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Ann Widdecombe uses her final speech in the Commons to highlight the plight of the non-working mother and people trapped on deprived, crime-ridden estates

WIDDECOMBE plus balloons I am relieved to be leaving the Commons because of public hostility to MPs: "I always imagined that when I was making my last speech and about to depart, I would be sad. Instead, I find that my uppermost sentiment is one of profound relief. I sincerely hope that future generations of Members of this House will be able to serve in an atmosphere free of the welter of public vituperation and vilification that this Parliament has been confronted with, and that there will once again be a recognition on the part of the public that the overwhelming majority of people who come here-on both sides of the House and in all parties-do so with some degree, and sometimes quite a lot, of sacrifice, in terms of either finance or family. My hope for the future is that some calmness and some respect will again prevail."

Labour has come to accept the need for nuclear deterrence: "My maiden speech was on Trident. Of course, at that time, I was very much in favour of keeping Trident, and those on these Opposition Benches, which were then occupied by the Labour party, were very much opposed to that. I am delighted that they have seen the error of their ways, and that they now in fact see the merits of Trident. That gives me great hope. They also now see the merits of privatisation, so I am very hopeful that at some stage in the future, they will see sense on a great many other things as well, and that a far more sensible and down-to-earth approach will prevail among them."

The health of the family: "If in our time there has been an assault on any great institution, it has been not on the House of Commons, but on the family. I am talking about the record levels of family break-up and the record numbers of young children who are growing up in houses where the parents have split, who are expected to split their time, emotions and whereabouts between those parents. But for all the many families like that, there are plenty of other parents who stay together in a committed and subsisting marriage, and who wish to bring their children up in a stable environment."

The plight of the non-working mother: "When a family decides that upon the birth of the first child, the mother-it may sometimes be the father, but statistically it is usually the mother-will stay at home to herself take on the full-time duty of bringing up that child, they are faced with a situation in which they move, almost overnight, from being two people living on two incomes, to being three people living on one income. Where that family is well off, that is not such a big issue, but for the majority of families that model, which many would like to follow, is now but a distant aspiration. There are many reasons for that, and it has not been helped by the prevailing social view that somehow there is something intrinsically second class about the woman who opts voluntarily to stay at home and bring up her children. While I have been in this place, I am pleased to say that I have lost three secretaries to full-time motherhood-I am not pleased that I lost them, but pleased for the reason that I lost them. The most recent said to me that she spends all her time trying to justify to her friends and contemporaries why she had chosen not to come back to work when the child was born. The social attitudes do not help, but there are also massive financial considerations. As a result of property prices and the huge mortgages that are necessary, it is simply impossible in many families for one of the parents to say that they will stop earning. Therefore, every shred of help that we can give to such families should be given by the Government of the day. It is especially iniquitous that there should be such a difference between the support given to a family where the mother has decided on full-time motherhood-which is the highest calling, because those mothers are bringing up the citizens of tomorrow-and to families where the parents have decided to carry on working. This example is given by Peter Saunders, professor of sociology, who points out that "if both parents go out to work and put their children into childcare, the government gives them each a £6,035 tax-free allowance, as well as heavily subsidising their child care costs. But if they prefer to look after their children themselves, sacrificing one income and foregoing all the child care subsidies, the government penalises them by making the stay-at-home parent forfeit her (or his) right to a tax-free income." That is one of the most scandalous inequalities that we have. We not only fail to support the non-working wife, but we positively pour support on those people who are existing on two rather than one incomes. Much of that inequality stems from the decline in the respect for marriage that we used to take for granted in our society. That is one of the groups of people about whom I wished to talk about today-the non-working mother. I see nothing in this Budget to help the non-working mother, but I see much in some of the Conservative proposals that might help the non-working mother if they are fully implemented. In any case, the Government are wrong to have ignored this problem, and in the wind-up I would like to hear what the Government will do-in the limited time available to them-to give some support to the non-working, stay-at-home, full-time mother."

People trapped on deprived, unpoliced estates: "The other group are those about whom I have spoken in this House before, and whom I have always called the forgotten decents. These are the law-abiding decent citizens, often but not always families-perhaps pensioners, a couple whose family has grown up and gone or single persons-who, because of a lack of resources, cannot escape from the environment in which they are trapped. I refer particularly, but not exclusively, to those big inner-city council estates where people have no aspiration but living a normal, unmolested life. That does not seem to be a ridiculous aspiration for a British citizen. But those people often do not dare even to leave their houses or flats after dark-not only after 8 or 9 pm, but even 6 or 7 pm-because they would be subjected to intimidation, robbery and thuggery. They live with that prevailing fear. Mothers who live on such estates have told me, and continue to tell me, as nothing much appears to have changed, that before they let their children out to play-which should be a normal activity-they have to check the surrounding area for needles. It is in those areas where the law-abiding live behind bars, because they fortify their homes like Fort Knox. There is wanton vandalism on those big estates and I vividly remember talking to one person who was disabled and had therefore no choice but to live on the ground floor. He could not live any higher: he had to occupy the ground floor. He had a pathetic, small patch in front of his flat where he had put pot plants to try to make a pleasant area in which to sit out in his wheelchair. Is that such a big aspiration? But his garden was regularly vandalised and finally every last plant was destroyed when some yob threw acid all over them. Are those areas policed? Is there a regular police presence on which those ordinary and modest British citizens can call? The answer is no. The regular plaint goes up, "We rarely"-they do not say never, because that would be an exaggeration-"see a policeman." There is no visible deterrent walking around these streets in the form of someone who could be called on by those who feel afraid. Money spent on policing those areas or bringing any other sort of hope to those areas would be money well spent. I do not see much encouragement for those people-the forgotten decents-in this Budget. I hope that I am wrong."



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