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12.31 pm

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): As the third seaside Member in a row, I am pleased to be able to participate in our important debate. As a precaution, I should like to declare an interest; I am a director of a family business, as is recorded in the Register of Members' Interests. I am not likely to stray on to that, but because our debate is wide-ranging, I cannot be sure.

Assessing quality of life is extremely difficult. Several organisations undertake the task, including the United Nations, which produces a periodic survey. Not surprisingly, Norway, Australia and Canada tend to dominate the top three places, with Sweden, Belgium and the United States making the top 10; we tend to be somewhere in the middle of the table. A variety of things, ranging from cleanliness and restaurants to life expectancy, are taken into account.

Having participated in yesterday's debate on international development, I believe that we should all be aware that in many parts of the world, qualify of life is getting substantially worse; life expectancy in the African continent and the former Soviet Union, for example, is getting shorter. When quality of life in cities is assessed, Zurich tends to come top, with Vancouver close behind. Brazzaville in the Republic of the Congo comes bottom; no doubt Members will take that into account when deciding where to go on holiday.

Lawrie Quinn: They should come to Scarborough.

Mr. Syms: Indeed.

The key starting point for achieving a good quality of life in Britain is to get the economy right. Unless we generate wealth, we cannot invest in public services and our citizens will not have employment or the resources to make life choices. Generally, in the last century, we did

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pretty well; we account for 1 per cent. of the world's population, but account for a rather higher percentage of the world's wealth. We are a small island on the edge of Europe, yet we are a major trading nation; we are an innovative nation that, by and large, works hard. Colleagues and friends who have worked in Germany have always found that the Brits there work longer hours than the Germans, who go off skiing or whatever on Friday afternoons.

In the past 20 to 25 years, our economy has become much more flexible, and the Government were lucky to inherit that legacy from the last Conservative Government. We must acknowledge and take satisfaction in the fact that Britain has done pretty well compared with other countries. It is important that the fourth largest economy continues to grow so that, one day, we can be the third largest economy and make our full contribution in the world.

All our constituents, including mine in Poole, have concerns about law and order. We see people in our surgeries who are worried about crime in their area. Between January 2000 and January 2002, the number of street crime incidents in London rose from 4,000 to 6,700. We cannot be complacent about crime; much more needs to be done about it. Dorset is not a high-crime area, but there is a great fear of crime, which any politician must address. Dorset police authority, which does an excellent job, is the 29th worst funded in the country. That requires difficult juggling by the chief constable and creates difficulties in terms of the precept levied on my constituents. Our police authority has one of the highest precepts in the country, because people demand policing. They like to see police officers on the streets. That is important to their quality of life, yet we are not resourced to provide the level of policing that people demand.

We know that it is important for quality of life that people can access health services when they want them—when they are ill. We should all reflect on the fact that waiting lists affect quality of life. Like other hon. Members, I see constituents who have been assessed as needing urgent operations, yet sometimes they are told that they must wait months. Behind the figures about which we argue in the Chamber, there are people in pain, people who cannot go to work, people whose families are concerned about them, sometimes waiting months to get treatment.

There is a particular problem at present in Dorset: some of my constituents who go to Southampton for brain surgery find that the hospital there is taking only patients who need emergency operations, because of a shortage of staff. That creates pressure and difficulty for my constituents.

The debates that we have had this week have been useful. We may disagree about the politics in relation to the future of health care and how we organise the NHS, but it is important that we have such debates. While accepting the principle that a free service is vital to most of our citizens, we should look creatively at ways of delivering health care to them. People will feel that their quality of life has been enhanced if they can access services quickly. Scotland spends 8.6 per cent. of available resources on health, which is about the European average, yet its health outcomes are worse. We must consider reform and different ways of delivering services.

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As a member of the all-party group on haemophiliacs, I know that there is sometimes inequity in the delivery of health services. I shall give one example, which affects the quality of life of my constituents and many others throughout the country who are haemophiliacs. Those who happen to live in Wales and Scotland receive recombinant blood from the NHS. In England, that is provided as of right up to the age of 18.

People go to the haemophilia centre in Manchester for treatment and blood products. People from Wales get recombinant—that is, man-made—treatment; those from England do not. They get plasma-based treatment. Anyone who knows the haemophilia community well knows that its members want recombinant treatment because of the history of plasma-based products, which have caused them all sorts of difficulties, such as the infections of hepatitis C and HIV. There must be equity in the provision of health care in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland if we are to engender good quality of life for our citizens.

Educational opportunity is a further important aspect of quality of life. Poole is a beautiful place in which to work, but it is difficult to own a home there because of housing costs. We therefore have difficulty recruiting teachers. I recently went round Poole high school, which has a problem recruiting sufficient maths teachers to teach pupils at key stage 3. There are real challenges to be faced in education, which we all know is the means by which people access opportunities for the future. The Government should be aware that the problems of teacher recruitment may be impacting on the children of my constituents.

Much of the debate has focused on the leading role that local government can play in communities. By and large, Poole borough council, which is a unitary authority, does a good job, although it labours under difficult grant settlements. We have suffered under the regime that ensures that we do not get the area cost adjustment. As those of us who live in the south-west rather than the south-east know, that system means that Poole received £17 million less than it would have received if it were situated in Hampshire. That impacts on services and the ability to deliver some of the enhancements to quality of life that we have been discussing.

My hon. Friend the Member for North–East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss) mentioned the very high council tax increases. Poole has had an 11.9 per cent. increase, set against an inflation rate of 2.2 per cent. Many people on minimal fixed incomes will find the extra amount difficult to pay. Apart from the estimated cost this year of £300,000 for storing fridges under Government regulations, the Budget changes in national insurance contributions will probably add £400,000 to local government costs. Those costs are very substantial indeed.

Poole has much potential for development; it is a beautiful place with a lot of water. Earlier this year, we made a submission to the Government on building a second bridge over the harbour, and I am pleased to say that it was accepted. The project is an exciting prospect that will allow us to develop much of the waterside area in Lower Hamworthy and to redevelop the West Quay road. The building of the bridge, which may cost £14 million, will substantially improve the quality of life for constituents who live in central Poole. It will allow sensible development and improved traffic flow, and will

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enable the borough to take a strategic view so that it can plan for the future. The development will also improve local transport in general.

I could make many more comments, but I am aware that a number of other hon. Members wish to speak. In conclusion, quality of life is important for my constituents. Poole is a beautiful place, but underneath the beauty, there is concern about law and order, access to the NHS, provision of top-quality education for our children and improvements in transport. Over the coming years, I shall do all that I can to campaign for a better deal for my constituents.

12.42 pm

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe): I could speak at considerable length about improvements in the quality of life of my constituents. Since 1997, my constituency has received substantially increased investment in schools and hospitals. Investment in housing has doubled and we have seen reductions in unemployment and crime; indeed, Sheffield is the safest city in the country. However, I shall concentrate primarily on ways in which my constituents' quality of life is not good, although I recognise that the Government have many proposals to deal with such problems, which I strongly support. I urge quick action on them.

When I was sitting in my surgery last Saturday, as many hon. Members will have been sitting in theirs, a young couple came in, sat down and began to describe how they were regularly kept awake until 5 o'clock in the morning by their neighbours. They told me that they had been keeping a diary sheet for the past five months on the antisocial behaviour of their neighbours at the request of the local housing officer, and that environmental health officers had visited to monitor the noise levels, which were found to be unacceptable. They asked how long it would be before they could go to work the next morning without being virtually unable to keep their eyes open. The man does a very dangerous job that requires him to be alert and completely awake. Their whole quality of life has clearly been affected by what has happened.

Unfortunately, after they had given me three or four minutes of description and I had warned them that the trouble might go on for some time before they finally got some action, I found that I could tell them what was happening to them before they told me. I could do so because I had dealt with the person who was causing the problems three or four years previously, when they had caused exactly the same trouble for their then neighbour, an elderly lady. I visited her regularly and she used to sit down and cry, virtually losing control of herself, because she simply could not stand the harassment and break-ins that were blighting her life.

I chose to describe that case because, unfortunately, it involved regular and repeat perpetrators, but I could have chosen another three cases that arose in the surgery and which involved very similar problems.

As I said in a debate in the House on the Housing Bill in 1996, when I first became a councillor in Sheffield in 1976, the majority of my cases were to do with housing, but mainly with repairs and improvements. Most of my cases still involve housing, but they are now mainly about neighbour nuisance, which is unfortunately a recurrent problem for many constituents.

It sounds harsh, but local authorities and housing associations have to consider carefully whether to renew some people's tenancies. The case that I described may

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end with eviction, but it is no good sending people to another property where they will cause similar problems to another set of unsuspecting neighbours. Obviously, we must look after the children in those cases, but I welcome Government proposals to put registered social landlords and local authorities on a similar path. They could thus take account of each other's experiences with specific tenants, who would not simply be able to get another property with a different landlord and recreate the problems.

On the previous Saturday, I attended a meeting on the Stradbroke estate. It is a pleasant, post-war estate with Bevan houses, decent space and tree-lined roads. It is not at all a sink estate. A year ago, I was called in by the local councillor, who was fed up with getting persistent complaints from dozens of tenants about a handful of families on the estate for more than two years.

We got together the police, housing officers, the tenancy enforcement team, the local neighbourhood watch and the tenants and residents associations. In the past year, they have worked on evidence on cases that are about to come to court. I shall not go into detail in case I prejudice them, but we have agreed to twin-track procedures for antisocial behaviour orders and evictions, and to go for both when appropriate. The lesson is to get everyone—the police, housing officers, enforcement officers, tenants and residents—to work together as a team to save the estate from antisocial behaviour.

Seventeen people were prepared to come forward as witnesses. That is a lot—people are often frightened. However, at the end of the process, only four were prepared to come forward. It is easy to understand the reasons. The estate had been subjected to vandalism; people had been threatened and intimidated; break-ins and damage to cars had occurred; and motoring offences, including joyriding and dangerous driving, had been committed. People were intimidated and worried. We sat them down and talked to them, and we believe that we now have more witnesses and strong cases.

I welcome recent Home Office proposals for changes to the antisocial behaviour procedures. I especially welcome the proposal to issue interim orders so that at the first court hearing an order can be made to ban someone from an area, if appropriate, instead of waiting until the end of the process. In far too many cases, defence lawyers use deferments and delays in the court procedure while the antisocial behaviour is repeated many times.

I also welcome proposals for not granting bail in all cases. One young person on the estate has been charged 90 times with motoring offences. He knows that it does not matter if he is charged again because he goes to court, gets out on bail and commits another string of offences. The punishment will be no greater because one cannot punish someone any more for 90 offences than for 70. That is a genuine problem, and I welcome the Government's plans to tackle it.

I also welcome the proposal to allow county courts as well as magistrates courts to issue antisocial behaviour orders. When an eviction is sought, the same court can issue the antisocial behaviour order.

When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was first appointed to his new job last year, I wrote to him and said that the procedures for obtaining antisocial behaviour orders still needed to be reviewed. People still claim that they are too bureaucratic and there are doubts about

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whether the standard of proof is too high. For example, antisocial behaviour often stops just before the case gets to court. A month or so before the hearing, a sudden lull in unacceptable activities occurs. That is not a reason for not pushing or granting the order. The fact that antisocial behaviour that has gone on for three or four months miraculously stops just before a hearing is not a reason for not pursuing or granting the order.

I am sorry to go into detail about my surgeries, but all too often they reflect the genuine problems that my constituents experience. Most of us have heard most things at our surgeries over the years.

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