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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): I do not claim the hon. Gentleman's expertise on Cumbria, but does he think that people in remote rural villages will welcome the building or the improvement of hospitals to which many of them will have to travel 10 or 15 miles, as would be the case in my constituency? That is not delivering health care where people need it in rural communities, is it?

Mr. Martlew: If I had a heart attack, I should prefer to go to a district general hospital rather than to a cottage hospital down the road. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that we should spend even more to build district general hospitals in villages? That would be nonsense. We should have had a new hospital 18 years ago, but the Conservative Government did nothing about it. We are now to get one that will also serve the rural community.

Agriculture is facing difficulties, although they are not showing up in the unemployment figures. BSE is a major problem in a dairy area such as Cumbria, and we all know who caused BSE. Opposition Members cannot say that problems in farming have been caused by the present Government. I hope that the common agricultural policy is reformed, and that Agenda 2000 works. We must help farmers, and especially those in the uplands and the national park--another innovation by a Labour Government. The Lake District national park suffers from overgrazing. Such problems need to be examined and resolved.

Cumbria does not do enough to add value to its food products. The European Commissioners want to get rid of Cumberland rum butter, but I think that we may win that battle. We seem to have forgotten how to market Cumbrian food. The county has millions of tourists, and the tourist board, the county council and the National Farmers Union should work together to ensure that tourists to Cumbria eat food that has been sourced there. That has to be done.

Even when we had a problem with BSE, this Government did something about it for the Cumbrians. We need a British Cattle Movement Service headquarters because of BSE. I understand that civil servants were going to put it in deepest Guildford; we may have a Labour Member for Guildford, but I am not sure.

What happened? It was decided to put the headquarters in Cumbria. The Tories attacked the Ministry of Agriculture for sending 200 jobs to Cumbria--Workington, in fact: an area of high unemployment. Where else should they have gone than to a rural area, but the Tories said that they wanted to put the headquarters in Guildford.

Therefore, we have done well under a Labour Government. We have had extra money for rural buses, for rural schools and for a health action zone, a new

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hospital, extra money for the new deal and more than 200 extra jobs at the British Cattle Movement Service headquarters. The Labour Government have not let down rural areas in Cumbria. I look forward to the further expansion of the rural economy and to the bringing together of urban and rural people. This division between the two that has been created by the Conservatives has to stop, because it is in no one's interest.

8.30 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): When I came into the Chamber, I was intent on making some comments about the position of Berkshire and the threat to countryside and open space in the county in which my constituency lies, but, having heard the speeches of the Minister and of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), I want to comment on what they have said.

First, may I say something about the frankly disgraceful opening remarks of the hon. Member for Carlisle. At the end of his speech, he returned to the issue of division between town and country. If anything is dividing town and country, it is the policies of the Labour party. It is the Labour party that has shown, time and again since May 1997, that it fails to understand the needs of rural areas and of the countryside.

Personally, I have always said that we should look for a better balance of development between town and country, but the Government do not help the towns and cities by putting all the development into green-belt and green-field sites. The hon. Member for Carlisle should think again, reflect carefully on his remarks, and look at the policies that his party has produced, because it is those policies which are dividing town and country.

The Minister will genuinely come to regret having said in the House that it was perfectly reasonable to make inroads into the green belt. I think that that statement will come to haunt him and the Labour Government. Throughout this country, Members of Parliament and councillors are desperately trying to defend their green belt from development proposals, and what do we see tonight? This Government are giving yet more comfort to developers that it is okay to build on the green belt. That is what the Minister said.

Mr. Meacher: May I just help the hon. Lady by making it clear what I did say? I said that it is reasonable to go into the green belt as a last resort if no alternative means of expansion are available, and if there is a compensatory, much greater increase in green belt. In those circumstances, it is very different. I am not suggesting that there should be ready intrusion into the green belt. It is reasonable to go into the green belt only in exceptional circumstances, and in the two circumstances that I have mentioned.

Mrs. May: It is obvious from that intervention that the Minister is already ruing his earlier statement. Hansard will show what he said, and I do not recall his making any reference to a last resort.

Even so, what the Minister has just said again shows a complete lack of understanding about the purpose of the green belt. It is there as a protection and as an area of open space around an urban development. It is not something where we can say, "If we get a few more

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people, we'll build into this and stick another bit somewhere else." That would fail to act as a protection. That is what the Government seem to be saying about green belt--that they can mix and match green belt and urban development here and there, and it does not make any difference.

Mr. Colin Pickthall (West Lancashire): Has the hon. Lady discussed what she has just said with the Country Landowners Association, which in the briefing that it sent us this week says:

Mrs. May: The Labour party is desperately attempting to show that it is suddenly the friend of the Country Landowners Association. The Minister's remarks on open access and the right to roam will have been listened to with great interest by the CLA.

Mr. Meacher: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. May: No. I have to make some progress.

The Minister referred to rural schools and their closure. I tried to intervene on him at that stage and he did not accept my request, but he stated that the Government were protecting rural schools and stopping their closure. The House should be aware of exactly what happened on rural school closures.

On the eve of the countryside march, the then Minister for School Standards, who has been promoted to the Cabinet, possibly because of all the mistakes that he was making in the Department for Education and Employment, stated that people need not worry about rural school closures, because, although the procedure for deciding on the closure of schools had been changed in the School Standards and Framework Bill, so that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment no longer had a role, the Secretary of State would have a role in the case of rural schools, and the Government would ensure that all rural school closures went to the Secretary of State before the decision was made.

When pressed several times by Opposition Members, myself included, to enshrine that intent in legislation, the Government refused to do so--little wonder that people often feel that what they say is mere empty words. Again, we saw that the reality of their policy was different from the rhetoric. Their soundbite in the television studio did not reflect what the Government intended to do. Rural school closures are a prime example of that.

I said that I wanted to comment on the position of Berkshire. My hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) has already referred to the problem faced by Wokingham district council over the proposed development of 2,500 houses at Grazeley. Those are the development pressures that Berkshire already faces, but I want to take the debate forward, to look at future pressures and the problem that we have at present.

The south-east regional planning committee--Serplan--is putting forward proposals for the number of houses to be developed in Berkshire and the rest of the south-east by 2016. Once again, we have the difficulty that, despite all the rhetoric from the Government about 60 per cent. of development being on brown-field sites and protecting the green belt, planning conferences are

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having to prepare their proposals for the future without the changed guidance in respect of planning policy guidance 3 that is required.

Berkshire is the smallest county in the south-east--it represents only 4.9 per cent. of the area. Despite that, 15.4 per cent. of the county has been built on. It is three times more urbanised than Oxfordshire, for example, but the proposals from Serplan are that 46 per cent. of the additional green-field development in the south-east until 2016 would be in Berkshire.

The plans provided by Serplan in respect of current potential supply from the housing capability study and in terms of options for the future show that, in every other county, the additional number of houses over and above the potential supply is either relatively small or reduced. In Berkshire, they envisage up to an extra 50,000 houses being required in the period to 2016.

One of the difficulties in the way in which Serplan has put together its proposals relates to the guidance from the Government. The Berkshire housing development figures have been set so high because the Serplan planners say, "All the jobs are in Berkshire, and we need economic regeneration elsewhere in the south-east if we are to put housing development there." Yet the Government have asked Serplan to produce housing development figures before the regional development agencies--on which I take a different view from the Government--that the Government claim will be involved in the economic development of their areas, are in place.

The Government have got it the wrong way round. They are requiring housing development figures based on the current economic position to be prepared, agreed and in place before the RDAs look at potential economic regeneration in other parts of the south east. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why the Government are so keen to have the housing development figures in place before the RDAs are up and running and doing what the Government intend them to do in economic regeneration. The housing development needs could be so different if the figures were produced once the RDAs were in place.

I am conscious that a number of hon. Members wish to speak on this very important issue. I have outlined just a few of the problems we face in Berkshire in respect of pressure for development. That pressure does not apply just to housing. We are also facing pressure for the development of a motorway service area, as are other parts of the country. The potential for noise pollution, light pollution and the impact on countryside areas is significant, and I sincerely hope that the Government will be able to give us some comfort in terms of reviewing the minimum distance rule between motorway service areas, which is currently 15 miles.

I hope that the Government will take action on such issues. So far, we have heard a lot of words and seen a lot of glossy brochures, but the Government are failing to act. As in so many other sectors, Government policy does not match their rhetoric.

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