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Sue Doughty (Guildford) (LD): The Gracious Speech contains several legislative proposals that relate to the subjects for debate today, and some that affect my constituents. I could not be here at the beginning of the debate because I was talking to the supporters of Spinal Research, and that subject leads directly to the road traffic Bill because many people suffer spinal injuries in road accidents. Spinal Research, a charity based in my constituency and which I strongly support, is undertaking some excellent research, with welcome and much appreciated Government support.
We are all deeply conscious of the damage done to people and their families by road traffic accidents. Another charity based in my constituency is Headway Surrey, which also assists the victims of road accidents. It continually struggles for money, but its existence is a poignant reminder of why we need stronger action on road safety. Some of us attended the RoadPeace service last week and I attend each time with an increasingly sinking heart, because life has been so tragic for each member of the congregation. Each of them has lost a family member who was killed on the roads, but they have not come to terms with their grief. The services are organised by RoadPeace, which works tremendously hard to address the scourge of death on the roads.
One in three people are directly affected by fatal road accidents. In 2003, 3,500 people were killed on the roadsno small number. Compared with the number killed in railway accidents, it is horrific carnage. The Government's proposals for improvements in legislation to put the responsibility on those who cause death is welcome for the families involved. We need to ask how we can change behaviour. At the moment, people may go to prison but they are released very quickly. What sort of message does that send? We must have sentences that reflect the great damage that any one of us can do to others if we misuse our cars.
Bad driving is not the only cause of road accidents. In many accidents, no other driver is involved. Many occur on badly designed roads, and I hope that the Government will be able to work with county councils, unitary authorities and the Highways Agency to identify those roads with severe accident blackspots. I live close to the A281, south of Guildford, which has a huge number of accidents. The county council has to rebuild its signs constantlythere are not enough of thembut there is no apparent reason for the accidents. We need to find out the reason, because there has been an accident every fortnight or so recently. Although the
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Government, through legislation, will rightly go for people who cause accidents through bad driving, that will do nothing to ensure that those who are responsible for roads design out accidents.
It is incredibly difficult for people who live next to an accident blackspot, because they know that whenever they hear a crash they will be first on the scene. In Clay lane in Burpham, people have been impaled on railings because of bad road design. On the A281, people have been thrown into trees. It is unacceptable not to put more responsibility for accidents on to those who design our roads. We need to do more about that.
By and large, we support a safer and cleaner communities Bill. No one could fail to support such a measure, as it would affect the quality of all our lives. Such matters account for much of our casework. People want to live in an area of which they can be proud. They want to know that if others are defacing the area, by fly posting, littering, dropping chewing gum, behaving badly or noisily, or being firework yobs, someone will deal with the problems, so of course we support the measure. That is not up for discussion.
We must consider how we should actually deal with the problems, however. We need to consider the penalties so that we do more than just give people a slap on the wrist. The Government should look into the things that spoil our quality of life; for example, for my constituents in Bellfields, where people have been throwing fireworks, setting light to trees, knocking on doors and dropping litter. There are all sorts of problems, some of which are due to a dispersal order imposed two estates away. The kids are not allowed there, so they move on to the next estate, causing mayhem, and then end up in Bellfields where they make everybody's life a misery.
We need to look not only at what is going wrong but at some of the remedies. If kids are making a nuisance of themselves, it is not enough simply to tell them off. As their parents say to me, "What else are they to do?" My local police have been doing some good work with youngsters, their parents and community members, so that the offenders have to meet their victims and cannot think of them only as anonymous people behind closed doors. However, much more needs to be done and we should consider how to deal with such problems in the legislation.
We have the problem of neighbours from hell. Sadly, some of them have children from hell, but that hell may start in their own home, so they go out and cause problems for other people. People may complain that they do not like living next door to a particular family, but sometimes the council cannot move the family because the children need to be settled in a school. We need to do much more, not only by telling such families that their behaviour is unacceptable but also by working with them and their children to get some stability into their lives so that they can change their behaviour. We have to invest in people, as well as criticising and punishing them.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab):
Does the hon. Lady agree that we need to use the carrot as well as the stick? One way of improving the situation would be to
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re-engage with local youth services so that young people have an active outlet for some of their energies and do not get involved in the type of activity she described.
Sue Doughty: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that useful intervention. Yes, I agree. Kids need different things nowadays. The days are gone when every child wanted to be a member of a youth club. We need to find different ways of engaging with youngsters; for example, investing in sport and football pitches and finding other things for them to do. Many people are trying to do such work, but in a county such as Surrey where there is next to no expenditure on youth services, it is difficult and lonely for those who are trying to make a difference, but that needs to happen.
I have some other concerns about how we are to deal with and punish offenders under the Bill. The newspapers report that there will be more powers for community support officers. On 22 November, The Independent suggested that town council staff might levy on-the-spot fines. We have discussed those fines previously. We have heard the idea that the man who cuts the grass in a village and spots kids leaving rubbish in the park will get them by the collar and march them to a cash machine to pay a fine. But what if there is no cash machine in the village? It is not going to happen. There is potential, particularly in the clean neighborhoods and environment Bill, for a lot of confusion about how we are going to enforce measures. On the major issue of fly-tipping, the Liberal Democrat proposals for an environmental court, which would really get specialists to understand the law on that issue, could go a long way, but we must decide how we are going to deal with some of the minor bad behaviour.
As has been said, we are all faced with a large influx of housing, particularly in the south-east, including my area, and yet we do not seem to have clarity about whom we are trying to house. In Guildford one needs to earn £74,000 a year to buy a house at today's average price. People in all sorts of normal careersincluding town planners, and the head teachers of some schoolsfind that housing is beyond their reach. So we are envisaging lots of housing but we have a lack of clarity about who it is needed for.
I have problems trying to get housing for people in my constituency who will never get enough points to live in one of the very few three-bedroomed houses available, and yet they cannot get housing on the open market because they are on benefits. The council sends them to the open market, but the open market says, "Our buy-to-let mortgages will not allow us to give you a mortgage if you are going to let the property to someone on housing benefit." So what do these people do? We need a lot more clarity on what we are going to do to provide Government support for key workers. The money that has come is most welcome, but it will not go far enough.
When we have denser housing, we shall have more stress. People living cheek-by-jowl have a lot more problems; noise is a key issue. But there are other areas where we also have noise, which will not be dealt with in the clean neighbourhoods and environment Bill. We really have not got to grips with the dreadful, noisy train horns that make people's life a misery, preventing them from sleeping at night, waking them up early in the morning and making them a nervous wreck. I have been trying to get something changed on this for months and nothing is happening.
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As a result of changes in traffic flow, noise on roads is reaching a level that is unacceptable on health and safety grounds, yet we cannot get anything done if a road has been in place for a long time. Traffic movement has changed but the road has not. In that situation there is nothing in law to make people's life better, so we cannot make any headway in relation to the A3 in my constituency, which is much noisier than it has ever been.
On sustainability, the Government need to look at their own behaviour. How much are they doing at the Department of Health to increase sustainability? How are they moving forward on their sustainability agenda in all areas? Very little is done in hospitals to reduce heating and air conditioning bills. If more were done, it would save the national health service a lot of money, which I would like it to spend on lots of worthwhile activities. The Government, rightly, have concentrated on cancer and other areas and made great strides, but now it is time for them to start looking at large-spending Departments, such as the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Health, and draw up real sustainability agendas in the buildings that they own, in the buildings administered for the Government, in universities, in hospitals, in schools and in colleges, and require much more work to be done at board level to combat climate change, to deliver sustainability and to deliver better agendas. The Gracious Speech contained a lot of legislation, and it will be a challenge to get it through. However, I hope that we will have time to discuss some of those areas.
I should like to touch on one or two minor areas. All Members of Parliament spend an awful lot of time on casework dealing with solicitors who have let clients down. We know that self-regulation is not working but we still need some solution for ordinary people who throw good money after bad trying to get justice.
On mental health legislation, I welcome the consultationswe need to make progressbut I want to see legislation with funding, because it is one of the great scandals that there is so much more we can do with modern work, modern techniques and modern medication that is not happening because of changing requirements.
I return to one of the charities that I mentioned, Headway Surrey, which helps road traffic victims. I recognise that some voluntary sector funding is not delivering money any more, and with changes in mental health funding, in health funding and in local authority funding, some of these charities that do so much good work to get people back on the road cannot operate as they used to.
Today is very much about the environment. We are heading for the G8 presidency, and I am very supportive of the fact that the Government have climate change as No. 1 on their agenda. I hope that the House will have an opportunity for a full debate on the environment with a full team of Ministers. We want to see where we are going on this issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) asked earlier what the Government expect to achieve as a result of their G8 presidency in respect of climate change. That is the right question to ask because we must set the targets high, and we need real outcomes from doing so.
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