HC Deb 15 February 1995 vol 254 cc991-2
14. Mr. Simon Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment which of his Department's policies are designed specifically to relieve (a) social and (b) economic inequality in urban areas; and how successful they have been.

Mr. Curry

My Department's aim is to promote sustainable communities through economic, social and environmental policies.

Mr. Hughes

I am delighted to hear from the Minister about the Department's aim. Given that the Rowntree report produced last week—I know that its findings are contested—shows that the gap between the bottom 20 per cent. and the top 20 per cent. has more than doubled in the past 15 years, does he accept that the reality of Government policy, including those of his Department, is a nation of two cities—the haves and the have nots? Will he undertake to review all his Department's policies to create something like the policy in which the Prime Minister says the Government believe, but which is not being delivered on the ground?

Mr. Curry

As the hon. Gentleman says, the Rowntree report obviously asks questions, and one can interpret those questions in different ways and give different answers to them; that is part of normal political debate. The number one recommendation of the Rowntree report is that priority should lie in education and training. It is interesting to note, from the first round of our single regeneration budget bids, that that is precisely where the local partnerships have put their priorities. That demonstrates that local partnerships are identifying education and training as the seedcorn for regeneration policies. The hon. Gentleman and I can agree with that.

Mr. Robert Ainsworth

If the policies of the Government are as the Minister has said, what will the Department of the Environment do about Westminster city council, which has systematically engaged in a policy of gentrification, social cleansing and homes for votes? The Department has sat and done nothing while those policies have continued, month on month, year after year.

Mr. Curry

In so far as there are any proceedings taking place about any actions in Westminster city council, it is for those proceedings to continue. In so far as Westminster city council runs a very efficient council in London, I commend it to many of those inner-city councils which have a great deal to learn from it.