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8.57 pm

Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green): Because of the five-minute limit, I will read my speech quite fast. I do not require a response from the Minister; I want to save time.

I merely wish to praise an innovative undertaking in my constituency—a foyer scheme, known as the safe start foyer. Recently Maria Mulloy, development manager of the scheme, invited me to a six-months review lunch at the foyer. The scheme is managed at Handley grove, off Claremont road in Cricklewood. It was set up for the benefit of young vulnerable people who are homeless, unemployed or both, and was officially opened in May 2001 by the Minister for Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), and the then Irish ambassador, Mr. Edward Barrington.

I had already visited the foyer some months earlier, when I was able to discuss at length with young people what the scheme meant to them. They told me that their lives had changed entirely for the better once they came into contact with it. The foyer contains 24 flats with on-site support staff, providing key opportunities for disadvantaged young people who want to built a better future for themselves. Those whom I had the chance to meet were enormously positive.

The foyer is currently fully let, containing 24 young adults aged between 16 and 25 of whom 11 are working and 13 are in full-time education. They told me of their

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past, which was at times gruesome. They seemed eloquent, intelligent and worldly-wise, and I enjoyed our discussions. They told me about their skills assessments, the training, and the job-seeking support available on site for residents. They also showed me their flats, the training and meeting rooms, information-technology access and the cafe and offices.

The chief executive of the safe start foundation, Mahesh Singadia, and Tom Beisty, who chairs the foundation, told me how the scheme had come about. Councillor Alan Williams, leader of the London borough of Barnet, had discussed the building of the foyer with the Network housing association, which was building 113 affordable rented homes in the area. The safe start people were brought in to manage it, and Barnet college's principal, John Skitt, was enlisted to discuss learning opportunities. All four partners put money and effort into the scheme, and the Housing Corporation came up with the capital costs. The Bank of Ireland also played a positive role.

The scheme is quite expensive, and the high standard of accommodation and services suggest as much. Safe start will see hundreds of formerly vulnerable young adults leave its premises with a good future to look forward to, and that is worth every penny. I am sure that those young people will, for once, have a decent Christmas this year.

I shall end with season's greetings to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to all colleagues in the House.

9 pm

Mr. John Baron (Billericay): I shall keep my comments brief, as I am conscious that other hon. Members wish to speak. I want to raise two issues that are concerning my constituents. The first relates to toxic ash that has been dumped in one corner of my constituency, and the second to the concern about the shortage in police numbers across the constituency.

Following reports on "Newsnight" and in the local press that toxic ash had been dumped at Pitsea tip, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 6 July asking for how long and when that dumping was allowed to happen; why proper controls were not in place to ensure that it did not happen; who was responsible for ensuring that public safety was adhered to; whether there was any risk to human health; and what measures were being taken to ensure that that did not happen again.

Despite further letters on 18 October, numerous phone calls and written parliamentary questions dated 6 November, I have not received a substantive response. Would the Minister, as a gesture of festive co-operation if nothing else, please raise this matter with the Secretary of State and generate a response? It is a matter of great concern to a large number of my constituents.

The second issue relates to a real concern across the constituency about the shortage of beat and response officers. A number of recent cases strongly suggest that the police are overstretched. In Essex, crime has risen in recent years, whereas the number of police constables has fallen. As part of an overall strategy to get much tougher with the criminal, we should instigate a step change in policing levels across the country, and get as many as an extra 25,000 to 30,000 police officers on the beat over the medium term.

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The strength of feeling in Billericay and district is such that recently, in only two weeks, 5,500 constituents signed a petition calling for more police officers to be committed to the constituency. I presented that petition to the House of Commons on 10 December. I am aware that hardly any time has passed since then, but as I was previously unable to generate a response from another Department on the toxic ash incident, I ask the Minister to remind the Home Secretary that that petition sits on his desk, and I look forward to receiving his response early in the new year.

I shall leave the matter there. I should like to extend greetings and wish all hon. Members a good Christmas. I look forward to those two responses.

9.3 pm

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): There is a growing gap, as my constituents perceive it, between the Government's rhetoric and their experience of public services in Fareham. I shall kick off with the topic of health. I shall contrast two newspaper articles that appeared in successive weeks in one of my local papers.

The first was a Government press release trumpeting the allocation of £75,000 to the Queen Alexandra hospital in Cosham, which was to cut waiting lists overnight and reduce the delays that people face in the accident and emergency department. That £75,000 will produce three and a bit nurses to cope with the growing number of people going to A&E units.

The following week there was an announcement that the hospital trust that looks after the Queen Alexandra hospital had a deficit of £5.5 million, and had to lose 150 staff, including front-line medical staff. It is not surprising, therefore, that my constituents see a growing gap between what the Government talk about in this Chamber and the reality on the ground.

One of the problems that hospitals everywhere face is the crisis in accident and emergency units. Admissions to those units are growing, many of them elderly people who have been forced to remain at home because the nursing home beds to cope with them are not available. Those beds are not available because the standards imposed by the Government on nursing homes have led to the closure of many in my constituency. The Government have not compensated nursing home owners for the additional costs that that they have incurred. Not only are more elderly people staying at home, but when they reach hospital, more and more have to stay there because there are no homes for them to go to for a convalescence period. A crisis is building up in the health service in south-east Hampshire, as a consequence of the underfunding of the health service and the loss of front-line medical staff, as well as the lack of adequate care places for elderly people.

I wish to place on record my thanks to the teachers and head teachers in my constituency for their hard work and dedication over the past year. That hard work and dedication has masked a growing crisis in recruitment and retention of teachers in my constituency. I raised that topic twice earlier this month. One of the manifestations of the crisis in Fareham is that a local head teacher, David Wilmot, set up a stall in Sainsbury's to recruit more teachers from among passing customers. I thought that that was a tribute to his innovation and initiative, but it was also a sad indictment of the state of the teaching

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profession and the problems imposed on teachers by the Government through increased work load and more directives.

We cannot talk about the crisis in teacher recruitment and retention in isolation, because it has an effect on pupils. We have already heard Mike Tomlinson, the chief inspector of schools, explain this month that the stalling in the rate of improvement in literacy and numeracy at the age of 11 was partly caused by the turnover of teachers. My concern is that the improvement in exam standards over recent years will grind to a halt if teacher turnover increases and it is harder and harder to fill existing vacancies. The Government need to act promptly to avoid a crisis in education arising from the shortage of teachers.

The third issue I wish to raise is transport. The Government office for the south-east sent a letter to the chief executive of Hampshire county council. Its opening sentence reads:

I regret to say that the choice available to my constituents is which traffic jam to sit in. There are two major M27 junctions in my constituency—junction 9 to the west and junction 11, which takes traffic from my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). Both junctions are at maximum capacity at peak times because of the housing development that has taken place in my constituency in recent years. The Government plan more housing developments in the two boroughs. They have responded to the problem in part by providing funds for the south Hampshire rapid transit system. That will provide some relief, but only for people travelling from Fareham and Gosport to Portsmouth and back. It will do nothing for people travelling to Winchester, Southampton or Basingstoke, or for people who live in the west of the constituency who use junction 9. Further public transport investment is not the sole answer to the problem. We need more investment in roads, and soon.

At the moment, three surveys cover the M27—the south coast multi-modal survey, the M27 integrated transport survey and the Fareham and Gosport access study. We have had three studies, but what we need is action, not studies. The Government must provide additional funds to improve the M27, or to stop housing developments taking place in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies.

In this brief canter through the issues in my constituency, I must point out that I am concerned that the Government have not been open about the difficulties that they face in trying to solve the problems. They would gain much more respect if they were honest about their problems with hospitals, schools and roads. We need a proper debate to decide how best to solve those problems. If the Government are not open but continue to recite their litany of statistics, people will become more and more cynical about them. This is a Government who promise much but deliver little.

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