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House of Commons

Wednesday 19 November 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Double Taxation Relief

The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported Her Majesty's Answer to the Address, as follows:

I have received your addresses praying that the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Chile) Order 2003, and the Double Taxation Relief (Taxes on Income) (Australia) Order 2003 be made in the form of the drafts laid before your House on 8 September 2003.

I will comply with your request.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Green Spaces

1. Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): What action his Department is taking to increase access to green spaces in urban areas. [139307]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Yvette Cooper): Parks and green spaces make a big difference to local communities. For too many years, they were left to decline. That is why the Government are investing £200 million over the next three years to regenerate local parks and green spaces in towns and cities across the country.

Dr. Palmer : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's reply, but although overall spending is no doubt helpful, is there a concrete way in which local groups can apply for support? Often, local groups know what is most needed.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right—often, community groups, including bodies such as Friends of the Parks, are vital to the regeneration of local parks and green spaces. They can apply for the living spaces fund, which will provide £30 million to support about 1,500 projects over the next three years, because we think it

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right that community groups as well as local authorities should benefit from more support to improve green spaces.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire): Does the Minister agree that her Department is being even more successful in the policy of increasing access to urban areas in green spaces by demolishing large parts of the north in order to concrete over more of the south-east?

Yvette Cooper: As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is complete nonsense. I am sorry that his party is so little concerned about parks and green spaces. I checked the record of the shadow junior Ministers' interest in parks: they have referred to parks 56 times; unfortunately, 33 of those references were to car parks.

Local Government Reorganisation

2. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): If he will make a statement on the boundary committee's timetable for publishing local government reorganisation proposals, consequent on the establishment of regional government. [139308]

The Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire (Mr. Nick Raynsford): The boundary committee will publish draft recommendations for consultation on 1 December and is required to make its final recommendations no later than 25 May 2004.

Mr. Chaytor : I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that where there is no consensus on the future shape of local government—as is the case in east Lancashire, for example—it is crucial that the boundary committee place before the electorate all the serious and practical options for the future shape of district councils? Furthermore, will he assure the House that the consultation will be genuine and that the committee will listen carefully to all representations made?

Mr. Raynsford: I assure my hon. Friend that the matter is one for the boundary committee and that we have made it clear in our guidance to the committee that we expect it to review the options for achieving the best form of unitary local government and to produce options on which decisions can be made by the people in the referendum.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): First, let me say what a pleasure it is to find myself once again doing battle opposite the Minister. I seem to remember that we last tangled on the Transport Bill. Since that legislation passed, the railways have deteriorated and National Air Traffic Services has proved to be a disaster. Does he think that regional assemblies will be as successful as the railways and NATS were under his leadership?

Will the Minister explain how much regional assemblies will cost? We are having boundary reviews to establish regional government, yet the cost in London is three times what was expected, and that cost is being

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passed straight back to the council tax payer through record increases in council tax. That does not augur well for the popularity of the right hon. Gentleman's policy.

Mr. Raynsford: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position, and look forward to debating these issues. I am sure that he will have a fertile discussion with the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry), who is now the shadow Secretary of State and who in a speech in York on 29 September 2001 said:

for regional government—

I am delighted to know that the hon. Gentleman is part of a team and answering to a shadow Secretary of State who clearly supports the concept of regional government.

The hon. Gentleman knows that we have spelt out in the White Paper our estimates on costs. The people will decide in the referendum whether our proposals will, as we believe, deliver good value for money and restore democracy to the regions.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): It is all very well to talk about regional government and changing unitary authorities. The law provides that county boundaries can be crossed. Will my right hon. Friend explain how that will appear on the ballot paper? There is great confusion in my area, including Cumberland and Morecambe bay. We do not understand how people will be able to vote on the issue.

Mr. Raynsford: The boundary committee will make proposals on precisely that matter in two weeks' time. It will be entirely appropriate for people to have information about the proposed changes, their impact and the options available before they decide. When I was in Cumbria a while back talking to representatives of local government, it was clear to me that there were two or three clearly held views on what would be the best options. It was recognised that there were appropriate boundaries reflecting natural communities that could make good new boundaries for unitary authorities in those areas. I am sure that these matters will be decided properly by the people when they come to vote in the referendum on these matters.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): Will the Minister confirm that it is thanks to a Liberal Democrat amendment that local people will have both the choice and a vote on local government reorganisation? Will he reaffirm his previous commitment that the Government will publish a draft powers Bill before any referendums on regional assemblies? Will he confirm that the Government are considering devolving more power to future regional assemblies than was contained in the White Paper "Your Region, Your Choice"?

Mr. Raynsford: I am pleased that we saw eye to eye with the hon. Gentleman's party over the benefit both of giving the option of regional government and of giving a choice to local communities on unitary local government. The proposals for the powers of elected

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regional assemblies are spelt out in the White Paper. We have already demonstrated through the fire White Paper that we are prepared to change such arrangements in appropriate circumstances. We believe that it is right to go forward on the basis that we will be giving people more option to shape their future in the regions where they choose to do that.

Neighbourhood Wardens

3. Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne): If he will make a statement on the work of neighbourhood wardens. [139309]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): Neighbourhood wardens can play a vital role in the revitalisation of some of our most challenging neighbourhoods. Neighbourhood renewal funding is supporting some 500 warden schemes across the country, and other forms of funding have provided up to 3,000 wardens. That is why I announced on 14 August the extension of funding to all street warden schemes for one extra year. Wardens have been welcomed by the communities in which they work. They are successful and they have proven to be effective in reducing crime and improving community safety and the local environment.

Ms Atherton : I thank my right hon. Friend. He is a good friend of Cornwall and a regular visitor. When he next comes to Cornwall, will he visit and congratulate the Redruth street wardens, who have recently received national acclaim, and perhaps bring some more money to this incredibly popular scheme?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks. I certainly enjoy visiting Cornwall on my regional visits from time to time. I am pleased that, in her constituency, the North Kerrier warden scheme received an award for its work that was presented by my hon. Friend. Last night, I attended the British Urban Regeneration Association—BURA—awards, at which the Falmouth Beacon regeneration partnership was given the sustainability award. The House will be interested to know that a community getting together was able to reduce house burglaries by 40 per cent., reduce accidents involving children by 50 per cent., reduce asthma and chest complaints, improve education results and achieve a £180,000 fuel saving from energy efficiency. It shows that when members of a community get together, they can make a real difference.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster): The London borough of Havering has a highly successful neighbourhood wardens scheme, which is coming to the end of its third year. I believe that I just heard the Deputy Prime Minister say that an additional year's funding has been allowed. When the Government funding comes to an end, hard-pressed councils such as Havering have the choice of putting up the council tax or withdrawing the service. What would the Deputy Prime Minister advise them to do?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: The hon. Lady posed a fair question. On 14 August we decided to extend the programme by one year. The programme arose from the social exclusion unit's recommendation and was to be temporary, for one year. It has been so successful that we have extended it, but the intention is to feed it into mainstream departmental expenditure. So far, 60 per cent. of councils have achieved that, and we are negotiating with the rest. It is a successful scheme and we shall do all we can to make sure that the funding is continued.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West): Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Jess Pickard and his neighbourhood warden team in my constituency on contributing to a very creditable drop in crime and antisocial behaviour and in hoping that that valuable work will continue?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Yes. I can guarantee that the work will continue. My hon. Friend has shown that wardens in his area have made a real difference. Without giving all the figures again, I can report that in one area burglary was reduced by 90 per cent. That is a result of the ordinary community getting together and doing something itself. The programme has turned out to be extremely successful, and my hon. Friend can be assured that I shall do everything to see that it is maintained.

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