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Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West) (Lab): It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon). One of the issues that I want to raise relates entirely to the South Eastern Trains plan to reduce booking office hours and clerks across south-east London and Kent.
Consultation recently concluded on that ludicrous proposal. As I understand it, it now resides with the Strategic Rail Authority to determine whether it should go ahead. Intriguingly, when South Eastern Trains notified the London transport users committee and the rail passengers committee for southern England of the proposals, it said:
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I do not know anybody who has written in support of those ludicrous proposals, whether from my constituency or the broader area. The company was, I think, being somewhat optimistic in imagining it would get away with its subterfuge.
"The upside for passengers as a direct consequence of these proposals has not been demonstrated by SET. Passengers do not like stations unmanned, preferring the human touch, seeking help and advice when needed and having a perception that someone is in control"
"and looking after their welfare. Replacing people with machines is not the way forward as they do not offer the full range of tickets and cannot provide the human interface or advice that passengers demand."
The hon. Member for Sevenoaks mentioned the absence of staff at railway stationsI think he said that it affects nine stations in his constituency. In my area, it affects Catford Bridge, Catford, Beckenham Hill, Bellingham and Lower Sydenham, which are in my constituency, and Penge East and Sydenham Hill, which, although just over my boundary, are used by many of my constituents. Even stations that are that close to central London will be abandoned for all but three hours a day. There will be no human presence therenobody to give advice or guidance, and no reassuring presence. They will become another part of the public realm that we leave at risk from those indulging in antisocial behaviour and that normal, decent, law-abiding citizens will feel unsafe in using.
I hope that Members will consider early-day motion 447, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Gwyn Prosser), which details all these issues. Its 25 signatories cover every part of the London, south-east and Kent franchises. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will persuade the Strategic Rail Authority to throw these stupid proposals into the bin where they belong.
The other issue that I wish to raise, as a London Member, is that of the Olympics coming to London in 2012. Hon. Members will be aware that we had been due to debate the London Olympics Bill today until the sad news on Sunday of the death of Sir Edward Heath. I never had a great deal to do with Sir Edward, but he was always immensely kind and considerate to me, as I am sure he was to everyone else who came across him. [Interruption.] Perhaps some Conservative Members do not share that view, but I will not pursue that.
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I pay tribute to all involved in the Olympic bid. It was a tragedynot as tragic as the events of 7 Julythat their great achievement in Singapore should so quickly have been diluted by the events of the following morning. They were disappointed not to get the homecoming that they deserved, but there are seven years between now and the games, and I am certain that we will see how they build on the progress that has been made so far.
At the time of the announcement, I was regarded as something of a sceptic, as is proved by my response in Hansard to the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport some 18 months ago. Since then, however, I, like millions of fellow citizens, have been won over by the enthusiasm, imagination, innovation and sheer temerity, in some ways, of the bid put together by all those involved. Now, we need to work not only on providing the games but on ensuring the greatest possible benefit across the countryan enduring legacy, not only for London, after the games have gone in 2012. As a contribution to that, I suggest to the Department for Transport and/or Transport for London that when the Channel tunnel high-speed rail link comes through to St. Pancras, we should rename either St. Pancras or Stratford station, "London Olympic". That would be rather like London Waterloo, in that it would endure for many years, long after the games are gone and forgotten.
In conclusion, and on a more serious note, I seek the indulgence of the House in mentioning one of my constituents and an extremely good friendIain Hepplewhite. He is well known to many Labour Members, and others, and to many members of the Press Gallery. He was the parliamentary Labour party's press officer for many years and worked for the Deputy Prime Ministeras he then was notbefore going on to be head of press at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and head of communications at the Department of Trade and Industry. He then became head of communications at the Film Council. Less than six months ago, he was diagnosed with an especially aggressive and rapacious intestinal and stomach cancer. The treatment that he received was excellent but unavailing. Yesterday, he returned to his native north-east to be with his parents. He will be 39 next Sunday.
In my experience, the House is a much more generous and sensitive place than some would have us believe. I hope that all hon. Members will join me in sending our very best wishes and thoughts to Iain and his family for whatever may lie ahead.
My constituency, North-West Cambridgeshire, is relatively new, having been created in 1997, and I am only its second Member of Parliament. However, the area that the constituency covers has a long and distinguished history and many eminent people have left their footprints in its soil. My immediate predecessor was Sir Brian Mawhinney, recently ennobled and now Lord Mawhinney. He is a formidable politician. He was diligent, conscientious, hard working and always put the interests of his constituents first. He was fortunate and
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privileged to serve in high office, including as Secretary of State for Transport and chairman of the Conservative party. Despite all the pressures that high office brings, he always found time for his constituents.
I am sure that Lord Mawhinney will continue to be involved in local affairs, especially as his title is Lord Mawhinney of Peterborough. When he was a Member of Parliament, one of his passions was supporting the local football team, which is affectionately known as "The Posh". As he is now chairman of the Football League, I suspect that, on at least some Saturdays, he will be found on the terraces of other football clubs.
Before 1997, some 60 per cent. of my constituency was part of the former Huntingdon constituency, where the Member of Parliament was the former Prime Minister, Sir John Major. Sir John and Dame Norma continue to live locally and remain involved in several local concerns, especially charitable interests. Given Sir John's love of cricket, hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that on the odd Saturday he can be found at a local cricket match, and Dame Norma holds an annual charity cricket match in support of Mencap.
A third former Member of Parliament, Lord Renton, lives in my constituency. Hon. Members know that I do not exaggerate when I say that he is one of the most charming men in the Palace of Westminster. Soon to be 97, and still active in another place, he is the president of the Association of Conservative Peers. I am grateful for all the kindness and support that all three previous Members have shown me. It is usual for a new Member to have one former Member of Parliament looking over his shoulder to ascertain what he isand perhaps sometimes is notdoing. Occasionally, there are two former Members. However, it is rare to have three former Members of Parliament looking over one's shoulderand such an eminent trio at that.
My constituency covers the southern part of Peterborough, south of the River Nene, and some villages and towns that go down to, but not including, Huntingdon. Peterborough is characterised by rapid expansion. Several people there commute regularly to nearby places. The expansion is best typified by an area known as the Hamptons, where it is proposed to build thousands of houses. The major challenge will be to ensure that the house building is matched by the appropriate infrastructure.
Moving south in the constituency, there are picturesque villages such as Hamerton, which has some 30 houses, and Sawtry, Yaxley, Warboys and Ramsey, which have a few thousand residents. The abiding theme in the southern part of the constituency is that it is of a rural nature. One particular concern for my local farmers is the proposed reduction in European quotas for sugar beet, and I, for one, will be vigorously taking up their interests wherever that is necessary.
I was recently fortunate to be one of the 20 Members chosen in the ballot for private Members' Bills, and I propose to attempt to introduce a Bill on breast cancer screening for women. At present, women between the ages of 50 and 70 receive a notice from their local hospital inviting them for a screening. I propose to try to change that so that women between the ages of 45 and 75 are covered. The logic is that women are now living longer and healthier lives, and it seems sensible to acknowledge that by covering a higher age group. And
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of course, we all know that women below 50 suffer from breast cancer, as well as those over that age. I would have thought that prevention was better than cure. Let us not forget that we are not simply talking about the one in nine women who suffer from breast cancer; we are also talking about their families and friends, and that involves a huge number of people. I very much hope that the Government will give my private Member's Bill due consideration.
Many years ago, I remember watching Prime Minister's questions on television with my parents. I said to them, "I hope that one day I will be on those green Benches." For this Ugandan-born Indian, and Britain's first Gujarati Member of Parliament, a dream has certainly come true. I am particularly pleased that my parents are watching this today, not from the other side of a television screen but from the Public Gallery. Madam Deputy Speaker, you can tell from the look on their faces that my parents, Lakhman and Savita Vara, are delighted to be here rather than on the other side of a screen.
There can be no better privilege for anyone than to represent their fellow citizens in this, the mother of Parliaments, and I am deeply grateful to the people of North-West Cambridgeshire for affording me the opportunity to represent them here. They are wonderful people and it is a lovely constituency. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to speak today. I also thank the other right hon. and hon. Members here for extending the usual courtesies to one who is making a maiden speech.
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