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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): My hon. Friend is right when he says that the then Secretary of

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State's intervention came late in the day. It is a fact that the sword of Damocles still hangs over some communities. There is a proposed supermarket site outside Frome. Permission for the development was given in the dying days of the Conservative Government, overriding the local authority's decision. We still do not know whether that development will take place. If it does, it will be an Asda.

Mr. Hancock: Once again my hon. Friend has made his point. He has given another example of how the innocence of the countryside will be disturbed for the want of money. When the Conservatives were in Government they created a developers' paradise. Land banks were established in most of the counties of the south-east and the area surrounding the M25 corridor, and many of them still exist.

I was slightly disturbed by the Minister's answer to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), when he said that building up to 10,000 units was what developers might have wanted. Some of the developers who bought land banks in Hampshire, West Sussex and probably in Kent and East Sussex wanted to be involved in that very sort of development. They want to create Micheldevers outside Winchester. However, that is the very thing that most people in the south-east find impossible to handle. I hope that the Minister will clarify the Government's position. I understand that there are exceptions but I would not like developers once again to misinterpret the Minister's response as suggesting that such development will be an acceptable norm in future. If that is the correct interpretation, once again we shall have a Government whose record on development will be tarnished by the time that they leave office.

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, asked about the Liberal Democrats' plan. We have a plan. Unlike Baldrick's, it is not a cunning plan. Indeed, it is a straightforward, open plan.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): A short plan?

Mr. Hancock: It is not a short plan. I do not want to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. It is a straightforward plan that could be adopted by the House and the Government very quickly.

We could establish a greenfield development tax to encourage more efficient use of brownfield land and existing properties. We cannot proceed in any other way. There is not a cat-in-hell's chance of achieving the Government's targets otherwise. We would set up regionality to reflect the relative scarcity of greenfield land in each region and regionalise priorities within them. With the vagueness of the present system, a local authority will turn down permission and the Government will grant it, and that will continue.

We would devolve regional responsibility for housing to regions. We would ensure that regions had planning conferences and housing conferences that led to planned strategies. As for Portsmouth, I hope that the region would not be the south-east as a whole but a smaller one. We would simplify regeneration funds into one regeneration fund instead of the numerous sources that now exist.

We would free local government to be more innovative by allowing it greater freedom to borrow and to introduce local income tax--another tax, but it would specifically

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benefit people in that area. People in many parts of the country are disappointed at the way in which their tax is spent. A regional local income tax that targeted issues where people live would be far better received than some of the tax rises that they have had to pay since 1 April.

We would give people better control of local politicians via proportional representation and referendums, allowing people to have more say and to reflect more on what was happening. We would give special encouragement to local government development in areas where it has been lagging, such as the north-east and elsewhere.

We would do something about unemployment. The Minister has quoted regional figures. I read with interest the latest published figures on unemployment: it has come down to a record low of just over 1 million; about 1,070,000 are claiming benefit. However, 1.7 million people are registered unemployed, but not claiming benefit. Therefore, nearly 3 million people are still registered unemployed. Whatever the reason, a significant number of people are still registered unemployed. Members may frown at that. The Government supplied those figures. For the first time, they were published on the same day. It was interesting to draw a comparison.

In opposition, the Labour party accused the Tory Government of massaging the unemployment figures. The figures that I have just exposed show that the massaging continues. We ignore them at our peril. We still have major problems of unemployment. We have to give help to regions and to large cities where unemployment still figures high on the agenda of the poor in our community.

I hope that, when Members vote tonight, they will think seriously. I would have loved it if the Government had made another mistake and hon. Members were able to vote on our amendment. I am sure that many Labour Members would have found it hard not to support it.

The Conservative motion starts to redress the situation. It fires a great warning shot. I hope that the Government will take it seriously. However, when people reflect on the debate, most of them will think that it was more about educating Archie than bringing to the attention of the nation the Tories' mistakes while in government, and the way in which they allowed developers to rape the countryside.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, may I remind the House that many Members wish to speak, so shorter speeches will be appreciated?

8.42 pm

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): I am also disappointed that the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) did not speak, but for the reason that it would have been impossible for him to make a worse speech, at least on the north of England and its cities, than the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), to whom I pay the following compliment. I will ensure that his speech is read widely in my constituency because it will show the absolute contempt that the one-region Tory party has for the north of England.

Rightly, there is still anger in my constituency towards the people who have failed to apologise for the damage that they caused constituencies and cities such as mine

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and those of many other Labour Members. The Tory party will regret that, not so much at council elections, but at constituency elections, when the party--which does not exist in the city of Manchester--will cease to be relevant to ordinary people's needs.

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

Mr. Lloyd: I will, provided that the hon. Gentleman promises to be brief.

Mr. Brady: The hon. Gentleman would do himself more credit and do more justice to his argument if he gave credit where it is due: to the redevelopment in the centre of Manchester and in Salford Quays, which was achieved under a Conservative Government. Much was done in Manchester under the last Conservative Government. He should admit it.

Mr. Lloyd: I think that the hon. Gentleman was away from Manchester for some time during that era. The shame is that he does not come round with me. I invite the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells to do so. If he wants to know what really happens in a northern city, he should come with me to my constituency and see, for example, east Manchester, which the present Government are doing something about. House prices in the private sector have tumbled there. My constituents come to me because they have paid perhaps £28,000 or £30,000. I accept that that is not a lot by the standards of the millionaires on the Conservative Benches, but it is a lot for working people in the north of England. They have seen house prices plummet to £4,000, £3,000 or, effectively, nothing.

The combination of unemployment and poverty hits people's health, so that people die younger in my constituency--a result of the previous Government's policies. In parts of my constituency, it will take a generation for us to get rid of the legacy of crime. On top of that, people's life chances were blighted by the previous Government. Not once have we heard an apology from Conservative Members, but it is about time that they accepted the blame that attaches to them because of the previous Government--and that attaches to them even now when they fail to understand the real problems, and the real scale of the problems, in constituencies such as mine and across the north of England.

Some action was taken by the previous Government. The right hon. Members for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) and for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)--the then Deputy Prime Minister--recognised the scale of the problems, and it is right and proper to say that parts of Manchester, such as Hulme, were redeveloped under the previous Government. However, that redevelopment was no compensation for the damage done by the recklessness of that Government in the 1980s and early 1990s, and which will literally blight my community for many years to come.

I pay tribute to the Government for their attempt systematically to promote regeneration. East Manchester, for example, has obtained a £75 million package, and that money is making and will make a real difference to and significant inroads into the problems that we inherited. Moreover, the Government are not treating regeneration as a simple issue, but are considering it as part of an overall social and economic process.

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The Government are concentrating on the various issues affecting my constituents, and education has become a major part of their drive. Ministers are also placing emphasis on joined-up thinking between the various Departments, tying health, for example, into regeneration. Ministers have implemented key initiatives--which the Opposition would end--such as the working families tax credit and the minimum wage, which are desperately important to people in the community that I serve. The new deal in Greater Manchester is already offering opportunity to young people, 120,000 of whom have gained sustainable employment because of the Government's action. Conservative Members would not have allowed those programmes to proceed, but would end them if they could. That is why Conservative Members are seen to be so irrelevant.

When my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate, I hope that she will make the point that if Conservative Members--who belong to a party with no credibility in northern cities--really want to have a debate and examine the north-south divide, they should talk a little, please, about the north of England. The hon. Member for Ashford barely mentioned it in his speech--his was a speech for his own constituents in the south, dictated largely by the preoccupations of the Conservative party, which is now down to its rock-bottom layers of support and desperately trying to appeal to those. The speech was irrelevant to my constituents.

I should like to spend a few moments outlining what Labour Members expect from the Government. It is important that we have reinvestment in our urban communities, which are important not only for the cities themselves, but for the wider community. It is important that the Greater Manchester travel-to-work area and community has a strong city at its heart, so that it is not plagued with the sort of problems that we have seen. We have to deal with the issues of crime, poverty, ill health and poor education, which have blighted the lives and futures of my constituents. Such action is beginning to be taken.

I hope that Ministers will also take on board some recommendations on necessary action. Perhaps we need more joined-up thinking in Government. One problem encountered by local planners in my constituency, which has both a single regeneration programme and a new deal programme, is the difficulty of tying the two together. One scheme is administered by the regional development agency, but the other by Government office of the north-west. We need a little more creative thinking to ensure that joined-up Government really does deliver the maximum bang for the bucks provided.

Although I realise that it is a more difficult issue, it would help enormously if we could incorporate European funding structures into mainstream Government programmes, so that we are able to ensure maximum delivery on the Government's objectives. I ask my hon. Friends the Ministers seriously to address those issues.

We should also recognise the Government's achievements. I hope that Ministers will recognise how important the minimum wage has been already and the importance of sending a signal that it will keep pace with changes in average earnings in society generally. In the

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coming weeks and months, Labour Members will be looking to the Government to send those signals. I hope that my hon. Friends will take that message back.

Powerful signals could be given on the long-term future of Manchester and the region. The future of Daresbury has been mentioned. There is a battle between Oxford and the north-west of England for the siting of new investment and the decision lies at the highest level in the Government. They could send an important signal by recognising that when there is an equal case--or, on this occasion, a stronger case--for a northern location, it should be accepted, because we need to maintain the human capital and skills base in the north-west and throughout the north of England.

I hope that my hon. Friends understand the disappointment that has sometimes been felt. We hear that the dome was recently granted an extra £60 million of funding. That contrasts with the difficulty that Manchester has had in persuading the Government to look kindly on investment and development in the Commonwealth games site. Those are important issues for Manchester.

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