Inner Cities

Part of Prayers – in the House of Commons at 12:51 pm on 25th March 1994.

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Photo of Mr Andrew Hargreaves Mr Andrew Hargreaves , Birmingham, Hall Green 12:51 pm, 25th March 1994

I am grateful for catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if only to speak briefly. One thing that rather irritated Conservative Members, apart from the rude and patronising note of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who is not in his place, was that he kept referring to the fact that he lived in his constituency, which was in an urban or inner-city area of some deprivation.

Some of us, including myself, on the Conservative Benches live in cities such as Birmingham, which has serious urban problems much the same as those of Manchester. I also live in my constituency, as I am sure do many hon. Member on both sides of the House. It is not a point of issue, and I am sure that it will not be referred to again. I surprised that a right hon. Member of such experience chose that line.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth), I have been a member of the Conservative Back-Bench urban inner cities committee for some years, and am an officer of that committee. One thing that has struck us from talking to the many people of all political persuasions who have tried to help us to understand different aspects of urban decay, regeneration and the possibilities ahead, is the remarkable synergy between certain themes that the Government have tried usefully to address and which has found echoes in other people's political views.

One of those aspects is the fact that the design of housing estates has played a large part in the problems of outer and inner-city urban decay. Poor design of housing estates has often exacerbated not only the living environment, but the security of the people who live there.

With that in mind, I hope that the Government will again consider carefully what can be done along the lines of estate action, housing action trusts and so forth on a more minor scale to improve the living environment of decaying council estates. There are many such estates in my constituency. Druid's Heath on the edge of Birmingham is notorious in that respect. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of Stale for the Environment and other Ministers have visited that estate. We have serious problems of decay, social choesiveness, security and lawlessness.

Design is absolutely vital. I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House will give further thought to the way in which we build housing estates in future. We need to build housing estates that do not become rat or cockroach-infested, or permanently damp. Housing estates must not be afflicted by environmental problems. Above all, they must not become dens for drug dealers, pimps and other social undesirables, who can prosper within such housing estates because they are so poorly lit or because their very design gives shelter to allow such people to lurk in dark shadows.

Lighting is essential. It can seriously transform particular areas of urban decay. Areas in my constituency have benefited enormously from the far-sighted attitude taken on a totally apolitical, non-partisan basis by Birmingham city council in respect of various projects that have been assisted by Government money. I urge hon. Members in all parts of the House to concentrate in this debate on the aspects that might assist the regeneration of our inner cities in a sensible and non-partisan fashion.

Hon. Members have referred in some detail to the problems of lawlessness and poor education. I firmly believe that keeping children interested in education as they grow up, so that they progress into further education —whether that be on an academic or vocational level—is crucial to keeping children, who might otherwise be so bored as to commit vandalism and progress to more serious crime, out of crime and within the community.

I urge my colleagues on the Government Front Bench to give further support to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and others who have been pressing for due respect to be given to further education along national vocational qualification lines and to raising the standards of blue-collar qualifications to university level, so that people feel that they achieve in that area and that that area is respected by their peers and by employers.

I want to refer briefly to racial harassment and racial harmony. In Birmingham, we are lucky that many of the problems of racial antagonism and harassment that afflicted it and other major cities have been treated sensitively and are being addressed within the community more positively than they were previously. I hope that all political parties will do what they can to ensure that racial problems are not inflamed, for political reasons, and that we work together to achieve cohesiveness.

We are talking not about cultural integration or about particular parts of the community, whether they be ethnic minorities or ethnic majorities, but about social cohesion within our cities. If inner cities are to be revitalised, it is vital that people live peacefully with each other and appreciate and respect each other.

I am sure that my colleagues on the Government Front Bench, and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench, support that view. I address that comment particularly to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) because I know that a by-election is taking place in Leicester which has extremely unattractive racial overtones. I hope that he will do his best in Leicester, as we will try to do in Birmingham, to ensure that political partisanship does not inflame the problem. I urge my hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench to do what they can in that respect.