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Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): It is a delight to be able to take part in this debate and especially to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), who is an excellent and assiduous Member of Parliament. He was self-effacing, but he should not be, because he speaks with such passion for the constituents whom he represents so well.
It has also be a great pleasure to listen to the maiden speeches today. It does not seem so long ago that I made my own maiden speech, but time passes quickly as one gets older. I look into the mirror and no longer see the same slim young man of eight years ago. He has been replaced by this rather grizzled figure. I am also made to
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feel old by how young the new Members look, although we also have some more senior Members. I was impressed by the enthusiasm of those who made their maiden speeches and their passion for being here. I hope that that stays with them, because after eight years as an Opposition Member, I have to say that a certain cynicism sometimes creeps up on me. I have been invigorated by that enthusiasm and I hope that I can recapture the fresh-faced enthusiasm that I had all those years ago.
These debates are one of the better kept secrets of Parliament, and I hope that the new Members who have taken part realise that. The secret has been almost too well kept today, but it is good to see the same faces here. Such debates are a regular occurrence and I am delighted to be able to take part. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) said, we have been in our constituencies during the election and this debate gives us a great opportunity to raise some of the matters that were brought to us as we went around.
I do not wish to detain the House too longthere is only so much it can takebut I do wish to raise a couple of points, linked by a transport theme. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) mentioned Heathrow and the noise suffered in her constituency. I pay tribute to her predecessor, Tony Colman, who was assiduous in raising matters that affected those who live closer to the centre of London than those who live in Uxbridge and the borough of Hillingdon. Heathrow is in our borough and while it brings benefits, it also brings many problems. Alongside the current plans for a third runway, I notice that a sixth terminal is now creeping, worryingly, into the discussions, even though the Government have said that that is not in their plans. Anybody who knows the situation will realise that a third runway would mean a sixth terminal. That worries many people because in many instances it would destroy some villages, as would airport expansion wherever it is. That is why I have never in this House advocated not building at Heathrow and favoured somewhere else. We have to look seriously at our aviation needs.
I was concerned earlier this week when a new lobby group was launched called Project Heathrow. I do not have a problem with people creating lobby groups. That is their right and I am pleased that they do it. This group is headed by a former Member of this House, now Lord Soley. I was concerned that the Secretary of State for Transport went to the meeting. I know this because on television I saw a cream cake land on him thrown by someone who was not too impressed by the idea of expansion. I do not condone that behaviour. My concern was caused by a lack of even-handedness. Many organisations that are opposed to further expansion of Heathrow and I have been trying to meet the Secretary of State to express our views, but unfortunately we have not been granted the same access as the lobby group was on Monday. The Minister is a fair-minded gentleman and I ask him to pass that on, so that when I write asking for a meeting it is borne in mind that even-handedness is a good thing at this level.
We have a few problems with buses. I will not blame the Government for that because it is not their responsibility, but many of my constituents are concerned. By raising this on the Floor, I hope that those with responsibility will realise how seriously I and others take the matter. The London bus service has
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unquestionably improved greatly. People are using the buses more and more. In fact one of the problems results from more people using the buseslarger buses have been introduced. Two buses cannot pass each other in some of the smaller roads in my constituency, particularly Cleveland road in Cowley and Wise lane in West Drayton, without mounting the kerb, which they do regularly. Obviously that is a great danger to pedestrians. Many students go along Cleveland road to Brunel university and schoolchildren go to Uxbridge high school and Bishopshalt school. That causes great concern to residents. We do not want to lose the bus service, but something must be done.
These debates are for local issues and my next item narrows the debate down to one particular bus stand in my constituency. It has caused more justifiable complaints than many other issues in the past few months. Because Hillingdon hospital has redeveloped and built houses on what was part of its site, the buses can no longer stand in order to stop and turn round where they used to. They now go down past residential homesthe very homes that were newly built. This has happened since Christmas. Other houses are also affected by this problem. You can imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that from the early hours of the morning until late at night, just outside the houses, not only are buses stopping and goingbefore anyone says that this happens everywhere, I should say that there is a bus stop outside my house and I do have that noise but it moves onbut engines are left running, so the residents suffer from fumes as well as noise.
The residents also have something that I never thought about until I looked into the matter. It is a practical problem that should be looked at, because the bus drivers do not have proper facilities for relieving themselves after driving for some time. I want to discuss this with the union because I am sure that the union would want such facilities for its members. As you can imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this is not exactly enhancing the area, and one of the places that the bus stand affects is actually a residential home. The noise and all these other activities are causing a great deal of distress.
At first we thought that we could get this problem sorted out fairly easily. We have been trying to get various people together, including the hospital, Brunel university and the London borough of Hillingdonand Transport for London, which seems a little elusive in spots; I understand that that is not uncommon, but I am working on it and I hope that we can get it to resolve this matter. Meanwhile, the residents have become increasingly frustrated, and have started to mount peaceful protests. I have noticed that the buses have been delayed, shall I say, for 10 minutes or so, causing problems. I do not know whether there is such a thing as a normal protester, but if so these residents could not be described as such; they are just so frustrated by what is going on.
We hear a lot, have heard a lot and are going to hear a lot more about respect. That theme has come up recently and I think we have all noticed that it is lacking in society. I read somewhere, and I think it is probably a better word, that what is actually lacking to a large degree in today's society is consideration for others.
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That may show itself as antisocial behaviour in a community, as described by many hon. Friends and hon. Members, or lack of consideration by a company, which I would say is what we are seeing in this case. The company does not particularly want the problem but it is not moving fast to remedy it.
Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who is now leaving the Chamber, for the brevity and balance with which he outlined his local issues. I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the fact that I could not be present for the whole debate. I also apologise to other Members, but especially to those who gave their maiden speeches this afternoon. I understand that there were some excellent, even bravura, performances. I apologise to all those whose speeches I was not able to hear.
I did manage to catch the maiden speech of the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who tells us that she is the youngest Member of the House. She gave a very mature performance, which I think will serve her well for the future. I also heard the new hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland). Listening carefully to the content of his speech, I would not be surprised if he receives an invitation to become an honorary member of the Campaign group of Labour MPs on the left of the party.
Like my hon. Friends the Members for Luton, North (Kelvin Hopkins) and for Bedford (Patrick Hall), I had originally intended to speak in the Queen's Speech debate, but for obvious reasonsbecause of the large number of new Memberswas unable to do so. I wanted to raise an issue from that speech that has ramifications locally. What triggered it in my mind was the introductory speech by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). I have heard much about the impact of the election and the issues and concerns that have been raised in various quarters, but I want to explain to the House the experience of my constituents and the concerns that a number of them have raised about the election.
I shall deal first with the national debate that has been going on for some time. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome referred to postal voting, about which great concern has arisen because of the recent case in Birmingham. Although my view is that the judge who heard that case rather over-egged what had happened in his comments about a banana republic, there are serious concerns for democrats and we need to look carefully at them. The judge was more rightly criticised because he extrapolated the limited investigation in part of Birmingham to the rest of Birmingham. He even made comments that could be extrapolated to cover other parts of the country.
We must be careful to set in context what happened in Birmingham and how we put that right, but I want to draw a comparison with what happened at the election in my constituency, where 76 per cent. of postal voters
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actually voted and about 58 per cent. of others voted. There seems to be a great advantage in providing people with the option of postal voting. I hope that, in whatever we do to strengthen the postal voting procedures, people will not lose the ability to make use of postal voting to increase turnout at elections.
The second issue that has been raised nationallyThe Independent has been running a campaign on thisis, of course, proportional representation, and it does not surprise us that that issue has been raised by the Liberal Democrats. I happen to have just a little sympathy with that issue, but when people start to talk about a democratic deficitalthough some issues relate to thatthey should also consider some of the other existing deficits that are as important. Indeed, I should like to talk about those deficits in relation to my constituents.
When I was out and about knocking on doors during the electionwe do not get the opportunity during normal times to knock on as many doors as we do during a general electionI discovered that in some of my polling districts up to 20 per cent. of houses had no one on the electoral register. Indeed, in some streets in my constituents, every second house had no one registered to vote. When I worked out a total, I realised that about 5,000 houses in my constituency had no one on the electoral register. That is the first democratic deficit that existed at the election.
The second democrat deficit is that a lot of my constituents who thought that they were on the register and had voted at previous elections found that they were not on the register at the last election. Of course, they had been removed because they had not filled out and signed the form that they now need to return. That legislation was introduced by this Government. I accept the need for that safeguard, but we need to look carefully at ensuring that people understand that that is what they must undertake to secure their registration to vote at elections.
The third deficit is that a lot people in my constituency have come to live in this country. After they have been here for a period, they become citizens and therefore have the right to vote. Most of them come from European countries, but others come from all parts of the world. When they received their electoral registration form, it asked whether they were from various other countries, and quite a lot of my constituents innocently ticked that box and were therefore not considered to be British citizens. When they turned up to cast their vote they discovered that because they had said they were Greek or German they had no vote and could not vote in national elections. That applied to quite a large number of people.
I was not entirely surprised by some of those things. Before the election, because of my concerns about the failure of the registration process to reflect the people who live in my constituency, I contacted the Library for information. From the research that the Library undertook, I discovered that a comparison of the 2003 register, the latest edition at the time, and the 2001 census showed that about 9,650 people were missing from the register. My local authority told me that those people could not vote because they were from another country or were not British citizens. As my constituency is part of the Greater London area, a significant number of people are in that situation. The
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Library also told me that between 1996 and 2003, 6,200 electors were lost from the register in my constituency. That is a significant democratic deficit for a large number of people.
Why did that happen? There have been a number of reports on the subject. Recently, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister issued a report on registration and turnout. I shall take London boroughs as an example, but I will come on to others. The report showed that although the mean expenditure per elector on electoral registration was about £1.60, the figure varied across London boroughs from just over £4 at best down to 35p at worst. There seems to be a failure in that regard. As a capital city, London has particular difficulties compared with local authorities in other parts of the country, so it spends more on electoral registration than almost anywhere elsebut we need to look into the organisation of electoral registration throughout the country.
My local authority is no different from those in other London boroughs or other parts of the country. When I asked how it ensured that everyone was included on the register, I was told that only 77 per cent. of my constituents had been personally canvassedso no one knocked on the door of 8,730 homes in my constituency and asked the occupants to fill out a registration form. In the most disadvantaged area of my constituency, 61 per cent. of homes did not receive a knock on the door.
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