Previous SectionIndexHome Page

1.30 pm

Mr. David Lammy (Tottenham): The urban White Paper contains many of the ingredients that are necessary for a true and genuine urban renaissance.

Many Members have mentioned inner cities. I hope they used the term with some regret. I believe that the urban White Paper sets in motion a paradigm in which we no longer have inner cities, but united cities. My constituents in Tottenham, certainly, want to be part of London and to feel part of London, rather than being socially excluded as many currently are. It is well over 100 years since Dickens wrote "A Tale of Two Cities". We need to move on, and I welcome the White Paper because it encourages the process.

May I be a little reflective? Let us imagine a place that is ripe for urban renaissance--a place with a good and successful transport interchange, with high-speed communication links 20 minutes from the capital; a place with a beautiful canal, and a population who are not car-dependent but use local transport. Let us imagine a place where people live in high-density housing, and there is no shortage of people wanting to move in--a place with a highly developed sense of community, which has the most diverse community not just in London or Europe, but in the world. I am, of course, talking about my constituency. Recently, Tottenham had the third highest unemployment in England, and ranked ninth on the deprivation index. Now I believe it must be ripe for that urban renaissance.

Tottenham will eventually have its day, because we have a Labour Government who believe in supporting the areas most in need of support, helping people into work, helping poor families and the poorest pensioners, investing millions in schools, and regeneration schemes. A lot has been invested in Tottenham in the four years of Labour government--much more than the Conservatives chose to invest.

In areas such as mine, and in many other parts of the country, this is about social exclusion. We use that term very glibly nowadays; we should think about what it means. It means being born into damp and decrepit council housing, sometimes on the 14th or 15th floor of a tower block, and sharing a single bedroom with three or four siblings. I am thinking of housing

26 Jan 2001 : Column 1244

estates that are, unfortunately, not so dissimilar from the one where poor Damilola Taylor met his end, or the one where my constituent Anna Climbie met hers.

Life continues as mum and dad, under such pressure, split up. If mum is strong and can cope under the pressure, she will not give way to alcohol and drugs but, instead, will do two or three jobs to provide for her children. The children go off to school and--surprise, surprise--by their early teens they have developed behavioural problems. In the decades during which I have lived in Tottenham, hundreds of children in areas such as mine have been excluded from school, and the Government have inherited a situation in which many of those children are now perceived as unemployable. Many of them are at home or roaming the streets during the day, and are smoking dope from the age of 12 or 13. That is what the Government inherited, and we have chosen to do something about it; the Conservatives did not. That is the context in which we must view social exclusion, and the context that the urban White Paper aims to address.

The legacy of Tory neglect that allowed the free market to dictate which areas would attract private investment created a most unequal and unjust landscape, resulted in an exodus from inner-city areas for those who could afford it, and abandoned those who could not to suffer decline and deprivation. Poverty and social exclusion increased while the Conservative Government's regeneration spending decreased, leaving a legacy of high unemployment, a £19 billion repair backlog in social housing, more than 1 million homes repossessed between 1990 and 1997, and an unhealthy national economy.

I remind the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) that it was under his party that crime rose by 166 per cent. in my constituency--where I was born--between 1979 and 1997. It was under his party that the odds of being a victim of crime increased from 32 to one to 13 to one. In Tottenham, as in all inner cities, the trends were even more severe than the national picture suggested. The Tories allowed the drugs war to escalate, and violence and theft soared, making people hostages in their own homes.

Hon. Members will appreciate that I am one of the few Members who can truly describe themselves as part of the generation labelled "Thatcher's children". As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) implied, I am truly hip. To that extent, I am uniquely placed to elucidate the inner city problems that the Government inherited.

I remind Opposition Members that it was their leader who, in 1987, said that she wanted to do something about the inner cities--that was her description. She proceeded with a relentless attack on vital public services, and introduced the youth training scheme--which failed--and the deplorable poll tax, which left our communities completely debilitated. I also remind Opposition Members that it was their leader who, in 1992, promised us a classless society, but went on to part-privatise the national health service and opt out of fair European employment legislation that would have changed the lives of the people of my community.

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) made much of the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) believes that we share responsibility for deprivation. I concur with part of that. But let me be clear: I grew up in a working-class community called Tottenham. That community changed to a community of

26 Jan 2001 : Column 1245

the underclass during the 1980s. In the 1990s, it became a community of the socially excluded. I do not believe that my party shares that responsibility with the Conservative party.

I do not want Tottenham simply to attract the wealthy, forcing authentic urban people out of where they live. A spatially-led or design-led vision of our cities and towns is not enough, although it has been the emblem of past regeneration schemes. The urban White Paper makes it clear for the first time that we cannot foist regeneration on a community; regeneration must come from the community. Where capacity does not exist, it must be built. That is why the Government have been brave to take on local education authorities that have consistently failed their children for well over a decade. Capacity must be built. Children cannot be excluded from school. We must work from the bottom up.

Regeneration in places such as Tottenham cannot revolve around building cafes and erecting big multiplexes alone. Plans must take account of the aspirations of communities such as mine. Education is key to that, but we must also encourage people to start their own businesses, increase their spending power and fashion their own renaissance. We must ensure that high fliers brought up in constituencies such as Tottenham do not get out, but choose to stay there. We must encourage and bring in private investment in our high streets.

I do not know which football teams hon. Members support, but I invite them to go to Spurs to watch one of London's finest clubs. We are to have a new chairman, who I hope will be successful. I also invite hon. Members to examine our high road as they travel from Seven Sisters tube up to the Spurs ground--they would see the legacy that we have to fix in Tottenham.

The constituency has much to offer physically. It is in north London--where, I understand, air quality is better--and only three stops from King's Cross. The River Lea runs through the constituency and I believe that we have a rich resource in our diverse community; we have 159 known languages. How will we achieve that regeneration? We will achieve it all through the vision set out in the urban White Paper--a clear vision for our inner cities and genuine regeneration of our people.

The hon. Member for Ashford made fun of a list of Government initiatives that are turning round parts of urban and suburban Britain. The new deal for communities has brought £50 million to the poorest parts of Tottenham. How can he make fun of that? Sure start is getting our kids off to a good start and has been proven successful in Tottenham. We have three centres of early-years excellence in Tottenham. How can he make fun of that? How can he make fun of a Government who are taking on and turning round a failing LEA? We do not want to be an inner-city area. We want to be part of a united London, and the urban White Paper moves us in that direction. I welcome it.

1.44 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) who, like me, has a passion for his constituency. Indeed, we were brought up in our respective constituencies. He may be pleased to hear that I share his support for Spurs, although these days I watch Uxbridge a lot more and the team seems to be doing a little better.

26 Jan 2001 : Column 1246

As I shall address some comments to town centres, I ought to declare a vested interest in town centres, as I am the fourth generation of my family to run the family retail business.

I was delighted to be a member of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs. I have great respect for the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and his fellow Select Committee Chairman, the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). Many of the problems that we are debating today were discussed in previous Select Committee inquiries.

I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) address the issue of suburbia. Although I realise that we cannot have a suburban White Paper, the fact remains that, as has been said, suburbia falls between the two stools of city and countryside. Whereas it shares some of the problems of inner cities, perhaps ironically, it also shares some of the problems found in rural areas. On many suburban estates, the small shopping parade is the equivalent of the small village shop, with the same problems of closure and isolation.

As the hon. Member for Harrow, West said, the suburbs are usually portrayed as leafy areas ideal for a good BBC sitcom in the 1960s and 1970s. The truth, sadly, is different from that portrayal.

I feel slightly guilty when I hear of the problems in other hon. Members' constituencies, such as that of the hon. Member for Tottenham--which I had the pleasure of visiting just before his election. When I hear of the problem of unoccupied houses in other parts of the country, I recognise--as I hope all hon. Members do--that it is not an easily solved one. Whereas some parts of the country have a housing shortage, other parts have houses but not enough people to live in them.

Today's debate has been mostly constructive. However, I am sorry that, as election fever starts to grip the Chamber, doses of party politicking--which in this type of debate is about as constructive as a dose of dysentery--are beginning to break out. If we do not start now to deal with our problems in suburbia, the problems that inner cities are facing, and have faced, may increasingly become our own.

In my constituency, the West Drayton estates already have problems such as burned-out cars, people fearing to go out and gangs of youths hanging around. People are leaving the area. Work has to be done there. I realise that, as resources are always limited, priorities have to be set. I also realise that, as the Select Committee report said, there are probably too many Government initiatives. However, it would take fewer resources to tackle the problems now than to wait for the future.

As I said, I should like to say a little about town centres, which may be the core for regeneration of the urban environment. Various people and organisations have spent time identifying problems in town centres. I should like to recognise the work of the Hillingdon and Harrow branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, and I ask the Minister to consider some of the issues that it has raised. Upward-only business rents are one problem, and business rates are another. As business rates are calculated as a percentage of rent rather than turnover, businesses can be crippled in recessions or downturns in trade.

An increasing problem is posed by businesses operating from residential areas where they have substantial advantages in rates, and probably do not even pay

26 Jan 2001 : Column 1247

business rates. Although I would not want to stop those businesses--such as mobile hairdressers working from home--operating, they are starting a knock-on effect that reaches to businesses trying to operate on high streets or in parades of shops. We need a level playing field.

I think that most people recognise how important it is to promote a resurgence of community feeling. Some Labour Members may be surprised to learn that I am a bit of a fan of devolution. However--before they get too excited--I should say that I am a fan of devolution for Middlesex and of devolution by the London borough of Hillingdon to the old urban district councils from which it was constituted. One of the problems in Hillingdon is that there does not seem to be a communal spirit throughout the borough. Libraries may be able to help here. There is a perception that they are just full of books, but they can be used as community meeting rooms, for example.

Many problems are shared throughout the country, such as the fall in police numbers and the problem of recruiting people to public services because of the lack of affordable housing. Any Government will find it difficult to deal with social trends, but we must realise that more people are living further away from work. Before I came to this House, I could walk into work and it was pleasant also to get home early. Following modernisation, I am now getting home later than when I first came to the House. I am sure that that will be addressed when we revert to the good old system.

The White Paper recommends a standard of one parking space per dwelling. That sounds good but, in practice--at a time when public transport is not as good as we want--it will further discourage people in the suburbs. I understand that the constituents of the hon. Member for Tottenham are not so dependent on the car. In my constituency, public transport is not so good. I ask the Minister to give his colleagues in DETR a nudge regarding the extension of the Central line to Uxbridge, and our tramways proposal.

I support business improvement zones. When I was part of a town centre steering committee, I found it difficult to get businesses to chip in for projects unless they knew that everybody else was putting in money too. Many businesses feel that such zones would be positive. I also agree very much with what has been said about litter, as the environment in which we live and work affects our view.

Previously, the Select Committee inquired into parks and urban spaces. Although money comes from the centre to local authorities, as the hon. Member for Harrow, West said, increasingly SSAs are not reflecting the needs of local communities. There may be a need to grant money for this matter specifically. Parks and open spaces are very important for the community but they are the first thing to go when there are budget cuts.

There are too many initiatives, and there is too much talk and not enough action. There are good intentions; previous Governments as well as this Government have had good intentions. Generally, we are waiting to see some action. I ask the Minister to remember the plea from the suburbs. We must look at the problem now before it is too late.

Next Section

IndexHome Page