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I want to consider the post that comes through hon. Members doorsthe matter was raised earlier in an intervention. We go to great expense to screen our in-coming mail in the House. What is the point of doing that if our addresses are published en masse? What terrorist or nuisance with half a brain would send letters to hon. Members at the House when they could send them to their home addresses? What shall we do? Are we to institute screening procedures at everyones home? Will we save money and do away with the screening procedures here because there is no reason to keep them other than to protect the building, because
they sure as heck are not going protect Members of Parliament once the madness that we are considering occurs? If my address were publishedI do not believe that that will happen for the reasons that I outlinedI would arrange for all my mail, personal, abusive and professional, to be rerouted to the House of Commons to be screened before it returned to my home address. Is the House prepared to take that on and the expense that it would entail?
Mr. Evans: There is a problem of privacy with that. Private mail could come in here to be screened. I suspect that my hon. Friend does not open all his own mail and that his secretary or researcher does that. All privacy would go. There seem to be no rights for Members of Parliament.
Dr. Lewis: My hon. Friend is right. I have taken up too much of the Houses time, but I want to mention a final asinine comment by the High Court. If the law was an ass, it has been downhill all the way ever since. There are conventions in the House that we do not attack the judges, but there are also conventions that they should not attack us. They started it and, as I said, I am an Old Testament character. Let us consider the penultimate paragraph of the brilliant judgment by those brilliant men, whose home addresses, not to mention their expenses, I am looking forward to finding out soon.
We recognise that if the arrangements for oversight and control of the ACA system were to change, then the issues of privacy and security of MPs and their families might lead to a different conclusion to the one reached by the Tribunal.
After all the arguments about the cat being out of the bag because we signed various forms and so on, the judges say, Well, actually, if the ACA system were improved or tightened up, we might not say that they need to publish at all. There is something slightly wrong there. The paragraph continues:
The Tribunal was required to act on the evidence available to it,
and make its judgment accordingly. If the question were to arise again, the Commissioner, and if necessary the Tribunal, again, would have to make whatever decision was appropriate in the light of the changed circumstances.
I hope that at least my colleagues, including the 14 unfortunate ones who are already in danger of having their private home addresses published, will read my remarks. Even if they have not thought about what might happen to them in future, it might happen. Frankly, we have reached a sorry state when a so-called privileged Chamber cannot even have in it hon. Members who can be sure that at least postal access to the places where they live with their families has a minimal amount of basic, common-sense security and protection.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who spoke with passion from personal experience in a thoughtful and thought-provoking speech. I congratulate him on that. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who made an interesting speech, and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who has always entertained us and made us think deeply about the issues that confront us.
I am keen to concentrate on several issues that I believe that my constituents would like raised. Through my regular surgeries, meetings and constituency visits, I am well aware of my constituents views and concerns. However, in the past couple of months, I have been able to talk to many more in canvassing and campaigning during the London elections. We heard at first hand that they feel let down by the Government in so many ways. They feel great disappointment because they are not being listened to. They believe that the Government are out of touch with and unconcerned about the suburbsmy constituency is suburbanand that Labour has let down the suburbs. That was highlighted on all fronts in my area of Bexley and Bromley by the election of 1 May, in which the Conservatives did particularly well and the Labour party did very badly.
People in my area are concerned about several major issues, with crime and antisocial behaviour at the top of the list. The NHS is another issue of concern, particularly downgrades, closures and problems with local health services. Another concern is the closure of post offices and the relocation of one of our main post offices into WH Smith. People are concerned about the cost of living, such as the cost of food, which is increasing dramatically, and utility bills. Those issues are having a detrimental effect on the low-paid and on families and pensioners. Of course, taxation is also of concern. People feel that taxes have gone up, but that the standard of public services has gone down.
Let me address crime and policing first. I pay tribute to our borough commander, Tony Dawson, who is doing a very good job of endeavouring to deal with local problems in our borough of Bexley, such as antisocial behaviour. The fear of crime is a problem, as indeed is fear of the unknown. People are frightened to go out at night because of the gangs of youths that gather; they fear that they will be intimidated, if not assaulted.
Violence against the person has increased across London, but the most important issue is people on drink or drugs, which cause bad behaviour. I am very concerned about that. Figures show that hospital admissions linked to alcohol use have more than doubled in England since 1995, and that alcohol was the main or secondary cause of 207,800 NHS admissions in 2006-07, compared with 93,500 in 1995-96. Those statistics are frightening. I understand that there has also been a 20 per cent. rise in the number of GP prescriptions for the treatment of alcohol dependency in the past four years. The problems of alcohol and drug abuse are causing more antisocial behaviour and crime in areas such as the suburban areas of Bexley.
I also raised this issue in an intervention on the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), but it is an important point. The front page of todays
Evening Standard shows the carnage that took place in Chelsea in relation to the football match in Moscow. However, there were no problems in Moscow. Does my hon. Friend believe that that might have something to do with the proper policing there and the alcohol-free zone around the stadium, which meant that fans could not get tanked up before going to the match?
Mr. Evennett: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, with which I agree. I passionately believe that we should go back to having a police force enforcing the law, rather than a police service, which the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, seems to prefer in London. We need to look into that. I am confident that there will be a great improvement under our new Mayor of London, because he understands the issues and wants to deal with them.
I had the privilege of going into one of my wards with the safer neighbourhood team, which has been a great success. I am not here to condemn everything that the Government have done, because they have some good thingsjust not enough. That is the problem; there has been a bit of complacency. The rolling out of neighbourhood teams and police community support officers has been a good thing. I had the privilege of going out with Ross McKibben, the sergeant of the North End safer neighbourhood team, three weeks ago to see the particular problems in his patch. He and his team have done a good job, but they are undermanned some of the time and they do not work there at weekends, which is a problem.
The team deals with difficult terrain, but it is doing a tremendous job. I met the PCSOs and the team at the Howbury centre, and we went from there to the Frobisher estate, where residents have complained about the tremendous amount of antisocial behaviour, including problems with drunkenness, drugs, vandalism and damage. Residents feel intimidated, and that is not acceptable. If they cannot live in their homes without feeling intimidated every time they go through their front doors, that is a problem. Society must deal with that problem, and the police, the Government and local authorities, working in partnership, must do more about it.
Under the Conservative Bexley council, we have had considerable success in the centre of Bexleyheath with alcohol-free zones and attempts to ensure that police are visible on the streets on Friday and Saturday nights, when such problems occur. I pay tribute to the new council leader, Teresa ONeill, and her team, which continues to work with community police and the borough commander to make sure that Bexleyheath is a much safer environment for people who want to go out on a Friday or Saturday and enjoy a meal, go to the cinema or go for a drink with friends without feeling intimidated or a problem when they come out at the end of the evening.
Some areas of my borough have improved, but there is an awfully long way to go. We ought to be making it a top priority to have a police force with officers on the beat who can catch criminals, and to have less bureaucracy and paperwork preventing the police from getting out of their police stations and doing the job that they need to do.
A second area of great concern locally is the NHS, and particularly the hospital reconfiguration that the Government are so keen on. Our local accident and
emergency and maternity services are under threat, and there will be a downgrade at Queen Marys hospital, Sidcup, if the Government get their way. I am worried about that because Queen Marys is a good facility. Kate Grimes is the chief executive, and the team has turned the hospital around in so many ways, including financially. Also, hospital infections have been reduced, and the throughput of patients has been increased. I visited the accident and emergency unit at the hospital one Friday night, and I saw how dedicated and passionate its team was about serving the community. Regrettably, however, that hospital is threatened with a downgrade, because in todays society we have to merge. Queen Marys is the only non-private finance initiative hospital in the area, so it is easier to curtail the facilities there.
That is a worry. People are paying their taxes and they expect good local services. They do not want to have to travel long distances to get the health care that they need. The traffic in our area is often congested because of the suburban roads, which could result in lives being put at risk if the A and E unit at our hospital is closed and people had to go further afieldto Lewisham or Bromley, for example, or to the Queen Elizabeth hospital at Woolwich.
People are really concerned about this issue, not because everyone wants their own little hospital, but because of the practical need for a facility that is accessible not only to the people needing accident and emergency facilities but to those using the maternity services. When young mothers go to have their babies and their check-ups, they want their relatives to be able to visit them easily.
A third area of real concern is the post offices. We have raised this issue, along with that of the health service, on many occasions. Our post offices and sub-post offices are being closed, and the service is no longer there for our constituents. The Government always make excuses, but they have reduced the facilities for sub-post offices to be able to provide services, after which the sub-post offices are no longer viable. The real problem is that the Post Office does not listen. It makes decisions purely on financial grounds and then says, Take it or leave it. We recently made a good case for our Brampton road post office, which was well used and well located, yet no consideration was given to our arguments and the post office was closed, just as all the others were. That was very disappointing.
Our main post office in Bexleyheath was closed and relocated to the first floor of WH Smith. Smiths is in the middle of the shopping centre and near the bus stop, so one might think that that was not too bad. However, the new post office was upstairs. When I visited it before the move was implemented, I pointed out that the lift was inadequate for pensioners with walking frames and for mothers with pushchairs, because it was too small. More importantly, it regularly broke down. I was pooh-poohed, and the managing director of Post Office Ltd said that there was no problem and that everything was fine. However, the lift broke down not once, not twice, but three times. Finally something is being done about it, but why on earth could not the Post Office and WH Smith have done something before the relocation took place, rather than afterwards? That shows a lack of care and consideration for our constituents and for the services that they need and value. That is all wrong.
Nobody seems to listen. I know that the Deputy Leader of the House is a very nice person, but she does not listen because she is part of a Government who do not listen. She personally might listen, but then she and her colleagues just argue back at us. Even some hon. Members on her own side supported us when we had a debate on post office closures, which we only just lost. The Governments own Back Benchers felt exactly the same way as we did. Yet it made no difference and the Government steam-rollers on. I hope that they will get the result that they deserve at Crewe later today.
I want also to deal with the whole question of the cost of living. The Government are always on about the consumer price index; indeed, the Prime Minister was an expert at doing that when he was Chancellor. That was the great thing, but it is meaningless for most of our constituents, because many of their weekly costs are not necessarily included in that index, whereas the retail price index was slightly more sensible. We still hear from the Government that inflation is at a certain figure, but for pensioners, those on low pay and my constituents who are not wealthy, the cost of living is much greater than the Government will accept or admit. That is disappointing, as the cost of bread and other foodstuffs has increased quite dramatically. That is why the Government are so unpopular; they do not listen, and they are in an unfortunate position local people know that, and they voted accordingly on 1 May.
People living in my constituency have to commute and use the transport system. We have one mainline service going through to London Bridge and the City. There are three lines, but we do not have an underground. From January this year, the cost of travelling from Bexleyheath to London has gone up by 13.5 per cent. No ones pay has risen by that amount, but taxes, the cost of living and the cost of transport continue to go up. There is disillusionment. The people in my area want someone to listen, and they want a Government who will listen.
I have tried to highlight the issues that crop up again and again in my postbag, and which my constituents are most concerned about. I very much hope that the Minister will listen to some of the points that have been raised and take them back to her colleagues. It is important that people feel that their Government are not listening; we on the Conservative Benches will make sure that they do.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con):
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), who focused on a number of subjects that are important to him and his constituents. He mentioned alcohol-free zones. We should look more pointedly at that issueeven in respect of my own constituency, which is a fantastic areabecause that sort of minor antisocial behaviour affects the quality of life of many people. On 7 June, I am accompanying a local councillor, Jim Marsh, to the local police station in Coupe Green to meet local
residents who have a problem with youths who drink alcohol in the local park where children often play. That affects the quality of life of people living around the area. Alcohol-free zones may well be the answer. Such tools need to be used more effectively, particularly where trouble takes place outside football grounds, for example, often even when there is no football match going on. The antics that some of these yobs got up to last night were absolutely amazing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford mentioned the discontent of different groups of people and the effect of the abolition of the 10p tax rate on the poorest sections of society. A friend of mine phoned me up recently, asking me whether I had heard the Chancellor on the Today programme trying to justify what had gone on with the 10p rate, saying that everything would be okay as £120 would be given out to the poorest people. I said that I had heard that. My friend said that the Chancellor attempted to justify why the cost would be greater than originally stated by the Prime Ministerless than £1 billion, when it is now £2.7 billion. The Chancellor said that it was necessary because of food and fuel inflation, which meant that people needed help straight away. My friend said, Do you realise, Nigel, that the only people who are going to miss out on the food and fuel inflation money are the poorer sections of society? That was because the £120 simply takes those people back to where they were before the Budget.
The people who benefited from the abolition of the 10p rate and the altering of the 22p rate down to 20p will get an additional £120. They benefited from the Budget and will also get £120 to help them with food and fuel. The poorest sections of society will get not a penny to help them with the inflation on food and fuel that we all see when we go to our supermarkets and petrol stations. It is yet another reason why people get extremely frustrated by the Government not listening and not learning.
I, too, should like to pay tribute to Tom Burlison. He was a former secretary of the GMB and a former professional football player for Hartlepool United and honorary president of the club. I met Tom on several occasions. If ever someone was asked to describe Lord Burlison, they would say that he was hard-working, dedicated, committed and unassuming. That was another thing about Lord Burlison. When I first met him, I referred to him as Lord Burlison. He stopped me, grabbed me by the arm, and said, Call me Tom. That was Tom Burlison for you. I know that he will be missed every day by his family, but it will be more poignant when his son, Rob, who recently got engaged, gets married. Everyone who was associated with Tom will miss him too. We will miss him greatly.
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