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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I am grateful to hon. Members for cutting their speeches, and I will do likewise to ensure that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) is able to participate.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) on his tremendous maiden speech. My maiden speech was rubbish. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] Yes; I know that that is hard to believe. At least this speech will be short, which will improve its quality, but I still wake up in a sweat thinking about my maiden speech.
We are about to go into one of the longest summer recesses everI know whyand it would be useful if hon. Members were able to table written questions during that period. I would not expect the answers as quickly as when the House is sitting, but it would be useful.
I want to discuss the reclassification of cannabis. My private Member's Bill, which sadly ran out of time in the previous Parliament, would have set up a commission to examine the reclassification of cannabis. I was told that that could not happen, but the Government have now set up their own inquiry because of the evidence on the long-term psychotic influence of cannabis. Dr. John Henry of St. Mary's hospital has said that just as cigarette smoking has ill effects on the body, so cannabis has similar effects on the mind.
A huge amount of evidence has appeared from a number of quarters since the reclassification of cannabis, so it is right for the Government to re-examine the issue. I have been told that the commission may not report until December, although we had thought that it would do so in the summer. If the Minister can encourage the inquiry to make its recommendations soon, perhaps we can get cannabis put back into class B.
When cannabis was reclassified, the message sent, particularly to young people, was wrong. Believe it or not, 42 per cent. of youngsters at school were offered controlled substances in 2003, 1 per cent. of under-11s have tried cannabis, and one third of people under 15 admit to having tried it, too. Clearly they were sent the wrong message. When the commission reportsand I hope that it will do so as I feel it oughtwe should be able to move swiftly to reclassifying cannabis and putting it back into class B.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con):
I want to talk about an issue that will have a catastrophic effect on my constituents and large parts of London, particularly west Londonthe westward
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extension of the congestion charge scheme. As hon. Members may know, the consultation ended on Friday 15 July, and we will probably hear the results during the summer recess. They may also know that in the first consultationas with most new Labour schemes, if the right answer does not emerge the first time, the same question is simply put again63 per cent. of residents and 72 per cent. of business opposed the westward extension.
I believe that the extension of the zone will have an especially bad effect on Hammersmith and Fulham, for the following reasons. First, it will affect our local traffic; this may well happen elsewhere in London too. The north-south routes through our borough are few and poorly served, yet any examination of a map of London shows that almost all the displaced traffic will be sent north-south through Hammersmith and Fulham.
The map shows that there will be a funnel effect if people are charged £8 a day to go through Kensington and Chelsea. Statistically, 100,000 to 120,000 cars a day go from Hammersmith and Fulham into Kensington and Chelsea. Our most congested roadsthe north-south routes, including the A219 Fulham Palace road and the Hammersmith gyratorynow take about one third of that traffic. Think about the impact of the displaced traffic on those already congested routes round key junctions such as the Hammersmith gyratory, and key hospitals such as Charing Cross hospital.
It stands to reason that if people have to pay £8 to go over Battersea bridge, the Albert bridge, Chelsea bridge or Vauxhall bridge, they will probably try to avoid that and pop further up the river to cross Wandsworth or Putney bridge.
For most of my constituents, it seems that it is no longer possible to be born in the constituency. Fulham's district general hospital is the Chelsea and Westminster, so for the first time a birth tax has been createdby Ken Livingstone and the Greater London authority. People will have to pay £8 to go there to give birth. Indeed, it is most unlikely that the fee will be £8; it is more likely to be an £80 penalty charge the next day, when people discover that they have forgotten to pay. There will also be a terrible effect on some of our local schools, and on businesses just outside the zone, such as Earls Court Olympia, Chelsea football club and the BBC in Shepherds Bush.
It is hardly as if our public transport could take much more of those displaced journeys. The Wimbledon branch of the District line is already operating at 92 per cent. capacityone of the highest rates for any tube line in London. Tomorrow, the 14 and 22 bus routes will be downgraded from Routemasters to regular Volvo buses.
The consultation has been a complete fiasco. Of the 14 questions put to residents, only onequestion No. 2asks their opinion on the congestion charge extension. The scheme deserves to be defeated, and I hope that the London Mayor will finally start listening to the Government, who should be putting pressure on him to listen to local residents and other stakeholders and reject the scheme.
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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), who made an eloquent speech. We envy him his constituency, which he described with great eloquence and which is clearly a wonderful place to represent. We admire his constituents, but perhaps we do not have the same sense of envy about the fact that he has three former Members of Parliament to deal with. I also admire him for his achievement in being the first Gujarati Member of this House. I hope very much that he will not be the last. My party is committed to increasing ethnic minority representation here, and we fielded more candidates than any other party at the general election from the ethnic minorities. Sadly, not enough of them were elected, but we will deal with that in future.
The debate has been wide ranging but has shown how much commonality there is in the issues that we face in different constituencies. We heard about water supply issues in Somerton and Frome and the water supply issues created in Castle Point by development problems. We heard about unmanned railway stations in south-west London, specifically Lewisham, and in Sevenoaks. That is certainly something with which I can identify as I see the spread of antisocial behaviour in my own area. Members talked with pride of their constituencies: the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington, East (Mr. Kemp) spoke of the growth of Sunderland and the role that Nissan has played; Nissan is to be admired for what it has achieved in this country, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will remember that it was the last Conservative Government who brought Nissan here.
We have heard about individual cases from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), whom I congratulate on the footballing successes that he described. We heard about individual issues from my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser), who talked about the great difficulty of the impact of debt on individuals, and from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow), who talked about the shortcomings that we all know exist in the front line of the national health service.
We heard about issues that affect probably every constituency, such as the pressures of development, not simply as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), but in the problems in west London to do with the future of Heathrow airport. We heard from the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) about the reverse of that problemareas that have housing stock available being perhaps excessively used for the dispersal of asylum seekers. We heard also about the problems being caused in back-land development from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, with which I can identify just down the road in my constituency. I share, too, the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) about the congestion charge. The Mayor of London should proceed with that change with great caution.
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We heard, too, about important national and international issues, including nuclear proliferation, on which it is essential for the whole world that matters are got right for the future. The points of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) about cannabis were very well made.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) will not be surprised that I have saved her comments for last. I represent the other half of what I must emphasise is the Epsom and St. Heliernot the St. Helier and EpsomNHS trust. I do not envy any NHS employee faced with the task of hospital reconfiguration. They can never win, and they can never please everyone. The House will not be surprised to learn that I could set out in detail equal to the hon. Lady's the reasons why she is wrong, why Epsom has better transport links and how, if there is no accident and emergency department in Epsom, there will be 150,000 people in Surrey without an A and E department within five miles of their homes, while in the north of the area there are three other major acute hospitals close by.
May I say to the Minister and the hon. Lady that the siting of the hospital in this project is, in many ways, not the key point? The key is whether the project is viable in the first place. I have two huge concerns that should be common to the hon. Lady, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, myself and other affected Members. First, the national health service is putting forward a scheme that, by its own admission, replaces one unaffordable model of care with another. We have not yet been given evidence by the national health service that it is delivering a packagean expensive private finance initiative schemethat will not ultimately lead to cuts in community-based services as the NHS seeks to pay the mortgage.
The other point is that we have yet to get a clear explanation of how the NHS can afford to reduce the number of acute beds in our area by one third. Until I hear answers to those two questions, I remain unpersuaded that this scheme is viable. I hope that in passing on comments from the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, the Minister will bear my thoughts in mind as well.
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