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Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye): The hon. Gentleman included in his list of problems part-time workers. Is he opposed to equal rights for part-time workers and, for that matter, to the minimum wage?

Hugh Robertson: I am not in the slightest opposed to rights for part-time workers. I am opposed to the mass of regulation that makes it impossible for fruit farmers to employ them in the first place.

The second area of concern is the availability of services. I will only say a little on this, as I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak tonight. However, one issue dominates for my constituents; the plans to downgrade the Kent and Canterbury hospital. The hospital is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), but it supports the whole of the population in the northern part of my seat. My seat has a number of elderly people and a number of people who live in deprived areas; the seasonal fruit pickers who come to settle in our part of Kent. They are all heavy users of the NHS.

There are three critical facts that affect those people. The first is the transport links from Faversham and the North Downs to the replacement hospital at Ashford, once Canterbury is downgraded, which are poor. If one has to travel by public transport, they are atrocious or non-existent. As I have said, there are large numbers of elderly and disadvantaged people who have always been heavy users of the health service and the public transport system, and they will be effectively disfranchised by the proposal.

Secondly, there is the fate of the cottage hospitals; Faversham cottage hospital in my constituency is a good example. It should have been built up before the plans to downgrade the Kent and Canterbury were put in place. There are no plans to do that and it is not part of the resulting private finance initiative.

Thirdly, there is the question of cancer care, which is of critical importance for all elderly people. The model proposed is something called an ambulatory model, in which 20 per cent. of patients—all the in-patients—are transferred to Maidstone. The model has been rejected by every single cancer consultant across Kent and by the Royal College of Radiologists. It does not exist or work anywhere in the UK and is simply dangerous.

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The problems in Faversham and Mid-Kent are different from those of London and the south-east. However, they are similar in that they revolve around two key facts; the quality of the environment and the availability of services. My constituents are particularly concerned about the plans to downgrade Kent and Canterbury hospital and the implications for cancer care across Kent. I urge the Government to act on this and the other problems that I have mentioned in the rural economy before it is too late.

8.58 pm

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): I am glad that my tie has caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I want to speak briefly about Croydon and, more generally, about the problems and opportunities that face our great capital. The one key feature that has affected the opportunities and the problems is the miraculous change of fortune in the economy, which has seen an extra 250,000 people getting jobs in London. However, those extra people are putting pressure on the transport system, and the popularity and economic success of London is putting pressure on house prices, which, in turn, have brought their own pressures to bear.

The investment has delivered results, including higher standards in our schools and smaller classes, particularly in our primary schools, where nearly every class has fewer than 30 pupils. There has been targeted investment in such things as education action zones. In New Addington in my area—where standards were not being delivered and levels of poverty and unemployment were high—we have seen a miraculous renaissance.

I realise that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) is a bit of a social anthropologist, having been to Hackney once or twice. She knows a bit about these things, but the people who live and breathe in those areas can see the changes brought about by economic opportunities, transport links and investment in imaginative education systems. These systems give new self-esteem to children who, in many instances, come from backgrounds where they are told that they cannot succeed.

I am concerned about the issue of affordable housing. It is central to the debate, and as former leader of the largest council in London and former chair of the London boroughs housing committee, it is worth my commenting on it. The Government face strategic issues such as how to balance investment in quantity with investment in quality. We have chosen to raise standards through a 10-year plan, and I certainly favour a switch to quality at the margin, where demand in London and the south-east is particularly high.

There has also been investment in key workers. We all know the problems associated with recruiting more nurses and teachers, although we have been successful in that regard. I ask the Government to reconsider an audit of all public land in London—particularly that owned by the Ministry of Defence, the police and rail services—to establish whether it is being properly used. Indeed, in the private sector we should consider compulsory purchase orders, so that land that is not properly used—I refer not to traditional brownfield sites, but to land that is not being invested in optimally—can be released and a balance can be struck in terms of affordable housing. In that regard, planning is key. The Mayor is pressing ahead with plans to establish a 40 per cent. level of affordable housing in

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various areas. It is important that the Government and the Mayor support boroughs in their negotiations with private sector developers who want to minimise their investment in affordable housing.

Although people migrate to London, some migrate from London because the urban townscape does not meet their concerns about the environment, educational opportunities and personal safety and security. Meeting such concerns is key to ensuring that people remain in an urban environment in which they want to live, and where the quality of life is good. I shall return to those issues in a moment.

On the delivery of health in our capital, it is worth noting that enormous extra sums are being invested. In Croydon, we are investing an extra £18 million a year, and since 1997 waiting lists for treatment have reduced by a third. Waiting lists for appointments with consultants have reduced by two thirds, and the length of wait has been halved in the past six months. Such reductions have been achieved partly through investment and partly through person power. An extra 250 nurses in Croydon's Mayday hospital are doing a tremendous job in delivering an additional 2 million operations every year. Although the media may choose to highlight inevitable individual problems, and although people have a perception that the health service is in crisis, in practice consistent improvements are being made in London and locally. Problems exist, but we are finding solutions to them.

People moan about transport, just as they moan about the weather, and difficulties do exist. However, in Croydon a new tram link, involving 28 km of light rail, is transporting 18 million people a year. Bus use in London has risen by 6 per cent., and underground use has risen by 25 per cent. It is true that we need more investment, but such plans are in place. The Opposition say that £20 billion is not enough, but how much more would they spend and from where would they get it? How does that extra expenditure stack up with their commitment to cut tax? The figures do not add up—they are just hot air. The reality is that more people are using public transport systems. We are getting there, but the big problem—it is also an opportunity—is that the enormous number of people now in work is increasing transport demand. However, investment will settle the problem down in the medium term.

Crime is obviously on people's minds. Overall crime has declined by 12 per cent., but street robberies—particularly in relation to mobile phones—are escalating. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir John Stevens, made several assertions on crime recently. In short, he said that more people should be denied bail, more people should be locked up and that there should be more witness protection.

Mr. Cameron: Can the hon. Gentleman explain how the Government will address those shortcomings in the criminal justice system, given that they have thrown out their proposed criminal justice legislation for this Session?

Geraint Davies: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman asked that question, because it has used up some more time. I am about to come to that point.

On the issues that Sir John Stevens has placed at the top of his agenda, his assertion that more people should be given bail is a strange one. It implies that we should

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reform the Bail Act 1976 and compulsorily deny bail to people. At the moment, hon. Members will know that bail is granted at the discretion of judges and magistrates. It can be, and is, denied if there is a threat of reoffending or witness intimidation. It is not the role of politicians to stick their noses into that subject. Those people who should go to jail should go to jail, and there should be enough space in our prisons to deal with them.

At the same time, we should not forget that we have 70,000 people in our prisons and that no country in Europe jails the same proportion of its population, other than Portugal. We must ask why so many people are in jail. Should some of them not be in jail, such as people who commit housing benefit fraud—for argument's sake—and who do not pose a threat of violence on the streets? They are simply being dislocated from the employment market. Perhaps instead we should consider the root cause of serial offending and tackle that.

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