse such applications under the precautionary principle, in order to protect the most vulnerable in our society.
Hornsey and Wood Green is a complex constituency. It is home to the very rich and the very poor alike, geographically encompassing wonderful open spaces and leafy streets, cheek by jowl with deprivation that is off the Richter scalewhere concrete rules, unbroken by any kind landscaping. Our campaign headquarters was above a pub: the Three Compasses, in Hornsey high street. I attribute at least 1 per cent. of my 14.6 per cent. swing to the popularity of our headquarters with London activists, who came to helpagain and again. One of them gave me a "congratulations" card that showed the pub standing in splendid isolation in fields a century ago. I was reminded that the march of time will inevitably paint and fill our landscape, but we must not be powerless to guide that march.
The urban architecture in my constituency ranges from world-class design to developer nightmares that pepper and blight residents' lives for decades. More often than notalthough not exclusively soit is the poorer areas that end up with the worst-designed or poorest-quality buildings, when in fact, we need the best there to raise people's eyes above the awful and to give inspiration and expectation in life. Mayor Livingstone's London planI recently spent five years in the company of Mayor Livingstone, so I know that plan wellis intended to deliver desperately needed housing in Hornsey and Wood Green. But the plan is being taken in vain, as carte blanche for cramming and for the lowest common denominator of design, without providing the proper infrastructure for education, health and transport.
Lastly, I turn, metaphorically speaking, to crime and antisocial behaviour. In parts of my constituency, gun and knife crime not only blight but end lives. Although the local police force has had much success in reducing crime in general, this deadly malaise appears intractable. Some young people seemingly have no way out of, nor even a desire to be out of, an environ of crime where aspirations are virtually non-existent.
A woman telephoned me during the election campaign to explain that her son and grandsons were facing possible life sentences for violent crime. She said that she had done everything she could as a mother to
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bring them up rightshe was crying on the phonebut they did not care: they wanted only to be admired by their peers and sadly, that admiration was based on criminality. She asked whether I could please help. That is a charter of despair that must be addressed.
Hornsey and Wood Green, like other constituencies mentioned today, has its share of antisocial behaviour. But it is not how young people look or dress that should concern us; rather, our concern should be how they behave, and when that behaviour is abusive or criminal, it needs to be dealt with, not just moved on. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) talked of volunteering as a possible route. We should look at that, but we also need revitalised youth services and facilities, because without them hanging around is often all that there is.
While there are many issues and challenges that need addressing in Hornsey and Wood Green, it is the most wonderful place. Why? Because of its people. In the end, it is always people that count. The ethnic mix of the constituency is exciting: there are hundreds of languages and many different communities that live, work and play in our fantastic melting pot. The challenges that that brings are huge and I look forward to working with all residents to help them achieve their aspirations. This rich tapestry, where all human life percolates, is Hornsey and Wood Green. I love this area and I am honoured to serve its residents. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
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