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Column 574In some schools in my constituency, pieces of the ceiling fall on children's heads. Areas of schools have had to be closed because they are not safe for the children and teachers. In one school, music classes have had to be taken on the stairs.
That is the kind of educational opportunity offered to my constituents. It may be why, in the Gorton, North ward of my constituency, only 4.3 per cent. of the working population have higher educational qualifications and why, in the Gorton, South ward, 6.15 per cent. have higher educational qualifications. Only 7.6 per cent. of the population have managerial and professional qualifications. That is the kind of opportunity that the Government provide for my constituents and their children.
I have spoken about the very high levels of psychological distress in my constituency. One of the reasons for that may be the extraordinarily high incidence of crime in my constituency. There are enormous numbers of domestic burglaries--6,050 in 1992--car thefts, thefts from cars and arson and damage. We have an extremely high rate of robbery.
There is racial harassment, which the Minister glibly tried to explain away today, caused by a lack of resolution on the part of the Government to do anything about this problem. Week after week, people from the Asian and Chinese communities suffering as a result of racial harassment come to my surgeries. My constituency has a drug problem which simply did not exist 10 years ago. A pub outside which drugs were openly sold in daylight has been closed down through co-operation between the police and the brewers. The police do their best. We have an excellent chief constable who creates an admirable ethos within the police force. Yet, despite all the efforts of the police, the clear-up rate of crime in my city is only 28 per cent. There has been a devastating reduction in the service provided by the social services department. Manchester city council used to have the best social services department in the country ; now it is simply unable to cope with the problems which confront it. Because of the reductions in Government funding--the reductions in grants and reductions in the urban programme, including the effect on section 11 programming--more than 60 residential homes in our city have had to be closed. They include family group homes, small children's homes, family centres, minimum support homes, residential homes for the disabled, residential homes for adults with learning disabilities and residential homes for the elderly . That is the kind of thing that is happening in the Gorton Division.
As a Member of Parliament for an inner-city constituency, I now have to spend a great deal of time writing begging letters in an attempt to scrape up money to fund the most basic activities in my constituency. The Gorton community centre, which is located in an area of great deprivation, is in difficulty and fears that it may have to close. The Birch community centre almost did close down. These centres are located in areas of great poverty and provide services for the unemployed and lone mothers and lunches for old people.
My constituency has lost amenities. The Victoria baths, located just across the road from my constituency, has closed, as have two pet corners in parks in my constituency. Children in one of the most built-up areas of the country are prevented from seeing animals in their natural habitat.
Column 575The Government have taken millions from our city and especially from the poor. The hon. Member for Finchley mentioned the Tory philosophy of one nation, but the Disraeli philosophy of two nations affects my constituents, who are part of the second nation. The Government have brought about the greatest ever redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich in any democratic country. Via tax handouts, they have transferred to the most wealthy people billions of pounds that were benefiting people who are living in poverty. In spite of their problems and the fact that the Government have exacerbated them, my constituents are fine people who are full of resource and are creating their own community networks.
Mr. Booth : Does the right hon. Gentleman deny the figures ? The Labour Government reduced spending on inner cities by 23 per cent. in 1974. It was on average £25 million per year, and £36 million a year was the most that they spent during their time in office.
Mr. Kaufman : We did not need that sort of programmed spending. Two thirds of local authority expenditure was made up of rate support grant. At that time, enormous sums of money were available in general grants, such as housing subsidy. Those grants have gone.
I can say that we did not need that sort of spending because I lived then, as now, in my constituency. We did not need it because general funding enabled us to fund our programmes, and because we were also able to fund them through a sensible rating system. That was before the days of the poll tax, council tax and capping. In those days, such programmed spending was merely a useful addition because general funding was ample.
Mr. Booth rose
Mr. Kaufman : I shall not give way again to the hon. Gentleman. I recognise his courtesy, but, partly because of the anger that I displayed at certain interventions by Conservative Members, I have spoken far longer than I intended and I do not wish to deprive hon. Members on both sides of the House of the opportunity of speaking. My constituents will fend for themselves whenever they can, but lone mothers on income support, unemployed people who are desperate for a job and homeless people with no prospect of a house all find it very difficult to fend for themselves.
I first became a Member of Parliament representing Manchester 24 years ago, when we did not have beggars on the streets, but we have them now and they have appeared during the time, that this Government have been in office, in spite of all the urban funding that the hon. Member for Finchley mentioned.
Money for the Olympic bid is the only money that the Government have boasted about putting into our city. We are grateful and we are sorry that we did not get the games, but Manchester is still there after that bid. I am sorry to have to say that it seems to have been forgotten and rejected by the Government.
My constituents of all ages despair of what is happening to them. At surgeries, and not simply on occasional visits but as I walk the streets of my constituency every weekend, they ask me what I am going to do to get the Government out so that they can get a decent start. I recognise that we
Column 576shall have another three years of this Government and that is why I beg of them not to believe that they help the inner cities by talking in all those grand and abstract phrases. Thousands of people are living in difficulty and often in despair. They look to the House to do something about it. They also look to me to do something about it, which is why I do not offer a scintilla of apology for the strength of my speech. My constituents expect no less.
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) : Part of the speech of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was sincere and well meant, and part of it was plainly offensive. He criticised Conservative Members representing the south of England for contributing to this debate. That makes it sound as though the north of England has a monopoly of poverty and deprivation. My constituents are being asked to pay for the programmes, and they are entitled to a say in how the money is spent.
Mr. Ottaway : The right hon. Gentleman proves my point. He was probably too busy composing his speech early this morning to listen to the "Today" programme, when spokesmen from Glasgow and Sunderland were invited to comment on inner-city regeneration programmes. Far from being critical, they were very supportive. If my memory serves me well, both those regions are Labour controlled. One spokesman said that things had improved during the past 15 years, which coincides with the past 15 years of Conservative government.
The right hon. Member for Gorton should recognise that Manchester is entitled to £957 of grant per head each year--a higher grant than any other part of the country. If members of his authority adopted the same attitude as those representing Glasgow and Sunderland, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would not speak in such terms of despair.
I have mentioned the success in Glasgow and Sunderland, but it was not always the case. In the 1970s, because of the rundown estates there, it became obvious that the old way of funding inner cities was not working. Unless the people who lived on the estates were willing and enthusiastic that they should flourish, they continued to decline. As they did, the enterprising, the young and the employed sought a brighter future outside those rotting estates. They wanted a decent quality of life and a good education for their children, so they left and went to more prosperous areas, where housing, planning and local government were not a political football.
Whom did they leave behind ?--the elderly, who had lost the capacity to increase their earnings and get out, the unemployed and the one-parent families. In the 1980s, it became obvious that we could no longer return to the bad old ways of simply throwing public money at the problem. The introduction of partnership schemes, which culminated in city challenge, revitalised such areas.
I have a strong vision of my old constituency in Nottingham, where the then Government developed two high-rise estates in the 1960s in a hurry. After 15 years, they were rotten, damp, rundown buildings, smelling of urine, which could not be called homes to anyone. It was
Column 577right that they were demolished. The sting in the tail, however, is that the council tax payers of Nottingham will continue to pay for those flats well into the next century. People who were not even born when they were built will be young, married and settled in Nottingham, and still paying for buildings that they never knew.
An old warehouse at the other end of the town became a model project. It was a joint venture between the Government and a private partnership, under the urban development grant scheme of the early 1980s. The attractive and stylish flats for the young people of Nottingham are there for all to see. The key is that those flats were privately owned, which gave people a pride in the building. At the end of the 1980s, with city challenge, local authorities were invited to bid for projects if they could introduce private money to match central Government funds. That scheme was an outstanding success, and many projects today have resulted from the competitive pressures that were introduced. I say the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) that I hope that we shall be able to move into a third round of city challenge and build on the successes of the past.
The new single regeneration budget will pull together all the themes of the past decade, and the money will go where people think that it is most needed. That will encourage regeneration, economic development and industrial competitiveness by providing a more flexible and responsive system. That is good news for our inner cities. Local partnerships will be encouraged to bid for resources from the new budget, following the principle of the city challenge programmes. Projects to improve the standard of housing, tackle crime, encourage more tenant and community participation and improve social housing stock deserve our full support.
We do not only need to improve physical resources. We can put in place industrial and commercial sites and ensure that the economic climate is able to support the growth of small and medium-sized businesses, but we need more. Their success also depends on the success of our human resources. That is why Conservative Members know that investment in the skills and training of local people is just as important. The Government's education reforms are designed to raise standards throughout the country, but nowhere is that needed more than in our inner cities.
A network of city technology colleges is being established in urban areas. An especially successful one is the Harris CTC on the Croydon-Lambeth borders. The inner cities have also benefited especially from a range of employment and training programmes. However, Conservative Members are realists. We know that inner cities cannot operate in isolation from the rest of the country. There has been a worldwide recession--there is no argument about that. The United Kingdom has suffered, as have the United States, Japan and Germany. There has been a slowdown in the economy, which has made life even more difficult in the inner cities.
It is not only the recession that has badly affected our inner cities, many of which are now virtual no-go areas. We all know where they are--parts of Lambeth, Hackney, Newham, Southwark, Liverpool and many more. There are still places in our urban areas out of which people are desperate to move. As the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), who unfortunately has left the Chamber, said, they are too frightened to walk the
Column 578streets. They are not even safe in their own homes. The schools are failing totally to educate their children and, consequently, unemployment remains unacceptably high.
Apart from those factors, what else do those areas all have in common ? Their local authorities are dominated by the Labour party. The House should not be duped by the so-called "caring" image of Westminster Labour party. The real Labour party is to be found in many town halls up and down the country--town halls that issue council tax bills far in excess of those of well-managed Tory authorities, and deliver the quality of services that one would not wish on one's worst enemy. That exposes the reality of Labour-- the waste, the inefficiency, the incompetence and, most of all, the irrelevance. The "loony left" is alive and well in Labour town halls throughout the country and one does not have to look far to find examples of its lunacies. Bristol's Labour council objects to the use of black bin- liners because they are racist and Birmingham's Labour council spent £70,000 on translating Asian nursery rhymes into English. Even the Labour party has found it difficult to say anything complimentary about some of the Labour-run councils. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) described Brent in 1990 as monumentally incompetent. Keva Coombs, the former leader of Liverpool council, said that it was the worst landlord in Liverpool, probably in the country.
It is not merely incompetence that hampers our inner cities under Labour control. I read in a newspaper that Lambeth council had paid the present hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Raynsford) £350 a day to co-ordinate opposition to two proposed housing action trusts in the borough.
If anyone tells us that Labour has changed, consider the town councils. It took us 10 years to repair the damage that the Labour party did to the economy, and it may take us another 10 to repair the systematic damage that it has wreaked on our society. Central Government can only do so much for the inner cities when key sectors such as education and housing are controlled by left-wing authorities.
However, some authorities understand the problems and have the will, the means and the determination to tackle them. There is plenty of proof among well-managed, efficient and cost-effective
Conservative-run councils throughout the country, not least of which is my own borough of Croydon. There is no reason why the sensible approach that it has adopted in areas such as housing and education could not be adopted in other London boroughs. If it were, I am sure that there would be not only a dramatic improvement in the quality of life but cleaner streets, a better managed housing stock and improved educational results--all for a lower council tax. Just as importantly, we might be able to halt the ever- increasing drift of people and business away from the inner cities to the suburbs.
The borough of Croydon is one of the most populous in London. For the past two years, its council has introduced a housing strategy which has been judged by the Department of Environment to be among the best in the country. That has placed Croydon in the premier division of housing authorities. Croydon's housing objectives are simple--to meet local housing needs, to maintain and improve stock and to extend choice.
Croydon has confronted and tackled a major homelessness problem. In 1992, more than 2,000 households were living in temporary accommodation and
Column 579that figure was projected to increase to more than 3,000 on the then current trends, but, at the end of February this year, the numbers in temporary accommodation had fallen to 1,100, and the trend is firmly downwards. Progress is being made in housing people from the waiting list, and tenants needing a transfer. By 1 March this year, 714 households had been transferred and 303 households housed from the waiting list.
How is the council achieving that ? It has built partnerships with the private and public sector agencies, pursued innovative solutions to any problems that it has encountered, and maintained an ever-necessary awareness of value for money. Yes,
Conservative-controlled Croydon council has been extremely successful, but, by following its approach, so could the Lambeths and Hackneys of the country. Such a vision helps communities to thrive. Our inner cities need common-sense answers to everyday problems, not the hackneyed socialist dogma foisted on them by Labour-run authorities. Is it any wonder that Lambeth, which has a larger debt than Haiti and Botswana combined, fails miserably to maintain its housing stock ? Contrast that with Croydon council's record. By the end of this financial year, more than 6,000 properties will have benefited from works programmes, including central heating, window renewals and energy efficiency measures. Those works are planned to improve a further 7,000 properties next year.
Conservative Members recognise that the problems of increasing crime that confront us today are due in part to the disaster that befell our education system in the 1960s and 1970s. The Conservative party plans a return to fundamentals in education. It might not sound fashionable, but it does sound right. How can people expect to find a job if they cannot read, write or add up ?
We cannot allow our citizens to be deprived of a proper education, which is what is happening in dozens of Labour-run councils throughout the country. All too often, socialist education policies turn out half-educated, anti- social thugs who are designed only for the dole queue or the criminal justice system. We are all paying the price for that madness in higher crime and higher unemployment, when nine of the 10 local education authorities with the worst GCSE results in England are controlled by Labour.
Contrast that with the results achieved in Croydon. We came seventh out of 108 education authorities in the age seven reading tests ; 44 per cent. of 16-year-olds gained grades A to C in their GCSE exams ; and more than three quarters of students stayed on in school or college, a figure which places Croydon 11th in the country.
Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green) : In referring to anti-social behaviour and poor education results in inner cities, hon. Members on both sides recognise that poor education leads to poor employment prospects, which in turn lead to crime because people have nothing better to do and no other way of sustaining themselves. But my hon. Friend's point about further education is important. The problems of young men--it would be unfair to suggest that the problem applies equally to both sexes, as it is predominantly a male problem--would be greatly alleviated if inner cities were more vocational and other
Column 580training were encouraged, as the Government have done. That would follow the same line as my hon. Friend's argument.
Mr. Ottaway : I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who makes his point well. Croydon council is pursuing such a policy, and I suggest that other councils, such as Manchester, may care to follow it. It is not just the Labour-controlled local authorities that are guilty of such conduct. The most famous example of mismanagement in an inner city area must be in Tower Hamlets, Britain's poorest borough. In 1986, Tower Hamlets council spent £20 million of council tax payers' money on creating seven neighbourhood councils with no function except to duplicate facilities unnecessarily and waste scarce resources.
Not content with wreaking havoc in Tower Hamlets, the Liberal Democrats are proposing the same lunatic scheme elsewhere in London. Their record in other areas of the country only serves to prove that our inner cities are better off without them. Their education policy simply echoes Labour's failed and outdated methods. In Tower Hamlets, just 18.9 per cent. of pupils attain GCSE grades A to C--the third worst results in the country. Liberal Democrats would get rid of grant-maintained schools, CTCs and the assisted places scheme. In true left-wing style, they adhere faithfully to the old adage that, if something shows a sign of success, it should never again see the light of day.
In my neighbouring council of Sutton, Liberal councillors even underwent psychological tests to reveal what we could have told them for nothing. Apparently, the tests said that they lacked clear objectives and agreed goals, and could be weak at follow-through on their decisions. The tests also found evidence of unresolved tension in the group. The councillors could resolve that tension by carrying on with their psychological tests and letting the Conservatives get on with the job of running their borough.
In the 1970s, people said that we could never tackle the huge economic problems that had made Britain the laughing stock of the world. They said that we could not revive Britain's entrepreneurial spirit or halt the dominance of the trade unions. Well, we did. Now, some people say that nothing can be done to restore pride in our inner cities, repair and replenish the housing stock and encourage commerce and industry back into sites that have been left derelict. I am convinced that the Government's announcement of a single regeneration budget will be a major contributing factor, just as ridding the inner cities of Labour and Liberal Democrat councils will be another.
"Two men looked out through prison bars,
One saw mud, the other stars."
It is not surprising that the Minister's speech of one hour and 20 minutes made me wonder whether he was filibustering. It focused on the undoubted highlights around the country, whereas the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) focused on the failures of Government policy in the inner cities.
Column 581It took the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to bring the debate down to earth and remind the House that, in some communities, deprivation has reached levels that would be regarded as appalling in under-developed countries. In those communities, it is impossible for people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and exceptional measures are required if people's lives are not to be degraded, shortened and tarnished by the circumstances in which they find themselves living, through no fault of their own.
The citizens of Gorton are no more typical than those of the constituency of the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway). His constituency is not a deeply impoverished inner-city area, but a prospering, thriving community. It has rich industrial and commercial activities and local resources that are being put to good use. It is scarcely surprising that its education results are different from those in more deprived areas. It does not take the debate forward to suggest that what is happening in Croydon can be transplanted overnight to a constituency of a wholly different type such as Gorton.
By turning the debate into a futile exchange of political insults in the lead-up to the local authority elections--doubtless the reason why the debate was planned--we miss an opportunity to ask why there are still constituencies such as Gorton in our midst. After 15 years in office, why are the Conservative Government announcing this week a new scheme of special aid for those areas ?
It follows a succession of other action programmes, city challenge being perhaps one of the most notable--it has substantial merit and successes to its credit. Why are special measures still necessary after 15 years of Conservative government that has concentrated on expenditure on programmes that focus predominantly--95 per cent.--on enterprise-related activity ? The Minister would have helped the debate considerably if he had given us an idea of what the Government regard as their objectives. We did not hear about that during his long speech
Mr. Maclennan : I did not find it at all boring. Although it was long, I was interested in it, because it alighted here and there--like a travel guide--on some of the more attractive parts of the country, where admirable activities are being generated. It was a Cook's tour, designed to cheer us all up. It was not a boring speech, but it did not include any measures by which we could judge the success of the Government's programme. It did not give us a yardstick against which we could judge the appropriateness of what the Government plan for the future.
I do not intend to speak for anything like as long as those hon. Members who have already spoken. Some might think that that is appropriate for someone who represents not an inner-city constituency but the most sparsely populated constituency in the British Isles, which has different problems. In justification of my speech, I should say that I was brought up in an inner city, in an affluent part of Glasgow, on the edge of an extremely impoverished area.
When Parliament is sitting, I live in an affluent part of the royal borough of Kensington, next to an impoverished area. I am not ignorant, therefore, of what is happening. Anyone who has spent 28 years in the House and who has
Column 582travelled around the country can give the sort of Cook's tour that the Minister gave, and give a different impression of the country. I shall speak anecdotally and not on the success of Government policies. That would require a far more lengthy analysis than it would be appropriate for me to attempt to give.
There are some disturbing trends in our country today, which I find deeply shocking. The trend away from good health in the community is baffling. My parents were both doctors ; my father was a gynaecologist who specialised in the problems of women that flowed from malnutrition in the 1930s. I remember his saying before he died some years ago that at least that problem had been licked, and that people no longer needed to bother about his specialty.
Alas, that is far from being true, because there is a recurrence of rickets in our society, due directly to malnutrition. There is a recurrence of tuberculosis in our inner-city areas, which is clearly due to the poor community health provision there.
My mother was engaged in public health, and she spent her life endeavouring to eliminate these diseases. She thought that her life's work had been a success. My parents were both happy to think of the progress that had been made in their lifetime. How sad they would have been to discover that, after 15 years of Conservative government--one of them was a supporter of the Conservative party--these scourges are back in our society.
Most of the debate has been about urban planning, buildings, the injection of capital into business projects and partnership schemes, which may or may not have a training component. I believe that all that is important, although I had a good deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser). He expressed some surprise that, after an hour, the Minister had not talked about social problems and had not reflected on the people who live in these communities, who suffer educational and social deprivation, and who face racial harassment and violence.
I was surprised by the Minister's attitude to the proposal by the Commission for Racial Equality, which has been supported by the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth). He promoted a Bill on the subject, and he spoke with a good deal of authority on some of these matters earlier in the debate. The Minister is against the introduction of a specific offence of racial harassment. He seems to have confused the proposal for an offence of racial harassment with the separate proposal for an offence of racial violence.
The Minister's points about racial violence were fair, because it would be difficult to prove racial motivation. The proper approach is to treat the evidence of racial motivation as a ground for regarding the offence of violence as an aggravated offence, and for increasing the penalty available to the court.
However, for the Minister to dismiss the Racial Hatred and Violence Bill as he did today is seriously to underestimate the problem of racial harassment which faces some of the deprived inner-city areas, where the problems of a concentration of particular ethnic minorities are placing such burdens on the local authorities, the voluntary agencies and other community bodies that are concerned for them. I hope that the Government will think again before the Bill leaves the House ; I hope that they revise their view on racial harassment, because it is a scourge which we must eliminate and on which we must take a strong stand.
Column 583Before we hold another debate on the inner cities, it would be of immense value if the Government sought to construct performance measures for their programmes, which could be applied locally on the ground, so that we could judge the schemes. It is not reasonable simply to look over our shoulder and to say, "This House has voted through and supported so many millions or billions of pounds on city challenge and the other cognate schemes which have focused on discrete areas." No doubt those schemes have been of substantial benefit to those areas, but we must look also at other communities which have not been beneficiaries and which may not be in such great need.
The system of financial support for local authorities which the Government have introduced has been substantially misconceived. That is because it has not related assistance to need in the manner that, for all its faults, the old rate support grant did. The failure of local government finance has led to the necessity to create these schemes which are produced from time to time by new Secretaries of State with great acclamation and a huzza as the new way forward. Let us hear a little more about local government finance. In particular, the Minister should look at the Liberal Democrat proposal for site value taxation, which has much merit. It would greatly assist the process of bringing into deprived areas the kind of business that is looking for relatively inexpensive accommodation, and it would generate greater business.
Even now, after 15 years, the Government have failed to get their local taxation right. That is one of the major contributory factors to the decline of our inner-city areas. It is quite apparent to the passing visitor, not just to the resident of Manchester, Gorton, that the gap between the rich and poor is getting wider, not narrower, and that the general standards of education are falling, not rising. In the context of education, the Government should look again at section 11 funding problems. It is monstrous to criticise the local authority in Tower Hamlets, as the hon. Member for Croydon, South did, for its educational shortcomings. That borough has done remarkably well. If the hon. Gentleman knew about what was going on there and about the pressures on the education authority's budget, the difficulty of teaching multi-language classes and the appalling impact that the withdrawal of section 11 funding will have on that burden, perhaps he would not make such inappropriate political comments.
Mr. Baldry : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman intends to deal with the matter that I am about to mention. If he does, I apologise for asking about it. The hon. Gentleman has been speaking for some time, but has not said much about Liberal policies. That is surprising, because, only a couple of weeks ago, the Liberal Democrats launched a policy on urban initiatives. Perhaps the policy passed by the hon. Gentleman, but if not, I should like him to explain some of it. Given some of the sensitivities and concerns in areas such as Tower Hamlets, about which he has spoken, perhaps he will explain what is meant by his party's policy document when it says that the Liberals advocate reform of the council house allocation system to encourage the development of communities. Before the hon. Gentleman finishes his speech, could he explain that ?
Mr. Maclennan : I certainly played a part in the production of that document, which I have here. I said at the beginning of my contribution that I did not intend to make a comprehensive speech setting out the whole range of policies. I have already mentioned a number of them, but I have not presented them in the partisan way in which the Minister chose to explain the Government's position. I hope that the whole of my speech is an indication of the approach of Liberal Democrats to these matters, of our priorities and of the tests that we will apply to the policies of others.
Housing in Tower Hamlets is a serious problem, which is largely due to the failure of central Government to make provision. It is perhaps at its most acute in the Isle of Dogs which, under the arrangements set up by local Liberal Democrats
Mr. Maclennan : I am answering the Minister's intervention, and I shall try to finish that before happily giving way to the hon. Gentleman. The failure of central Government to recognise the magnitude of the problems in Tower Hamlets, and especially in the Isle of Dogs, which is run by the Labour party, is why those troubles have come into being.
Mr. John Marshall : One would like to pass over the problems that the Liberal Democrats are having with selection in Tower Hamlets and to talk about education. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 39.4 per cent. of children in Tower Hamlets play truant at some time during the year, compared with 13.6 per cent. in Wandsworth ? Does that not suggest a disquieting state of affairs, and what is he doing about it ?
The hon. Member for Hendon, South is quite right. There is a major educational problem in that area, and I was attempting to confront it. It is in large part due to the educational needs of multi-language pupils, who have special requirements which cannot all met. Despite that, if the hon. Gentleman were to go into the community, he would be impressed by efforts that are being made to tackle the problems. If he considers it closely, he would support the case for extending and restoring section 11 funding in the schools, which was reduced to below acceptable levels in autumn 1992. Anyone who underrates the difficulty of the problems is either indulging in partisan politics or purblind. Those areas have serious problems, which are having nasty political repercussions, and they will affect the hon. Gentleman's party as much as my party. It would be sensible to consider the problems through rather less partisan spectacles.
Column 58512.51 pm
Mr. Andrew Hargreaves (Birmingham, Hall Green) : I am grateful for catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if only to speak briefly. One thing that rather irritated Conservative Members, apart from the rude and patronising note of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who is not in his place, was that he kept referring to the fact that he lived in his constituency, which was in an urban or inner-city area of some deprivation.
Some of us, including myself, on the Conservative Benches live in cities such as Birmingham, which has serious urban problems much the same as those of Manchester. I also live in my constituency, as I am sure do many hon. Member on both sides of the House. It is not a point of issue, and I am sure that it will not be referred to again. I surprised that a right hon. Member of such experience chose that line.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth), I have been a member of the Conservative Back-Bench urban inner cities committee for some years, and am an officer of that committee. One thing that has struck us from talking to the many people of all political persuasions who have tried to help us to understand different aspects of urban decay, regeneration and the possibilities ahead, is the remarkable synergy between certain themes that the Government have tried usefully to address and which has found echoes in other people's political views.
One of those aspects is the fact that the design of housing estates has played a large part in the problems of outer and inner-city urban decay. Poor design of housing estates has often exacerbated not only the living environment, but the security of the people who live there.
With that in mind, I hope that the Government will again consider carefully what can be done along the lines of estate action, housing action trusts and so forth on a more minor scale to improve the living environment of decaying council estates. There are many such estates in my constituency. Druid's Heath on the edge of Birmingham is notorious in that respect. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment and other Ministers have visited that estate. We have serious problems of decay, social cohesiveness, security and lawlessness.
Design is absolutely vital. I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will give further thought to the way in which we build housing estates in future. We need to build housing estates that do not become rat or cockroach-infested, or permanently damp. Housing estates must not be afflicted by environmental problems. Above all, they must not become dens for drug dealers, pimps and other social undesirables, who can prosper within such housing estates because they are so poorly lit or because their very design gives shelter to allow such people to lurk in dark shadows.
Lighting is essential. It can seriously transform particular areas of urban decay. Areas in my constituency have benefited enormously from the far- sighted attitude taken on a totally apolitical, non-partisan basis by Birmingham city council in respect of various projects that have been assisted by Government money. I urge hon. Members in all parts of the House to concentrate in this debate on the aspects that might assist the regeneration of our inner cities in a sensible and non-partisan fashion.
Column 586Hon. Members have referred in some detail to the problems of lawlessness and poor education. I firmly believe that keeping children interested in education as they grow up, so that they progress into further education--whether that be on an academic or vocational level--is crucial to keeping children, who might otherwise be so bored as to commit vandalism and progress to more serious crime, out of crime and within the community.
I urge my colleagues on the Government Front Bench to give further support to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and others who have been pressing for due respect to be given to further education along national vocational qualification lines and to raising the standards of blue-collar qualifications to university level, so that people feel that they achieve in that area and that that area is respected by their peers and by employers.
I want to refer briefly to racial harassment and racial harmony. In Birmingham, we are lucky that many of the problems of racial antagonism and harassment that afflicted it and other major cities have been treated sensitively and are being addressed within the community more positively than they were previously. I hope that all political parties will do what they can to ensure that racial problems are not inflamed, for political reasons, and that we work together to achieve cohesiveness.
We are talking not about cultural integration or about particular parts of the community, whether they be ethnic minorities or ethnic majorities, but about social cohesion within our cities. If inner cities are to be revitalised, it is vital that people live peacefully with each other and appreciate and respect each other.
I am sure that my colleagues on the Government Front Bench, and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench, support that view. I address that comment particularly to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) because I know that a by-election is taking place in Leicester which has extremely unattractive racial overtones. I hope that he will do his best in Leicester, as we will try to do in Birmingham, to ensure that political partisanship does not inflame the problem. I urge my hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench to do what they can in that respect.