HC Deb 02 February 2000 vol 343 cc1104-50
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

I must inform the House that Madam Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.28 pm
Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)

I beg to move, That this House urges the Government to disown the Crow Report and its recommendation of 1.1 million houses to be built in the South-East; condemns the Government's practice of bulldozing homes and walking away from the regeneration of run-down town and city areas; requests an urgent response to the proposals in the Rogers Report for urban renewal; stresses the connections between planning and transport policies; and calls for a change to planning policy to encourage one Britain and urban renewal instead of the divisive policies the Government is pursuing.

Hon. Members

Where is Archie?

Mr. Green

I should apologise to the many Government Members who are admirers of my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman). I advise them all to book early for Environment questions next Tuesday.

We have brought the debate to the House because the Government stand condemned on two counts: first, they have shown themselves to be completely uninterested in protecting the countryside; and, secondly, they have shown themselves to be neglectful of the interests of city centres that need regeneration. The combination of those two failures of Government policy has led to despair in the countryside and anger in the cities.

Let me start with the ignorance and neglect that the Government have shown toward the countryside, which will for ever be symbolised by the now notorious remark made by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions: the green belt is a Labour achievement, and we mean to build on it. That is perhaps the only example of the right hon. Gentleman speaking with complete clarity and accuracy since he took office. The only charitable course of action in respect of his use of language is to laugh, but there is far more serious hypocrisy afoot. His deputy, the Minister for the Environment, said before the general election: we will make the next Labour Government the first truly green Government that Britain has ever seen. That is the standard that the Government set themselves. Let us investigate their performance on the Crow report against that standard.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman reminded his hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) that, according to the conventions of the House, we would give him an easy ride first time round.

Does the hon. Gentleman consider it appropriate to table a motion with the title "Northern Cities and Southern Green Fields"? Does he realise that there are many acres of beautiful countryside in the north of the country? Does he ever visit the north? Will he dissociate himself from the title?

Mr. Green

If that is the best that the special advisers at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions can come up with as a handout, I shall not take any more interventions. If the hon. Gentleman had bothered to investigate the subject of the debate, he might know that the Crow report is specifically about the south-east of England. It blithely proposes to put 1.1 million extra homes in the south-east.

The report is one of the shoddiest, least-well-argued and anti-environmental documents ever produced by the planning profession. It takes us straight back to the 1960s, when planners looked at the demographic trends, thought of a housing number, added a bit for luck and insisted that those houses be built, whatever the consequences for the environment.

A really green Government who meant to stick to their principles would have thrown the report out at the first opportunity. Regardless of those principles, the report cuts across the Government's declared policy.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Conservative Opposition will move to a policy whereby, instead of housing numbers being imposed on local authorities from above, leaving them no control, local authorities will in future have a much greater say in the housing numbers that they must provide in their areas?

Mr. Green

My hon. Friend is exactly right. That is what we have proposed. We want to give more planning power to local people and take away the Government's centralising tendencies.

The Government should have thrown out the Crow report. Instead, they have proceeded to play their usual game of nods, winks, nudges, leaks and half-truths, leaving no one knowing where they stand, and leaving many people angry—not just people in the south-east of England but a much wider coalition, who will never trust the Government again.

Serplan—the south-east regional planning committee—has pointed out a large number of deficiencies in Crow, not least that it brushes aside the problems of congestion and pressure on services. That does not seem to have moved the Government, nor does the Council for the Protection of Rural England's response to Crow. The CPRE said: The Government should reject these nightmare plans for building in the South East. They spell sprawl and congestion in England's most overcrowded region and continuing urban decay and social exclusion in other parts of the country.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Green

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Watford (Ms Ward), then I must make some progress.

Ms Claire Ward (Watford)

The hon. Gentleman is setting out the views of a range of organisations, yet before that he said that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should have rejected the Crow report's proposals immediately. Is not the point to listen, consider and consult, and to ensure that such responses are forthcoming so that the Secretary of State is well informed when he finally makes his decision?

Mr. Green

The response to Crow has been universally negative, and I would expect the hon. Lady, whose own constituency is under threat, to share that view. I shall stop complaining if the Government this evening reject Crow hook, line and sinker, but they have not done so. They have deliberately been sending out leaks, nods and winks for the past six months, without letting us know what they think. That is creating widespread anger across the south-east, not least in my constituency, which is particularly targeted for the bulldozers by Crow.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

Does my hon. Friend recall that practically the first action of the Deputy Prime Minister, without listening to anyone, was to agree to 10,000 houses on the green belt outside the new town of Stevenage? In that, he was supported by the hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett), who is not in her place.

Mr. Green

My right hon. Friend is characteristically correct and points out one of the betrayals of the green fields that the Deputy Prime Minister has committed.

Ms Ward

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green

Not again; once is enough for the hon. Lady.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Green

I shall make progress. The only support for the Crow report comes from Professor Christine Whitehead, who is an adviser to the Government and who believes that we need 10 new towns the size of Basingstoke in the south-east of England.

Professor Whitehead, with commendable honesty that has so far failed to grip those on the Government Front Bench, said to The Times: I don't mind covering a bit of the South East in concrete, to be honest. At least she is honest. By contrast, the Government's response has been to dither and dodge the issue ever since it came up.

Two weeks ago the Government leaked to a Sunday newspaper the prospect of what they call "millennium towns", new settlements of 50,000 people, one of which they wanted to plonk down on the green fields in my constituency. I asked the Department a number of questions to elucidate the truth behind that leak.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Ms Hughes), replied that proposals for a new town had been put forward and that the Secretary of State would shortly consult on draft changes to the draft regional planning guidance. We are to be consulted, are we? Do not believe it for a minute.

Yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister revealed to a Fabian Society and SERA—Socialist Environmental Resources Association—conference that he has taken the decision already. He claimed that the Government would not be concreting over the south-east. He went on to say: We will be recognising the needs of continuing economic growth and providing for future prosperity"— weasel words which show that he believes in a bit of concrete over the south-east, just like Professor Whitehead.

The Deputy Prime Minister went on to say: We will want to make the best use of major transport modes and utilise transport corridors. This includes ensuring that the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link brings as much benefit to the surrounding areas as possible. Those are real weasel words. The benefit that he wants to bring is a large pile of concrete all over the green fields of east Kent.

Mr. Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford)

Does the hon. Gentleman's party's policy extend to allowing local councils to determine planning applications for out-of-town supermarkets?

Mr. Green

We do believe in greater local powers across the planning system. We are consistent in that. I should be interested to know the Government's view on that.

Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test)


Mr. Green

It is clear that the Deputy Prime Minister is not going to consult. He has already decided. There is further dishonesty. He has clearly decided that part of the Crow report will be implemented, yet his spin to the press yesterday, as quoted in the Evening Standard, was "Prescott shuts door on homes boom".

Dr. Whitehead

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green

No doubt the Government wanted to reassure everyone in the south-east, but one has only to read the story to discover that, after all his months of dithering, the Deputy Prime Minister has not rejected Crow. He has looked at the Serplan figure, which is 750,000, and the Crow figure of 1.1 million, and he has split the difference.

The Deputy Prime Minister's figure will still mean that large swathes of the green land that people in England value will be gone. He knows, as do those on the Government Front Bench, that once it has gone, it is gone for ever. He will have written on his political tombstone, "The man who ripped up the green fields of England."

Dr. Whitehead


Mr. Green

Hon. Members from other regions—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) must not remain standing if the hon. Gentleman who is addressing the House is clearly not giving way.

Mr. Green

Hon. Members from other regions need not think that this is just a south-eastern problem. There are already murmurings of hundreds of thousands of extra homes needed in the south-west of England.

I suggest to the Prime Minister that before he takes his annual day trip to the countryside tomorrow, where he will lecture people on how they should stop moaning about the lack of rural services, the destruction of British agriculture, the closure of their post offices, and the extra petrol taxes levied by the Government, and start learning to love him as they have been told, perhaps he should be aware that he will face one more legitimate grievance.

As well as farmers, drivers, shoppers, postal workers and fishermen, the Prime Minister will have environmentalists after him. They will be telling him that life in the countryside is not the idyllic vision painted by the Cabinet Office report that we will see tomorrow, but a struggle against an uncaring and ignorant Government.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

My hon. Friend mentioned the south-west. Is he aware that at the Dartington Church of England school in my constituency, the sewer is so small that it cannot cope with the amount of water that goes down it when there is a storm? As a result, the sewage pops up in the basins of the primary school—the sewer is too full because too many homes have been built without the proper infrastructure being in place. Does he agree that we should not build new homes if the infrastructure cannot cope? May I draw to his attention my private Member's Bill to be debated on 24 March, which deals with the matter?

Mr. Green

My hon. Friend gives a vivid example of what happens when building is too much for the infrastructure. We shall take the advert for his private Member's Bill as the commercial break in my speech.

The Deputy Prime Minister has spent the best part of three years fiddling at the edges of the planning system, without making it integrated, joined up, modern or any of the other buzz words that the Government substitute for principles. He said that he would move on from predict and provide for housing plans. Sadly, he has replaced it with dither and destroy. In the countryside, things can only get worse under this Government.

The Government stand condemned as the enemy of the countryside, but that probably does not worry Labour Members. The few Labour Members who were elected in mainly rural seats expect to be here only temporarily and are already planning what to do next. That may apply less strongly to Labour Members who represent inner-city constituencies. They expect to be here for more than another year. It is refreshing to witness the way in which they are beginning to come out of the woodwork and endorse our criticisms of the Government.

This week, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), after courageously and honestly deciding that he could not stomach sitting on the Front Bench any longer, blew the gaffe. In The Guardian on Wednesday, he criticised the Government for their "wholly London perspective", which, he is reported as saying, leads to 'very often a lack of understanding' of issues in Merseyside and the regions. Intriguingly, the article continues: New Labour had become 'a pejorative term in many people's eyes', which he no longer used. The Prime Minister may believe that the north-south divide does not exist, but his candid friends in the north clearly do not believe him.

The hon. Member for Walton is not alone. When the Prime Minister commissioned the famous Cabinet Office report in a desperate attempt to show that he was not letting down the inner cities, Mr. Bill Midgley, president of the north-east chamber of commerce, dismissed it as "whitewash". He said that Ministers were highly selective within regions, and that anyone could play that game. The hon. Member for Blyth Valley (Mr. Campbell) suggested that the Prime Minister should put up or shut up on the issue. Many of us heartily endorse that sentiment.

The Government fail on two counts: they are unwilling to protect the landscape in relatively prosperous areas and unwilling to take action to regenerate our cities—in the south or the north.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

Last year, I read on page 56 of my local newspaper that the hon. Gentleman had visited my constituency. As he drove north of Lowestoft, did he notice a large, out-of-town superstore? Did he realise that the local council had unanimously rejected the application for it when the Conservative party was in government? Does he know that the previous Government overruled the local council to grant permission for building an Asda superstore? How does he square that with his comments about granting power to local councils?

Mr. Green

I feel sorry for the hon. Gentleman because he had a prepared intervention for someone other than me. Unfortunately, he is insufficiently flexible to devise an intervention on his own.

I shall present some practical suggestions, which we have made public. The Government can adopt them if they wish; they would help cities in the north and in the south.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

There is an acid test in the life of every Government and, as my hon. Friend considers the north-south divide, we recall the Prime Minister's rhetoric. The acid test comes this week, when we await the decision on whether the Synchrotron award will be given to Oxfordshire or Cheshire. If it is awarded outside the north-west, which has a zone of natural advantage, we shall have proof that the Prime Minister is not sincere about wanting to support the north-west.

Mr. Green

My hon. Friend has been fighting hard for the interests of his constituents. He has done that alongside many trade unionists whom he met today. I hope that the Government will take note of that.

The Government should set higher brownfield targets; they should be increased to two thirds of all new housing. The Government should do more to release redundant land and buildings from the public sector to the private sector for redevelopment. Run-down housing stock should be transferred from the public to the private sector for redevelopment. The Government could give homesteading grants to provide financial incentives for individuals and co-operatives to transform run-down, dilapidated council houses and flats. The Government could do more to restore contaminated land. They could set tougher penalties for anti-social activity, which makes life difficult in some of the deprived estates in our cities.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Green

I shall not give way again. Most important, the Government should revise planning guidance so that local people can have more control over the planning system. Instead of Ministers making decisions in Whitehall, councils should be given more discretion to determine the amount of greenfield development that they want. We should make it easier for councils to develop in the inner cities, where regeneration is possible, and more difficult for development to occur on green fields.

We have proposed a raft of policies, which are available for the Government to steal, if they wish. If they believe that that is beneath their dignity, perhaps they would like to look to their own side. Last summer, the Labour peer Lord Rogers produced an interesting and full report, which provided many options for regenerating our cities. At the time, the Deputy Prime Minister mumbled that it was all jolly interesting and that the Government would consider it carefully. Since then, there has been a deafening silence, which means that the Department is paralysed at the prospect of making a decision.

Our cities are supposed to be an urgent problem for the Government and the Deputy Prime Minister. It is so urgent that they have put the Rogers report on a shelf in the hope that we shall forget it. I assure the Minister that we will not. The Minister could bring a constructive element to the debate if he gave a firm date for the publication of an urban White Paper, which gave the Government's full reaction to the Rogers report. If he cannot do that, the House must draw its own conclusions.

It is not only cities that feel the Government's slowness in producing their thoughts. I commend the Government for the consistency in their attitude to the rural White Paper. Since they told us that they would produce a rural White Paper, they claim that it will be published in the next season of the year, or the next season but one. Last summer, they claimed that it would be published in the late autumn; in the early autumn, it was scheduled for the new year; before Christmas, publication was set for the spring; last month it was set for the summer. I heard recently that it will not be published until this autumn. At such a rate of progress the Government will be saved from their indecision. The collapse of large parts of agriculture and the over-development of many green fields will mean that no rural life will remain about which to produce a rural White Paper. The rural White Paper is another example of dither and destroy.

Conservative Members, who care about protecting the countryside and regenerating cities, are frustrated because we are asking the Government to do something that is popular and right. However, they seem determined to wait for years before plunging in the wrong direction. They must have noticed that their attitude creates anger in communities across the country, in all areas with all sorts of social conditions.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House know that the Government are failing the countryside and the cities and creating a divided society. With every month that passes, it is increasingly obvious that the Government have no understanding of, no interest in and no solutions to those serious problems.

7.49 pm
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Nick Raynsford)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: welcomes the Government's commitment to create high-quality, desirable, safe places to live without eating up the countryside; supports the Government's policies on protecting the Green Belt and believes the Government's inclusive and strategic approach to planning, housing, transport, countryside protection, welfare and economic policies will achieve more sustainable and equitable patterns of both urban and rural development; recognises that this Government is planning for economic success and that there is an opportunity to use growth to create better and more sustainable communities and improve the quality of life; welcomes the Government's move away from the previous 'predict and provide' approach to housing provision and the introduction of a 'plan, monitor and manage' policy; supports the Government's target of building 60 per cent. of all new housing on previously developed land; and welcomes the Government's determination to ensure that the whole country shares in the benefits of economic recovery. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) on his new appointment to the Opposition Front Bench. That said, the hon. Gentleman may feel a little apprehensive knowing that he is the fourth shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions in less than three years.

May I also say how disappointed I am that the hon. Gentleman has declined to open tonight's debate, despite the trail on the "Today" programme, which indicated that this was to be his great opening event? In case it is suggested that that was, perhaps, due to the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister is not opening the debate, let me say that it was made clear last week that I would be doing so. It was also made clear that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) would be opening for the Opposition. Clearly, he is not available and it is interesting that his successor has not chosen to open the debate.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells is too modest. Perhaps he is aware that he is inadequately briefed on a difficult subject; or perhaps he has been too busy with his business interests. No doubt the Leader of the Opposition—who I understand worked closely with him when they were at McKinsey's—was well aware of the extensive business interests of the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells when he made the appointment, not least his association with Asda and the US giant Wal-Mart.

I hear that the hon. Gentleman announced this afternoon that he is giving up his directorship and consultancy post with Asda. I welcome that, although I question whether it is right that he should retain a major shareholding in Wal-Mart which, as the House knows, has substantial interests in the retail sector and planning issues, which are highly relevant to the subject of this debate.

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells)

I assume that the Minister will shortly come to the substance of the debate and move on from these dreary and pathetic issues. Is he aware that the major shareholding to which he referred is 0 per cent?

Mr. Raynsford

I am pleased to hear that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us about his shareholding—

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During my time in the House, if Ministers, or anyone else, say something that is denied, they usually substantiate it or apologise and withdraw. The Minister should do so.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is entirely a matter for the Minister.

Mr. Raynsford

If the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) had not leapt up intemperately, I was about to say that I was pleased to hear that the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells had done so. I was acting on the basis of the "Register of Members' Interests", which was prepared on 1 December 1999 and which declared under "Registrable shareholdings" a holding by the hon. Gentleman in Wal-Mart. If the hon. Gentleman has disposed of his shares since then, I am pleased to hear it, but I hope that he will accept that I spoke in good faith on the basis of the latest available information in that register.

The House should pay attention to such matters. I think that we would also welcome an indication of the hon Gentleman's intentions for his other directorships—in companies such as French plc, Maybeat Ltd., Knutsford, and the wonderfully named Nocktwice. This is an important issue, which is not only of concern to the House. As The Times said today, the hon. Gentleman's business connections would be the voice of vested interest, whether the issue was planning laws or car parking charges".

Mr. Baldry

We are all genuinely pleased to see the Minister back in much better health. However, my constituents will not understand this knockabout. Concerns on the Crow report are such that parish churches in certain villages are the only buildings that are large enough to hold the public meetings to complain about the report—such a thing has not happened for a long time. As part of the consultation process under the draft regional planning guidance, I invite the Minister to visit Oxfordshire to hear at first hand the concerns of the people who live there about the impact of the new planning guidance on our county.

Mr. Raynsford

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. As he will know, we are considering carefully the recommendations of both the Serplan report and the Crow panel and we will make our decisions clear in the near future. Until we do so, it is not appropriate for us to participate in any public debate. However, we will be happy to debate the issue fully subsequently. Also, it is a matter of concern in the House and throughout the country that our decisions on matters as important as this should be taken impartially and solely from the point of view of the public interest. There should be no question of any other interest influencing our decisions.

I gather that, when the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells was at Asda, he used to—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I trust that the Minister will agree that it is time to move on. He is supposed to be speaking to the amendment and I trust that he will do just that.

Mr. Raynsford

I will come immediately to the point in hand. I was simply observing the absence of the shadow Secretary of State from the Dispatch Box when the Conservative party announced on the "Today" programme this morning that this would be his first test—a test that he has spectacularly failed.

Whoever dreamt up the title of tonight's debate, "The Two Britains", could have done with some help. Presumably, the right hon. Member for Wokingham decided to use this echo of Disraeli. I will miss him at the Dispatch Box, but I suppose that it is not surprising that, unsure of his future in a turbulent and demoralised Conservative Party, the right hon. Gentleman should be desperately hankering after past glories in turning to Disraeli for inspiration. Whoever chose the title, he clearly did not spend much time reading Disraeli. Had he done so, he could hardly have failed to recognise Disraeli's powerful message and how different that was from the simplistic, badly researched and unconvincing case put across by the official Opposition this evening—a pale sad shadow of the Conservative party, which was a party of government.

The two nations of which Disraeli spoke: between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy, who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts and feelings as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets, who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by different food and ordered by different manners", were not dwellers in different regions—north and south. They lived in close proximity to each other in almost every corner of Victorian Britain. They were, of course, the rich and the poor. The shocking division between rich and poor that Disraeli chronicled remains all too visible.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

It sounds as though the Minister is describing the difference between old and new Labour.

Mr. Raynsford

I was describing the difference between the glorious days of the Conservative party in the time of Disraeli and its sad, pale shadow today.

That was the division that Disraeli described. It was not between north and south, but between rich and poor. Those divisions got much wider under the 18 years of Conservative Government, despite their—[Interruption.] Let us look at the previous Government's record on employment region by region between 1979 and 1995. Employment in the north was down 10.6 per cent.; in the north-west, 11.4 per cent.; in Yorkshire and Humberside, 5.8 per cent.; in London, 11 per cent.; and, in the west midlands, 9.7 per cent.

There is more. Under the Tories, the top 10th of the population got almost two thirds better off, while the bottom 10th became 17 per cent. worse off. In 1994, the gap between the highest and lowest paid worker was higher than at any time since records began in 1886, just five years after Disraeli's death. That was the Conservative Government's record on dividing the nation, and that is the legacy which the Government have inherited.

Mr. Blunt

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Raynsford

No, I have already given way once to the hon. Gentleman.

The challenge that the Government have willingly taken up is how to reduce the gap between the haves and the have nots—the inequalities that scar our society—and how to tackle the evils of social exclusion, unemployment, homelessness and despair, to which all too many of our fellow citizens were condemned by the previous Conservative Government's policies. This Government's one-nation policies are addressing those problems, which exist all over Britain.

Poor economic and social conditions are not confined to any one part of Britain. Of the 150 most deprived wards in the country, 42 are in London and the south-east, and 66 are in the south, and 22 of London's 33 districts feature in the top 100 deprived areas. Unemployment in London is second only to that in the north-east.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central)

Does my hon. Friend agree that what was remarkable about the speech the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) was that, while the debate is notionally about not simply the south and the green belt, but about the north, there was almost no reference to that, and certainly no analysis? My hon. Friend's present point is the most telling of all. Even within the south, there are enormous pockets of poverty, of which the hon. Gentleman seems blissfully, and, in his case, I assume, happily, ignorant.

Mr. Raynsford

My hon. Friend makes a telling point. The absence of any significant reference to the problems of poverty throughout Britain and particularly in the north by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) was something which all hon. Members will have noted.

Mr. Blizzard

Representing Britain's most easterly constituency, I find that debates about the north and the south, and speeches such as that of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), show a neglect of the east, which is what we suffered for 18 years. This Government's policy of tackling deprivation, poverty and unemployment, wherever it is, is the right way forward, and that is certainly appreciated by my constituents.

Mr. Raynsford

I well recall a visit that I made to my hon. Friend's constituency to see the real problems of deprivation in Lowestoft and areas of the eastern region, and he is right to highlight the fact that problems of poverty and deprivation exist throughout Britain and are not confined to any one region.

Regional averages mask enormous variations in social and economic conditions. For example, in Yorkshire and Humberside, GDP per head in 1996 ranged from 30 per cent. above the national average in York to 35 per cent. below in Barnsley and Doncaster. In the south-east, GDP in Berkshire was 38 per cent. above the national average, while in East Sussex it was 26 per cent. below. Those are real variations within existing regions, north and south.

Likewise, the media have greatly exaggerated the idea of a north-south shift in the population. Although England's three northern regions lose people each year to out-migration, for every 100 people that move away, at least 95 people move in. The total number of people lost by net migration from those three regions is just 10,000 each year, and that is largely offset by natural growth in the population. Most importantly for this debate, most of that regional out-migration is to neighbouring regions. Anyone who looks at the hard data will see that few people make the much-hyped north-south leap of which the Tories try to make such capital.

The Opposition clearly did not bother to look up their facts before making suppositions about trends that do not exist. They need to look at what is happening within each region. Households tend to move out of our cities—the six metropolitan counties and Greater London lose more than 90,000 people each year through net migration to the less urban areas surrounding them.

If the Opposition look only at the regional averages, they will only ever learn part of the story. All regions contain pockets of deprivation and prosperity, areas of population decline and growth. We recognise the need to have in place the right conditions for growth throughout the country, and policies to tackle specific problems of deprivation and decline wherever they occur.

How should we do that? As we never tire of reminding the Opposition, we have set up regional development agencies to target areas of under-performance and generate sustainable and more balanced economic growth in their regions. For the first time, regional strategies set out how less prosperous areas in each of our regions can gain a share in, and contribute to, Britain's increasing prosperity.

Just as the regional development agencies are beginning to make a real impact, the Tories, with their uncanny knack of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, are calling for their abolition. It would be a matter of deep regret if anyone took them seriously, and if it were not so maladroit, that the Opposition now want to abolish the RDAs—although I gather not those in Scotland and Wales—the regional planning structures and the regional chambers, the new deal, the minimum wage and the working families tax credit. That is the policy of despair, not the politics of a serious party that might aspire to Government.

Mr. David Prior (North Norfolk)

Can the hon. Gentleman name one thing that the East of England development agency has done to alleviate poverty in East Anglia?

Mr. Raynsford

The East of England development agency is already working in a number of different ways. It has submitted a detailed strategy for activity within the area. Its representatives have met the Minister for Local Government and the Regions to outline what will be done in the regions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) so rightly pointed out, the Government are tackling the problems that were neglected by the previous Government.

Mr. Blizzard

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Raynsford

No, I have given way once and I must make progress.

Housing is one fundamental element in people's living standards. Unlike Conservative Members, the Government are committed to offering everyone the opportunity of a decent home. Over the life of this Parliament, we are making available an additional £5 billion for investment in housing in England. Resources for housing investment by local authorities from April next year have been increased by 48 per cent. over the previous year, the largest increase in the housing investment programme that has ever been made, following long years of cuts under the Conservative Government. That investment is helping to tackle the serious backlog of poor condition council housing, to build new affordable homes in areas of shortage and to tackle the problem of low demand which was ignored throughout the Tory years.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Can the hon. Gentleman explain the rationale for cutting the budget of the Housing Corporation in the north-west by nearly 20 per cent. this year?

Mr. Raynsford

The Housing Corporation's budget has not been cut by 20 per cent., it has increased this year. The Housing Corporation's regional allocation, like that given to local authorities, is determined by formulae. In the case of the Housing Corporation, that is the housing needs index, and, in the case of the local authorities, a slightly different one called the general needs index. Because the HNI was based on the 1996 house condition survey, which showed significant changes from the previous data, the improvement in housing conditions in the north-west resulted in a lesser allocation. Overall, when one considers the allocations to the local authorities and housing associations combined, the north-west region has some £70 million of additional housing investment this year.

Mr. Gummer

Under which Government did that improvement in housing in the north-west take place? Was it under the same Government whom the hon. Gentleman was attacking for not doing anything about housing?

Mr. Raynsford

I am happy to pay tribute to the good work of all the local authorities and housing associations in the north-west, many of which I know well, which successfully secured significant improvements in their area during those years.

Our forthcoming housing Green Paper will set out a series of radical new proposals for the further modernisation of housing policy and lay the foundations for ending the appalling legacy of homelessness, housing deprivation and social divisiveness that we inherited in 1997.

Mr. Steen

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Raynsford

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will give way, but I should like to make some progress first.

Crucial to building a successful and united country is our policy of urban renaissance. The flight from the cities, which was such a characteristic of the Tory years, must be reversed. The notion that urban living is second best needs to be overturned. We want to make our towns and cities places in which people choose to live and lift the threat of unnecessary development from the countryside.

People also want the tide to turn on dreary and soulless house building. No one wants more of the indifferent collections of little boxes that were allowed to spread across our countryside like a rash. Unfortunately, many of those developments, which I regret were a characteristic of development patterns under the previous Government, are still in the pipeline, particularly in the south-east. That must change and we have made it clear that it will.

The creation of better-designed places where people want to live will be a strong message in our new planning policy guidance for housing—PPG3—which we shall publish soon. We shall make it clear that planning authorities should promote developments that bring together environmental, transport and planning best practice to create places that have their own distinct identity and are in harmony with the local environment. New development should help to create safe, attractive places of a quality that will endure.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

Does my hon. Friend agree that my constituency is an excellent example of precisely the good planning that he has described? Was it not unfortunate that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), who is on record as being extremely rude about my constituency, did not see fit to give way to allow him to put that right on the record?

Mr. Raynsford

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the considerable qualities of Milton Keynes. There are many good things in her area and she is right to condemn unthinking, ill-informed attacks by people who probably have little or no practical knowledge of that part of the country.

We shall make it clear in our new guidance that new developments should help to make places safe and attractive and should be built to design standards that will endure. We shall not beat about the bush. When applying for planning permission, housebuilders will have to show how they have taken the need for good design into account. Planning authorities will be expected to reject poor design, particularly when their decisions are supported by clear planning policies and design guidance. We shall support them on appeal.

Mr. Steen

The Minister talks about good design, which is important, but does he agree that it is equally important to have sewers and schools in place when new homes are built? There must be enough facilities so that people already living in an area are not prejudiced. How will PPG3 ensure that people who already live in the countryside do not have their lives ruined because there is insufficient infrastructure for new homes?

Mr. Raynsford

I say to the hon. Gentleman, who always enlivens our proceedings, that design is more than aesthetics; it is about creating the correct environment and ensuring that places are safe for people to lead pleasant lives without fear of the undesirable consequences that he described.

The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee recently produced a welcome report on planning for housing and I say to the Chairman and its members that I shall respond to the report and that PPG3 will be published very shortly. The Committee will know that planning guidance has quasi-legal status and takes time to prepare. An enormous number of responses have been made to the consultation, including one from the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen), and we are taking them seriously. The document is a key plank in countering the irresponsible development policies that were pursued for more than a decade in the early years of the previous Administration and which threatened the green belt and gobbled up the countryside.

We take no lessons from the Opposition. On the profligate use of greenfield sites, hon. Members should look at what they did on out-of-town shopping. During their 18 years in office, nearly 13 million sq m of out-of-town shopping floor space was developed in shopping centres, retail parks and superstores. Superstores alone added 5 million sq m and half all out-of-town shopping—much of it in the south-east—was approved and built under the previous Administration in seven ruinous years from 1986–92.

The disastrous consequences have been recognised and policies changed. To his credit, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer)—I am delighted that he is present—began that process, and we have tightened further the restrictions on inappropriate out-of-town developments with the clear support of the Select Committee's recent report. In the same way that the tide has been turned against a proliferation of out-of-town shopping centres that damage our town centres, so, too, the tide is turning in favour of housing development in our towns and on brownfield sites. We are promoting a sequential approach to delivering land for new homes, which will prioritise the re-use of brownfield sites.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

May we take it that the Government prefer building on brownfield sites and that they will rescind the permission to build 10,000 houses on the green belt in my constituency? That is the largest approval ever given for housebuilding on the green belt.

Mr. Raynsford

The right hon. Gentleman knows from previous debates in the House that the decision to proceed with that designation was taken by the local authority, quite properly, and it decided to proceed because of a perception—for which there is considerable support from people who have looked at the matter carefully, including planning professionals—that it is better to concentrate development in an area close to transport linkages and other facilities rather than allow a proliferation of development throughout the wider surrounding rural area. I know that that is a difficult issue and that there are different points of view, but he knows only too well that the decision was properly taken by the local authority. It would be quite improper for the Government to intervene belatedly in the way that he suggests.

Ms Ward

Does my hon. Friend agree that developments such as the west of Stevenage development are important to achieving a balance? Although the majority of houses should be built on urban redeveloped land, some are necessary in areas where a new town can be constructed. If it were not for the west of Stevenage development, areas of Stevenage and Watford would experience more building and the amenities available to the people who already live in the town centres would be decreased. They have little green space around them so they want to protect some of it.

Mr. Raynsford

My hon. Friend rightly articulates the concerns of many people in urban areas who do not want urban green spaces to be built on. We support that. Our policy priority is to secure development, wherever possible, on brownfield sites. When that is not possible—we recognise that it is not always—it is essential that sustainability principles apply. I described them in response to the question posed by the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley).

Mr. Blizzard

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Raynsford

Once more, but then I must make progress because this is a brief debate. I have given way to my hon. Friend already.

Mr. Blizzard

Before my hon. Friend moves on from brownfield sites, may I draw his attention to a large £3 million redevelopment that is under way on a derelict brownfield site in Lowestoft? It was funded by the East of England development agency, and that may be of interest to the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior).

Mr. Raynsford

I thought that my hon. Friend was about to come in with a useful and apposite reference that responded well to the question asked by the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior).

As I have made clear, we are also committed to a 60 per cent. target for recycling land. We believe that that is tough, but achievable, and Lord Rogers' urban task force agrees. That is not only a question of maximising the use of recycled land. We must end the profligate waste of land through the type of low-density greenfield development that characterised the Tory years. The facts speak for themselves: between 1989 and 1997, 58 per cent. of all new housing developments in the south-east were at densities of less than 20 houses per hectare. That was the previous Government's legacy, and it has to change. As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister said yesterday, "We've got to stop wasting land." We want local authorities to look critically at the standards that they apply to new development.

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough)

On wasting existing brownfield sites, will my hon. Friend ensure that local authorities have powers to act when private landlords price town centre sites unreasonably and make sure that developers are not able to use them to enhance housing and urban regeneration? There are real difficulties as many such sites are derelict. Will he consider bringing them back into use?

Mr. Raynsford

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the difficulty of land assembly in many urban areas. As he will probably know, we have commissioned a detailed study of compulsory purchase practice and are looking at ways of improving the procedures to ensure that it is possible for land assembly to take place while the interests of all parties are respected. A delicate balance has to be achieved, but we are seeking a way forward.

Raising densities does not represent either a pipe dream or a return to the high-rise developments of the 1960s and 1970s. I want better-quality housing design that includes modern variations on popular traditional-style layouts to improve the quality of life in our towns and cities and reduce development in the countryside. It can be done, and it has been done, as developments such as Poundbury in Dorset and Coin street in London have clearly demonstrated. We can achieve better-quality housing and use less land with a popular mix of housing. Even on suburban sites, net development densities of about 50 dwellings per hectare can be achieved with a mix of terraced, semi-detached and detached houses with gardens. Few would quibble with the Government's wish to see quality places that people will cherish.

We will soon announce the conclusions that we shall reach on regional planning guidance for the south-east and eastern regions. As all Members know, we cannot and will not pre-empt that announcement. Let me make this crystal clear, however: our response, and our approach to the future development needs of both regions—and, indeed, others—will be firmly based on the principles that I have set out today, and our commitment both to encouraging an urban renaissance and to the protection of our countryside.

In contrast to the previous Government, who presided over a profligate and unsustainable development bonanza that gobbled up millions of hectares of greenfield land, the present Government have developed what is probably the most co-ordinated, thoughtful and realistic approach to planning and regeneration that we have seen for many decades. A number of the new policies are already in place; others will follow in the near future. They will, of course, take a little time to work—there is a lot of damage to make good—but what I have described is a joined-up, long-term programme, with clear objectives in mind and with huge benefits for all our country, urban and rural, north and south. What a contrast that is with the piecemeal, knee-jerk attempt by a non-credible Opposition to grab headlines by distorting a few selectively chosen statistics.

We care about the countryside. We care about our towns, and we care about our cities. We care about all our regions. We are the party of one nation—one Britain. I commend the amendment warmly to the House.

8.22 pm
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South)

I am sure that all hon. Members share my disappointment that the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was not here to open the debate. I, for one, would have liked to ask him some questions about the policies that he has expounded in recent months—not least how he squares cutting bureaucracy for developers with giving more power to local people. I wonder whether that policy will continue.

Like many other Members, I am also disappointed that the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) is not at the Dispatch Box, but I am sure that everyone awaits next Tuesday's Environment questions with great interest.

This afternoon, answering my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the Prime Minister had a great opportunity to start the process of showing the Government's commitment. He could have said that the Government were going to come clean about whether they would provide match funding for areas that have been granted objective 1 status in Wales, the south-west, Merseyside and Sheffield. If he had said that the Government now had every intention of honouring those commitments, the message would have gone out to those areas, loud and clear, that the Government were on the ball and would deliver. I am sure that people living there are greatly disappointed that the opportunity was lost.

I spent 30 years in local government, during which time I chaired a local planning authority in what was probably the country's most densely populated city, and led the largest local authority in the country, with a great responsibility for a sizeable chunk of the south-east. I had expected to discover what the Tories had to say. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) did not allow me to intervene; had he done so, I would have asked what responsibility he felt he and his colleagues had for what had happened between 1979 and 1997. As planning chairman and as leader of a local authority, I suffered weekly from the overturning of planning decisions and from the pressure that is placed on local authorities to do more—and from not being able to receive a straight answer, even when Ministers were confronted by delegations of members and the public.

I was interested to read the document "Common Sense Revolution in Regeneration", and to note the sudden conversion experienced by the Tories who wrote it. They speak of restoring contaminated land. Where were they in the 1980s and 1990s, when authorities such as mine and many others throughout the country begged for resources to free up brownfield sites and enable them to be developed? The price for the failure to do that was the taking of hundreds, if not thousands, of the green acres that the Tories now long to protect. They did nothing; and there is no disclaimer in the document. There is not even a footnote saying, "Whatever you do, be careful: there is a denial at the back that you can use in case of emergency." Moreover, we heard nothing from the Tories today about their current position.

In a section entitled "Revised Planning Guidance", the Tories say: We will streamline the planning process in rundown areas and make brownfield development easier. Why now?

Mr. Norman

What is your policy?

Mr. Hancock

Do not worry; we shall come to that. You had years in power, and we are now suffering the results. It is a bit rich for you to come here—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The hon. Gentleman must remember to use the correct parliamentary language.

Mr. Hancock

It is a bit rich of Her Majesty's Opposition to present a motion that does little other than cry crocodile tears. It would have been nice if someone had owned up to the part that the Conservative party played in creating the present mess.

I entirely agree with the Minister about the difficulty of judging the north-south divide, but it is certainly not right for Members to talk down our northern cities. We need only look at the success stories in Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds, and the huge advances that have been made in Liverpool and Sheffield, in a very short time, under Liberal Democrat control. The figures speak for themselves.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, following the Rogers report, the Labour Government's policy is already being enacted in Liverpool? The regeneration company Liverpool Vision—in which the regional development agency works with the local authority and the private sector—has already begun its work. Perhaps he will thank the Government for giving Liverpool city council additional financial support, thus enabling the Liberal Democrats to freeze the council tax. Will he urge them to do the same next year, as the Government have given them yet more funding?

Mr. Hancock

No doubt everyone can produce similar stories from that area. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) is a classic example in this regard. He has spoken of the needs of his community. Just over the edge of his constituency, the Kensington community has been given new deal status: it will receive £50 million of investment over the next 10 years. A stone's throw away, a similar community consisting of great people struggling with similar problems will receive nothing.

The hon. Member for Walton said to the House, to the Government—I hope—and certainly to his constituents that areas should not continue to be run down while waiting for the result of pilot schemes in other areas. That must be what was behind his leaving the Government so dramatically: he must have seen the dissatisfaction that his constituents saw daily a stone's throw from where they lived. It is not good enough to try to massage the truth.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) was right to mention Liverpool, but since the Liberal Democrats have been in control there has been record investment of £1 billion in the city. Liverpool has been voted the top United Kingdom day visitor destination. Office developments in Princess dock are going ahead without gap funding, for the first time; and 4,500 homes have been transferred from council control to new social landlords, thus unlocking much-needed capital to improve houses. The story goes on—and that came about because a Liberal Democrat-controlled council had the strength, and the commitment to the city, to bring it about.

The same message is beginning to emerge in Sheffield. It is early days, but already a real change is coming over the city. I could list a great many incentives that are already beginning to bring it into the fold. It is not good enough that—

Dr. Whitehead

Does the hon. Gentleman recall a development between his constituency and mine, which is the largest out-of-town development along the M27? Does he recall also the party that was in control of the council that gave permission for that development, and the consequences that ensued?

Mr. Hancock

The hon. Gentleman is right. I intended to give credit to him for his achievements as leader of Southampton city council. We represent similar cities. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Rapson) is in his place, and he also can bear witness. Mistakes have been made by local authorities. However, the local authority to which the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) referred was squeezed into a difficult corner. We must try to arrive at policies that allow a reasonable balance. The development could have taken place in the Southampton docks, for example, if Southampton had been open-minded enough to attract it on to a brownfield site. However, millions of pounds would have been needed to clean up the site and make the docks ready for the development. The money was not available because the Tory Government would not provide it. As a result, the development went elsewhere and put pressure on the green belt, and so the story continues.

Portsmouth is a densely populated island. However, as part of its commitment, it is taking another 5,000 housing units. Portsmouth needs new houses like a hole in the head, but it is prepared to do something. As I am sure Ministers and others would say, people living in urban areas do not want to see rural communities and the green belt that surrounds our cities built upon all over the place. However, there is a price to pay for urban areas such as Portsmouth, Southampton and Brighton playing their part in the south-east.

The figures are hopelessly wrong. They take no account of the fact that in Portsmouth, for example, there are probably nearly 2,000 empty properties. There are probably 10,000 properties that are under-occupied. Many of them are council-owned properties.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the need to protect the countryside. Does he agree that it is fundamental that we allow some development in rural areas? Through village appraisals and blueprints, local communities often say that they want some housing or economic development because they will suffer just as much as urban areas unless they get it.

Mr. Hancock

Absolutely. I have spoken at numerous village meetings where the village community—not the people who came in for second homes and picturesque thatched cottages—has said that. What about the youngsters, who were born and grew up in the village and who want to continue to live there? Where do they go in the New Forest? Where can they find housing? Do they have to go to Southampton or Bournemouth to live in multi-occupation housing? Do they have to go to Basingstoke? It is the same throughout the south-east. There are obvious needs in the rural community and, once again, a balance must be found.

I hope that the Minister who replies will say that greater help will be given to solve the problem of rundown urban areas, wherever they are. The general improvement areas and housing action areas of the late 1960s and early 1970s have done their job. The 25-year extra life that a general improvement area was supposed to give to an old property has now come to an end in most instances, and most of the properties concerned are more than 100 years old. They now need further refurbishment. We need a return to grants to improve them. Local authorities need help to be able to offer proper and viable alternatives to the elderly who under-occupy. There are some ludicrous examples where one person is occupying a three-bedroom council house with a garden at the front and at the back. At the same time, there are 4,500 and sometimes nearly 5,000 families waiting to be rehoused in many cities. In some instances the figures may be even higher. We need to arrive at policies that offer solutions that do not involve building new housing. In other words, we do not have to build new houses.

A number of things could and should have been done between 1979 and 1997. We know that no one in this place will own up for what did not happen. The Minister rightly applauded the achievements of the last Secretary of State in the Conservative Government with responsibilities in this area, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who tried to halt the development of out-of-town shopping. Unfortunately that finger appeared in the dyke a little too late in the day when most of the damage had been done. Most of the stores have been built, with their acres of car parks. That cannot be reversed.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

My hon. Friend is right when he says that the then Secretary of State's intervention came late in the day. It is a fact that the sword of Damocles still hangs over some communities. There is a proposed supermarket site outside Frome. Permission for the development was given in the dying days of the Conservative Government, overriding the local authority's decision. We still do not know whether that development will take place. If it does, it will be an Asda.

Mr. Hancock

Once again my hon. Friend has made his point. He has given another example of how the innocence of the countryside will be disturbed for the want of money. When the Conservatives were in Government they created a developers' paradise. Land banks were established in most of the counties of the south-east and the area surrounding the M25 corridor, and many of them still exist.

I was slightly disturbed by the Minister's answer to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), when he said that building up to 10,000 units was what developers might have wanted. Some of the developers who bought land banks in Hampshire, West Sussex and probably in Kent and East Sussex wanted to be involved in that very sort of development. They want to create Micheldevers outside Winchester. However, that is the very thing that most people in the south-east find impossible to handle. I hope that the Minister will clarify the Government's position. I understand that there are exceptions but I would not like developers once again to misinterpret the Minister's response as suggesting that such development will be an acceptable norm in future. If that is the correct interpretation, once again we shall have a Government whose record on development will be tarnished by the time that they leave office.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, asked about the Liberal Democrats' plan. We have a plan. Unlike Baldrick's, it is not a cunning plan. Indeed, it is a straightforward, open plan.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

A short plan?

Mr. Hancock

It is not a short plan. I do not want to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. It is a straightforward plan that could be adopted by the House and the Government very quickly.

We could establish a greenfield development tax to encourage more efficient use of brownfield land and existing properties. We cannot proceed in any other way. There is not a cat-in-hell's chance of achieving the Government's targets otherwise. We would set up regionality to reflect the relative scarcity of greenfield land in each region and regionalise priorities within them. With the vagueness of the present system, a local authority will turn down permission and the Government will grant it, and that will continue.

We would devolve regional responsibility for housing to regions. We would ensure that regions had planning conferences and housing conferences that led to planned strategies. As for Portsmouth, I hope that the region would not be the south-east as a whole but a smaller one. We would simplify regeneration funds into one regeneration fund instead of the numerous sources that now exist.

We would free local government to be more innovative by allowing it greater freedom to borrow and to introduce local income tax—another tax, but it would specifically benefit people in that area. People in many parts of the country are disappointed at the way in which their tax is spent. A regional local income tax that targeted issues where people live would be far better received than some of the tax rises that they have had to pay since 1 April.

We would give people better control of local politicians via proportional representation and referendums, allowing people to have more say and to reflect more on what was happening. We would give special encouragement to local government development in areas where it has been lagging, such as the north-east and elsewhere.

We would do something about unemployment. The Minister has quoted regional figures. I read with interest the latest published figures on unemployment: it has come down to a record low of just over 1 million; about 1,070,000 are claiming benefit. However, 1.7 million people are registered unemployed, but not claiming benefit. Therefore, nearly 3 million people are still registered unemployed. Whatever the reason, a significant number of people are still registered unemployed. Members may frown at that. The Government supplied those figures. For the first time, they were published on the same day. It was interesting to draw a comparison.

In opposition, the Labour party accused the Tory Government of massaging the unemployment figures. The figures that I have just exposed show that the massaging continues. We ignore them at our peril. We still have major problems of unemployment. We have to give help to regions and to large cities where unemployment still figures high on the agenda of the poor in our community.

I hope that, when Members vote tonight, they will think seriously. I would have loved it if the Government had made another mistake and hon. Members were able to vote on our amendment. I am sure that many Labour Members would have found it hard not to support it.

The Conservative motion starts to redress the situation. It fires a great warning shot. I hope that the Government will take it seriously. However, when people reflect on the debate, most of them will think that it was more about educating Archie than bringing to the attention of the nation the Tories' mistakes while in government, and the way in which they allowed developers to rape the countryside.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, may I remind the House that many Members wish to speak, so shorter speeches will be appreciated?

8.42 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central)

I am also disappointed that the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) did not speak, but for the reason that it would have been impossible for him to make a worse speech, at least on the north of England and its cities, than the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), to whom I pay the following compliment. I will ensure that his speech is read widely in my constituency because it will show the absolute contempt that the one-region Tory party has for the north of England.

Rightly, there is still anger in my constituency towards the people who have failed to apologise for the damage that they caused constituencies and cities such as mine and those of many other Labour Members. The Tory party will regret that, not so much at council elections, but at constituency elections, when the party—which does not exist in the city of Manchester—will cease to be relevant to ordinary people's needs.

Mr. Brady

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lloyd

I will, provided that the hon. Gentleman promises to be brief.

Mr. Brady

The hon. Gentleman would do himself more credit and do more justice to his argument if he gave credit where it is due: to the redevelopment in the centre of Manchester and in Salford Quays, which was achieved under a Conservative Government. Much was done in Manchester under the last Conservative Government. He should admit it.

Mr. Lloyd

I think that the hon. Gentleman was away from Manchester for some time during that era. The shame is that he does not come round with me. I invite the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells to do so. If he wants to know what really happens in a northern city, he should come with me to my constituency and see, for example, east Manchester, which the present Government are doing something about. House prices in the private sector have tumbled there. My constituents come to me because they have paid perhaps £28,000 or £30,000. I accept that that is not a lot by the standards of the millionaires on the Conservative Benches, but it is a lot for working people in the north of England. They have seen house prices plummet to £4,000, £3,000 or, effectively, nothing.

The combination of unemployment and poverty hits people's health, so that people die younger in my constituency—a result of the previous Government's policies. In parts of my constituency, it will take a generation for us to get rid of the legacy of crime. On top of that, people's life chances were blighted by the previous Government. Not once have we heard an apology from Conservative Members, but it is about time that they accepted the blame that attaches to them because of the previous Government—and that attaches to them even now when they fail to understand the real problems, and the real scale of the problems, in constituencies such as mine and across the north of England.

Some action was taken by the previous Government. The right hon. Members for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) and for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)—the then Deputy Prime Minister—recognised the scale of the problems, and it is right and proper to say that parts of Manchester, such as Hulme, were redeveloped under the previous Government. However, that redevelopment was no compensation for the damage done by the recklessness of that Government in the 1980s and early 1990s, and which will literally blight my community for many years to come.

I pay tribute to the Government for their attempt systematically to promote regeneration. East Manchester, for example, has obtained a £75 million package, and that money is making and will make a real difference to and significant inroads into the problems that we inherited. Moreover, the Government are not treating regeneration as a simple issue, but are considering it as part of an overall social and economic process.

The Government are concentrating on the various issues affecting my constituents, and education has become a major part of their drive. Ministers are also placing emphasis on joined-up thinking between the various Departments, tying health, for example, into regeneration. Ministers have implemented key initiatives—which the Opposition would end—such as the working families tax credit and the minimum wage, which are desperately important to people in the community that I serve. The new deal in Greater Manchester is already offering opportunity to young people, 120,000 of whom have gained sustainable employment because of the Government's action. Conservative Members would not have allowed those programmes to proceed, but would end them if they could. That is why Conservative Members are seen to be so irrelevant.

When my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, I hope that she will make the point that if Conservative — belong to a party with no credibility in northern cities—really want to have a debate and examine the north-south divide, they should talk a little, please, about the north of England. The hon. Member for Ashford barely mentioned it in his speech—his was a speech for his own constituents in the south, dictated largely by the preoccupations of the Conservative party, which is now down to its rock-bottom layers of support and desperately trying to appeal to those. The speech was irrelevant to my constituents.

I should like to spend a few moments outlining what Labour Members expect from the Government. It is important that we have reinvestment in our urban communities, which are important not only for the cities themselves, but for the wider community. It is important that the Greater Manchester travel-to-work area and community has a strong city at its heart, so that it is not plagued with the sort of problems that we have seen. We have to deal with the issues of crime, poverty, ill health and poor education, which have blighted the lives and futures of my constituents. Such action is beginning to be taken.

I hope that Ministers will also take on board some recommendations on necessary action. Perhaps we need more joined-up thinking in Government. One problem encountered by local planners in my constituency, which has both a single regeneration programme and a new deal programme, is the difficulty of tying the two together. One scheme is administered by the regional development agency, but the other by Government office of the north-west. We need a little more creative thinking to ensure that joined-up Government really does deliver the maximum bang for the bucks provided.

Although I realise that it is a more difficult issue, it would help enormously if we could incorporate European funding structures into mainstream Government programmes, so that we are able to ensure maximum delivery on the Government's objectives. I ask my hon. Friends the Ministers seriously to address those issues.

We should also recognise the Government's achievements. I hope that Ministers will recognise how important the minimum wage has been already and the importance of sending a signal that it will keep pace with changes in average earnings in society generally. In the coming weeks and months, Labour Members will be looking to the Government to send those signals. I hope that my hon. Friends will take that message back.

Powerful signals could be given on the long-term future of Manchester and the region. The future of Daresbury has been mentioned. There is a battle between Oxford and the north-west of England for the siting of new investment and the decision lies at the highest level in the Government. They could send an important signal by recognising that when there is an equal case—or, on this occasion, a stronger case—for a northern location, it should be accepted, because we need to maintain the human capital and skills base in the north-west and throughout the north of England.

I hope that my hon. Friends understand the disappointment that has sometimes been felt. We hear that the dome was recently granted an extra £60 million of funding. That contrasts with the difficulty that Manchester has had in persuading the Government to look kindly on investment and development in the Commonwealth games site. Those are important issues for Manchester.

Mr. Soames

Hear, hear.

Mr. Lloyd

I am glad to have the support of at least one Conservative Member from the south of England. It is an important issue, because with a one-nation Government we need investment in sporting, cultural and other facilities not just in London and the south-east, but throughout the country. Even at this stage, the Government could decide to make Manchester the home of athletics in this country. That would need investment in the Commonwealth games site, but it would leave a legacy for athletics throughout the United Kingdom that would not result from the proposed development in London, if that is to be the site of the 2005 world athletics championship.

The strongest signal that the Government can give is to make it clear that they are determined never again to let the people of my constituency be crucified in the wanton and cavalier fashion that we saw during the 18 years of Conservative Government. Every time that I listen to my hon. Friends, that is the commitment that I hear. There will be no more Tories for Manchester, because what they did was wicked and it will take us a long time to overcome the problems that resulted from that wickedness.

8.52 pm
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal)

I had intended to draw together the issues on which there is agreement across the House, but that was before I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock). I was thrilled to hear his description of Liberal Democrat policy. We all know what their policy really is: they bang on the door, find out what the person wants to hear and tell them that. If the person next door wants to hear something different, they tell them that instead. Every Liberal Democrat local authority operates on that basis.

There is no common Liberal Democrat policy on the issue—that was proved when the hon. Gentleman tried to explain what they would do. They want a lot of regions and referendums, as well as two new taxes. I wonder what would happen if people decided in a referendum that they did not want the new taxes. Would they then not have them? The hon. Gentleman said that the regions would not be too big, but the localities would also have to have their say. It is the usual nonsense from the Liberal Democrats, desperate to appear that they have a policy when all that they want to do is be antagonistic—significantly so to the Conservative party and not quite so significantly so to the Labour party. Their policy is "A plague on both your houses", because they will not face the real tough issues.

I congratulate the—

Mr. Steen

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gummer

In a moment, because I want to get my congratulation out before it sticks in my throat. I congratulate the Minister on a range of measures that, I hope that he agrees, have continued the kind of policies that I tried to introduce. He wants to improve the quality and design of the homes that are built. I congratulate him on his recent announcement.

It is a pity that the Department has no specialist advisers to bring fresh architectural design into its work. It is a pity that they are all political advisers and not specialist advisers. It is important for a Department that has not been marked for its design consciousness in the past to have new, bright and unusual ideas. That would happen if the Minister were to bring in people from outside. It would make up for the clearly mistaken views that were put forward by Professor Crow and others who take an old-fashioned view.

It is not sensible to make party political comments about lack of density in building. We all know the reason for that. The planning establishment went on and on about how we should not have town planning and how we had to have low-density development. When I introduced proposals for higher densities, I was told that I was going back to Victorian times. Some Labour Members, then in opposition, echoed those planning mantras. The Minister will have significant support from the Opposition in seeking to explain to planners that quality and design matter more than density. They matter whether the development is in the north of England or the south of England. That is a crucial issue.

The Minister has to understand why the debate was introduced. After the winding up of the urban development corporations, which quite properly had a period of time in which to do remarkable jobs in Manchester, Sheffield and many of the great northern cities, we need to consider what has replaced them. So far, it is difficult to see in the actions of the Leeds authority or the Sheffield authority, under its previous administration or its present administration, the verve, new ideas and excitement that was put into those cities by the UDCs. We have not seen it yet. I do not want to say that we will not see it, but I believe that the Minister has an important job to do in trying to find new ways of looking at urban regeneration, which is so important and which the UDCs in large measure began.

In those circumstances, the Minister must understand why we feel that there is a real lack of enthusiasm for the regeneration that is necessary in our great northern cities. After all, when we talk about guilt, we should consider the guilt of Labour councils that destroyed great cities by pulling down buildings and building badly in their place, instead of providing the regeneration which all parties now agree ought to be the answer. There is a great deal of guilt around, but there is also a great deal of common view. I suggest, therefore, that we build on that common view and try to get a bit more oomph—if Hansard cannot spell oomph I shall do it for them—into what the Government are doing in the great cities of the north.

The Government also have to realise, however, that large numbers of people live in the countryside. The Prime Minister's reception at the National Farmers Union was not wildly over the top. The delegates recognised that the right hon. Gentleman's speech lacked answers and demonstrated a failure of understanding. He suggested only that they should consult. We have had three years of crisis and we are now in the business of consultation. The Prime Minister got a raspberry for a very good reason: he presented no vision of any kind about the rural areas of Britain—so those in rural areas have begun to ask whether the Government have anything to say to them at all. If that conference was any guide, the answer is no. It is no good saying that the Government understand the rural areas. People in rural areas feel beleaguered and do not believe that the Government will try even to protect the countryside outside our cities.

I am trying to be as helpful as possible. That is the truth. Just as the Government must show more commitment to regeneration in the great northern cities, so they must show a commitment, in which people can believe, to the protection of the countryside. It is no good the Minister telling me that 10,000 new houses in the green belt next door to Stevenage are part of his policy for protecting the countryside. That will not wash. It is no good him saying that the Government were unable to turn down the plan. They could have done so; they had the legal means to go back on their decision.

What did the Government say when I raised the matter? Ministers all had pieces of paper telling them to say that I had allowed large amounts of the green belt to be used, so I looked up what I had allowed. I allowed no housing in the green belt. The major project was the extension of Manchester airport—it would be difficult to build an airport in the centre of Manchester. Who asked me to extend Manchester airport? It was the Labour Members of Parliament for Manchester. I also found that I had allowed a development to create jobs in Woking.

The Minister must accept that the whole policy started badly with Stevenage. Then, instead of developing the centre of Newcastle, the Government wanted to build 2,000 homes on the edge of the city—against the advice of someone who is now one of their revered Ministers. He probably got the job because he was so effective at putting over that point.

The Government went on to announce that they would put aside a large greenfield, greenbelt site in Birmingham for new building. It is no good telling us that they support open fields, they do not—what they do is not what they say. Until they do what they say, we cannot be expected to believe them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) was accused of not making a speech today—although my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) made an excellent speech. The accusation is hard to sustain when the Deputy Prime Minister is not in the Chamber for the debate. When the right hon. Gentleman gives a major speech it is to the Fabian Society, not to the House. He is not in the Chamber telling us what to do; he is doing that outside.

The Minister should be careful when he makes criticisms. The real criticism is of the contempt in which the House is held by the Deputy Prime Minister and of his failure to announce in the House, to the House, major policy changes—making such announcements instead to his cronies in the Fabian Society.

From time to time, I have fallen out with my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells—about Asda building in certain places—so I cannot be described as sycophantic. However, it is an odd House of Commons in which someone who has provided opportunities for keeping jobs and for creating jobs and wealth should be deemed unsuitable to comment on the environment, transport and the regions. The Minister should realise that no member of his ministerial team has ever created a job in his life—that is the problem with the Government. They do not realise that it is not only the northern towns which have no confidence in them—that is evident in the resignation of so eminent a man as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) —but that the same is true of the rural areas and of the conservationists. They do not have the confidence of the wealth creators of Britain, to whom they have not given the certainty that such people need.

The only way to get people to redevelop city centres is to make it clear that they will not be granted approval for development plans outside cities. If the Government did their job properly, they would not hide behind legalistic matters and Professor Crow's document; they would say clearly, "Professor Crow is wrong. We will not allow 1.1 million houses to be built on the green belt—not because we want to suck up to voters in the south, but because if we do so, voters in the north will never have the regeneration that they need, and the regeneration needed in so many of our southern cities will not take place either."

I think that the Minister's heart is in the right place—very often his mouth is too—but he has to put his Government's actions in the right context. The person who he has got to get at first is the Prime Minister. His answer to urban deprivation in Islington was not to improve education there, but to take his children to a school five boroughs away. I am not introducing private family matters into the debate—it is an example of "Don't improve it, go somewhere else." That is true of too many of Labour's answer to inner-city problems.

I want the inner cities to be improved and I want action, not words. I want a Prime Minister who stays there and shows that his family will put up with the education that Labour's consistent control of Islington has destroyed. It is not just housing and the environment that will regenerate our cities; it is schools to which people will want to send their children. Most of the movement out of our cities has been by young families who have looked for places where their children can be better educated. If we get the schools right, we can do a great deal more about regeneration. If only this Prime Minister had led the way.

9.6 pm

Ms Hazel Blears (Salford)

I am beginning to feel a slight sense of déjà vu. Just three months ago, we had a debate on virtually the same issues and, again, it was called by the Opposition. On that occasion, I accused the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) of living on another planet, because he did not seem to be in touch with the real world. He seems to have vanished into thin air and I had hoped that the Opposition's new representatives would have learned something from that debate. Yet the contribution that we have just heard from the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) almost seems to be an attempt to airbrush the Conservatives' role out of history and to whitewash the whole record of their time in government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) was right to remind people in the country and the House of the dreadful wickedness—wickedness was the right word to use—of the actions and policies of successive Tory Governments. They created many of the dreadful problems that this Labour Government is now having to address in many of our cities, not just in the north, but in all parts of Britain. I am amazed that Conservative Members can stand there with impunity and accept no responsibility whatever for the actions and policies that they introduced.

Conservatives do not like to be reminded of the economic mismanagement that led to many of our problems. The failures and recessions decimated manufacturing industry and put hundreds of thousands of people out of work in many cities and that led to the spiral of despair, dereliction and decline with which we are having to deal today.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way before she does herself an injury. If things are going so well, why did the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) resign?

Ms Blears

My hon. Friend will undertake a magnificent job on behalf of his constituents. In future, he will raise many of the issues about which we are concerned. If the hon. Gentleman finds it disturbing that Labour Members have passion and integrity about the issues on which they speak, I suggest that he remind his own colleagues of the depth and intensity that we feel about these issues. We represent our constituents and see on a day-to-day basis the effects of the Tory policies that damaged and decimated many of our areas.

The massive rise in unemployment, particularly in my constituency, led to that spiral of decline. People had no jobs, no hope, no skills and no chance of a decent future. The problems will take many years to begin to turn around, not simply the two and a half years of the Labour Government.

The Tories' response—then as now—was absolutely pathetic. They did not invest in people; they invested in bricks and mortar and prestige projects. They told us to move and to look for work elsewhere. They did not encourage regeneration by empowering local communities to do things for themselves. Instead, they had the cult of the individual and selfishness—everyone for himself and get on if we can. That is not my idea of rebuilding communities.

If I am honest, I do not believe that the Opposition care about regeneration. I do not think that they have thought deeply about how to build capacity in local communities; how to involve local people in changing their neighbourhoods; how to make sure that youngsters have the skills to enable them to take the jobs that are on offer; how to give people the self-confidence to stand up to crime and disorder in their communities and how to make a difference. Theirs is a glib, superficial approach. The issues are difficult, long-term and structural, and complex approaches are required to make a difference.

None of that matters to the Opposition. They have demonstrated an obsession with protecting the green belt and a last-minute, unconvincing conversion to revitalising cities as a way out of the corner that they have painted themselves into. As is usual with the Tories, that does not add up. It has already been said that they want to abolish the regional development agencies. How else are we to get the land assembly, infrastructure and inward investment that will bring jobs to many of our hard-pressed cities? They have no answer to that.

The Tories want to abolish the minimum wage, which is helping 2,000 families in Salford, and the working families tax credit, which is benefiting 2,500 families in Salford by between £24 and £100 a week. They want to take that money away from those families. They oppose child benefit increases, and 10,000 children in Salford would not be lifted out of poverty if it were up to the Tories. Those are their policies.

The Tories want to abolish the new deal. In my constituency, youth unemployment has fallen by 60 per cent. and long-term unemployment has fallen by 70 per cent. We have a new deal pilot project for the over-50s. A lady in my constituency has just got her first job for 15 years under that project. The Tories' policies would take away opportunities from many people that I represent.

If we consider what the Labour Government have done in the past two and a half years, we see a dramatic contrast in my area alone. We have a single regeneration budget project in Seedley and Langworthy, which provides £25 million to help people to build their way out of decline and dereliction. A new deal for communities project is currently being built in Kersal and Charlestown. Again, local people are coming together and deciding what are their priorities for the city and what they want to happen.

In our education action zone, we had a children's university this year. For the first time 700 children from the most deprived inner-city area went to Salford university and spent a week doing science, jazz, dance, percussion, engineering and a range of other subjects to which they would not otherwise have had access. At the end they graduated and got certificates, and their parents came to the university—people who would never normally cross the threshold of a university.

Those long-term regeneration projects are crucial if we are to begin to turn the tide. That investment will not pay off straight away; it will take years. If only the previous Government had thought about some of the ways in which they could have invested in young people, we might not be in our present difficulties.

We have a sure start project in Pendleton, which is investing £3,000 in every child born there over the next three years, giving them a decent start and opportunities. That is real regeneration: projects that last and are embedded in local communities; projects that local people own and which give them pride, self-respect and confidence. That is not easy, and it takes time. We cannot do it overnight. People have expectations. We have made a brilliant start, but there is a long way to go.

I suggest to the Government a couple of things that they could do to help us to revitalise our cities further. We need to review the standard spending assessment formula. I know that we are having a review, but I feel strongly that inner-city areas lose grant because people are leaving those areas. The families that they leave behind often have more problems that the people who leave. Those who leave are the more able members of the community, while those who stay have a multiplicity of problems and still need help from social, housing and education services. We need to be much more flexible about the way in which the formula applies to cities.

We lose money because people go from welfare to work. I am delighted that in Salford unemployment has gone down by 13.5 per cent. However, people in poor communities often get low-paid, casual, part-time, temporary jobs. They do not go from being on benefit into a job that pays £20,000 a year, with all that it entails. They still need local authority housing, education and social services to help them to cope. We have lost £4 million this year because we have been successful in getting people into work. We do not want to be penalised for that.

We have to tackle crime if we are to get the most from our social exclusion initiatives, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central said. I want to echo several other contributions by saying that if we are serious about regeneration, we have to create high-quality jobs.

I must mention the vital Diamond synchrotron project at Daresbury. The case for locating the facility at Daresbury is very strong. It is already a world-class centre of synchrotron research expertise and has an unrivalled international scientific reputation. The site is in the right place; planning consent has already been granted; it is within 20 minutes of Manchester airport; it is adjacent to a new research development project that could create 7,000 new jobs; it is in an assisted area. A decision by the Government to invest in science and technology in the north-west would be a massive signal of confidence to the community and investors.

The competing claim by Oxford does not meet the Government's priorities for investment and regeneration. If we are serious about developing centres of excellence in every part of Britain, we should grasp the opportunity. Let us make the Diamond project the jewel in the crown of the north-west. It is in our Labour heartland, and it is overwhelmingly the right thing to do.

The motion describes the need to create one Britain. Two very different Britains are on offer today; we have heard about them both. The Tory Britain is of unemployment, poverty, run-down public services, division and dereliction, while the Labour Britain is of rising—and I hope full—employment, a decent income for hard-working families, education and health services of which we can be proud, and hope and opportunity. Faced with those two options, I know very well which the people of this country will choose. This Labour Government can and will deliver the kind of cities in which people want to live.

9.16 pm
Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

If you believe that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will believe anything.

I assume that it is a matter of common sense that denying development in the south does nothing automatically to encourage it in the north. We must be careful not to make that rather silly arithmetical assumption. The north has its own needs which must be dealt with by policies designed to address them. We know what they are: the exodus from cities, whether to the immediate neighbourhood or beyond; surplus housing; dismal education performance, as the Office for Standards in Education reports in Leeds and Sheffield either have shown or are about to show; and problems of community safety which make people not want to live on estates. I shall address my remarks mainly to the subject of housing, so I am grateful to the Minister for Housing and Planning for remaining in his place.

In the north-east, for example, there is an annual population decline of 1.4 per cent.—3,500 people a year are expected to leave—but household numbers are increasing due to the phenomenon experienced across the country. There are 9,400 local authority voids—3.2 per cent. —but, across all sectors and the range of tenure, there are 77,000 unfit houses. The real problem is the inexorable rise in the number of properties that are difficult to let: 14 per cent. in the local authority sector and 10 per cent. in the housing association sector.

The north-east's annual clearance programme accounts for 1,400 properties a year, yet regional planning guidance provides for the building of 6,000 new houses a year. So, there will be a continuation of over-supply. It takes a lot of money to demolish properties—£16,000 a property under the Housing Corporation's scheme, "New Tools". There is already a dislocation of the planning process and real need on the ground.

Let us look at Newcastle slightly more closely. Of 36,500 council properties, 1,600—4.3 per cent.—are voids. The problem is one of turnover: 8,000 properties a year see a change of tenant. How on earth do we build a stable neighbourhood with a 20 per cent. turnover? The tenancy structure shows a division between very old people and youngsters. There is a great hole in the middle of tenants between the ages of 30 and 45, who have families and, let us say, jobs, who might play an active part in the community.

The reason for such a hole is obvious. One can buy a terraced house in a decent part of Newcastle for £30,000 or a semi-detached Barrett-type house on north Tyneside for less than £50,000. Why pay £40 a week rent when one can put that money into a mortgage?

Let us consider —I see the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) in his place. With a housing stock of 65,000 and the same problem of an ageing tenant population, the city calculates that in 10 to 15 years, up to one third of its tenants will have died or will need to move to different accommodation. There is no new generation of tenants that the city can identify coming along behind, which is one of the reasons why it is actively canvassing transfer options.

Let us take Liverpool, one of the greatest of our northern cities—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) is present. The council has 38,000 properties and other registered social landlords have roughly the same, but in the city there are 15,000 too many properties, of all sorts of tenure. The local authority has embarked on a programme of mothballing or demolishing houses, simply because there is no use for the stock.

I shall not to continue my recital of statistics. Instead, I shall suggest three areas in which Government action is needed, the first of which is stock transfer. That activity received great impetus from the ability to set up housing companies being established under legislation introduced by the previous Government; the Minister for Housing and Planning and I sat on Benches opposite to those upon we now sit when that legislation was passed. The projected programme is for 300,000 transfers, but that includes the whopping Birmingham transfer of about 90,000 units.

There are decisions to be made. As the Minister knows, there is a problem with penalties on the early repayment of debt that are consequent on transfers being made. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take a firm view of the size of transfer permitted: we do not want transfers from one monopoly to another. It is the nature of the management that counts, not the ownership. There is a real danger of great cities being carved up into zones, each of which has a monopoly provider.

I would prefer the division to be achieved in such a way that associations own properties in different parts of a city, so that tenants can compare the performance of different registered social landlords. In addition, we must encourage the development of mixed tenures within housing corporations, housing companies and housing associations, and encourage them to offer tenures across the full range, so as to achieve the sort of mixed development that we know is necessary.

We need a new concept of social housing. We must get away from its present characterisation as residual housing. We are witnessing the death of the council house, but not the death of social housing. We need to find a new definition and a new perspective on social housing, so that it addresses the social problems that hon. Members have identified.

The second issue I shall examine is that of VAT on home refurbishment and repair and on greenfield sites. Let me state clearly, so that there is no confusion, that I would be in favour of a uniform rate of VAT covering greenfield development and housing refurbishment and repair. I asked the Treasury how much that would cost. The reply was £670 million, but I do not believe a pound of it, for very good reasons.

Let us make some assumptions. Let us say that 175,000 new houses are built; at about £80,000 each, that brings in £700 million at 5 per cent. VAT—£600 million if social housing is exempted. According to calculations carried out two years ago by Business Strategies Ltd., we find that such a change in VAT leads to more small firms registering for VAT, more VAT being collected from those who are registered, and higher levels of activity. There are fewer empty homes—the Minister was and remains a great fan of the empty homes initiative—with about 30,000 properties being brought back into use. Let us assume an end to work on listed buildings being categorised as "new" so as to avoid VAT. The overall result is additional VAT receipts of more than £100 million.

If we use the English house condition survey—a little out of date, but the relative values still hold good—we find that the total declared private spending on improvement, repairs and maintenance is £20 billion, and public spending is £3 billion, giving £23 billion in spending across all sectors. That should yield £4 billion in VAT, but the actual yield is £1.78 billion. Either there is gargantuan evasion, or an enormous proportion of work is being done by people who are below the VAT threshold. I think the truth is probably a bit of both, but it is certain that the scale of evasion is immense.

Even if no extra building work results from a reduction in VAT, which is an extremely pessimistic assumption, and if no evasion occurs, which is an extremely optimistic assumption, so the two assumptions balance each other out, and VAT is charged on all building works, we are talking about a VAT figure of about £1.35 billion in today's prices. That second calculation shows a fall of £400 million in Government VAT receipts.

However, the measure would actually result in a net gain for the Treasury of between £300 million and £800 million. The Treasury reckons a loss only because it makes no allowance for any change in the rate of black work or lessening of evasions, or for whether small firms are registered for VAT and larger ones consistently charge for it. The Treasury makes no calculations in respect of whether customers would be happier to have proper builders and proper receipts than cowboys to whom they pay no VAT. We do not know whether private investors, contractors or regeneration agencies would carry out more property improvement and renovation. The chances are that they would, but the Treasury answer to every single one of these questions is no. I do not believe that.

I suggest that there should be a pilot scheme in three or four major conurbations to see what would happen. The VAT on greenfield sites need not be charged for the purpose of the experiment. Let us see what is right.

I do not expect the Minister to reply in this debate, but I shall make sure that Hansard has a clear record of the points that I have made, and I should like a letter setting out the figures, which are crucial to the Government's response to the Rogers report. The Treasury response, as always, has been calculated to give the least information, and has little credibility. The issue is extremely important.

I mention education briefly. Education action zones are fine, but the problems exist in far too many schools. We are beginning to learn that putting strong heads into individual schools will do a great deal more than the constant multiplication of zones, which last only for a limited period and are spread almost across the political spectrum.

Finally, the Government have a major decision to take. They must decide what their relationship will be with the regions and with local government in the regions—in other words, what political geometry they will use to address the issue.

We all know that the regional assemblies have floated off into never-never-land. Either the Government believe in local decision-making, a regional agenda and democratic accountability, or they do not. We need to know what they plan. The Government promised these things.

Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Curry

It is no good the hon. Lady shaking her head. Those were the Government's pledges when they came to power. The Government judge outputs, whereas they should perhaps judge outcomes. To give a little more confidence to local government, the Government should draw up a contract, find out what it can deliver, and be less prescriptive about the methods by which it does so and more concerned about the outcomes.

We all have lessons to learn about the degree to which we have been prescriptive about how other democratic and representative institutions should work. We now have an opportunity to find out whether we can achieve real regeneration in the great cities of Britain, irrespective of where they lie. The problems of Plymouth are just as bad as the problems of Liverpool and Newcastle.

There could not be a finer test of all of us than to give democracy a chance of achieving that. We should give it the means to do so and judge it by what it delivers. We could then all rest a little more easy on our rhetoric.

9.27 pm
Mr. Colin Burgon (Elmet)

I shall try to bring another northern perspective to the debate and to keep my contribution brief.

The position adopted in the debate by the Conservatives is a simple one, as befits the sophistication of their current thinking. According to their stance, there are two Britains, with a north-south divide. We have, in their view of the world, a south that is booming, overheating and suffering from overdevelopment, and northern cities that are declining.

I want to examine the contention that northern cities are declining. I am aware that my colleagues from cities such as Liverpool and Manchester have already pitched in, so I shall restrict my remarks to my home city of Leeds, the city in which I was born and raised, and one of whose eight constituencies I am proud to represent.

At the last election, the Conservatives were effectively wiped out in northern cities. As a result, it seems that only sporadic and inaccurate information is received by the Conservatives about our northern cities, which exist somewhere on the fringes of their known world. Indeed, I am tempted to say that those on the Conservative Front Bench probably know more about Royston Vasey than they do about the great city of Leeds.

As a Leeds person, I know that Leeds has had to respond to tremendous challenges as a result of the collapse of traditional industries such as clothing, in which my father and mother worked, and engineering. Leeds does have its problems. For example, the Leeds inner area, consisting of 10 local government wards and home to about 225,000 people, is among the top 10 per cent. of the most deprived wards in England.

We urgently need to improve skills and increase qualifications in the work force and among the unemployed, of whom 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. respectively have no qualifications. We do have high levels of deprivation, low household income and high benefit dependency. However, it is wide of the mark to deduce from those figures that Leeds is a declining northern city. Like many others, it is a two-speed city.

The way in which Leeds has adjusted to the decline of its traditional industries is a great story. The facts refute the idea that Leeds is a declining northern city. Overall, Leeds has performed strongly in creating jobs. In the 1990s, employment increased by 12 per cent., which means more than 36,000 extra jobs; financial and business services employment grew by 36 per cent; and manufacturing output also increased by 36 per cent. A projection based on a Cambridge Econometrics model suggests that employment in Leeds will increase by 11 per cent.—above the national average—between 2000 and 2010.

The Yorkshire and Humberside regional economic strategies document stated: Leeds is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe in terms of employment, fuelled mainly by the growth in the financial and professional services … Leeds is one of Europe's most successful job generating cities. If those on the Conservative Front Bench do not believe the figures, I urge them to visit Leeds.

Last summer, Conservative Members had an away day—or a "bonding session"—at a five-star hotel in Leeds. It is a pity that they did not catch a bus to the city centre and see what a vibrant, lively city Leeds is. They should have examined the regeneration of the riverside area, where people are repopulating the city centre. They should have visited the shopping areas, such as the Victoria quarter. For sport and culture, they should have nipped to Elland road to watch Leeds United, a rising power in the soccer world.

If a bus journey is not to Conservative Members' liking—they probably would not recognise a bus—they could have caught a train and arrived at Leeds City station, which is undergoing £165 million of improvements to its infrastructure. It will be one of the busiest railway stations in England. If they wanted to fly in, they could have witnessed a similar rate of development at Leeds-Bradford airport. I hope that Conservative Members will reconsider before they write off northern cities such as Leeds simply to advance a poorly thought-out political argument.

There is a complex pattern of economic and social performance across England. Any attempt to simplify that into a north-south divide is a generalisation, which masks the great variations within regions. Poor economic and social conditions are not confined to one part of the country. Five of the 10 most deprived local authority areas in England are in London.

I look forward to hearing the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman admit, when he sums up, that their motion is flawed, that Conservative Members have misrepresented our great northern cities and that he acknowledges Leeds as an energetic, creative and confident city. I hope that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) is writing that down because I shall be listening carefully to his response. Writing off our northern cities is offensive and patronising.

I can reveal that the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) is not in his place because my speech was leaked to the Conservative party. He used to have an office bang in the middle of Leeds. He knows that everything I say is true and therefore he could not come to the Dispatch Box to refute my arguments.

9.33 pm
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

I endorse what the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Burgon) said about Leeds, which, like Manchester, is a great, exciting city. The interpretation he placed on my hon. Friends' speeches showed clearly that he had not listened to them, because none of them said anything offensive or patronising about Leeds.

Two jolly things have happened today. First, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) bitterly criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) for saying nothing about the north of England, and then made a 15-minute speech exclusively about the north in which he omitted to mention the south. Secondly, the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) made a passionate speech about her constituency. We are all here to talk about what we know and what we can contribute to the debate.

I welcome the Minister back after his absence. I want to raise a matter that he and I have debated previously, and which relates to West Sussex. I endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). How can the Government seriously pretend to care about the countryside when they allow the planning outrages that are currently in the pipeline?

How can it be sensible to build in Hampshire and Sussex, when large tracts of land in Portsmouth and Southampton, not to mention Bradford and Liverpool, could well absorb the housing? What does that say about joined-up government? Even if the Government dump the wretched Crow report, as I hope and pray they will, they have made unauthorised changes to West Sussex, which means that one of the most beautiful and rural counties in Britain will never be the same again.

The Minister is a genial chap and realises that none of this is personal, but I want him to know about the real contempt and anger felt in West Sussex at the behaviour of the Government over the present planning issue. The campaign has been brilliantly reflected by two energetic local newspapers in West Sussex—the Mid Sussex Times and the West Sussex Gazette—whose letter pages every week are full of correspondence from people who are outraged at the way in which the Government have behaved towards West Sussex.

All parties in Sussex agreed a structure plan, which was approved by one of Her Majesty's inspectors in May 1997. It was a proper, well-thought-out and careful plan, which had been fully consulted on. All the parish and district councils and the relevant bodies had come together to agree it, but the Deputy Prime Minister overturned it in an outrageous decision in December 1997. In addition to the 37,800 houses agreed, he imposed an additional 13,000 houses.

A new town will probably have to be planted in the green fields near Horsham; the Sussex coastal communities will have their last remaining gaps plundered; and the landscape in central and Mid-Sussex will come to resemble that of New Jersey unless we are careful. Many villagers are terrified at the prospect of what will happen to that beautiful and romantic scenery, quite unnecessarily.

I urge the Minister to understand that the Government's proposals seem to brush aside the terrible problem of congestion and pressure on our services and infrastructure. The ultimate effect of what the Government propose—this is the stupidity of the Labour proposals—will be the choking of economic growth, which will prevent our part of the world from achieving its true economic status.

Of course, there has to be development. I sympathise with the Government in that they have to reach agreement on sensible proposals, but what is proposed in Sussex is mad. As the Minister knows, the truth is that the infrastructure in Mid-Sussex in particular and West Sussex in general cannot cope. If many more houses are built, we will run out of water and the roads are inadequate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) said that there were not enough sewers in his constituency. I cannot report on the condition of the sewers in West Sussex, but I am sure that it is deplorable and deserving of much Labour investment. On a previous occasion, I described the number of cars in West Sussex. We are facing a "Carmageddon". There are not enough schools, roads or hospital facilities but, in that chaos, the Labour party intends to build another 50,000 new houses.

Will the Minister explain to my constituents how he can square that planning vandalism with the principles of sustainable development to which the Government signed up with such bally-hoo at Rio and Kyoto? What flows from the Government's obligations to sustainable development? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) said, 10,000 new houses are to be built on a greenfield site between Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead, which is very caring. There are to be 90,000 new homes in Devon.

How can it make sense to build 2,500 new houses on a greenfield site outside Newcastle when there are 4,000 empty homes in the city? The north-south divide is greater than ever and it is driven and fuelled by an obdurate and ignorant Government. Surrey residents have an average household income 71 per cent. higher than that of people who live in Tyne and Wear—that cannot be right.

I conclude merely by asking how the Minister can stand at the Dispatch Box and tell the people of Britain that the Government care about the countryside when they insist on such rural vandalism.

9.39 pm
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne)

This has been a good if short debate. It has been a shorter debate than it need have been for two reasons. First, there was the Home Secretary's crass incompetence in not tabling the right amendment in the previous debate. Secondly, the Minister for Housing and Planning spoke for more than half an hour and spent nearly one third of that time on a bunch of unjustified and ill-informed slurs on my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), which simply underlined the fact that he had nothing new to say on the key issues. The rest of his speech was the sort of vacuous posturing that we have all come to expect from him.

The Minister tried to deny that there is a north-south divide, or that there is migration on a serious and growing scale from north to south. However, if he was right about that—even on a random basis, that must occur occasionally—why is he proposing to build 1.1 million, or even 670,000, new homes in the south-east? They are plainly not needed, so why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) asked, is he dithering about disowning the ghastly Crow report?

The hon. Gentleman talked about the north-south divide as if it did not exist. Had he read his own urban task force report, he would have seen that it highlighted the disproportionate level of demand between north and south. There is ample evidence of the different earnings and incomes of residents in different parts. For example, Surrey residents have an average household income that is 71 per cent. higher than that of Tyne and Wear. Has he read the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's report, conducted by the new policy institute, which concluded that the gap between the richest and poorest in Britain widened in the first year of the Labour Government, with 1 million more people earning less than two fifths of the national average income? Will he please spare us his lectures about Disraeli?

The Minister also said—I made a note of it because it struck me as such an amazing claim by a Minister in his Department—that the Government were building a successful and united country. Leaving aside the vandalism of devolution, the hon. Gentleman's policies simply do not pass the "Kilfoyle" test. They have not passed muster even with one of his valued former Front-Bench colleagues.

It is rich for the Minister to lecture the rest of us about the green belt, particularly in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). Only last April, the hon. Gentleman said: in certain cases where it is desirable in terms of urban extension and sustainability, there may be a case for reconsidering green-belt boundaries."—[Official Report, 29 April 1999; Vol. 330, c. 531.] What kind of message does that send to planners, local authorities and the population of areas such as the south-east? Does he realise that brownfield development is falling, not rising, under this Government, and that the latest figures show that only 52 per cent. of dwellings were built on brownfield sites in the previous year? In reality, the Government are not even achieving their own brownfield development target.

The speech of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) was the usual protracted Liberal Democrat whinge. It is some indication of the importance that the Liberal Democrats attach to the issue, particularly in relation to the south-east, that they have found about the only Member of their parliamentary party who is not a Front-Bench spokesman to come and speak on their behalf. It is something of a rarity to find a Liberal Democrat who does not have a Front-Bench title.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) abused us for ignoring the north and its interests, when nothing could be further from the truth. My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) nailed that particular inaccuracy.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal, who has an honourable record in planning and environmental matters and always speaks with great authority in the House, pointed out that the Liberals always ask for more government and more interference. The hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears), who was a challenge to Hansard if nothing else, talked about rebuilding communities, but does not she realise that traditionally Labour-supporting communities feel abandoned by the Government? It is no good her talking blithely about what she called Labour heartlands as some are not Labour heartlands any more, and some will cease to be so in future if the Government do not wake up to the problems described in the motion.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

Would the hon. Gentleman describe this part of his speech as a whinge?

Mr. Waterson

It is merely a recital of self-evident facts.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman has made a serious point, as democracy matters in our cities—there should be a political challenge—but can he tell me why the Conservative party no longer fights local elections in the worst-affected parts of my constituency?

Mr. Waterson

As shadow Local Government Minister, I must do something about that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon spoke with authority about housing, local government and regional planning guidance, which has lost the plot. [Interruption.] It calls for more homes where they clearly are not needed. He adopted an imaginative approach to the financial aspects of the motion, which the Minister will accept raised interesting thoughts on which he will want to reflect.

The hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Burgon) described himself as a Leeds person and purported to lecture us—and, in particular, me—about the value of Leeds. I was born in Leeds, brought up in Leeds and educated in Leeds until I went to university, so he cannot tell me anything about Leeds that I do not already know. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex— [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The House must come to order. We cannot have so much noise.

Mr. Waterson

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) joined the general agreement that Leeds is splendid, but made an extremely eloquent case for Sussex and other parts of the south-east. I share his view. The Minister tried to pooh-pooh the genuine concern in the south-east about the Crow report, but where are the roads, the rail links, the schools, the hospitals and the natural resources such as water to meet the target of 1.1 million—or even 600,000 or 700,000—new homes? [HON. MEMBERS: "The sewers?"] Indeed, where are the sewers?

We are seeing the opposite of joined-up government. The Government are apparently paralysed in the face of a growing north-south divide and growing migration from north to south—so much so that they could not even carry their former Minister, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), with them. The Crow report puts more than 430 sq km of rural land—an area larger than the Isle of Wight—under threat of urban development.

We need not come to the House to hear about Government policy; we need only read what the Deputy Prime Minister had to say to the Fabian Society. I am afraid that my membership has lapsed so I was unable to listen to his speech, but he clearly wants to become a hero by saying, "We don't want to go along with that wicked Crow report, which talks about 1.1 million new homes. We'll go for more than the Serplan figure, but less than 1.1 million." In other words, the Government intend to use the Crow report as a stalking horse for a much larger figure than Serplan had in mind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford set out clearly our policies to give more power to local communities so that local decisions can be made on local issues by local people. In contrast, the Government regularly duck the big issues and tend to kick matters such as their own brownfield target, the Rogers report, planning guidance, rural and urban White Papers and decisions on Crow and other serious issues into the long grass. Under this Government, the long grass is the only grass that is safe. I urge my colleagues to support the motion.

9.50 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Beverley Hughes)

The House always has lively debates on this subject, and tonight has been no exception. I thank my hon. Friends, in particular, for their contributions. As for the Conservatives, they may have a new shadow spokesperson, but it is still the same old story.

We have debated the issue on a number of occasions. Labour Members are always happy to do so, because it is important, and because, each time we discuss it, the Tories' dismal record, and their inability to present any credible policies for the future, are repeatedly exposed. What has been highlighted again today is their failure—especially that of their Front Benchers—to grasp the complexity of the problems, or to come up with any new or workable measures to deal with those problems.

The Tories claim that they care about the issue but, for most of the debate, their Benches were denuded. Only a handful stayed the course to debate this important matter, including the new shadow spokesperson, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green).

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd), I was struck not only by the lack of attention paid to northern cities by the hon. Member for Ashford in his unfortunate opening speech—I read in "Vacher's Parliamentary Companion" that he used to be a speech writer for the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), which may explain a lot—but by the terms in which the Opposition cast their motion, which is entitled "Northern Cities and Southern Green Fields". It is the old stereotype, and, like all stereotypes, it is a gross and inaccurate over-simplification. For their own political purposes, the Opposition choose to fuel the notion of a north-south divide—grimy cities in the north, and green fields in the south. As a northern woman, I can tell them that we in the north have our green fields too, and we want to keep them.

Mr. Brady

Will the Minister give way?

Ms Hughes

I would love to take an intervention, but I am afraid that I have no time.

The wording of the motion obscures the fact that the real issues, both rural and urban, affect regions in both the north and the south of England. The quality of speeches from those on the Front Benches—the shallow, ill-informed rhetoric that we heard from the Opposition, and the detailed analysis of Government policy that we heard from my colleagues—could not have shown the difference in approach more starkly. [Interruption.] I can say that because it is true, as anyone who sat through the debate will know. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I appeal to the House again. There is far too much noise; we must be able to hear the Minister.

Ms Hughes

I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Central, for Salford (Ms Blears) and for Elmet (Mr. Burgon) for redressing the balance. Given the rather spiteful response of the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), they must have hit a raw nerve for him to be drawn to such an extent. They reminded us of the damage done to their communities by the previous Government, and the fact that people in the north—like people everywhere else—want a decent life. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) clearly finds that terribly funny, but those people want a decent life and a good environment. They want their green fields too.

Mr. Brady

Will the Minister give way?

Ms Hughes

I am sorry; I would love to, but I have only 10 minutes.

All my hon. Friends who spoke described ways in which the Government could continue to do more. We are considering all the issues that they raised in the urban White Paper. We need to keep and to continue to attract companies in the north, as well as the south, by all means possible—for instance, by providing facilities such as those at Daresbury.

The right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) was the only Conservative Member to talk about cities. He rightly mentioned the importance of housing and education to regeneration, and made several suggestions. Some of them are discussed in the report on popular housing, some we are actively considering as we develop our White Papers, and some will —are already involving—discussions with other Departments, including the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman's comments were very helpful.

In relation to rural areas—[Interruption.] Yes, the right hon. Gentleman may be done for now. As for rural areas, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) and the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) raised matters relating to the areas that they represent. I shall make a point about Stevenage that was not raised by any Opposition Members, and that is that the proposals will increase the green belt in Hertfordshire by nearly 5,000 hectares. The decisions are difficult, but we must take a balanced view. That approach is certainly resulting in an increase in green-belt land.

The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal made some sensible comments on design and density, with which I can agree. I do not accept for a moment his contention that the Government have done little, or are perceived to have done little, in dealing with rural problems. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that, every year for the last decade of the Conservative Administration, there was a net loss of green belt. By contrast, since May 1997, there has been a gain of almost 30,000 hectares.

I do not have the time to detail all the occasions when the Conservative Government directed southern counties to increase their housing numbers because they failed to plan for social need. However, that is precisely what has happened in West Sussex.

We have yet to see whether the arrival of the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) on the Opposition Front Bench will change the Opposition's disastrous stance on these matters. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will ditch the common-sense revolution for the nonsense that it is. Perhaps he will search for something else for the Tories to latch on to. If he does, he will face an insurmountable difficulty, and that is the Conservative party's complete lack of credibility. It is the party that tried to create two Britains. It concreted over the countryside and abandoned any attempt to address the needs of the regions. Its record in the past is so dismal and its policies for the future are so bankrupt that nobody believes that its about-face from free market economics—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I know that the debate has nearly come to a conclusion, but I will not tolerate hon. Members shouting across the Chamber.

Ms Hughes

Conservative Members do not like what they are hearing, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that is their only response.

The Conservative party lacks credibility because nobody believes that its about-face from free-market economics to social and economic intervention is anything other than cynical opportunism. That just about sums up the contribution of the Conservative party to any serious analysis of, and discussion on, the serious and diverse problems facing people in our different regions. The Conservative party is opportunist, bankrupt and dismal.

What are the Opposition's contributions and what are their big ideas in addressing the problems that have been raised during the debate? They would batten down the hatches in the south-east and strangle the potential for economic growth in the eastern and southern regions, thereby holding back the UK economy as a whole and sending business off to Europe. They would dismantle the planning system and stop housing development, irrespective of the human consequences. They would abolish the regional development agencies, the very agencies that were set up to develop differentiated regional strategies to tackle inequalities between and within regions.

In stark contrast to that rag-bag of ill-conceived measures, the Government have a long-term, co-ordinated and joined-up strategy. It addresses, through the new deal and the minimum wage, the needs of individuals wherever they live. It addresses the needs of the disadvantaged areas, wherever they are. It tackles regional inequalities through the RDAs and through reform of planning—

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 173, Noes 321.

Division No. 60] [9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Boswell, Tim
Allan, Richard Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Amess, David Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Brady, Graham
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James Brake, Tom
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Brand, Dr Peter
Baldry, Tony Brazier, Julian
Ballard, Jackie Breed, Colin
Beggs, Roy Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Beith, Rt Hon A J Browning, Mrs Angela
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Burnett, John
Bercow, John Burns, Simon
Beresford, Sir Paul Butterfill, John
Blunt, Crispin Cash, William
Body, Sir Richard Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Chope, Christopher Madel, Sir David
Clappison, James Major, Rt Hon John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Malins, Humfrey
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Collins, Tim May, Mrs Theresa
Colvin, Michael Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Cormack, Sir Patrick Moore, Michael
Cotter, Brian Moss, Malcolm
Cran, James Nicholls, Patrick
Curry, Rt Hon David Norman, Archie
Davey, Edward (Kingston) O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Ottaway, Richard
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Page, Richard
Day, Stephen Paice, James
Duncan, Alan Paterson, Owen
Duncan Smith, Iain Pickles, Eric
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Faber, David Prior, David
Fabricant, Michael Randall, John
Fallen, Michael Rendel, David
Fearn, Ronnie Robathan, Andrew
Flight, Howard Robertson, Laurence
Forth, Rt Hon Eric Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Foster, Don (Bath) Ross, William (E Lond'y)
Fox, Dr Liam Ruffley, David
Fraser, Christopher St Aubyn, Nick
Gale, Roger Sanders, Adrian
George, Andrew (St Ives) Sayeed, Jonathan
Gibb, Nick Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Gill, Christopher Shepherd, Richard
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Green, Damian Soames, Nicholas
Greenway, John Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Grieve, Dominic Spicer, Sir Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Spring, Richard
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hammond, Philip Steen, Anthony
Hancock, Mike Steen, Anthony
Harris, Dr Evan Streeter, Gary
Harvey, Nick Stunell, Andrew
Hawkins, Nick Swayne, Desmond
Hayes, John Syms, Robert
Heald, Oliver Tapsell, Sir Peter
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Taylor, Sir Teddy
Horam, John Tonge, Dr Jenny
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Townend, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Tredinnick, David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Trend, Michael
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Tyler, Paul
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Tyrie, Andrew
Jenkin, Bernard Viggers, Peter
Keetch, Paul Walter, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Wardle, Charles
Kirkwood, Archy Waterson, Nigel
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Webb, Steve
Lansley, Andrew Wells, Bowen
Leigh, Edward Whitney, Sir Raymond
Letwin, Oliver Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Lidington, David Wilkinson, John
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Willetts, David
Livsey, Richard Willis, Phil
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Wilshire, David
Llwyd, Elfyn Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Loughton, Tim Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Luff, Peter Yeo, Tim
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Young, Rt Hon Sir George
MacGregor, Rt Hon John
McIntosh, Miss Anne Tellers for the Ayes:
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew Mrs. Eleanor Laing and
McLoughlin, Patrick Mr. Peter Atkinson.
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Darvill, Keith
Ainger, Nick Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Davidson, Ian
Alexander, Douglas Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Allen, Graham Davis, Rt Hon Terry (B'ham Hodge H)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Dawson, Hilton
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Dean, Mrs Janet
Atkins, Charlotte Denham, John
Austin, John Dismore, Andrew
Banks, Tony Dobbin, Jim
Barnes, Harry Doran, Frank
Barron, Kevin Dowd, Jim
Battle, John Drew, David
Bayley, Hugh Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Beard, Nigel Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Efford, Clive
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Ellman, Mrs Louise
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Ennis, Jeff
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Etherington, Bill
Benton, Joe Field, Rt Hon Frank
Bermingham, Gerald Fisher, Mark
Berry, Roger Fitzpatrick, Jim
Best, Harold Fitzsimons, Lorna
Blackman, Liz Flint, Caroline
Blears, Ms Hazel Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Blizzard, Bob Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Borrow, David Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Fyfe, Maria
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Galloway, George
Brinton, Mrs Helen Gardiner, Barry
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Browne, Desmond Gerrard, Neil
Burden, Richard Gibson, Dr Ian
Burgon, Colin Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Butler, Mrs Christine Godman, Dr Norman A
Caborn, Rt Hon Richard Godsiff, Roger
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Goggins, Paul
Campbell-Savours, Dale Golding, Mrs Llin
Cann, Jamie Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Caplin, Ivor Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Casale, Roger Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Cawsey, Ian Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Grocott, Bruce
Chaytor, David Grogan, John
Clapham, Michael Gunnell, John
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Healey, John
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clelland, David Hepburn, Stephen
Clwyd, Ann Heppell, John
Coaker, Vernon Hesford, Stephen
Coffey, Ms Ann Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Cohen, Harry Hill, Keith
Coleman, Iain Hinchliffe, David
Colman, Tony Hodge, Ms Margaret
Corbett, Robin Hoey, Kate
Corbyn, Jeremy Home Robertson, John
Corston, Jean Hood, Jimmy
Cousins, Jim Hope, Phil
Cox, Tom Hopkins, Kelvin
Crausby, David Howells, Dr Kim
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hoyle, Lindsay
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cummings, John Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack (Copeland) Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hutton, John
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Iddon, Dr Brian
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Illsley, Eric
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam Palmer, Dr Nick
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Pearson, Ian
Jamieson, David Pendry, Tom
Jenkins, Brian Perham, Ms Linda
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter L
Jones, Rt Hon Barry (Alyn) Plaskitt, James
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Pollard, Kerry
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Pond, Chris
Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW) Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Powell, Sir Raymond
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Keeble, Ms Sally Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Kemp, Fraser Primarolo, Dawn
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Prosser, Gwyn
Khabra, Piara S Purchase, Ken
Kidney, David Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Kilfoyle, Peter Quinn, Lawrie
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Rammell, Bill
Kumar, Dr Ashok Rapson, Syd
Laxton, Bob Raynsford, Nick
Lepper, David Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Leslie, Christopher Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Levitt, Tom Rogers, Allan
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Rooney, Terry
Linton, Martin Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Rowlands, Ted
Love, Andrew Roy, Frank
McAvoy, Thomas Ruddock, Joan
McCabe, Steve Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McCafferty, Ms Chris Ryan, Ms Joan
McDonagh, Siobhain Salter, Martin
Macdonald, Calum Sarwar, Mohammad
McDonnell, John Savidge, Malcolm
McGuire, Mrs Anne Sawford, Phil
McIsaac, Shona Sedgemore, Brian
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Shaw, Jonathan
Mackinlay, Andrew Sheerman, Barry
McNamara, Kevin Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McNulty, Tony Shipley, Ms Debra
MacShane, Denis Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Mactaggart, Fiona Singh, Marsha
Mahon, Mrs Alice Skinner, Dennis
Mallaber, Judy Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Maxton, John Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Snape, Peter
Meale, Alan Soley, Clive
Merron, Gillian Southworth, Ms Helen
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Squire, Ms Rachel
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Miller, Andrew Steinberg, Gerry
Moffatt, Laura Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Moonie, Dr Lewis Stinchcombe, Paul
Moran, Ms Margaret Stoate, Dr Howard
Morley, Elliot Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Stringer, Graham
Mountford, Kali Stuart, Ms Gisela
Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Temple-Morris, Peter
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Timms, Stephen
Norris, Dan Tipping, Paddy
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Todd, Mark
O'Hara, Eddie Touhig, Don
O'Neill, Martin Trickett, Jon
Organ, Mrs Diana Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE) Wills, Michael
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Wilson, Brian
Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk) Winnick, David
Turner, Neil (Wigan) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Wise, Audrey
Tynan, Bill Wood, Mike
Vis, Dr Rudi Woolas, Phil
Ward, Ms Claire Worthington, Tony
Wareing, Robert N Wray, James
Watts, David Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
White, Brian Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Whitehead, Dr Alan Wyatt, Derek
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W) Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe and
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy) Mr. Clive Betts.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the Government's commitment to create high-quality, desirable, safe places to live without eating up the countryside; supports the Government's policies on protecting the Green Belt and believes the Government's inclusive and strategic approach to planning, housing, transport, countryside protection, welfare and economic policies will achieve more sustainable and equitable patterns of both urban and rural development; recognises that this Government is planning for economic success and that there is an opportunity to use growth to create better and more sustainable communities and improve the quality of life; welcomes the Government's move away from the previous 'predict and provide' approach to housing provision and the introduction of a 'plan, monitor and manage' policy; supports the Government's target of building 60 per cent. of all new housing on previously developed land; and welcomes the Government's determination to ensure that the whole country shares in the benefits of economic recovery.