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9.19 pm

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham): I saw the sands of time slipping by during the brief speech—some 20 minutes—of the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies). I shall keep my remarks brief because other Opposition Members wish to speak. I want to raise an issue of fundamental concern to my constituents in relation to the quality of life in my part of south-east Hampshire—housing development.

In the past 20 years, the amount of housing in Fareham has increased dramatically. Twenty years ago, the part of the constituency in which I live was comprised purely of strawberry fields. Now the only indication that strawberry fields were there is a road called Strawberry Fields. The growth in housing has put immense pressure on Fareham's infrastructure. There is chaos at junctions 9 and 11 of the M27 and development in the Gosport peninsula has caused traffic problems in Gosport and Fareham, and has exacerbated problems at junction 11. The infrastructure needed to support the housing development projected by the Government and imposed on the borough to date is simply not following that housing development.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hoban: I will not. It is 9.21 pm, and other hon. Members are waiting to speak.

Infrastructure is required to support the housing development that is in progress and is projected, but the Government are not delivering it. A light rail system is planned for the area between Fareham and Portsmouth, but it will not address traffic issues in the west of the constituency, where many people live.

The other problem is the pressure on schools. Brookfield school, a very good comprehensive in my constituency, has reached its capacity of 1,750 pupils. Pupils who live close to the school have to be bussed across junction 9 of the M27, along the main route from the west of the constituency into Fareham, to another school. Valuable educational resources are therefore being absorbed by school transport costs. Traffic problems in the area are being exacerbated by the number of children who have to be bussed from their homes to the school, simply because the secondary school infrastructure is not in place to cope with the expansion of the population in the west of the constituency.

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The problem with the way in which the Government fund the increase in school places to reflect housing development is that it is piecemeal. Sufficient resources are provided to deal with the financing of primary schools but not to deal with the financing of new secondary schools. The west of the borough is in need of those resources.

My argument is that control of housing development should rest with the local council. For far too long, there has been interference from central Government—of both persuasions—in housing development. The Government have increased by 25 per cent. the number of houses that should be built in two developments on sites in my constituency. That puts more and more pressure on the infrastructure. Control of how many houses should be built and where they should be built should be given back to local councils. It is disappointing that the Green Paper on planning advocated more centralised control of the planning system, removing from local councils and local people the power to decide what housing development is best for their area. People in Fareham want a system that achieves a better balance between the infrastructure that is available and the housing that is imposed on the borough by Government plans. That would be an important move forward. The way to improve the quality of life in the south-east is to restrict housing development and to allow the infrastructure to support the existing housing.

9.24 pm

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Hoban). I wish that I could say that I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Geraint Davies)—who is no longer in his place—but I do not want to mislead the House.

I welcome this debate on the quality of life in the south-east. I want to mention two key problems in my constituency, Witney, in Oxfordshire, which falls within the south-east region. First, I want to refer to the state of the public services, and particularly the problem of recruitment and retention of staff, which is the biggest difficulty that we face. Secondly, I want to refer to the issue of housing, which my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham just mentioned. There is a conflict between the need to protect the countryside and the need to build affordable housing at the same time.

Mr. Love: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Cameron: I will not give way, because we have very little time left.

I shall briefly argue that, in many ways, the answer to both problems is a form of devolution, but not the devolution that the Government are talking about. The regional development agencies and the regional assemblies are a waste of money. They are talking shops, and they do not solve problems but add to bureaucracy. The real answer is proper devolution of power and authority in the public services so that teachers, doctors in hospitals and police forces have greater power and responsibility.

The Thames valley has the third lowest number of constables per 100,000 of population in the whole country. We keep trying to recruit more policemen under

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the crime fighting fund and all the other initiatives, but we have fewer policemen now than we had a year ago. They are travelling to low-cost areas, such as Cornwall, north Wales and Northumberland, or to the Metropolitan police where they can earn another £6,000 and the Met can pay the cost of their travel. We face a real problem in that regard, and I can say the same about nurses and social services. The answer is devolution and the end to national pay scales. We must give devolution and devolved power to the public services.

The same points apply to housing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham said, we all want greater provision of social housing. My local authority, West Oxfordshire district council, is spending £20 million on social housing, but why cannot it be given the responsibility for deciding on housing needs in the area? We had Serplan and the Crow report; then we had the Prescott scheme and now we shall have the Raynsford scheme under which 39,000 houses a year are to be built. My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) spoke movingly about this issue. Why do we need centralised targets? Why do we not give power to local authorities? That would be proper devolution, and not the false devolution of regional development, regional assemblies and the vast cost that they involve.

When Conservative Members draw up policies, we should concentrate on considering how we can improve the quality of life for people in the south-east by devolving power. The quality of life is all right for the better-off in the south-east, because they can buy their way out of lousy public services and they can afford the house prices. However, the less well-off in our constituencies suffer because we have not devolved power in the way that I have suggested. That is what we should do.

9.27 pm

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): I shall be extremely brief.

My main concern is house prices in my outer-London constituency, which are high because of its proximity to central London.

Mr. Love: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Angela Watkinson: No, I will not, but it is always a pleasure to meet one of nature's gentlemen.

Since mortgage interest tax relief was abolished, stamp duty has gone up by an average of £650 on a band D house and the council tax is rocketing in Upminster. Those factors combine to squeeze out Upminster families. The people who have lived in Upminster all their lives now have to leave the area, because they cannot afford to stay. The same applies to teachers. When a teaching post is advertised in Upminster, the only people who apply or who can afford to take the post are teachers from another school in Upminster. Therefore, there is no net gain to the teaching body in the constituency.

We face a parallel problem with hospital staff. We expect a new hospital to be finished in 2005 and a housing development will be built on the site of the existing hospital, which will be demolished. I hope that that housing development will contain affordable housing for

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hospital staff so that, at least, the new hospital can run at full complement. The existing two hospitals have nothing like a full complement of staff.

Another problem that we face is commuter parking. Residents in my constituency have commuters parking outside their houses from dawn till dusk five days a week, often blocking their drives. The iniquitous congestion charging scheme will exacerbate the problem, because people who have hitherto driven into London will look for a convenient place to stop along the line. Upminster is a sitting target for those who wish to avoid the £5 a day charge. It is yet another tax on the motorist from the anti-car Government; it will do nothing to tackle pollution or congestion in London.

My final comments are about the proposal in the Police Reform Bill to employ community support officers at two thirds of the salary of a real police officer. The Bill does not make it clear whether that proposal will be imposed or whether chief constables will have the choice of employing four real police officers instead of six community support officers.

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