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I want to place on record a matter that is of growing concern in my constituencythe implementation of the asylum seekers dispersal policy. The dispersal policy made perfect sense when asylum seekers landed in Dover and elsewhere in great numbers. They competed for scarce local resources in a way that helped neither the residents of those areas nor the asylum seekers themselves, so to disperse them around the country made sense. However, the way in which that is being done in Leeds and in my constituency is unfair and insensitive.
Asylum seekers come through one of two courses. They may come through the National Asylum Support Service, in which case they are placed nationally and contracts are bought from the private sector, or they may come through the local council. There are eight constituencies in Leeds. Three of the constituencies seem to be home for the majority of the asylum seekers. My constituency is probably the recipient of the second largest total. NASS has placed contracts with landlords who have bought up the cheapest houses in the city. With the amount they get from NASS, it is sensible for them to find the cheapest housing. They are making a great deal of money, but they have caused havoc in the cheaper end of the housing market and they have caused havoc in the area because of the sheer numbers.
Parallel to that, the city council is taking up council houses in the same area for asylum seekers. In one ward of my city, Harehills and Gipton, an inner-city ward where there is great poverty and deprivation, we have a huge number of asylum seekers. That is causing all sorts of problems. In the past two weeks the Home Office has suspended the arrival of any more, on the advice of the police and the local community, but that will be reviewed in six weeks and I fear the influx will restart.
If we have such large numbers coming from different areas and speaking different languages, consider the problems that that causes for an inner-city primary school and the problems already faced by staff teaching inner-city children, for whom that is their one life chance. There may be nine different languages being spoken, and the teachers, with very few additional
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resources from the Department for Education and Skills, struggle to handle the new situation in an inner-city school where they would struggle anyway.
Let us consider medical services. It is a struggle to get doctors to come into the inner city and to get on their list in the inner city. It is difficult to find a doctor who will put new patients on their panel. If the asylum seekers' situation is mishandled, it can cause all sorts of problems.
The Home Office must review the policy. The number of asylum seekers is falling and there is time to review the situation, to think about it and to be more sensitive in placing them. I am in favour of a cap, so that if I take my fair share, which I will cheerfully do, I do not have to take the share of other areas or constituencies which, for one reason or another, do not have premises available for asylum seekers.
Asylum seekers come to the United Kingdom with shattered lives. They are escaping death and civil war, and they want a friendly reception. Yorkshire people will give them a friendly reception. My city will give them a friendly reception, but the dispersal policy must be kept in perspective and needs to be more sensitive. I hope that the Minister will convey that to the Home Office.
Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I want to raise the case of one of my constituents, Mr. Vinchenzo Favata. Last September, he was diagnosed with cancer and his consultant at the Royal Marsden prescribed a drug called Glivec, which has been appraised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. The treatment did not begin until November because approval for the funding of the drug from Sutton and Merton primary care trust was delayed.
Three weeks ago, my constituent was scanned and it was found that the tumour had started growing again. The clinician recommended an increase in the dosage of the life-saving drug, which required the primary care trust's panel to make a further decision. The panel met yesterday and did not agree to the extra funding, which has plunged the family into despair and limbo.
Decisions in the NHS are meant to be taken on the grounds of clinical evidence, clinical need and clinical judgment. Despite a clear clinical recommendation, why has my local primary care trust seen fit to deny Mr. Favata an increased dosage of the life-saving drug to fight his cancer? I have been in touch with the primary care trust and the family is appealing the decision, but I raise the matter today in the hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will draw it to the attention of Health Ministers so that they can take action to stop a practice that seems to be the rationing of drugs on the basis of cost alone.
I also want to talk about planning in my constituency. I suspect that the problem of predatory developers affects many hon. Members who represent suburban and urban constituencies. Such developers are out and about in my constituency looking for every last little piece of back-garden land on which they can erect flats. A company called Blazemaster has submitted a
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planning application to demolish 26 houses in Cheam Common road and Lavender avenue and build 133 flats in their place, thus depositing numerous extra cars on to a road infrastructure that is barely able to cope with the traffic already on it and imposing additional stresses and strains on local services.
Such behaviour cannot be a tolerable way in which to manage the need for additional housing. It is a direct consequence of PPG3, which includes back-garden land in the definition of brownfield land. The daft designation fails to recognise the biodiversity offered by back-garden land and the other contributions that it makes, so I was delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) advanced the case for re-designating back-garden land when she introduced her ten-minute Bill yesterday. I hope that time will be found to consider the Bill and that it will find favour because it would do a good deal to reassure my constituents and rebuild confidence in the system.
I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) said in her speech. I hope that we will be able to take forward better health care closer to home and make sure that we do not have the new hospital in Sutton, but at St. Helier.
Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about important changes that have taken place to the borough council that serves most of my constituency. Over the past eight years, Swindon borough council has failed to deliver the services that the people of Swindon deserve. The council failed between 1997 and 2001, when the Labour party ran it, and it has failed since 2001, which was when the Conservatives took it over. Between 2001 and 2004, the council's overall performance varied between poor and weak. The social services got a zero star rating in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
I think that things went wrong because when Swindon became a unitary authority in 1997, it was left inadequately prepared by the previous Government and never recovered from that bad start. Every day for the past eight years, the consequences of the failures have hurt people who depend on public services. Far from helping people, the council all too often made difficult and stressful situations worse. Today, however, there is clear evidence that the council is beginning to turn itself around. There are new management systems in place. It has capable new directors and a new, highly effective and capable chief executive.
What has happened? National Government have intervened on the local authority. The Department for Education and Skills drove through changes to such an extent that, within two years, Ofsted found that the number of functions performed by the local education authority that were rated as satisfactory or better had increased from 30 per cent. to 85 per cent.
Ministers and officials from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister have been working closely with the council to transform the delivery of services to residents and supporting it to do so. It has lent Swindon borough council one of its most capable officials, who has years of experience of local government and helping failing local authorities to turn themselves around. She has been working with the council over the past few months
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to introduce rigorous accounting systems and to ensure that, at last, it focuses on the recipients of services. The people of Swindon owe a debt of gratitude to Anne-Marie Carre and all the officials in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister who have done much to help them. Swindon has received extra financial resources from the Government. Not only has grant increased by 30 per cent. since 2001, but one-off additional funding has been provided such as £1 million to build extra capacity in the council, and there is also the possibility of a further £1 million.
None of that would have been possible without the dedication and expertise of the previous Minister with responsibility for local government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), whom we thank. It is reassuring that he has been succeeded by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East and Saddleworth (Mr. Woolas), who has already demonstrated his concern that Swindon stays on the right track.
The recovery process has involved a partnership, and I pay tribute to both the ruling group and the Labour group on Swindon borough council for their willingness to embrace the improvement agenda constructively and to work co-operatively with the ODPM. A great deal remains to be done and the situation is by no means perfect, but the council is on the mend.
The partnership that turned around the council has much to contribute to the debate about the division of powers in our democracy, about which we have already heard quite a lot today. When we hear fashionable talk about "localism", the debate is always focused on the benefits of devolving power to the smallest possible political unit, and there are, of course, benefits to that approach. However, "local" can also mean limited and restricted, and localism can work against the equitable distribution of resources throughout the country, a subject about which we have heard a lot this afternoon. In the past, localism has also worked against a cohesive sense of national identity. Such fashionable talk does not contemplate the consequences when localism is not enough and local authorities fail, and it forgets that the least advantaged and the most vulnerable get hurt first and worst when local authorities fail in the same way as Swindon failed.
In my view, the ODPM has helped to turn around the situation in Swindon. Perhaps the defenders of localism would argue that in time the people of Swindon would elect councillors who would turn around the council themselves without such intervention. However, real life does not work like that, and it did not work like that in Swindon. The people of Swindon elected new councillors who had the power and the money to make significant improvements, but, for whatever reason, they did not make them. The people of Swindon elected new representatives over and over again, but none of those representatives was any more able than their predecessors to make the necessary improvements.
Central Government can be sclerotic, slow and clog up the delivery of public services, but central Government can also be good governmenta national Government working nationally and locally for the good. The fashionably derided system of targets and inspections quantified Swindon borough council's failures and provided an objective basis for the intervention that is turning round its performance.
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National Government provide the breadth and depth of expertise that is not always found in one local authority. Swindon's experience demonstrates the benefits of national Government.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will take my points to the ODPM, because we are very grateful for everything that it has done in Swindon. In partnership with the Labour group and the ruling group on Swindon borough council, the ODPM is about to make a difference for the people of Swindon.
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