I think that I had got to the point in my story where I went back to the late 1940s to prove that the Labour party has always been ruthlessly centralist in the way it has approached planning—a theme that emerged from the regional spatial strategies. In the late 1940s the Minister with responsibility for planning was Lewis Silkin, who was famous for the creation of the new towns initiative. An example that shows the centralisation that ran from that through to the regional spatial strategy is his appearance in Stevenage to tell people there that they were going to have the first new town. I shall quote briefly from “Austerity Britain”, which describes the visit in vivid detail:
“To shouts of ‘Gestapo!’ and ‘Dictator!’, Silkin informed the seething horde that ‘It is no good your jeering: it is going to be done.’ Proceeding to the ministerial car, he discovered its tyres had been deflated and sand poured in its tank. In a referendum, a majority declared themselves ‘entirely against the siting of a satellite town at Stevenage’.”
The name plate at Stevenage station was replaced by one that read “Silkingrad”.
I want to move on to housing numbers. In his opening speech, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, seemed to confuse numbers—the numbers that he said were being taken out of plans—with houses. They are nothing of the sort. They are numbers—not even real numbers, but fictitious numbers that arose from repeated attempts to get series of economists to come up with the right number. I remember participating in what passed for a consultation exercise on the south-east plan, the regional spatial strategy for the south-east. It was quite clear that the original numbers put in by councils, which were based on solid evidence—they certainly were in the case of my councils—simply did not deliver the number that the Government had in their mind as the right one.
The councils’ numbers were simply thrown out, and a different set of economists were brought in to decide what the numbers should be. When they failed to reach the answer that the Government wanted, yet another set of economists were brought in. So we have numbers, not houses. The hon. Gentleman and I would be absolutely in agreement that we need more houses; the debate on the new clauses in the group and the whole business of the regional spatial strategy is principally about the best way of delivering them. He asked for proof that the system that we are introducing will work and I will give him that in a minute.