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Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): Would the hon. Gentleman like to remind the House what percentage of building took place on greenfield sites under the last Conservative Government?

Tim Loughton: None in Boreham.

Mr. Burns: My hon. Friend upstages me. He is absolutely right. For one fleeting moment, I thought that

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the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) was going to apologise for the performance of Liberal Democrat councillors in Chelmsford, but then I thought, "Don't be silly, Simon. He's a Liberal Democrat." As my hon. Friend rightly said, there was no building on greenfield sites in Boreham before the Liberal Democrat council took the decision that they are hoping to get through.

This is a serious matter. It is wrong that the south-east and the counties covered by Serplan are having such a large amount of house building on greenfield land forced on them. That land will never be recovered once it has been built upon. Given the analysis that is the basis for determining the number of houses that must be built, I fear that by 2021—and, I suspect, long before that—we will have already destroyed the environment before the flaws in the figures become apparent.

Tim Loughton: My hon. Friend mentioned West Sussex. In my constituency, the inspector's report replying to the Worthing local plan has identified areas of greenfield land that touch areas of outstanding natural beauty on the Sussex downs. Local people and the local council want them to be kept as greenfield land, but the downs are now being identified as potential house building sites because of what the Government have done and what the Deputy Prime Minister instructed local councils to do. He told them to build on greenfield sites in places such as Worthing if the brownfield sites are not available. That is increasingly likely to happen.

Mr. Burns: I appreciate the fact that my hon. Friend has raised that important point. It is time that the Government were prepared to think again and to listen to the people in places such as West Sussex, Boreham in Chelmsford and Hertfordshire. Why do the Government not reconsider and trust the people and introduce a system that is bottom up rather than top down? Why are the Government not prepared to let local communities, who are far more familiar with the requirements of their area, determine future house building and the needs of the local environment? Instead, the Government are forcing the policy on those communities as a diktat from the centre. I fear from the way in which the Minister shakes his head that my suggestion will not be accepted but, sadly, I am used to that.

This is a Government of control freaks who do not simply control their press officers and news management. They want to control every nook and cranny of our lives. Their policy is deeply unpopular and the statistics show that it is unnecessary. Long after the Minister has had responsibility for local government or housing, he might in the small hours of the night, as he reflects on his career, come to regret the decisions that he took, particularly when he was the Minister for Housing and Planning in the previous Parliament.

7.19 pm

Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). His speech was very well delivered but, at one point, I wondered whether he was describing the life and times of the Chelmsford Liberal Democrat party. He seemed to know such a lot of detail about it that I thought that we were about to hear when its latest whist drive or jumble sale would be held. However, I have sympathy for some of the points that he made.

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I want to talk about the county of Kent and my constituency in particular. People's quality of life turns principally on their work, income, holidays and family, and there has been enormous progress on many of those fronts during the past few years. Many of my constituents never got paid holiday under the previous Conservative Government; now they do, because we signed up to the social chapter. Many of them earned as little as £1 an hour; no longer, because we now have a statutory minimum wage. Maternity leave has been increased. A whole raft of measures have not been mentioned during the debate, but they are important to people's lives.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) mentioned pensioners. When I knocked on doors during the election, some of those people told me, "I'm getting £200 now" or "I'm getting a free TV licence now." As my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond) knows, a combination of the Government's policy on cut-price fares and a local Labour initiative led to a flat-rate bus fare of 20p in the Medway towns. Those are quality of life issues. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) said, they are the nitty-gritty details that affect people's day-to-day lives. People worry about whether they can afford a holiday or need to find the money for their television licence. They do not if they are over 75, because it is provided by the Labour Government.

Mr. Fallon: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the principal elements of the quality of life for his and my constituents in Kent is being able to travel to one's place of work? Does he think that commuting to London has improved under the Labour Government?

Mr. Shaw: Fifty per cent. of people who live in the Medway towns travel outside them to work. The hon. Gentleman is right that there have not been vast improvements in commuter trains, although when I travelled up from Chatham today I was in one of the new air-conditioned Networkers with other passengers from the Medway towns. More of those trains are on order from Connex. Difficulties have arisen because Railtrack and Connex have failed to provide sufficient power for all those trains. I admit that I often still have to use slam-door trains, but there is a programme to phase them out and to introduce more trains like the one that I travelled on this afternoon.

Mrs. Laing: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that investment in new rolling stock, and Connex's very existence, would not have come about had it not been for the Conservative Government's privatisation of British Rail?

Mr. Shaw: "All hail privatisation"—that is the mantra of Conservative Members. If they persist with it, they will continue to do as well as they have done in the past few years.

The problem with privatisation is that it was focused on the short term. On the Connex South Central line, the franchise ran for only seven or eight years. Who on earth wants to invest in a franchise of that length? No wonder the company lost that franchise. In future there must be longer franchises of 25 or 30 years, with proper penalties if quality is not delivered and the requisite improvements are not made. There is no point in saying that everything

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is marvellous after privatisation, because that is clearly not so. Even if there is no consensus on that in the House, there certainly is in the rest of the country. Once longer franchises are introduced, investment will start to come in. The present arrangements are unsatisfactory.

I want to talk about the effect of education on the quality of life. The right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) made a passionate speech about certain communities that we all have in our constituencies and how to tackle some of the deeply entrenched problems. I did not hear all of her speech, but she painted with a broad brush in mapping out the issues. The Government are introducing tangible initiatives and policies to deal with specific problems.

One of those is the sure start programme, which in my constituency provides funding of about £2 million, concentrating on the most deprived areas. It benefits around 1,300 children under the age of three, and works with their parents to tackle deprivation cycles. By creating artificial situations, it is possible to improve the relationship between parents and young children at an early age. That improves the children's emotional development, which means that they are more likely to do well in pre-school. In 2000 there were about 200 pre-school places for three-year-olds in the Medway towns; we now have more than 2,000. That is the direct result of Government money and the development of local infrastructure. If youngsters have good pre-school education they do better when they move on to primary school, and if they get a good grounding in primary school—the numeracy hour, the literacy hour and reduced class sizes have assisted in that—they will do better in secondary school. If they do better in secondary school, we will start to move away from the disfranchisement and disenchantment that they often feel.

Sandra Gidley: I am a great supporter of the sure start scheme. Hoping that I would be able to speak in the debate, I accessed the sure start website. Is the hon. Gentleman proud of the fact that the Government have few schemes in the south-east, but a huge number in the north and north-west? We are discussing problems in the south-east; sure start is an example of an area in which the south-east is deficient in services and funding.

Mr. Shaw: I do not have a map in front of me showing the various deprived areas. If the hon. Lady wants a sure start programme in her area, I am sure that she will articulate that on behalf of her constituents. The programme targets the most needy areas that cover 30 per cent. of the country. Sometimes we are winners in the south-east; sometimes we are not. That is the purpose of a national Government. We cannot have every single programme in every single constituency. I do not know the hon. Lady's constituency well, but I am sure that it has particularly needy areas.

The foundations have been laid at primary school level and we are moving on to the 14 to 19-year-old agenda. For far too long, there has been a fixation with academia whereby every youngster has to get academic qualifications. It is not surprising that if the national curriculum is purely academic, many youngsters do not fit into that. If they are already feeling disaffected and have no connection with the curriculum, it is not surprising that they fall into truancy and bad behaviour. It is incumbent on us, as policy setters, to provide a

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curriculum that does more to meet youngsters' needs and aspirations. The curriculum should fit them; they should not have to fit into the curriculum. That is an important part of tackling current problems, as opposed to finding long-term solutions.

Investment is being put into our schools. During the general election, parents told me that they approved of what they had seen in schools—the installation of computer suites, the reductions in class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds, and the capital developments. However, there is much more to do.

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