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This Bill requires the Government to be joined up. There is a huge disconnect between the Government's diktat that many tens of thousands of new houses are to be built in West Sussex over the next 15 years and the provision being made to support infrastructure. I am especially concerned about the secondary health infrastructure, which is already in deep crisis and deteriorating fast. There are also major problems with transport and water capacity, neither of which is being addressed seriously by the Government.
The Government's approach to housing development is totally prescriptive: they call it predict and provide; it feels much more like accept and obey. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has made it clear to our county councils that the number of homes ordered to be built in the south-east is non-negotiable. That means that the number of new homes to be built in West Sussex is set to be 2,900 each year for the next 20 years. That would rise to 4,200 a year if the Barker proposals were accepted, as the Government seem to indicate that they might be, or if the Deputy Prime Minister sought to overrule the South East England regional assembly recommendations already made. On the smaller basis, West Sussex would have an extra 58,000 homes and an extra 85,000 people, which is equivalent to building another town the size of Crawley in West Sussex.
That level of house building is among the highest in the south-east, but West Sussex has not been designated as one of the Government's growth areas. The result of that is that we get all the new housing but without the provision for new infrastructure that accompanies growth area status. Of course, funding for key public services like health and education is based on GP lists and school rolls, which inevitably means a lag of at least two years between population increases and the increased funding. In the meantime, of course, schools and hospitals are strapped for cash.
"The Government's ambitions for new housing in the South East, if met with undue haste and an absence of thorough environmental appraisals, will lead to significant and effectively irreversible environmental damage."
We are still waiting for those environmental appraisals, but people in the area know that the implications for the environment are dire. Not surprisingly, there is overwhelming local resistance to the proposed levels of house building. Recent polls suggest that two thirds of local people oppose the increases, and about the same number simply do not believe that the supply of infrastructure, particularly NHS hospitals, will keep pace with new house building.
Those people are right to be concerned. Not only are hospital services not being enhanced, they are being actively and daily run down. The Surrey and Sussex healthcare trust, which runs both Crawley hospital and East Surrey hospital at Redhill, has languished at the
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bottom of the Government's star rating system for the last four years. Regrettably for its long-suffering staff and patients, it has never been given more than one star, and for the last two years it has been awarded none. That places it in the bottom 5 per cent. of all acute hospital trusts in England.
In recent years, there has been a consistent pattern of acute services' being moved from Crawley to Redhill. On each occasion, we are assured that this will be the last service to be removed from Crawley; then, a few months later, off goes another service. Acute trauma, maternity, and accident and emergency services have gone. More recently, operating theatres have closed, and redundancies now seem likely.
We would mind less about all that if the Redhill hospital could cope with the extra work being driven to it, but it cannot. Members may have seen television coverage of ambulances queuing outside the accident and emergency department. At Redhill, it is not how long people wait on a trolley that is measured, but how long they wait in the ambulance before even getting on to a trolley.
There is a similar picture in Mid-Sussex, with consultant-led maternity services moving from the Princess Royal hospital at Haywards Heath to Brighton. It is not absurd to speculate, given the current trends, that pretty soon there will be barely any acute hospital cover in West Sussex. The public feeling, however, is that more, not fewer, hospital services are required. The south-eastern county councils have estimated that the region will need an additional 1,800 acute and 900 general hospital beds over the next 15 to 20 years, which is equivalent to six medium-sized hospitals.
The Department of Health's own inquiry produced a recommendation that there should be a new hospital at Pease Pottage to serve this fast-growing area, but, in a classic example of disjointed, dysfunctional government, the Secretary of State himself turned down the proposal. The new hospital really is needed, however. Since the Government vetoed it, attracting permanent staff to the Surrey and Sussex trust has been increasingly difficult. In the last three years the trust has spent £58 million on temporary staff, and £21 million has been spent in the past year alone. Probably about £30 million of that was wasted; it could have been invested in hospital infrastructure to attract top teams of staff to rival those at the best London teaching hospitals. I strongly urge the Secretary of State to reopen the files, have another look at the Bagnall report of three years ago, and re-examine the case for a new hospital at Pease Pottage.
I mentioned the water capacity problem earlier. That problem is already severe, and it is growing. The Government's own favourite think-tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, recognises the seriousness of the problem. Its commission on sustainable development in the south-east observes
"Only with significant water efficiency savings in existing and new homes, and the timely provision of new water resources, will there potentially be enough water to meet rising demand for new housing and domestic consumption."
The Bill would force a serious rethink about those infrastructure shortages. It would require a full audit of existing or planned infrastructure in areas of significant housing development. It would not preclude the Deputy Prime Minister from continuing to impose excessive housing development on the south-east, but it would make it much more embarrassing for him to do so without proper provision being made for the necessary infrastructure. It would lay bare for public scrutiny the deficiencies in Government thinking and planning.
As I have said, I oppose the huge increases in house building currently being contemplated. However, this Bill would ensure that any new house building was matched with adequate infrastructure. For West Sussex, it should lead to a new hospital being built at Pease Pottage. For all those reasons, I commend this Bill to the House.
Mr. Francis Maude accordingly presented a Bill to require an audit of existing or planned infrastructure in areas of significant housing development: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 14 July, and to be printed [Bill 61].
That the matter of the evidence given by the right hon. Member for North Tyneside to the Transport Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions on 14th November 2001 be referred to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing this important motion to be put to the House today. It is important because of what should be one of the most fundamental principles of this House and the way that our parliamentary democracy operates. Ministers may be evasive, they may be difficult, they may be downright disingenuousbut they must not lie to the House of Commons. The charge that lies on the table in front of the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers) is that on 14 November 2001 he lied to a Select Committee of this House. It is not for me to judge his guilt, although I have my views, but it is for this House to judge his guilt.
I do not intend to make a long speech to propose this motion, but I do need to give the House a little of the background to it before Members decide whether or not this matter should be considered by the Standards and Privileges Committee. In November 2001, I was a member of the Transport Sub-Committee, under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). It was six weeks after Railtrack had gone into administration, and we were in the midst of an inquiry into the future of the railways and the circumstances that had led to administration.
The story that we had been told was that the Government had begun the process to force Railtrack into administration only after a meeting that had taken place some three months earlier, on 25 July of that year, between the chairman of Railtrack, Mr. John Robinson, and the right hon. Member for North Tyneside. We were told that Mr. Robinson had warned at that meeting that if Railtrack were to survive, it would need additional Government support. Without that support, its future was in doubt.
"was there any discussion, theoretical or otherwise, in your department before 25 July about the possibility of a future change in status for Railtrack, whether nationalisation, the move into a company limited by guarantee or whatever?"
You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that the right hon. Gentleman has since admitted that that response was inaccurate, and he has apologised both to the House and to me. So why have I not accepted that apology, and why do I believe that the House should not do so? The right hon. Gentleman has accepted that he commissioned a review of the future of Railtrackfrom a joint working party comprising representatives of his Department, the No. 10 policy unit and the Treasurywell before that date. In his personal statement on Monday, he said that
I have to say, Mr. Speaker, that I regard that answer as utterly unconvincing. It alone might have been enough to persuade me to press ahead with today's motion. However, the latest evidence to emerge from this period is, in my view, decisive.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) obtained on Monday copies of the minutes of a meeting held at No. 10 Downing street on 6 July 2001. That meeting was attended by the right hon. Member for North Tyneside, the permanent secretary of his Department, the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the head of the No. 10 delivery unit and the Prime Minister. That minute refers very clearly to a discussion about the future structure of Railtrack.
In that light, I cannot and do not accept the statement made to the House on Monday by the right hon. Gentleman. It is of paramount importance that Members can rely on the testimony given to us by Ministers. That is why I hope that the House will join me in supporting the motion, so that the matter can be properly examined. If the right hon. Gentleman is innocent, his name will be properly cleared; if he is guilty, he deserves the censure of the House.
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