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Take Away Food (Biodegradable Packaging)

3.30 pm

Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East) : I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require food sold as "take away" to be packaged in materials which shall be biodegradable and for connected purposes.

The problem of litter has quite rightly become the subject of much attention both within the House and throughout the country. Many initiatives have been suggested and some have been tried, but I think that the whole House will agree that there are no easy answers to the problem. Indeed, even within the food and packaging industries, there are different views, although there are efforts by the Industry Commitee for Packaging and the Environment to develop a policy. The Bill which I seek to introduce today aims at one source of litter--the take-away food outlet. I wish to emphasise that this does not necessarily mean all fast food outlets, where, of course, food is often consumed on the premises. I address the specific problem of food sold to be eaten away from the premises, sometimes at home but more often walking along a street, in a car or in a lay-by. As we all know, this packaging is often discarded where it is finished with. It is a disgusting and disgraceful habit, but it happens.

Obviously, litter dropped on streets is relatively easy to clear up. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) has introduced a Bill to require the owners of such outlets to clear up outside their premises. It is not so easy, though, outside the built-up areas. Anyone driving through the countryside today can only be horrified at the amount of litter which lies on motorway verges, around lay-bys and picnic areas, in ditches and elsewhere. The majority of this material is the ubiquitous plastic, and it will remain where it falls for many months or years. Some effort is being made to introduce photodegradable material, but this only breaks down under ultra-violet light and we all know that, with the exception of the last two weeks, in this country that is a pretty rare commodity. Anyway, the litter often lies out of direct sunlight. Such a breakdown is not complete but only achieves fragmentation into dust, which remains as plastic in the soil.

There are, of course, arguments against using fully biodegradable materials, by which I mean materials which can be fully broken down by micro-organisms in the British climate. There is the argument that it will encourage litter dropping and discourage attempts to increase responsibility. I believe that to be a mistaken argument. Litter dropping is happening anyway and biodegradation does not take place instantaneously, as any responsible person will realise. I believe that this is a realistic approach to the problem.

The second argument relates to the plastics industry, which has developed recycling techniques. It believes that manufacturing waste of biodegradable materials is not recyclable and that used materials which have been recovered cannot be recycled. That is partially true, but it ignores the fact that such plastics derive from oil. Although recycling is a welcome effort to improve oil usage, the fact remains that we are talking about a finite resource being used for its primary function for perhaps

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five or 10 minutes. It seems absurd that we use the container for those five or 10 minutes but that it will lie in or on the ground for five or 50 years.

The third argument relates to disposal. Biodegradable materials are less stable as landfill materials where future buildings may be constructed. That is a short-sighted argument. The fact is that we are desperately short of landfill sites in this country. We cannot go on for ever with that method of disposal. We need to look at alternatives. Primarily, that will be incineration, for which biodegradable materials are well suited.

Advances in science now mean that totally biodegradable materials are available, or will soon become available. They are often made of plant material. Paper and cardboard are long established but usually need to be coated with a film to ensure adequate protection of the food. Such a film is usually a plastic, such as polythene, which is not biodegradable. Furthermore, it prevents penetration by water and micro-organisms to the paper or card. It must also be realised that some 80 per cent. of packaging board is recycled material, anyway. Wimpy has ceased to use polystyrene packaging. It has introduced cardboard. Kentucky Fried Chicken tells us that 80 per cent. of its range of packaging will soon be described as biodegradable. Both organisations, and others looking into it, deserve credit for that move.

Perhaps one of the most exciting products coming on to the market is Biopol, a plastic derived from a glucose feedstock, not from oil. As such, it is totally biodegradable. The feedstock is totally renewable and replenishable, often by the economies of the Third world, as well as by European agriculture. Production costs are still high, but it is anticipated that, as output increases, costs will reduce considerably.

Biopol can be used as a coating film for paper and card. There are other products now being developed which are totally biodegradable, either as a container themselves or as a film coating. It cannot be denied that costs are much higher than for styrofoam or polythene or the other plastics, but it is rapidly becoming recognised, both in this House and outside, that if we are to take care of our environment and of our finite oil resources we have to accept the costs. In any case, we pay what is often an exorbitant amount for a glorified hamburger. A penny or two more on the packaging is of little significance.

Much as I would wish it otherwise, this is not a trail-blazing Bill. The state legislature of Minneapolis has already started down the same road, and others are looking closely at it. I hope very much that the House will ensure that Britain is not far behind. We cannot abdicate our responsibility in this area. Public opinion is quite rightly focused on litter, on the visual and physical environment and on the use of the earth's scarce resources. There is no single answer, but I believe that my Bill will not only do something about the litter problem in areas where collection is unrealistic but that it will also stimulate the use of renewable resources in today's throw-away world.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. James Paice, Mr. Nicholas Bennett, Mr. Simon Burns, Mr. John Bowis, Mr. James Cran, Mr. David Davis, Mr. Barry Field, Mr. Roger Knapman, Mr. Keith Mans, Mr. David Nicholson, Mr. David Porter and Mrs. Gillian Shephard.

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Take Away Food (Biodegradable Packaging)

Mr. James Paice accordingly presented a Bill to require food sold as take away' to be packaged in materials which shall be biodegradable and for connected purposes, And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 146.]

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Opposition Day

[11 th Allotted Day]

Inner Cities

3.39 pm

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook) : I beg to move, That this House condemns this Government's total neglect of the inner city areas of Britain which has led to a reduction in investment, a decline in the quality of housing and schools, a deterioration in adequate health care, an increase in poverty and a growth in crime ; and therefore calls upon the Government to work in partnership with local authorities, to ensure the increases in both private investment and public enterprise which inner cities so desperately need.

Mr. Speaker : I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Mr. Hattersley : I have written to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the Minister apologising for the fact that, before the debate is over, I must leave for the inner city of Birmingham which in part I represent. I offer a general apology to the House for my absence later, as well as offering it to you personally and to the Minister. Two years ago, on the stairs inside Downing street, the prime Minister promised action on the inner cities--a sudden and uncharacteristic enthusiasm that came after eight years of wilful and deliberate neglect. For a moment, it seemed that the Prime Minister had at last accepted her duty to be Prime Minister of all the country, but our hopes were confounded. Life in the inner cities continues to deteriorate relative to life in the rest of the United Kingdom, and sometimes even in absolute terms. It deteriorates because the Government's approach to the inner cities reflects all the inadequacies of modern Conservatism.

Tory inner-city policy is based on bone-headed Conservative dogma. Public expenditure is cut when it should be increased ; market forces are expected to provide results that they are incapable of producing ; public enterprise is stifled when it should be encouraged. Tory inner-city policy is autocratic. Decisions that would best be taken locally are imposed by Whitehall, and initiatives that should be organised in partnership with those who live in and represent the inner cities are exclusively taken and managed by bureaucrats. Tory inner-city policy shows contempt for genuine racial equality. Most of the black and Asian British live and work in inner cities. At best, the Government patronise those British citizens and at worst they discriminate against them. They think of them as a problem to be contained, not as men and women who should be given a fair share of national resources.

Eight years ago, we debated Lord Scarman's judgment on inner-city policy. In that debate the then Home Secretary, the noble Lord Whitelaw, described the need to allocate resources to disadvantaged groups but he refused to promise that the resources that he regarded as necessary would be provided. It was a wise precaution. Paragraph 6.32 of the Scarman Report was explicit :

"It is clear from the evidence of ethnic minority deprivation that, if the balance of racial disadvantage is to be redressed, as it must be, positive action is required."

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The Labour party gave unqualified support to that recommendation. On behalf of the Labour party I used these words : we do not ask for the black and Asian British

"to be given better employment prospects than their white contemporaries. I simply ask that they be given the same prospects and opportunities. To achieve that end special action is needed."--[ Official Report, 10 December 1981 ; Vol. 14, c. 1012.]

To achieve that end, special action is needed. We believed that in 1981 and we believe it today.

Tory inner-city policy is above all else cynical. It is targeted not on the needs of inner cities themselves but on the requirements of Conservative party public relations, intended to soften the callous image with the illusion of compassion. Anyone who doubts that judgment need do no more than examine the wholly bogus announcement of the so-called "Action for Cities". That fraudulent prospectus, published over a year ago, was advertised as a programme that would invest £3 billion in the inner cities. Closer examination shows that the initiative provided £100 million of new investment, 5 per cent. of the total that the Government claimed. The rest was old money, dressed up to look like new. In fact, over the 10 years of Conservative Government, the inner cities have lost, rather than gained, public investment and public spending. Between 1981 and 1987, the seven urban programme partnership areas received £770 million in partnership money ; at the same time, they lost £850 million in rate support grant.

I suspect that the Government will attempt to justify these reductions by claiming that the emphasis of their inner-city policy has shifted from social expenditure to economic regeneration. In a moment, I want to examine the outcome of that regeneration policy, on the terms and against the criteria which the Government choose. One thing is absolutely clear : the inner cities are in desperate need of increased public expenditure--on new houses and the repair of old ones, on new schools and additional teachers in them, and on hospitals and amenities. Until that money is spent, the quality of life in the inner cities will continue to deteriorate. What is more, industrial investment will not be made in areas of visible dereliction, yet the Government continue to reduce the quality of life and increase the obvious dereliction in the inner cities.

I adduce one example, from my experience in the inner city of Birmingham. For 10 years, Government policy on the renovation and improvement of houses has, at each state of its revision and development, made it more difficult for money to be spent on improving inner-city domestic property. There is no doubt, as I know to my cost from wrestling with the new proposals with the Birmingham corporation and the residents of my constituency, that the latest proposals for improvement grants will make it more difficult than ever before for inner-city dwellers to receive the money which makes their houses habitable.

I do not suggest for a minute that the problems of the inner cities are solely the products of Conservative policy. They are largely the product of history. The industries which once made the inner cities prosperous either no longer exist or have changed their form. Small companies have been replaced by large, and the largest companies have developed on sites which are at the margins of, or outside, the cities. The large houses which once were owned by prosperous inner-city families have been broken

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down into multiple occupation. A cumulative deterioration has set in which makes the inner cities a unique problem.

The inner cities are unique not because they suffer from disadvantages which are unknown outside them ; they are unique because all the known disadvantages--unemployment, inadequate housing, increased crime, shortage of services and amenities--are to be found within them. Because all these disadvantages are concentrated within the same area, they breed off each other and multiply.

This concentration of disadvantage can be counteracted only by Government action, and that action has not been taken. In the time available to me in this short debate, I propose to deal with only four of the causes of inner- city crisis, beginning with the first essential requirement--putting the iner cities back to work. That was the promise of the Government's inner- city initiatives, and that promise has been broken.

If the promise had been kept, unemployment in the inner city would have fallen at a faster rate than national unemployment, but during the past seven years unemployment in the inner cities has fallen 6 per cent. more slowly than it has in the economy as a whole. The reason is clear : the Government believe that the market, timidly influenced by marginal financial incentives, can solve the inner cities' problems. It was the market that caused the inner cities' problems, and only direct intervention can solve them.

This is demonstrated by the results of the urban development grant--the city grant. The inner cities need jobs that provide employment for unemployed men and women who live there, yet of the permanent jobs assisted by urban development grants, only 25 per cent. were new to the national economy. The rest were old jobs, which had been relocated to the inner cities and had, in general, brought their old employees with them. Only 18 per cent. of the UDG jobs were taken by men and women who had been unemployed previously. If the UDG has done little or nothing to help inner- city unemployment, that is at least better than the results of the urban development corporations. They have driven traditional jobs, the jobs that employ local residents, out of the areas, just as they have driven out the traditional residents.

I take my example from London. The London Docklands development corporation has forced 84 firms to relocate out of the area--forced them by the use of the compulsory purchase order, which the LDDC is able to operate from an autocratic position with an authority that no local government institution would be allowed to employ. The new businesses that are replacing those companies forced out of London docklands have not provided employment for displaced local residents. The Tower Hamlets example is particularly revealing. Before the development of the corporation, firms in the borough employed 35 per cent. of their work force from residents of the borough. New firms that arrived after 1982 employ only 13 per cent. of local labour. It is not surprising that London docklands boroughs now account for an increasing proportion of London's unemployed. The net result of Government policy has been quite opposite to the results that they have prophesied and claimed.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : For eight years, I was a councillor with the London borough of Lewisham, one of the riparian boroughs that made up the Docklands

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Joint Committee, between 1974 and 1981. In those seven years, how many new houses and jobs did that committee bring to the docklands area?

Mr. Hattersley : A great many more than have been brought to it since then. I bow to, and am deeply impressed by, the hon. Gentleman's wide experience of these matters. If he thinks I am wrong in what I have just asserted, he had better say so. If he thinks that the LDDC is not bringing in companies that do not employ local labour, he had better say so. If the figures produced by the development corporation, which show that most of the new jobs are bringing in men and women from outside, are wrong, he had better say so.

Mr. Bennett : My question, which the right hon. Gentleman clearly heard, was how many houses and how many jobs the Docklands Joint Committee brought into being between 1974 and 1981. The simple answer is that it sat and talked and did nothing.

Mr. Hattersley : Nobody accepts that for a second. More important than that, it did not drive out jobs. I repeat my contention that, on the evidence provided by the LDDC itself, it is effectively driving jobs out of the docklands boroughs.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Docklands Joint Committee produced a strategic plan, which in my constituency would have meant that some 15,000 to 20,000 people would have been housed in publicly owned housing on land that has now largely been sold off to private developers? Furthermore, of the additional 20,000 jobs in the LDDC area, about which the Government boast, 15,000 are brought in from outside, with a net loss of 6,000 jobs over the whole area. Does that not show that the LDDC is not serving the needs of local people?

Mr. Hattersley : It shows more than that. It shows one of the more unsavoury aspects of Conservative party tactics. When it was obsessed with private enterprise taking over these matters, and with giving private enterprise authoritarian powers by creating the LDDC, it thought it wise to abuse the institutions that were to be replaced. That is the normal technique of Conservative policy, which shows the shabby nature of its policies and attitudes, as well as their failure, which I continue to describe simply by relying on the figures.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley : Not now, but I will give way in a moment. The jobs that the urban development corporation is providing for inner-city residents are almost invariably the jobs that those residents least want. The London Docklands development corporation, after much pressure from the boroughs, has now agreed that 4 per cent. of the new jobs in its area should be geared to the needs and attract local residents. That total is disgracefully inadequate. The jobs themselves are likely to be still more inadequate. A report into Canary wharf concluded that most of the new jobs created by the corporation would be

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part-time low-paid and concerned with cleaning and catering. It is not surprising that the LDDC chose to suppress that report rather than allow it to be published.

The epitaph on the Government's record on creating jobs in inner cities is provided by the unemployment statistics in the 44 inner-city authorities for which comprehensive figures are available. In only 14 of the 44 authorities did employment improve as compared with the national average. In four, the numbers of unemployed were higher in absolute terms than when the Government came to power. The second task that the Government set themselves was to improve housing conditions in the inner cities. Housing conditions have deteriorated. During the last six years for which figures are available, homelessness has increased in the programme authority by an average of 63 per cent., outstripping the national increase in homelessness by 14 per cent. The total stock of council housing has fallen by almost 2 per cent. That reduction is a direct product of Government policies--their refusal to allow councils to build the homes which were necessary to replace those which were sold. The private rented accommodation which has been built in the inner cities, particularly in London, is wildly beyond the means of the traditional inner-city family. For the typical low-income family to be decently housed, we need a programme of sustained municipal building. The Government will not provide it. They positively obstruct it because they are blinded by dogma to the real needs of the people.

The third need of the inner cities--both in terms of the lives of the men and women who live there and as an inducement to new industry to move into those areas--is a reduction in inner-city crime. Since the Government were elected, the whole country has been swamped by a crime wave of record proportion. The statistics of crime in the inner cities over the past 10 years is a savage indictment of Government policy, for much of the blame must lie with a Government who allow the acceleration of inner-city unemployment, cause the deterioration of inner-city housing, and, by their so-called social services review, deepen and extend inner-city poverty.

Anyone who doubts the relationship between deprivation and crime ought to read again Lord Scarman's report, which said :

"There can be no doubt"

that it is

"a factor in the complex conditions which lie at the root" of inner-city crime. The Government are responsible for those conditions and they must take responsibility for the crime which they create--crime of which the inner-city families are overwhelmingly innocent victims.

Let me remind the Government of the record. In the west midlands police division, which includes my constituency in the inner city of Birmingham, burglaries have increased by 49 per cent. since 1980 and wounding with intent has gone up 63 per cent. Assault on the person has increased by 75 per cent. That pattern is reproduced throughout the inner cities of Great Britain. In the past 10 years, recorded crime has grown by 47 per cent. in central Manchester. The incidence of recorded violent crime in central Leeds was up a staggering 89 per cent. for the first three months of this year, compared with the first three months of 1979. In central London, the figures are equally bad.

The Government came to power promising to crack down on crime and saying that they would combat and

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overcome crime in inner cities. In Hackney, crime has increased by 50 per cent., in Lambeth by 40 per cent. and in Southwark by 30 per cent. No one doubts that poverty and despair breed crime. That is not to condone the increases but to explain them, and to condemn the Government on whom the responsibility, indeed the blame, for increasing crime figures must fall.

Fourthly, a year ago, the Government promised improved inner-city education. I hope that the Minister will tell us what form that improvement in inner-city education is to take. Is it suggested that opting out of the state system will help the inner-city schools? It will do quite the opposite. Inner-city schools will become the poor and neglected relatives of their suburban neighbours. Is it suggested that city technology colleges will help the inner cities? The nearest CTC to the inner city I represent is located in Solihull. In that borough, it is unlikely to do much to combat the problems with which CTCs are said to deal.

Education in the inner cities is expensive. There is a great need for extra facilities, nursery places, English as a second language teaching and special needs classes. The Government's record of expenditure on education budgets can be summed up in a single sentence. They abolished the Inner London education authority for spending too much on inner-city education. That is the true reflection of Government policy. They have adopted that policy and they have failed to help the inner cities because they do not care about them or understand them and because they are ideologically incapable of advancing policies that meet their needs.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : My hon. Friend probably knows that the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts is dealing with teacher shortages. In the words of the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, the shortages are "catastrophic". It is difficult to get Conservative Members even to admit that there are teacher shortages ; they do not for a moment admit that there are teacher shortages on a grand scale in ILEA, which they are trying to abolish.

Mr. Hattersley : I say with the greatest affection for my hon. Friend, who represents the constituency in which I was born and brought up, that it seems a long time since he first made that point to me and I made a dangerous point in reply. I will make it again, notwithstanding his great experience of education and education trade unions. I believe, as he may believe too, that some special inducement must be made to bring teachers into the areas where teaching is most difficult. We are prepared to spend extra money in some schools on persuading teachers to spend time teaching Latin and Greek to small groups of boys and girls, so we should be prepared to spend extra money on persuading more teachers into the areas of greatest need to teach English as a second language to boys and girls and to deal with other special difficulties.

I sometimes get into trouble with my hon. Friend's union when I make that point, but I have made the point strongly and I will go on arguing for it, not to interfere with proper wage negotiations with teachers, but to defend what is necessary to help the people who teach, who want to help and who need help. They can be enabled to help only if we have a pay structure that reflects the particular problems of teaching in the central areas.

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Mr. Favell : As a third native of Sheffield, perhaps I should join the party. We have heard at great length an attack on the Government's policies for dealing with the inner cities, but we have not heard one word about the Labour party's policies, apart from building more council housing and providing more social security. We have heard no other word of remedy from the Labour party.

Mr. Hattersley : The hon. Gentleman is about to hear more than one word on our policies in the next five or six minutes. He and his party's Front Bench must understand that they have been in power for 10 years and that the whole focus of political debate for the next two or two and a half years will be on the inadequacies and failures of the Government's policies over the past 10 years. The scare stories about what has happened, from the Zinoviev letter to the groundnut scheme, will not work any longer. The Government will be judged by their record, and I have no doubt what the judgment will be.

To return to my previous point, the Government are, by their very nature, incapable of meeting the needs of the inner cities. I believe that the Prime Minister herself believes that the problems of the inner cities are intractable and are a necessary part of the divided society, which she positively welcomes and which she has done much to create. The Secretary of State for Social Security no doubt regards inner-city residents as the undeserving poor--the families who buy television sets when they have no right to expect the entertainment enjoyed by their more prosperous contemporaries. He will say of the inner cities that they are not so much poor as unequal. Unequal they certainly are, but other countries have tried to reduce that inequality, and have succeeded.

All our partners in Europe are taking positive steps to provide the jobs, the houses and the services that the inner cities need, and so is America. Those initiatives, which even in America involve a key role for public initiative, have been described by the Prime Minister as "Marxist". I know that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has impertinently asked the Prime Minister whether she has ever read any Marx. That is a question of staggering naivety. The Prime Minister never shows any evidence of ever having read anything, so why should we think that she has picked out Marx while she has neglected everybody else? [ Hon. Members-- : "What about Neville Chamberlain?"] By comparison, Neville Chamberlain was a paragon of erudition, culture, literature and understanding. The day will come when Government policy is based on something more respectable than prime ministerial ignorance and prime ministerial prejudice. That policy will be based not on dogma, but on an objective assessment of what can encourage the creation of jobs and the reduction in poverty. In consequence, it will be one of partnership. It will be a partnership between private investment and public enterprise ; between national Government and local government ; and between the people of the area and those agencies that are created to assist them. Partnership with local residents is essential.

If the national Government pursue policies--ranging from discrimatory immigration laws to the pauperisation of the young unemployed--which disadvantage the inner cities, the Government must expect the people who live there to feel suspicious about the initiatives that the Government take. If the Government fail utterly to meet the problems of the inner cities, they must not be surprised

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if the inner cities feel despair and if that despair leads to the crime and vandalism that further accelerate inner-city decline. Partnership has to be built around policies which are intended explicitly and specifically to help the people in the inner cities and the conditions that prevail there--not, for example, the inner-city landowners who are the only real beneficiaries of the enterprise zone scheme. We cannot afford silly little Government diktats that prevent local councils from insisting that inner-city firms provide employment for inner-city residents. We cannot afford stupid limitations on assistance to co- operatives and common ownership projects, when such new, local, small enterprises are exactly what the inner cities need. Above all, we cannot afford a doctrinal refusal to invest in inner-city services and inner-city infrastructure.

I vividly recall a meeting with the Birmingham chamber of commerce--a group of men and women who even in a good year would not want to see the return of a Labour Government. We were told by the Birmingham chamber of commerce that, if the Government did not show their faith in the inner cities by spending their money there, nothing would induce private enterprise to create the confidence that would enable them to provide the essential investment. The inner cities will not prosper while they are left to themselves and to the market--and that, I fear, means that they will not prosper until another Government are elected.

4.8 pm

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister of Trade and Industry (Mr. Anthony Newton) : I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof : welcomes recent falls in unemployment in the inner cities and the increasing level of investment in their regeneration ; notes with approval the growing commitment of the private sector and the improved partnership between the private sector, voluntary organisations and central and local government in tackling inner city problems ; and looks forward to continued progress under Action for Cities and other programmes designed to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom share fully in the increasing prosperity of the nation as a whole.'

This is the second debate in little more than a week which suggests that the Opposition have become the victims of their own propaganda. Last week we had a debate on the alleged "decline" in manufacturing industry. About the only fact that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), whom I am sorry not to see in his place today, could produce in support of his claim was that, although manufacturing investment was rising strongly, as he was forced to acknowledge, it was still marginally lower than in 1979. In my response I acknowledged that he had a small, modest point, and advised him to use it while he could because I did not think that he could depend on it much longer. I am glad to be able to tell the House that this morning we published the final estimates for the value of capital investment in manufacturing in 1988, and they show that manufacturing industry is not just higher than it was in 1979 but higher than the previous record figure.

The Opposition's motion contains the even more flimsy charge of total neglect of inner cities. Not surprisingly, the speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) did not remotely substantiate or sustain that charge. Nor could it conceivably have

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done so, as no previous Government have ever brought together such a comprehensive range of programmes as those which make up "Action for Cities" and its component parts in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England. No previous Government have given the problem of urban regeneration so much emphasis by bringing together programmes in that way, or put so many resources behind measures to tackle the problem.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the £36 million that was provided when the "Action for Cities" campaign was launched in March 1988 as the total expenditure on the programmes of which it consisted. One year later, when I launched the reporting document, "Progress on Cities", about two and a half months ago, I was able to say that the estimate for those same programmes had risen to about £3.5 billion. It had risen by £0.5 billion between 1988 and 1989--far more than would have been needed to maintain the value of those programmes in real terms. If that is to be described as neglect, I can think of quite a few others who would like a share of it.

Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central) : What was the reduction in the rate support grant for major cities in the United Kingdom? Will the Minister contrast that with the small injection of capital to which he has referred?

Mr. Newton : We have directed the pattern of Government expenditure to local authorities and others, including urban development corporations, in a way that has markedly increased the impact of those programmes and their effect on the ground.

What is even clearer than the expenditure statistics that I have given in overall terms is the evidence of what is happening not only with physical regeneration and redevelopment--we heard little about that from the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook--but with the level of unemployment. In the 57 urban programme areas--I go a little wider than some of the right hon. Gentleman's statistics--unemployment has fallen by one third in the two years to March 1989, and by not far short of a quarter in the past year alone. In the past year, too, there has been a particularly encouraging drop in long-term unemployment--that is, those out of work for six months or more--which is one of the hallmarks of far too much inner-city unemployment. In view of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks about variations in different parts of the country, I will give him the facts as stated in last week's announcement of a further fall in unemployment. They put into a slightly different perspective some of what he said about the pace at which unemployment is falling in different parts of the country. The facts are as follows :

"All regions in the United Kingdom have shared in the downward trend in unemployment with the west midlands and Wales experiencing the biggest reductions over the past year followed by Yorkshire and Humberside, the north-west and the north. Within this total long-term unemployment has been falling faster than unemployment generally and in January the number of long-term unemployed was the lowest for more than six years."

That is the perspective in which the right hon. Gentleman's remarks should be considered.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what is happening on Merseyside? He cannot put the whole of the north-west together. What is actually happening on Merseyside?

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Mr. Newton : I visit Merseyside, the north-west, the north and the west midlands fairly frequently. Unemployment is falling in all parts of the country and the level of confidence and optimism is rising.

Mr. Hattersley : Will the Minister simply give us the figures which meet or do not meet my point? For the promises made two years ago to be met, unemployment in the inner cities should be falling more rapidly than elsewhere. The Minister has given figures for Scotland, the west midlands and the north of England, but the west midlands is not one big inner city. What is the unemployment figure in the inner cities? Is it not the figure that I gave? Is not the Minister trying to confound the issue with irrelevant alternatives?

Mr. Newton : I am trying to put into perspective some of the figures that the right hon. Gentleman sought to use about the pattern of unemployment. It has admittedly and undoubtedly taken a considerable amount of time to achieve the progress that we wish to see with this particularly intractable part of the unemployment problem.

Some of the more satisfactory trends in inner-city unemployment can be seen in areas where the Government have established specifically targeted task forces to help overcome problems in three or four wards of a city. A disturbing aspect of the Labour party's recent policy document, which was the exact obverse of one of the right hon. Gentleman's implications, was the apparent desire to get away from carefully targeted measures aimed at specific pockets of unemployment and difficulty which exist in places such as Birmingham or Bristol against the background of fairly widespread prosperity for the city as a whole. That is particularly true in Bristol.

The Government's targeted approach, which is beginning to be seen coming through in some of the figures--I make no grander claim than that--reflects the approach that we have tried to adopt to inner-city problems. The continuing fall in unemployment--as shown in the figures announced last week, which accompanied the press release from which I quoted a few moments ago--gives us all further encouragement. What was most striking about the speech of the hon. Member for Sparkbrook was not its variance with what Ministers say at the Dispatch Box--that is something that we expect and could sensibly predict--but its variance with what is said around the country by those who have looked at what is happening in our cities and those involved in local government and in the industrial and commercial life of our cities.

I could have brought a very substantial sheaf of documents relating to these matters to the Chamber today. Instead, I have culled a few which I felt it might be sensible to refer to the House. The managing director of the Newcastle Chronicle and Journal, at the north-east business man of the year dinner earlier this year, which I attended, said :

"There is a renewed pride in what is being achieved. The fundamental change of attitude throughout the region over the past 2 or 3 years is miraculous. We have moved from being a depressed, depressing and defeatist area to one which wants to take on the world."

I refer also to a special report published in The Times last autumn about regional developments generally. Its sub-heading read :

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"Improvements in the national economy have given Britain's poorer areas an opportunity they are determined to use And with government help, they are seeing results."

Just before Christmas The Sunday Times reported :

"Sheffield set to carve role for tomorrow."

I am glad to see hon. Members who represent Sheffield constituencies present in the Chamber today. After referring to what had been happening in Sheffield, the article continued

"Even more strikingly,"

this new feeling

"has trickled down to the level of the Sheffielder-in-the-street. It was hard to find anyone last week who was not anxious to stress the city's exciting future."

Mr. Flannery : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Newton : Yes, indeed. I was in Sheffield a week or two ago and everyone to whom I spoke voiced the same view as that expressed in The Sunday Times to which I have just referred.

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