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The history of the matter is set out in an Adjournment debate that I held on 17 March 2004.

However, now we are to lose 24/7 paediatric services at the Horton. In other words, in my constituency we will have a worse health service than existed under Labour, under Barbara Castle, in 1974. We will not lose paediatric services alone. We will also lose obstetric services, out-of-hours emergency services and the special care baby unit. From now on, we will have only a midwife-led maternity unit. We have had a vibrant and viable maternity unit until now. Midwives do a brilliant job, but as all hon. Members know, any GP looking after an expectant mother where there is a scintilla of a suggestion of any complication will now suggest to her that she go to the John Radcliffe hospital, rather than the Horton general hospital, to have her baby. By undermining maternity services,we will lose obstetric services and undermine gynaecological services as well.

Mr. Boswell: I ought to declare an interest, in that my wife bore all three of our children in the Horton maternity unit. Does my hon. Friend agree that if there is to be a midwife-only service, if any complications that have not been anticipated develop, it will be extremely difficult to get access to specialist care within the necessary critical time?

Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Everyone in the House must recognise that even in the best conditions, it takes at least an hour to get from Banbury to Oxford.

We face a complete unravelling of services. Paediatric services, maternity and obstetric services, gynaecological services and surgery will all be undermined. What did the manager of the hospital say this week when he was challenged? He said that he looked to improved on-site care for the elderly and provision of community beds. Within a couple of weeks we have gone from having a general hospital with all the services that we have always expected a general hospital to give, to some super-community hospital with a collection of services at the whim of whoever is running the trust.

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Mrs. May: In relation to the loss of maternity services and services such as paediatrics and obstetrics, does my hon. Friend share my concern that that is a pattern that we are seeing across the country? For example, Wycombe hospital has lost its maternity unit, and the special care baby unit is now at Stoke Mandeville in Aylesbury, which means that my constituents have to travel even further for that service. The same has happened in Bury. Across the country, people are losing services locally and losing choice.

Tony Baldry: My right hon. Friend makes a good point. There are a smaller number of acute hospitals such as the John Radcliffe, and the Horton’s viability as a general hospital will be undermined. Worse, when I met the primary care trust’s acting chief executive the other day, it was made clear to me that the commissioners oppose community hospitals because they are so strapped for funds that they will move anything they can from the acute centre to social care, for which there is a means test administered by the county council. Community hospitals and community beds will, therefore, also disappear and acute services will be under great pressure.

One has only to look at the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust website to realise that one of the consequences of the cuts is that £38 million will have to be saved in surgery. That means that no one will get an operation for at least six months. The whole point of managing surgery becomes trying to ensure that, to save money, people wait for the maximum time, but are treated just within the Government target.

The position is bleak. As recently as Prime Minister’s questions on 19 April, the Prime Minister trumpeted an expansion of cardiac services at the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust. The consequence of the cuts is that cardiac ablation therapy to control an irregular heartbeat—the treatment that the Prime Minister received—will no longer be available to most patients at the John Radcliffe hospital.

General hospitals such as the Horton are being undermined, the John Radcliffe has to reduce its services substantially, the acute hospital trust has to make massive cuts in surgery and NHS skilled staff are being made redundant. That is crazy. My constituents and the people of Oxfordshire find it insulting when Labour Members try to pretend that that constitutes an improvement in the NHS or in services for my constituents. It demonstrates that Ministers and Labour Members are increasingly living in a parallel universe. I partly understand the reason for that. Ministers will not visit hospitals such as mine. Their officials wheel them out simply to see showcase improvements, so they get a false sense of what is happening.

The funding formula is skewed against counties such as Oxfordshire so unfairly that I suspect that many Labour Members are genuinely misled into believing that there is more money in the NHS than is the case. However, they should reflect on the fact that so many of the cuts are being made in London and the south-east.

My constituents will try to respond through every possible democratic means. We have started a petition, which appears in today’s newspapers such as the
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Banbury Guardian and the Banbury Cake. People can sign it online at When, on one day, approximately 155 beds are lost at the Churchill hospital and 30 beds at the John Radcliffe, and we learn that Oxfordshire will have fewer qualified nurses than in 2002, I am sure that hon. Members understand why today is, for me, the blackest day since I became a Member of Parliament. I hope that the Government will reflect and realise that what they are doing to the NHS is unacceptable, and that the people of Britain will not accept it.

2.48 pm

Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon) (Lab): I should like to take the opportunity of the debate to consider a much longer-term vision for Swindon, the town that I have the honour of representing. Swindon’s existence and prosperity are a tribute to the power of vision. In its first incarnation as a great manufacturing town, it owed everything to the great engineer and entrepreneur, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. When the railways, on which Swindon’s prosperity was based, began to decline, the vision and foresight of a post-war Labour town council prompted it to buy a lot of land and to make the town very attractive to businesses. At a time when it was not a fashionable occupation for Labour councils, it wooed businesses to come to Swindon, and that has been the basis of our prosperity for many decades.

We have been open to the world economy, however, and we now face very particular challenges, from which there is no hiding place. Chinese exports to Europe have increase 100 per cent. in three years, for example, and up to 5 million European and American jobs will be outsourced in the next 15 years. Moreover, many people now realise that we face competition not only from low-wage and low-skill economies. Every year, universities in China and India turn out 4 million graduates.

Nowhere can escape change. Each of Swindon’s major employers has experienced radical restructuring, including W.H. Smith, Asda and Zurich, and Motorola is now consulting on further redundancies. Even the most successful companies in our town are having to face these challenges. Swindon is a prosperous town at the moment, but that prosperity cannot be taken for granted. We must remain attractive to the employers who are going to bring in the high-skill, high-value-added jobs on which our future prosperity depends. That means not only that we need the right skills base but that the town must have an attractive environment.

The employees on whom those employers will depend are highly mobile, not only within the United Kingdom but throughout Europe and across the globe. Their skills are highly in demand and they can move anywhere, so we have to make the town attractive to them. If we do that, we will have a better chance of attracting the employers on whom the town’s prosperity depends. I made this case strongly to the Government a few years ago, and I was able to persuade them to bring in an urban regeneration company, now known as the New Swindon Company. It is regenerating the town centre with that vision very much in mind, and about £1 billion worth of redevelopment will take place in due course. The University of Bath is planning to locate a major
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campus in Swindon, which will also be crucial to providing the basis for the high skills on which the town’s prosperity depends.

We have to get the vision right, and we have to do so now, while these decisions are being taken. This not a party political issue. I represent the Labour party in North Swindon, but the town council is now Conservative dominated. However, all these decisions will have an impact long after everyone who is now active in local politics has departed the scene. We have to get it right. That is our duty as local politicians. But these crucial decisions are being made, primarily by the town council, without sufficient ambition for the town. We have to compete with other towns not only in the United Kingdom but in Europe and across the world. We have to be more attractive than towns elsewhere, but the town council does not seem able to grasp that vision. I want to explore this point in relation to cultural regeneration and to more general environmental concerns.

The town council has a vision for the town centre, working with the New Swindon Company, that will undoubtedly result in a significant improvement on what he have now. Any hon. Members familiar with Swindon town centre will know that that would not be hard to achieve. However, when the town council talks about building a desperately needed new library, why does it not talk about building one of the best libraries in Britain or Europe? If we consider the example of Tower Hamlets, we can see what an imaginative borough council can do. There is a wonderful new library there called the Idea Store. It is visionary and exciting, bringing in local people in a way that no one would have imagined 10 or 15 years ago. But Swindon does not think in that visionary, imaginative way. Swindon borough council has to learn from elsewhere, and to think about how it can compete with Tower Hamlets and everywhere else in Europe. We are also talking about building a new concert hall in the town, but we are not talking about a concert hall that would be capable of attracting world-class performers. We should be.

The Swindon local area agreement has just been signed off, and it represents an important step forward for the borough council. It is an improving council with a great deal of support from central Government, and the local area agreement brings together many local agencies in a worthwhile way. I have been urging the borough council for a long time to have a visionary theme to underpin its work, but what did it come up with? It came up with, “Swindon—the UK’s best business location”. Any town is likely to want to be that, but we must look a little more deeply to avoid a bland and meaningless phrase.

There is nothing in the local area agreement to suggest why Swindon is going to be the best business location. I very much hope that it will be, but we have to work at that, not just assert it and assume that it will be true. We have to produce the infrastructure and resources that will make it the best business location. The targets in the local area agreement are, of course, good and will improve the position on the ground in a range of different ways, but they are not very ambitious. They are, for the most part, pretty much in line with targets that the Government have set centrally. All that the local area agreement is doing is mimicking those targets. It is good, but not good enough.

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For three or more years, I have been begging the council to develop a green vision for the town and to make it the centrepiece of the local area agreement, but I am afraid that I have been ignored. Everyone accepts that, in climate change, we face one of the greatest problems in the history of our species and that if we do not tackle it now, the consequences for our world will be incalculable. We all have to make a contribution: it is not just a matter for international agreements and national Governments; we have to act personally and in our local areas. We have opportunities to do that and other towns are doing it.

A Conservative council in Woking is doing fantastically good work in energy conservation. Why cannot the Conservative council in Swindon mimic what a Conservative council in Woking is doing? I am not sure that Swindon council is even aware of it. There is absolutely no evidence that it is on its agenda at all. Reykjavik, to take an example from Europe, is already piloting running its buses on hydrogen. When we are having a major regeneration and re-sculpting of the town centre, why cannot we find something as imaginative and visionary as that in Swindon? When Isambard Kingdom Brunel built the town, he had a wonderful far-reaching vision, which now seems to have been ignored.

I shall conclude with an example of how difficult it is to persuade Swindon borough council to be more ambitious for the town. Nearly two years ago, I held a meeting in the House of Commons, to which I invited the then leader of Swindon borough council, its officers and various other local dignitaries, as well as a distinguished galaxy of representatives from some of our leading cultural institutions. We had an interesting lunch, in which these distinguished representatives of some of our leading, world-class institutions came up with their ideas about how to transform Swindon with a cultural vision based on lots of exciting and stimulating concepts. No one would expect the town council to take ideas away from the lunch and implement them, but with so much expertise and incalculably valuable advice being freely offered, one would expect it to explore some of those ideas.

After the meeting, I wrote a note summarising some of the ideas that were proposed and sent it to the borough council. I asked how it would like to proceed and how I could help it, but to this day I have received no reply and, needless to say, none of the ideas has been pursued. A truly ambitious council would have taken those ideas and run with them. All the decisions facing the town now—what to do with the town centre, the new university, the redevelopment of a big site owned by the Science museum in Wroughton in the south of Swindon—desperately require a bold and ambitious vision if the town is to compete successfully with other towns in the UK and across the world.

Time is running out, as the important decisions are being taken as we speak, and the town stands to benefit from them, but it will not necessarily be good enough. We are not ambitious or competitive enough in Swindon. I am desperately worried that, unless the borough council wakes up now and realises that it is competing throughout the world with similar towns that are ambitious and competitive in their approach to the great challenges of the future, our prosperity may soon become a distant memory.

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2.59 pm

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): I am pleased to be able to participate in this Whitsun recess Adjournment debate and to raise some important issues that are of major concern to my constituents in Bexleyheath and Crayford. Those mainly concern crime, antisocial behaviour, vandalism, graffiti, juvenile drunkenness, gangs and the availability of knives across the constituency—in fact, across the borough of Bexley.

Those problems, which mainly affect town centres in our borough and in my constituency, particularly Bexleyheath, Crayford and Welling, have spread to residential areas. There is an increasing problem—an epidemic—which is the No. 1 concern of residents in our borough of Bexley. People feel that not enough care and consideration are being given to those issues by national Government and that their quality of life is being affected.

The police, the national Government and the recently defeated Bexley council all said that they were concerned and talked a lot about the issues, but people locally feel threatened by behaviour of the sort I am describing—in the streets, the shopping centres and their homes—and that the Government have not addressed it.

The Prime Minister raised the respect agenda, but many in my area feel that it is just another gimmick. We have two good local free-sheet newspapers. This week, one, the Bexley Extra, has a headline “Boy, 15, Stabbed Opposite Church”. The other, the News Shopper, has a headline “Teenage Rampage: Knife-Wielding Youths Riot on the Streets”. Those are the things that worry and anger people in the borough of Bexley.

I listened with interest to the speech made by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), particularly the first part, which was about Hackney and the knives and the culture there. I endorse an awful lot of what she said, because we have the same in south-east London. It has already spread out, as she highlighted, to the suburbs, where there is great concern of a similar nature to that which she raised. I commend her views on the fact that we need things for the young people to do, role models and so forth. She made an important point and I am grateful to be able to follow that part of her speech.

I was also interested in remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who is no longer in his place. He thinks that the Government are out of touch with what people on the ground feel about those issues. People feel that there is endless talk and no solutions. While there are certain areas of great improvement—we accept that there are more police and more community support officers—there is still fear of crime among people and concern about the consequences for their lives. It needs to be addressed much more seriously by the Government.

On the doorstep in the recent local election campaign, one reason for the unpopular Labour council being soundly defeated at the polls in Bexley was that people felt it had not addressed those issues of local concern. Of course, other issues were involved, such as the huge council tax increase of 40 per cent. over the last four years, which did not help. The
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Conservative campaign looked at positive policies to deal with those issues of disorder, crime and antisocial behaviour.

When I was a Member of the House 10 years ago we were concerned about other issues, such as noise nuisance, neighbour disputes and lack of concern. I was heavily involved in the peace and quiet campaign, which one of my constituents, Val Weedon, did so much to lead. The campaign is now called the Noise Association. We managed to get some action taken—action to raise awareness and to get environmental health officers, housing associations and central Government to realise that quality of life issues matter.

The quality of life issues at that time were noise nuisance, inconsiderate neighbours, bad behaviour and so forth, but now we have moved on. In our area, there is intimidation, graffiti and fear of groups. That is a tremendous worry for all sorts of people. Pensioners in particular no longer want to go out in the evening.

Bexleyheath has some good restaurants and pubs, as well as bingo and all sorts of interesting evening entertainment, but pensioners are frightened to go out because of the gangs, the youths and the drunkenness. Of course, the Government’s new licensing laws have not made that easier. In Bexleyheath, binge drinking has increased and has become a culture. I am afraid that gangs of truants from school are also around during the daytime, intimidating pensioners on buses. There are many serious issues in the borough that are causing concern.

I want to mention a few areas where there have been particular difficulties. The Hadlow road area ofSt. Michael’s ward has had seven years of unrelenting problems with youths on bikes and motorbikes, and of incidents involving damage to plants and other features in people’s front gardens. The police and the ward’s newly elected councillors are looking to have a police station in a local shop to provide a police presence. One of the problems in the past has been the inability of the police to respond, as they have been diverted to other areas of the borough or into town when a need arose. Local people have therefore been without their local neighbourhood police.

However, with community safety partnerships and community teams of police officers and community support officers in each of the wards, the picture is not all negative. I know that the Deputy Leader of the House will take note of the fact that we have had more police and community support officers. We must make sure, however, that they are dedicated to the wards in question and that they deal with the problems there, rather than being diverted elsewhere, as in the past. I hope that the residents of Hadlow road and its environs will see an improvement in the near future with the rolling-out of the neighbourhood teams.

Hampton House in Colyers ward is a troubled area where people feel insecure when the pubs empty late at night, leading to a lot of noise and nuisance, especially involving youngsters who are sometimes, regrettably, under-age. Residents have their doors or windows knocked on by people passing. While none of that is criminal, it is a quality of life issue, as people feel intimidated. Young mothers, families with young children or pensioners find such situations distressing, and more police need to be visible on the beat throughout the day and particularly in the evening.

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