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8.39 pm

Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South): We have heard much from Conservative Members about the inadequacy of spending on the national health service, among other services, but the words that have stuck with me are those

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on the no-nonsense NHS plans that we heard from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health this afternoon. They are no-nonsense plans because the Government recognise the need to recruit and retain nurses and essential health staff in areas such as mine in Luton.

Last week, I visited Luton and Dunstable hospital in my constituency and saw for myself the effects of the Government's investment in the health service. During the next few years, more than £3 million will be invested in our hospital's infrastructure, providing a new accident and emergency department; and new wards and other facilities, including those for cancer care, are opening. We certainly did not see that under the previous Government. I commend the health staff, who work so hard and whom we need to retain in our hospitals so as to continue to improve on the achievements so far.

On Thursday, I will be work shadowing a GP in my constituency. I shall do so because I am aware of the intense pressures that GPs are under in parts of our country. In my constituency, there are often far too few GPs in the areas of greatest deprivation, and they are under intense pressure. In an area that I shall visit on Thursday, the GPs tackle the ill health that is a consequence of the multiple deprivation in Bury Park, where housing is poor. There are overcrowding and health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and the unemployment rate for many Pakistani and Bangladeshi young people is four times the national average.

All those problems are linked and must be tackled if we are truly to give opportunities to all. That is why I welcome not only today's announcements on recruiting and retaining health staff and providing bonuses to retain our GPs, but the other measures in the Budget that address the opportunities for employment, good housing and regeneration. They are part of the bigger picture that makes up the problem of poor health, which must be addressed if we are to tackle the health and other inequalities that we experience in our constituencies.

I particularly welcome the health action zone, which the Government have given to my constituency. It will spend more than £3 million in the next few years to tackle those health inequalities. We are looking at the big picture--what we call the joined-up approach--and spending not only on health, but on regeneration and on opportunities and employment prospects for our communities. The Government are doing the right thing for constituencies such as mine.

I am absolutely astonished about the shadow Chancellor's announcement that the Conservative party intend to match the Government's health spending, by means which simply do not add up, so where would the cuts fall? They would fall on those measures that contribute to creating better health and reducing health inequalities. The Conservative party would slash our regeneration and housing investment funds. In other words, that is another example of the short-termism that we experienced during the 18 years of the previous Tory Government.

The previous Government slashed and burned their way through housing investment, which has been responsible for unprecedented housing need and homelessness. All the

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research shows that their policies have been responsible for creating greater health inequalities because health, housing and job opportunities go together. That is why I find the shadow Chancellor's words incomprehensible.

The Conservative party says that it intends to maintain health spending, while cutting the essential services that contribute to the maintenance of good health. That is why I particularly welcome the Chancellor's comments, which were less discussed, that he intends to ensure that, under the Budget, we regenerate areas of least opportunity and tackle the causes of unemployment and low economic activity.

Those measures are particularly important in my constituency, which is still reeling from the announcement of the Vauxhall closure. I am pleased that there will not now be any compulsory redundancies and that there is a greater prospect that a replacement vehicle will ensure future employment in vehicle manufacturing in my constituency. Government support and their promise of cash has enabled us to make that move. That is in stark contrast to the approach of the member of the Conservative party who said that 3 million unemployed was a price worth paying.

This Government put their money where their mouth is. They have already put money into ensuring that those who lose their jobs as a result of supply chain job losses receive the support, the job opportunities and the reskilling to which the Government believe they are entitled. I pay tribute to the shop stewards at Vauxhall who have worked so hard in partnership with Members of Parliament, Members of the European Parliament and the council to get the best deal for the workers at the plant.

The shock announcement of the Vauxhall closure did not reflect what has been happening in Luton. In fact, Luton has been looking up, although it is difficult to see that through some of the recent announcements. More jobs are coming into the constituency through our business park at Capability Green where Astra Zeneca is about to move in. The airport is expanding, and 5,000 extra jobs could be created in a new business park if we obtain from the Treasury, as we hope we will, funding for the widening of the east Luton corridor. I hope that the Treasury recognises the employment and regeneration opportunities that that development might bring at a time when we need it in Luton.

Let us examine how far Luton has come. In the late 1980s, we had the ignominious reputation of being the negative equity capital of the country. Boom and bust and the Tory years hit Luton hard. Millions of families across the country lost their homes, and repossessions were rife. Interest rates hit 15 per cent., causing havoc for hard-working Luton families. However, I am pleased that, as a result of this and previous Budgets, things are looking up for Luton. That is because the Government have taken tough decisions and not chosen the easy way out, such as the everlasting 1p of the Liberals or the boom-and-bust economics to which the Tories would return. Lutonians now benefit from the fact that they have low interest rates and a stable economy. Mortgage misery is, by and large, a thing of the past for Lutonians.

Under the 18 years of the previous Government, my constituents were struggling against record unemployment, they were struggling to keep their homes and they were struggling against 22 Tory tax rises and worsening public services. They literally paid the price

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of Tory failure. For every £1 that was spent under Tory economic mismanagement of the economy, 42p was spent on the cost of despair--the cost of dole, debt and borrowing. Now things have been turned around: the economy is stable, debt is being repaid at unprecedented levels, and youth unemployment is down in my constituency by an amazing 83 per cent. We now have the equivalent of 84p in the pound to invest in our schools and health service.

I go around my constituency frequently and I have visited all its schools twice in the past year. Everywhere I go, I see new classrooms, new information technology suites and new libraries. My constituency is benefiting from reduced class sizes, and mums tell me that they make a real difference to standards.

Mr. Hayes: When the hon. Lady visits schools, will she point out that spending on education as a percentage of gross domestic product has fallen under this Government, that secondary school class sizes are rising according to Government figures and that, according to House of Commons Library statistics, in early years education, more children are now being taught in classes of more than 30 pupils than was the case under the previous Conservative Government?

Ms Moran: My mums tell me that there are more nursery and early years places in my constituency than there ever have been before. An extra £120 extra is now spent in the classroom per pupil in my constituency.

More money is being made available than ever before for regeneration in deprived parts of my constituency, such as Ramridge and Ashcroft in the centre of Luton. We tried to calculate the amount, and worked out that we are spending at least £21 million on regeneration this year alone, through the single regeneration budget, sports action zones and health action zones. On top of that, the Government have successfully argued for objective 2 and assisted area status, so there are more job and training opportunities than ever before. As I said, the Government put their money where their mouth is.

We recognise that there is much more to do, particularly if we are to create job opportunities for everyone who needs them. One of the problems in my constituency is that business start-up rates are among the lowest in the country, while business failure rates are among the highest. Despite the fact that Luton council's venture fund lends money to start-ups that have difficulty getting traditional funding, we still have a major problem in ensuring that small business start-ups are sustainable and can grow in the long term.

Given the legacy of the 1980s--the Tory dark days--when people lost their homes and the future was uncertain, many traditional lenders are wary of lending money to some of my constituents. That is why I particularly welcome the Budget's proposed tax incentive for community investment. The Chancellor has rightly identified the fact that business creation is often lowest in our most disadvantaged communities, and Luton is a case in point. We need to tackle the causes of low economic activity and unemployment, so we need new financial incentives. Instead of community enterprises being totally reliant on filling in forms to apply for grants--in other words, handouts--we must ensure that we have hand-ups for start-ups and small and growing businesses. That is where the tax incentive comes in.

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By opening up economic and business opportunities to our most disadvantaged communities, we can unlock their potential, as well as flows of private finance which would not ordinarily find their way into such areas. I think of Bury Park, one of the most deprived areas in Luton, as I said earlier, which suffers from low employment and poor housing and has an urgent need for regeneration. I hope that the tax incentive will encourage more social and ethical investment opportunities because some investors have been very slow indeed to recognise the potential of some of our deprived communities.

Community organisations in my area, such as the Bangladeshi youth league, traditionally develop the next generation of community leaders. They could venture forth and develop the next generation of job and wealth creators in the community, ploughing the investment back into the community and helping to regenerate their own areas to a much larger extent than they have the opportunity to do now. Small local enterprises could establish themselves in areas where unemployment and dereliction would otherwise be the norm. The case for the tax credit is powerful--it could fill the gap in the market between finance for regeneration and community development through grants and private finance.

The tax credit also has the potential to deal with the effects of the years of Tory disinvestment in housing. The same areas that need business start-ups need investment in housing. We inherited a £19 billion backlog of disrepair from the previous Government. There is also an acute housing crisis, which is reflected in the fact that 9.3 per cent. of my constituents are in housing need, yet for every homeless person there are seven empty private properties. Investment is needed to bring them back into use. If we extended the tax credit to property, ensuring that debt and equity are taken into account, it could usefully regenerate the physical infrastructure as well as providing job opportunities.

In my former life, I was chief executive of a housing association. The tax credit would have been extraordinarily useful in producing the comprehensive regeneration that we wanted. We did not want to tackle just problems of bricks and mortar, but problems within the community and of employment as well. I commend the Budget and that initiative in particular to the House. They will bring real benefits, especially to mortgage holders in Luton, who will no longer have to wear the label of living in the mortgage misery capital of the country. To my right hon. Friend, whose policies have created mortgage stability, my constituents say, "Cheers."

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