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13 Nov 2002 : Column 88—continued

7.54 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Although we have heard excellent speeches, I agree with the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) that it is unfortunate that everything in the Queen's Speech was announced beforehand. There was not a single surprise. Indeed, it is sad that Members only seem to be interested in what has been left out. I hope that the Government will ensure that the next time we walk to the House of Lords we will be excited and wondering what will emerge from the Queen's Speech.

I also agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the need for research on selection in education. I suggest he starts in a place called Glasgow, where I spent many

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years, which had five selective schools. The rest were comprehensives. As the Labour party was in charge, it abolished the selective schools. The hon. Gentleman should consider what has happened to education results since then. Instead of equality and opportunities for able children from working-class homes, we have a system of class segregation in education. In those areas where circumstances are good, the houses are big and the parents care, the results are good. In other areas, the results are appalling. Where there is low parental expectation, the child does not have a chance. I appreciate the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman's argument, but he should consider what happened in Glasgow and look at results there.

Three things in the Queen's Speech worry me a great deal. The first is the reference to regional government. I do not know why the Government are pursuing that unless it is because of the institutions that exist in the European Union for regional government representatives to meet each other at the Committee of the Regions. The Government are well aware that apart from the north of England, which thinks that it might get the extra cash that Scotland gets under the Barnett formula, no one wants regional government. I ask them to think about what it will do to our democracy. Frankly, what should worry us far more than how the parties are doing is the fact that people are switching off from the voting system. There was a 25 per cent. vote in the European elections—so 75 per cent. could not care less. In our national parliamentary elections, voting was again down by 10 per cent. It is nonsense to tell the average person that although the power of this place has been disappearing to Europe, we are going to divide up what remains between the regional assemblies and the House of Lords.

I hope that the Government will rethink that policy and ask themselves about the massive costs involved. People who are elected to regional assemblies will want secretaries and a great deal of expenditure to pay for researchers and offices. It is clear from what happened in Scotland what costs are involved. I hope that the Government will dump that policy.

The second policy that worries me is the introduction of unlimited licensing hours. I had the pleasure of speaking to a chief superintendent of police in Southend only two days ago. As a good public servant, he does not have views on public policy, but I got the clear impression that like most people in Southend he is very worried about the implications of unlimited licensing hours. Although I know that the Government want to go ahead with that policy, a middle course would be to make no changes unless a local council agrees to them. The local council in Southend or Tilbury might say that it does not want unlimited licensing hours, and it is right that that decision is left to local people. I fear that unlimited licensing hours will create a nightmare for residents who live in certain areas. It will also mean a serious problem of encouraging alcohol consumption when we should be thinking about trying to discourage it. The health implications of alcohol have never been taken as seriously as they should have been.

My third concern relates to the referendum on the single currency. I hope that the Government will go ahead with the referendum next June, irrespective of their assessment of the economic tests. The single currency would mark the end of Britain as an

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independent country. We would lose control of our economic policies. The issue is so significant that people should have the right to express their view whether the Government think that the opinion polls are right or not.

I also want to make a general comment on contributions by hon. Members and the Prime Minister in particular. Although all Governments tend to look on the brighter side in the Queen's Speech and say that things are going splendidly, I am concerned that by consistently arguing that public services are getting better, we are failing to face up to the problems and to do something about them. It is my impression that public services are becoming worse and more difficult to manage, and that the services are finding it harder to cope with their problems. That is not a political point because I do not think that that is necessarily the Government's fault.

Let me deal with housing. I have been an MP for a long time and have lived in my local community. I have never known the shortage of housing to be as serious as it is in Southend. It has also been a serious problem in Rochford for a considerable time. Yesterday, I had a meeting with the chief executive of the housing department. It is an excellent department, and although the Tories are in charge, I am not making a political point because it was also good when a Lib-Lab council controlled Southend. However, it is having a nightmare coping with a housing list of 2,000 and a constantly increasing number of homeless people.

This morning I spoke on the phone with a young lady with three children who is desperate to get accommodation. She is living in desperately overcrowded conditions with a relative, so she has to find somewhere. She cannot get private rented accommodation because in Southend, probably as in most areas, one cannot get a private rented property if one is on housing benefit. It is much easier for asylum seekers because they get money direct from the Government and payment tends to be more reliable. The young lady cannot get a house from the council because it has no properties available. Most importantly, she cannot even get bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

The council has access to the Palace hotel, which is neither a palace nor a hotel, where many homeless people are housed, but the situation is still very serious. The council is trying many solutions. It has a housing association, Estuary, which, we are told, is thinking of buying 100 properties to try to make more accommodation available. It is also promoting, through the social services department, a scheme to provide #1,000 to help people to get private rented accommodation in the hope that it will help to overcome the problem. Frankly, however, it is not helping. I am not trying to attack the Government, but the increased demand for housing is causing a desperately serious problem that is becoming a nightmare, and unless we recognise that, we will not look for the solution.

I am afraid that the same is true of the health service. I know that the Government constantly produce figures to show us that things are getting better, but the impression that I gain from Southend is that problems are getting worse. This morning I phoned the hospital about a person, whom I know well, who has a heart problem. He wanted to inquire how long it would be

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before he will have an angiogram. Those who know medicine will know that people are sent for tests, then a consultant writes them a letter and after that they have an angiogram. In Southend, the waiting time for that procedure is one year; last year, it was six months. Is it fair and reasonable, in a national health service, that someone who may have a serious problem with his heart waits a year for a test?

We are told that services are expanding. This morning I also spoke to an old lady whose husband needs chiropody for his toenails. That used to be available on the health service, but now they have to pay #16. I appreciate that people in the health service work very hard to try to help the general public, but the plain fact is that the increase in demand is such that the service is having much greater problems, and things are getting worse.

Social services have a major problem with funding. We know, for example, that children who need special care are living longer, so more care is needed. Yesterday, I asked the head of the social services department what he would do if the Government say that a patient is blocking a bed and social services are not providing them with a home, so the department will be fined. He said, XWhat can we do? We are already overspending. If we have to spend money in that way, it will make a difficult situation impossible."

Andrew Mackinlay: I am listening with bated breath to every word that the hon. Gentleman is saying about the housing shortage and problems in health and social services. I am awaiting his solution. He has not explained how the Government can provide homes when the housing stock has been sold. How would he fund the rapacious demand for health and social services? He criticises, but he is under an obligation to say how he would wave a magic wand to resolve the situation.

Sir Teddy Taylor: I am simply trying to get across the basic point that unless we accept that public services are now a major problem, we will not look for solutions. If the hon. Gentleman is looking for solutions, I will give him a cheque for #1.3 million and see what he can do with it. I know that because he is a kind, good person, he would spend it on the community and try to help the elderly and disabled. If he considers that every hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, we send that amount to the European Union, and a massive part of that is spent on dumping and destroying food, he will see that that is one way to get a lot of money.

The asylum seeker situation is certainly getting worse. I shall mention just one case that I know very well, which is that of a man who has been making various appeals for nine years. He came here as an asylum seeker from a terrible place called Turkey. I am not sure where that is but he said that he was scared to go back. For nine years, he has been making appeals, using public funds, under a variety of legislation. The asylum seeker problem is affecting the good race relations that have always existed in Southend. We have two mosques, and we have always had happy race relations, but since the asylum seeker problem has grown, relations are worsening. Something has to be done about the multitude of

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appeals, a vast number of which are made possible by the European convention. The Government should ask themselves what is the advantage of the European convention, bearing it in mind that we could bow out of it if we wanted to.

Traffic congestion in Southend is getting infinitely worse. It is a lovely place to live but many problems are getting worse. I told the council that I hope it will tell the Government that it will not agree to one additional house until the Government agree to a ring road to make life more tolerable for the people of Shoeburyness.

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