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Mr. Raynsford: It was the Conservatives' Budget.

Mr. Redwood: Of course it was not. Does the Minister not realise that Conservative Budgets always had contingency funds and emergency money to top up individual Budget items year after year? We looked at the position each year and adjusted the Budget accordingly. The Labour Government took over in 1997 and they were responsible for the Budgets from the day they did so: they were not Conservative Budgets, but Budgets considered and endorsed by a Labour Cabinet. The Labour Government changed some of the lines in those Budgets, so why did they not change the one relating to regeneration expenditure, if they thought it was an important matter? The simple truth is that the Government could not have cared less about the cities--they turned their back on them and decided to go ahead and build on the green fields instead.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the characteristics of the Labour Government is that they always claim that whatever goes wrong is the fault of their predecessors? Now, even the media have accepted that the Government have to take responsibility for their own mistakes. If the Government were to accept Professor Crow's panel's recommendations, there is no doubt that, in the eyes of the British people, the Government would be responsible for the wholesale destruction of the green fields throughout the south of England. The Labour party once took pride in being representative of the north and the midlands; if the Labour Government abandon the regeneration of the north and the midlands, they will never be forgiven. Professor Crow's methodology must be rejected root and branch.

Mr. Redwood: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that important point. I hope that the Minister not only listened to him, but can offer some comfort.

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Millions of people are very worried for their rural views and landscapes and the beauty of the England they love. It is within the power of Ministers either to move in the people's direction by saying in this debate that they have no intention of despoiling on the scale that their inspectors recommend or--and I fear that this is what they will do--to leave people fearful of seeing our green fields deluged with concrete, while sending no real message of hope to the cities and towns that are under pressure.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton): My right hon. Friend might also reflect upon the damage that the Government are doing in that developers think it is worth while to purchase greenfield sites on the basis that, if they hang on to them for some time, the Government will grant planning permission on appeal, overriding the wishes of local people.

Mr. Redwood: My hon. Friend is right.

My message to the Government is: "Make up your mind and honour your promises for a change". The Government must spare the green fields, redevelop the brownfield sites and do something good for the cities upon which they have turned their back so noticeably in the past two years. They must rebuild the regeneration budgets and the cities, and we will be with them. The Government must not threaten the green fields further. The Secretary of State must come to the House of Commons, apologise for the inspector's report and start again.

4.6 pm

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Nick Raynsford): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) on managing to choose such a topical subject. It is topical for several reasons--not least because the right hon. Gentleman has devised it as a means of breaking with the past and of disowning both the approach taken by the previous Conservative Government and the policies for which he took collective responsibility within that Government.

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The right hon. Gentleman claims that he has adopted and now advocates a new Conservative view of planning: he calls it a common-sense revolution in planning. Let us look at what he proposes. Instead of planning for prosperity, the right hon. Gentleman's proposals would stop housing development, irrespective of the economic and social consequences. They would fuel house price inflation, increase homelessness and reduce labour mobility. The economy would be severely damaged. We always thought of the right hon. Gentleman as a free marketeer, but he has now been revealed as an interventionist who has masqueraded as a free marketeer all these years.

The Conservative party would foster the divide that has always bedevilled Tory thinking: the divide between the rich and the poor. That is fine for the privileged, but not for the rest. It is rich that the Opposition have suddenly discovered a new-found enthusiasm for taking account of community views. Under the previous Administration, central Government overrode the decisions of local communities again and again. Central Government prepared the draft regional strategy, including housing numbers, and then revised the final version following a very limited consultation exercise. "Predict and provide" was the Conservative philosophy and approach, which the right hon. Gentleman now condemns.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Does the Minister recognise that the rich and the poor alike benefit from the countryside? I represent a rural constituency to which many tourists come every day of the week to benefit from its outstanding natural beauty. I have asked the Secretary of State to visit my area, but he refuses to do so. A small village in my constituency, with only 200 or so houses, is to be swamped by several hundred new houses. Will the Minister please take action to protect the people of Whittingham, who moved to the countryside because they enjoy it? There is such a thing as non-planning gain, which is what we want for the countryside.

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that both rich and poor benefit from the countryside, which is why the Government are acting to protect it. [Interruption.] We are acting to protect the countryside and we are ensuring that a far greater proportion of development is on brownfield sites than the Conservative party ever achieved. Conservative Members should hang their heads in shame because their Government's record was a disgrace and they are now saying that they are disowning that Government's policies.

Let me return to the point raised by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). Although the rich and the poor can equally enjoy the beauty of the countryside, it is the poor who lose out and who end up homeless if there is a shortage of housing. That is why the hon. Gentleman's party should give thought to ensuring that we have an adequate supply of housing to meet the needs of every section of the community. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with that principle.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Raynsford: I give way to the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), who is knowledgeable on this subject.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I am listening to the Minister's arguments with astonishment, because his

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policy, if he accepts the Crow report, of putting 1.1 million houses into south-east England will draw out the most economically active people from the areas most in need of economic regeneration--the midlands, the north-east and the north-west--and precisely those city centres that face the greatest challenge of urban decay. The Minister will simply make that position worse unless that ridiculous policy is overturned.

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