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I wanted to speak briefly about the funding of democracy. Not only is it claimed that the Labour party is in considerable debt, and is no doubt beginning to reconsider its position, but the Conservative party is in difficulty because it has to raise a great deal of money
I want to citethis is almost incrediblethe leading article in The Sun last Friday, which urged the leader of the Conservative party to accept that it could have a long-term problem if a small number of organisations or individuals effectively continue to fund political parties. The perception is inevitably that they are buying access and influence, and whether it is Lord Ashcroft or the RMT, that is damaging to the health of parliamentary democracy.
Mr. Tyler: That was a long time ago, and my father did not know Lloyd George. However, I readily admit that Lloyd George did what he didI have accepted in the House that this is a valid criticism of past political fundingprecisely because, as now, parties had lost touch with their membership. In his case, he had lost his party and was no longer party leader. The only way in which he could maintain financial support was to sell honours.
I respect the decision of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the House not to give what the Leader of the House described as an oath of loyalty to the RMT union. They are right, but we must go the whole hog and recognise that any organisation or individual who pays millions of pounds into the coffers of a political party gives the impression that politics and democracy are for sale. That is wrong, and I hope that before we return from the summer recess the Government and, indeed, all political parties, will reassess their position and introduce concrete proposals for the House to discuss.
Bob Spink (Castle Point): I hope that, after a number of years, I can be promoted to the ranks of the usual suspects in these debates. The defining characteristic of the usual suspects is that each cares passionately about constituency matters and his or her special interests, as we heard from a number of excellent speeches tonight. They care so much that they give up their time to promote those interests, and Parliament and the country are richer for that. I thank all hon. Members for staying on tonight and for their diligence in being in the Chamber.
Unlike the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), I thought that the hon. Member for Strangford (Mrs. Robinson) made a particularly effective contribution, with which many hon. Members would associate themselves.
There are many issues that affect my constituency. My constituents are overtaxed by a Government who promised much, but who have delivered little. My constituents feel that things are getting worse. However, I shall put party politics to one side tonight and review a few issues in a non-political way, starting with the important matter of the funding of hospices.
I raised the matter about a year ago in Prime Minister's questions. I am not the only local Member to raise it or to fight for hospice funding. My hon. Friends the Members for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), who is in his seat, for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor), and for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), who is in his place, have all supported improved hospice funding, and I congratulate them.
I warmly congratulate the local Evening Echo and the Newsquest newspaper group on their campaign to get fairer funding for our hospices. They are running an effective campaign, and have particularly caught the public's imagination with their latest headline, which reads, "Fair deal for our sick children". I could not have put it better. The hospices do the country, the health service and families that need to use them a very great service. I take the opportunity to congratulate all hospice staff, both medical and other, throughout the country on what they do.
David Taylor: The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that some months ago, when leading a debate on hospice funding, I brought to the attention of the House the fact that the previous Administration had given a promise that in the medium termthat delightful unspecific phraseGovernment funding would be found to match the private sector funding on which the vast bulk of hospices depend. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is unfortunate that in 18 years it was not possible for the Conservative Government to deliver on that commitment?
Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman has shown a long interest and a great expertise in the hospice movement, and he makes a valid point. I am grateful to him for taking the trouble to make that point tonight.
I could not speak in one of these debates without mentioning Canvey Island's third access road, in addition to the possibility of Canvey Island getting a rail terminus station on the island to help to alleviate congestion and to provide a safe environment for the island people. That is a matter on which I continue to press.
I hope that the hon. Members for Basildon (Angela Smith), who is on the Treasury Bench tonight, and for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who is not in his place, although he is an assiduous attender of the House, will urge their local councils not to try to block the needs of Canvey Island people, whose road must pass through their areas. Their councils are stopping Canvey getting its third road, and we must put an end to that.
Tomorrow, there will be an announcement about airports in the south-east. I am sure that it will be of great interest to my constituents, as well as to people elsewhere along the Thames estuary and in north Kent. I shall have to wait and see what is said, but I believe that, while taking the opportunities that a new airport would offer and allowing this country to move forward and compete on a wider global scale by providing the necessary new infrastructure and capacity, we must ensure that our constituents' interests are carefully looked after. I am sure that all hon. Members will seek to protect those interests.
I should like to raise two specific issues about housing. I refer first to the very serious issue of homelessness. Castle Point has more than 30 families with children living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. That is absolutely disgraceful, and it is outrageous that Castle Point borough council did not even take the trouble to bid for money that the Government made available to deal with homelessness a few months ago. I hope that we can get our local council to focus on the homelessness problem and provide the resources that are needed to deal with peopleespecially those with familiesat a very vulnerable time in their lives.
I welcomed the announcement that the Government made a few months ago that they would eradicate the practice of keeping homeless people with families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, but I was saddened that they later qualified their statementthis Government often seem to do soby saying that they intended that homeless families would not be kept in bed-and-breakfast accommodation for more than six weeks and that that aim would not be achieved for 18 months. I would like a far more stringent target to be set to help homeless people.
My second point about housing concerns the Deputy Prime Minister's recent announcement about the increase of building in the south and particularly in the Thames gateway area, which includes my constituency. We simply do not have any brownfield land available. We shall have to release green-belt land to build the 2,400 houses that have been forced on us by the Government's Serplan announcement of a year ago. We do not know where the vast numbers of houses are going to be built. We still have not identified plots for them. We know that we shall have to release chunks of the green belt, but my constituents do not want that to happen, not only because we are already overdeveloped in terms of the existing infrastructure, but most of all because no announcement was made about providing new infrastructure to deal with those new people and cars. No new roads were announced; in particular, no announcement was made about Canvey Island getting another rail station or a third road. No new doctors' surgeries or genuine offer of new housing that would be affordable to teachers, medical staff and policemen were announced. That causes me great concern and I shall fight the overdevelopment that is being forced on my constituency.