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11.47 am

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip–Northwood): We look forward to the recess not least for these debates and the classic performers who take part in them. We had the end-of-the-pier show from my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). However, he did not speak about the pier this time but about a range of important subjects which are of great concern to his constituents. That has been the theme of the debate. The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) made an important speech about the London underground. The situation is important to his constituents and those of many other hon. Members from London and the country as a whole.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) referred to the state of the railway system, and we are grateful to him. His constituents suffer intolerable conditions in their daily commute to London, as do mine.

20 Jul 2001 : Column 559

I was moved by the speech of the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) about whaling; the House is indebted to him for his conscience on the matter and for his words on the importance of a national stadium at Wembley. I back him wholeheartedly on his clear message that sport in this country and the possibility of London attracting the Olympic games depend on the construction of the national stadium at Wembley. Of course, good surface transport links will also be needed, and the improvement of the tube is of central importance.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) spoke with great eloquence about the dire state of the national health service in his constituency. We share those problems in my part of London, but they are especially acute in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) avoided controversial subjects in their maiden speeches, which were impressive and made with circumspection and tact, but if they had been more forthright, they might have admitted that their constituents, too, are worried about the state of the national health service. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, whom I welcome back to the Chamber, spoke about the basic aspirations of his constituents. We are all moved by such aspirations, as we feel how far short we fall of meeting them. I have that feeling not least in relation to the national health service in my part of north-west London.

On 16 October, the Secretary of State for Health will have the opportunity to answer a question on the future of regional specialist hospital services in north-west London. I tabled the question, and I trail it in advance so that the Leader of the House can warn the Secretary of State about how vital the issue is not only for the people of Ruislip–Northwood, but for those who reside within the catchment areas of Harefield hospital, the premier cardiothoracic hospital in this country, and Mount Vernon hospital, a premier cancer centre that draws patients from as far afield as Bedfordshire and beyond.

A few days ago, we celebrated the 21st anniversary of transplantation at Harefield. It was a grand occasion. All those who work or have been patients there, as well as local people, took pride in the fact that Harefield has been a pioneering centre for transplantation. It has carried out more heart transplants than any hospital in the world, and yet the Government are prepared to allow it to close in favour of a new hospital that will be opened at vast cost in the most congested and polluted part of London—Paddington basin.

How will we get to that new hospital? We all know about the tube. Should heart patients in my constituency have to strap-hang their way to central London, any more than those in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington? Even the hale and hearty ones cannot easily endure going into central London on the train. What about road-service charges? I presume that patients from the south-east and their relatives will have to pay road-user charges—and where will they park when they get to the new hospital? Harefield hospital is in idyllic rural surroundings. It is easy to get to and has an outstanding track record.

20 Jul 2001 : Column 560

I urge the Government to think again, especially as the economy is clearly starting on a downturn. I forecast that, by 2006, when the new hospital is due for completion, the resources for such vast capital spending will not be available. It would cost only some £20 million to modernise Harefield, as opposed to a net cost of some £135 million to build the new hospital at Paddington.

Just before the end of the previous Parliament, I attended a very interesting meeting. It was addressed by Rosie Varley, who is conducting a review of cancer services on behalf of the NHS in the eastern region. It occurred upstairs and was attended by a dozen or so hon. Members from various parties, all of whom represented areas served by Mount Vernon hospital's cancer centre. It was most instructive to all of us, including Rosie Varley, to learn that we agreed unanimously that the best location for their cancer services was not some greenfield site in Hertfordshire—a proposal that is currently being considered by the NHS in the eastern region—but the wiser and more cost-effective Mount Vernon option, which is also under consideration. Co-located at the Mount Vernon hospital are research facilities of incomparable international repute: the Gray laboratory, the Macmillan centre for cancer care and Michael Sobell house, which is a wonderful hospice.

I put to the House the important issues of quality of life that affect my constituents' basic aspirations. I believe that, with imagination and good will, the Government can meet those aspirations. I ask them to think long and hard during the recess about the issues that I have raised and to give us the right answers, when we return in the autumn, regarding modernisation of the tube and encouragement of the further development of Mount Vernon and Harefield hospitals.

11.56 am

John Cryer (Hornchurch): Thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker, to speak in this end-of-term debate—or morning's whinge, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) called it. First, I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) and to the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) for their maiden speeches. The latter follows a great anti-European and DIY enthusiast who certainly made her mark in this House. I am sure that they will do the same.

I intend to speak about a couple of constituency issues, but before I do so, I should like to deal with a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), who spoke about the proposed public-private partnership for the tube. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel strongly that it was just not good enough that the announcement that sneaked out a couple of weeks ago was not made on the Floor of the House, and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions was not present to answer our questions about one of the most momentous announcements on London transport that has been made for a long time.

There are grave questions about the viability of the PPP. The biggest single fear at the back of people's minds is that it could, to some extent, replicate the disasters of railway privatisation under the previous Government. No clear line of management responsibility was established when the railways were privatised. Contracts can fly all

20 Jul 2001 : Column 561

over the place, so there is no bottom line. However, when it comes to safety, a clear line of responsibility is exactly what is needed. If that is not achieved on the tube, we could witness the replication of some of the problems that have arisen on the railways. I would like the former Ministers who privatised the railways to be called before a public tribunal of inquiry to explain exactly what they were doing and tell us why they privatised the railways in the way they did.

I should like now to deal my two main constituency issues. First, I want to speak about mobile phone masts—a controversial matter for many hon. Members. The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) expressed grave anxiety about his unplanned erections. He was very excited about them. Who can blame him? Two days ago, I attended a protest at St. Mary's Catholic primary school in my constituency. Approximately 100 parents and teachers turned up to protest about a mobile phone mast, which is being built roughly 50 yards from the school. Neither BT nor the local council undertook any consultation; that is not good enough. The entire process flew in the face of the findings of the Stewart report and the recommendations of the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions in March. Both the report and the DETR made clear it that it was not acceptable to build mobile phone masts close to primary schools. The skulls of children under the age of 12 are not sufficiently developed to withstand the impact of the radiation that mobile phone masts can emit.

The Stewart report and the DETR proposals recommended that the normal rules for planning permission should be applied to mobile phone masts below 15 m as well as to those above 15 m, as currently happens. Clearly, the recommendations have not been followed in the case of the mast near St. Mary's school. It could have been resisted; consultation could have taken place. Consultation is not compulsory, but there is nothing preventing a council or BT from engaging in a consultation exercise that would at least give parents, residents and the school some warning. I intend to work closely with the head of St. Mary's, parents and local residents to try to reverse the decision.


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