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Mr. John M. Taylor: In striking such a sound chord, has my right hon. Friend ever given thought to who teaches parenthood? Is it possible?

Mr. Curry: Parenthood must mainly be taught by example, which is why I agree with the Government that the traditional nuclear family appears to represent the best formula for bringing up children--that is not to deny that people who are not part of such a family are perfectly able to bring up successful children.

We should be careful before we load schools up with too many civic responsibilities. Our job as a nation is to make them competitive. If schools are competitive, they are likely to be more competent in dealing with civic responsibilities. If one wants someone to do a job in society, one on the whole finds that somebody who is busy tends to do the job more willingly.

It is impossible to exaggerate the extent to which head teachers of some inner city schools live in dread of losing the three or four middle-class parents whose children make the difference between standard assessment test results that are verging on respectability and those that look catastrophic. The battle that goes on to try to ensure that a few middle-class parents hang on in there and do not send their kids elsewhere is a noble one. It is a measure of the difficulty of the circumstances.

I would like head teachers to be given more power to fire poor quality teaching staff--such as the Monday- to-Friday brigade who have got used to survival as the main essence of the week--and to reward quality staff. I find it inconceivable that people who teach in inner city schools are on the same pay scales as those in the leafy suburbs. Compared with the problems encountered day after day by some teachers in the inner cities, those in the suburbs do not know that they are born.

I would like there to be more support from local education authorities. Some, such as Lambeth, do not even provide supply staff. So schools must go to private sector organisations for supply staff, at great daily cost, in order to replace teachers who are on holiday or taking maternity leave. As a consequence, classes can have three or four teachers in a year.

Dr. Ladyman: Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on LEAs that make the system even worse by introducing selective education and, in my constituency, thereby creating sink schools that are guaranteed to be in the bottom 25 for GCSE results?

Mr. Curry: The hon. Gentleman has asked that question of the wrong Conservative Member. He will recall that we had a ballot in Ripon. We won it because the argument was not between the grammar school and the city school. They were on the same side. The argument was about how we enhanced education in the city school in partnership. It has now become a technology college, its examination results are improving and it has demonstrated, under a committed head teacher--the alpha and the omega of real education--that it can haul itself into contention as a competitive school.

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I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman holds his views firmly, but we just happened to win the ballot 2:1 because we sought not to divide but to unite people.

I would like a primary school head teacher to be in charge of two or three schools. Much depends on building blocks, structures and being able to ensure that the school knows what it is seeking to do daily. Given the shortage of staff in inner city schools, there is something to commend the most able teachers who want to continue working with children, not undertaking advisory functions but remaining in schools and assuming wider responsibility.

There should perhaps be a link between the secondary school and primary schools. I am amazed by how many secondary schools appear to have no contact with the primary schools before the new kids walk through the main gate on the day they begin secondary education--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): Order. I feel that the right hon. Gentleman is straying rather wide of the debate. I have been generous in allowing him some comment on education, but we must now return to the subject of the motion.

Mr. Curry: I was anxious to demonstrate where the joined-upness was not joining up. I thought that more joined-upness would work well in education. Mercifully, I am coming to end of my remarks on that subject. I leave with the Minister the need to bind education into the regeneration process. Today's children are the citizens of the next generation, to whom we are trying to give competences. They are the people whom we shall ask to provide leadership in the community. If we cannot provide them with the education that they need, they will not be able to do that job.

Mrs. Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton): I am not sure where the right hon. Gentleman's nearest education action zone is, but I recommend the one in Plymouth, which is working very hard with the regeneration projects to ensure that the young citizens of the town are able to play their part in a regenerated Plymouth of 2020.

Mr. Curry: My nearest education action zone is probably in Bradford. However, there are not many zones and the head teachers in charge of them are often paid miserably too little for the responsibilities that they take on. Madam Deputy Speaker would no doubt reproach me if I pursued that point, so I shall resist the temptation to be diverted again.

The White Paper is welcome and the beginnings of a strategy are emerging through the mist. However, we need to see the structures of that strategy more clearly. Some of the issues that have been sketched in should be more positively addressed. In particular, I refer to the issues that relate to fiscal incentives and that are essential to pulling in private sector involvement.

We have seen the emergence of an almost consensual approach to regeneration. The Labour Government have built on the programme that was put in place by the previous Administration.

Ms Atherton: I am astonished that the right hon. Gentleman can suggest that there is a consensus on

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regeneration, given the Conservative party's policy of abandoning regional development agencies and their budgets just as they are getting into their stride.

Mr. Curry: To regard regeneration as synonymous with the regional development agencies seems to be a curious piece of intellectual gymnastics. The Conservative party's policy is interesting because it represents examining the most successful programmes that were carried out previously and attempting to bring elements, such as effective policing and effective education, into the strategy. The hon. Lady might not like that, but the intellectual undertow of that policy is not greatly different from the approach taken by the Government. There is a difference of view about mechanisms and delivery vehicles, but there is no philosophical divide between what we are trying to do, what this Government have done and what we did previously.

I rejoice in the continuity in the programme. We are trying to build communities even though we should use that phrase with hesitation, because building communities is much easier said than done. If there is continuity of programme and an element of planning, and if people feel that they can be adventurous and take risks, we might all be more successful in what we universally wish to achieve in our great inner cities.

8.22 pm

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): May I ask for your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, before I start my speech? I wish to express my deepest sympathies to the family of Police Constable Jon Odell, who was killed while on duty in Margate last night by a hit-and-run driver. Although Margate is in North Thanet, the Thanet police force serves both the North Thanet and the South Thanet constituencies very well. The anger and distress at what has happened will unite the whole of Thanet.

I want to speak not only because I served on the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs when it discussed what it wanted in the urban White Paper and when it produced its report on gap funding, but also because as a Member of Parliament representing Thanet and, before that, as a councillor, I have had experience of regeneration.

Thanet is in east Kent; many people think that means that it is in the leafy suburbs in a wealthy part of the United Kingdom. In reality, Thanet is among the top six areas of England for unemployment and has one of the lowest wage rates in the whole country. That is evidenced by the per capita take-up rate for housing benefit in Thanet, which is usually the highest in the country. More than 40 per cent. of the work force in Thanet are unskilled. Those problems are recognised by the fact that we have assisted area status at tier 2 and objective 2 funding from the European Union. Despite that assistance, regenerating Thanet is extremely difficult for several very practical reasons. In a capitalist economy, the practical reasons usually relate to the way in which the figures add up, so I shall give the House some practical examples of those figures.

First, however, I shall comment briefly on the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). Perhaps I would not go as far as him in the description of Commissioner Monti. Commissioner Monti is probably more bonkers than bolshy, and more

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mad and misguided than malign. However, on the issue of the partnership investment programme, he is clearly wrong. I shall try to illustrate my view with a practical example.

Three business parks have been created in Thanet, because we need to attract new industry and investment to the area to deal with our high unemployment. We were able to provide services to two of those parks by using funding that came to us from the single regeneration budget and objective 2. The parks are in private hands and building a factory on one of them costs some £50 to £56 a square foot. I have checked those figures, and they are very competitive for the south-east. Ashford is 40 minutes down the road, and building a factory there also costs £56 a square foot.

The difference is that, once one has paid £56 a square foot and taken occupation of the premises in Thanet, they are worth about £30 a square foot. That is how much one would receive from selling them. However, if one sold the premises in Ashford, one would receive very close to the £56 a square foot that one paid for them. Even if we assume that property inflation is about 4 per cent. a year, it would take a considerable time before the factory in Thanet was worth what one paid for it.

To deal with that problem, help is provided through tier 2 assisted area funding. That can work out at 20 per cent. of capital cost. However, even allowing for a 20 per cent. grant towards the capital cost of building the factory, it would still take 10 years of 4 per cent. per annum price inflation on the value of the property to get back to the discounted value of the factory that one had just bought.

That does not mean that we cannot attract new factories and new investors to Thanet; it means that it is very difficult to do so. Investors have usually to come to Thanet for something else that it can offer: our available work force. Thanet recently attracted a prestigious Spanish car component company, Grupo Antolin. One reason why the company came to Thanet, despite the fact that the figures that I quoted are perhaps working against it, is that it is looking to train its future work force from among our unskilled and semi-skilled workers, who are anxious to get back into work. It was therefore attracted by the work force that Thanet offered rather than by our ability to put together an interesting financial package. However, such companies are few and far between.

Time and again, we lose investors to Ashford and other areas in Kent. When I knock on companies' doors and ask why they decided not to invest in Thanet, they say, "The local council was great; the business parks were great; the quality of life that you were offering was great; but the figures simply don't add up." That is where the partnership investment programme could have stepped in. It could have provided the difference between the price that people have to pay to build their factory and the actual value of that factory. By taking away that plank, Commissioner Monti has made it extremely difficult for us to continue the regeneration of Thanet. I gave the example of a factory, but the principle is the same for areas that we are trying to regenerate with leisure attractions, housing developments and all the other forms of development that Thanet needs if it is to recover.

The European Commission rules say that state aid is inappropriate if it distorts the marketplace. They go on to say that derogations might be possible if compatible with

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the common market, but that aid schemes that are not compatible with those derogations are illegal. That is why the Commission has said that the partnership investment programme is illegal. To my mind, however, it has failed to consider that the first basic clause in the rules is that the scheme is illegal if it distorts the marketplace. If it does not, why would the Commission even look at whether it is compatible with the derogations? That is the mistake that Commissioner Monti has made.

If we give money to a regional development agency and ask it to carry out development, it may build a factory in a business park; but to sell that factory at market value, it has to make a loss. The difference between the price for which the agency builds the factory and the price at which it sells will be exactly the same amount, to the penny, as the gap funding that would have been provided through the partnership investment programme. By definition, the amounts are identical. The factory owner buys the property at the market rate in both cases, so there is no distortion of the marketplace in either scheme and no difference in the funding that is provided. The only difference is that, without the partnership investment programme, the publicly accountable RDAs have to do the development. As they do not have the necessary staff and expertise at present, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said, their task is very difficult.

I turn now to housing. I could take you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to Ramsgate, the town in which I live, and I am willing to bet that with very little effort I could find 50 empty properties that are being allowed to become derelict, all of them in private hands.

The urban taskforce report says that the Government

The Government's response did not go nearly so far. They simply said that they

I am a new Labour politician, and I do not deal in the language of nationalisation without compensation, but empty properties that are unpleasant to look at and which drag my town down--destroying the quality of life for the people who live there and lowering the value of surrounding properties--make me very angry. We should stop messing around, give local authorities the power of compulsory purchase over such properties as quickly as possible and put them into the hands of people who will redevelop them. When we consider what compensation we should provide for those properties, we should ask ourselves what income they are generating for their owners and how much it would cost to capitalise that income. If a property is empty, it earns its owner nothing, and the local authority should take possession at no cost.

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