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Mr. Hammond: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Raynsford: I have given way many times, and I must make progress.

Worry about graffiti is growing and the costs of removing it are high. It is not only the costs of cleaning and repairing damage caused by graffiti that are important; it can spoil enjoyment of public places and add to the sense of fear and insecurity in local communities. It can feed a fear of crime, even though there may be nothing, statistically, to back that fear. If graffiti is left untouched for lengthy periods, it can send out a message that no one cares about the area and that, in itself, can bring problems of decline to rundown local neighbourhoods. Action against graffiti should form part of the local strategies for public reassurance and for tackling antisocial behaviour. We expect crime and disorder reduction partnerships to lead such initiatives locally. I commend the initiative of several London boroughs, particularly Lewisham, which has been extremely successful in engaging local communities in effective action to remove graffiti as soon as it appears.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Raynsford: I give way to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton.

Mr. Edward Davey: On graffiti, will the Minister tell the House whether the Government support clause 18 of the London Local Authorities Bill, which would make it an offence to supply, in the course of a business, aerosol paints or indelible marker pens to any person who appears to be under the age of 18?

Mr. Raynsford: Unlike the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar I am very familiar with the London Local Authorities Bill and have had several discussions with the Association of London Government and with

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officials to explore the way in which we can facilitate the passage of the Bill through the House. Clearly, we are neutral on such measures, and we want effective powers that enable local authorities to take action against the kind of problems that have been highlighted.

We are also acting to improve and speed up the process of dealing with abandoned vehicles, which is also one of the subjects of the Bill to which the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton just referred. We have had very positive discussions with the Association of London Government about that particular part of the Bill. Our consultation on measures to reduce the notice periods before abandoned vehicles can be cleared off the streets finished on 31 January, and there was widespread support for our proposals. We shall introduce legislation shortly.

The Government also strongly support the capital standards programme, a four-year pan-London street cleaning campaign that was launched earlier this month. That is an excellent example of the Mayor, the ALG and the London boroughs working together to improve the quality of life for people in London.

Finally, in thinking about the future of London or any large city, we need to be aware of the threats as well as the opportunities for improvement. The terrible events of 11 September demonstrated the importance of thorough and comprehensive preparation of preventive measures and contingency plans to cope with any eventuality. Over the past six months, the London resilience sub-committee, which I chair, has been overseeing detailed work to identify the full range of potential vulnerabilities as well as drawing together all the parties who need to be involved, including the emergency services, transport providers, utilities, local authorities and others to address them.

Mr. Hammond: In view of the Minister's obvious concern about the threat from terrorism to London, does he not find it odd that the Metropolitan police is now proposing to sell one of its three helicopters? That will leave only one machine available, at any one time, to cover this very large city.

Mr. Raynsford: The Metropolitan police service has been closely involved with all our discussions about London's preparedness to cope with any eventuality. It has not indicated a particular operational reason to raise the issue of a helicopter with me in that context. This is an operational matter for the Metropolitan police, and a matter for its judgment. I assure the House that the Metropolitan police is fully engaged—and very much in the driving seat—in the arrangements to ensure London's preparedness to cope with any eventuality.

All of us who have the honour to represent this part of the country know full well that London is a great city and that there is much to be proud of in the quality of life that people enjoy in London and the south-east. We know that there is still an enormous amount to do to reinforce London and the south-east's strengths and to overcome their weaknesses, and we are determined to achieve this. Working with the Greater London Authority, local authorities and others, we are tackling the problems

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caused by years of chronic underinvestment in our public services. Putting right that underinvestment lies at the heart of ordinary people's concerns.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) rose

Sandra Gidley rose

Mr. Raynsford: We are providing substantial extra funding for health, education, housing, transport, fighting crime and to make sure that our most deprived communities share a better future and have better services. After years of Tory failure, marked by recession, unemployment and underinvestment, in which our public services were run down and devastated, in which our environment was despoiled and in which the people of London and the south-east saw their hopes and aspirations betrayed time and again, we are at last now seeing the real benefits of a Labour Government working with others to secure a bright future and a better quality of life for all in the south-east and London.

4.56 pm

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) in two respects. First, I congratulate him and his colleagues on calling this debate. It is important that we focus on the quality of life in London and the south-east because it affects our constituents in the varied ways that he and the Minister have mentioned. I was surprised, however, that neither of them concentrated on issues involving the south-east and linked them to London. The Minister touched on that, but he did not make it the main focus of his speech. I shall try to correct that omission in my remarks.

We support the Opposition's motion even though it is very mild. It contains serious omissions—I shall come to them—but it would have been churlish to amend it. I reassure the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar that the Liberal Democrats will support the motion in the Lobby tonight.

Bob Spink: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Davey: In a moment.

It is important that we send the united message that Labour is letting down London and the south-east. We heard that story in the remarks of the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar. The streets of London are filthy, public services in London and the south-east are breaking down and crime on the streets is rising. Those fair and valid criticisms can be targeted at the Labour Government, and the House must send the message to the people of London and the south-east that those are our complaints and that we will campaign hard until the problems are put right.

Mr. Rammell rose

Bob Spink rose

Mr. Davey: I give way to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink).

Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman has referred to omissions, but did he note that we did not hear a single

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word from the Minister about pensions and the special plight of the elderly in London? I hope that, like us, the hon. Gentleman will consider that issue.

Mr. Davey: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but he should be careful on that point. I cannot remember the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar mentioning pensioners, either.

Some of us are not surprised that Labour has let London down. The Cabinet is made up of people who are anti-London. Time and again, by their policies, the Government have undermined the share of funding available to London. I do not know why the Cabinet is so anti-London but, as London is the most dynamic, diverse and successful city not just in this country but probably in the world, it is madness that the Government are not backing London and the south-east.

I also want to congratulate the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar on his bare-faced cheek. There was not a single apology for the part that the Conservatives have played in the problems facing London and the south-east. What about the rail fragmentation, which is one reason why our railways and transport system are in such a mess? What about the cuts in the national health service and in police numbers that occurred under the Conservatives? What about the underfunding of councils from which so many councils in London and the south-east have suffered? Moreover, the hon. Gentleman provided no alternative. There is a serious case for reallocating the number of Opposition days to give more to the Liberal Democrats. If the Conservative Opposition cannot propose a decent alternative, leave it to the Liberal Democrats, because we will certainly provide one.

As I have said, there were major omissions not only in the hon. Gentleman's speech, but in the motion. For example, it does not mention housing. As all Members from London and south-east constituencies know, housing is utterly central to the quality of life. The lack of affordable housing is undermining our public services. If we cannot give nurses, police officers, teachers and many other public sector workers who are serving our people decent housing, how can we improve their quality of life? That is an appalling omission.

A second major omission is poverty. Although London may be one of the richest cities in the world—the Minister said that inner London, as a sub-region, is one of the richest, if not the richest region in the European Union—some parts are among the poorest in the European Union. Many of our fellow citizens suffer from grinding poverty and huge levels of inequality, and it is outrageous that Conservative Members did not mention that in the debate or in their motion.

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