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7.2 pm

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): I listened with interest to the comments of the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) on Feltham young offenders institute, which is not far from my constituency and I have visited. I share his concern about conditions there. I also join him in praising my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) for his excellent maiden speech. My hon. Friend paid proper tribute to the excellent John Maxton, and his constituents can be truly proud of his first speech in this place. I should also acknowledge the very strong maiden speech of the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh).

I share the view of those who have said that modernisation of our public services, particularly our criminal justice system, is the crucial challenge facing the House in the next four years. The environmental challenge, however, will take more than four years to resolve. We have to determine how best to reduce our carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

Maintaining a strong economy is a central factor in addressing both those issues. Our strong economy, and strong memories of crime doubling under the previous Conservative Government--who promised an extra 5,000 police officers in 1992, whereas the police establishment had been reduced by 1,500 officers by 1997--were powerful factors in my own and my hon. Friends' re-election to the House.

The general election campaign also clarified the electorate's endorsement of the Government's view that the fruits of a strong economy should be invested in our public services. The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) did the United Kingdom a service by revealing Conservative Members' deep antipathy to sustained high investment in our public services: just imagine the implications of a £20 billion public spending cut for our police forces and for the regeneration funding that is necessary for community renewal.

The way in which reform is achieved and extra money is used in our public services are crucial issues. I have no ideological problem with enhanced use of the private sector. The credit card industry, for example, was sensibly involved in tackling credit card fraud, and the private finance initiative has delivered hospitals. We have to examine each case on its merits. I feel some frustration, however, about the way in which the debate on private sector involvement in our public services is being conducted. We have to move on from the very narrow private sector versus public sector debate. If we can do that, it will help us to deal with the concerns of some of those who did not vote in the general election.

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We should examine the role of the third sector in our economy and consider how to extend the role of schemes such as neighbourhood watch and victim support. Those key third-sector organisations are rooted in the community and play a vital role in helping to prevent crime and in supporting the victims of crime. Co-operatives and other mutual organisations, social enterprises and not-for-profit bodies could have a new role in tackling some of the problems facing both our public services and other services on which the public rely. Harmoni, in my own constituency, is a general practitioners co-operative that has transformed not only the provision of out-of-hours GP care but the terms of service for the GPs participating in the co-operative.

In the private sector, the financial services industry is filling big gaps in efforts to tackle financial exclusion, with credit unions and building societies providing many of the cheapest loans available. I hope that we shall see further measures to extend the role of credit unions and building societies.

Perhaps we should consider a mutual model for Railtrack. In addition to considering whether to renationalise it or maintain it as a purely private company, surely it is worth debating the option of applying a not-for- profit or business mutual model to that organisation. We could consider applying mutual models in the water industry, too, as a means of remedying serious under- investment and a lack of consumer input and control in the sector.

In debating our public services, particularly our criminal justice system, we have to consider not only structure but how to improve the quality of leadership. I think that, with the extra resources that the Government are making available, the police reform Bill will help police in my constituency to develop much more flexible and effective services, to respond more quickly to the concerns of local people. Nationally, we have to find a much better way of celebrating and rewarding best practice in police forces and other parts of the public services. We also have to examine ways of enabling leaders to develop their talents and consider how best to retain our police officers.

We definitely have to ensure that there is a much more sensitive, partnership-style approach to national monitoring and inspection regimes by bodies such as the Office for Standards in Education and the Audit Commission. Those regimes should, however, remain just as rigorous. We also have to consider how to maintain the flow of staff between our public services and private and third-sector bodies.

In the general election campaign, the quality of the health service and the fear of crime were two of the most important issues in my constituency. I hope that we shall see much more investment in Northwick Park hospital, which is the key acute hospital in my constituency. The NHS reform Bill will be a key factor in giving GPs a greater say and greater clout in the local health care economy. I hope that such measures will enable us to modernise intermediate care services, such as those that are potentially on offer at Northwood and Pinner community hospital.

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We also need much more investment in social services if we are to tackle some of the causes of crime. The image of Harrow--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman's speech is drifting somewhat. He ought to come back to the terms of the amendment.

Mr. Thomas: The one key concern flagged up by the amendment, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the falling participation rate in our national elections. One of the ways to tackle the drop in numbers of those voting in my constituency and the wider borough of Harrow will be to provide additional resources to tackle some of the problems in Harrow. There is real social need alongside great wealth in the area, and I hope to see changes in the local government funding formula to reflect that.

I welcome the Bills on police reform and the proceeds of crime, not least because, over the next 12 months, they will help to tackle a key challenge for the Metropolitan police--violent crime. The experience of crime and the fear of violent crime in particular have a deeply pernicious influence on people's lives and their ability to participate in the community. A new drive to take on the organised criminals behind much of London's violent crime--aided by the criminal asset recovery agency, for example--is essential.

I look forward to the Halliday and Auld reports being published and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's announcement of a standards unit will enable a proper inspection of crime and disorder partnerships. The very best of these work effectively in bringing together all statutory and voluntary agencies in the fight against crime, but some partnerships do need proper scrutiny by such a unit to make sure that "partnership" is a reality, and is not just talked about.

Another key issue that would help to drive up participation rates in our elections will be tackling some of this country's environmental issues. I am pro-nuclear, but considerable investment in renewable energy over the next four years is essential if we are to tackle the immediate problem of lowering our greenhouse gas emissions.

I welcome the Queen's Speech and the measures to improve our criminal justice system, but I hope that Ministers will not lose sight of the environmental challenge.

7.12 pm

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): It is with a great sense of honour that I rise to speak in this House for the first time today. I know that at least 658 people will disagree with my contention that the Cities of London and Westminster is the most prestigious constituency in the United Kingdom, but it is probably fair to say that it is where so many of the great matters of our history have taken place.

I was born in Germany and brought up in the home counties. I first came to Westminster and central London when I was about seven years old. I remember the excitement of seeing Buckingham Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral and all the other great landmarks in my

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constituency. Little did I realise that, less than three decades later, I would be lucky enough to represent this constituency.

It was a particular joy for me to learn that I am the third-youngest Member of Parliament for the City of London part of my constituency in the past 160 years. I realise that I have a hard task before me, not least as I must follow Peter Brooke, who was Member of Parliament for my constituency for the past quarter of a century. As the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) said earlier, he will go now to the House of Lords. He has been a great help to me in the 18 months since my selection as a candidate. He has been a great servant not only to my party, but to the country at large.

As many hon. Members know, Peter Brooke has an erudite manner, which will be sadly missed and which, I am afraid, will not be entirely replicated by myself in this House in the years ahead. He had two obsessive interests; election statistics and cricket. When he used to talk wistfully about what it was like in the Rawalpindi in 1935, one never knew whether he was referring to some arcane test match trivia or some local election statistics. He will be sadly missed and I only hope that I will be able to follow in his footsteps as best I can.

One of the difficulties of representing Westminster is that a great number of fellow Members live within my constituency. I was made aware of that only yesterday in the Lobby when I was harangued by two colleagues, complaining, respectively, about traffic calming and the strictly enforced parking regulations in this part of London. I should point out that I have never been a councillor in the City of Westminster. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) was a councillor here until April and he is the person to whom Members should put all their complaints in future.

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