Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Gentleman would do well to bear in mind that, if we are trying to have a serious debate about important issues such as the decline in the number of people travelling by air since 11 September, it is reasonable to mention one of the main causes of that decline. If we are talking about the state of the railways, it is reasonable to refer to the consequence of his party's botched privatisation.

Dr. Ladyman: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way before he moves too far away from the subject of the channel tunnel rail link. Is he aware that the 10-year strategic railway plan for the south-east—he will have read it but the Opposition probably have not, as they do not consider the south-east—establishes in explicit detail that it will be possible to use the channel tunnel rail link for domestic services? For the first time, we in east Kent have a real prospect of a fast train service to London.

Mr. Raynsford: I alluded to that point in my remarks, and I entirely endorse my hon. Friend's view that the link will be a huge asset not just for those travelling from London to the continent, but for people in Kent and east London, who will be able to make use of the greatly improved transport facilities.

Apart from increased investment, a thriving economy and an improving quality of life in London and the south-east, there has been a further striking change in London compared with 10 years ago. That change is in the city's governance. Ten years ago London, alone of all major world cities, had no democratic city-wide authority, following the previous Conservative Government's characteristically arrogant and spiteful decision to abolish the Greater London council. At that time, we said that, on coming to power, we would restore democratic city-wide governance to London, and we have honoured that pledge by creating a Mayor and a separate elected assembly, which together constitute the Greater London Authority.

A further telling comparison can be made between London and the south-east today, and 10 years ago: the number of Tory MPs who represent, and who used to represent, the area. In March 1992, the Conservative party had 48 MPs in London and 61 in the south-east, and felt that it was sitting pretty in the region. Today, after three consecutive electoral setbacks, it has just 13 MPs in London and 53 in the south-east. It was unable to hold on to Harrow, to Croydon, to Hove, to Hastings, to Guildford, to Basildon—[Interruption.]—and to many other places that used to be thought of as true blue. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members should not shout down the Minister. He must be given a hearing.

Mr. Raynsford: The Conservative party was rightly hammered by the electorate in what it thought of as its own back yard.

12 Mar 2002 : Column 774

The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar has better reason than most to understand the shift of the past 10 years. Ten years ago, he was about to embark on a new career, exchanging Bradford council for a south-east constituency, deserting the gritty north for the fleshpots of the south-east, and in the process trying to make the first ever transition from bluff Yorkshireman to Essex man. I have to say—with some affection for the hon. Gentleman—that he has not managed that transition entirely convincingly.

London and the south-east are the economic powerhouse of the United Kingdom economy. Together, they account for nearly a third of the UK's total gross domestic product, and they have a massive impact on the economy of the country as a whole. London is the world's largest centre for international trade in equities, with double the turnover of New York. Inner London is now by far the richest region in the European Union. Its gross domestic product per head is 240 per cent. of the European Union average. Its closest rival, Hamburg, stands at just 180 per cent. This Government are determined to reinforce that economic success story.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): Does my right hon. Friend accept that rising standards in our schools are a key contributor to the improvement in London's economy? To cement further his reputation as a shrewd judge of funding applications, will he have a word with his colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills to ensure that they back a private finance initiative bid from the London borough of Harrow to upgrade Rooks Heath high school, which is in my constituency?

Mr. Raynsford: I have great admiration for my hon. Friend's skill in advancing his constituency interests and his prescience in referring to education when he cannot have known that I was about to come precisely to that topic. I will of course pass on his comments to my colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills.

In an age when information, skills and technology are the key to prosperity and growth, education is fundamental. For too long education attainment standards in London and the south-east lagged behind our European competitors, and London lagged behind the rest of the UK. This Government have given top priority to transforming educational achievement. Huge increases in funding, an unswerving commitment to raising standards, and a determination to carry through the reform essential to future success, have already begun to make a difference. Thanks to key innovations such as the numeracy and literacy hours and reduced class sizes, primary schoolchildren's performance in London has now caught up with the rest of the country, and the percentage of 15-year-olds passing five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C has risen from 43 per cent. to 46 per cent. There is still much room for improvement, but the trends are all in the right direction.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): The Minister is as usual full of promises about education. The Government have promised extra money for teachers but they have not put that money in the hands of local authorities to allow them to pay those teachers. Once again, the Government say one thing and do another.

Mr. Raynsford: The hon. Lady makes many claims, but she obviously has not looked at the figures.

12 Mar 2002 : Column 775

The number of teachers in London in 1997 was 56,770, but it is now 58,290. More teachers are teaching children, with better resources and better skills, and getting better results. That is the result of this Government's commitment to improving education.

London's cultural vitality and diversity is one of our capital's greatest assets. In that context, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar conveniently forgot to mention one very obvious symbol of the difference between Tory and Labour Governments. Our national museums and galleries, so many of which are located in our capital city and which contribute so much to our quality of life, are now open to all, free of charge. That is the result of a Labour Government.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): The Minister mentioned things that people have forgotten to mention, but does he recognise that one of the greatest determinants undermining the quality of life in London is the dramatically rising crime rate? Does he intend to talk about crime and policing, because those are the issues that matter?

Mr. Raynsford: Of course I will deal with crime and policing later in my speech. The hon. Gentleman will also have the pleasure of hearing from the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs, who will wind up at the end of the debate. The hon. Gentleman will therefore have a full and detailed explanation of what the Government are doing to improve security and reduce crime.

Apart from free access to museums, we have seen many other changes in the cultural world. The dome was a huge regeneration success in south-east London. The new Tate gallery is one of the world's most successful museums. The London Eye, on the other side of the river, is a great new attraction. London is full of exciting new buildings and developments, all of which have enhanced our capital's diversity, quality and attractiveness to visitors. Those are all achievements of this Government.

We are not just capitalising on the existing strengths of the London economy and its cultural vitality: we are also committed to tackling deprivation. Delivering better services that are more responsive to local people's needs and priorities is key to the regeneration agenda. New local strategic partnerships are bringing together public, voluntary, private and community stakeholders and are already making an important contribution to regeneration in the capital and the south-east. Neighbourhood renewal funding of nearly £200 million over the next three years has been made available to 20 boroughs in London. Under the new deal for communities, more than £500 million is being provided over 10 years to improve the quality of life in 10 of London's most deprived neighbourhoods through community-led regeneration.

We are also driving ahead with the revitalisation of east London and the Thames estuary. To be fair to the Conservative party, it was a Tory Minister, Michael Heseltine, who saw the opportunity for a transformation of the east Thames corridor, as it was then called. Sadly, his efforts on this—as on so many other issues—were not always appreciated by his own party.

However, the Labour party appreciated those efforts. We recognise the huge potential for regeneration and sustainable development in the Thames gateway area. I have already referred to the channel tunnel rail link,

12 Mar 2002 : Column 776

which will bring widespread regeneration benefits, particularly around Stratford, where a new international station will be constructed. That and other infrastructure investment will open up large sites along the Thames gateway. Such sites include Barking Reach, with its potential for over 5,000 new homes, and Stratford Railands, where there is potential for investment in a new commercial and residential district for east London.

We heard yesterday new estimates suggesting that the population of London is set to grow by 700,000 by 2016. That raises huge issues about where expansion, for both housing and businesses, can take place. Thanks to this Government's brownfield-first planning policies, and the adoption of sustainable development principles, London already has the highest rate of urban land recycling for housing in England. Our urban White Paper building on Lord Rogers' proposals demonstrated how we could achieve an urban renaissance with good quality new urban developments served by public transport services, using empty or under-used brownfield sites wherever possible.

Next Section

IndexHome Page