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Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South) indicated dissent.

Mr. Curry: It is no good the hon. Lady shaking her head. Those were the Government's pledges when they came to power. The Government judge outputs, whereas

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they should perhaps judge outcomes. To give a little more confidence to local government, the Government should draw up a contract, find out what it can deliver, and be less prescriptive about the methods by which it does so and more concerned about the outcomes.

We all have lessons to learn about the degree to which we have been prescriptive about how other democratic and representative institutions should work. We now have an opportunity to find out whether we can achieve real regeneration in the great cities of Britain, irrespective of where they lie. The problems of Plymouth are just as bad as the problems of Liverpool and Newcastle.

There could not be a finer test of all of us than to give democracy a chance of achieving that. We should give it the means to do so and judge it by what it delivers. We could then all rest a little more easy on our rhetoric.

9.27 pm

Mr. Colin Burgon (Elmet): I shall try to bring another northern perspective to the debate and to keep my contribution brief.

The position adopted in the debate by the Conservatives is a simple one, as befits the sophistication of their current thinking. According to their stance, there are two Britains, with a north-south divide. We have, in their view of the world, a south that is booming, overheating and suffering from overdevelopment, and northern cities that are declining.

I want to examine the contention that northern cities are declining. I am aware that my colleagues from cities such as Liverpool and Manchester have already pitched in, so I shall restrict my remarks to my home city of Leeds, the city in which I was born and raised, and one of whose eight constituencies I am proud to represent.

At the last election, the Conservatives were effectively wiped out in northern cities. As a result, it seems that only sporadic and inaccurate information is received by the Conservatives about our northern cities, which exist somewhere on the fringes of their known world. Indeed, I am tempted to say that those on the Conservative Front Bench probably know more about Royston Vasey than they do about the great city of Leeds.

As a Leeds person, I know that Leeds has had to respond to tremendous challenges as a result of the collapse of traditional industries such as clothing, in which my father and mother worked, and engineering. Leeds does have its problems. For example, the Leeds inner area, consisting of 10 local government wards and home to about 225,000 people, is among the top 10 per cent. of the most deprived wards in England.

We urgently need to improve skills and increase qualifications in the work force and among the unemployed, of whom 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. respectively have no qualifications. We do have high levels of deprivation, low household income and high benefit dependency. However, it is wide of the mark to deduce from those figures that Leeds is a declining northern city. Like many others, it is a two-speed city.

The way in which Leeds has adjusted to the decline of its traditional industries is a great story. The facts refute the idea that Leeds is a declining northern city. Overall, Leeds has performed strongly in creating jobs. In the 1990s, employment increased by 12 per cent., which means more than 36,000 extra jobs; financial and business services

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employment grew by 36 per cent; and manufacturing output also increased by 36 per cent. A projection based on a Cambridge Econometrics model suggests that employment in Leeds will increase by 11 per cent.--above the national average--between 2000 and 2010.

The Yorkshire and Humberside regional economic strategies document stated:

If those on the Conservative Front Bench do not believe the figures, I urge them to visit Leeds.

Last summer, Conservative Members had an away day--or a "bonding session"--at a five-star hotel in Leeds. It is a pity that they did not catch a bus to the city centre and see what a vibrant, lively city Leeds is. They should have examined the regeneration of the riverside area, where people are repopulating the city centre. They should have visited the shopping areas, such as the Victoria quarter. For sport and culture, they should have nipped to Elland road to watch Leeds United, a rising power in the soccer world.

If a bus journey is not to Conservative Members' liking--they probably would not recognise a bus--they could have caught a train and arrived at Leeds City station, which is undergoing £165 million of improvements to its infrastructure. It will be one of the busiest railway stations in England. If they wanted to fly in, they could have witnessed a similar rate of development at Leeds-Bradford airport. I hope that Conservative Members will reconsider before they write off northern cities such as Leeds simply to advance a poorly thought-out political argument.

There is a complex pattern of economic and social performance across England. Any attempt to simplify that into a north-south divide is a generalisation, which masks the great variations within regions. Poor economic and social conditions are not confined to one part of the country. Five of the 10 most deprived local authority areas in England are in London.

I look forward to hearing the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman admit, when he sums up, that their motion is flawed, that Conservative Members have misrepresented our great northern cities and that he acknowledges Leeds as an energetic, creative and confident city. I hope that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) is writing that down because I shall be listening carefully to his response. Writing off our northern cities is offensive and patronising.

I can reveal that the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) is not in his place because my speech was leaked to the Conservative party. He used to have an office bang in the middle of Leeds. He knows that everything I say is true and therefore he could not come to the Dispatch Box to refute my arguments.

9.33 pm

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): I endorse what the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Burgon) said about Leeds, which, like Manchester, is a great, exciting city. The interpretation he placed on my hon. Friends' speeches showed clearly that he had not listened to them, because none of them said anything offensive or patronising about Leeds.

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Two jolly things have happened today. First, the hon. Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lloyd) bitterly criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) for saying nothing about the north of England, and then made a 15-minute speech exclusively about the north in which he omitted to mention the south. Secondly, the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears) made a passionate speech about her constituency. We are all here to talk about what we know and what we can contribute to the debate.

I welcome the Minister back after his absence. I want to raise a matter that he and I have debated previously, and which relates to West Sussex. I endorse the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer). How can the Government seriously pretend to care about the countryside when they allow the planning outrages that are currently in the pipeline?

How can it be sensible to build in Hampshire and Sussex, when large tracts of land in Portsmouth and Southampton, not to mention Bradford and Liverpool, could well absorb the housing? What does that say about joined-up government? Even if the Government dump the wretched Crow report, as I hope and pray they will, they have made unauthorised changes to West Sussex, which means that one of the most beautiful and rural counties in Britain will never be the same again.

The Minister is a genial chap and realises that none of this is personal, but I want him to know about the real contempt and anger felt in West Sussex at the behaviour of the Government over the present planning issue. The campaign has been brilliantly reflected by two energetic local newspapers in West Sussex--the Mid Sussex Times and the West Sussex Gazette--whose letter pages every week are full of correspondence from people who are outraged at the way in which the Government have behaved towards West Sussex.

All parties in Sussex agreed a structure plan, which was approved by one of Her Majesty's inspectors in May 1997. It was a proper, well-thought-out and careful plan, which had been fully consulted on. All the parish and district councils and the relevant bodies had come together to agree it, but the Deputy Prime Minister overturned it in an outrageous decision in December 1997. In addition to the 37,800 houses agreed, he imposed an additional 13,000 houses.

A new town will probably have to be planted in the green fields near Horsham; the Sussex coastal communities will have their last remaining gaps plundered; and the landscape in central and Mid-Sussex will come to resemble that of New Jersey unless we are careful. Many villagers are terrified at the prospect of what will happen to that beautiful and romantic scenery, quite unnecessarily.

I urge the Minister to understand that the Government's proposals seem to brush aside the terrible problem of congestion and pressure on our services and infrastructure. The ultimate effect of what the Government propose--this is the stupidity of the Labour proposals--will be the choking of economic growth, which will prevent our part of the world from achieving its true economic status.

Of course, there has to be development. I sympathise with the Government in that they have to reach agreement on sensible proposals, but what is proposed in Sussex is mad. As the Minister knows, the truth is that the infrastructure in Mid-Sussex in particular and West

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Sussex in general cannot cope. If many more houses are built, we will run out of water and the roads are inadequate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) said that there were not enough sewers in his constituency. I cannot report on the condition of the sewers in West Sussex, but I am sure that it is deplorable and deserving of much Labour investment. On a previous occasion, I described the number of cars in West Sussex. We are facing a "Carmageddon". There are not enough schools, roads or hospital facilities but, in that chaos, the Labour party intends to build another 50,000 new houses.

Will the Minister explain to my constituents how he can square that planning vandalism with the principles of sustainable development to which the Government signed up with such bally-hoo at Rio and Kyoto? What flows from the Government's obligations to sustainable development? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) said, 10,000 new houses are to be built on a greenfield site between Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead, which is very caring. There are to be 90,000 new homes in Devon.

How can it make sense to build 2,500 new houses on a greenfield site outside Newcastle when there are 4,000 empty homes in the city? The north-south divide is greater than ever and it is driven and fuelled by an obdurate and ignorant Government. Surrey residents have an average household income 71 per cent. higher than that of people who live in Tyne and Wear--that cannot be right.

I conclude merely by asking how the Minister can stand at the Dispatch Box and tell the people of Britain that the Government care about the countryside when they insist on such rural vandalism.

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