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1.38 pm

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton–Brown) started his speech with an appeal for a bipartisan approach. I am not sure how his ancestor, whom I am informed was a former Speaker of the House, would have viewed the hon. Gentleman's definition of bipartisan. However, in the spirit of his redefinition of the word, I should like to respond to the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), who said that the message the Conservative party is receiving from the electorate is, "Come back, all is forgiven." I am not a theologian, but my understanding is that for forgiveness to be offered it must be asked for, and not one Conservative Member has apologised for a single policy adopted by the previous Tory Government. Therefore, I cannot see forgiveness being offered or forthcoming from the electorate.

I am one of nine Members—at the moment, anyway—representing the city of Glasgow. [Laughter.] There is no hidden agenda in my speech.

Glasgow is Scotland's first city, though not its capital. I need not go over in detail the often tragic history of Glasgow's 20th century decline from being a city of more than 1 million citizens and the home of the world's finest shipbuilding industry to a city of barely 600,000 people with high unemployment and some of the worst ill health and deprivation in the country. If poverty was Glasgow's only problem, however, the plight of some of my constituents would be less serious than it is. As Labour Members know, poverty leads to many other social ills, a fact repeatedly denied by the Conservative party when it was in Government.

Poverty leads directly to crime, drug abuse and poor health. As unemployment and poverty in Glasgow have reached new heights, so have crime, drug abuse, drug dealing, money laundering and violence. I served for three months—it felt much longer—on the Standing Committee that scrutinised the Proceeds of Crime Bill. Many of its provisions will tackle those who seek to capitalise on others' misery, but grinding poverty can be tackled only by giving people real jobs.

The House should be in no doubt about the seriousness of Glasgow's predicament. I referred earlier to Glasgow being Scotland's first city, but not its capital. I should

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prefer Glasgow to be the capital of Scotland, and I feel an early-day motion coming on. It may not be helpful if I go down that road now; others might follow me, and I can imagine my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) making a strong case if we give him half a chance. That said, Glasgow is the first city of Scotland, capital or not, and Scotland cannot thrive while its largest city struggles. Just one example of the problems is the fact that 19 per cent. of the working age population claimed sickness or disability benefits in August 2000.

I do not want to dwell entirely on the negative side of my city. A great deal is happening that is positive, and I pay tribute to the members of Glasgow city council and their energetic leader, Councillor Charlie Gordon. A sense of optimism can be felt in a large part of the city. The council inherited a difficult situation when it was created from the ashes of Strathclyde regional council and Glasgow city council in 1996. The administration has shown imagination and creativity in addressing Glasgow's problems. The prospective wholesale transfer of the council's housing stock is a good example of that.

Notwithstanding the mess that resulted from the then Tory Government's utterly cynical reorganisation of local government in 1996, Governments of different political persuasion have contributed to a gradual, if fitful, regeneration of the city over the past 30 years. I welcome, as did the city council, the abolition by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in November of stamp duty on all residential and business property transactions worth between £60,000 and £150,000 in designated disadvantaged areas. Castlemilk in my constituency has benefited from that, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his imaginative initiative.

That said, I must agree with the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) that the benefits of the initiative may not be widely felt, at least in the short term. Glasgow city council concluded that

Glasgow benefits from better transport links than anywhere else in Scotland. West-central Scotland has the largest commuter rail network in the UK outside London. Glasgow underground, operated by my former employer, Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive, carries 15 million passengers a year.

Even so, bus services, which are crucial to the mobility of any work force, remain the most popular form of public transport in Scotland. The Government have an opportunity to make a real difference and a major improvement in that respect. The Conservative Government's deregulation of the bus industry in 1986 was an unmitigated disaster for the travelling public, though I accept that it was not so for those who own shares in private bus companies. There is no evidence yet that quality partnerships—voluntary agreements between local authorities and private bus companies—can deliver the improvements in local bus services that are essential to the economic well-being of our country. That is a particular problem in Glasgow, where car ownership is well below the national average.

I hope that this Government—I cannot speak for the Scottish Executive—have not missed the opportunity to introduce quality contracts: exclusive franchises to give

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ordinary members of the public a proper, regular and dependable bus service. Glasgow is rare among post-industrial British cities in that it has inherited a decent road network, despite having depended on its rail network for many years. I welcome the building of the M74 motorway extension because of the number of jobs that it will create and because there is a missing link in the motorway network around Glasgow, which must be filled if we are to regenerate the city.

Computer models have shown that the chance of creating local jobs for local people beyond a three-mile radius decreases exponentially, so one of the keys to unlocking the potential for job creation in cities such as Glasgow—it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Poole—is derelict land reclamation. Writing in the "Oxford Review of Economic Policy", one of my constituents, the economist David Webster, points out that cities' brownfield land is

He refers to the success of Leeds, which, although it is known for its service industry, has done remarkably well in attracting manufacturing jobs. That is no accident. It is because of its proactive policy on land reclamation.

The key is bringing derelict land back into use, particularly contaminated land. Nine per cent. of Glasgow's total land area is currently vacant or derelict, yet unfortunately the importance of that issue has been downgraded by Scottish Enterprise in particular and by the Scottish Executive. It is crucial that we not only identify those parts of the city but invest enough money to rehabilitate them. That is the only way in which to get new companies to come into cities to set up factories and distribution centres that will employ local people.

As I have said, Scottish Enterprise is the main agency in that respect. It needs to push land reclamation to the top of the local economic agenda. I accept that it will involve serious amounts of money. I hope that the Government will see it as a serious enough problem to contribute that money.

I understand that there is a lack of time in this debate and I want to give colleagues a chance to speak. Not only am I extremely proud of the history of my city but I believe that it has a great future. Politicians leading it at city council and national levels are committed to it. We can look forward to a brighter economic future.

1.47 pm

Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) talked about the optimism for the future of his constituency. I want to say a few words about the experience of regeneration in my constituency and some of the principles on which that is based, and to underline the optimism there.

Gravesham has a proud history. As I take every opportunity to remind the House, Dickens lived there and Pocahontas died there. It has the oldest cast iron pier in the world and the oldest chartered market in the south of England. People used to come in their droves to Gravesham to promenade along the river or in Rosherville gardens, but for much of the previous century it went through a sadder time. The older heavy industries, such as paper manufacturing and cement quarrying, declined, unemployment rose, prosperity fell and the local environment suffered. During the 1980s and 1990s the

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area was hard hit by both rising unemployment and negative equity. Now things are changing. There is growing prosperity in that part of north Kent, in particular in Kent Thameside. Crime has fallen by 10 per cent. in the past year alone. It has become one of the most dynamic areas of the country.

Gravesham borough council has won beacon status for its work in town centre regeneration, which was based on several principles. The first is partnership, which has been mentioned by several speakers. As my hon. Friend the Minister underlined in her opening remarks—I apologise for missing the first few moments of her speech—regeneration used to be something that was done to local people and local communities; it was not done by them and with them. Before embarking on the regeneration of Gravesham town centre, Gravesham borough council and its partners in the private sector, the voluntary organisations and the public services undertook a major public consultation exercise to find out exactly what people wanted from their town centre and their borough.

The main message that came through was that local people are proud of their history and heritage, but ambitious for their future. Regeneration of Gravesham as a whole, and of the town centre in particular, was based on plans to revitalise that heritage but also to ensure that we have a living and vibrant community, with repopulation of the town centre to bring the whole borough back to life.

We are proud of our history, but we are not nostalgic. We shall ensure that we can build that vibrant and prosperous future. Many of the challenges that we have faced recently have stimulated our determination to do that—not least the fact that two of the largest shopping centres in Europe are close to our borders. Thurrock is just across the river, while the new Bluewater shopping centre—the largest in Europe—is five miles away along the A2.

In Gravesham, we could have rolled over and said, "Well that's the end of our town centre in Gravesend." The competition with our retailers could have been seen as a threat: we saw it as an opportunity. Every year, 30 million people visit Bluewater, but the 1,750 people who work in the complex provide the mechanism for bringing regeneration and spending power into the borough.

We have worked in partnership, not only locally with the private, voluntary and public sectors in Gravesham, but with those key strategic elements that are so important in the Government's approach to regeneration. We are making sure that we build a future that meets the needs of local communities and local people.

We are not talking only about economic regeneration. The second important principle is social regeneration. In the past, regeneration too often left local communities and local people behind. Sustainable development requires the benefits to be shared throughout the community.

One of the reasons that my constituency—like those of many Members on both sides of the House—has experienced growing prosperity is due to the range of national policies that helped to ensure that the poorer sections of the community were able to share in that general rising prosperity. The national minimum wage, the working families tax credit, the new deal and the new tax credits that we debated yesterday all ensure not only that the proceeds of regeneration are more fairly shared,

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but that, due to the extra spending power of those sections of the community, regeneration itself becomes a driving force for sustainable economic renewal.

Economic, social and environmental regeneration are all important. Lord Rogers pointed out that

I warmly welcome the Government's emphasis on ensuring that, wherever possible, new housing developments are on brownfield sites and we avoid developments on greenfield sites. In my constituency—as in Glasgow—we have more than enough brownfield sites for those developments. By using town centre sites for social housing and for housing for our much-needed key workers we can revitalise the town centre while ensuring that we do not eat further into greenfield sites and thus into the quality of life of people in the community as a whole.

My constituency is a mixed rural and urban community. It is mainly urban, but there are some important rural parts and many attractive villages. We need to preserve the quality of the rural areas, for both parts of the community. As many hon. Members have said, we must ensure that, in debate on this subject, we talk about rural as well as urban regeneration. There is not a trade-off between those two. To bring about sustainable regeneration, they must go hand in hand.

We also need to improve the quality of the environment and the quality of life for those living in urban areas, which is why schemes such as home zone are so important. I am pleased that a £400,000 home zone project was recently announced for one of the most deprived parts of my constituency, in Denton and the Northcourt estate. It will mean environmental improvement, better play areas, traffic calming and a general improvement in the quality of life for people living in that area.

Finally, as other hon. Members have suggested, regeneration is also about the quality of public services. Transport, as we all know, is important. One of the driving forces of regeneration in my part of the country will of course be the channel tunnel rail link. Its Ebbsfleet station, which will be in my constituency, will be a major source of economic dynamism in the years ahead. Local transport projects such as fast track will ensure that we have accessible and affordable transport links to draw together the different parts of Kent Thameside and to ensure that everyone can share in prosperity.

Regeneration is also about other forms of public services, such as the health service. Many hon. Members have spoken about education. Regeneration is about the healthy living centre that we are about to establish, the new community hospital that we are in the process of building, and the new medical centre. All these things are a way of ensuring that regeneration has a real impact on the quality of people's lives.

With the optimism that I spoke about at the start of my speech, we can look forward in our part of Kent—previously a deprived area—to real dynamism, growth and prosperity in the years ahead, and a real improvement in the quality of people's lives, assisted by £14 million of European Union urban funding. We will ensure that that

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funding is spent in such a way that it meets the needs of local people and communities, and ensures regeneration not only of the economy but of the environment and the community.

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