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Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) displayed assurance, some articulacy, occasional alliteration and glimpses of poetry. He will be one of the stars of the Parliament. He has the sort of speaking talent that probably guarantees his joining the Whips Office and being shut up for a bit. I am sure that the tributes that he paid to his three predecessors in Cardiff, West will be much appreciated by the two who are alive and the families of all three. Hon. Members who remember George Thomas know that if the hon. Gentleman follows his lead as advocate for his constituency, he will create a reputation that means that those who follow him will pay the same tributes to his merit.
The last maiden speech that I followed was that of the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I said that he had the talent to go on to lead his party. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Cardiff, West will do that. Perhaps other new Members will challenge him for that role. I hope that he enjoys his time in the House. I am sure that his constituents will be pleased with the service that he provides here.
I want to deal with several issues. I shall begin not with the contents of the Queen's Speech, but with an urgent message that I received from one of my constituents. Her partner of five years has been in this country for approximately 10 years. He has reported to the police station every month for several years. Today, he was held without notice in Littlehampton police station. He was then taken to Worthing police station. He may have been moved elsewhere without being told the destination. The Home Office believes that it sent letters to him and his solicitor in September. I shall give the reference numbers of the case in case someone in the Home Office wants to look it up. The Home Office reference is S 804065; the court reference is CEU/98/392.
I do not know whether Mr. Gerard Santos had the right to be in this country. However, someone who reports month after month, year after year to a police station should not be held without notice even if the Home Office believes that it sent a letter nine months ago. Is it Home Office practice to send letters by recorded delivery? Does it know whether the letter arrived? Mr. Santos was known to have been in this country for some time. Hon. Members should acknowledge the Home Office's difficulty in managing people who may be here legitimately or are perhaps overstayers. There may be many reasons for the Home Office's actions. I do not know the details, but I am not satisfied that Mr. Santos and one or two other people in Worthing have received fair notice of what they were expected to do.
If Mr. Santos has the right to remain in this country, it would be good to know that. If it is believed that he does not have that right, I should like to know what notice he has received. Does the Home Office believe that its procedures are working? Has there perhaps been a pile-up during the election campaign? Have people suddenly been told to produce figures to allow the Government to claim that they are being firm and fair about overstayers and people who apply for the right to remain in this country? I do not prejudge the facts, but it is unsatisfactory that a constituent has to contact me to say that a person whom she has accompanied to a police station month after month has suddenly disappeared into official hands.
I want to present the civil engineers' report card on the previous Parliament. We are often willing to talk about high politics, but not about independent assessments of the Government's rating in the past four years on, for example, railways, local roads and transport, trunk roads and motorways, water, flood defence, energy, urban regeneration and waste.
The Institution of Civil Engineers and New Civil Engineer magazine have produced a report card. Their gradings range from A to E; A is good and B is fair. Every rating for the categories that I outlined is below B--they are all Cs and Ds. The overall rating is C-minus. The card states:
The new Government should now have the confidence to take bold action to help utilise the private sector's enthusiasm and available finance, particularly in rail and local transport".
I do not want to get into party political bickering over infrastructure, but I found it slightly peculiar during the election to see the Prime Minister go to a hospital in my old constituency--the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich--to give himself a lot of praise for the private finance initiative. As I recall, the local Labour party opposed that hospital taking over from the Greenwich district hospital and the Brook hospital. It even opposed the use of the private finance initiative for a car park. To see Labour, some years later, showing that it has changed its view and that it understands how private sector finance can help in terms of infrastructure for public use is a charming turnabout.
As I have explained to some of my constituents, the Labour party has pinched many of the Conservatives' ideas over the past few years, and it is almost certain over the next three or four years to adopt those it opposed during this election. One set of ideas that I would commend to Labour Members relates to the Home Office. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) proposed a number of ideas in January about supporting the victims of crime, so that they can be kept up to date with what is being done by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.
On many occasions, my constituents--and, I suspect, those of other hon. Members--are left totally in the dark as to what is going on. Things can get very complicated in some cases. I was involved with one yesterday, in relation to the Justice for Jay Abatan campaign, in which someone is a victim, a witness and a member of the family of a victim. In such a case, it might be difficult for the police and the CPS to be as open as they would otherwise be.
In less-complicated cases, it is vital that the police and the CPS keep the victims in touch with what is going on. There could be much more movement to ensure that the victims and their families are kept separate from the accused during trials. I do not want to prejudge people's guilt, but as a matter of common courtesy and decency, people should not have to go through, or stay in, rooms in which they would be side by side with the accused or those closely associated with them.
I pay tribute to Sussex police, who held a meeting yesterday in the market hall in Hove, in Brighton. The Assistant Chief Constable, Nigel Yeo, ran the meeting--which was chaired by Lord Dholakia, the chairman of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders and a well-known Sussex person--which allowed some of the issues involved in the Sussex police's approach to the Abatan case and the faults of the first investigation to be shared with the general public. That is a sign of confidence. There are other issues to do with the police that I shall take up when the opportunity allows.
I have tabled my first question to the Home Office, asking when the new Home Secretary plans to meet representatives of the National Black Police Association. There has been significant progress in the police's dealings with matters of race in the years since the Lawrence inquiry report, both with the general public and in the way in which they treat their own ethnic minority, black and Asian staff, but there is a long way to go. Some of the issues that I have picked up in relation to the Metropolitan police--and, perhaps, other police services as well--show a degree of failing to approach things in the right way, although "incompetence" is the wrong word to use.
The well-known case of Sergeant Gurpal Virdi illustrates that. A number of us tried to say to the Metropolitan police and the Home Office that things were not going right, without prejudging the issues. These are the same kinds of worries that I took to the then Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis over the Stephen Lawrence murder in the months following that case. There are concerns that are fairly easy to pick up and to which officialdom should pay attention.
Without going into too much detail, I plan to table a series of questions on the case of Superintendent Dr. Ali Dizaei. The investigation into his case has probably used more resources than those used in the investigation into the Jill Dando murder or the disappearance and subsequent murder of Sarah Payne in my constituency.
If the disciplinary charges that Dr. Ali Dizaei potentially faces are as minimal as they now appear to be, leaving aside any justification for such a charge, the level of resources approved at the highest level, which I assume was ministerial, as well as by the highest ranks of the Met, will require some justification after the event that perhaps should have been demanded at the beginning.
I shall not go further into that matter, but I wanted to set out the issue. Unless those of us who are white, male and middle class take up the issues of people who are black or Asian, women or disabled, we are effectively asking the victims to put things right. It is up to Members of this House, who are part of the establishment--with a big or a small "e"--to take those matters on.
Given our position, Members of Parliament have the might. If we know what is going on and are worried about it, it is our responsibility, both in public and in private, not to duck. We must not be afraid. That is the kind of advice that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West was talking about. We cannot always be confident that we are right, but if we do not act when we suspect that things are going wrong, we shall be left with a country in which some of our public services are besmirched.
I turn to one of the most important public services--the health service. I pay tribute, as I did in my speech in the debate on the previous Queen's Speech, to Worthing and District community health council and to its chief officer, Trevor Richards. He has kindly sent me a copy of the correspondence that he is having with West Sussex health authority, which has replied to him saying:
I believe that it is important that West Sussex health authority, the Department of Health and, for that matter, the NHS executive should ask Worthing to say what is necessary to meet family practitioner needs so that doctors do not break down and so that patients can be seen. While I accept that more and more is being done, more and more could, should and must be done.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, West referred to the concept of the national health service in the light of experiences in south Wales. I acknowledge what he said, but I do not believe that family doctor services in Worthing are acceptable. My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley), my wife, says that in her area, of those waiting for in-patient treatment, one in 10 waits more than a year, whereas in the Prime Minister's health authority area the figure is one in 200. Such a contrast may exist for a reason, but it cannot be allowed to continue for any reason. We should try to make sure that people have not a national waiting service but a national health service. I could give a number of other examples.
Let me turn to party politics. I hope that Ministers will go beyond party politics as far as possible. I was present for the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Dudley, North (Ross Cranston), who, when a Minister, answered in an exemplary way a question that I had tabled. He sent back the first draft answer, asked for more information and then provided more information in public. If other Ministers can follow that example and be as helpful--understanding that Members usually ask a question for a reason, especially if it relates to a constituency issue or a constituent with a difficulty--they will serve this House and the country better. Good examples should be praised and bad ones identified.
The Conservative party needs to show that it can promote the ideas of self-reliance and liberty within reason, and the ideas of justice and social justice--as it has done in the past. Justice is not merely law and order--it goes far beyond that into the sort of inclusiveness about which more people are now talking. We should also be friendly. Being sharp-suited and sharp-tongued is not the way to gain the confidence of the majority of people in this country. We need an approach that is as attractive in the inner cities to many of the have-nots as it is to those on the south coast in constituencies such as Worthing, West, which I have the honour to represent.
Finally, we need to be able to show people that politics itself is inclusive. I hope never again to address a large church meeting of 200 people, none of whom had ever thought of standing for elected office, had ever encouraged a talented contemporary to stand or had been part of a selection group to decide, if more than one person was willing to be a ward, a county or a parliamentary candidate, who would do the job best. We must provide that sort of encouragement, and that will lead to greater participation in politics and voting.