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Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): Both of the anti-competitive practices that my hon. Friend is outlining apply to my constituency in the Cotswolds. My constituents who go into care homes pay more and are subsidising the local authority patients in those homes.
Mr. Burns: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue and I am pleased to see so many of my new hon. Friends in the Chamber because they have just seen a classic example of how perspicacious my hon. Friend is. He made the very point that I was about to raise from The Times editorial.
If the state, through social services departments, is not prepared to pay an acceptable level of fee per person, it is morally wrong that the fallback position, to stop the homes going out of business, is that people with assets of more than £20,000 have to pay their own fees and that their assets are thus diminishing every year. There is a double whammy, adding insult to injury, as they have to subsidise the local authority-paid clients because the local authority will not pay a realistic fee. That is morally wrong. That situation must be looked into and addressed, because it should not and must not continue.
It is for those reasons that I welcome the opportunity to raise these issues. I hope that, through the Minister, my concerns and those of my hon. Friends can be translated to the relevant Minister at the Department of Health, so that we can have an intelligent investigation and discussion of the issues rather than a knee-jerk reaction. For eight long years we have found that whenever anything goes wrong, whenever there is a problem, it is everybody's fault except that of the Ministers on the Treasury Bench.
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Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my first speech in this Parliament. I congratulate other hon. Members on their maiden speeches, which were highly entertaining in many cases, earlier in the debate.
I start by paying tribute to my predecessor, Adrian Flook, the previous Conservative Member for Taunton, who was a diligent and hard-working Member of the House during the last Parliament. His predecessor, Jackie Ballard, was the first woman to represent Taunton and the first Liberal Democrat this side of the second world war. Her predecessor was another Conservative, David Nicholson. I am in fact the fourth person to represent Taunton in the last four Parliaments and I think that I am the representative of the only constituency where the incumbent has lost at each of the past three general elections, so I hope that there will be widespread support in the Housealthough I do not necessarily expect to find itfor my campaign to bring some much-needed electoral and representative stability to the people of the Taunton constituency in the years to come.
Taunton is a somewhat misleadingly named constituency; it is much wider than the county town itself. The constituency stretches to the Somerset levels to the east; to Exmoor in the west, where there is some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain, including Dulverton and the surrounding villages; to the Blackdown hills in the south, which afford a magnificent view down to Taunton and beyond; and to the Quantock hills in the north. It includes some beautiful and picturesque villages with evocative names, such as Lydeard St. Lawrence, Combe Florey, Langford Budville and Sampford Arundel.
The constituency is diverse. The town of Taunton is big enough to have some urban characteristics, while at the other end of the scale there are remote, rural communities which see the affairs of the nation somewhat differently from people in towns and certainly the bigger cities. Also in the constituency is Wellington, a proud and independent-minded town, which is overlooked by the famous Wellington monument. Our hope and expectation is that Wellington will become the venue for the new Taunton Deane livestock market at Chelston on the edge of the town and that that will bring great benefits not only to the agricultural community in my area but to Wellington itself.
Taunton is the county town, the business and administrative centre of Somerset and the home of the county council. I have the good fortune to live right in the middle of Taunton, little more than a muscular, Bothamesque six from the county cricket ground. Next month Somerset will be the host for our Australian visitors for a one-day match at the ground, and I hope that I do not sound too churlish a host when I say that I confidently expect Somerset to inflict on our guests a humbling experience that will set the tone for the remainder of the summer.
Taunton is also the home of several important public, civic organisations, one of which is the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, which maps the seas and oceans of the world on behalf of the Government, commercial organisations and friendly Governments with whom we want to share such information. It is a sign of Britain's
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historical role and also of our current global ambitions that the UK is one of only three or four countries that aspire to that task on a global scale.
Musgrove Park hospital in Taunton serves a community that is wider than the constituency itself, including many people in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). There are two pressing projects at the hospital that I hope will be completed during this Parliament, if not sooner. The first is the building of a multi-storey car park to ease chronic congestion and parking problems at the hospital. The second, more important, project is the completion of a cancer centre. At present, people in the Taunton constituency who suffer from cancer often have to travel, with their families, to Bristol for treatment, a round trip of about 100 miles at a time of difficulty and stress. It is immensely important that the new cancer centre at Musgrove Park is completed. It will make a large difference to the people I represent.
I have a personal ambition: to ensure that school standards in Somerset remain high and rise further. I have the great honour and privilege to be a governor at Ladymead community school in north Taunton. Other contributions to the debate have touched on the fact that Somerset currently receives less per pupil than the national average, yet we manage to achieve in our schools better results than the national average. I hope that we can continue to raise standards, because opportunity, ambition and aspiration are important qualities in an advanced and advancing society. I want to bring those attributes to children in Somerset and beyond.
I finish by making a slightly wider point about the Government's legislative agenda. I share the view expressed earlier that antisocial behaviour is a very important problem; it is the most commonly raised issue with me when I knock on people's doors. I welcome the fact that the Government have placed such emphasis on it and on what they call the "respect agenda" in the Queen's Speech and their programme for the Parliament as a whole. Politicians can make a number of differences in this regard. I have been very impressed, for example, by the role of the community support officers with whom I have been out on patrol in Taunton, Wellington and some of the surrounding rural areas. As long as they are not a substitute for the regular police but are an additional resource for the regular police, I would like to see their numbers expanded further to cover the other communities in my area where they do not currently serve.
A matter that is closer to home rather than having a wider application is the consideration that I would like to be given to Somerset having its own police force. At the moment, we have an artificial construct whereby Somerset is in the same police area as Bristol, which has very different policing requirementsthe policing requirements of a large city whereas Somerset is a predominantly rural county. There is a widespread feeling particularly in west Somerset that the crime requirements in Bristol and the need to reduce crime on behalf of Avon and Somerset police mean that priority
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is not always given to Somerset and west Somerset. In time, I would like the Government to consider that issue as well.
There are a number of issues associated with crime and antisocial behaviour that it is not possible for politicians to tackle directly through legislation. We cannot pass laws here automatically making people good mannered and considerate, but we can try to address the underlying causes of crime and antisocial behaviour. Yes that is about education, good parenting and what the Government call "respect" and I may call "civic mindedness", but it is ultimately about making sure that people in Taunton and the country as a whole not only enjoy a good standing of living but a good quality of life. That may be something that we can all aspire to achieve and advance in our time in Parliament. That goes very much for me.
I am grateful to hon. Members on all sides for their indulgence over the past 10 minutes, and I have enjoyed making a contribution in this debate. I hope to make and enjoy making many more speeches in my time in Parliament.
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