Regions, Transport and DEFRA

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:57 pm on 19th November 2002.

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Photo of John Prescott John Prescott Deputy Prime Minister, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Local Government and the Regions, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 4:57 pm, 19th November 2002

That was not the impression given; those were not the exact circumstances. I note that an FBU union official made that point, and I leave the hon. Gentleman to make judgments on that.

It was rather touching to hear the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden calling for a new localism, but we must judge that against his record. He was a member of the last Government for a long time. When he talked about giving power to local people he was certainly was not talking about giving money because in the last four years of local authority finance deals under the Tories, there was a 4 per cent. cut in real terms. Compare that with the first four years of this Labour Administration, who gave a 20 per cent. increase in resources. Resources are quite important if there is to be power, decision making and services in a local area.

The right hon. Gentleman asked us to trust local authorities and wondered why we do not do so. The previous Administration's record had nothing to do with trust. They did not give enough resources, and against the wishes of the people of London, Humberside, Berkshire and Cleveland, they abolished county councils. I can remember the arguments on the Floor of the House about people wanting to keep their local authorities—all Tory local authorities, of course; that was why they wanted to keep them. That did not stop the then Government abolishing county councils. Yet the right hon. Gentleman now says, XLet us trust the people and listen to their views." I am afraid that his record does not bear out his claims for himself.

I am sure that we will have many debates about devolution and regional government. When the right hon. Gentleman talks of bureaucracy, he should remember that his Government set up an unaccountable regional bureaucracy. They sent a considerable number of civil servants to every region—every Department was represented—but they could not bring themselves to make those civil servants accountable to the people of the regions. So the right hon. Gentleman should not talk to me about trusting the voice of the people in the regions. Under his Government there was no accountability whatever.

When I made my statement to the House about communities in July—I hope to come to the House in January to complete the statement on housing provision—I said that all Governments, both Labour and Tory, had totally failed the people of this country as regards the provision of housing. Let us look at the figures. In the 1960s, there was a total of 1.2 million social housing units. In the 1970s, that figure was 1.1 million. During both those periods there were Labour and Tory Governments, so I do not seek to make the point that one was better than the other. There was a decline throughout those decades. By the 1980s, the figure had fallen from 1.1 million to 440,000, and in the 1990s it collapsed to 256,000. Social housing provision is the most important aspect of housing programmes.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about the right to buy. Yes, there were about 1 million right-to-buy cases—something like 50,000 a year—but at the same time we saw a fall of almost 1 million in the number of new houses. The right hon. Gentleman might be concerned about providing social and new housing, but the right to buy does not achieve that. We do not oppose the fact that it gives people a property right, but it is more important, especially in areas of housing crisis, to provide new houses.