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Mr. Sanders: The hon. Lady is right. It is just a pity that that did not happen in the first year after the Government took power and that we have had to wait three years. As a result, public funding for housing will be less at the end of this Government's term than it was under the last Government.
In relation to people with institutionalised backgrounds, it will be important to consider any proposals within the wider contexts of tackling social exclusion and reducing reoffending rates. The social exclusion unit's 1998 report on rough sleeping revealed that about half the number of rough sleepers had been in prison or on remand at some time. Many prisoners have a history of homelessness, local authority care, drug abuse and mental illness. Without a home to go to or support on release, people are likely to reoffend and begin a cycle of homelessness or crime. Will the Homes Bill set up a clear framework of guidance to establish the circumstances in which people will be considered to be vulnerable?
There are some disappointments in the Queen's Speech. There is no mention of housing benefit reform, and the housing benefit restrictions for under-25s are still in place. As others have said today, many housing organisations were disappointed to learn that legislation was not included to deal with houses in multiple occupation. HMOs include a number of properties in many inner-city and other urban areas.
The Government claim to be keen to implement such legislation, but it is not in the Queen's Speech. Many organisations say that it should be a top priority for the first Queen's Speech after the general election. Can the Minister assure us that the Government will act quickly?
The House spends too little time debating housing issues, yet housing is vital to the quality of life of all our citizens--and that applies to none more than those in inner cities. In that regard, the Queen's Speech has taken
Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells): The Deputy Prime Minister is unable to join us this evening. We wish him and his family well--he is attending an important family engagement--and welcome in his place the Minister for the Cabinet Office. I have no doubt that she will bring her usual refreshing candour and honesty to the debate.
This has been an interesting discussion, marked at its heart by a clear division between those who believe that the priority in the Queen's Speech should have been tackling the root causes of crime and those who believe that symptomatic measures are sufficient.
We have heard many interesting contributions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), in a characteristic tour de force, listed the Government's failures to tackle crime at its source. The core of her case was the irrefutable point that rising crime figures are driven by the decline in police numbers under the present Government. The Home Secretary, who has now resumed his seat, spoke for an hour, in considerable detail. What was disappointing about his response was his failure to answer any of the specific points that had been raised, particularly those relating to the decline in police numbers and police morale, to evidence of a decline in the state of the Prison Service, and to the estimated number of asylum seekers now staying on illegally in the country. He would not give us a single answer on any of those points.
Most amazing of all was the Home Secretary's attempt to demonstrate that crime in this country was not rising at all--an observation that will be as alien to people living in our inner cities as was the Minister for Transport's claim that the railways were not in crisis.
Some remarkable contributions have been made, notably by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), who referred with great eloquence to the threadbare and dangerously illiberal proposals in the Queen's Speech; by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Sir N. Lyell), who spoke with great knowledge and authority on the dangers of the withdrawal of trial by jury; and by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir P. Beresford), who spoke with the depth of knowledge that derives from having been responsible for Wandsworth for many years. There were other important contributions, notably those by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry).
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (Mr. Robertson) on a remarkable maiden speech. It was delivered with great verve, eloquence, passion and feeling. We appreciate his contribution to the debate.
The hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) kept us well entertained. He started with a whimsical reference to the Greater London council and moved on to talk about his unfortunate experiences in West Ham, for which he has our sympathy. However, he then continued to argue for the legalisation of drugs, which lost us somewhat. Finally, he said that he was no Colonel Blimp from Tunbridge Wells, which will come as a considerable relief to some of my constituents.
The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) made a remarkable bipartisan contribution that was rich in detail. He made the point that the solutions to the problem of the inner cities and inner-city crime are complex. He is surely right. He argued strongly for community policing, for neighbourhood wardens and for the social causes of crime to be tackled.
The relationship between crime and the decline of the inner cities is inextricable. Their decline is the engine of social deprivation and the driving force of poverty, welfare dependence and loss of opportunity for children who are left behind at a time of prosperity for the rest of the country.
After three-and-a-half years of prosperity, today the state of our cities is not better but worse than in 1997. According not to my figures but the Government's own figures, poverty has increased. According to the Government's own figures, the gap between rich and poor has increased. According to the Rowntree Foundation, 500,000 more people are living below the poverty line than in 1997. According to Oxford Economic Forecasting
Crime in the inner cities has increased. The Home Secretary would like to pretend otherwise, but his own figures suggest that there has been a 16 per cent. increase in crime in urban areas in the west midlands; a 12.6 per cent. increase in London; a 9 per cent. increase in Southwark, to choose a topical location, where police numbers have been cut by 40 since the election; and an 8 per cent. increase in Merseyside, where police numbers have been cut by 300 since the election.
Mr. Norman: The exodus is perpetuated by the Government's own policies which encourage building on green fields, particularly in the south-east and south-west where more than 60 per cent. of new houses will inevitably be built on green fields. Let Members on both sides of the House also remember that for every executive home built in the countryside, there is a family leaving the inner city, a school roll decreasing in the inner city, a shop nearer closure in the inner city and crime increasing in the inner city. The two problems are inextricably linked. The death of the countryside is also the death of the inner cities.
The decline of our inner cities is not new, but its continuation should not only concern every hon. Member but serve as a call to action for every hon. Member. Against that background, the Queen's Speech is a bitter disappointment. It will come as a bitter disappointment to all those who, in the past three years, worked so hard--many with the Government--to develop a programme for the inner cities. However, that disappointment comes as no surprise following the flop of the urban White Paper, which was a great disappointment not least to Lord Rogers, who, with great and commendable reservation, said:
Where in the Queen's Speech are all the measures that Lord Rogers called for and that would have commanded bipartisan support in the House? Where are the urban priority areas that were going to be the centrepiece of Lord Rogers's reforms? Where are the new powers for regeneration companies that would have required primary legislation? Where are the measures to reverse the exodus from our cities and to arrest building over our countryside? Where are the measures to level the playing field on tax, which have been universally called for by all those who are involved in inner-city regeneration? Where are the measures to bring coherence to a Government programme that is totally incoherent, splintered and full of Elastoplast, politically correct initiatives?
Does the Minister agree that the Government's priority should be policing--community policing in particular--and education first, and money spent on everything else second? Is she satisfied that the current programmes are coherent, fundamental and co-ordinated, or does she agree with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? I hate to bring him into this debate, but he said:
When the Minister for the Cabinet Office goes back to Redcar for Christmas and meets youths and young people on the estates, does she believe that she can sell the curfew orders to them as a way of improving their life style and encouraging them to stay in the cities, or of giving them a single reason not to leave and move to the countryside?
Is not the truth that the choice at the election will be between a Conservative party committed to governing for all, increasing police numbers in the inner cities, rolling out regeneration companies under a single Minister, reversing years of failure of Labour councils and local education authorities, and a Labour party which masquerades as a party of the less well-off but which took a mere three-and-a-half years to run out of ideas, forget its origins, forsake the inner cities and betray its own heartlands?