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Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): It is a great privilege, honour and opportunity for me to speak after eight years having been out of this place, and it is pleasure to be here and to debate the Loyal Address and the Queen's Speech. I represented Erith and Crayford until 1997. I am now privileged to represent Bexleyheath and Crayford, which is 40 per cent. of my old parliamentary seat, with the addition of Bexleyheath. During the time that I have been out of the House I have been at the front line of teaching. I have been a lecturer in a further education college and, subsequently, a freelance, so I have seen at first hand the real world, particularly in relation to education, and I shall come to that a little later.

I wish to begin by paying a compliment to my defeated opponent, Nigel Beard, who I succeed as the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford. I highlight the interest that he took in Treasury and economic matters in his eight years in the House. He served as a member of the Treasury Committee and participated fully in its deliberations. He was a man of considerable experience in science and technology and served on the Select Committee on Science and Technology when he first came into the House in 1997, having had a career as a scientist with ICI Zeneca. I pay him tribute.

The constituency of Bexleyheath and Crayford is part of Greater London. It is located in south-east London and is on the borders with Kent. It is a very good place for getting into London and out into the Kent countryside. It is part of the London borough of Bexley and a great place to live and work. It has tremendous shopping opportunities in Bexleyheath Broadway and Crayford town, and there are also a wide variety of smaller shopping centres such as those at Pickford lane, Long lane and Midfield parade. They have good local shops and the area also provides good opportunities, with cinemas, restaurants, golf courses, a Superbowl and numerous beautiful parks and open spaces, such as the one at Martens grove near where I live in Barnehurst and Hall Place mansion and gardens that are of Elizabethan and Jacobean origins. Crayford also has a lot of history. It has been an historical site since Roman times and there is an historic church on Watling street. More recently, there have been interesting historical developments with the defence industry contractors Vickers.

Despite my constituency's location and its environmental attractions for residents, it still faces real problems—problems that I had hoped would have been addressed in the Government's programme as set out in the Queen's Speech. During the election campaign and over the past few years, there has been increasing concern about quality of life issues in my borough and more generally. As we heard on the doorsteps in the campaign, the biggest concern is, without doubt, the
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problems caused by crime, antisocial behaviour, vandalism and graffiti. Our area has been plagued with increasing problems in that respect and they cause real concern.

In the evenings—particularly Friday and Saturday evenings—in Bexleyheath, groups of youths engage in binge drinking, intimidation and abuse. That means that many residents, particularly the elderly, are not willing to go into the town to enjoy the facilities and opportunities provided by the restaurants and the cinema. They are worried about the gangs of youths that gather and are sometimes drunk. Those problems are also faced by families who wish to go out in the evening.

Those problems are not just in Bexleyheath—they are in Crayford town and in the shopping centres that I have mentioned. Gangs of youths misbehave and engage in threatening and abusive behaviour, so I was delighted to see in the Queen's Speech that the Government

Great words, but what do they actually mean in terms of action for my constituents? As my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) has highlighted, "respect" is a wonderful word—but if the commitment is not backed up, what use is it on Friday and Saturday nights in my constituency?

The stories that I hear are distressing and infuriating. At my first surgery last Friday, a business man came in who was worried about the behaviour of youths, and pensioners told me about their concerns about graffiti and so forth. Other members of my constituency have tales of considerable concern. A particularly worrying case involved a lady who came home late one evening with her husband. As they were walking home from Welling, they were verbally abused by drunken youths. That is not the sort of society that we want. We want respect brought back and such people dealt with. Of course, we know that problems can come from the home and that people have responsibilities, but if we go down the route of increasing disrespect, where will we end up?

I am worried about the 24-hour licensing that will be brought in during the autumn, although it was introduced during the previous Parliament. I wonder whether that will cause more antisocial behaviour in places such as Bexleyheath, which is a magnet for people from Kent, Essex and south London, and whether it will lead to an increasing problem of growing disrespect and binge drinking. Naturally, I am extremely worried about the situation.

Crime and antisocial behaviour were the main issues on the doorstep in Bexleyheath and Crayford during the general election campaign, but several local issues of concern were also raised. Transport is a big issue in my area. We have no underground, yet a large commuter contingent needs to get into town to work and go to their places of business. We are naturally worried that the rail service running through the constituency is not up to the standard that we would like. It is poor and has deteriorated over recent years. Proposals have recently been made to cut out the service to Victoria via Bexleyheath. We have been campaigning to maintain the service because the proposals would cause difficulties for not only commuters but pensioners and
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families, because they would have to change trains at Lewisham to get to Victoria. We hope that the authorities will heed our campaign and not cut the Victoria service. We are also worried about the possibility of a reduced service on the line to Cannon Street and Charing Cross. We must have a decent service in the area.

A further worry that came up during the general election campaign—it is my major concern—was the proposed Thames Gateway bridge. That matter causes significant concern throughout my constituency and the borough. I am against the bridge as it is proposed because it would cause a huge increase in traffic throughout the borough, and in my constituency especially. One of our problems is the number of juggernauts, cars and lorries on local roads and the consequent congestion in my area. We are plagued by traffic in Bexley and the Thames Gateway bridge would make the situation worse because juggernauts and large lorries would use Danson road, Brampton road, Long lane and Knee hill as a cut through from the A2 if the bridge were built. I am worried not only that residents in the area would have the nightmare and nuisance of noise and suffer environmental consequences, but that the value of their properties would diminish and their quality of life would decline. I hope to pursue several local issues over the next few months as we go through the measures in the Queen's Speech.

Of course we welcome several aspects of the speech. We are pleased to support some measures, but others are vague and woolly. Several of my hon. Friends have highlighted the vagueness and generality of the measures in the Queen's Speech, although I, too, have not been privileged to see the press pack containing more detailed information.

As a trained teacher and someone who has been in education for the past eight years, I am worried about the value for money that we are getting from our education system. I am also concerned that too many children leave school without the qualifications that they need to be able to live a rich and fulfilled life. I shall consider education carefully during my time here and participate in debates on Bills.Education is important, not just for an individual's future but for the country's future. Hopefully, well educated children will learn respect and have an important part to play in society. Perhaps we can diminish the antisocial behaviour, the binge drinking and the problems of yob culture within our society. Education is a passport to success and a good future. Conservative Members should give careful consideration to the Government's proposals on education. In the past eight years, we have had a Government who talk an awful lot, but there has not been a lot of action. Certainly, money has gone into education, but standards have not improved.

We are fortunate in Bexley because we have a good education system. We have kept grammar schools and have real choice and diversity in our education provision. We have a wide variety of technical schools, single-sex schools and church schools, as well as our grammar schools and some good comprehensives, but we have to look to the future—to where we are going. We need to ensure that we get value for money and that our young people get a real opportunity for the future. Therefore, I shall look carefully at the Government's education Bills when they are presented to the House and when we debate them.
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Aspects of the Queen's Speech offer us opportunities, but there are great disappointments too. It is a privilege for me to be back in the House and to be able to participate in it, but the Queen's Speech is thin and the opportunities that have been missed are considerable. The Opposition will do all that we can to ensure that the issues raised by my constituents during the election campaign, and those that we feel passionate about, are raised with great enthusiasm here. We will hold the Government to account.

8.51 pm

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