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Ms Hazel Blears (Salford): I am beginning to feel a slight sense of deja vu. Just three months ago, we had a debate on virtually the same issues and, again, it was called by the Opposition. On that occasion, I accused the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) of living on another planet, because he did not seem to be in touch with the real world. He seems to have vanished into thin air and I had hoped that the Opposition's new representatives would have learned something from that debate. Yet the contribution that we have just heard from the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) almost seems to be an attempt to airbrush the Conservatives' role out of history and to whitewash the whole record of their time in government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) was right to remind people in the country and the House of the dreadful wickedness--wickedness was the right word to use--of the actions and policies of successive Tory Governments. They created many of the dreadful problems that this Labour Government is now having to address in many of our cities, not just in the north, but in all parts of Britain. I am amazed that Conservative Members can stand there with impunity and accept no responsibility whatever for the actions and policies that they introduced.

Conservatives do not like to be reminded of the economic mismanagement that led to many of our problems. The failures and recessions decimated manufacturing industry and put hundreds of thousands of people out of work in many cities and that led to the spiral of despair, dereliction and decline with which we are having to deal today.

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way before she does herself an injury. If things are going so well, why did the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) resign?

Ms Blears: My hon. Friend will undertake a magnificent job on behalf of his constituents. In future, he will raise many of the issues about which we are concerned. If the hon. Gentleman finds it disturbing that Labour Members have passion and integrity about the issues on which they speak, I suggest that he remind his own colleagues of the depth and intensity that we feel about these issues. We represent our constituents and see on a day-to-day basis the effects of the Tory policies that damaged and decimated many of our areas.

The massive rise in unemployment, particularly in my constituency, led to that spiral of decline. People had no jobs, no hope, no skills and no chance of a decent future. The problems will take many years to begin to turn around, not simply the two and a half years of the Labour Government.

The Tories' response--then as now--was absolutely pathetic. They did not invest in people; they invested in bricks and mortar and prestige projects. They told us to move and to look for work elsewhere. They did not encourage regeneration by empowering local communities to do things for themselves. Instead, they had the cult of the individual and selfishness--everyone for himself and get on if we can. That is not my idea of rebuilding communities.

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If I am honest, I do not believe that the Opposition care about regeneration. I do not think that they have thought deeply about how to build capacity in local communities; how to involve local people in changing their neighbourhoods; how to make sure that youngsters have the skills to enable them to take the jobs that are on offer; how to give people the self-confidence to stand up to crime and disorder in their communities and how to make a difference. Theirs is a glib, superficial approach. The issues are difficult, long-term and structural, and complex approaches are required to make a difference.

None of that matters to the Opposition. They have demonstrated an obsession with protecting the green belt and a last-minute, unconvincing conversion to revitalising cities as a way out of the corner that they have painted themselves into. As is usual with the Tories, that does not add up. It has already been said that they want to abolish the regional development agencies. How else are we to get the land assembly, infrastructure and inward investment that will bring jobs to many of our hard-pressed cities? They have no answer to that.

The Tories want to abolish the minimum wage, which is helping 2,000 families in Salford, and the working families tax credit, which is benefiting 2,500 families in Salford by between £24 and £100 a week. They want to take that money away from those families. They oppose child benefit increases, and 10,000 children in Salford would not be lifted out of poverty if it were up to the Tories. Those are their policies.

The Tories want to abolish the new deal. In my constituency, youth unemployment has fallen by 60 per cent. and long-term unemployment has fallen by 70 per cent. We have a new deal pilot project for the over-50s. A lady in my constituency has just got her first job for 15 years under that project. The Tories' policies would take away opportunities from many people that I represent.

If we consider what the Labour Government have done in the past two and a half years, we see a dramatic contrast in my area alone. We have a single regeneration budget project in Seedley and Langworthy, which provides £25 million to help people to build their way out of decline and dereliction. A new deal for communities project is currently being built in Kersal and Charlestown. Again, local people are coming together and deciding what are their priorities for the city and what they want to happen.

In our education action zone, we had a children's university this year. For the first time 700 children from the most deprived inner-city area went to Salford university and spent a week doing science, jazz, dance, percussion, engineering and a range of other subjects to which they would not otherwise have had access. At the end they graduated and got certificates, and their parents came to the university--people who would never normally cross the threshold of a university.

Those long-term regeneration projects are crucial if we are to begin to turn the tide. That investment will not pay off straight away; it will take years. If only the previous Government had thought about some of the ways in which they could have invested in young people, we might not be in our present difficulties.

We have a sure start project in Pendleton, which is investing £3,000 in every child born there over the next three years, giving them a decent start and opportunities.

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That is real regeneration: projects that last and are embedded in local communities; projects that local people own and which give them pride, self-respect and confidence. That is not easy, and it takes time. We cannot do it overnight. People have expectations. We have made a brilliant start, but there is a long way to go.

I suggest to the Government a couple of things that they could do to help us to revitalise our cities further. We need to review the standard spending assessment formula. I know that we are having a review, but I feel strongly that inner-city areas lose grant because people are leaving those areas. The families that they leave behind often have more problems that the people who leave. Those who leave are the more able members of the community, while those who stay have a multiplicity of problems and still need help from social, housing and education services. We need to be much more flexible about the way in which the formula applies to cities.

We lose money because people go from welfare to work. I am delighted that in Salford unemployment has gone down by 13.5 per cent. However, people in poor communities often get low-paid, casual, part-time, temporary jobs. They do not go from being on benefit into a job that pays £20,000 a year, with all that it entails. They still need local authority housing, education and social services to help them to cope. We have lost £4 million this year because we have been successful in getting people into work. We do not want to be penalised for that.

We have to tackle crime if we are to get the most from our social exclusion initiatives, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central said. I want to echo several other contributions by saying that if we are serious about regeneration, we have to create high-quality jobs.

I must mention the vital Diamond synchrotron project at Daresbury. The case for locating the facility at Daresbury is very strong. It is already a world-class centre of synchrotron research expertise and has an unrivalled international scientific reputation. The site is in the right place; planning consent has already been granted; it is within 20 minutes of Manchester airport; it is adjacent to a new research development project that could create 7,000 new jobs; it is in an assisted area. A decision by the Government to invest in science and technology in the north-west would be a massive signal of confidence to the community and investors.

The competing claim by Oxford does not meet the Government's priorities for investment and regeneration. If we are serious about developing centres of excellence in every part of Britain, we should grasp the opportunity. Let us make the Diamond project the jewel in the crown of the north-west. It is in our Labour heartland, and it is overwhelmingly the right thing to do.

The motion describes the need to create one Britain. Two very different Britains are on offer today; we have heard about them both. The Tory Britain is of unemployment, poverty, run-down public services, division and dereliction, while the Labour Britain is of rising--and I hope full--employment, a decent income for hard-working families, education and health services of which we can be proud, and hope and opportunity. Faced with those two options, I know very well which the people of this country will choose. This Labour Government can and will deliver the kind of cities in which people want to live.

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9.16 pm

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