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Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): Liberal Democrats!

Mr. Turner: It was indeed run by the Liberal Democrats, who led the Isle of Wight council for more than 20 years. My colleagues on the council, led by Councillor Andy Sutton, have taken determined steps to improve the quality of service, not only for 12 months but for the next four years. I congratulate them warmly on what they have achieved.

First, my colleagues have put considerably more resources into education and adult care. Secondly, they have paid the cost of cross-Solent travel for many elderly patients. Thirdly, they have extended the Government's scheme for free off-peak public transport for pensioners, so that now the over-65s on the Isle of Wight can travel by train or bus anywhere on the island free of charge at any hour of the day or night. Fourthly, they have introduced a 50p standard bus fare for anyone under the age of 19, which is a great improvement on the £2.50 or so that it cost until recently to travel from Newport to Shanklin.

That 50p bus fare will not only transform the access that young people have to schools, colleges and recreational facilities, but will save lives. We have a sad record of too many young people dying on our roads. I congratulate my local bus company, Southern Vectis, which is introducing buses that run until 4 am on Fridays and Saturdays between Newport and the other main towns, so that young people can now travel by bus late at night. That will get them out of the habit of sharing cars late at night. There are few things more dangerous than several young men sharing a car, except possibly several young men and young women sharing a car.
 
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Finally, the council has introduced an all-island £50 parking permit that entitles islanders to park anywhere on the island at any time of the year. That is      a huge achievement and I congratulate all 36 Conservative councillors, especially Councillor Andy Sutton, on their first 12 months. As I told the Minister when I attended a meeting with him and Councillor Sutton, I did not believe that things could be turned round as quickly as they have been. There was a mountain to be climbed on the Isle of Wight. We are still in the foothills of that mountain, but in the past the leaders of the council displayed no vision, hope or direction. At least now the leader of the council has his eyes fixed firmly on the summit of that mountain, and we are climbing out of the foothills.

2.13 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con): I am pleased to be able to take part in this debate, which—as my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) said—is a useful opportunity to make a wide-ranging speech. Perhaps there might be opportunities to increase the number of such debates.

I also wish to echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about a debate on foreign affairs. We could discuss not only Iraq and Afghanistan, but other matters. This week is the seventh anniversary of the bombing of Yugoslavia. Without repeating the arguments about whether that was right or wrong, that part of the world has largely been forgotten. Although talks are taking place to establish the final status of Kosovo, it is a shame that we have not really had the opportunity to discuss the present situation. Thanks to Mr. Speaker, I managed to obtain a debate in Westminster Hall recently, but I was not able to go over the subject fully and other people did not have the opportunity to join in.

I make a plea to Ministers, right hon. and hon. Members and the media to visit Kosovo and see what is happening. The pendulum has swung the other way and an apartheid system is operating, with the few Serbs remaining living in small, enclosed areas that have to be guarded by troops. Even more worrying is the complete destruction of the centuries-old culture, with the razing of churches, monasteries, graveyards and cemeteries, some of which have been turned into car parks and some into football pitches, seemingly in an attempt to try to deny the history and culture of the area. Those are difficult issues, but we do not do the peace of Europe a service by trying to ignore them.

One of the most pressing problems for my constituency, as for many others, is the health service. The problems of gaining access to NHS dentistry have already been mentioned, and Uxbridge has exactly the same experiences. More worryingly, Hillingdon primary care trust has one of the largest deficits in the country. I have to say that I was not impressed when the previous chief executive fell on his sword and a part-timer was appointed, who was at the same time the chief executive for Harrow—which had its own problems—and had to split his time between the two. That has now been resolved and we have another full-time chief executive, but the problems continue.

I am not surprised at some of the goings on, because I have taken a great interest in the fiasco of the Paddington health campus, on which millions of pounds
 
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of taxpayers' money have been wasted. The National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee will look into that and I do not wish to prejudge their findings, but it is a matter of record that the Department of Health and the strategic health authority obstinately refused to accept that their vision was unworkable and unaffordable. In the meantime, huge amounts of money were wasted, and that is just one example in which I have personally become involved. When I think of all the money that was spent on consultants and so on, I am not entirely surprised to learn of the deficits around the country in health services. It is not that the Government have not put the money in: it is how it is used and, in many cases, wasted.

Another problem to the north of my constituency, but which affects my constituents directly, is the threat of withdrawal of cancer services from Mount Vernon hospital. Like Harefield hospital, Mount Vernon is world renowned and much loved, but it is proposed to send people to Hatfield for treatment, even though the site for the Hatfield hospital has not yet been identified or planning consent obtained. It is obvious that the travelling time will be a huge problem for anyone suffering from cancer and needing radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Mrs. May : The concern about the closure of cancer services at Mount Vernon hospital to which my hon. Friend refers is shared by those of my constituents who are asked to go there for treatment. Indeed, I have received a number of letters expressing worry about the proposal.

Mr. Randall: I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention, which emphasises the problem that exists. Those responsible for these decisions seem not to understand the real needs of our constituents.

A perennial problem that is unfortunately on the minds of most of my constituents is the potential expansion of Heathrow through the creation of a third runway. I am delighted to say that the political parties in Hillingdon and the various other local boroughs are still united on this issue. My concern is that the Government are not taking aviation emissions seriously, although I have to say that that would probably be true of any Government at the moment. I was interested to hear on the "Today" programme this morning that the Conservative party policy group is taking this issue seriously. I hope to make my contribution to the debate, to ensure that people understand just how serious an issue this is. We really must have cross-party consensus on it, because the decisions that have to be taken will not be universally popular. The Government and the political parties have got to take a real lead.

Heathrow does of course bring benefits in terms of jobs, but it is a major polluter. Another effect locally is that it brings various people into this country who are seeking asylum, and we accept that responsibility. Some two years ago, the London borough of Hillingdon was asked to take responsibility for unaccompanied child asylum seekers. As a result of the "Hillingdon judgment", Hillingdon has financial responsibility for such people up to the age of 25. Of course, that imposes a great financial burden on the local authority, which
 
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has, it is true, been recompensed through national Government resources. We accept the situation, which is the result of our geographical position, and we are prepared to take on such responsibility, but we do not think it fair for council tax payers' bills to be increased as a result.

Two years ago, the Home Office and the Department for Education and Skills were not providing enough money to enable us to deal with this issue. The Home Office quickly came up with the goods after representations were made by a cross-party delegation. Eventually, the DFES sorted out the situation, and we thought that we had an agreement; then, it changed its mind about how much it was prepared to provide. I have examined the relevant papers and I am trying to be fair on this issue; in fighting for Hillingdon, I want to ensure that we are in the right. The local authority had set its council tax for this year, so it cannot do anything about that; indeed, had it not done so, it would probably have been capped. However, as a result of the DFES's decision, the local authority has had to issue redundancy notices to some 250 civic centre staff in Uxbridge.

It is unquestionably unfair to blame the asylum seekers, the civic centre workers or the local authority for this situation. I hope that the DFES realises that it has an obligation to provide the money promised under the agreement reached. I need not spell out the possible impact on what is a diverse and largely happy population in Hillingdon. The population is fairly settled, but a development such as this could be the match that ignites something.

I get a lot of letters about the increasing intrusion of the state into our private lives. An increasing number of closed circuit television cameras are taking our pictures while we drive, for example. We are assured that such measures have been adopted for good reasons, and we are perhaps prepared to accept some of them. There was talk some time ago of council tax inspectors being able to come into our homes. I think that we were assured that that would not happen, but one never knows with this Government.

Many people write to me saying that they are getting demands for the payment of congestion charges, parking tickets and speeding tickets on behalf of people who do not in fact live at their address. I can speak with a degree of knowledge on this issue. Only the other day, a constituent of mine—she is also my mother—sent me some letters that she had received from the Metropolitan police, claiming that she had been speeding. It is unlikely that she would do so in her wheelchair, at the age of 86. Presumably, somebody has registered their vehicle with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency using her address. Her case will of course be looked into, but given that this is an increasing problem, I want to know how rigorously it is being dealt with. It is one thing to say, "Don't worry Mrs. Randall, we will sort it out," but are these people being pursued, or being allowed to get away with it?

When the other Mrs. Randall in my life—my wife—tried to get a new number plate, she was told that she must bring in her registration details because lots of people are asking for new number plates so that, when they are caught by speed cameras or incur the congestion charge, they do not get fined. This is a serious
 
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problem, which, ironically, is perhaps the result of increasing surveillance, and I would like the Home Office and the Department for Transport to deal with it.

I look forward to the 2012 Olympic games, of which I have been a supporter since the early days, before it became too popular. My sporting days are, sadly, slightly over. However, in what I took as an early April fool's day joke, but which apparently was not, I received an email from the parliamentary rugby team telling me that I had been selected to play against the New Zealand XV. I suspect that I received that message because some Labour Members wanted me to go to casualty.

The council tax bills that have just gone out carry a small surcharge for the Olympics. Many people in west London are concerned that they will not get much in return, as Londoners will not get reduced-price tickets for the various events. Another annoyance concerns the restoration of the old Uxbridge lido. Its outdoor nature will be retained, but an indoor swimming pool and a leisure centre will be added. Hillingdon borough has enough money for a 25m pool, but we would like the lido to have an Olympic-size, 50m pool. The official bodies responsible for British swimming say that such a pool is desperately needed in west London.

We were told that there was a good chance that success in the Olympic bid would lead to some extra funds for the lido restoration. That extra money would make it possible to go for the larger pool—even though the local authority would prefer to stick to the 25m size, as it is cheaper to maintain. Somehow, though, the money has not appeared, from any source. All the help seems to be going to other areas of London.

That is a shame, and a wasted opportunity. Many constituents write to me to complain about the money being spent on the games, and I should be delighted to be able to tell them that at least we had something to show for it. I hope that the matter can be drawn to the attention of Ministers at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, although from time to time I correspond with them about the matter.

All hon. Members will agree about the need to provide more youth and leisure facilities to reduce antisocial behaviour. I accept that the people one would like to get off the streets are the ones least likely to join in such activities, but the approach is worth considering and I want to commend some of the things that are going on.

This weekend, I shall accompany my eldest son on a rugby tour, and I shall do the same with my daughter the following weekend. I shall not say where we are going, in case the paparazzi follow in hopes of getting a shot of me in a poncho and a sombrero. I have discovered that team sports are incredibly good for bonding people and giving them a sense of responsibility. The more I see, the more I want to spread the word.

The House may not be aware of the softer, more feminine side of my character. My youngest daughter is 10 and keen on sport, and that has led me to try to promote women's sport. I want it to be more prominent than at present. The other day, the England women's rugby team won the grand slam, and I am delighted to say that I was lucky enough to be able to see it—as opposed to going to Twickenham and watching the men fail.
 
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England's women cricketers won their version of the Ashes last year, and women are succeeding at other games, including football. The House of Commons should do more to promote and give equal status to women's sport. I have to be careful in this matter, as I understand that, while some sports like to refer to women, others prefer to call them ladies.

I have given the House a quick run-around of some of the problems that I have encountered, and my thoughts on them. I do not often get an opportunity to make some of the points that I have raised, but I want to remind the Government that we are approaching Easter. It is a time of renewal, rebirth and hope. Labour Members may want to whistle the ditty "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" by the Monty Python team as they return to their constituencies, but they should also remember that the first line of the poem "The Waste Land" by T.S. Eliot tells them that

2.33 pm


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