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Dr. Tonge: I ask this question in all sincerity. The hon. Gentleman said that there had been a 75 per cent. reduction in crime in a particular area of his constituency. For the benefit of all our constituents, can he tell us exactly how that has been achieved?
Mr. Pond: I certainly can. Part of the measures involved the police working in partnership with the local authority and the residents. One of the important lessons that we have to learn from the achievements so far is that, unless we get that sort of partnership involving the residents themselves, the extra investment in policing and CCTV will not achieve the significant reductions in crime that we want to see. It is that lesson about partnership that is so important. It has certainly worked in Lorton Close, and elsewhere in my constituency.
I welcome the announcement in the past few days that there is to be greater emphasis on victims and witnesses throughout the criminal justice system and policing generally. That, too, will be important in ensuring that the downward trend in crime can continue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan) made clear, however, it is the nitty-gritty issues that are so important to all our constituents in determining their quality of life. Abandoned cars, graffiti, vandalism, litter and dog-fouling are not issues that detain the House for many parliamentary hours, but they are the issues that are important to all our constituents.
We have sought to tackle those issues and, through investment in public servicesparticularly in education and the health servicewe are beginning to see an improvement in the life chances of my constituents and the population as a whole. That means that, in the longer term, they will have the opportunity for a better quality of life. Other hon. Members have referred to the fact that, only five years ago, half of our 11-year-olds had not reached basic standards of literacy and numeracy. That meant not only that they were being disadvantaged at that point, but that their quality of life and standard of living were likely to be diminished and damaged throughout their working lives as a result. We cannot be complacent; one fifth of our 11-year-olds are still not reaching those basic standards, and we need further reform and investment in education to ensure that we give those young people the chance that they deserve.
We are moving in the right direction, but that will require further investment in schools, the national health service, transport and roads. An issue that is prominent in my constituency at the moment is the need for a relief road in Denton. Such a road would dramatically improve the quality of life for people living on the estate there. It would also provide the possibility of creating or maintaining 600 jobs and allow the regeneration of a very deprived area.
Our aim, as a Government, is to build prosperity while maintaining and improving the environment and the quality of life. In Gravesham, and elsewhere in the south-east, we enjoy a balance of countryside and urban
Bearing in mind that a number of Members still want to contribute to the debate, I shall briefly conclude by referring to the comments of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). She referred to an estate in Hackney that she had visited in the run-up to the election.
Mr. Pond: Several times, I am sure. She reported that the residents of that estate were concerned that nothing was being done for them to improve their circumstances. Other hon. Members have pointed out to her that the most important factor in the quality of people's lives is the power that they feel that they have over their lives. The concept of people in such a community having something done to them is one of the reasons why they felt so powerless in the past. It is not what we do to residents in such circumstances, but what we can do with them. Giving them the power to improve the quality of their lives is the key to regeneration and to improving their living standards.
Miss Widdecombe: The hon. Gentleman has completely distorted what I said. For a start, I did not say "done to them": I said "done for them". The way to achieve any advance is to work with those people. One half of the partnership is the Government, and that is what they were complaining about. They have set up a residents association and undertaken initiatives, but they cannot conceivably provide themselves with CCTV or a policeman. They were complaining that they could not get those things. The hon. Gentleman should stop distorting what I said, stop belittling the people on that estate in Hackney, and start telling the facts instead of making it all up.
Mr. Pond: I thank the right hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene on her intervention. I think that she understands the point fully, which is clearly why I rattled her cage. Those people want the Government, the local authority and the voluntary sector to work in partnership with them to achieve these things. They want to be active citizens. They do not want to be the dependent recipients of welfare or patronage from this or any other Government. It is by ensuring that they are given responsibility for their own lives that they will feel that their quality of life has been enhanced.
I shall conclude on that point. There has been much discussion about the impact of the policies of previous Conservative Governments measured against the impact of the policies that the present Government have implemented. The big difference is not between the impact of those different policies, but between the present Government who are determined to improve the quality
Bob Spink (Castle Point): In the south-east, taxes have risen and regulation and bureaucracy have grown like Topsy, yet our public services are failing. Clearly, the quality of life of people in the south-east is worse under the Labour Government. The statistics show that, and even Ministers, including the Prime Minister, are beginning to admit it when pressed at the Dispatch Box.
Rail capacity is too low. Reliability, punctuality, costs and services have all fallen since Labour took power. Roads are even more congested now than they were in 1997. Health care is worse, waiting lists are up, a visit to the accident and emergency department is a lottery, bed blocking is up because the Government are trying to destroy the residential care sector, and last week we heard that the wait for cancer treatment is now longer than it was three years ago. That is outrageous, and should not be tolerated by the people of this country.
In education, class sizes are up in secondary schools. Every secondary school in Essex has an extra child in every class. Average class sizes in Essex have increased from 16.8 to 17.7. The Prime Minister certainly did not promise the people of Essex that when he went to the polls. Teachers are overburdened with bureaucracy: more and more form filling, and less and less teaching. It is no wonder that so many of them are leaving the profession and retention is so difficult. The Government have followed their political correctness handbook and have tried to destroy discipline in schools, which has put more pressure on teachers and forced them to leave the profession.
However, I do not want to rant about the Government's performance generally. I want to focus on the quality of life of pensioners and people in the south-east who are over 50 years old. There are many such people, and they are listening carefully to this debate. They have been hit worse by Labour policies than any other group in the country.
Miss Widdecombe: Is not it especially nauseatingI cannot think of a better word for it than thatthat Labour Members, particularly the Parliamentary Private Secretaries, apparently find the plight of pensioners funny?