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Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) on his maiden speech and concur with his comments about the Open university. That was an achievement of a previous Labour Government and Prime Minister, and it is an institution that we all admire and support.
I have heard many comments in this debate about the beauty of our natural environment. In particular, I noted the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt), who said that his constituency is the most beautiful in the country. I have strong sympathy with those remarks, as I have a tiny bit of the
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High Peak in my constituency. I would even go as far as saying that the Peak district national park is definitely the most beautiful in England.
Other hon. Members have pointed out that natural England is supported by many voluntary sector organisations, including the Woodland Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the National Trust. I agree that natural England has the potential to be a powerful driver in ensuring that we secure the future of a living, breathing countryside that evolves successfully and sustainably.
I say that because the history of land management in our country is one of compromise, of reconciling the interests of those who live and work in the countryside with the need to conserve and protect it. That principle has been even further developed and applied by the voluntary sector, by bodies such as the RSPB, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust, all of whom have pursued policies designed to ensure that our rural areas continue to thrive and prosper in a sustainable manner. Those of us who are members of those organisations know that they support and develop farming enterprises as well as conservation programmes to ensure the future of our countryside.
The role of the voluntary sector must be acknowledged as critical in ensuring a pragmatic approach to reconciling access and conservation interests. Voluntary organisations are well practised in doing that and the powers and remit of natural England should not only recognise its independent status but also ensure that there is a clear role for the voluntary sector in advancing the interests of those who live in, work in and enjoy our rural areas.
I strongly support the commission for rural communities. It has already been said that the protection of rural post offices is critical for people who live in those areas. In a constituency such as Sheffield, Hillsborough, the commission would be very much involved in planning issues. The area is mixed; it is rural in parts, but also has many former industrial sites. It is vital that the commission defends the planning interests of those areas for the people who live in them to ensure that the redevelopment of industrial sites is sympathetic to the sustainable principles entrenched in the Bill.
Access to schools is not merely about keeping schools open, but ensuring that the new generation of secondary schools can exploit the growing capabilities of IT and develop virtual learning environments. The development of specialist status and raising standards in our classrooms are also important. Building schools for the future and the development of the secondary sector in particular are important in rural areas and the commission should be pursuing those issues.
Child care and services for children are critical in rural areas. Often, there are not enough children in villages to trigger the development of new facilities. The challenge is to ensure that not only local authorities but the commission represent the interests of parents and children living in such communities. We must develop the innovatory outreach services that have already been set up in areas such as Sheffield so that parents who need support in bringing up their children or who need child care can access services that are more often found in urban areas.
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Public transport has been mentioned, especially bus services. In my constituency, there is an old railway line, part of the Woodhead line, which is closed to passengers and available only for the Corus steelworks at Stocksbridge. The challenge is to get that line reopened for passengers and a small charitable body has already been formed for that purpose. I look forward to a commission that will support such bodies so that the line can be reopened. I hope that it will work with the regional development agency to ensure that the funding is in place.
Part 6 refers to four-wheel drives, of which we have heard much today. It would be enormously helpful if we could develop a consensus in the House on tackling the serious threat such vehicles pose to the sustainability of many of our ancient bridleways. I refer especially to the old Roman road between Glossop and Hope, which is actually in the High Peak constituency, and which suffers badly due to the use of four-wheel drives. Not long ago, I was going from the road to the woodland, and was confronted by a convoy of five four-wheel drives coming up from the main road to the hills.
A beautiful area, such as the Peak district, is being despoiled by Land Rovers and scrambling bikes. The state of that road is now almost beyond repair. It is almost unusable by walkers, and in winter when the deep ruts caused by those bikes and four-wheel-drives are filled with rainwater, it is unusable. Walkers are forced off the path and therefore cause further environmental damage by creating new paths alongside the old Roman road. The use of bridleways by four-wheel drives is incompatible with concepts of conservation and sustainability, and the issue is therefore an important focus for the Bill.
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I pay tribute to hon. Members for their witty, erudite and polished maiden speeches. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), as my family originate from Newport Pagnell. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for being slightly unkind: it occurred to me while waiting many hours to speak that, in particular, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) certainly had a magnificent opportunity to avail himself of the right to gashe certainly did.
It is with gratitude that I thank the people of Peterborough for electing me to the House. It is with a mixture of pride and humility that I speak as the newly elected Member for Peterborougha city that has elected Members to the House since 1529. Indeed, hon. Members will know that the city holds a record for being one of the most marginal parliamentary constituencies in the country. One of my esteemed predecessors, the late Lord Harmar-Nichols, previously Sir Harmar Nicholls, recorded majorities variously of 144, 137,
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22 and just three votes in general elections between 1950 and 1974. Electorally, he was always living dangerously, and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), will know how he feels, given his constituency.
Those who have followed the fortunes of Peterborough United football club over the past few months can be reassured that there was one blue team in Peterborough that was not relegated this season, and I am pleased about that.
We have always had rumbustious general elections in Peterborough. In 1895, baton-wielding police were called to the hustings to break up the kerfuffle. In 1906, the victorious Liberal candidate, George Greenwood, had his battlebus, or carriage, stolen and set alight as it was dragged across the city.
One of the voters at the next general election may be my immediate predecessor, Mrs. Helen Clark. As hon. Members will know, shortly after losing her seat at last month's general election, she announced her defection from the Labour party, after more than 20 years, to my party. It is customary to pay tribute to one's predecessor in a maiden speech, and I compliment her on her good sense.
I am proud of my constituency. At its heart is an ancient cathedral, one of the finest mediaeval cathedrals in Europe, surrounded by cutting-edge industries, such as the engineering companies Peter Brotherhood and Perkins Engines. Their names are synonymous with craftsmanship and British quality. The railways, too, provided employment for hundreds of local families over the past 150 years, particularly in the New England area of my constituency, which has been represented on the city council since 1954 by my friend, Councillor Charles Swift, OBE, who represents everything that is best about local government service and civic duty. In addition, major blue-chip companies, such as Thomas Cook and Freemans Catalogues, have also been attracted to the city owing to its good transport links.
Peterborough is a very diverse constituency. I believe that I represent a larger number of Muslim constituents than any Member on the Opposition side of the House. The Government's asylum policy notwithstanding, we in Peterborough have an admirable record of racial tolerance, as people from many different faiths and ethnic groups peaceably live and work alongside each other.
It is appropriate that I join the debate on this Bill because, although I represent a wholly urban constituency, I have an interest in that English Nature is based in my constituency. My two concerns are that the jobs of the excellent work force at English Nature are protected and, more important, that the independence of that body is carried forward to the new organisation. In that regard, I agree in some respects with the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who talks at least some good sense on the basis that, like me, he is a graduate of Royal Holloway college. I am concerned about the organisation's independence and it is worth quoting Friends of the Earth. Conservative Members occasionally quote Friends of the Earth, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, has been a thorn in the Government's side. Its concern is that the new
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integrated agency will not be able to be critical of the Government and will lack English Nature's traditional independence. Friends of the Earth say that
"it is feared that the clear and focused remit of EN to conserve biodiversity (the diversity of England's wildlife species and habitats) will be lost as the new integrated body will embrace a far wider set of issues from payments to farmers, diversifying the rural economy and access to the countryside."
Peterborough is going forward. Over the next few months and years, through an urban regeneration company, the city council intends to rejuvenate and regenerate the city centre and boost our local secondary school centre with a major building programme. A city the size and stature of Peterborough should have a university; at the moment, it does not. While I am here, I intend to do what I can to rectify the position.
Of course, it is the people of Peterborough who make the city such a good place in which to live and work. There is a warm community spirit and the generous nature of local residents is demonstrated by the success of three nationally renowned charities based in the city: ASBAHthe Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus; Deafblind UK; and the National Kidney Research Fund. It is fitting that I should pay tribute to the truly inspirational individuals who work tirelessly and selflessly on behalf of people less fortunate than most of us and whom it has been my privilege to meet over the past five years: John and Rosie Sandall, who have spent the past 16 years raising money for their kitchen-table charity for funds for the children of Chernobyl; Carol Bailey and her team at the Peterborough citadel of the Salvation Army, who do so much for the less fortunate people in the North ward; Paula Thacker of PHABPhysically Handicapped, Able Bodied; Linda Dalton and the volunteer team at the Sue Ryder hospice at Thorpe Hall; and Graham Hicks, who raises money for Deafblind UK and who, in June 2003, became the first man to jet ski from Britain to Holland and back, despite being deaf and blind. I salute those charity champions of my community.
I won the trust of the people of Peterborough by tackling various local issues and promising them that I would do all that I can to improve the quality of their lives. I beg the House's indulgence to discuss an issue that came up on the doorsteps in Werrington, Eastgate and Millfield and across the city at the recent general election. Crime is that major problem in my city. On any one Saturday evening, there can be as few as 14 police officers on the streets of Peterborougha city of 169,000 people.
As the son and brother of policemen, I am only too aware of the problems faced by our police officers and the heartache suffered by the victims of crime. Over the past four years, the northern division of Cambridgeshire police has recorded a rise of 120 per cent. in violent crime and 44 per cent. in robbery. In addition, binge drinking, vandalism and yobbish behaviour are affecting the quality of life of residents in all parts of the cityblack or white, rich or poor and young or old.
Cambridgeshire is still in the bottom 10 of the worst-funded police authorities in England and Wales, and Peterborough lacks sufficient police officers on the street to make a significant and meaningful impact on crime and disorder.
There are any number of gimmicks and talking shops, such as a local strategic partnership, crime and disorder reduction partnerships and community safety plans. In
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short, we have top-down diktats from the Home Office, which will fail to ameliorate the corrosive nature of public cynicism and frustration that undermine the criminal justice system.
Senior police officers and local police authorities, including my own in Cambridgeshire, are accountable more to the Home Office than to local residents and local taxpayers. This cannot be right. I shall use my influence in the House to argue for greater localism and greater accountability. I believe that elected police chiefs are a step towards restoring the link between those who keep the Queen's peace and those who pay for it. The move will go some way towards restoring my constituents' faith in the criminal justice system and the rule of law.
I am mindful of the fact that all political power is merely a leasehold held on trust and that it can be revoked at any time. The people of Peterborough put their trust in me on 5 May. I promised not to let them down and I promised also to be their ambassador in this place. Tonight, I reiterate that promise.
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