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Mr. Hoon: I urge the hon. Gentleman to make his presence felt in his trade union and use his considerable influence as a Member of Parliament with trade union members. I am sure that they would be intrigued to hear the views of a Conservative Member of Parliamentfrom which, I suspect, they do not benefit regularly but I advise him to be perhaps a little careful when he talks to them about the importance of employment. They have long memories of employment in this country under Conservative Governments. They can reflect, however, on the fact that 2.3 million jobs have been created in our economy since 1997, and on the fact that the Conservative party's scare tactics about the success of a Labour Government simply have not worked.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Is the Leader of the House aware that there is a crisis in NHS dentistry in Kettering and that there simply are not enough NHS dentists for the local population? Will he arrange a debate on NHS dentistry in Government time? Given that the Secretary of State for Health has declined my invitation to visit Kettering to discuss the issue and that the Leader of the House passes through Kettering station on his train journey home to his constituency, will he accept my invitation to visit Kettering to discuss the issue with local dentists and patients?
In travelling to Conservative Members' constituencies to look at the excellent state of the health service across the country, I might risk not being able to devote my full attention to my responsibilities in the House. As I made clear last week, 1,000 more dentists have been recruited in recent times to deal with a
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problem that we recognised was affecting NHS dentistry. Those efforts in recruiting and training new dentists will continue. If there is a problem in Kettering, I hope that we can persuade a few of them to live in that wonderful town.
Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Does the Leader of the House share my appreciation of the Labour manifesto's commitment to community hospitals? If so, does he share my dismay at the fact that, while a primary care consultation is being conducted around the country and a White Paper is in preparation, beds and minor injury units are being closed at community hospitals throughout the country? The minor injuries unit at Hornsea in my constituency is to be closed and the aim is to cut beds, despite the fact that a pandemic is possible.
Will the Leader of the House also allow time to review the Environment Agency's approach to planning for rising tides, as it has outrageously suggested the abandonment of Kilnsea in my constituency, thus leaving peopleincluding a lady who bought a house there as recently as September, her having been told it was a low flood risk areawith blighted houses that could be lost. We urgently need to debate the coastal erosion issue.
Mr. Hoon: I struggle to see the connection between the two subjectsperhaps it is my lack of understanding. We all recognise the tremendous work that community hospitals do. My constituency office in Ashfield is across the road from a community hospital that does tremendous work and I, for one, will not accept any criticism of what it does. However, it is important to emphasise the fact that community hospitals exist for a specific purpose. It is useful from time to time that they have beds available and can treat minor conditions and ailments, but the reality of modern medicine is that we want the best treatment to be available for all our patients free at the point of demand through the national health service, which sometimes means that there must be appropriate adjustments to the facilities and the provision available through community hospitals.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your help and protection as a Member of the House in relation to a question that I tabled for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions this morning. When I left the House yesterday evening, the Question Book showed, as it had for many days, that I had Question 16. I thought that it was a fair environmental question because it asked what steps the Secretary of State was taking
I picked up the Order Paper when I came into the House this morning and found that the question had disappeared. That has never happened to me in my entire career in this House. The Table Office told me that the matter was not its responsibility and that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had transferred the question to another Department overnight. That is a strange way to behave towards Members of Parliament. No one from the Table Office or the Department extended me the courtesy of a phone call to alert me to the situation.
A member of the Government team had asked me what kind of supplementary question I was going to ask, which makes me even more worried. I refused to give any detail but said that I was discontent with the way in which the Government were handling the WEEE directive. Following that interview, the question was transferred. If it becomes a principle that the Executive drive the programme of the House, it is a very worrying development.
I can understand the frustration of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), but, as "Erskine May" makes clear, decisions on transfers of questions rest with Ministers and are not matters for the Chair. However, Departments must make transfers promptly and ensure that the hon. Member is informed.
The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I help the House? I will certainly make it clear to my ministerial colleagues that we would regard it as bad practice to transfer questions on the day before oral questions.
Mr. Speaker: I am not happy for anyone to probe hon. Members about their supplementary questions, which are asked after a Minister has replied. Those questions are no one's business except individual hon. Members.
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to debate the Thames Gateway, which is an integral part of the Government's sustainable communities plan. The Gateway also gives us an important opportunity to improve the economic prosperity not only of London and the south-east, but of the country as a whole.
The Thames Gateway is about providing much needed housing, important jobs and economic opportunities in the future. It is about improving the quality of life for current and future residents. The programme includes the creation of 180,000 new jobs and 120,000 new homes, with 35 per cent. of them being affordable homes. There will be new investment in schools, health care facilities, transport facilities, green spaces and the local environment.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): If the Thames Gateway is to deliver its potential, along with all the housing and industrial development there must surely be a proper focus on infrastructure, so that we build the roads that we need to rid the south-east from the terrible congestion from which we sufferincluding Canvey's third road.
Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman is right that proper infrastructure needs to be in place, so that has formed part of our approach on the Thames Gateway. We need not only transport infrastructure, but community infrastructure. We sometimes think that the matter is simply about roads, but community and cultural facilities can be as important in underpinning local communities.
We must deal with difficult transport pressures. Many areas throughout the country, whether they are growing or not, face congestion and transport pressure and a growing demand for the use of cars. Such problems cannot be addressed simply by building new roads, so we must also examine pubic transport and demand management more widely, as the Department for Transport has said. I know that the hon. Gentleman recognises that fact.
I went to Southend on Tuesday to open the Guinness Trust's new housing development at Victoria gardens. That is a good example of a brownfield development on a former gasworks site. The site had been left neglected and empty for a long time, but it now has 200 houses and apartments along with a hotel and doctor's surgery. The Thames Gateway gives us a huge opportunity to regenerate a sub-region on such a scale that it will have national or perhaps even European significance.
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