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25 May 2006 : Column 1721

Many hon. Members might be aware that the market forces factor is the device by which the economics of operating in different geographical areas are taken into account and, theoretically, equalised to ensure fairness around the country. The formula is a fiction. I understand that departmental officials have serious doubts about whether it is fit for purpose. It discriminates against Norfolk and Norwich hospital and results in an income reduction for it of some£5.2 million in this financial year. Addenbrooke’s enjoys a 13 per cent. advantage under the formula over the Norfolk and Norwich, yet the cost of employing staff in Cambridge and Norwich is precisely the same. All areas have to pay the same, other than London, which pays London weighting. The Secretary of State has undertaken to look at the formula. I know that it affects other parts of the country adversely as well. I hope that she will report back speedily to prevent the worst impact of the cuts to which I have referred. There needs to be a fair formula.

Finally, most hon. Members will not be familiar with the construction of the BBL pipeline—a gas pipeline to Backton in my constituency. The site takes in about a third of the country’s gas supplies, so is of fundamental, strategic importance. The pipeline is of enormous significance and the Government are desperate to get it built before next winter because they do not want a repeat of the gas shortages that we experienced last winter. Clearly, it is an urgent priority.

When such projects are undertaken local inshore fishermen receive disruption payments. The construction of the pipeline might have a serious impact on their work and livelihoods. According to the DTI, there is no legislation or set procedure to be followed regarding compensation payments. Apparently, it is a matter of good will. That causes me and many others serious concern. It is extremely important that the fishermen’s interests be protected. If something of national, strategic importance is being undertaken, those affected by it should not be forgotten.

I have particular concerns about the process that was followed. In negotiations with the company, two people represented the fishermen, Andy Roper and David Shillings. While acting for the fishermen, Mr. Shillings was offered a payment by the company. I raised these concerns with the company, but was told that I had got it all wrong, that Mr. Shillings was a representative of the company, not the fishermen, and that he would receive a payment of £50,000. I was told that this was all set out in a legal agreement and was above board. One week later I received an e-mail from the company, apologising that it had got it all wrong and that Mr. Shillings was not a representative of the company, but was a representative of the fishermen. The company apologised for the confusion. Its explanation was literally incredible.

One person cannot represent both sides in negotiations. A representative protecting the interests of the fishermen self-evidently cannot be offered £50,000 by the company with which he is negotiating. That raises a central concern: did the fishermen who depend on the North sea for the livelihoods receive a fair deal? I have raised the matter with the Government, who simply say that it is nothing to do
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with them and that it is for the company to negotiate with the fishermen. However, I should like the DTI to look into the issue. If such essential projects have an impact on other people, such as fishermen, their interests and their livelihoods should be taken into account. There should be a statutory right to disruption payments and a legal framework to protect their interests.

I have raised four issues of major concern to Norfolk, but they all have wider implications. I hope that the Minister will refer all of them to relevant colleagues.

5 pm

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): I am grateful for the chance to contribute briefly to the debate.

My constituency is the eighth richest in the country; anecdotally, I am told that we have more PhDs per square foot than any other constituency. However, representing an affluent constituency brings its own problems, which I want to highlight. It is important that the Government understand that one of the most economically dynamic areas of the country needs their assistance as much as deprived areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) spoke eloquently about the crisis facing Oxfordshire’s health services. Today, members of staff at the John Radcliffe hospital have been told the number of redundancies and job cuts that will be made. I do not propose to repeat the points that my hon. Friend made about our health service; I shall focus on some infrastructure issues that cause great concern in my constituency.

The main trunk road running through the constituency is the A34. Two weeks ago, tragically, a young man was killed crossing the road. The ensuing chaos was extraordinary to behold; it was like a scene from a disaster movie. Traffic was backed up for miles and people travelling between Wantage and Didcot took four or five hours to travel just six miles.

The A34 dual carriageway is the only road linking some parts of my constituency and some of its economic areas. There are no plans to upgrade the road for the foreseeable future, certainly not for the next10 years, yet it is of major importance, taking freight from Southampton to the midlands while serving as a local road for local businesses that have a national and international imprint.

I urge the Minister to impress on his colleagues the need for the Government to take a proper, strategic look at infrastructure in my constituency. Not only does it contain some the country’s most successful businesses, but it serves the south-east. We take most of London’s waste for landfill and Didcot power station provides power for at least a third of the homes in the south-east. We are also due to get the Oxfordshire reservoir, of which Members who take an interest in our current water shortage will be fully aware. The reservoir site is just south of Abingdon and it will be huge—four miles wide—and will provide water for London and Swindon. The scheme has been on the cards since 1990, but there is tremendous uncertainty about the plans. It will be a national decision, taken by the Government, but it will have a huge impact on my local community. There has been no discussion and the
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Government have given no indication of the impact of the construction of the scheme. There has been no discussion about the additional benefits that could come to my constituency, in terms of upgrading the local infrastructure, if the reservoir were to be built.

The other great problem that I face—many of my colleagues who represent south-east constituencies also face it—is the number of new houses being built. In Didcot, the main town in my constituency, we are getting 3,000 additional homes and we are due to get a further 5,000 if the South East England regional assembly has its way. Just north of Wantage, in Grove, which is already the largest village in Europe, another 2,500 homes have just been approved, doubling the size of the village. With up to 12,000 or 13,000 additional homes in that small part of the country coming on line in the next 10 or 20 years, it will be vital to deal with the infrastructure, and particularly the A34.

Finally, the reason why the issue is so important in terms of the Government’s national interest is that, thankfully for the people living in my constituency, an enormous amount of scientific investment is being made. The Diamond Synchrotron is due to come on line in the next year, representing a financial investment by the Government of some £500 million. That will ensure that Harwell/Chilton remains at the forefront of scientific innovation not just in our country, but in the world. Up the road, nuclear fusion research is taking place at Culham. With the opening of the ITER site in the next few years in the south of France, that work will continue to have enormous importance.

All that scientific investment means that we have a huge number of spin-off scientific companies such as Oxford Instruments and companies based at Milton park, which are really driving the British economy. However, when I visit those local businesses, they come back to me again and again with one point: the gradual breaking down of the local infrastructure. The road network is of poor quality and, recently, the Government, through First Great Western, were planning to cut train services between London and Didcot. We are still fighting that battle and we are gradually saving those train services. I hope that we will have saved them by the time that the revised timetable comes out in the autumn.

Essentially, my contribution to the debate is to ask the Government to sit at the table with my local politicians and local businesses to create some kind of strategic plan for my part of the world. We look after London’s waste; we power the south-east; in the next decade, we are probably going to provide most of the water for London; and we have thriving, dynamic businesses. However, we receive almost no Government investment or strategic help whatsoever.

5.8 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): This is the third recess Adjournment debate that I have sat through as shadow Leader of the House and, although such debates are usually seen and mainly used as a good opportunity for hon. Members to raise issues that are relevant to their constituents, it is noticeable that a number of hon. Members have used today’s debate to raise issues of concern outside the United Kingdom. It was good that the debate was opened by the hon.
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Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) with just such an appeal in relation to the recent EU announcement on fisheries in waters off the African coast—continuing his interest in matters relating to the western Sahara. He has sat through quite a lot of the debate, but unfortunately he is not in his place at the moment.

I was going to confess to the hon. Gentleman that I did not know many of the details of the announcement that he referred to. However, I felt that his comments raised an important wider issue relating to the way in which the House scrutinises decisions that are taken in the European Union. He referred to the question of what advice had been given to individual Members of the European Parliament on the fisheries issue and on how to vote on it. One of the questions that we in the House need to address is how the House can express a view before Ministers take decisions in the European Union arena, because at the moment the House is not able to express a view. Ministers take decisions and then come back with the results of those decisions. Even then, there is not adequate scrutiny.

Various other foreign affairs matters were raised. For example, the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) spoke in detail about Nigeria, a country that she obviously knows well. She talked about the need to ensure that money invested in Nigeria is used to the maximum benefit of all people in the country. She also spoke about payments by oil companies, and I would add intergovernmental support to that particular list. We need to address the aid that is given to countries more widely and ensure that it is used for the benefit of all in the country that receives it. The hon. Lady also talked about the future of Guantanamo Bay. She and several of her hon. Friends have led a principled campaign on the camp since it was first established.

The hon. Member for Stroud raised several points relating to his constituency. I noted his concerns about the environmental impact of the Severn barrage, but hope that he agrees that the Government need to broaden their policy on renewables beyond an overemphasis on wind farms, especially onshore wind farms.

I was pleased to hear from the hon. Gentleman that First Great Western was expressing an interest in improving the London-Cheltenham line. I merely caution him that First Great Western’s interest in improvements does not always turn into action through which those improvements are seen, as I have discovered during my campaign to turn back the devastating cuts in services for my constituents who use Maidenhead and Twyford stations on the main line and the branch line stations of Wargrave, Furze Platt and Cookham. I wish the hon. Gentleman well in his campaign.

I also wish my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) well in his campaign with First Great Western on services to Didcot. Some of the services for his constituents are those that no longer stop in my constituency. His constituents are able to travel on the fast line, whereas my constituents have to take services on the slow line. The battle will continue with the Government because infrastructure is important to our parts of the country. My hon. Friend talked about the importance of his constituency, but the Thames Valley area is economically important to the south-east and
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the country as a whole and good train services are a key part of its economic vitality. The hon. Member for Stroud, my hon. Friend and I share a common concern in battling against First Great Western, so I hope that we will all have some success in our campaigns.

The hon. Member for Stroud also talked about access to affordable housing in rural areas. That matter was also touched on, albeit from a slightly different angle, by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), who spoke specifically about the need for more social housing in his constituency. Access to housing is indeed a problem in many parts of the country. Many people think of it as a paradox that under a Labour Government, the amount of social housing being built has fallen dramatically. Far from providing for those people in need of social housing, this Labour Government have left them on one side, all too often forgotten. Of course, that is a legacy of the Deputy Prime Minister when he had a job to do and a Department to run, as opposed to his position now when he has a grand title, a seat in Cabinet, a Cabinet Minister’s pay, a grace-and-favour home and a car, but no Department to run.

The problem regarding the building of affordable homes in rural areas to which the hon. Member for Stroud referred cannot be addressed simply by building lots of smaller houses. Such houses can create additional problems in an area because they are often not built to designs that are sympathetic to local villages and towns. They are often built without the necessary supporting infrastructure, and, in some areas, the market means that even smaller homes are still not affordable for many. The Government need a more coherent approach on housing provision and should consider not just cramming yet more houses into smaller spaces, but the infrastructure required and support for those who are getting a foot on the property ladder. I was worried to hear reports earlier this week that the Government were pulling, or reducing, their scheme on housing for key workers, so perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House will address that in his winding-up speech.

The hon. Member for Stroud also talked about local government reform. I will not comment on his specific points about the structure of local government, but simply say that history shows us that a Government who start to focus on local government reform are generally a Government in decline.

The role of local government in attracting business to local areas was raised by the hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), who gave a spirited advertisement for the town and its need to continue to attract investment and employment into the area. He argued for vision for Swindon. I suggest that he should also recognise the need for realism. However, I am grateful to him for his effective endorsement of the concept of general well-being raised in a speech earlier this week by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney(Mr. Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition.

In addition to the international issues raised by the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, she also mentioned the important problem of gun, knife and gang crime. I very much support her view that we need to look not just at the crimes
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themselves, but at the youth culture that leads to them. The evidence is that many young men feel the need to carry knives for their own protection. However, as long as they do that, I am afraid that such crimes will continue and will increase in number, and the culture will never change.

It is our challenge to change that culture, but it cannot be done by legislation. We have had many debates about criminal justice measures, and 43 pieces of legislation have been passed in nine years, yetthe problems remain. We have never properly debated the causes of antisocial behaviour and how to tackle the culture that leads to that criminal activity.

Norman Lamb: Tough on the causes of crime.

Mrs. May: Of course, the Government came into office with the mantra, “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.” What we have is lots of legislation on crime, but nothing on the causes of crime.

The picture that the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington drew was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) in an effective contribution that painted a vivid picture of the problems in his area and the lack of activity by the previous Labour council. I congratulate the Conservative group on Bexley council on its excellent results in the local elections on 4 May.

Antisocial behaviour was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink). Sadly, the problems identified by my hon. Friends are experienced elsewhere. Last Saturday afternoon, I spoke to residents in South road and High Town road in Maidenhead about the problems they experience from gangs congregating near Grenfell park and from people walking past their houses after they have left bars. They are often young people who have been binge drinking, a problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford drew attention.

My hon. Friend also mentioned police community support officers. I agree that we need more police on the streets but, failing that, we need more PCSOs. A recent petition that I and others ran in Woodley in my constituency got more than 600 signatures in favour of a PCSO there. It is only a pity that the Liberal Democrat-controlled Woodley town council has been reluctant to find the £15,000 necessary to part-fund a PCSO out of the £1 million it takes each year from local residents.

My hon. Friend rightly said that those problems are quality of life issues and that we must have zero tolerance of crime and antisocial behaviour. It is only by not accepting that sort of behaviour and by insisting that something be done about it that we can hope to overcome the problem. If we shrug our shoulders and pass on, saying, “Well, it’s only antisocial behaviour,” the problems are exacerbated.

Local policing will not be helped by the Government’s moves to create large regional forces. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield said, those moves are often rejected by local forces. The Government’s consultation on that has been shown to be a complete sham by the number of police forces that do not want to be merged and yet those mergers are going ahead.

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On a different subject, the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) spoke about water supply, in particular leakages, but also the impact of increased costs on many people. There is no doubt that rises in the costs of utilities, together with rises in council tax, have hit many people hard, especially those who are on fixed incomes. She also referred to the water shortage in the south-east. Obviously, repairing those leaks would have a significant impact on that, but I suspect that she and those of us who spend part of our time in London should say a word of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage, who told us that his constituency is going to have a reservoir which will help to solve London’s water problems.

On the subject of water shortages, last night, I visited the 2nd Cox Green girl guides in my constituency. I answered questions about my experience as a Member of Parliament, and I encouraged the girls to think about politics as a career. I was asked a range of questions, but as we sat with the rain beating against the window, one girl could not help but ask why there was a hosepipe ban.

I suspect that water shortages are less of a problem in the constituency of the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid). He raised a number of issues that affect his constituents, most of them arising from the geographical position of his constituency. It is right to remind the Government of the problems experienced by rural areas, where the considerable distances that people have to travel make it more difficult for them to access services. They must pay high petrol prices, but the Government’s attempts to drive people on to public transport simply do not work in such areas because, as he pointed out, public transport is not available. As a result, people in rural areas end up paying more.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about the Royal Mail and the removal of the post office card account. He and other hon. Members will know that in recent months that has been raised time and time again in business questions, but the Government continue to duck the issue. May I remind the Deputy Leader of the House that the chief executive of the Post Office has said that the removal of the post office card account would result in the Post Office operating 10,000 fewer branches? The Government, however, have refused to address the future of the Post Office. They cannot continue to set their face against the issue. They must address it, as the removal of the card account will have a significant impact on the future of Post Office branches.

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