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7.8 pm

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb). He gave a kind, generous speech in tribute to his predecessor and will clearly bring a gentle and reasoned voice to our debates. I spent many childhood holidays at Cromer zoo in his constituency and I wish him well in this House. [Laughter.] I was not one of the exhibits, I hasten to add.

It is a costly business to be returned as a Member of Parliament. Four weeks ago, I had three suits that fitted snugly and a new pair of shoes. In the past four weeks, I have lost more than a stone in weight, my suits all need altering and my visits to the houses of 15,000 of my constituents have worn through enough shoe leather to keep all the cobblers in Brent, North extremely happy for the next four years.

So I stand before the House today a man much diminished, but a politician with a hugely increased majority. I thank my constituents for the trust that they have placed in me, and I thank my wonderful colleagues and friends in my constituency party. Their amazing support, dedication and sheer hard work, not just over four weeks but over four years, have turned a 10,000 Conservative majority into a 10,000 Labour majority in that short space of time. There is no such thing as a safe seat. There are only seats that are worked, and seats that are not. In Brent, North, we certainly intend to go on working ours.

I loved every minute of the campaign and, if she is listening, that includes the harangue that I received from one mother outside Byron Court school. As I said to my

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campaign colleagues that afternoon, "I don't think that we were going to get her vote in the first place." What I love is that a campaign takes one as close as one can get to what people are really feeling and what they want done by us in government. Therefore, in rising to support the Queen's Speech, I bring to the debate not the think-tank theory of a policy unit but the raw concerns of my constituents from the doorsteps of Brent, North.

I welcome the commitment in the Queen's Speech to strengthen the police's ability to fight crime. In Brent, we have a good story in that 31 new police recruits have been allocated to the area this year, bringing the force up to full strength for the first time in many years. We have been particularly successful in targeting burglary, which decreased by 16 per cent. last year as a result of a Government-funded Crimestoppers II initiative. However, violent crime in Brent has increased and we need the powers to bring it under control. Much of it is fuelled by drugs and turf wars between dealers and different gangs.

I welcome the proposal to establish a criminal assets recovery agency to get at the proceeds of crime. Drugs are a business, and if one deprives that business of its profits, it will cease trading, just like any other business. Tackling drug crime will not only reduce the instance of violent crime, it will impact on street crime and domestic burglary as well. We know that so much of that crime is committed to obtain money for drugs. Drugs are the cancerous heart of the world of crime and we must ensure that we give the police all the resources that they need to defeat the drugs barons.

I should also like the Government to consider legislating to double the maximum penalty for anyone dealing in drugs to children within half a mile of a school, as they have done in some cities in America. We must legislate to protect our children and deprive the dealer of the concentrated customer base that schools currently provide.

Later, I shall be pressing the Government further about the need to include qat on the list of proscribed substances. Today, I shall simply say that it is all too clear to my constituents, particularly in Sudbury, that that drug is a serious social evil. It has been the cause of a serious arson attack as part of a turf war, and a crowd of young men chewing the drug in one particular area have intimidated and threatened ordinary passers-by, demanding money with menaces.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I must remind him that we are now debating the amendment to the Loyal Address and not the Queen's Speech in general. Although the amendment is termed fairly widely, he really must concentrate his remarks on those terms.

Mr. Gardiner: I am focusing my remarks on that part of the amendment that focuses on world-class public services, and I believe that the public service that police provide is absolutely central to the needs of my constituents.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I judged that the hon. Gentleman was hanging on by a thread and have tried to strengthen his position.

Mr. Gardiner: I take the admonishment in good part and shall try to observe your strictures.

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I have placed the fight against crime and drugs as the first message from the doorstep because it is fundamentally a democratic right that our citizens should be free to live their lives without fear. The commitments of the Gracious Speech on police matters and combating crime are therefore particularly welcome to me.

Another feature that will certainly be welcome in Brent, North is the commitment to reform our health system. We have benefited greatly from the Government's capital investment in our local hospital, Northwick Park, which is one of the 182 accident and emergency departments that has been entirely refurbished. With capacity doubled to 90,000 admissions annually and a separate children's A and E to separate children from the Friday night drunks in the main casualty, the facility is faultless.

The best facility in the world, however, is no use unless it has the staffing and back-up to make it function properly. My constituents still wait far too long in casualty because of a lack of nurses and doctors and because the medical beds are four floors above in the petty empire of a different consultant. That is the type of obstacle to efficient health care that our Government must, and I trust will, sweep aside. Managers are often derided in the NHS, but the blame equally often lies in the stupid empire building of consultants who run their own departments to their own satisfaction, not to say their own convenience, and refuse to consider the needs of the hospital as a whole and to put the needs of the patient first.

I am confident that we shall increase the number of nurses and doctors, as we have said in the Labour manifesto. I also trust that we shall be equally robust in reforming the structure of our NHS hospitals to break through the artificial logjams to in-patient care. My constituents have been pleased to see us deliver world-class buildings, but they will not be satisfied by anything less than a first-class service.

I listened with interest to the mostly excellent maiden speech of the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), who will clearly be an effective contributor to the House. Naturally I could not agree with him about his desire to see the national stadium relocated closer to his constituency, and I shall gently remind him on every future occasion that in his maiden speech he bemoaned the over-development in his constituency. I shall continue to assure him that the national stadium would definitely be an over-development too far for his constituents.

The national stadium is at Wembley, and the national stadium must stay at Wembley. It is vital not only to the economic regeneration of all of north-west London, but to football itself. It is of course possible to build a stadium for less than £440 million--Cardiff, Paris and Sydney are all examples of excellent stadiums built for less. Sadly, however, they all make a loss, not a profit. The new national stadium at Wembley needs to generate revenue that the FA can feed into the grassroots of the game. To do so it needs to incorporate elements that will create that revenue.

I welcome the recent news that Multiplex and ING are prepared in different ways to back the Wembley project to ensure that it is financially viable. I urge the Government and our new team at the Department for

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Culture, Media and Sport to do all that they can to back Wembley as the home of football and of our new national stadium.

Integral to that project is the transformation of the London underground and the transport infrastructure off the north circular. The public-private partnership proposals must not only deliver the promised £13 billion of investment, but the integrated system, with unified central control maintained in the public sector, that the Government have promised. I am confident that our Government can deliver that. I believe that it is vital not simply for the future of projects such as Wembley but for the future economic viability of many areas in the penumbra around London that we should do so.

The transport infrastructure has been the subject of much of this debate and is of course integral to the success of cities such as London. London has problems with its rail transport infrastructure, but although people have talked about the need to renationalise, I do not believe that that is the answer. Instead, we must resolve the problems caused by the separation of track companies from rolling stock companies. Such problems have regularly been highlighted in the House, particularly by the Public Accounts Committee. That system was produced in the wrong way by the previous Government.

A system must be introduced in which Railtrack and the operating companies are brought together in defined regional networks so that they can operate in an integrated manner, ending the divide that we have seen to date. Perhaps we should also make the inter-city network an entirely distinct structure. I believe that we must rejoin the track and rolling stock companies, and I hope that the Government will consider new models and new ways of delivering that to the public.


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