Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, spoke at length about the difficulties confronted by the public services in Hertfordshire in a Commons debate yesterday (22nd January). Mr. Lilley focused on three areas: rising class sizes in secondary schools, the closure of local hospital services and the failure of Thameslink 2000 to provide any extra services.

    Peter Lilley said after the debate:

    “I wanted to spell out to the Government just how the people of Hitchin and Harpenden have experienced a deterioration in the key public services since 1997.

    “Class sizes have got bigger in secondary schools and the problem of teacher recruitment has steadily worsened. The Government have tried to hide the problem by applying a far more restrictive definition of teacher vacancies than that of the county council. As a result, we get a different picture from the Government about their ?hard won improvements? in education.

    “In the NHS in Hertfordshire, things have only got worse rather than better. There are now 60 vacancies for GPs in the county ?a twentyfold increase in one year. The shortage of nurses has not only forced the closure of the special baby care unit but the maternity and children?s unit at Hemel Hempstead Hospital. The proportion of patients across the country waiting for more than a year was just over 2% in 1997. In Hertfordshire, it is now three times that level.

    “I then exposed the myth that Thameslink 2000, included in the Strategic Rail Authority?s Plan last week, would provide extra services for commuters travelling between London, Hitchin and Harpenden. The effective re-nationalisation of Railtrack has so paralysed railway management that they have been unable to produce viable alternatives that would at least reduce overcrowding on Thameslink services.?

    Replying to the debate, Stephen Byers, embattled Secretary of State for Transport, acknowledged that “The most telling speech from the Tory back benches was delivered by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley).? But he attacked the four ex-Cabinet ministers who had criticised his Government?s record. He was drowned with laughter when Peter Lilley intervened to warn him that “he should be a little cautious about being derogatory about ex-Cabinet ministers, as he may shortly be joining that club.? But he side-stepped the MP?s question about whether the ?2 billion to be spent on Thameslink 2000 would actually result in a single extra train service at peak times