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Mr. Blunt: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Raynsford: No, I have already given way once to the hon. Gentleman.

The challenge that the Government have willingly taken up is how to reduce the gap between the haves and the have nots--the inequalities that scar our society-- and how to tackle the evils of social exclusion, unemployment, homelessness and despair, to which all too many of our fellow citizens were condemned by the previous Conservative Government's policies. This Government's one-nation policies are addressing those problems, which exist all over Britain.

Poor economic and social conditions are not confined to any one part of Britain. Of the 150 most deprived wards in the country, 42 are in London and the south-east,

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and 66 are in the south, and 22 of London's 33 districts feature in the top 100 deprived areas. Unemployment in London is second only to that in the north-east.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): Does my hon. Friend agree that what was remarkable about the speech the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) was that, while the debate is notionally about not simply the south and the green belt, but about the north, there was almost no reference to that, and certainly no analysis? My hon. Friend's present point is the most telling of all. Even within the south, there are enormous pockets of poverty, of which the hon. Gentleman seems blissfully, and, in his case, I assume, happily, ignorant.

Mr. Raynsford: My hon. Friend makes a telling point. The absence of any significant reference to the problems of poverty throughout Britain and particularly in the north by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) was something which all hon. Members will have noted.

Mr. Blizzard: Representing Britain's most easterly constituency, I find that debates about the north and the south, and speeches such as that of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), show a neglect of the east, which is what we suffered for 18 years. This Government's policy of tackling deprivation, poverty and unemployment, wherever it is, is the right way forward, and that is certainly appreciated by my constituents.

Mr. Raynsford: I well recall a visit that I made to my hon. Friend's constituency to see the real problems of deprivation in Lowestoft and areas of the eastern region, and he is right to highlight the fact that problems of poverty and deprivation exist throughout Britain and are not confined to any one region.

Regional averages mask enormous variations in social and economic conditions. For example, in Yorkshire and Humberside, GDP per head in 1996 ranged from 30 per cent. above the national average in York to 35 per cent. below in Barnsley and Doncaster. In the south-east, GDP in Berkshire was 38 per cent. above the national average, while in East Sussex it was 26 per cent. below. Those are real variations within existing regions, north and south.

Likewise, the media have greatly exaggerated the idea of a north-south shift in the population. Although England's three northern regions lose people each year to out-migration, for every 100 people that move away, at least 95 people move in. The total number of people lost by net migration from those three regions is just 10,000 each year, and that is largely offset by natural growth in the population. Most importantly for this debate, most of that regional out-migration is to neighbouring regions. Anyone who looks at the hard data will see that few people make the much-hyped north-south leap of which the Tories try to make such capital.

The Opposition clearly did not bother to look up their facts before making suppositions about trends that do not exist. They need to look at what is happening within each region. Households tend to move out of our cities--the six metropolitan counties and Greater London lose more than 90,000 people each year through net migration to the less urban areas surrounding them.

If the Opposition look only at the regional averages, they will only ever learn part of the story. All regions contain pockets of deprivation and prosperity, areas of

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population decline and growth. We recognise the need to have in place the right conditions for growth throughout the country, and policies to tackle specific problems of deprivation and decline wherever they occur.

How should we do that? As we never tire of reminding the Opposition, we have set up regional development agencies to target areas of under-performance and generate sustainable and more balanced economic growth in their regions. For the first time, regional strategies set out how less prosperous areas in each of our regions can gain a share in, and contribute to, Britain's increasing prosperity.

Just as the regional development agencies are beginning to make a real impact, the Tories, with their uncanny knack of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, are calling for their abolition. It would be a matter of deep regret if anyone took them seriously, and if it were not so maladroit, that the Opposition now want to abolish the RDAs--although I gather not those in Scotland and Wales--the regional planning structures and the regional chambers, the new deal, the minimum wage and the working families tax credit. That is the policy of despair, not the politics of a serious party that might aspire to Government.

Mr. David Prior (North Norfolk): Can the hon. Gentleman name one thing that the East of England development agency has done to alleviate poverty in East Anglia?

Mr. Raynsford: The East of England development agency is already working in a number of different ways. It has submitted a detailed strategy for activity within the area. Its representatives have met the Minister for Local Government and the Regions to outline what will be done in the regions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) so rightly pointed out, the Government are tackling the problems that were neglected by the previous Government.

Mr. Blizzard: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Raynsford: No, I have given way once and I must make progress.

Housing is one fundamental element in people's living standards. Unlike Conservative Members, the Government are committed to offering everyone the opportunity of a decent home. Over the life of this Parliament, we are making available an additional £5 billion for investment in housing in England. Resources for housing investment by local authorities from April next year have been increased by 48 per cent. over the previous year, the largest increase in the housing investment programme that has ever been made, following long years of cuts under the Conservative Government. That investment is helping to tackle the serious backlog of poor condition council housing, to build new affordable homes in areas of shortage and to tackle the problem of low demand which was ignored throughout the Tory years.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Can the hon. Gentleman explain the rationale for cutting the budget of the Housing Corporation in the north-west by nearly 20 per cent. this year?

Mr. Raynsford: The Housing Corporation's budget has not been cut by 20 per cent., it has increased this year.

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The Housing Corporation's regional allocation, like that given to local authorities, is determined by formulae. In the case of the Housing Corporation, that is the housing needs index, and, in the case of the local authorities, a slightly different one called the general needs index. Because the HNI was based on the 1996 house condition survey, which showed significant changes from the previous data, the improvement in housing conditions in the north-west resulted in a lesser allocation. Overall, when one considers the allocations to the local authorities and housing associations combined, the north-west region has some £70 million of additional housing investment this year.

Mr. Gummer: Under which Government did that improvement in housing in the north-west take place? Was it under the same Government whom the hon. Gentleman was attacking for not doing anything about housing?

Mr. Raynsford: I am happy to pay tribute to the good work of all the local authorities and housing associations in the north-west, many of which I know well, which successfully secured significant improvements in their area during those years.

Our forthcoming housing Green Paper will set out a series of radical new proposals for the further modernisation of housing policy and lay the foundations for ending the appalling legacy of homelessness, housing deprivation and social divisiveness that we inherited in 1997.

Mr. Steen: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Raynsford: If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will give way, but I should like to make some progress first.

Crucial to building a successful and united country is our policy of urban renaissance. The flight from the cities, which was such a characteristic of the Tory years, must be reversed. The notion that urban living is second best needs to be overturned. We want to make our towns and cities places in which people choose to live and lift the threat of unnecessary development from the countryside.

People also want the tide to turn on dreary and soulless house building. No one wants more of the indifferent collections of little boxes that were allowed to spread across our countryside like a rash. Unfortunately, many of those developments, which I regret were a characteristic of development patterns under the previous Government, are still in the pipeline, particularly in the south-east. That must change and we have made it clear that it will.

The creation of better-designed places where people want to live will be a strong message in our new planning policy guidance for housing--PPG3--which we shall publish soon. We shall make it clear that planning authorities should promote developments that bring together environmental, transport and planning best practice to create places that have their own distinct identity and are in harmony with the local environment. New development should help to create safe, attractive places of a quality that will endure.

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