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James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): Christmas is a time for children, and I should like to begin by raising the issue of children's health services, particularly maternity services.

Last week, a constituent came to my surgery to complain about the level of care that he and his wife had received in the run-up to the birth of their child—a week or two that, as a young parent myself, I know can be a   nerve-wracking experience. My constituents were concerned that they had seen a midwife only once throughout the pregnancy because antenatal care services had been scaled back. They were told that they could obtain a video if they wanted to know more about the birth, but they had to go to the surgery to pick it up. That heavily pregnant mother therefore travelled to the surgery by bus to collect the video so that the couple could prepare properly for the imminent arrival of their child.

I raised the scaling back of antenatal care services with the local hospital trust, which says that it is suffering problems because of

In other words, the service must concentrate on mothers who are giving birth. I raised the issue with the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Liverpool,
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Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), who accepted that services had been scaled back and that there was a loss of such provision. However, she said that the decisions had been weighed in the balance by the local primary care trust.

The knock-on effects for postnatal care are worrying. My constituents were concerned that parents would not receive a check-up by a midwife at home, and would have to go to the surgery for such a service. That is not the quality and standard of care that one expects to receive. The last thing that we want to do to mothers who have just given birth is to force them to leave their homes, particularly in the cold weather at this time of year, and make them to go outside with a newborn baby. They would normally expect a midwife to visit them at home to make sure that they and their child are all right. There are concerns, however, that that service, too, will be scaled back because of pressures on local health services and the availability of midwives and the service that they offer.

That raises issues in the context of the national service framework for children, young people and maternity services. I appreciate that there must be some decision making at the local level, but services should be consistent with the national service framework, which specifies that expectant mothers should receive good-quality care during the course of their pregnancy, and are entitled to a visit at home by a midwife. I therefore seek an assurance that the national service framework is being properly implemented across all PCTs, because the situation is stressful for young parents such as my constituents.

The infant feeding survey 2000 shows that 87 per cent. of first-time mothers in higher occupations attend ante-natal classes compared with 54 per cent. of women in lower occupations and 27 per cent. of women who have never worked. If classes for parents are scaled back, it will result in inequality, in which case the better-off will receive a high quality service, whereas those who are less advantaged—poorer—may not get the preparation that they expect and require to prepare for the birth of their child. I appreciate that the Deputy Leader of the House cannot address that point specifically, but I hope that he will take it up with his colleagues in the Department of Health, because such services are key to young and expectant mothers. We must also ensure that people from less advantaged backgrounds receive good quality care in the run-up to the birth of their children.

Resources are important in all issues involving the health service, and the construction of new primary care services is one issue that concerns me. Next year, Oldchurch Park hospital will open in Romford, and I   hope that it improves the quality of care for people living in my constituency and in neighbouring constituencies, too. However, I have concerns about its capacity, whether all services will be maintained on that site and whether my constituents will have to travel further to access services when the new hospital opens. I am positive about the hospital, which will open on time next year and benefit the local health service, but its capacity depends on the provision of high-quality primary care facilities at the local level. The number of beds has been scaled back on the basis that health services can be accessed locally rather than in an actual acute hospital.
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The PCTs have got certain local improvement finance trust projects, which are similar to public-private partnerships, whereby the PCT enters into an agreement with the LIFT company to lease the new primary care facilities. New facilities have been constructed in the London borough of Havering in Harold Hill and in my constituency in south Hornchurch and Rainham. It is great to see the new buildings, but they have not been occupied, because although the PCT entered into its   lease with the LIFT company, it did not enter into back-to-back agreements with GPs to get them to move into the new facilities once construction was completed. The situation is strange, because buildings have been constructed, but they are sitting empty.

I have raised the matter with the PCT and the strategic health authority, which say that all the   appropriate protocols were followed. The PCT followed the guidance set down by the SHA, but a teething problem cropped up because the LIFT project was one of the first to get off the ground. The matter greatly concerns people in my constituency, who want high-quality primary care. Buildings are sitting unoccupied, and the GPs who could move into them are not doing so.

Is money being spent efficiently within the health service? We are constantly told about extra spending, but if the money is being spent on buildings that lie empty, which appears to have happened in two cases in my constituency, it could be spent on other things, such as the maternity services that I have highlighted. Any structural problem about the commissioning of the new facilities needs to be examined very closely. I can think of two examples in my constituency, which suggests that this is not an isolated case and that other problems of this nature may be occurring elsewhere. How much public money is being wasted on paying lease payments to LIFT companies that are just sitting there and not being properly used? I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will take that issue back to his colleagues in the Department of Health.

New health services are key to the regeneration of the Thames gateway, which lies in the southern part of my constituency in Rainham. The regeneration of that area is dependent on infrastructure investment in transport, hospitals and schools. But proper regeneration—the urban renewal that I want to see—is heavily dependent on ensuring that the area is properly planned and developed.

I am worried that Rainham continues to be viewed as a dumping ground for everybody else's problems. Rainham has had bad things dumped on it from heavy industry, and there is a landfill site there. We now face the prospect of a waste-to-energy plant. The planning application is being considered by the London borough of Havering. Although it has many positive aspects, because it is about recycling, limiting the amount of waste that goes into the ground and trying to ensure that we have more renewables, I am worried that there is no further cumulative environmental aspect. Many people in Rainham complain about bronchial problems and asthma. Unfortunately, the statistics on that are not maintained at a national level, but anecdotal evidence
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suggests that there are such problems. If we add to the burden with more emissions coming from the chimney of a waste-to-energy plant, there may be long-term health implications, even if the plant is efficient in helping to deal with environmental problems.

In terms of regeneration, I want to ensure that Rainham gets the benefits that it needs to provide high-quality jobs, industry and opportunities for my young constituents.

Bob Spink: My hon. Friend is speaking eloquently about his constituency. His constituents and mine share problems related to Pitsea tip. Does he share my disappointment with the Thames gateway initiative, which seems to be all about forcing more development, whether it is industrial or massive house-building, on my constituents without any hint of infrastructure to support it?

James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We must ensure that we have infrastructure investment up front; otherwise, we will not get the regeneration that we both require in our respective areas.

It is true that there is a need for housing, which is one of the most important issues that I face as a constituency MP. The problem, though, is that the emphasis is on starter homes—one and two-bedroom homes. The Chancellor repeated that in his statement a few weeks ago. In fact, we need a broader housing policy with two, three or four-bedroom houses. Most of the problems that I hear about are of people stuck in inadequate accommodation who are unable to move out because the housing stock is not available. We need a broader housing policy to ease the burdens on housing stock in my area.

Rainham also faces the prospect of a motocross track coming into the area. I have tabled an early-day motion expressing residents' concerns, and stating that it will not contribute to the overall regeneration and renewal of the area. The motocross track has been in part justified because it will provide youngsters who have been riding around the parks in my constituency and neighbouring areas with something to do. The track expected in my constituency will not meet those needs, however, as it is an international professional motocross outfit. Therefore, while some people might think that it will solve problems of antisocial behaviour, I do not think that it will. I am therefore supporting my local residents in attempting to ensure that the track does not go ahead.

We do need more policing, however. One ward in my constituency, Hacton, does not have a safer neighbourhood team, and I will be pressing for that in the coming year to ensure that we have safer streets and places in which people can live and work. I am concerned, however, that the necessary underpinning funding will not be available. Comments made by the Mayor of London suggest that the safer neighbourhood team roll-out in London will not achieve, as expected, a safer neighbourhood team for every area by 2007. I hope that the police will have a quiet festive season. We wish them all success in policing the capital and the rest of the country over the festive period.

On that note, I also wish all Members of the House, and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a very happy Christmas.
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6.21 pm

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