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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): As a Member of Parliament for a Yorkshire constituency, I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says. It seems to be one long whinge about unfair treatment of London and the south-east. Many of my constituents, and many people living in the three northern regions, look at the 70 per cent. of resources in the strategic rail plan that will be spent in London and the south-east and compare it with the tiny amount that is to be spent in the three northern regions. The debate is not particularly edifying for most people living in other parts of the country who look at the affluence and splendour of public and private investment in London and the south-east.

Tom Brake: Perhaps I should not have given way to the hon. Gentleman, who has only just appeared in the Chamber. The important point about the tube—it is not a whinge—is that although his Government have apparently devolved power to London, they have devolved none whatever on one of the most critical issues that it faces and are unwilling to give up the reins on the future of the tube.

More general environmental issues, other than the travel experience, are also important for quality of life. Several hon. Members referred to abandoned cars, litter and so on. I remind the Minister of the recent debate on graffiti and the cost to the boroughs of cleaning it up: they have to pay about £3.5 million across London, and transport providers face a similar cost. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) challenged the Minister for Local Government about his view on the London Local Authorities Bill. Indeed, I challenged him a couple of weeks ago during the debate about graffiti. He may have had time to reflect further on the matter, on which he said he was neutral.

Perhaps the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs will tell us whether he personally—he need not necessarily express a Government point of view—thinks that there are good grounds for stopping the sale of graffiti products to under-18s whom the retailer suspects will use them to deface each and every flat surface in the vicinity. I hope he will respond, as he should not underestimate the importance of the issue, which is very significant in terms of quality of life. Indeed, the crime and disorder audit produced by my local authority refers to graffiti as a key issue raised during a two-month period last year. Police visibility was the first concern, but the second major issue was graffiti and vandalism, so it is clear that people want the problem to be dealt with.

I would have liked to deal with many other issues, but I will listen to what the previous occupant of the Chair said about keeping my speech short. I wish that other hon. Members had done so. I should like briefly to draw attention to a police issue and mention concerns about a potential shortage of detectives in the Met. Detectives work unpaid overtime, but sergeants coming up through the ranks do not want to take on such a work load and can see their colleagues working seven days a week. A problem may be building up, as there will be a significant impact on quality of life if those ranks are not being filled.

Hon. Members also mentioned the need for affordable housing. The Government's key worker schemes are welcome, but they do not scratch the surface of the

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demand that is out there. My local authority has very few housing places; there is perhaps one place for the police and 10 for teachers, but we need fifties or hundreds of them. The Government clearly need to consider the matter, as lack of housing affects quality of life severely.

On airports, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton tried to clarify the position in respect of London's third runway at Heathrow. If the development proceeds, it may have a significant impact on the quality of life not only of the people who live around the airport, but of everyone who lives in London.

This debate has highlighted many of the concerns of Londoners and others in the south-east, including crime, fear of crime, streets that are dirtier than those in Lusaka, according to a report published yesterday, and high pollution and congestion. It has also highlighted the advantages of living within easy reach of our capital city. Quality of life in London and the south-east will improve only once transport, affordable housing and health care provision show signs of improvement. The Government's actions have so far made little or no difference, and the quality of life monitor continues to flat-line.

8.25 pm

Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): I hoped that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) would develop his theme about public squalor and private affluence as it existed before 1997. Listening to some of the speeches made from the Opposition Benches, one would think that Britain before 1997 resembled Roy Plomley's desert island—Sue Lawley's version might be a bit too modern. Under the Tories, this was not an island with a few seagulls and records, the Bible and complete works of Shakespeare; it was one where people's personal security was threatened by rising crime and their financial security was affected by job insecurity and negative equity. It was indeed an island of private affluence and public squalor.

Many of the social attitude surveys carried out towards the mid-1990s showed that the degree of acceptance of inequality that people were prepared to give in the 1980s had evaporated and that there was a genuine aversion to the inequality that had been created. That aversion was greatest among the highest socio-economic groups, because their quality of life was also being diminished by the sort of society that had been created in London and the south-east, as well as throughout the rest of the country. It was not only the poorest who were affected. In London and the south-east, however, the pressures were even sharper, because the inequality was greatest there. The prosperity, where it existed, was at its greatest, but the squalor, poverty and deprivation were very often at their sharpest.

I wonder whether anyone remembers the words of a former Minister for Housing and Planning about the homeless; I think that the hon. Member in question entered the Chamber at one stage during the debate. I refer to the predecessor of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government who complained at having to step over the homeless on his way to the opera. Even his quality of life was diminished by the inequality that had been created, but what about the quality of life for the homeless themselves, the 4 million children living in

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poverty and the pensioners who were fearful of using heating during the winter months in case they could not afford to pay the bills?

In the past few years many of my constituents have at long last started to see the improvements in quality of life for which they have waited too long. Most important is growing prosperity, underpinned by careful economic management that has delivered the lowest mortgage rates for a generation, low and sustainable inflation and rising employment. That has ensured that we have real security in relation to our homes, living standards and jobs, and there has also been major inward and public investment in our public services. The overall result is a 10 per cent. growth in employment in Gravesham. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) would wish me to point out—he cannot do so himself, for reasons that the House will understand—his constituency, which is next door to Gravesham, has seen a 19 per cent. increase in employment under the current Government.

In sectors such as construction, employment has increased by 56 per cent., and it has increased by 25 per cent. in transport and by 45 per cent. in other services. Again, the overall result is a halving of unemployment and a decline in youth unemployment of almost three quarters. Quality of life for those people has been immeasurably improved by what has happened to the economy locally and nationally—an improvement that is underpinned by increasing security.

Getting a job was not always a route towards a better quality of life. We all remember the old Conservative mantra of "low pay or no pay". That was the only choice on offer: people either had a job that was pitifully badly paid, or they were threatened with having no job at all. We have broken through that to ensure that millions of our fellow citizens can have a job with dignity, a decent wage—through the minimum wage—and a decent level of income to meet the cost of their children, through the working families tax credit, which is soon to be replaced by a system of new tax credits that will make a real difference to their living standards and quality of life.

Many hon. Members have referred at some length to crime, which is the main determinant of a poor quality of life for many of our constituents. I will not go into great detail about my constituency, because we had a full debate on this issue on Friday, to which I was able to contribute, although others were not. I was able to point out in that debate the achievements that we have made in reducing the level of crime and social disorder in Gravesham through investment in the police and in resources such as closed circuit television.

I will, however, give one example of a particular estate in my constituency, Lorton Close, which has a high proportion of pensioners and people with disabilities. Real fear existed there when I was first elected to represent Gravesham in 1997—not of their new Member of Parliament, I hasten to add, but of crime and social disorder. I am pleased to say that, in that small area of my constituency, there has been a 75 per cent. reduction in crime over only five years. For the first time, many of the residents feel that they have real quality of life, and the ability to go out, even after dark, without fear of being subjected to crime and disorder.

We are not complacent, however, and we know that a major factor in reducing the quality of people's lives is the fear of crime, if not crime itself. That fear is enhanced

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because we still have a major problem with youth disorder, vandalism and intimidation in the streets. That problem may not be serious enough—certainly in the case of some decisions by the courts that I have regretted—for the people involved to be brought to justice. Nevertheless, it creates a climate of fear.

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