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That is the policy that I espouse, and I guess that it is shared by those Ministers who are responsible for the Thames Gateway. However, there is a quango—I forget its name—that is the Government organisation for the
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east of England. I do not know the names of the people who are its members, but I am sure that they are very busy. They claim that the Lakeside basin retail area should not be allowed to expand, on the grounds that it is not a regional shopping centre. That is an incredible and fantastic thing to suggest, but apparently that designation is critical to the area’s ability to expand. Clearly, people and interests across this east of England, of which by accident we are members, are frustrating the Government’s policy. I want to see joined-up government, and I want Ministers to tell these people to get real. We need this development to pump-prime all the other worthwhile initiatives that are planned by Thurrock urban development corporation.

In parenthesis, anyone who knows Thurrock knows that, but for a decision taken at 3 o’clock in the morning in the Committee stage in the House of Lords in 1963 on the London Government Act, we could have been in London. We are London people; we have London’s river, we have London’s port; we work in London. To put us in the same pot as Norwich and Yarmouth is bonkers, but that is what is happening. I just ask for some common sense to prevail in the corridors of Whitehall.

To rub salt in the wound, my constituency is still required to absorb London’s waste. You see these wonderful barges, Madam Deputy Speaker, passing the House on the river. They are about the only bit of river traffic there is. They are heading for Thurrock with London’s rubbish, and with it we will not put up much longer. We are not having it. It is unacceptable that my constituency should take London’s waste.

I refer in particular to a place called the Mucking site, which is situated on the borders of my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela E. Smith). Our constituents have had to put up with the tipping of waste for decades. We have been promised time and time again that the life of the Mucking site would come to an end, but recently Cory waste management company sought planning permission to extend even further the life of the tip so that more barges can go down the river and deposit London’s waste. It is unfair, it is unacceptable, it is bad environmental policy and we have had enough.

A planning permission was granted and then snatched back by Thurrock UDC, which is now the planning authority for these matters. It granted permission about a week ago, only to find that one of the persons who sat on the planning committee was disqualified from so sitting. I welcome that, because it allows a rethink on the approval. It should not have been granted, first from an environmental point of view and, secondly, from a statutory point of view, because one of the people who voted— voted in favour, I am told—should not have been there at all.

John Bercow: I do not know whether the offending waste management company knew when it hatched its plan that it would be violating the boundaries of the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, but if it did not, it certainly knows now. Would it not be wise to recognise that it has met its match and should give up the unequal struggle?

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Andrew Mackinlay: It is kind of the hon. Gentleman to say that. I have been pursuing the question of the tipping of waste in my constituency and elsewhere for the almost 15 years that I have been a Member of Parliament. The tipping of waste is particularly offensive, and I will do everything that I can to frustrate it, especially now that, almost by accident, this irregularity has arisen. I should make it clear that I do not think that there was any intended malevolence in the irregularity, but serious irregularity it was. Now it has been discovered, it allows the people who make the decisions to think again and reject the application.

I know that many other hon. Members want to speak so I will conclude on a seasonal point. Hon. Members will have coming to their constituencies every week people who have genuinely faced some of the most traumatic personal experiences. They may have seen loved ones murdered or experienced other atrocities against loved ones or themselves. It is not adequately conveyed in the press that there are large numbers of people who have rushed here having endured the most awful and real persecution.

It occurred to me when I was at a church service this weekend that we should remind ourselves that 2,000 years ago a little Jewish boy with his mummy and daddy fled mass genocide and went to Egypt. We do not know whether the tabloid press of Egypt of the day said, “All these Jewish carpenters coming and taking our jobs,” and so forth. It is just possible that the good people of Egypt were a shade more compassionate than some people here are today. As we are in the period of Christmas, it is important that we as legislators—who are probably sensitive to the matter, whatever our views about immigration, asylum and refugees; there are some genuine debates—should state that we have been confronted in our constituency surgeries with the stark reality of persecution. We need to remind others that that is so. While there may be arguments and debate, this country has a proud tradition of harbouring people who have endured persecution, and we must not ever give that up.

2.26 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): It is always useful to be able to raise one’s own constituency items in such debates, and there are a few of those to which I particularly want the attention of the House to be drawn before the House rises for its Christmas Adjournment.

In October I secured an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall on Backdale quarry and Longstone Edge. In my opening remarks I pointed out that this was the second debate that I had had on the subject. The first was some nine years earlier, when we wanted the Government to explain why one of the sites on Longstone Edge was being quarried without the new planning procedure having been followed. It was causing great concern in the Peak District national park.

When I first raised the matter with the Minister, I was told that it was a local matter—but the quarry is in a national park. This is not a local issue; it is a matter of national importance. In the light of various planning decisions that have been changed in the courts, I emphasise yet again to the Government the importance of this area.

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Longstone Edge is a spectacularly beautiful area at the moment, but with the amount of quarrying going on in unregulated circumstances, it is in grave danger. I received a letter just the other day from the British Mountaineering Council, which says:

by the planning inspectorate—

This is continuing to cause great upset in a national park, which has some 20 million visitors each year to explore the natural beauty of the area. The controversy surrounding the planning permission has been going on for more than nine years, which is simply not acceptable. I think that the Government should take urgent action on what I believe is a national issue.

I want to raise another concern. Over the past10 years, the Government have told us about their commitment to education—to “education, education, education” as we heard the Prime Minister say before he was elected to office. That rings fairly poorly at the moment in the area of Stony Middleton. Its school, which serves an important local community, is threatened with closure. It used to be the case that if a school were threatened with closure, an MP would be able to take a delegation to see a Minister to make the case for the school not to close. That has changed, as the Government have removed that right. I very much regret the lack of access to the Secretary of State, as I would like to explain why we believe that the local education authority decision is wrong. It is a retrograde step made by the Government, who have removed the final right of appeal of MPs to Ministers. As I said, I very much regret that. I hope that the local community, which is trying so hard to save the local school, will be successful and manage to save it.

As Members of Parliament, we should have the right to appeal directly to the Secretary of State when schools in our constituencies are threatened with closure. I was able to do that about 15 years ago when Muddington school in another part of my constituency was being threatened with closure, but since the Government have changed the law, we are no longer able to do so.

I have also raised on a number of occasions the issue of the resurfacing of the A50, which is a brand new link road—linking the M1 and M6 and passing through a village called Doveridge. When it was constructed, it was built on a concrete base and I had assurances from
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the then Secretary of State for Transport—now the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—that the road would be resurfaced. That assurance has now been reversed: we are told that it will no longer be the case and it will not be resurfaced. Quality of life and the environment are important to people, and the amount of noise coming from the concrete surface is unacceptable. I still try to hold the Government to account for their original promise to resurface that particular section of roadway—a promise given from the Dispatch Box by the Secretary of State, which the Government have, I am afraid, gone back on. Perhaps it does not surprise me that much, as we have had so many Government promises on these issues and so many of them have not come to fruition and not been fulfilled.

We have heard a lot about the national health service over the last few months. The Whitworth hospital in Darley Dale in my constituency has a maternity unit operated by the Chesterfield Royal hospital. It has been a vital source of community care in the area, particularly in the rural parts of my constituency. It provides a very important local community service. At the moment, because of an incident that happened a few months ago, it is closed. Coinciding with that closure is a review by the trust of the whole future of maternity services in north Derbyshire. I personally believe that the current closure will actually lead to a permanent closure, which would be a terrible loss of a very good local service.

Let me tell the Minister that it is no good for the Government to keep telling us how much extra money they are putting into the health service, when so many people are seeing services in their communities withdrawn. If we lose the maternity unit service at the Whitworth hospital, my constituents will not say, “Isn’t it wonderful that the Government are putting extra money into the health service?”; rather, they will ask, “Where is all this money going, when we see such a reduction in the services that we value so much in our local areas?” I very much hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will be able to reassure us today that the consultation will not lead to a reduction in service. If the Darley Dale maternity unit closes down, that is exactly what will happen.

A constituent, Nicola Smith, came to see me at my surgery on Friday. She wrote to me, saying:

She is coming to the end of her course, but she is concerned that she will not be able to get a job. It is ridiculous for the Government to spend huge amounts of money on training people if the jobs are not there for them to pursue at the end of the training. We all heard this morning about the case of physiotherapy nurses who, after a long period of training, also face the possibility of being unable to secure a job.

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I am very concerned about the future of the Darley Dale maternity unit, which is why I have raised these concerns today. I very much hope that my fears of closure are premature and that it will not happen.

Last week, we heard a statement from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the future of the Post Office. I have already seen a number of post offices close in my constituency, and I fear from his statement last week that we are going to see many more close, including some in my constituency. The Government say that that has nothing to do with them at all. We are told that the Government have supported the Post Office and the problem, as the Prime Minister tells us, is all to do with people deciding not to use post offices. I find that to be an insensitive and insulting comment from a Prime Minister who has taken vast amounts of work away from the Post Office so that post offices cannot survive.

The Government say that they have to respond to the problem, but they forget to say that part of the reason for the problem is the Government’s deliberate desire for people not to use the Post Office. Ministers tell us that the BBC’s decision was taken independently, but we are often told that we have joined-up government in which different Departments talk to one another. I greatly fear for the future of the rural structure of the Post Office in my constituency. We have already seen approximately 17 to 18 closures over the past 10 years and I think that, as a result of the Government’s decisions, we are going to see many more.

I have read much about the next issue that I want to raise, and I have met many people who are worried about it, although it may not have had the airing in the House that it should have done. I refer to the future of the rural economy. People often pay more for a bottle of water than they pay for a bottle of milk now, so milk producers now face serious problems.

When people go my constituency to enjoy the beauty of the countryside, the landscape that they see does not exist because of nature, but because farmers look after and maintain it—because farmers love the countryside in which they work and operate. More than 1,000 milk producers are going out of business each year, and we will see more of that. At the end of the day, this country will be much sadder and less attractive if our agriculture is not looked after and supported. The very fact that farmers get less for milk today than they did 10 years ago, and that the wholesales are making a lot more profit on milk, is very bad news indeed. I do not believe that the Government really care about the countryside or agriculture at all, but they ignore them at great cost to the natural environment of this country.

2.40 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): I wish every hon. Member, all the staff and all those who provide us with our security and food in the House a very happy Christmas and restful new year.

I also felt that my constituents would have a happy Christmas—I attended a celebration last Thursday evening of a Eid, Hanukka, Diwali and Christmas joint event in the integrationist-minded Muslim community centre at Eton road in my constituency—but on Friday
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morning, I attended a meeting, also in my constituency, with the local health bosses of the four primary care trusts, two acute hospital trusts and mental health trusts and representatives of the London region of the NHS to discuss a programme called “fit for the future”. That was referred to in passing during last night’s Adjournment debate on the fantastic new Queen’s hospital in Romford, which is a great tribute to the record investment, which has increased from 7 to 9 per cent. of gross domestic product under this Labour Government. But plans are now afoot that will make health and hospital provision in my constituency seriously worse for many of the poorest people if the plans that are envisaged for the “fit for the future” team are not stopped.

I want to spend some time dealing with that issue because I am very conscious that people all over the country raise their concerns about changes in the health service, but I am doing so in a context where we do not have static population in east London and we do not have changes in technology that can be used alone to justify changes in provision. A massive increase in population could take place just when significant reductions in hospital provision are planned in my constituency and across Ilford.

The four PCTs in outer north-east London—Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge and Waltham Forest, each of which is borough-based—plus the Barking, Havering and Redbridge acute hospital trust, which has two hospitals, the new Queen’s hospital in Romford, which has taken over the work of the old Oldchurch and Harold Wood hospitals, which have been closed, and the King George hospital in Ilford, which was a new hospital, built and opened in 1993 in my constituency to replace an old 1920s facility, plus the Whips Cross university hospital, which is based in Leytonstone and is principally a collection of 1920s and 1930s buildings, and the North East London mental health trust, which covers the whole of those east London boroughs, are discussing those proposals in detail.

Those involved have come up with five options. Given what I was told on Friday, it is clear that they favour what they call option 4, under which the accident and emergency department at King George hospital, Ilford, and the children’s accident and emergency department will be closed and all elective work in the hospital will be ended. Although a new independent sector treatment centre is just about to open, it has a five-year contract for a minimum number of operations. It will be there for five years, but not necessarily for much longer.

Over recent months, we have had a series of what the local NHS bosses call stakeholder workshops, run by a firm of management consultants called Finnamore. They have taken the circumstances of a few dozen local people supposedly to model various options with various weightings, which are then supposed to give an objective outcome of choice. They have had problems with their process. They were supposed to make the proposals public by the end of the year. They now intend to put them to the boards of the four PCTs in January. If they are approved, they will then go to the London NHS in February. A public consultation exercise to rubber-stamp the process will then be run for three months, presumably from March until the end of June or July.

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