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Jon Trickett: I was talking about the public sector provision of health and educational services, rather than housing, but let us take the example of housing. Those of us who are slightly older than others in the House clearly remember the inter-war period and before, when private sector slum landlords operated over huge tracts of our country. The process of social exclusion in housing is one of the most disgraceful episodes concerning the private sector in this country's social history, throughout the previous century and the one before that. My hon. Friend's example of housing precisely illustrates my point.
It was only at the end of the first war, when councils--the public sector--began to construct social housing with gardens and adequate sanitation for reasonable rents, that the problems of social exclusion through housing were resolved. Notwithstanding all that, I accept that the private sector may have a role in housing renewal and regeneration, but that was not the point that I was making. My hon. Friend's choice of example was very poor.
I was talking about social exclusion and how the private sector is an engine of it, not a panacea. The Government's choice of the private sector as an instrument to tackle social exclusion is unusual. The use of the private sector in public service provision will result in increased fragmentation of government rather than joined-up government, which is what we are supposed to be about. If we want to bring together the various agencies of government to tackle social exclusion--perhaps in the pit villages that I represent--we should be trying to form a coherent pattern of public services. To do almost the reverse and use the private sector as a service provider--perhaps in education or health, rather than building council houses--will fragment and make more difficult the process of holistic regeneration. So I am terribly worried about the fragmentation of services that might follow such policies.
Introducing the private sector to public service provision will blur the lines of accountability, which are very clear in the public sector. If one introduces private sector companies to the public services, the question will be: in whose interests will those private companies operate? Somewhere or other, the role of shareholders must play a part. The accountability of employees, the board of directors and everyone in the private sector will thus be blurred, once again raising the question of fragmentation versus coherence.
For all those reasons, I warn my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government--in the most polite and gentle way, having been a loyalist and a moderniser throughout my time in this House--that some of us on the Labour Benches will not easily accept the introduction of the private sector to public service provision.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): It is a huge honour and a matter of great personal pride to address this House for the first time as the Member of Parliament for Epsom and Ewell. I have the great privilege of representing what I suspect is one of the few constituencies known around the world for its famous racecourse and Britain's most famous horse race. I also suspect that I am one of few Members of Parliament able to stand on the highest point of his constituency and look down across the valleys at the Palace of Westminster.
The Epsom and Ewell constituency covers not simply the borough of that name, but the north end of the Reigate and Banstead and Mole Valley districts. It runs from Worcester Park and Stoneleigh in the north to Ashtead and the borders of Tadworth in the south. I suspect that it must also be one of the greenest constituencies inside the M25, being well endowed with green spaces and parkland--not just the famous Epsom Downs but also Nonsuch park, the site of Henry VIII's palace, which is sadly no more. The constituency is also the site of the Epsom wells, the point of origin of the world-renowned treatment, Epsom Salts.
Epsom has always been an important commercial centre. Today, it is home to some of Britain's most successful companies, such as W. S. Atkins, the engineering consultancy, and Bacon and Woodrow. Indeed, I look forward in two weeks' time to attending the opening of Toyota's new British headquarters.
The real commercial heart of the constituency is not its big businesses but the smaller companies in places such as Ewell, Stoneleigh and Epsom, which are the engine of our local economy. They face real challenges of regulation and doing business in tough climates, and I look forward to being a powerful advocate of their cause in the years ahead.
Interestingly, I am only the second Member of Parliament for Epsom and Ewell since 1918 to take his seat following a general election and not a by-election, which is probably something of a relief to my predecessor, Sir Archie Hamilton. The adage "a hard act to follow" can be a cliche, but in Sir Archie's case it is genuinely true. In more ways than one he is a giant of a man. Members will see that I had to pass a height test in order to represent the constituency.
Sir Archie entered the House in April 1978, and served both his constituency and this House for 23 years. In that time, he managed to strike what I suspect can often be a difficult balance for a politician: to be a successful
On the doorstep I met only too many people who were keen to stop me and say, "Sir Archie has been a great help to us over the years. He has been a real tower of strength in this area." I met many, many people who were genuinely sad about his decision to retire. He will be much missed in Epsom and Ewell, and I face a tough challenge to do as good a job in representing the constituency.
As well as serving his constituents so well, Sir Archie made a distinctive mark on the national stage, in government and in the Chamber. A distinguished member of the last Conservative Government, serving as Minister of State for the Armed Forces, he was a vital part of Baroness Thatcher's team during her years in office. The importance of the role that he played in those years was made very evident last summer, when Lady Thatcher came to Epsom and Ewell to take part in a farewell tribute to Sir Archie. The glowing tributes she paid him on that night spoke clearly of his importance to her Government.
For the past four years, Sir Archie served a new leadership with distinction, as chairman of the Conservative 1922 committee and as an important prop to my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) during an undoubtedly difficult period for our party. Since my arrival, I have been struck by the affection in which Sir Archie was held by his colleagues. Clearly, he is a loss to the House as well as to his constituency. I hope that Members on both sides will join me in wishing him a long and happy retirement.
One of the lighter moments of my campaign occurred when I walked up the driveway of a house in Ewell and saw on its wall one of those tourist plaques that are often seen on the sides of houses in and around London. On it was the inscription:
First and foremost is the future of Epsom general hospital. Over the past few months, many of us in the area have fought hard to protect the hospital against the local health trust's plans to downgrade it and transfer key facilities to another, already overcrowded hospital 10 miles up the road. Our campaign crossed party divides, brought together organisations and individuals from throughout the constituency and beyond, and won the backing of more than 25,000 people. It is to the local NHS trust's credit that it has recognised the strength of the opposition to its plans and decided to take its plans back to the drawing board. The battle is far from over, however.
It has become only too clear to me that one of the consequences of the reforms and changes currently being made to the NHS is to weaken local services--to centralise at the expense of local people and local
Our second challenge is the availability of school places in the next few years. As we speak, many parents in my constituency are scared witless about what is to happen to their children this autumn, because places are not available for them. The problem is in part the result of funding cuts made in the past four years, when this country's grant-maintained schools lost funding and the support that they had enjoyed under the previous Conservative Government. In the next few years, between 500 and 1,000 teenagers in my constituency will face the prospect of having no secondary school place. That is clearly intolerable. I shall be beating a path to the Government's door to ensure that a solution is found to the problem--and quickly, because time is not on our side. The parents and children of Epsom and Ewell have the right to expect the secondary school places they need in future.
I will also be pressing the Government on their proposals to reform the planning system. Ashtead, which is at the southern end of my constituency, is one of the many communities that have been blighted by the ill thought out Central Railway proposal that threatens to do so much damage in Kent, Surrey, Buckinghamshire and beyond. Do not get me wrong--I do not think that anyone would disagree with the proposition that it is desirable to take freight off the roads and get it on to rail. However, it strikes me as extraordinary that a company can launch a major infrastructure proposal simply by sketching lines on an Ordnance Survey map, not backed up by any detailed engineering drawings, and can then sit back for years doing nothing.
That is the problem facing many of my constituents today; while it prevails, houses cannot be sold, or can be sold only at reduced prices. Ashstead and Leatherhead, on the other side of the M25 in Mole Valley, are two of this country's property black spots in which prices are falling. That cannot be right. The current laws must be changed and I shall look to the Government to address those issues in the current Session of Parliament as part of their proposals on the planning system.
I do not believe that, on his arrival in this place, any Back-Bench Member of Parliament, especially an Opposition Member, can seriously expect to wield much power and influence, but I do believe that we can be powerful advocates for our constituents and constituencies and that by persuasion we can achieve many positive outcomes for them. That is my goal, as I take on the mantle of Sir Archie Hamilton. In the years ahead, I hope and expect to repay the trust that has been placed in me by my constituents, by working tirelessly on their behalf and helping them to solve many of the problems that they face.