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Mr. Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East): Yours have.

Dr. Brand: I am usually pretty selective in my questions. However, I and my party support the Bill entirely. I hope that its implementation will be a great success.

8.33 pm

Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I shall be brief. I welcome the Bill very much. Like other hon. Members, I was a social worker for many years, in both the statutory and voluntary sectors. In that work, I saw how much we failed the young people in our care. I can think of young people who were cast adrift on society and who ended up in prison or on the street. The Bill is a tremendous tribute to the Government, and I rejoice in its passage through the House today.

I am especially keen to pay tribute to the young people who came up from Wales to the House. They put their views forcibly to hon. Members, from Wales and elsewhere, and were instrumental in some of the amendments that have been made to the Bill in its passage through the two Houses of Parliament.

The consultation on the proposals for regulations is taking place in Wales, and issues remain to be worked out. For example, three local authorities have suggested that professional advisers should be volunteers, while others have suggested that they should be paid. Such matters need to be sorted out, in consultation with the young people.

I hope that children will never again be cast out into society in the way common when I was a social worker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister and everyone involved in the Bill--and especially the young people whom I mentioned earlier.

8.35 pm

Mr. Simon Thomas: I, too, welcome this Bill. I am pleased that it has gained so much consensus in the House, and I look forward to its early implementation.

Some of the worst care scandals happened in Wales, but it has since been revealed that similar problems have happened in England as well. One of the Government's primary tasks was to restore the confidence and trust of the public--especially of young people--in the care system. That had been lost over the years, for reasons that hon. Members set out in the debate tonight.

This Bill and the Care Standards Act 2000 mean that that trust is being restored. The Government are paying attention to what young people and hon. Members have said, and the Bill is part of a package of measures that will improve the lot of young people in care, and of those leaving care.

The Bill is slightly better now than when we first considered it three months ago. I welcome the amendments that the Government have made, especially the one that takes account of the need for further education to be considered alongside higher education. That was an important issue, especially for young people leaving care in rural areas.

As the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) said, much of the Bill's implementation depends on the guidelines that the Government will set out. The situation

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in Wales is slightly different from that in the rest of the country, as devolution means that the National Assembly for Wales will decide what those guidelines should be. The hon. Lady mentioned advisers, but the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) also made an important point about advocacy. I hope that the guidelines in Wales, at least, will seek that independent voice in the advocacy services. The right organisations exist in Wales to provide that service, if they are given the right responsibility under the Bill.

I am pleased that the Government have resisted the more sanctions-based approach advocated by some hon. Members, and that they have rejected an approach that is based more on the stick than the carrot. Although some young people may not be able to cope with the pathway plan and will not therefore emerge from the system with the proper support, the Bill means that every effort will be made to encourage those young people to work in co-operation with the people charged with looking after them.

That is a much better approach. We have to accept that there will be some failures in the care system, but we must ensure that the legislation that we pass is as permissive, enabling and empowering as it can possibly be. The Bill goes a long way towards achieving that.

My one concern is that the Bill misses an opportunity to assist former relevant children--young people leaving care--by helping them with training and education up to the age of 24. The Bill is permissive on that account, but I should have liked it to place a duty on local authorities to offer that support.

We have some experience of the permissive and discretionary role that local authorities have, and the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) mentioned the opportunities in the Children Act 1989 that have been missed. That small chink in the Bill was explored in Committee. I know that the Government are keen to ensure that it does not become a gaping hole, but the Bill could have placed a duty on local authorities to support former relevant children up to the age of 24. We know that 75 per cent. of care leavers have no qualifications, and one of the Bill's primary tasks is to provide a framework to improve their lot.

However, that is the only weakness that I can detect in the Bill. That is a wonderful thing to be able to say. The Standing Committee discussing the Bill was my first experience of such work, and I was very pleased to serve on a Committee considering such a progressive and empowering piece of legislation.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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West Coast Main Line

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Jamieson.]

8.39 pm

Ms Claire Ward (Watford): I was beginning to think that the uncertainty about what time this debate would start was part of a conspiracy to ensure that I was away from my other constituents this evening, who are following the fortunes of Watford football team, which is playing Manchester United at home. However, I shall not detain the House for long, certainly not until 10 o'clock, as I am sure that other hon. Members are keen to know the results.

Many of those who have seen the title of the Adjournment debate will believe that it refers to the chaos and disruption seen on the west coast over the past few days. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe will be pleased and relieved to know that it does not. This debate is about the chaos and disruption that will be caused to the people in my community by the works required to achieve the upgrading of the west coast main line.

First, may I say that I fully support the project to upgrade the west coast main line? The opportunity to improve services along the line must be welcomed, and in Watford we expect to see a substantial extension to services as a result of the upgrade. Although I have some concerns about the capacity available to local services, that is not an issue for tonight. I recognise, too, that sometimes there must be disruption in order to gain those benefits. However, we expect our public utilities, notably Railtrack and the National Grid Company, to do all within their power to minimise disruption and seek the most suitable means of carrying out works so that, wherever possible, communities are protected from the upheaval of the track improvements. However, there are two areas along the line in my constituency where proposals from Railtrack are causing great upset and concern to residents.

The first is an issue on which I have already made representations to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. As part of improving the power source for the railway, a series of electrical transformers is being sited along the line. Railtrack has applied to the Secretary of State for an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 to authorise a package of projects for improving the power supply to the line. One such project includes the siting of an electrical transformer in Gypsy lane in the north of my constituency. Gypsy lane, for those who do not have the advantage of knowing Watford, is a beautiful country cul-de-sac that leads out to greenbelt land, and people regularly walk and cycle there. It is a single-lane road, with no footpaths and no turning spaces, other than those of the residents' own driveways.

Railtrack originally planned to site the transformer on the east side of the track and took some soundings from a few residents. They expressed concern, not so much about the position of the transformer as the access to it. Residents have never opposed the fact that a transformer needs to be sited in the area, but have always opposed the plan that access to it should be via Gypsy lane, which is inappropriate for use by huge vehicles. Railtrack considered that and moved it to the west side. Residents have never supported that site and access to it would still be required via Gypsy lane.

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Railtrack has estimated that the work will take about six months. Once built, the transformer will require regular maintenance. That would all need access along this narrow lane. It is no wonder that the residents have opposed Railtrack's proposals.

The site favoured by residents--the original site identified by Railtrack--could be accessed from private land and would be more suitable for construction and maintenance vehicles to use. The land is part of Leavesden aerodrome, now used by Leavesden film studios, and using it would cause less disruption. Equally, using that site would minimise the visual obstruction in this attractive area.

I have supported residents in their discussions with Railtrack. The Transport and Works Act 1992 will now be considered by a public inquiry. However, we continue to urge Railtrack to reconsider the alternative position now, rather than wait until the inquiry, which will not be considering the issue until August next year.

The second issue relates to the south of my constituency, in Oxhey village--another quaint and attractive part of the constituency which is being threatened by Railtrack's proposals. There are two areas of concern. First, a further transformer is required near Bushey station. Although residents had been led to believe that it would be sited near the end of the platform, more recent proposals--without consultation--indicate that it is due to be built further away from the station but nearer to homes. Residents are understandably concerned about the loss of their visual outlook by the erection of such a large building. Some have also expressed concern about the health implications of being so close to a fairly high electromagnetic field.

Secondly, Railtrack has asked the National Grid Company to provide a high-voltage electricity supply to the line. The cables will be run from Elstree sub-station to Bushey railway station. Unfortunately for my constituents, it is proposed that trenches be dug to put the cables along the middle of those narrow Victorian streets. Not only will that cause disruption, increased noise and dirt to residents, but the parking problems in the area will be magnified by the displacement of cars due to the works. Although the majority of the area is residential, a number of businesses such as newsagents, specialist shops and takeaways rely on passing trade and the ability of customers to stop close by. The cabling works would not only make the road almost unusable but would prevent cars from parking in any relatively close proximity. Those businesses will be severely affected and, as yet, they have not been advised of what assistance, if any, Railtrack or the National Grid Company will provide.

Watford borough council has also expressed its opposition to the proposals, and is considering whether to grant the necessary planning permission for the National Grid Company to cross the recreational ground, owned by the council.

Although the National Grid Company claims to have sought to keep the community fully informed of the proposals, it has not been much of a consultation. Residents have stressed the disruption and chaos that will result from the works and have suggested alternatives that have been refused by the National Grid Company and Railtrack.

31 Oct 2000 : Column 688

The first option that we asked them to consider was the use of tunnelling equipment. We are aware that, on other stretches of roads in St. John's wood, the National Grid Company is using the technology available to it by rotary drilling and steel casing a borehole through which the cables are threaded. Equally, when the cables cross the major A41 road under the proposed route, the National Grid Company will tunnel underneath. Residents rightly want the National Grid Company to minimise disruption by using the best technology available to it in undertaking this work. Yet the National Grid Company and its customers, Railtrack, refuse to do so.

Residents and the council have also requested consideration of alternative routes where fewer residential areas would be affected by the cabling. To date, there appears to have been some reluctance to provide exact costings and details of the alternatives and the technical reasons why they are not practical. Neither Railtrack nor the National Grid Company appears interested in those alternatives.


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