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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We cannot have loud private conversations. I am speaking to certain Conservative Members.

Mr. Leslie: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Conservative Members do not want to listen because they

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have twigged the fatal flaw in their planning policies--it is anti-northernism writ large. They are moving towards social engineering, saying that people cannot live where they want to live, and that they will say where people will live. They are not just saying, "Not in my backyard"; they are saying, "Not in your backyard."

The move towards engineering where people should live not only smacks of bizarre lurch-to-the-right type Thatcherism but is strange in other ways. Traffic congestion would increase enormously. Commuters would travel even further distances throughout the country. I do not know quite what has inspired the policy, except that I feel that the Conservatives are looking at their constituencies and forgetting about what the rest of the nation needs, as ever. It does not matter to those on the Conservative Front Bench what the problems are in the Bradford district, where a number of sites, including Warren lane in Gilstead, Sty lane in Micklethwaite and Jenny lane in Baildon have been threatened as a result of the unitary development plans that were set up under the previous Administration. Those sites are valued and cherished by local residents. They would all be threatened by the Conservatives' new policy, which says that local authorities in the south, which is well developed and where there is no problem with unemployment, can have freedom to turn down greenfield development, but those in the north, where there are problems with regeneration and so on, have to take on such development. That is an outrage, and the sooner people know about it, the better.

6.38 pm

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): The debate has been instructive in many ways. From those on the Conservative Benches, we have heard common-sense, practical suggestions that would protect our green fields and regenerate our inner cities; from those on the Government Benches, a desperation to argue only about the past--no hope, no vision, no ideas. The Minister's feeble attempt to live in the past contrasted starkly with forward-looking contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) and my hon. Friends the Members for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman), for Totnes (Mr. Steen), for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) and for Reigate (Mr. Blunt).

What is bizarre about the Government's attitude to the debate is that all we are doing is asking the Government to do something that is right and popular: stop concreting over our green fields and start rebuilding our great cities. In response to that modest and sensible proposal, all we get is sour-faced abuse, not least from the Minister for Local Government and the Regions, who has not been here for a second of the debate.

Mr. Caplin: As a Kent Member, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the position in the county of Sussex. Does he accept that, in the western part of Sussex, in the past 20 years, his party concreted over with retail just about every site possible along the A27 corridor? Is it not about time that he and others apologised to the House?

Mr. Green: I commend to the hon. Gentleman our policy on common sense for the environment, which proposes giving more power to local councils, so that they are able to decide the amount of development that they want. He should also confer on Labour's position with the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie)--who, not five

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minutes ago, made exactly the opposite argument--so that we may have some coherent argument from Labour Members. Their position is so incoherent because they are deeply embarrassed by the gap between the overblown promises that they made in opposition and the overwhelming disappointment that they have delivered in office.

On 25 January 1997, in a Labour press release, the current Minister for the Environment stated:

The reality is that every pressure group dealing with the environment thinks that that target has been missed completely.

The head of policy for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said that the Prime Minister

and Ministers--

    "who are not interested either".

If the Government do not want to take criticism from environmental non-governmental organisations, perhaps they will take it from an organisation that is not often quoted by a Conservative spokesman--the Fabian Society. The society's general secretary has recently produced a pamphlet, which states:

    "it's evident that New Labour is not comfortable on this territory"--

the environment, in other words. The pamphlet continues:

    "Labour does not perceive environmental issues to be major priorities for ordinary voters. In fact they tend to see them as positively anti-voter".

I think that that is an honest assessment of the Government's attitude to all environmental matters.

The effects of the Government's neglect may be seen across the country, but perhaps nowhere more starkly than in Hertfordshire. This morning, I visited the now infamous site--mentioned several times in the debate--west of Stevenage where the Government have approved the concreting over of 2,000 unspoilt acres. It will be an act of desecration which has been proposed and pushed through by a Lib-Lab council pact. We should, therefore, be spared any sanctimonious noises from Liberal Democrat Members on their concern for the environment.

Ms Ward: Does the hon. Gentleman realise that, without the west of Stevenage development, every little piece of green space in town centres in places such as Stevenage and my own constituency of Watford will be packed with new houses, diminishing the amenities of those who already live in those overcrowded towns and cities?

Mr. Green: Although that might be valid generally, it is not valid for Stevenage--which I recommend that the hon. Lady visit. The Government and their allies want to destroy four unspoilt miles of Langley valley, although immediately adjacent to it is a large derelict industrial site--which is precisely where new development would not only be welcome, but would improve the environment. I urge the Minister to visit the site, where, in one place, one is able to comprehend everything that is wrong with the Government's planning policy. He should go there and repent.

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I was, therefore, pleased to join Conservative councillors who are fighting that dreadful plan by signing a countryside charter for Hertfordshire, in an attempt to defend green land that the Government want to desecrate. Across the country, however, we shall suffer similar vandalism if the Government do not change course.

Much of today's debate has been about the Crow report, which has singled out my own constituency for what it calls, with ghastly clarity, "plan-led growth". It wants to triple the size of Ashford in 20 years--ripping up Kent, making a patio of the garden of England. Sadly, one leading member of the local Labour party has already welcomed the plan. In a letter to a local newspaper, the Kentish Express, she has even described it as the Deputy Prime Minister's "future vision for Ashford". I genuinely hope that she is misrepresenting him, and that a concrete jungle is not his vision of the future.

Nevertheless, a pattern is emerging. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate produced a letter protesting against the Crow report, but Labour Members ran a mile rather than sign it. Labour Members, too, should repent. Will they join us today in the Lobby, to protest about the Crow report? If that is a bit brave for them, will they at least publicly abstain in the Division?

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green: No; I do not have enough time.

Conversely, will Labour Members insult their constituents and demonstrate their lack of independence? Although the hon. Member for Watford (Ms Ward) said that she wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister, she did not say what she wrote.

Ms Ward: The hon. Gentleman will probably not be surprised to hear that I have some concerns about the report. However, the Secretary of State is considering responses to the Crow report in a manner allowing sufficient lead-in time in which to consult. He does not want to make the decision on the hoof, as Conservative Members would like him to do.

Mr. Green: If the hon. Lady is saying that she is against the proposals, I shall welcome her support for our motion.

The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey), too, should read our policy document. She described the type of development that she wants, and our proposals would allow local people to decide the level of local development--[Interruption.] The Minister for Local Government and the Regions should attend debates before she tries to disrupt the reply to them.

Dr. Starkey: Does the hon. Gentleman concede that his Conservative colleagues on Buckinghamshire county council--aided and abetted by some of the Liberal Democrat council members--support the notion of additional housing in Milton Keynes as a way of avoiding building it in the rest of Buckinghamshire--but do not support the notion of its being plan led and simply want it crammed in?

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