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10.1 am

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): I declare an interest as a chartered surveyor, as listed in the Register of Members' interests.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Daisley) on a maiden speech of clarity, vision and bravery. The House will have noted carefully what he said. It was not a partisan speech, and it is good to know

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that Brent council is not as badly run as it used to be. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his time as leader of that council; he will be welcome in this House.

I particularly agree with the hon. Gentleman on two points. First, I agree that to have an effective regeneration scheme, there must be an efficient council, as the local authority plays a major part in such schemes. Secondly, I agree that local people must be engaged with any regeneration scheme. If such a scheme is to work, local people must have ownership of it. The hon. Gentleman made a number of sound points and the House will appreciate the genuine nature of his speech.

We are debating Government measures to regenerate disadvantaged areas. Listening to Labour Members and Ministers, one would think that all the ills of this country started in 1979 and finished in 1997, but the world simply is not like that. Furthermore, the public are rather fed up with that approach. They want constructive policies from the Government and they want the Opposition to hold the Government to account. They want to see what realistic proposals can come out of debates such as this. I hope that, this morning, we will hear some constructive suggestions. Unless we get inner-city regeneration right, our economic growth and quality of life will suffer.

My hon. Friend and neighbour, the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), made a pertinent point—it is not just inner cities that have disadvantaged areas. I represent the Cotswolds, a relatively prosperous area of the country. However, if one carefully examines all the villages in my area, one finds small pockets of poverty. I have gone out all night with the police in Cheltenham and seen the ward to which my hon. Friend referred. One can see that it is as disadvantaged a ward as any in our major cities. Sometimes we can get a skewed view of the "disadvantaged areas" of this country. Having said that, we must put the debate in context. The scale of the problem of disadvantaged areas in our big cities is much larger and deserves much closer attention.

I was disturbed to see some unfortunate figures showing the rise in crime in some inner-city areas. I hesitate to give these figures because one does not wish to cause alarm and despondency, but the House should be aware of them. For example, in Birmingham, crimes of violence against the person for the year until March 2001 increased by 18.7 per cent. In Nottingham, the figure is 17.9 per cent., and in Tower Hamlets, it is 10.8 per cent. Those are significant increases. Reported robberies increased in Lambeth by 38.4 per cent., in Leeds by 33.8 per cent. and in Sheffield by 46.8 per cent. It is difficult to expect those areas to be regenerated if we do not tackle the increase in crime.

Mr. Gray: In the light of those figures, was my hon. Friend surprised to hear the Minister apparently claim some success for the Government's policies on regenerating inner cities because the crime figures had fallen? If there were to be a direct correlation between the two, presumably—since my hon. Friend has proved that crime has gone up—the Government's policies have not worked at all.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: My hon. Friend is right. Nobody likes crime to increase and I do not want to make this a political issue. Crime causes a detriment to the country as a whole—

Phil Hope (Corby): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I will give way in a second. Crime is something that we all deplore and something that we

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should discuss with our local police forces and local authorities. The Government must pay attention to it and see whether it can be reduced. We note almost every day stories in the Evening Standard concerning crime in London, which is getting distinctly worse, particularly gangland crime, vehicle crime and mobile phone theft.

Phil Hope: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I have not forgotten the hon. Gentleman; God forbid. I could never forget him. If I do not give way, he will persist throughout the debate, so it will pay me to give way to him. Suffice it to say, crime is a blight on society.

Phil Hope: The hon. Gentleman quotes selectively from statistics about crime increases in certain urban areas. The fact is that crime in Britain has fallen by 12 per cent. During the Tory years, crime doubled. Before the hon. Gentleman talks about not wanting crime to increase, can he explain why, during his party's time in office, crime significantly increased?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: That is the kind of knockabout politics that I was trying to avoid. Frankly, such comments bring the House and the hon. Gentleman into contempt. Those figures hide a lot of human misery and misfortune for the victims. I hope that the speeches of Labour Members will be constructive. [Interruption.] I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is chuntering. If he cannot do better than that, he should keep quiet.

The Prime Minister once pledged:

We would all agree with that, along with several other of the Prime Minister's pledges and statements and the high ideals that he set for his Government. The problem is that the delivery is not always quite as he portrays it.

The Government's own figures show that under Labour inequality has risen overall since 1997, and there has been little or no change in the percentage of working age adults below low-income thresholds, which vary according to median income. We all want the disadvantaged and those on low incomes to be helped on to the ladder, so that they can help themselves and play a full part in society.

We need to look at the Government's regeneration policies. During a debate in Westminster Hall the week before last, I pointed out that Labour's policy is fragmented, and I read out a list of schemes and quangos that have been introduced since the Government came to power. I do not want to make a partisan point, but the number of schemes is a major part of the problem. As practice shows, when there is a plethora of schemes and quangos, nobody knows precisely what they are and as a result their budgets are underspent. I read out some of the host of schemes in the earlier debate and I shall do so again because it is worth concentrating on this matter. They include

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The Opposition do not believe that such schemes are the best way forward. For example, at the last election we advocated putting one Minister in charge of regeneration. The problem is that the Department of Trade and Industry has one view, the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has another, the Home Office has a third and the Department for Work and Pensions has a fourth, so we are not getting the joined-up government that we need. I urge the Minister to consider whether matters can be simplified and an explanation given to the stakeholders, so that everybody knows exactly what funds are available and best use can be made of them. For goodness sake, such a scheme should be for the benefit of this country. If it is not being used, let us get rid of it.

Opposition Members want a more effective and cohesive policy on urban regeneration. For example, we are particularly exercised about the new targets for building on green fields. We want to protect our green fields; we do not want the setting of housing and other development targets to result in the building of a huge number of houses and other buildings on our green fields. One of our fears is that the Government's new planning Green Papers will be used to force local authorities to undertake such development. We believe that, as the hon. Member for Brent, East said, local authorities have a democratic mandate to take decisions on schemes that affect their areas. We worry that the Government are increasingly taking democratic accountability away from local authorities and giving it to bodies such as regional development agencies. We do not want a regionalisation of planning policy, but I fear that the Government's planning Green Papers are moving in that direction.

Having said that, as a chartered surveyor I recognise only too well that planning is a major instrument of urban regeneration. We share the Government's aim, as expressed in the Green Papers, that planning needs to be streamlined and speeded up, and to be more responsive to local and business needs. As the Green Papers make clear, although there is often a great battle, 90 per cent. of all applications are eventually accepted. In other words, an extremely cumbersome system deals mainly with just the 10 per cent. of cases that are turned down.

We welcome some of the proposals outlined in the detail of those Green Papers. For example, one thing that slows down many major planning applications is the negotiation of the 106 agreement. I should explain to those who are not familiar with that procedure that under it, the developer provides reimbursement—such as a new roundabout—for damage done to the infrastructure by a large development. In that way, additional schemes can be put in place to boost the infrastructure and enable it to cope with that large development. The problem is that the existing 106 procedure is cumbersome and arbitrary and takes too long to negotiate. I am pleased that reference has been made to the levering-in of private sector funds, which we all want to see. That will help developments, which in turn will help our rural and urban communities.

For far too long, the Government and their supporters have said in debates such as this that regeneration must be undertaken by the monolithic hand of the state. We believe that the private sector has a major role to play in urban regeneration in our inner cities. Innovative schemes—for example, urban development corporations—proved very

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successful in docklands and in city centres such as Leeds and Glasgow. One reason why is that they brought the private sector into partnership with such companies. Private sector involvement is vital. It is interesting to note that some Labour Members are nodding. I am glad that they accept the need for private sector involvement in urban regeneration, but it is therefore odd that they do not accept its involvement in the running of public services such as the railways and the tube. That seems an odd dichotomy.

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