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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I should tell the House that, so far, Back-Bench speeches are averaging 20 minutes. That will prove the road to disappointment for many hon. Members, unless we can improve on that.

6.29 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): I shall endeavour to keep my comments to a minimum, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper), but I am afraid that I intend to return to the subject of London. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) on making an extremely thoughtful speech on a subject that she obviously cares about greatly, and on which she has a great deal of knowledge. Certain Members would be wise not to paint her as a caricature; they should listen to what she has to say on this important subject.

I welcome the fact that this debate is being held on the Floor of the House, although we have had some interesting debates on London in Westminster Hall. I notice that some of the regular London debaters from Westminster Hall are not in their places today. That is possibly because hon. Members feel a little less constrained in what they say in Westminster Hall. For example, Labour Members have made some very intelligent criticisms of the Government. If the Minister has not yet read the speech made a few weeks ago by the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) on housing in London, I recommend him to do so. It was a model speech about the problems London faces.

London is a great place to live if one is a have—usually the owner of a property—as opposed to a have-not. Middlesex is even better and in Uxbridge we benefit from a position that is close to the centre, being a good location for business and transport, as well as having easy access so that people can enjoy the countryside.

London has much wildlife, and not only on the outskirts. I can recommend the Barnes wetland centre, which is not many miles from here. This season, three bitterns have wintered there. Before a Liberal Democrat jumps up to point out that the centre is in one of their constituencies, I should point out that the only feature they have in common with the birds is an ability to sit on fences.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Another thing that we have in common is that we have paddled through some very rough water.

Mr. Randall: I shall endeavour to observe the strictures of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood

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and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) about not being partisan. I just fell victim again to the temptation to be partisan about the Liberal Democrats—it is like retaliation on the football field, in that one feels like doing it even though one knows one should not and might get a red card for it.

One of the problems with politicians is that we are always taking credit for things that our party has achieved. We also like to ignore those things that we did not get right or left undone. That is true of all parties. However, it is only fair to Londoners to say that London owes its position as a great city today more to the endeavours of Londoners—be they native Londoners, people who have come from elsewhere in the country or people from outside the country—than to any political party.

London has some great universities and in Uxbridge we have Brunel university. Some of the problems we have mentioned with the cost of living—property prices, affordable housing and rents—impinge on students. If we want to encourage people to come to London to study, we must recognise that students face those problems, too.

If everything is so wonderful, hon. Members might wonder what I have to complain about, but as well as some of the greatest advantages, London has some of the worst pockets of deprivation in the country. Hon. Members have mentioned the problem of affordable housing. Well, we want more houses, but we do not want to build on our open spaces. We must consider ways around that problem, including high-density housing, although we must be careful that we do not recreate the problem estates with the high-rise flats that were a big mistake. As we all now know, having a nice environment in which to live and work has a knock-on effect on how people behave.

The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) mentioned The Mail on Sunday and its report on hospitals. I am not a regular reader of that newspaper, but I was told today by the Uxbridge Gazette that Hillingdon hospital got one star—the lowest rating. It does not merit such a low grade. Members of Parliament often receive the bad news on hospitals in complaints from constituents, but when we visit the hospitals we often see the reverse because things are laid on especially for us. I know from my family's experiences, and those of neighbours and fellow residents, that the hospital is not always so bad, but matters are not improving. Much of the problem is caused by staffing difficulties.

I am sorry to see that the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), has left the Chamber briefly—even though he has left an admirable replacement—only because in a previous incarnation he dealt with health matters. I want to remind the House of the terrible decision to move Harefield hospital into central London. That sums up some of the problems we face. We are trying to stop people driving into London, but that hospital was moved from the outskirts to the centre. It is better to live on the outskirts of London, and I would have thought that convalescing in Paddington basin is a lot more difficult than in rural Middlesex.

Antisocial behaviour and the general lack of visible policing is a subject on which I hear more complaints than any other at the moment. The problem is real. We have four police stations in Hillingdon borough and none of

12 Mar 2002 : Column 806

them has a front counter that is open 24 hours a day. That worries people. Statistics show that not many people attend the front counter of police stations, but the lack of them is a psychological blow and people find it difficult to accept that the police station is open.

The antisocial behaviour that other hon. Members have mentioned seems to be on the increase, although I congratulate the Hillingdon division, which is trying to muster as many men, women and vehicles as it can to go out on Friday and Saturday evenings to tour round looking for, in particular, youth crime. I went out with them recently, and West Drayton and Hayes on a Friday evening were everything that I dreamed they might be.

The quality of life for the people who have, whom I mentioned earlier, can be very good. London can be a super place to live, but that quality can be fragile. Certainly for those who have not, London can be an unpleasant place to live. It has some of the worst accommodation and can be a very lonely place. We do no service to our constituents, or to Londoners generally, if we ignore those problems. I mentioned the problem of unemployment in an intervention during the Minister's speech and I accept his point that it is not the Government's fault. Although levels are relatively low at the moment, compared with other parts of the country, things could get worse quickly. More job cuts are on the horizon.

We know about the problems of public service workers and the lack of affordable housing, but workers in the private sector—for example, in retail—also suffer. We cannot get enough bus drivers or postmen, and that affects the quality of life.

I was disappointed by the Government's amendment, although I know that it is their job to respond to our motion. It is unfair to say that the Opposition are talking London down. We are not. We are trying to raise awareness, because the danger that might result from talking our capital city down could also arise if people who do not want to acknowledge that a problem exists continue to look through rose-tinted spectacles. There has been a hint of that among Labour Members this afternoon. Without awareness, we will never be able to address the problems that affect us all.

6.40 pm

Joan Ryan (Enfield, North): I, too, shall concentrate more on London than on the south-east in general. I shall speak mainly about my constituency of Enfield, North, and about the borough of Enfield.

I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) speak about abandoned cars. That is clearly a huge issue, as abandoned cars blight localities. I very much welcome the White Paper on abandoned vehicles, and it was interesting that the hon. Gentleman did not answer a specific question about whether the Opposition had responded to it. We must conclude that the answer is no, although we stand to be informed on the matter.

However, I was surprised by the hon. Gentleman's remarks most of all because some months ago I raised the matter of abandoned cars at Prime Minister's Question Time. Opposition Members fell about laughing that afternoon, and I was greeted with a huge amount of derision. It was quite intimidating, but I continued with my question because the issue is so important. I am sure

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that Opposition Members intended to be intimidating, but their reaction showed merely that they have—and have had for many years—a complete lack of regard for what I call the nitty-gritty issues to do with quality of life.

I shall return to the bigger policy areas, such as unemployment and housing, but the real, nitty-gritty issues to do with quality of life are those that face people when they open their front doors. If people do not feel empowered to do anything about those issues, it is highly unlikely that they will engage in the bigger policy areas.

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