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John Cryer (Hornchurch) (Lab): I think that seven Members speaking in the debate are retiring at the general election. I pay tribute to them all. I know that they will all be missed, especially my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor). They are not immediate but fairly close neighbours of mine, two of our constituencies being in Essex and the other in east London.
The opening remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham reminded me for some reason of a story I heard recently about Clement Attlee. When he reached the age of 80, he was asked what it was like. He replied, "Well, it's better than the alternative."
Let me now continue with whingeing gits day, as I affectionately refer to these Adjournment debates. Like most Members, I have a number of constituency issues to raise. The first relates to the channel tunnel rail link, which runs through the south of my constituency, through Rainham. The Bill that paved the way for the link took many months to complete its passage in the House, and that is part of the problem with which a number of my constituents are living today. A baffle has been erected between the houses of some of my constituents and the new channel tunnel rail link, but, between the baffle and the houses is a smaller railway line used by c2c on the London, Tilbury and Southend line, which goes through my constituency and ends in that of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East. The problem is that the noise from the smaller, suburban line reverberates off the baffle. The noise level has actually got worse since the baffle was erected.
Union Rail, the main contractor, has refused to do anything about this; it has refused to change the design and structure of the baffle. The problem originated in this place, in that these issues were not properly addressed when the Bill to create the channel tunnel rail link was going through Parliamentthere should have been specific measures in the Bill on how these baffles were to be constructedbut Union Rail is now being obstructive about the problem.
The issue of mobile phone masts has already come up today. This is an issue that many of us deal with on a regular basis, and I have recently been involved in two
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campaigns against such masts. I see that the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) is in his place. He regularly complains about having to deal with these unplanned erections, as they have been called. That is very worrying for him, and very worrying for the rest of us.
As I was saying, I have recently been involved in the defeat of two plans for mobile phone masts, and before that I was involved in four or five other successful campaigns. It is convenient to use the Stewart report in this context. It forms the basis of most of these campaigns, and I am sure that every hon. Member here today is familiar with it. It is very handy, but we have all come across examples of plans that have been submitted to a local authority that the authority finds difficult to turn down despite local popular pressure.
There have been a couple of private Members' Bills on this issue, but we should consider the possibility of strengthening our planning law and guidance, to enable local authorities to resist these masts more comprehensively. There has already been some strengthening of the planning guidance on the back of the Stewart report, which is a very good piece of work. It was brought out under difficult circumstances, because the exact consequences of the masts are not yet known and probably will not be known for some years. Nevertheless, we should be looking at strengthening the planning legislation. We should actually return to the pre-1980s situation. In the 1980s, the Tory Government weakened our planning legislation to allow big companies to ride into towns and more or less throw up whatever they wanted to. We need to return to a situation in which local authorities have more power.
I turn to an even more parochial issue. One of the problems that I have with my council, the London borough of Haveringwhich, naturally, is Tory-controlledis that it is building up large cash reserves while turning down every request for traffic calming measures, crossings and so on. In my constituency, there are one or two examples of areas that badly need such schemes because the traffic travels very fast and is becoming dangerous. The main one that springs to mind is Newton's corner, in Rainham, where a crossingpreferably a pelican crossingis badly needed. I have been trying to persuade the local authority to put one in for the past three or four years, but it keeps turning the proposal down while amassing great reserves of cash.
The next issue that I should like to raise is the proposed motocross track in north Rainham in my constituency. It is planned to construct it on land largely owned by the Thames Chase community forest, an area that is being turned over to cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders and on which thousands of trees are being planted. Yet, in the middle of it, there is an attempt to put a great big cyclocross track. This would ruin the area, which is also very close to housing. Two plans have already been turned down, but I suspect that the applicants will come back. They will either appeal or come back with a third plan, and they will keep going until they imagine that they have got what they want. My main objection is to the noise disturbance, and evidence presented by the applicant seeking to argue that that issue has been addressed and will not be a problem might have convinced my local authority, but it has not convinced me.
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All-postal ballots are a local and national issue, and they have been discussed a great deal, including in a series of Question Times on the Floor of the House. My borough was a pilot area for an all-postal ballot in the last local elections, and I am convinced that those elections resulted in at least some questionable activities. All-postal ballots are open to all sorts of abuses, and the House must send out a message to anyone who stands as a candidate at the next general election that anyone who takes part in fraud will be dealt with very severely. For my part, because of my past experience, details of which I have sent to the Electoral Commission, I shall be watching the situation extremely carefully, and if I discover anyone taking part in any suspected fraud, I will have no hesitation in putting the evidence before the police.
The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East referred to the plummeting numbers of people, particularly young people, taking part in elections. At the last election, it was down to 58 per cent., although I agree that that is not because of a lack of interest in politics. I visit on average a school a week in my constituency and I find that people as young as nine and 10 are a lot more interested in politics than I probably was at their age, but that does not translate into an interest in party politics. I suspect that that is because there is a fairly undefined but general feeling that we have lost the ability to influence our destiny, and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the EU has played a part in that. If we go down the path that some hon. Members want to go down of joining the euro so that we lose control over interest rates, we will then lose some control over taxation because we cannot run a single currency without a single tax-gathering mechanism, and that is mentioned in the Maastricht treaty.
Two years ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer was told by the European Commission to cut £10 billion from public spending, as though that had anything to do with it. He said no and told it to get lost and it could do nothing about it. But if that happened after we had signed up to the constitution, the European Commission could take the Chancellor and the British Government to the European Court of Justice, and as sure as eggs is eggs the Court would rule in favour of the Commission, as it does year in, year out.
If we went down that path, we would have to go to the electorate and apologise for any problems that arose, whether they were the result of a crisis in public spending or an economic crisis, but we would have handed over all the levers of economic power to unelected and unaccountable people in Brussels or Frankfurt. How would people react? They would not say, "Oh, brilliant. We will take part in the election." They would say, "Well, stuff the mainstream. We will move to the fringes." The number of people voting would plummet even further than it already has, and increasing numbers of people would move to the fringes, particularly the far right. That is my suspicion, and I have a vested interest in this because I have been a lifelong anti-racist, and I can see a nationalistic backlash resulting from going down the path of the EU straitjacket.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hornchurch (John Cryer), who is an assiduous constituency Member of Parliament, even though his father used to keep me up late at night in the early 1990s. I forgive him for that and I wish him well. I am particularly pleased to follow him because I agree with what he said about the euro. If we lose the pound and move to the euro, that will sound the death knell to Britain's sovereignty, so I stand shoulder to shoulder with him on that. Europe remains one of the defining issues. In Essex it will be a key issue in the general election, and I hope that no one is seduced to vote for the UK Independence party, which would betray Britain. I see hon. Members agreeing with their smiles and nods.
Having got that off my chest, let me return to the real debate this afternoon and go straight to the key subject of hospice funding. This country's funding of adult hospices from Government sources stands at about 20 per cent. or a little lower, yet children's hospices are funded at a miserly rate of 5 per cent. That is far too low. Yet set against the 1.8 per cent. that Little Haven hospice in my constituency received from Government funding last year, the average 5 per cent. for children's hospices looks downright generous. I shall now look at the Minister and establish eye contact with himI know that he expects me to raise this matter, as I always do. He has his answers written down and I hope that included in them, will be an undertaking to tackle the strategic health authority in Essex and the primary care trust to ensure that for this year and next, Little Haven receives at least the average 5 per cent. funding that other children's hospices receive.
Depriving children's hospices of reasonable funding is to betray the wonderful people, the dedicated staff, who work in them, and the volunteers who raise money for them. Very much included among those are the three Conservative clubs in Castle Pointthe Hadleigh club, the Benfleet club, where I shall go immediately after this debate, and the Canvey club. I know that the Minister is listening; he is a jolly good man. Finally, I want to say that I am proud to be a Conservative on this issue, as my party's policy is for the Government to fund both children's and adult hospices at the rate of 40 per cent. a year. That sounds to me like an election-winning policy if ever there was one.
I now move on to a matter of serious concern in my constituency and the south-east generallydevelopment. The overdevelopment of my constituency, without any infrastructural provision whatever, is irresponsible. Fortunately for me, the people in my constituency understand that the problem has been forced on Castle Point by the Deputy Prime Minister, who has set a target of building 4,000 extra houses. I wish he could visit Castle Point so that he could show my constituents where he wants those houses to go, and answer their questions about the lack of infrastructure.
I have fought every major planning application in my constituency. I have fought to stop the overdevelopment of my beautiful borough and the destruction of our green belt. I have fought to secure decent infrastructure in the area, and I hope that my constituents will bear this issue at the forefront of their minds at the coming general election. It is an issue that affects the quality of their lives. When I raised the matter with the Deputy
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Prime Minister himself two or three months ago, he referred to my constituents as nimbys. They were outraged and the local press were outraged. I am sure that my constituents would have a word or two for the Deputy Prime Minister if he ever ventured into my constituency.
Another major issue in Castle Point is infrastructure. We need to do something at Saddlers Farm on the A13 to achieve grade separation and improve the traffic flows on that major road. We also need to improve the junctions at Tarpots and in Hadleigh.
However, our major problem is that we lack an additional access road to Canvey island, where more than 40,000 people live. IfGod forbid!the island ever had to be evacuated, those people could not be removed in good time. Safety is one of the issues, but there are also questions of convenience and quality of life. My constituents often wait for hours when there is an accident, or if the main access road is closed for some other reason. That does not happen only a few times a year: it happens almost every month, and sometimes twice a month. It is a major problem, and we must tackle it seriously.
An equally important problem is the c2c rail line, to which the hon. Member for Hornchurch referred. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) probably referred to it too, as he is a great fighter on behalf of the commuters who use that line. About 4,000 of my constituents use the line to commute to London.
Benfleet station is the busiest station on the c2c line. Peak-time trains are often full and overcrowded when they stop there, so my constituents get a bad deal, as they have to stand up for the 35 or 40 minutes that the journey to London takes. That is unsafe, and not very nice; I know, as I have to do journey myself, from time to time. Therefore, I was disgusted when five train sets were removed from the line last September. With other MPs, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), I ran a campaign to get the trains back. The local Yellow Advertiser newspaper also ran an important campaign to the same end.
I am delighted to be able to congratulate the Secretary of State for Transport, who gave me an undertaking in this House just a week or so ago that those five train sets would be returned to the c2c line sometime this year. However, I am slightly disappointed, as "sometime this year" is not good enough. I want those train sets back on my line so that my constituents do not have to stand, which is generally what happens, as that is unsafe and inconvenient. Moreover, I want them back before the summer. That is what I shall press for, if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected.
I want to say a few words about the need for more police officers, community support officers and special constables. The police have a very hard job, and they do it extremely well in my constituency. However, they need more resources to keep police stations open so that they can do their job properly, and they need a lot less bureaucracy.
In addition, we need more facilities for kids, to get them off the street by offering them alternative things to do. We need to tackle asylum abuse too, but there is clearly not time to deal with that today.
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Finally, I want to say that I represent a very beautiful area of south Essex. My constituency nestles on the Thames, and Canvey island is actually part of the Thames estuary. The area has a remarkable heritage, but most importantly, its people are really good and self-reliant. They love their country and their community, which they want to be protected and improved.
An election is due. More than most, I know that this may be my last speech in this House. I accept that: I am a democrat and have been humiliated by the electorate before. I also know that I have four excellent candidates up against me in Castle Point, and I wish each of them well. They are good people.
I want to end by saying that I have worked hard for my constituents, country and community. I have worked especially hard to protect Britain, in Europe and in an uncertain world. I have very much enjoyed being an MP. There is no greater privilege or honour than to be elected to represent the community in which one lives. I therefore thank all my constituentseven those who seem to write to me every day.
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