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Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Four hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. If they could confine their remarks to six to seven minutes each, all will be satisfied. Otherwise, I am afraid that all will not. I call Mr. David Amess.

9.13 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): Before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, I wish to make several points. The first is a happy one. The Palace theatre opened last Wednesday. I am missing tonight's gala performance, but I am delighted to tell the Minister that he will not have to listen to any more complaints from me about that matter.

I congratulate all those who have been responsible for the constructive pressure that has resulted in the theatre reopening. In particular, I am delighted that the chairman of the Eastern Arts Board has supported the theatre and Key Med, the theatregoers club. I congratulate everyone associated with the reopening of the theatre. As I went on Saturday, I can commend to everyone "A Christmas Carol." It was a magnificent performance, better than any West End production.

The rest of my five minutes is not happy at all. I am sick to death of the Government, their photo opportunities, their press releases and their non-delivery of services. For two years, I have worked with all the people who wished to achieve objective 2 status for Southend. I had meetings with the Minister. I went to Europe. A few weeks ago, a letter was delivered to me by the Minister telling me that we had successfully achieved objective 2 status for Southend and, in particular, for Leigh and Chalkwell in Southend, West.

Leigh and Chalkwell have worked on various programmes to uplift those communities--with objective 2 funding, the creek would have been dredged, the jetty would have been enlarged, housing would have been redeveloped and various leisure facilities would have been provided. I am, therefore, sure that hon. Members will

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appreciate the astonishment and deep anger I felt when, last week, as I was about to help switch on the Leigh lights, my attention was drawn to an item in the evening edition of the local newspaper, stating that Leigh and Chalkwell were not to benefit from objective 2 status.

The way in which I learned that information was a disgrace. At the very least, a Minister could have written to me about the matter, or contacted me on the telephone. Instead, the Government have treated me with complete contempt, and it sickens me. I have yet to receive a letter on the matter signed by the Prime Minister. Although I know only too well that the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and the Department of Trade and Industry are responsible forthe matter, I cannot even get a signed letter on it from the leader of the Labour party. I have received one letter on it, but it was from the correspondence secretary, who will pass on the matter to the appropriate Minister.

It is an absolute disgrace that Ministers think that they can adopt a cavalier attitude towards hon. Members. I am sorry, but the way in which they have chosen to handle the matter demonstrates political spite. It is disgraceful to take it out on my constituents.

I have had one letter from a Minister--[Interruption.] The Government Whip shakes his head. I have received a letter from a Minister telling me that Leigh and Chalkwell would benefit from objective 2 status, but I have also read the opposite in a newspaper--as Ministers did not show the courtesy of sending me a letter to that effect. It is disgusting, and I blame no one other than the Prime Minister.

All my other remarks are on the same topic. Southend council has 19 Conservative councillors, 12 Liberal Democrat councillors and eight Labour councillors, and the Labour and Liberal Democrat members work together to keep the Conservative party out of power. The Liberal Democrats are constantly wringing their hands publicly, whereas, privately, they hang on to power. Although they make terrible noises, saying, "It's awful that Leigh and Chalkwell are being deprived of objective 2 status", if they were serious about it, they would withdraw from the alliance and give the Conservatives the chance to govern.

The closure of Lulworth Court--a respite centre for disabled people--has been announced, not by the Conservatives but by Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors. Blenheim house--a residential home for elderly people--has been closed. That was the fault not of the Conservatives but entirely of the Labour-Liberal council.

There has been hypocrisy over Hainault avenue, in Westborough--where a Labour activist has been campaigning to get the Liberal Democrats out and trying to hoodwink everyone into believing that, if they vote Labour in the May elections, the situation will change. As everyone knows, there are double yellow lines in Hainault avenue entirely because of the Lib-Lab council. If residents in Westborough want a change, they will have to vote Conservative in the next election.

There has been a scandal with asylum seekers, affecting--although we cannot obtain a firm figure from the local authority--more than 600 people. The treatment of asylum seekers in Southend has been cruel, and it is entirely the fault of the Labour Government. Schools have written to me about unfair funding arrangements for

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asylum seekers. Southend has more asylum seekers than Thurrock; it has received £17,000, whereas Thurrock has received £150,000.

We have generally had an education fiasco in Southend. Although some hon. Members have said that they have not had many problems with formerly grant-maintained schools, I have had problems with them in Southend--in Westborough, for example, with nursery schools. I have also had complaints about the pupil retention grant and the standards funds.

We have the Labour Government to blame for underfunding of police. We do not have enough police.

Social services in Southend are charging. Day centres for the mentally handicapped are charging, and charges to many handicapped and elderly people have been increased vastly.

Finally we have the fiasco over mobile phone masts. I have problems in Chalkwell lodge, Cottesmore court and Highlands boulevard.

Sadly, apart from the performance of "A Christmas Carol", the scene in Southend, West is not a happy one. I entirely blame the Labour Government and our 12 Liberal councillors and eight Labour councillors.

9.20 pm

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): I had thought that mine might be the first partisan remarks tonight. I had not counted on the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess). I found a great deal to agree with in what he and others have said, but I shall not waste time going over that.

I should like to tell the House a story of two reports that I received in the post in the same week. One was the Worcestershire health authority's health improvement programme. For all I know, it may be a controversial document with some members of the medical community in Worcestershire, but it is admirable in the sense that it is specific and can be pinned down. It has clear, measurable objectives and targets, and anyone can understand what the Worcestershire health authority is seeking to deliver.

In almost the same post, I received the West Midlands regional development agency's strategy document, Advantage West Midlands. I am a long-standing critic of regionalism. I have spoken against the concept in the Chamber on many occasion. I hope that even the staunchest friend of regionalism would admit that this document is awful. It is facile gibberish of the worst possible kind. Apparently, it has been awarded the plain English crystal mark for clarity.

In the chapter on "Developing a diverse and dynamic business base" under the heading "Developing Business Growth Task Groups", we read:

I hope that the House followed that clear exposition.

Under the heading "The West Midlands Economic Strategy in context", we read about action plans, which are to evolve from that strategy. The document says:

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    Ah yes, of course. I could not have put it better myself.

I hope that the chairman, Mr. Stephenson, did not write the chairman's introduction. Indeed, I hope that he did not even read it. It is either the worst kind of new Labour platitudes or simply wrong. It says:

    "Innovation should be the touchstone for the actions we hope to facilitate to create the West Midlands' advantage."

That is dubious grammar to say the least, but what on earth does it mean? The document rightly cites entrepreneurs of whom the west midlands are proud--Abraham Darby, Josiah Wedgwood and Frank Whittle. They did not rely on Advantage West Midlands. The touchstone of their success was their personal ambition and talent. That is what matters.

The chairman says:

He is condemned out of his own mouth. It is not radical anyway. Governments have always sought to tackle economic, environmental and social objectives at the same time. The Conservative Government tried to do that and, to be fair, the Labour Government are trying to do the same, but are not doing it particularly well in my judgment.

I had not intended to read the document, but I settled down to it on the train and found that it was better value than Private Eye. The tragedy is that it is supposed to be a serious economic strategy for the west midlands, but it is not. It sets out a series of spurious aims, which duplicate the work of Government Departments. There is only one that I agree with--the sixth aim

That was previously addressed by English Partnerships, led by Lord Walker of Worcester, my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Worcester. The advantage of English Partnerships was that it had one office, one chairman and one chief executive. Now we have seven regional development agencies, with seven chairmen, seven chief executives and seven bureaucracies. That is a hopeless over-provision of bureaucrats with much less work done on the ground.

The seventh aim is extraordinary. It is

The document goes on:

    "Regeneration programmes will deal with the need for childcare facilities, infrastructure, transport and premises. . . . There will also be measures to tackle the problems of crime and ill health, as well as initiatives to improve health and housing conditions."

The detailed exposition adds culture and sport as well.

The document comes not from the government of the west midlands--although the Government would like it to be so in due course--but from a regional development agency. How can it cope with all that? To use a seasonal metaphor, this is a Christmas tree of a document on which every bauble of interest to every passing local councillor has been hung in the most shameless way.

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A longer speech would enable me to dissect this document in more detail, and I should have liked to do so. However, let me pick out a couple of other solecisms from the report.

What about London, or the east midlands or Yorkshire? What makes that distinctive of the west midlands?

    "West Midlands economic development partners are working together to build the regions role as a region of Europe".

We know what that agenda means--the Balkanisation of England and the sidelining of this House.

Where is the reference to cross-border co-operation? It is here. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) sitting on the Front Bench.We have many mutual, cross-border interests with Gloucestershire--but, of course Gloucestershire is in the south-west region, along with the Isles of Scilly. There is passing reference to co-operation with other regions, but it relates only to tourism. My hon. Friend and I sometimes fight, but we sometimes agree, and we know that many other more important issues than tourism unite and sometimes divide our two counties, which actually should be in the same region, not in different ones.

I could go on, but I shall conclude with a quote from this totally inadequate and woeful document, which the Deputy Prime Minister should send back to the West Midlands regional development agency saying that he cannot understand it.

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