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12.21 pm

The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning (Mr. Richard Caborn): It has been an interesting debate, to say the least. I remind the slightly more right-wing Conservative Members who represent Southend that, before the past 18 months, their party was in government for 18 years. In the debate, they probably asked for more handouts for Southend than were asked for by all my hon. Friends put together--and the Conservatives are the ones who do not want subsidies. When the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) reads Hansard tomorrow and reflects on his speech, he will see that he has gone against everything that he has preached in the House for the past 20-odd years.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) on securing the debate. I know that the issue of economic problems facing seaside holiday towns is close to his heart. I was extremely grateful to have the opportunity on 8 October 1998 to visit his constituency, where I saw at first hand the problems confronting Torbay, and discussed with a wide range of stakeholders in the area possible pathways out of those problems. The hon. Gentleman might have mentioned the fact that I visited Torbay that day, as I believe that I did so at certain people's invitation.

I know from my visit that Torbay council is very concerned about European structural funds, and has a keen interest in assisted area status. When I visited Torbay, I heard the unfortunate announcement of the partial closure of Nortel's plant, which, obviously, will have a considerable impact on unemployment in the area. We should remember that changes in the structures surrounding seaside resorts may have devastating consequences.

The speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) showed that the Government are trying to deal not only with the symptoms, but with the deep-rooted causes of problems. We believe that it is important that town centres are vibrant and active. That is why, in our planning regime, on PPG6, we have taken a tough line on the application of the previous Government's planning guidance. We want to ensure that town centres return to life, and we believe that retailing is one of the driving forces of that process.

I assure the House that, on PPG6, I shall take a very tough line on applications outside towns and cities. That imperative was brought clearly to my mind in relation to Torquay, and Torbay generally. Unless that issue is addressed correctly, it will be difficult to achieve the other structural changes that the hon. Member for Torbay mentioned.

We want competition in town centres, and we shall take into consideration some of the arguments that have been made about rating regimes and grant regimes, to ensure

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that we achieve what we call the "urban renaissance". That applies as much to seaside resorts and town centres where tourism is important as it does to other town centres.

We have embarked on root-and-branch reform of the land use planning and transport planning of this country. On 14 January 1998, I issued a document on the modernisation of planning. We are systematically considering every part of the land use planning structure in England. Part of that document, on which we have widely consulted, is on regional planning guidance. It is important that we achieve the overview that is necessary to link spatial, land use and transport planning, and we are doing so by strengthening regional planning guidance. It will not be a top-down process; it will be very much bottom-up.

At this moment, in the south-west, those issues are being discussed with local authorities; they will then be discussed by the south-west regional planning conference. A strategy will be developed, which, I hope, will be submitted to public examination later in the year--probably, in the autumn. That will give the opportunity for people to factor in their concerns on transport, spatial or land use planning issues. I hope that the results will be positive.

Questions have been asked on household growth. To hear them, one would suppose that the Government were bringing about increases in population or making social changes; they are not. As has been said many times from this Dispatch Box, solutions must be found to the problem of household growth. We want to plan and manage, not "predict and provide". The regional planning conferences will address those major issues when they hold public hearings in their regions.

In September, I launched the bidding guidance for round 5 of the single regeneration budget. We believe that to be an important instrument for tackling social exclusion and promoting equality. I changed the guidance and, I hope, steered it towards need and away from the fairly crude competition that had prevailed. I also instituted a division in the SRB. Eighty per cent. of it will go to the major deprived areas--about 65 local authority areas, identified using the four deprivation measures of the 1998 index of local deprivation.

In September, we also said that we would tackle pockets of deprivation in other areas, especially in coastal towns. Twenty per cent. of the SRB--a spend of about £3.8 billion over the next three years--has been made available for that purpose. Local SRB partnerships were invited to submit by last Friday initial bids for funding--known as expressions of interest--to Government offices for the regions. I am pleased to say that 44 of those bids include proposals for regeneration of seaside towns. I understand that one of those bids is for regeneration in Torbay--an area that the Government office for the south west highlighted in the SRB round 5 regional framework.

Mr. Nicholls: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Caborn: I shall not give way; I have only two minutes to go.

Mr. Nicholls: On asylum seekers.

Mr. Caborn: I believe that the question on asylum seekers was answered by my right hon. Friend the Home

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Secretary when he made a statement to the House, either last week or earlier this week. Unfortunately, I was not in the House at the time. If hon. Members want to take that matter up, it would be far better for them to take it up with the Home Office.

Round 5 of the SRB has been restructured, and we want to ensure that it is targeted on the areas that have been highlighted in the debate.

Scathing remarks were made about the regional structure that the present Administration will introduce. I remind the House that we are introducing the regional development agencies because not one region in England outside London is performing, in wealth creation terms--in gross domestic product per capita terms--to the level of the average of the European regions. If wealth is not created, it cannot be recycled--in a seaside town or elsewhere.

Business-led boards of 12 people will consider structural weaknesses, in terms of wealth creation, in our English regions, including seaside towns. The boards will consider the underlying problems of the United Kingdom, and England in particular. That regional structure will at least fill the policy vacuum, ensuring that we can create wealth much more effectively than hitherto. That is the legacy of the past 18 years. We have tried to rectify it in 18 months.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order.

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Aid (Burundi)

12.30 pm

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): I am delighted to be joined in the debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King). Together with the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell), who cannot be present today, and the estimable Victoria Scott of the United Nations Children's Fund, we visited Burundi in July and early August this year.

The children of Burundi need help. Anyone who can read and reflect would know that. Burundi is the most densely populated country in the poorest continent on earth. The country is riven with civil war: 200,000 people have been killed since 1993, and there are 294,000 refugees living in neighbouring countries and 500,000 in displaced persons camps within the country. On top of all that, sanctions have been in force since 1996, making the price of food and the transport of medicines more expensive and threatening the cold chain for vital medicines and health supplies.

In that country, 40 per cent. of children under three suffer chronic malnutrition, and 20 per cent. of children die before the age of five. There are 400,000 children in acute distress, many of them homeless, without access to basic health services or education, and there are 20,000 unaccompanied children.

We know that the children of Burundi need help because we saw that with our own eyes earlier this year. "Unaccompanied" is such an inadequate description of the raped and robbed, malnourished, shoeless, scarred, traumatised children whom we met. We met some of the 20,000 children who will sleep out on the streets of the capital, Bujumbura, tonight.

I have children of my own and have worked with children in this country for decades. I have never seen anyone so avid for learning as some of the girls crowded into a tiny classroom at the street children project which finally, after a very long week, made me weep.

In the midst of abject poverty, malnutrition and the horrendous circumstances of those uprooted from their homes and land--we heard of teachers who had been killed for being teachers, and of schools and hospitals targeted for destruction--we met extraordinary courage and resilience. We were greeted everywhere with drums, singing and dancing, and we occasionally joined in.

In Cibitoke, along a road where aid workers had been murdered only a week before, and where a group of women from Great Britain and Ireland steadfastly got on with the job of feeding starving children, I met a young man who introduced himself to me as Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Burundi is a beautiful country, and I believe that there is hope for it. That hope is reflected in the spirit of the people, who before the crisis in 1990 had vaccinated 96 per cent. of the populace; in recent increases in primary school enrolment; in the numbers of people who have returned to the country to get on with their lives; in the work of UNICEF, which was our host, and of the aid agencies which, even since our visit, have improved tracing systems and developed a new shelter in Bujumbura for the homeless children whom we met; and in the work of so many Burundian people, who want to make progress with peace and reconciliation.

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I know that there is hope, too, in the enormous good will and commitment of people in Britain. That hope is well expressed in the £39 million made available from this country to Burundi since 1994, but Burundi needs more. The children of Burundi need peace to emerge from the Arusha talks. They need the sanctions to be lifted, and the artificial distinctions between humanitarian and development aid to be erased. They need more help. The word "need" is cast around recklessly in this place, but not in this debate. The children of Burundi need more help, and they might feel more comfortable if it came with no strings attached, from a country that was not part of their colonial history.

Next year Burundi and the United Kingdom, separately, are due to report to the United Nations on their implementation of the United Nations convention on children's rights. Two days ago our extremely wealthy country did something magnificent for our most dispossessed and vulnerable children, with the creation of regional children's rights commissioners for children living away from their homes in this country. It would be a great and fine thing to do even more for Jean Jacques Rousseau and all his mates in Burundi.

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