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Mr. Hayes: Given that the hon. Gentleman challenged us to intervene, does he agree that, in addition to having the right for their children to be included in the mainstream, parents should also have the right to choose not to have them included in it if they think that appropriate for the child? Is that important to him?

Mr. Pond: I assume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to special educational needs. The Secretary of State made it clear to the hon. Member for Maidenhead that the intention is not to insist on inclusion and to ensure that special provision no longer exists. Those are not the alternatives. We are saying that we must give students and parents greater powers and rights to choose the education for children with special needs. It does not mean that schools such as the Helen Allison school in my constituency, which caters for children on the autistic spectrum, will be treated as less important. The Government believe that those facilities are important. I warn hon. Members that many of them will get a Christmas card designed by the students at that school.

I also pay tribute to Ifield school in my constituency. It is an important model because, although it is a special school, it has helped the process of inclusion by using its resources to establish the smile centre, which provides guidance, advice, support and counselling to teachers in mainstream schools on how to deal with children with special needs. There is a range of models. In addition to special schools and mainstream schools, we could also have mainstream schools with special facilities--assisted by initiatives such as the Ifield smile centre--that provide for inclusion.

I welcome the Bill on special educational needs and disability, which will provide parents and students with extra protection against discrimination. All right hon. and hon. Members will have had parents in their surgeries who are distraught because they have a child with special educational needs, but that has not been fully recognised and they cannot find suitable education. It is very important that we give those rights to parents as well as children. That can happen across the board. For instance, there is a new children's resource centre at Darent Valley hospital--[Interruption.] Hon. Members need not be too anxious. The centre receives only two sessions a week for children with statements, as opposed to the five to which they are entitled.

Ministers will be aware that inclusion means that the resources have to be available to make that possible. That point was made earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke). We must also to recognise that, in the words of the Gravesham teachers' association--to which I am grateful for providing the briefing--many effective teachers work wonders and achieve excellent relationships with pupils who are far from academic but whose progress is nevertheless significant and of great credit to the teacher, but in a way that cannot be measured.

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We also need to recognise that Ofsted's judgment of a school can sometimes be absorbed by the students. That can be reflected in their own assumptions of failure, which has an impact on their standards of behaviour. The Gravesham teachers' association carried out a survey on standards of behaviour. Some 150 teachers took part in the survey, which covered all 42 schools in the constituency. The survey defined challenging behaviour as a level with which teachers should not be expected to cope. Such behaviour was not identified in only 13 of the 42 schools.

Special needs and disruptive behaviour are not the same, although there is a link between the two, which is often expressed in terms of the resources available. So I welcome the additional resources that are being made available to deal with disruptive behaviour and special needs.

I want to talk briefly about the new deal. I share the satisfaction of my right hon. and hon. Friends that the new deal will build on its own success and become a permanent feature. Youth unemployment in Gravesham has fallen by 89 per cent. since 1997, and 855 young people have taken part in the new deal. Therefore, the Tory plan to scrap the new deal will have a very heavy price, which will be measured in terms of crime and disorder.

There is a project in my constituency that is almost unique; it operates in partnership with Kent police. Given that Kent police have overseen a 24 per cent. reduction in crime since 1997, it is appropriate that they have the biggest settlement in the country. Working with the Employment Service and a voluntary organisation called Work-Route, they have been counselling young offenders on employment opportunities and debt. Through that process, they have successfully managed to steer many of those young people away from a life of crime and into worthwhile employment activity.

Let me give an example of a young offender who was given that counselling. He came along with his father--neither of them had ever worked, but as a result of the counselling that they received, both are now in full-time and sustainable employment, and have moved away from that life of crime.

So there would a heavy price to pay for scrapping the new deal, and everyone would pay it. Such a price cannot be put on each of the jobs created and it cannot be pared away by trying to come up with cheaper options.

I wholeheartedly commend the measures that the Government have pursued so far. By pursuing economic policies to achieve low interest rates, low inflation and high employment, we have achieved a balance that has not been struck by any other post-war Government, especially not the previous ones. Those policies have given us the resources we need to invest in the public services that the Conservatives plan to cut--if they have the opportunity to do so, although the Queen's Speech will ensure that they do not have that opportunity. It builds on the Government's sound record and ensures that we shall concentrate on our constituents' priorities--crime, employment and the health service. I warmly welcome the Queen's Speech.

1.30 pm

Mr. John Horam (Orpington): I have always inclined to the view that Queen's Speeches are dangerous things, in that they predispose Governments of either political persuasion to believe that the solution to many of our

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problems is more legislation, whereas what is often needed to solve the problems we face is not more legislation, but a better managed effort on the ground, properly supported by central Government. The solution to the problem that I shall address first--crime--is not more legislation, but a more effective police force, comprising more police. If it were not such a terrible pun, I might say that I am pleading for fewer new Bills and more Old Bill.

What I am saying is especially true in London, part of which I have the honour to represent. As Sir John Stevens, chief of the Metropolitan police, pointed out the other day, we are 3,000 policemen under strength; what is more, we are 1,000 civilians under strength, which means that 200 policemen have to be diverted to perform essentially civilian jobs. Sir John described that state of affairs as "a crisis" in manpower in London.

The police in my borough, Bromley, are significantly under strength, not only in terms of policemen, but in terms of police stations. Two of the three stations in the small part of Bromley occupied by my constituency have been closed in the course of this year: Biggin Hill and St. Mary Cray. One of the finest moments of my political career occurred shortly after I was first returned as Member of Parliament for Orpington, when we opened a new police station at St. Mary Cray. Excellent police backing had a remarkable effect on crime in the area, and neighbouring areas, but now, eight years later, the shutters have gone up at St. Mary Cray police station. Those who are inclined to crime and antisocial behaviour have got the message. They are less likely to be caught, because there are fewer policemen around to catch them--it is as simple as that. As a result, the clear-up rate in my area has fallen to 14 per cent. No one is ultimately held accountable for 86 per cent. of the crime committed in my area. That is an astonishing figure in this day and age.

In places such as Biggin Hill, which lies some distance from the remaining police station in my constituency, groups of youths get together to make trouble, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings, safe in the knowledge that it will be at least 20 minutes before anyone can get to them. The police launch special operations to deal with gangs of youths making trouble, but they cannot carry on such operations for more than a limited period.

Only this week, I received a letter from constituents making precisely that point. A few weeks ago, I tried to help them with a gang of youths who were knocking hell out of the neighbourhood. Now, the lady writes:

this time, nearby. My constituents phoned the police on numerous occasions during the course of one particular evening, but were told that the police

My constituent states:

That is what is happening in parts of my constituency as a result of the police station closing and the underfunding and under-staffing of the police force under the Government. No wonder street crime in my area is up by 73 per cent.

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Fortunately for my area, we have an excellent chief inspector, Gerry Howlett, who, despite the restraints under which he is operating, has tackled the problem intelligently. Following the serious complaints made by many people, including myself, over the past 18 months or so, he has reorganised the local police force so that there are now not fewer, but more, officers on the beat. That started in October and certainly has had some reassuring effect, although the results are yet to be seen.

However, numbers are still extremely small, and the chief inspector cannot go on getting a quart out of a pint pot indefinitely. Indeed, many of the posts that he has created on the beat are filled only in theory--there are no actual policemen there, because the force is still understaffed.

As we heard from the Home Secretary recently when he outlined the provisional settlement, spending will go up by 5.3 per cent. in London in the next financial year. It is to go up by 10 per cent. overall in the United Kingdom, so I do not understand why spending in London is going up by only half the rate in the rest of the country, as it is perfectly obvious from recent events in London that policing needs more serious attention in the capital than in many other parts of the country.

Also, my local inspector tells me that as a result of the resource allocation formula operated in London, there will in fact be no increase at all in Bromley in the next financial year. He will get no extra money from the so-called 10 per cent. increase in central Government funding that the Home Secretary outlined. Once again, the suburban areas will suffer because inner city areas are given priority.

The situation is even worse than that. Not only are the suburbs not getting any extra funding, but they must pay an increased police precept on their council tax bills. Representatives of the Metropolitan police authority appeared before the London Assembly's budget committee recently and pointed out that the increase could be as much as 30 per cent.--that is, £37 for a band D house--to a total of £160. While acknowledging that the precept would go up by so much, they admitted that no extra police were likely to be available for suburban areas of London such as Bromley. It is clear that under this Government, people pay more and get less, especially if they live in the London suburbs, such as Bromley. The feelings of my constituents can be imagined.

Along comes the Mayor of London, with his proposals. He says that he recognises the problem and will appoint another 1,050 policemen. Does that number include the extra police promised by the Government? Will we get any extra policemen at all? Will the precept that he must raise to pay for his extra policemen be in addition to the precept raised for the Government's police? It seems unlikely that my borough will benefit at all from the Mayor's proposal. The situation is dire on the crime front.

I had intended to say a word about the national health service, where the situation is much the same--a worse performance in the past three and a half years, with a higher bill--but I will refrain from doing so, as the subject was fairly well covered in our debate yesterday.

Finally, I shall speak briefly about rail commuting. I notice that not only is the Cullen report mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but there is a proposed Bill on rail safety. Naturally, I am very concerned about the daily

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suffering of my commuters as they have come in and out of London over the past two months or so, since the Hatfield disaster. They find delayed trains, overcrowded trains, and sometimes no trains. That has an effect on people's work, family life and health, and they face a thoroughly wretched situation. There is daily human misery.

As the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is now here, I shall tell him that I have just had a letter from Judith Mayhew, who is chairman of the policy and resources committee of the City of London corporation. She makes the point that London's gross domestic product in 1999 was £180 billion, making its economy larger than that of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg or Sweden. She says that 4.3 million jobs--including some, I dare say, in Amber Valley, about which the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber) spoke cogently--in the rest of the UK depend on London's demand for products, including, perhaps, textiles from the hon. Lady's constituency.

We are therefore talking about the heartbeat of the British economy. People face the prospect that their daily misery in travelling to and from work will continue not just until Christmas, but perhaps even until Easter. The managing director of Connex, which is the train operating company in my area, recently wrote to me and made the following plea:

now no longer at Railtrack, of course--

The managing director of Connex says that it is apparent from a briefing that he had received from the director of

The letter was written on 4 December, but the situation seems to have got worse since the then. The managing director continues:

meaning the main lines--

Finally, he says:

I know that the Secretary of State is not directly responsible for those matters, but in view of his interest in the performance of the British economy, will he convey to the Government the sentiment that commuters should not be forgotten in the effort to return railway services to normal working?

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