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Dr. Hampson : We can all find examples of anything that we want to prove, but every urban development corporation initiative has worked by drawing in money undreamt of under the Labour Government ; it simply did not happen in those days. As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and I had an exchange on that subject earlier, I offer the following example. Without the urban development corporation, and its Government backing and Government money, a concert hall would not now be being built--indeed, it is about to open--in Manchester.
Mr. Vaz : There are many examples of urban initiatives led by local authorities, and if the hon. Gentleman will wait, I shall tell him precisely what the private sector thinks of Government regeneration schemes.
In March, City 2020 went to the United States to meet some of President Clinton's closest policy advisers. American cities have suffered a tremendous onslaught for the past 12 years of Republican rule, but now inner-city communities finally believe that they can make a difference, and that their cities need not be ghettoised and ruled by guns and mobs. The Clinton Administration, unlike the British Government, have, through their
Column 906empowerment zones, earmarked real and substantial new funds for urban regeneration. Our main conclusion was that instituting a climate for change and improvement, with long-term support for regeneration schemes, is simple given the political will. We have heard a lot from the Secretary of State--and he may well look at me with that boyish grin.
Mr. Gummer : Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Clinton Administration and people throughout the United States are coming to this country to learn how we do things in our cities ? The United States is learning from us. Those people do not come to learn from the Labour party, because they know that the Labour party has nothing to teach them.
We have heard a lot from the Secretary of State about the Robson report. If it supports Government policy, why did the Secretary of State suppress it for 18 months ? We welcome that excellent report. It is interesting that the publication title was changed from "Evaluating Government Urban Policy" to "Assessing the Impact of Urban Policy"--a handy change of title at the last moment. The results of the evaluation support what we have been saying for years. The first conclusion is that money, when it is spent, has an effect, and that it is impossible to bring about regeneration without proper and sufficient funding. The second finding is the need for a coherent strategy across Departments. Thirdly, structures and mechanisms that encourage long-term partnership should be instituted, and local authorities should be allowed to play a significant part in such partnerships, along with local communities.
The evaluation flags up two crucial points--the need to create employment opportunities and the need to make cities more attractive places to live in. We urge the Government to heed the report and its recommendations.
The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) talked about private finance, so let me tell him about the private sector. The Government, and the Secretary of State in particular, do not seem to understand that the private sector is not a regenerative agency per se. It is not fair to people in our urban areas or to the private sector to insist that social schemes be undertaken without support from the public sector. We cannot expect long-term solutions to be implemented when the furthest ahead that cities and businesses can plan with committed funds is five years.
If the private sector has been ignored, the voluntary sector has been treated with contempt. Voluntary organisations, through meagre resources, have been able to provide a massive pool of people and expertise.
We need to define a new vision of urban life. We must then develop cities in a sustainable way instead of making them enter absurd competitions for funds against each other. Labour will abolish that competitive process. Our urban areas need help as a right. What we need is a new Magna Carta for our towns and cities and a new constitutional settlement between cities and central Government. There is hope out there. People out there in the voluntary sector--community workers, council leaders
Column 907and business people--are undertaking innovative schemes to regenerate their cities and they must be supported. This Government ignore their pleas at their great risk.
As long ago as 8 March 1988, the Financial Times warned : "The British Government's announcement of a new programme for the inner cities is strong on presentation, but weak on new ideas or money".
The dilemma facing our cities is that since then more schemes have been launched, with thicker and thicker prospectuses.
In his speech today, the Secretary of State spoke about the true successes of our inner cities and he said that the Government saluted their achievements. He said that he wanted to continue with the revolution. He could not find a single local authority, one private company, any community group or any urban policy expert to agree with his extraordinary euphoria. Urban life has become intolerable, with a lack of resources, enterprise and cohesion, and now there is the misery of deregulated transport. Our Government should give massive support to our towns and cities to equip them to compete against the best in Europe and the best in the world. Our cities have great and proud histories, but they need the capacity to develop and grow, to attract worldwide investment and to generate international acclaim. This debate has not been one about a Government searching for or defining an urban policy, but one about urban Britain searching for a Government. The real tragedy of tonight is that urban Britain has searched in vain.
The Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction (Sir George Young) : We have had a good and wide-ranging debate, highlighted by three first-class maiden speeches, to which I shall come in a moment. I point out to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) that earlier this week a delegation from the United States came to my office. They had spent the week looking at city challenge, development corporations and housing action trusts. They were interested in the innovations that we had introduced. If one compares our cities with some of the cities of the United States, one sees that the Americans have every bit as much to learn from what we are doing as the hon. Gentleman has to learn from what is happening in America.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East also referred to Ealing. He has a nerve to mention inherited debt. When the previous Labour council lost Ealing, it left £100 million of rolled-up debt. It had borrowed the money, but it did not have the courage to make any provision for interest. The Conservative administration had to double rents to pay for the Labour party's mistakes.
I want to reply to the debate and to deal with the serious points made by hon. Members on both sides. I start with the speech by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who had a rather selective memory of what happened between 1974 and 1979. He totally forgot about the intervention by the International Monetary Fund which brought about one of the greatest cuts in capital programmes that the country has seen. He said that the urban programme was being wound down. He did not mention city challenge, which has taken its place. He talked about his city of Manchester, but he did not mention the Trafford Park development corporation or the Central Manchester development corporation. He mentioned the
Column 908estates that were being demolished and the fact that the excrescences were coming down. A Conservative Government are working with the private sector, with a local authority and with housing associations to demolish some of the monuments to socialism built in the 1960s and 1970s and to provide decent homes for people to live in. We are putting right in Manchester many of the mistakes made in the past. The worrying thing about the right hon. Gentleman's speech, which, I fear, was repeated in other speeches, was that it betrayed a hostility to good quality rented accommodation in the private sector. On the same day as the Rowntree Foundation published its recommendations outlining the role that the private rented sector could play in tackling the country's housing problems, the right hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members betrayed an innate hostility to the role that the private rented sector could play.
Sir George Young : No, I must try to make progress. Many hon. Members have made serious speeches, which deserve a reply. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the people who need good-quality accommodation. I am not sure whether he was present at Question Time. The key statistic for those on the waiting list is how many people are rehoused each year. That is the currency that matters. More people are now being rehoused in new lettings from local authorities and housing associations than when the Government took office. We are making faster progress in moving people off the waiting lists than was the case when we took office. The right hon. Gentleman said that Government grant to Manchester had been cut. It has not. Between 1982-83 and 1993-94, Government grant to Manchester has increased in real terms by 31.2 per cent.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) put right the omission in the right hon. Gentleman's
Mr. Kaufman : It is a convention of the House that, when one hon. Member refers to another, that hon. Member gives way for the other hon. Member to respond. If the Minister is not ready to do that, it shows how baseless his arguments are in relation to me.
Sir George Young : Madam Speaker, I am trying to reply to the debate. The right hon. Gentleman made a speech, during which he gave way to no one. He made a number of points with which I am trying to deal. If I had to give way to every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate, I would not make much progress in giving answers to the many points that have been made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West put right the omission in the right hon. Gentleman's speech by paying tribute to the work of the Leeds development corporation, for it has done sensational work in regenerating the inner part of Leeds, especially the Armouries site, which I visited. He was right to point out that the development corporation has promoted a different culture. It is a business-oriented body which is turning round derelict sites in the middle of Leeds, promoting new partnerships, new coalitions, and, as he rightly said, producing the gearing that we need if we are to make faster progress in promoting jobs in our inner cities.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) mentioned the condition of the nation's housing stock. Of course, the English house conditions survey published last year showed that between 1986 and 1991 the condition of the stock in all tenures had improved. The hon. Gentleman went on to mention empty homes. Yes, I agree with him. That is why this year I have asked local authorities to produce a strategy for the empty homes in their area so that they can be brought into use.
The hon. Gentleman then tried to claim authorship of a scheme, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry), of converting offices into flats. We recently gave consent in Hammersmith for a block that had been built as offices to be converted into flats by housing associations. I am interested in the proposals put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak and, of course, we shall do what we can to promote them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) outlined how socialism can destroy jobs--quite right. [ Laughter .]. He also pointed out that the inner city is about better health, better education, and a safer environment. The introduction of the single regeneration budget and the promotion of city challenge enables one to take that integrated approach.
I pay tribute to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge). Her tribute to Jo Richardson struck a chord and she described how the right to buy had been a very successful policy in her constituency. [Hon. Members :-- "No, she did not."] She did. She said that one third of the council's housing stock is being sold under the right to buy. [Interruption.] I think that the hon. Lady is after the job of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle). I prefer the Government's approach to the rather Stalinist approach that we saw in Islington.
Several hon. Members raised the question of rate support grant to local authorities. Rate support grant is only part of the story ; there are other Government grants as well. The total, including RSG, has gone up by 40 per cent. over the past 10 years ; within that, the share of the urban authorities programme has gone up from 26 per cent. to 32 per cent., so it is not true to say that we have starved inner-city local authorities of resources.
My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak rightly made the point that we should do more to rehabilitate properties
Column 910and make better use of empty properties. I was interested in his suggestion that we should extend housing association grant to private developers--a proposition supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Sir P. Beresford). We are interested in that proposition ; of course, it would need primary legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak rightly made the point that we need a broader base for private funding for housing associations. He suggested that housing associations might do more to promote a voluntary right to buy. I agree entirely with what he said. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg) seemed to be surprised that we took receipts into account when we allocated housing capital funds. If he reflects on that, he will see that that helps the inner cities because they tend to have less receipts than areas in the shire districts ; by taking receipts into account, we are helping the inner cities, rather than hindering them. The hon. Gentleman went on--this was disappointing--to criticise the tenants incentive scheme and the cash incentive scheme. He may not know this, but those schemes are implemented by Labour-controlled councils as well as Conservative- controlled councils. They are popular with tenants. For the price of one home built by a housing association, one can get three new lets for people on the waiting list by giving cash incentives to existing tenants who want to become home owners. I was disappointed to hear the hon. Gentleman's criticism of the scheme because it was pioneered by a number of Labour councils, as well as Conservative councils. It is popular with local authority tenants. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's constituents will be disappointed to learn that this popular scheme does not have the support of their Member of Parliament.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) touched on leasehold reform. He reminded the House that the important reform that went through last year was popular, and has introduced a more stable system.
I want to say something about the question raised by my hon. Friend--it was also raised by the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth)--about leaseholders who bought flats from their local authority under the right-to-buy scheme. A recent survey of council leaseholders undertaken by Bristol university found that 86 per cent. of respondents considered their flats to be good value-for-money purchases, and less than 2 per cent. reported difficulty in selling because lenders would not accept their flats as security. There are real problems for that 2 per cent., especially if they want to move, say, to accommodate a growing family.
I intend to introduce a scheme which will make it easier for local authorities to help. Where they can sell the leaseholder another home more suited to his needs, our scheme will enable the authority to take back the unsuitable flat at the right-to-buy price paid for it. The scheme will be introduced by way of an amendment to the Local Authority (Capital Finance) Regulations 1990, and I hope to lay the order before the House in the next few days.
Naturally, most leaseholders would prefer to sell their flats on the open market. Once again, we plan to help. We have consulted the Council of Mortgage Lenders and local authorities about a review of the arrangements under which authorities can indemnify mortgages. That should create a better market by making it easier for banks and building societies to lend to prospective purchasers.
Column 911We are also addressing the question of service charges. Again, there is no need to be alarmist. The Bristol survey found that about 5 per cent. of leaseholders had serious difficulties paying their service charges. Measures to help them will be included in a good practice guide for public sector landlords which we plan to publish in the autumn.
We had an excellent maiden speech from the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who spoke from the seat previously occupied by Bob Cryer, from which he used to torment Ministers at all hours of the day and night. As a former leader of Bradford city council, the hon. Gentleman is aware of the partnership work that is being done with the Government in his city. I had a meeting with the hon. Gentleman a few hours after he became a Member of Parliament on section 11, a subject raised by other Members. We do understand the issue and we will do what we can to find a way through.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight) put the Robson report in perspective, and I was delighted to hear of the voluntary city challenge which she promoted in her constituency. I very much welcome that approach, and it shows that one need not always rely on public money.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) was worried that outer ring estates might be penalised by the Government's policies. That need not be the case, as the Castle Vale housing action trust in Birmingham is an outer city estate. There is no reason at all why out-of-city estates should miss out on the Government's initiatives. She referred to another theme which ran through many speeches in saying that she did not like the notion of competition. We make no apology at all for injecting a note of competition into the allocation of resources.
If there is one thing that has driven up the quality of local authority performance in the past three or four years, it has been the allocation of resources according to the quality of solutions as well as the intensity of problems. A number of Opposition Members wanted to go back to the old system, where the worse your problems, the more money you got. We say--the better the solutions, the more money you are likely to get, and that is the right way ahead. My hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff) made an enlightened speech outlining the case for Government intervention in cities, and gave advance warning of his single regeneration bid in Tolladine. It sounds exactly the sort of scheme which could qualify for help. My hon. Friend was interested in extending the rough sleepers initiative to his city, and I commend that.
My hon. Friend outlined the advantages of large-scale voluntary transfer, a policy which has not so far been implemented by any Labour-controlled council. A key point that my hon. Friend made was that, as a result of the transfer of stock, 1,000 new units of rented accommodation will be made available to people in the areas concerned. I urge Opposition Members to raise their sights and look at alternative forms of tenure and ownership if they are to make faster progress in tackling housing problems.
I turn to the last of the maiden speeches, a first-class speech by the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms). I am only sorry that more Opposition Members were not here to hear what the hon. Gentleman said. I do not want to embarrass him, but the note of optimism which came through in his speech contrasted sharply with the rather defeatist and pessimistic notes that we heard from so many Opposition Members.
Column 912The hon. Gentleman said that there were "great grounds for optimism" in Newham. He went on to say that the Government have "invested heavily" in east London, and that "valuable foundations" have been laid. That is a recognition of the work that the Government have put into the inner cities. I do not want to embarrass the hon. Gentleman at the beginning of his political career, but I hope that that realism will stay with him during his stay in the House and that the Whips and the Opposition Front Bench do not get at him to tell him to tone down his remarks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central made the case--if ever one needed to hear it made--for compulsory competitive tendering for local government services. He explained the wide variety of costs for identical services provided in a number of London boroughs, and made the case for housing management CCT, which is opposed by Opposition Members, in a first- class speech.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington) made a mistake which was also made by many other Opposition Members. He assumed that property in the private rented sector was by definition bad, while property in the public sector was by definition good. One simply has to walk around the inner cities to see that that is not the case. There are many examples of good quality private rented accommodation, and all too many examples of poor quality public sector accommodation. One simply should not assume that, because ownership is in one sector, the quality of the accommodation is bad.
Mr. Straw rose
The hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston) made a long speech about Bristol. One of the things that we are trying to do through our planning policy is to avoid the polarisation which she described, where local authority tenants are in one part of an area and owner-occupiers are in another. If she reads our planning guidance note, PPG 3, she will see that we are promoting mixed, more stable and better balanced communities through our planning policy. The hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) paid tribute to the Government's estate action programme and described its good features and the qualities that had been promoted on the estates that he represents. The key thing that he mentioned, on which we are keen, was tenant participation, which is one of the themes running through our housing policy.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) alleged that the single regeneration budget does not mention education. That is not true. It is specifically mentioned in the guidelines to the SRB. The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) seemed to have some doubts about his party's commitment to the right to buy. As one listened to his speech one doubted whether the Labour party ever really believed in the right to buy. It is only the popularity of the policy outside that has caused it to change its views.
Column 913The existing commitments to estate action will be honoured. We have been entirely open and honest about the SRB baseline, which has been clearly stated. As the urban development corporations approach their wind-up, more money will be freed for new bids.
If one wants to see the impact of Government policy, one need do no more than go round Bonamy estate in Southwark or Holly Street estate in Hackney. Those large estates, which were built about 30 years ago, are now being demolished with help from the Government. That work, which is funded by money from the Housing Corporation and the private sector, will result in stable communities being built.
The reality is that we are winning the arguments about the way forward in housing and inner cities. We are now setting the agenda that other people are following. Out there, in the real world, the best local authorities are developing their enabling role. They are talking to the business community, enthusing local people and are coming up with practical, radical solutions. Out there, in the real world, private finance is increasingly being brought in to help tackle the needs of housing and our inner cities. Out there, in the real world, we have brought together the regeneration programmes under a single regeneration budget. We have brought together the regional offices of four Government Departments and we now have one single Government office to tackle all the problems in the round. We are now devolving power to tenants to manage their own estates. We are driving up housing management standards by introducing CCT. We are promoting alternative forms of ownership of local authority estates. We are promoting new means of tackling the problems of the worst estates through housing action trusts.
The Opposition's solution to the issues with which we have grappled for the past six hours is set out in a letter to The Independent on 21 June from the hon. Member for Leicester, East. He made two assertions which were not true and then a proposition on which the House will have its own views. First, he asserted :
"City challenge, launched in a blaze of glory, has gone." That would be alarming news to the 31 winners of the city challenge, who will be spending £850 million
Mr. Vaz rose
Mr. Vaz rose
The hon. Member for Leicester, East then asserted that the capital receipts holiday failed to raise the amount expected. That is not true. The local authorities' own estimates currently stand at £1.8 billion, as opposed to the Government's estimate of £1.75 billion. I want hon. Members to hear about the vision that the hon. Member for Leicester, East offered to The Independent . He said : "The vision for our cities should be of the European style, similar to the cafe society promoted by The Independent." As the hon. Member sits at his table on the pavement, a
Column 914Campari and soda in one hand and The Independent crossword in the other, and as he listens to a street musician playing a Strauss waltz, while he prescribes his solution--cocktails in Coventry, cappuccino in Cardiff, Martini in Manchester, bucks fizz in Bradford, Dubonnet in Derby--the Conservatives will be working. They will be working hard in our inner cities to create jobs and wealth, turning around socialist housing estates and building a vibrant and prosperous society.
Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question :
The House divided : Ayes 217, Noes 298.
Division No.277] [10.00
Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Beith, Rt Hon A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F.
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)
Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Corston, Ms Jean
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Ms Angela
Evans, John (St Helens N)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Don (Bath)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Golding, Mrs Llin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Harman, Ms Harriet
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mo n)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Khabra, Piara S.