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21 July 2009 : Column 825

I was at a demonstration outside the station last Saturday, at which we were saying, "Boris, give us a lift." That is the very least that he could do in the circumstances. It is unfortunate that the Government's stated aim of having step-free access to public transport so that it can be really and truly accessible for everybody is being frustrated by this ridiculous funding row. Again, I would be grateful if the Deputy Leader of the House could assure me that she will convey to the Secretary of State for Transport my extreme displeasure, as well as that of my constituents and-more importantly-that of the tens of thousands of people who use Finsbury Park station every day. They want an accessible, usable, efficient station; they do not want a lift that goes halfway. That is simply ridiculous. It is up to the political structures to ensure the right outcome.

My final point also concerns transport and the railways. I am pleased that my Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) is present today, because we both have the great privilege and honour of representing two of the constituencies through which the famous Barking to Gospel Oak railway line runs. The line was earmarked for closure during the dark days of Mrs. Thatcher. Since then it has been reprieved, but some of us are determined that it should be electrified, so that freight transport running between the east and west coasts could use it, and so that it and the rest of the North London line could operate as one system using the same trains, all powered by electricity. If we electrify the Barking to Gospel Oak line, improve public transport and cut pollution, London will be an even better place than it already is.

8.15 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). For the first time in living memory, he has made an entire speech without calling for the abolition of the British strategic nuclear deterrent. I shall try to follow his example and refrain from discussing defence issues in the course of my short contribution. I also pay tribute to the particularly impressive speech made by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten). Naomi House, the children's hospice to which he gave great credit, provides a wonderful service to my constituents as well as to his, and I warmly endorse the plea that he made on its behalf.

In the time available to me tonight, I want to touch on a principle, a policy and a tribute. The principle is that the fluoridation of water should not be carried out without the general consent of the people affected by it. In an unusual, and quite positive, cross-party alliance, the Liberal Democrat councillor, Councillor David Harrison, who represents Totton in my constituency, and I, as the Conservative MP, have been working together to try to involve the ombudsman in exposing the corruption of a flawed consultation process that completely ignored the fact that 72 per cent. of the people who responded to it were against that kind of mass medication.

I will say no more about the specifics of that case, however, because the matter is now subject to judicial review and I do not wish to trespass on that territory. That is why I shall talk only about the principle. The
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problem was first highlighted in March 2005, when the Water Fluoridation (Consultation) (England) Regulations 2005 were being debated in the upper House. Earl Howe, the shadow Health Minister, drew the House's attention to regulation 5, which was passed into law. It states:

The noble Earl Howe asked what this was supposed to mean, and pointed out:

Earl Howe emphasised the words "majority of the local population" and went on to observe:

Neither do I. However, even if 72 per cent.-or 100 per cent.-of the people oppose mass fluoridation of a water supply, as long as the strategic health authority can satisfy itself that the health arguments outweigh the opinions of the people affected, their opinions can be ignored. Only the courts and the ombudsman can do something about this; MPs evidently have no influence, and we must await the results of the case to which I have alluded.

I now move on to my policy issue, which is the policy of Associated British Ports. Having been massively defeated after a year-long inquiry in its wish to build a giant container port on Dibden bay in my constituency, it is beginning to return to the subject again. Let me quote what Mr. Doug Morrison, the port director, had to say to my constituents:

That seems rather reminiscent of the film "Jaws": at the outset people are being gobbled up by a great white shark, but we should remember what happens to the shark at the end of the process.

Finally, I come to my tribute. This is very sad indeed. On 11 September 2001, a brilliant and beautiful young woman, a fashion designer, was due to be at the twin towers. Fortunately, she overslept and missed the catastrophe by minutes. She was in London on 7 July 2005, and although she often used the bus service that was bombed, she did not use it on that day, fortunately. Last November she was working in her boutique in Notting Hill when a psychotic serial robber confronted her with a knife, but she still managed to outwit him. But on 3 July this year, she was in her flat in Camberwell and was one of the six people killed by the fire there.

Her name was Catherine Hickman, and she was known as Cat. Her parents, and her sisters Elizabeth and Sophie, are my constituents. Her parents, Pip and Flo, are putting up with their terrible loss with amazing dignity, as is Mark, her partner of four years. I would like to ask everyone here-those representing all religions
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and none-to bear in their thoughts and hold in their prayers the Hickman family, as we remember a talented young lady who, like her family, was and is a credit to our community.

8.22 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), and the whole House will of course send its condolences to the Hickman family.

I want to raise two issues of concern within my constituency that are linked to large-scale planning developments. One is, of course, Heathrow expansion-the threat of the third runway and the sixth terminal, which, as Members will know, threaten the demolition of Sipson village, with 2,000 residents losing their homes, their school, their community centre and the entire village. The third runway also threatens Harmondsworth, Harlington, Cranford Cross and Longford villages, so people living there, too, will lose their homes, either through demolition or because they will have been rendered uninhabitable by air pollution and noise pollution. Those homes are already blighted. The families are unable to sell their properties if they wish to move, and mortgage companies will not lend to any purchasers. As a result, my constituency includes families with children who are trapped-in some instances, in one-bedroom or studio properties-and older people who are unable to sell their properties if they want to retire and live nearer to their families.

BAA introduced a bond scheme, which effectively means that BAA promises to buy the properties affected by Heathrow expansion, but the problems with the bond scheme are the cause of real anxiety. The scheme does not cover all the properties affected by the expansion, and the payment levels, based on valuations of the properties, do not reflect their true value. When people lose their home, there is no compensation within the scheme for the costs of moving or losing their whole community. The bond scheme, furthermore, does not commence until the planning application for Heathrow expansion is actually submitted. That could be years, given the current economic climate and the chaos within BAA and its owner, Grupo Ferrovial. As a result, people are trapped in blight, often in overcrowded and inappropriate accommodation, and unable to plan their lives while this uncertainty hangs over their heads.

BAA promised to bring forward the implementation of the bond scheme within weeks-but that was six months ago. I met its representatives, who argued that the problem lay with the individual airline companies, which had to guarantee the liabilities of the bond scheme. A number of them have refused to sign up, and BAA says it cannot secure their agreement. I asked those representatives whether they wanted the Government to intervene, and they said no. We cannot go on like this. It is damaging the lives of my constituents, so I urge the Government to set a deadline of no more than, say, two months, and if BAA does not adhere to its commitments and promises to my constituents to bring forward the start of the bond scheme, the Government must intervene to force it to do so.

The real solution is, of course, to scrap the third runway proposal once and for all. I do not believe that I know anyone-other than the Prime Minister and the
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chief executive of BAA-who believes that the third runway proposal will go ahead. It is dead in the water, but what my constituents want are absolute commitments not only that the proposal is dead, but that it will never be revisited. My constituents want some safety and security for their homes, and they want the end of the threat to their communities.

The second largest development in my area is the Southall gasworks site, which involves the largest planning application for housing development in west London-on the site of a large gasworks. There will be 4,000 new properties, shops and a school. It is located in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Sharma), but it abuts my own constituency. The major road accessing the site will run through my constituency from the Hayes bypass.

The development poses the threat of immense growth in traffic and associated air pollution in an area already designated as an air pollution management reserve. I have become increasingly aware of the potential dangers to my constituents from pollutants on this highly contaminated site. The developer's own report now confirms that the contamination includes oil and tar waste, which forms carcinogenic hydrocarbons, and heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, cyanide and asbestos. The developers intend to excavate and treat those dangerous materials on site, but I am meeting members of the community who are extremely concerned about the risk that those materials will pollute the nearby Yeading brook and enter local water supplies.

I am also extremely anxious about any attempts to transport those highly toxic materials through my constituency. The local Hillingdon council, I have to say, has done virtually nothing to explain the risks from the site development to the local community. The only public meetings on this planning application have been convened either by myself or by Friends of Minet country park, of which I am vice-chair. Not a single meeting open to the general public has been convened by the council to explain the potential risks of the development.

I want to raise my concerns in the House, to draw attention to the risks and to urge the Government to maintain a close watch on that large-scale development and its environmental impact. I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to take the matter back to the relevant Ministers. We in the community are launching a campaign to ensure that my constituents are fully aware of the risks and are fully protected. We will submit our views to Hillingdon and Ealing councils to ensure that the proper inspections take place. Yes, we will urge those local authorities to ensure that conditions are attached to the application that protect my constituents from the increase in traffic and, more importantly, from the threat of pollutants from this contaminated site. If the application is to go ahead, I believe that every condition that could be applied should be applied, to protect the local community and the local environment.

This site is also close to Guru Nanak school, one of the most successful schools in the country, where the Government have invested large sums in the expansion of both the primary and secondary school. I want to ensure that that school and its pupils are fully protected and fully safe. I also want to ensure that Minet country park is protected from the damage that could be incurred as a result of the development. On that basis, I give notice to Hillingdon council and others that my community
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will not stand by and allow our environment to be polluted by the development-even if the council is standing by and doing nothing.

8.29 pm

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD): I am pleased to have an opportunity to raise what is an important and urgent issue in my constituency.

The House has often debated, and dealt with questions about, Zimbabwe and the difficulties experienced in that country. Some 12 years ago my local church, Saltash Wesley Methodist church, established a twinning arrangement with a church in Mbare, a suburb of Harare. During the first few years of that arrangement, we enjoyed four annual reciprocal visits. One involved young people from Cornwall going to Zimbabwe to help build water tanks.

That was a long time ago, and over the intervening nine years there have been no opportunities for the visits to continue. However, despite the great difficulty that arose, connections have continued through e-mail and letters between families, and support has been given to the people who are living in such desperate circumstances. In more recent times a number of members of the church have supplied funds for the education of Zimbabwean children, and nearly 100 have benefited. A great deal of moral support has also been provided.

Earlier this year, when there were signs that Zimbabwe might have a real opportunity to emerge from its darker times, the churches decided to try to re-establish the original relationship-or friendship-through reciprocal visits. It was decided that it might be possible to bring a number of leaders from the church in Mbare to Cornwall this year. That involved great difficulties relating not only to the funds that would have to be arranged, but to choosing the people and ensuring that the visit would be successful. It involved planning for the future, and re-establishing relationships that had been somewhat curtailed over the intervening period. However, as a result of all the planning over six or seven months, the money was raised, it wad decided who would come, and everyone was looking forward to a visit between 24 September and 7 October this year. The air tickets had to be purchased before the application for visas, but they were subsequently bought. The visas for the eight people who were to come here were applied for in Pretoria, which is now in charge of visa applications for Zimbabwe.

It was a cause of huge disappointment and great regret that only a couple of weeks ago, with only a few weeks left before the visit, all the entry clearance visa applications were refused. We are talking about people who have provided leadership in Zimbabwe: ministers of the church, youth leaders and people who had worked on environmental projects. We are talking about people who had given dedicated service over a long period. They had met all the necessary requirements, and they were, of course, hoping to come to this country to re-establish a relationship that went back more than 12 years.

It seems to me that the entry clearance officer examined all the available information and decided that perhaps these people of honesty and integrity, who had clearly
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served their communities in an excellent way, were not the sort of people who would come to this country and then willingly leave. He, or she, believed that those people intended to come here, stay here and not return to their home country. That was despite the fact that they would be leaving families and friends, and despite clear evidence from people in this country, including me and, indeed the superintendent minister of the church. We had given details of the programme in which they would be involved and the issues that they would discuss with us. We had also given an absolute assurance that they would not reside here or impose a burden, but would come to re-establish friendships and then return to the country with which we have maintained a twinning arrangement.

I plead with the Deputy Leader of the House to consult the Minister for Borders and Immigration. They must recognise that these issues will continue. If we are to support people in Zimbabwe, we must recognise the opportunities to re-establish relationships and friendships between organisations, churches, families and people. This is a great opportunity to bring eight very good people back into this country so that a relationship between two churches that has lasted for more than 12 years can be re-established, and so that-hopefully-a group of people from my church in Saltash will be able to visit them in Zimbabwe next year.

The twinning arrangement has been mutually beneficial. It is not a one-way exercise: great benefit has been gained from an arrangement that has been undergone through such difficult circumstances. However, after those people had done all that they could, after all their funding had been arranged, their tickets purchased and their accommodation fixed, they were told "You cannot come here, because we think that you are coming purely in order to stay here." That is an insult to them, and it is a disaster in terms of this country's relationship with Zimbabwe.

I very much hope that the Government will intervene. I hope that they will recognise that visits and relationships of this kind are worthy of support, and that those people will be able to come to Cornwall, enjoy their stay, and return to their country reinvigorated.

8.36 pm

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to be able to contribute to the debate. I wish to raise three substantive issues, but I shall begin by displaying the same level of indignation as my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle).

I was promised a Jobcentre Plus facility in Dursley, in the south of my constituency, some six months ago. The jobcentre there had closed a couple of years ago. I had no angle on that, because there were reasons for the closure, but there was a need to open another centre, and the fact that that failed to happen is an indication of the Government's failure to address rural issues. I hope that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will convey my indignation to the Department for Work and Pensions, because there is an urgent need for the Department to act.

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