Mr. Green: I shall store up my comments on the Government's rural record and that of my party until I reach that part of my speech. I simply observe that the hon. Gentleman has fallen into the trap of assuming that publishing a White Paper means that something different happens in the real world. Government achievements are not measured by the number of papers that they produce. If that were the case, the Government would be the most successful Administration ever because the Department publishes approximately 15 press releases a day. However, the inner cities are not improving and the countryside is in crisis. If the hon. Gentleman goes round his constituency saying, "It's all right; we don't need to worry about rural areas because the Government's published a White Paper", he is in for a shock.
The Government have introduced an array of initiatives. There are too many of them; they are disjointed and they do not succeed. They include: drug action teams, action for jobs, excellence in cities, the neighbourhood support fund, education action zones, employment zones, new start, health action zones, sure start, new deal for communities, renewal areas, the European regional development fund, new commitment to regeneration, pathfinders, the single
Mr. Green: I shall refer to our key proposals shortly. We shall have fewer short-term, gimmicky initiatives than the Government--it would be impossible to have as many. People have seen through them; they simply do not work.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The key problem is that the initiatives are overlaid with layers of authority and different bodies, which may play some role in implementing the schemes. For example, there is the voluntary sector, town and parish councils, borough councils, county councils, regional government, the Government and the European Union. Once the matrix is in place, it is impossible for people to understand how to assist with regeneration.
Mr. Green: My hon. Friend is right. People spend so much time working out the system that they have less time to do the work. The Chairman of the Select Committee attempted to ride to the Government's rescue, yet last July the Select Committee stated that there was a lack of co-ordination between local, regional and national government. It said that the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions did not appear to have the same views about the role of cities in the regional economy, and that the DTI did not sufficiently recognise the need to make the economic competitiveness of urban areas a priority. The Select Committee that the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish chairs made the same criticism as me of the way in which the Government proceed.
The key charge against the urban White Paper is that it will make things worse rather than better. It will simply add to the plethora of schemes. In terms of measures that matter to those living in inner cities, things are already getting worse, not better. Three thousand more people are homeless and in urgent need than in 1997, and crime has shot up in urban areas. It has risen by 12.6 per cent. in London, by 16 per cent. in the west midlands, by 8 per cent. in Staffordshire and by 5 per cent. in Merseyside. One reason for that is the fact that the Government have cut police numbers since May 1997.
Mr. Bradley: The hon. Gentleman says that his party is committed to restoring police numbers to the 1997 level. Is that where he stops, or will he match the present Government's commitment to increasing numbers beyond that level, so that there is a record number of police on our streets and in rural communities?
Mr. Green: The hon. Gentleman is a great devotee of jam tomorrow. He has sat on the Labour Benches for three years while the Government have cut police numbers, and he now seeks to criticise a commitment to increase them.
Since the White Paper, the Government have had another try, announcing plans for the most deprived neighbourhoods, more programmes and more fragmentation. My hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for the Environment, the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), said that the Government's announcement earlier this month consisted of joining together four previous announcements and attempting to paint them as something new. That is why there is so much cynicism out there about the Government's efforts. People now recognise that they are simply trying to put a new coat of paint on old initiatives. It will not wash any more: people want to see effects.
People want to see more, not fewer, police. They want to see their schools improving. They want to see practical measures that will take the areas that have suffered most out of their current spiral of decline. That is why we have produced practical proposals. We have said that the first thing that must happen is a reversal of the exodus from the cities. We will abolish national and regional planning targets, and devolve planning decisions to local people. By ending the thrust to build on the countryside, we will encourage market forces to redevelop brownfield land in cities where that redevelopment is needed.
We think that making cities safe is an absolute prerequisite for improving them, and for spending taxpayers' money effectively on urban regeneration. That means providing visible policing on the ground, and the new regeneration companies that we propose will be able to finance extra policing in certain areas if they consider it necessary.
We think that our free-schools proposals will make it easier to tackle and change the management of failing schools. The regeneration companies will be able to facilitate that process too, and, if necessary, to assist the funding of new partnership schools.
We think that poorly designed estates and tower blocks can create long-term structural deprivation. As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said, there are some good examples of tower blocks, but there are also some terrible examples, and we think that they should go.
We think that, if we are to avoid the disjointed and haphazard approach that I, like the Select Committee, believe is wrong, there should be a regeneration Minister to oversee regeneration initiatives across Departments. We think that the new regeneration companies will be a vehicle for urban renewal in our major cities. They will involve local communities, while also introducing the private sector expertise and private investment that will enable those communities to find the money to do themselves some good, and keep things under their own control.
I am afraid that the Government are comprehensively failing our cities, and that failure serves only to worsen the crisis in the countryside that the rural White Paper was meant to address. To judge the White Paper, we must assess the Government's attitude to the countryside. The Prime Minister is clear on that: there is no crisis in the countryside. In February last year, he said:
Well, it might not look like a crisis from Islington, but it does look like a crisis in the countryside. Farm industry bankruptcies have risen by 18 per cent. since the election, post offices are closing at a rate of two a day, country pubs are shutting at a rate of six a week and rural police stations are closing at a rate of 90 a year.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): After I referred to the plight of the countryside at Prime Minister's Question Time this week, I received a letter from someone in the countryside who was horrified by the first paragraph of the seventh report--especially the last sentence, which states: