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7.2 pm

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): I start in the name of Allah, who is the most beneficent and the most merciful. I have taken the opportunity to prefix my maiden speech in the traditional Muslim custom by starting in the name of God. This, I believe, is a testament to the fact that Britain is now a multicultural and multi-religious society, of which we are all members.

I begin by paying tribute to the late Jimmy Dunnachie, the former Member of Parliament for Glasgow, Pollok, which includes a substantial part of my new constituency. Jimmy Dunnachie tragically passed away at the beginning of September 1997. He was a popular and well-respected Member of Parliament and will be sadly missed in Glasgow.

I am extremely grateful to the people of Govan for the privilege and honour that they have conferred on me by electing me as their Member of Parliament. They have subsequently stood by me through some difficult times.

Govan is a rainbow state representing Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Chinese, Africans and Caribbeans, who include professionals, academics, the self-employed, employees and employers. Some would say that the political spectrum in Govan is perhaps too awash with colour. We have right-wingers, old lefties, Blairites, liberals, communists, Militant, nationalists, and even the odd Tory can be seen early on a Sunday morning.

The early beginnings of Govan were as a centre of Christianity. During the mid-1800s, Govan grew to become a burgh and by the end of the century had developed into one of the world's industrial powerhouses. Between the war years, heavy engineering industries and the Clydeside shipyards continued to employ thousands of men and women. However, after the second world war the decline of shipbuilding and the consequent reduction in heavy engineering took their toll, and the economy of greater Govan went into decline.

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For that reason, my constituents were disappointed by the recent decision of the Secretary of State for Defence not to site the royal yacht Britannia on the River Clyde, which is its natural home.

I hope that the future of shipbuilding on the Clyde and the problems faced by Kvaerner Shipbuilding at Govan Cross will be addressed satisfactorily by our Government.

It is interesting to note that even in its darkest days, Govan produced and nurtured people of the highest calibre. Bruce Millan, a successful politician who represented the people of Govan with dedication and diligence, became the Secretary of State for Scotland during the late 1970s and later became the second European Commissioner.

Alex Ferguson, the manager of Manchester United, is one of the greatest football managers in the world. He is leading British football in Europe and we wish him and Manchester United every success.

Who in the labour movement could ever forget the world's first work-in, orchestrated by Jimmy Airlie and Jimmy Reid, whose speech inspired the shipyard workers on the Clyde to stand up for their right to work?

Those individuals are well known, but the real heroes are the people of Govan, who have faced the challenges of a steady decline with dignity and passion. Those are the people whom I am proud to represent.

The people of Govan and Glasgow were delighted by the recent decision of the Millennium Commission and the Glasgow development agency to award a grant of more than £50 million towards Scotland's first national science park in my constituency. A further £19 million for the park still requires final approval from the European Commission in Brussels, but I am confident that approval will be granted and that the development can be concluded before the millennium. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and hon. Members will take the opportunity to visit the centre when it is up and running.

The national science park is a perfect example of the role that development agencies can play in attracting inward investment. Development agencies, in conjunction with local government and the private sector in Scotland, have played an extremely important role in tackling economic and social decay.

In Glasgow, for example, Scottish Enterprise and the Glasgow development agency, in partnership with Glasgow city council, Strathclyde regional council and Govan Initiative Ltd., have been successful in tackling the economic and social problems that the city experiences. The regeneration of the merchant city, the development of the Scottish exhibition centre, the Burrell gallery, the royal concert hall and the Kelvin hall all demonstrate the huge difference that development agencies have made in Glasgow, so much so that Glasgow is seen as a prime example of urban regeneration, and only last week was described by The Big Issue as the coolest city in Britain. That is why I believe that the Bill is an important element in the process of democratic renewal and local empowerment.

I believe that the success of our Government will be measured simply by the real actions that we initiate to combat poverty. My constituents look to the Government to deliver practical, real-life solutions. Unemployment in Govan, which stands at 14 per cent., is still far too high. Until last May, too many people had no hope of

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employment. Too many of our young people are involved in drug misuse and too many leave school without the right skills. Many people are still forced to live in intolerable housing conditions, while many pensioners must still make a choice between heating and food--especially during the cold winter months.

One development that has increased the level of poverty is low pay. The introduction of a national minimum wage is vital if we are to ensure that that level of poverty does not continue. Other countries, not least the United States, have shown that a reasonably set minimum wage helps to improve economic performance and productivity.

My constituents are also expecting significant progress in housing. The Scottish people rely more on public sector housing than those in the rest of Britain. More resources should be made available for building and, in particular, for renovating houses. Renovation is important, as merely concentrating on building further housing will shift attention away from areas such as Govan where demand for housing can be met adequately only by regenerating and renovating the existing stock.

Education is another area which is of great concern to the people of Govan. The schools in Govan do a tremendous job under severe financial pressures, but they need further support from the Government. The July Budget, which gave £2.3 billion for school repairs and raising literacy and numeracy standards, was greatly welcomed in my constituency.

An issue that has come to concern me increasingly over the years, and one which I hear about repeatedly from the Muslim community and her friends in Britain is the growth of Islamaphobia. The Runnymede Trust's report "Islamaphobia, a challenge for us all" is an excellent insight into that prejudice, and I trust that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will take on board the recommendations made in that report.

I should like to draw the attention of hon. Members and of the Government to the poor representation of ethnic minorities--including the total exclusion of Muslims--in the House of Lords. I trust that our Government will change that unacceptable situation.

I look forward to making my own contribution by working fully with the Labour Government and by realising our vision of a new Britain where power and resources are in the hands of the many and not the few.

7.12 pm

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds): In speaking in support of the Opposition amendment, I draw particular attention to the way in which the logic of the Bill discriminates against rural areas. I shall address particularly the way in which it fatally undermines rural economic development and regeneration.

I acknowledge the speeches made so far--particularly that of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar), which I am sure hon. Members found very interesting.

The details of the Bill are very concerning. I think that I speak for all Opposition Members when I say that the legislation compounds the injury felt by rural constituency interests. The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and

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Planning--who is not in his place at present--has a cavalier disregard for the green belt in England, which he describes as being up for grabs. The Government have certainly caused a great deal of concern in my constituency--one has only to read the local newspapers in Suffolk to see how much concern exists.

In addition, there is concern about the way in which the Government have handled the issue of beef on the bone and the continuing problems associated with BSE. There is further concern about the Government's refusal to seek adequate compensation for the revaluation of the green pound, and about the disgraceful way in which the United Kingdom presidency of the European Union has not been used to introduce common agricultural policy reforms, which Labour promised during the general election campaign to deliver.

If one seeks details of why the Bill is bad, one need look no further than the Rural Development Commission and what has been done to it. That commission is responsible in two ways for regeneration and redevelopment in rural areas. First, its budget of half the national total of £44 million is directed to specific projects. Its other function is national advisory and research work.

The Bill contains no safeguards that guarantee that both halves of the £44 million budget will go to rural areas and be devoted to rural regeneration and redevelopment when the commission is eventually subsumed into the RDAs' budget. I hope that the Minister will give specific assurances to those hon. Members with rural interests about the destination of that £44 million after the Bill is passed--which we may assume will occur. We look forward to her comments in that regard.

It is hardly surprising that the chairman of the Rural Development Commission resigned when he saw the contents of the Bill. It is also little wonder that he is not the only one to have problems with the legislation. Fears have been expressed also by the Consortium of Rural TECs, the National Farmers Union, the Country Landowners Association and many others. Such groups have welcomed minor parts of the Government's rural policy, but reject the details of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) smirks, as is his wont. If he took the time to read the representations from the bodies that I have mentioned, he would know that they are concerned about the way in which rural areas and their interests are downgraded by the Bill and the way in which it is drafted.

It is little wonder that such groups say quite openly that the structure--the quango nature--of the RDAs will tend towards urban dominance of those bodies. We know why that is so. The political logic behind the RDAs' structure as proposed by the Bill is perfectly clear. The most visible deprivation occurs in towns that are more populous. Therefore, it is obvious that politicians who serve on RDAs will be more likely to listen to the clamour from urban areas simply because such areas are more populous. The Bill does nothing to protect rural interests against the political logic of a tendency for urban areas to get a bigger share of the action, as my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) pointed out.

The Rural Development Commission was a dedicated body, with a long and distinguished history since its establishment in 1909. It was able to work at grassroots level to identify the fairly small pockets of privation that

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often go unnoticed in rural areas. That is why the body was so effective. This Bill destroys that organisation's specific remit. Nothing in it suggests to the Opposition that RDAs will be able to re-create that function and that bespoke approach to alleviating poverty in rural areas, which is not always obvious.

The assurances we seek in respect of the £44 million budget must be delivered. In particular, the Minister must say what will happen to half of that budget as it relates to advisory and research work. We are told that the money is now part of the Treasury's comprehensive spending review. Those of us who know what that means realise that it is a kind of fiscal Bermuda triangle. I do not think that we shall see that money again.

We must understand what will happen to the individuals in the Rural Development Commission, who are in limbo. They do not know what will happen to the commission's national advisory work. The work is still there, but it has not been tackled. We do not know what will happen.

I wish to correct the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning--the hon. Gentleman is not in his place--on a comment that he alleged that I had made. I did not say that my constituents in the RDC office at Bury St. Edmunds had not been consulted. The Minister misinterpreted what I said. I said that they did not know whether they would have a job in a few months' time. The question is not whether they have been consulted but whether they will have a job.

I seek an answer to that question. My constituents will be grateful to receive an honest and straightforward reply, and I hope that that will be forthcoming when the Under-Secretary of State responds to the debate. Alternatively, the answer can come in written form after the end of the debate.

There are specific concerns about the lack of safeguards in the Bill. First, why does paragraph 4.22 of the White Paper make it clear that there should be rural representation, specifically on the RDA boards, when the Bill does not spell out that commitment? Surely the Bill should place an obligation on the Secretary of State to have rural interest representatives on the boards. Will the Under-Secretary please take up that point?

I ask the Minister also to explain why clause 7, which deals with the strategy of the RDAs, makes no specific reference to rural strategic interests. Let us have that in the Bill if the Government want to allay fears in rural areas about whether a strategic approach to rural matters will be observed and followed by the new RDAs.

I end by referring to the other fears of my constituents and the local media. It is all very well for Labour Members and Ministers to say that the CBI and this, that and the other body support the Bill. I can tell the House that a grassroots, non-partisan newspaper such as the East Anglian Daily Times, a not insignificant regional newspaper but not a partisan one, had a leader yesterday in which it described the structure set out in the Bill as bureaucratic nonsense. It accused the structure of duplication, of breaking up the United Kingdom and, furthermore, of being nonsense.

In what sense does anyone in the historic part of East Anglia believe that he or she has anything in common with Thurrock, Woburn and Peterborough, which are also in the relevant area? Why do so many people in my constituency, of no political persuasion, think that we have a dog's breakfast of a Bill and a concept?

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Let us acknowledge that the Government are trying to create a false consciousness and a false regional identity that simply does not exist. It is for those reasons that I support the Opposition amendment, and will be doing so in the Lobby tonight.

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