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Mr. Soames: Hear, hear.

Mr. Lloyd: I am glad to have the support of at least one Conservative Member from the south of England. It is an important issue, because with a one-nation Government we need investment in sporting, cultural and other facilities not just in London and the south-east, but throughout the country. Even at this stage, the Government could decide to make Manchester the home of athletics in this country. That would need investment in the Commonwealth games site, but it would leave a legacy for athletics throughout the United Kingdom that would not result from the proposed development in London, if that is to be the site of the 2005 world athletics championship.

The strongest signal that the Government can give is to make it clear that they are determined never again to let the people of my constituency be crucified in the wanton and cavalier fashion that we saw during the 18 years of Conservative Government. Every time that I listen to my hon. Friends, that is the commitment that I hear. There will be no more Tories for Manchester, because what they did was wicked and it will take us a long time to overcome the problems that resulted from that wickedness.

8.52 pm

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal): I had intended to draw together the issues on which there is agreement across the House, but that was before I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock). I was thrilled to hear his description of Liberal Democrat policy. We all know what their policy really is: they bang on the door, find out what the person wants to hear and tell them that. If the person next door wants to hear something different, they tell them that instead. Every Liberal Democrat local authority operates on that basis.

There is no common Liberal Democrat policy on the issue--that was proved when the hon. Gentleman tried to explain what they would do. They want a lot of regions and referendums, as well as two new taxes. I wonder what would happen if people decided in a referendum that they did not want the new taxes. Would they then not have

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them? The hon. Gentleman said that the regions would not be too big, but the localities would also have to have their say. It is the usual nonsense from the Liberal Democrats, desperate to appear that they have a policy when all that they want to do is be antagonistic--significantly so to the Conservative party and not quite so significantly so to the Labour party. Their policy is "A plague on both your houses", because they will not face the real tough issues.

I congratulate the--

Mr. Steen: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gummer: In a moment, because I want to get my congratulation out before it sticks in my throat. I congratulate the Minister on a range of measures that, I hope that he agrees, have continued the kind of policies that I tried to introduce. He wants to improve the quality and design of the homes that are built. I congratulate him on his recent announcement.

It is a pity that the Department has no specialist advisers to bring fresh architectural design into its work. It is a pity that they are all political advisers and not specialist advisers. It is important for a Department that has not been marked for its design consciousness in the past to have new, bright and unusual ideas. That would happen if the Minister were to bring in people from outside. It would make up for the clearly mistaken views that were put forward by Professor Crow and others who take an old-fashioned view.

It is not sensible to make party political comments about lack of density in building. We all know the reason for that. The planning establishment went on and on about how we should not have town planning and how we had to have low-density development. When I introduced proposals for higher densities, I was told that I was going back to Victorian times. Some Labour Members, then in opposition, echoed those planning mantras. The Minister will have significant support from the Opposition in seeking to explain to planners that quality and design matter more than density. They matter whether the development is in the north of England or the south of England. That is a crucial issue.

The Minister has to understand why the debate was introduced. After the winding up of the urban development corporations, which quite properly had a period of time in which to do remarkable jobs in Manchester, Sheffield and many of the great northern cities, we need to consider what has replaced them. So far, it is difficult to see in the actions of the Leeds authority or the Sheffield authority, under its previous administration or its present administration, the verve, new ideas and excitement that was put into those cities by the UDCs. We have not seen it yet. I do not want to say that we will not see it, but I believe that the Minister has an important job to do in trying to find new ways of looking at urban regeneration, which is so important and which the UDCs in large measure began.

In those circumstances, the Minister must understand why we feel that there is a real lack of enthusiasm for the regeneration that is necessary in our great northern cities. After all, when we talk about guilt, we should consider the guilt of Labour councils that destroyed great cities by pulling down buildings and building badly in their place,

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instead of providing the regeneration which all parties now agree ought to be the answer. There is a great deal of guilt around, but there is also a great deal of common view. I suggest, therefore, that we build on that common view and try to get a bit more oomph--if Hansard cannot spell oomph I shall do it for them--into what the Government are doing in the great cities of the north.

The Government also have to realise, however, that large numbers of people live in the countryside. The Prime Minister's reception at the National Farmers Union was not wildly over the top. The delegates recognised that the right hon. Gentleman's speech lacked answers and demonstrated a failure of understanding. He suggested only that they should consult. We have had three years of crisis and we are now in the business of consultation. The Prime Minister got a raspberry for a very good reason: he presented no vision of any kind about the rural areas of Britain--so those in rural areas have begun to ask whether the Government have anything to say to them at all. If that conference was any guide, the answer is no. It is no good saying that the Government understand the rural areas. People in rural areas feel beleaguered and do not believe that the Government will try even to protect the countryside outside our cities.

I am trying to be as helpful as possible. That is the truth. Just as the Government must show more commitment to regeneration in the great northern cities, so they must show a commitment, in which people can believe, to the protection of the countryside. It is no good the Minister telling me that 10,000 new houses in the green belt next door to Stevenage are part of his policy for protecting the countryside. That will not wash. It is no good him saying that the Government were unable to turn down the plan. They could have done so; they had the legal means to go back on their decision.

What did the Government say when I raised the matter? Ministers all had pieces of paper telling them to say that I had allowed large amounts of the green belt to be used, so I looked up what I had allowed. I allowed no housing in the green belt. The major project was the extension of Manchester airport--it would be difficult to build an airport in the centre of Manchester. Who asked me to extend Manchester airport? It was the Labour Members of Parliament for Manchester. I also found that I had allowed a development to create jobs in Woking.

The Minister must accept that the whole policy started badly with Stevenage. Then, instead of developing the centre of Newcastle, the Government wanted to build 2,000 homes on the edge of the city--against the advice of someone who is now one of their revered Ministers. He probably got the job because he was so effective at putting over that point.

The Government went on to announce that they would put aside a large greenfield, greenbelt site in Birmingham for new building. It is no good telling us that they support open fields, they do not--what they do is not what they say. Until they do what they say, we cannot be expected to believe them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) was accused of not making a speech today--although my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) made an excellent speech. The accusation is hard to sustain when the Deputy Prime Minister is not in the Chamber for the debate. When the right hon.

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Gentleman gives a major speech it is to the Fabian Society, not to the House. He is not in the Chamber telling us what to do; he is doing that outside.

The Minister should be careful when he makes criticisms. The real criticism is of the contempt in which the House is held by the Deputy Prime Minister and of his failure to announce in the House, to the House, major policy changes--making such announcements instead to his cronies in the Fabian Society.

From time to time, I have fallen out with my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells--about Asda building in certain places--so I cannot be described as sycophantic. However, it is an odd House of Commons in which someone who has provided opportunities for keeping jobs and for creating jobs and wealth should be deemed unsuitable to comment on the environment, transport and the regions. The Minister should realise that no member of his ministerial team has ever created a job in his life--that is the problem with the Government. They do not realise that it is not only the northern towns which have no confidence in them--that is evident in the resignation of so eminent a man as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle)--but that the same is true of the rural areas and of the conservationists. They do not have the confidence of the wealth creators of Britain, to whom they have not given the certainty that such people need.

The only way to get people to redevelop city centres is to make it clear that they will not be granted approval for development plans outside cities. If the Government did their job properly, they would not hide behind legalistic matters and Professor Crow's document; they would say clearly, "Professor Crow is wrong. We will not allow 1.1 million houses to be built on the green belt--not because we want to suck up to voters in the south, but because if we do so, voters in the north will never have the regeneration that they need, and the regeneration needed in so many of our southern cities will not take place either."

I think that the Minister's heart is in the right place--very often his mouth is too--but he has to put his Government's actions in the right context. The person who he has got to get at first is the Prime Minister. His answer to urban deprivation in Islington was not to improve education there, but to take his children to a school five boroughs away. I am not introducing private family matters into the debate--it is an example of "Don't improve it, go somewhere else." That is true of too many of Labour's answer to inner-city problems.

I want the inner cities to be improved and I want action, not words. I want a Prime Minister who stays there and shows that his family will put up with the education that Labour's consistent control of Islington has destroyed. It is not just housing and the environment that will regenerate our cities; it is schools to which people will want to send their children. Most of the movement out of our cities has been by young families who have looked for places where their children can be better educated. If we get the schools right, we can do a great deal more about regeneration. If only this Prime Minister had led the way.

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9.6 pm


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