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The insulting 75p that the Prime Minister gave pensioners a few years ago has been just one of the factors, but the biggest factor to hit people over 50, and everyone in society, was the £5 billion Labour stealth tax on pension funds. The Government's removal of the 20 per cent. credit on dividends was probably the nastiest and most damaging of all Labour's stealth taxes. It is a key cause of the worsening quality of life for elderly people, and it is entirely of the Government's making.
That measure has fuelled pensioner poverty, which has increased under a callous Labour Government. In 1979, after a Labour Administration, 57 per cent. of pensioners were being means-tested. By 1995 that was down to 38 per cent., thanks to sound management by Mrs. Thatcher. According to the House of Commons Library, the figure will have returned to 57 per cent. by 2003. Pensioners need protection from this Government, and we Conservatives will provide it.
Pensioners in particular suffer as a result of council-tax rises while local services are cut, especially in Labour-controlled authorities such as the one in Castle Point. Many Castle Point pensioners will not even receive a pension increase sufficient to cover the rise in their council tax this year. The council-tax rise in Castle Point will amount to an incompetent four times inflation. That is Labour councils for you.
Mr. Davey: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to talk about pensions when the motion tabled by his Front-Bench colleagues does not even mention their plight?
Bob Spink: If the hon. Gentleman does not think that having for the first time in their lives to pay more than £1,000 for living in an average band D house will affect the quality of life of the many pensioners whose council tax will rise to that amount, he is living in cloud cuckoo land along with his Liberal Democrat colleagues.
It would help pensioners and people over 50 in the south-east if the Government accepted the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), whose private Member's Bill would give pensioners more freedom and choicewords that Labour does not understandto invest their pension funds as they wish, once they have bought, at 65, an annuity sufficient to prevent them from qualifying for state benefits. The Government's nanny-state approach, which forces pensioners to use their pension funds inappropriately at the age of 75, is dramatically lowering their quality of life.
Pensioners also get a rough deal from the Government when it comes to crime, disorder and street nuisance, all of which have escalated under Labour. The solution is obvious: we need more policemen on the streetshigher visibility policing. That means cutting the bureaucracy with which Labour keeps burdening the police. Labour cut the number of officers in Essex, as has been confirmed by the chief constable and even, recently, the Prime Minister.
We must create an environment in the south-east in which bad behaviour, nuisance and crime are not tolerated at any level. That will improve the quality of life for young and older people alike. It will provide safer communities for all, as Mayor Giuliani has shown in New York, where the streets are much safer than they are now in London.
Another problem that is depressing the quality of life for pensioners is the unrestrained influx of asylum seekers. Yesterday, we learned that the number of asylum seekers trying to get into the south-east from France has tripled in the past year, and French police expect the number to grow even faster during the current year. That damages everyone's quality of life, but especially that of genuine asylum seekers, whom we should be caring for better. It is a direct result of yet another Government refusal to listen.
Time is short, so I shall mention just a few more of the many problems that we face in the south-east as a result of Government policies. One problem is the overdevelopment of our communities that Labour has forced on Castle Point borough council, forcing it, through Serplan, to build an extra 2,400 houseshouses that we need in Castle Point like we need a hole in the head. These will increase congestion and decrease the quality of life for all my constituents, and they will punish the Government for that.
The Government's failure to provide money for infrastructure, such as Canvey Island's third road, is yet another problem. It is high time that the Government started to improve infrastructure and the public services, not just for the community's sake but for the sake of the excellent and dedicated doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers and ambulance drivers. All those superb people who work in our public services deserve better than they are getting from this Labour Government.
Hugh Robertson: Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As I was saying, a large part of the south-east, outside London and its suburban boroughs, is essentially rural in character. My constituency of Faversham and Mid-Kent is such an area. It is a largely rural constituency, taking in much of the northern downs and the eastern end of the Weald. It clips the eastern suburbs of Maidstone and has in it the market town of Faversham, but it otherwise contains 39 parish councils, spread across the heart of rural Kent. Therefore, for many of my constituents, the quality-of-life issues mean something very different from those in constituencies elsewhere in Kent, and indeed the south-east of England.
However, quality of life is based on two common principles: the quality of the environment and the availability of services. I shall take the quality of the environment first. That, in my case, is entirely defined by the countryside. Kent is, after all, the garden of England, yet it is threatened as never before. Having grown up in the area, that threat is something that I saw as a young child and now see at first hand as the constituency MP.
The countryside is under threat from Government housebuilding targetsplans to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) has alluded. We are simply trying to push too many people into too small an area. That leads directly to capacity problems. Already, villagers in parishes such as Leeds and Langley are holding demonstrations against heavy vehicle traffic. Villagers in Bearsted complain to me about mobile telephone masts, the plans for whose installation were the direct result of demand caused by an increase in population. They have worries about health and safety. Local residents do not want to see those mobile telephone masts near schools, medical facilities or residential areas.
There are traffic worries brought on by an increase in the number of vehicles. Eight parish councils in my constituency are currently campaigning for interactive speed signs, and a number of others feel that the existing roads are now inadequate to deal with the current volume of traffic.
There are too few police. They are never seen in rural areas. Kent county council is doing something to make up the shortfall with its rural community wardens, but they can be no substitute for real policemen.
The railways are in crisis. There are three train lines to London from my constituencyfrom Faversham, Maidstone East and Headcorn. All are subject to regular delays and I receive endless complaining letters about them.
Finally, there is the state of the rural economy. In my capacity as secretary of the parliamentary fruit group, I will touch on this briefly. The fruit industry defines our part of Kent. The fruit farming industry is wholly unsubsidised, and is good for the environment and the landscape. It produces high-quality food that is good for people, yet it is being suffocated with endless regulations, such as the environmental impact assessment, the EU marketing standards, the seasonal regulations for labour and part-time workers and the recent banning of Thinsec. To put it simply, if we allow our fruit industry to wither, the landscape of Kent and the quality of life for its residents will be destroyed for ever.