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2.12 pm

Ms Keeble: With the leave of the House, I will respond to the debate.

We have heard a wide range of speeches in what has been an important and excellent debate that highlighted the policies and initiatives that the Government are using to give hope to millions. Hon. Members also set out the difficult issues with which we have to grapple as we regenerate different regions and communities. For many, protection against poverty is created by a strong and stable economy, which the Government have produced through careful economic management. Our regeneration policies will ensure that all regions and local communities benefit from that sound economy. What a contrast that is to previous policies that sometimes dealt with the symptoms but not the causes of poverty and economic disadvantage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Daisley) made a welcome and outstanding maiden speech. I pay tribute to his work as a council leader in which he had to deal with some of the difficult issues that have been raised today. That role will have given him an insight into the needs of disadvantaged communities and the way in which we can regenerate them.

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My hon. Friend spoke in particular of health and its role in regeneration. I agree that that is often overlooked, but the Government have identified it as a key policy. Our substantial efforts have included providing £100,000 to Hyndburn as part of the neighbourhood renewal fund to tackle the high level of coronary heart disease in that community. It is fundamental that sound health is the basis for a stable community and a sound economy. The Labour party has always supported that approach. That is why we set up the national health service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) was one of a number of Members who set out the case for London. London Members have been outstanding in their advocacy on behalf of their city. My hon. Friend showed the breadth of the measures that have been taken by the Government to tackle disadvantage—for example, sure start and the new deal. There are many other such programmes. She raised two specific points about the needs index, one being about crime. Currently, we have a lack of standardised data, but the neighbourhood renewal unit is working on that with the Home Office.

My hon. Friend also mentioned mobility. Sometimes mobility can be difficult to interpret. A lack of mobility can be a symptom of people being trapped in a cycle of poverty. She is right to say that the needs of London are different from those elsewhere. All Members who have contributed to the debate have spoken about the needs of their communities. The Government recognise that different communities have different needs. That is why we have proposed a strategy that ensures that particular needs are recognised and met.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley) spoke eloquently about the economic changes in the area that she represents, and the good results that are being achieved by partnership working. I assure her that the Government have a ministerial design group. We also have good practice guides to reinforce the important role that good-quality design has to play in regeneration. There are some outstanding examples, such as the library in Peckham, the art gallery in Walsall, public art in Birmingham, the new school on the Greenwich peninsula and some demonstration housing projects in Liverpool. These examples underpin the role of good design.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Coleman) spoke of the excellent work that is being undertaken by the new deal for communities. He underlined the scale of disadvantage in London.

I pay tribute to the work that a number of London boroughs have done through imaginative and innovative regeneration policies and programmes. In many respects, they have pioneered some of the work in turning around disadvantaged areas. They have taken on some of the macro problems of which my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Jon Cruddas) spoke, as well as some small-scale schemes that will turn their areas around.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) spoke of the impact of the education action zones, sure start and European money. He demonstrated that there are a plethora of schemes, and that can itself be a problem. I shall come to that later. These schemes are designed to turn difficult areas around.

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The Government recognise the problems of some seaside towns. I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend and other Members who represent seaside towns are undertaking to find solutions to some of the problems that affect their constituencies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King) made a typically eloquent speech. She rightly identified the need for community involvement. Her chairing of her local partnership for the new deal for communities is well recognised as a major factor in its success.

My hon. Friend talked about housing and its role in regeneration. She will know that today a conference is sitting that is considering the housing strategy for London. I am sure that there will be a lively and informative debate. I hope it will deal with some of the strategic needs for housing in the capital.

My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope), who is my close parliamentary neighbour, spoke of the success of Government strategies. He was one of several Members who identified the importance of transport for regeneration. His constituency did well in the rural bus challenge. Work is continuing to find solutions to the transport needs of the town.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) outlined developments north of the border where a social justice strategy prioritises the elimination of child poverty and the establishment of full employment. Regeneration work in Scotland is being undertaken by the new housing and regeneration agency, which emphasises, among other issues, the partnership working that we have supported so strongly in London.

I assure my hon. Friend that local authorities can introduce quality contracts. The Government recognise the importance of local transport, particularly bus transport, to regeneration, combating social exclusion and giving people access to jobs. That is one reason why we have put money into the rural and urban bus challenges, which have produced imaginative schemes.

We have also provided financial incentives for land decontamination, an important issue that was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham, and one that is crucial for successful brownfield site development.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Pond) gave a good example from his own constituency of the way in which town centre development can act as a driver for regeneration. He gave a careful analysis of the role played by work undertaken in his locality in improving the whole borough. It is well recognised that retail-led regeneration can be very effective. That is one reason behind the proposals for business improvement districts, which we hope will be on stream by 2004 as they require primary legislation. In some areas people are already building partnerships and introducing measures that will pave the way for successful business improvement districts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham referred to the grim statistics of failure and underlined the need for mainstream services to address those disadvantages, setting out the enormous scale of the task of regenerating east London. Essentially, he made the case for the regional dimension in economic development and pointed out that east London represents a major development project. That has been well recognised by the Government—less so by the Conservative party—through

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the establishment of the regional development agencies and the careful work that is being undertaken in relation to the development of the Thames gateway. We recognise the importance of providing a sound transport infrastructure.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister referred to a plethora of schemes relating to regeneration. Is she therefore admitting that there are too many schemes; and if so, will she undertake to study the whole regeneration process and simplify it?

Ms Keeble: I shall address that in my response to the points raised by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms). There is an issue about the number of schemes. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that in my opening speech I did not refer to them all.

My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) referred to the important development of the regional economy and gave an effective rationale for and defence of the regional development agencies and the important role that they can play in partnership with local authorities and the private sector.

The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton–Brown) said that poverty did not begin in 1979 and end in 1997 and of course he is right. We recognise that there is still too much poverty in Britain today and it is one of our primary aims to eliminate child poverty in particular. Our argument with the Conservatives is that when they were in government their policies contributed to the distress of the impoverished communities and failed to put in place policies that tackled the structural inequalities in our society. They failed to do that because it was not a priority for them, but it is a priority for us.

In 1979, 10 per cent. of children lived in households with below half the average income, and in 1994-95 that had risen to almost a third.

Mr. Gray: Why are Labour's policies not working?

Ms Keeble: There are no quick fixes to regenerating communities, eliminating poverty or dealing with the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham raised. We have set a 10 or 20-year target, because we recognise that it will take more than a generation to end the cycle of disadvantage that has blighted the lives of so many people and communities.

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