§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before the debate opens, may I announce that I have not selected any of the many Amendments on the Order Paper. This will not affect the debate. I have no doubt that the arguments advanced in the Amendments for not giving the Bill a Second Reading will emerge during the debate, as will other arguments for or against the Bill.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
On a point of order. I understand that a number of hon. Members have attempted to secure a copy of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill for the purpose of joining in the debate but that no Bills are available in the Vote Office. I would submit that it is not possible to conduct a debate when hon. Members have not got before them the Bill under discussion. How can we follow the arguments or partticipate in the debate if the Greater London Council has failed in its duty to see that an adequate supply of Bills is available for hon. Members?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am seized of the point of order, which is a serious one. I understand that there was a shortage of the Bills earlier in the day but that shortage has been remedied.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Let me remind the House that points of order come out of the time we have for discussing the Bill. The debate must end at ten o'clock no matter how many points of order there are.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
Further to that point of order. I am indeed reluctant to take up time which could be spent on discussion, but hon. Members are in a difficult position. I have this moment come from the Vote Office and not one Bill is available there. This puts hon. Members in a difficult position if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. 676 Wellbeloved) said, we are to give proper and intelligent attention to the many points which I am sure will be made by the promoters of the Bill. It is absolutely essential that the House should have the Bill before it. It is not the fault of hon. Members, other than those seeking to promote the Bill. I ask you to rule that the House ought to adjourn until a more suitable opportunity, when supplies of this document are available.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has made the point made by his hon. Friend, a little more forcibly. I am not prepared to rule to adjourn the debate. I understand that further copies are on the way. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has his name to an Amendment to the Bill, which he must have read.
§ Mr. Roebuck
Further to that point of order. Am I right in taking it as a criticism that I should put my name to an Amendment but cannot at this moment obtain a Bill from the Vote Office? With the utmost possible respect, the onus is surely on the promoters of the Bill to have copies ready in the Vote Office. With great respect, Mr. Speaker, what you said appeared to be a criticism of me for not having come into the Chamber with a Bill. It is the custom of the House for hon. Members to expect the Vote Office to have a proper supply of Bills.
§ Mr. Speaker
I understand the point that the hon. Member has made. The last thing I would do is to criticise the hon. Member. I was paying him a compliment.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Further to that point of order. I understand that one of your predecessors in a previous Parliament ruled on a similar occasion that if Bills dealing with Private Business were not available in the Vote Office, then the House should not proceed to that Private Business. May I ask you if it is possible to check the precedents to see whether it is possible to give a Ruling in that respect tonight? We are in this difficulty. I have a copy, rather bedraggled and slightly tattered, because I have been working on it. I know that many of my hon. Friends have just come into the Chamber after attempting to get copies of the Bill. It is quite improper for us to proceed without the benefit of the Bill. 677 As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) said, it is really not possible for an intelligent, meaningful debate to take place if the G.L.C. has failed so dismally to make the Bill available to hon. Members. In view of the precedent established on a previous occasion I would ask you to rule accordingly.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The mere repetition of the same point of order will not change the mind of Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. W. Howie (Luton)
Further to that point of order. I should like to clear up the difficulty raised by your reference to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) who, with customary modesty, did not make this point himself. I saw earlier today that he was in difficulty and I loaned him my copy of the Bill because I came here early to obtain one. Because of my customary caution in these matters, and because I like to keep my hands on my own property, I claimed the copy back from my hon. Friend. Now I understand that he is without one.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
Further to that point of order. Hon. Members who do not wish to interfere in this dog-fight in the Greater London Council might nevertheless be called upon to vote this evening and we are in rather a difficult position, because merely looking at the Amendments I cannot see why the promoters have bothered to bring forward the Bill, if it is the kind of Bill it appears to be from the Amendments. We should be able to have copies of the Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I understand the point made by the hon. Member. Those who are supporting the Bill will be able to ease the hon. Member's mind.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
I had hoped that it would not have been necessary for me to go into great detail about the Bill, because in accordance with promises given by the Greater London Council last year, an explanatory memorandum was sent to all hon. Members of this House who represent London constituencies as soon as the Bill was deposited. This memorandum, which gives an explanation of each Clause in the Bill, has 678 been in the hands of such hon. Members since 3rd December last, namely, for a total of 11 weeks, with an offer by the Greater London Council to supply any further information that any individual hon. Member required.
It appears that 11 weeks are not sufficient and that some hon. Members feel that the Bill has been brought on with undue haste, with the result that it is being opposed this evening. For this reason I am obliged to take the House through the Bill in some considerable detail. The Bill contains four major provisions and a number of minor provisions which are nevertheless of importance. Nearly all these provisions are the result of representations received from third parties, or of undertakings given to them by the council. If the House is minded to defeat the Bill then the council will be unable to discharge its undertakings and many people will be hurt, apart from the council. I ask the House to bear that consideration in mind when dealing with the provisions of the Bill and in deciding the matter later tonight.
The first of the four main provisions to which I have referred is an extension of certain superannuation rights in fulfilment of promises given to employees of bodies outside the Greater London Council. If the Bill is not passed, these promises cannot be kept.
§ Mr. Roebuck
It is outrageous that the hon. Gentleman should say that I have not shown a great deal of interest in the Bill. I have put my name to several Amendments. The hon. Gentleman is making a case that the Bill has been in preparation for some time. All I ask is why the Bill is not available in the Vote Office. Is this an example of the efficiency with which the Bill has been prepared?
§ Mr. Rossi
The Bill has been deposited since 3rd December. Sufficient copies were deposited to meet the normal needs 679 of a debate of this kind. For reasons which the hon. Member knows better than I, there has been an undue demand for copies this year. This is possibly not unconnected with the exercise which is about to take place from the Labour benches in connection with the G.L.C. election in a few weeks' time.
That is a simple explanation of the matter. The hon. Member cannot corn-plain. He was given full details of the Bill in a letter on 3rd December, and he has done nothing since then to seek information if he was puzzled by any of the Clauses in the Bill.
§ Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)
On a point of order. Is it sufficient for a letter or memorandum to be provided to hon. Members in substitution for a Bill? May I have your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on whether this is a proper substitute for a Bill?
§ Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
I wish to come to the defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck). On several occasions he consulted me, especially on Clause 14, which deals with the powers that are vested for the payment of special funds by the G.L.C. on behalf of the London boroughs. We spent some time together discussing the document, and it is rather unfair of the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) to suggest that my hon. Friend has paid no attention to the Bill.
§ Mr. Rossi
The second major provision is designed to establish a comprehensive code for the installation of statutory undertakers' apparatus in walkways. This 680 is in discharge of an undertaking given by the Greater London Council to this Parliament, to various Ministries and to statutory undertakers. The defeat of the Bill may well discharge the Greater London Council from its undertaking to this House, and the House will no doubt consider, when it votes this evening, whether it wishes to release the Greater London Council from that undertaking.
The third major matter contained in the Bill is the power to authorise the connections of pipes carrying trade effluents into sludge mains, following representations made by the Confederation of British Industry. Here again, the intention is to try to minimise river pollution, a matter on which the House is very anxious. The contributions that will be made by industry for these services and facilities will relieve some of the burden on the ratepayer for the provision of sewerage, drains and the rest.
The fourth matter of major importance in the Bill is the power that is being sought to charge London boroughs direct for contributions made to voluntary organisations instead of recovering these moneys by means of the rate precept. This power is included at the request of the London Boroughs Association, so that these boroughs can exercise a control on their own communal expenditure on such contributions and on the provision and maintenance of hostels for drug addicts. There again, if the Bill is defeated the London Boroughs Association will be very disappointed.
A minor but important provision contained in the Bill is the saving of six houses of some architectural interest in Heathfield Gardens, Wandsworth, which are due to be destroyed in order to extend Wandsworth Common. The Greater London Council is already under a statutory obligation to acquire these houses and to demolish them, but in response to representations made by local bodies and by residents of that area, the Greater London Council has agreed to seek powers so that those houses need not be destroyed but may be preserved. Again, if the Bill is defeated, those local interests will be disappointed.
Another minor but important power that the Bill gives is to make safety regulations controlling the erection of scaffolding in public highways. Hon. Members will have only too well in mind 681 the recent tragedy that occurred not far from here in Whitehall Place, when a great deal of scaffolding collapsed on to the public highway. These powers are sought at the request of the London boroughs, to whom they will be delegated.
Hon. Members will no doubt bear in mind, when considering all these provisions and the source from which they emanate, that a great deal of parliamentary time is being saved by the Greater London Council in including all these matters in its Bill. If the Greater London Council had not agreed to act as a vehicle for these various matters, the House would have to face the presentation of a whole host of Private Bills from many different sources, each dealing with the different matters to which I have referred. I feel sure that, having heard what are the main provisions of the Bill, the House will agree that it is an admirable Measure which should find its way on to the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment.
I have tried to correlate under broad headings the provisions of the Bill and to give a generalised explanation, so that hon. Members will have a bird's eye view of the entire Bill. Now, with your leave, Mr. Speaker, I will refer to the Clauses in the Bill seriatim and briefly indicate the main matter in them.
Clause 4 provides for the preservation of Nos. 1 to 6 Heathfield Gardens, which were to be exchange lands for part of Wandsworth Common taken for the Wandsworth Bridge southern approach improvement scheme. It is now considered, because of representations that have been received, that the houses are of sufficient architectural and historical merit to warrant preservation and, accordingly, the council seeks power to preserve these houses. The result will not be the loss of lands for the common, because this will be dealt with in other ways.
Clause 5 is a technical clause dealing with a family settlement. It would cause considerable hardship to the family concerned if the Clause were not accepted by the House. Clause 6 in Part III of the Bill, dealing with superannuation, is one of the major provisions of the Bill. It arises because Section 18 of the Local Government Superannuation Act, 1953, 682 enables the council to grant a gratuity to any dependant of an employee who dies in service. Section 34 of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act, 1968, extends this power and enables pensions in the form of gratuities to be granted to widows, dependent widowers or children of employees who die within a year of leaving the council service. This power relates to G.L.C. employees, although it may be adopted by the London borough councils. It does not, however, extend to employees of other bodies such as the magistrates' courts committees and probation committee staff, who contribute to the council's superannuation fund. The object of Clause 6 is to give benefits which I have just mentioned to those other persons.
Clause 7 will extend similarly to persons who are employed at polytechnics and who therefore will not be in the direct employment of the Greater London Council. I turn to Part IV of the Bill, Clause 8 of which deals with walkways. The Clause is based on a Section of the Liverpool Corporation Act of 1969 and corrects an omission in the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act of 1969 which does not contain a power to regulate the occasional use of walkways by vehicles. Vehicles which may use walkways under Clause 8 are fire-fighting appliances, police vehicles, ambulances and also vehicles of certain classes of disabled persons. Clause 9 merely seeks to remedy a possible ambiguity which could operate to the detriment of developers.
Clause 10 is the important Clause in this part of the Bill and is in discharge of undertakings given to Parliament by the G.L.C. last year. The intention of the Clause is to establish a comprehensive code for the installation of statutory undertakers' apparatus in walkways. The Clause is included in fulfilment of undertakings and after discussion with interested parties.
I must advise the House that agreement has not yet been reached with all the parties on the contents. No doubt this is a matter in which provisions will have to be considered and argued in Committee.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Could the hon. Gentleman say how many petitions have been lodged against this Clause?
§ Mr. Rossi
Yes, I have the information. Petitions have been lodged by the water authorities, the electricity authorities, and I believe by the Post Office. That is my information at the moment. It is a matter of negotiation. I need not trouble the House with Clause 11 which deals with three minor amendments to the walkway provisions of the 1969 Act.
Clause 12 is an important Clause that seeks to authorise connections of pipes carrying trade effluents into main sludge sewers. This would be of help to the G.L.C. and its taxpayers, because it would help to meet the expense of providing and maintaining any major sludge main. Obviously it will be a help to industry and we hope also that it will help the community at large by cutting down pollution in our rivers. Clause 13 is a minor Clause giving extension of time for works in connection with the Waterloo Bridge northern approach improvement scheme which otherwise would expire on 1st October, 1970.
Clause 14 deals with the arrangements between the Greater London Council and the London Boroughs Association for contributions to voluntary associations which provide services mainly in the health and welfare sectors. At the moment the G.L.C. makes these contributions and charges a rate precept. The London boroughs would prefer to be charged direct so that they would have a greater control over expenditure and would know where the money was going. In addition, the Clause seeks to provide and maintain hostels for drug addicts. Clause 15 deals with safety regulations in regard to scaffolding, and I have already said all I need to say on that Clause. Therefore, I will leave the Bill, which I have covered in general terms and in some detail.
§ Mr. Howie
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but before he leaves the Bill may I ask a question on Clause 4? In line 37 he will see that the Clause requires something or other coloured pink on the plan to be signed by the chairman of the committee of housing, and then there is a gap in the Bill. Can this omission be explained?
§ Mr. Rossi
Yes, it is in the usual form. It refers to the deposit of a document which at the time the Bill was printed was not signed but has since been signed. The signature and the details are 684 apparent on the copies of the plans which have been deposited. They are available for inspection and by the time they reach their final form, those details will be printed in.
I should like now to deal with the Amendments. The first deals with sewerage at Thamesmead. I understand that an undertaking has been given to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) that the G.L.C. will reach a decision on this problem by the summer. But we must bear in mind that that decision must obviously be influenced by the cost of the scheme which, I understand, will be of the order of £22 million. This is not a matter with which the G.L.C. can deal lightly. The fullest possible investigations are being carried out and the matter will be decided by the summer. It is not intended to use the open land mentioned in the Amendment unless an emergency arises, such as the fact that because of industrial action the sludge fleet cannot be used. Nevertheless, the Greater London Council is providing a sludge digestion unit at Crossness which will eliminate the necessity to store raw sludge in open tanks or deposit it on open land, so it is hoped that the nuisance aspect which troubles the hon. Gentleman will be dealt with in that way.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
What is the proposed date of completion of the covered digestion tanks at Crossness to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred? Is it to be this year, next year, or 10 years hence?
§ Mr. Rossi
According to my information, the work is in the design stage and is programmed to be completed by the year 1974–75.
The second Amendment deals with the highly controversial matter of the London motorway network. This is not a matter which is appropriate to a Bill of this nature. It is appropriate to a general debate in the House and to a general debate in London and in the Greater London Council. It is an appropriate matter for decision by the electors of London in a few weeks' time. But, with respect, it would be inappropriate to embark now upon a detailed and general debate of the motorway box, and I will defer that matter.
One can make similar comments about the third Amendment which talks in 685 vague terms of good government and social wellbeing in London. That again is a matter purely for the electors of London who will record their votes in a few weeks' time.
The fourth Amendment relates to flood protection. That is an important matter. The Greater London Council has received a document called the Report on Thames Flood Protection. It is 245 pages in length and is accompanied by appendices of a bulky and technical nature. It has been forwarded to all the interested authorities and bodies concerned with the problem.
The Greater London Council recognises the vital urgency for a positive decision on the protection of London from the grave dangers of flooding, and it is pressing the Government for an early decision to enable the protective works to be put in hand. As soon as the Government give that decision and final details have been agreed on the siting and construction of the barrier, steps will be taken to seek whatever powers are necessary. As the House will appreciate, that will be a matter for a major Bill in its own right, and ought not to be tacked on as an odd Clause in a General Powers Bill.
The fourth Amendment tends to be a compendium of the previous three. All of them contain pure electioneering matter, and I prefer to leave them to the hustings in the Greater London Council election rather than take up the time of the House in dealing with them here.
I have indicated what the Bill contains. I hope that the House will recognise that it proposes a number of very important and valuable measures, the defeat of which will injure more outside bodies and people than it will injure the G.L.C.—if this House is minded to defeat it. It will also discharge the Greater London Council from carrying out the undertakings and obligations given to this House last year.
§ Wing-Commander Sir Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. For the record and for history, may I point out that there are now considerably more copies of the Bill available in the Vote Office than there are hon. Members in the Chamber at the moment?
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)
We on this side of the House are pleased to see that the Greater London Council has recovered from its earlier incompetence and has provided sufficient copies of the Bill to enable us to conduct a meaningful debate. We can now proceed to discuss the matters which interest my hon. Friends.
I am as reluctant as any hon. Member to detain the House by embarking upon a lengthy discussion of the Bill. The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) has deployed a not inconsiderable parliamentary skill in trying to persuade the House of the merits of the Bill, but I have to tell him that his attempts to breathe a little life into the cold earth of this potential legislative Measure have been unsuccessful. If I was minded not to address the House on the various Amendments before the hon. Gentleman spoke, having listened to his contribution. I now feel that I must.
It is not what is in the Bill which worries me. Therefore, I can probably set the mind of the hon. Gentleman at rest by saying that I will not urge my hon. Friends to defeat the Bill, for the very sound reasons which he has advanced. Though, as I say, I do not object to what is in the Bill, I object to what is omitted from it. This is the culmination of three years of Conservative control of London's County Hall. All that I can say is that. despite the best efforts of the hon. Gentleman, his speech and the Bill serve only to emphasise the great gap which exists between the fare that the Greater London Council offers on this occasion and what Londoners have a right to expect from their County Council.
The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to the Amendments seriatim. The one standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) seeks to protect the interests of residents in the Borough of Bexley. I have no doubt that it will be advocated in detail by my hon. Friend in the debate. But the most significant fact about that Amendment is that there is only one name to it, whereas there are three Members of Parliament for Bexley. 687 I can only assume that the right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) has found it impossible to protect the interests of the ratepayers in that borough from his friends at County Hall and that their defence will have to rest in the capable hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford. Judging from the undertakings which he has received, he appears to be making a very good job of it.
Another of the Amendments protests against the extravagance of and damage likely to be caused by the proposed motorway network. We have drawn attention to the fact that Londoners have not had proper information to enable them to form a view on the flood protection measures which are before the Greater London Council. There is every danger that those measures will go through without adequate public debate.
The last Amendment is in general terms, and the most important part of it from my point of view is the Greater London Council's proposals for breaking up its own highly efficient and very useful and attractive parks set-up in London and dispersing their control amongst an assortment of London borough councils which may or may not deal efficiently with the resulting problems.
§ Mr. Roebuck
We have heard a great deal about rates and ratepayers. Has my hon. Friend applied his mind to the possibility that, if the administration of parks is broken up in this way, it may result in a great deal of duplication and thus heavier burdens for ratepayers in Greater London?
§ Mr. Moyle
My hon. Friend has obviously brought his usual acumen to bear on the problem. I shall have something to say about this later, and I think that my hon. Friend will find that I agree substantially with the point that he has just put to me.
One matter that greatly disturbs me is that there is no reference in the Bill to the provision of London housing. After three years of Conservative control of County Hall I find this quite remarkable. Housing is the major problem facing London. The point that we should consider tonight is: has the Greater London Council got sufficient powers to provide a good housing policy for London? If it has not, it ought to be asking for extra 688 powers tonight. If it has the powers, why has it got London housing into such a ghastly muddle?
Over the three years of Conservative control the situation has continued to deteriorate. I wonder how a body of presumably sincere men and women could, of their own volition, if they have adequate powers, end up with a housing policy in London in the state of disorder that it has reached. The object of the Greater London Council, I am sure everybody will agree, is, after all, to serve the inhabitants of London. But what do we find? We find that a part of the council has, over the past few months, spent a considerable time working out how it can bring the forces of law to bear on a number of the inhabitants to get them into a position where it can threaten them either with imprisonment or some other dire consequences. This is not service to the inhabitants of London as I have been brought up to understand it in the Labour movement.
What is the reason? It is simply that, on the one hand, it has always been the priority of the Labour Party, both nationally and locally, and particularly when it had power on the Greater London Council and its predecessor the London County Council, to place the housing of the people of London and the country as a whole at the top of the list. For this purpose, it was prepared to provide aid from public bodies and funds and to legislate to ensure that this housing programme was carried out.
The Conservative Party, on the other hand, has adopted a policy of removing help and support from all sections of housing. I believe that the Conservatives want to get out of the housing business to the greatest extent and as quickly as possible. It has been tried in London over three years. The result has been the distasteful scenes and stories which we have all read in our London evening newspapers over the last year. If there was any policy guaranteed to prejudice law and order in the capital city of this great country, it has been the rents policy of the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Does my hon. Friend also recognise that the vice-chairman of the Housing Committee of the 689 Greater London Council refuses to accept responsibility for the rents of the authority? He blames the officers. The Tories have not even the courage to stand up and be counted for what they are doing.
§ Mr. Moyle
I regard that as the negation of democratic government. The reason we stand for election and are prepared to advocate policies is to protect some of our long-serving and conscientious public servants from bitter personal criticism. It is our responsibility to stand up to the attacks on our policies and to persuade people to accept them. It is not the responsibility of paid officials, either of national or local government, to carry that kind of burden.
I do not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite will disagree when I say that the Greater London Council, when the Conservatives took control, set out to increase rents in London by 70 per cent. over three years. To do them credit, that was the policy on which they fought the election. They have done their best, since they have been in power, to put that policy into operation. If they have been thwarted in that policy, the sole reason is because the Government have stepped in to limit the size of the increases which they wished to impose upon the rent payers of London occupying G.L.C. properties.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
On a point of order. May I ask, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how wide it is possible to go in the debate? I understood that the hon. Gentleman was making such criticism as he thought fit of the general administration of the Greater London Council, irrespective of any provision in the Bill. He has now passed to arguing in favour of the housing policy of the Government. May I take it that if the hon. Gentleman is allowed to refer in favourable terms to the housing policy of the Government, it will be open to hon. Members on this side who have the good fortune to catch your eye at a later stage to criticise the policy of the Government?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. The question of order on Second Reading, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is that the debate is very wide, but it should be related to 690 the Bill—in this case a general powers Bill. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) has been seeking to deal with matters that he wishes were in the Bill, and I find it difficult to rule out of order anything that he has said. I assume that the right hon. Gentleman will have the same latitude in replying as the hon. Gentleman had in speaking.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Further to that point of order. I understand that Ruling to cover its being open for any of my hon. Friends who catch your eye, the hon. Member for Lewisham, North having referred in favourable terms to the housing policy of the Government, and who take a different view of it, to refer to it in distinctly less favourable terms. I take it that that follows from your Ruling and from your permitting the hon. Gentleman to do this.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must deal with the right hon. Gentleman's point of order. The right hon. Gentleman is correct that he would be able to refer, in favourable or unfavourable terms, if he wishes, to that policy. I hope that hon. Members will relate their remarks to the Bill, although it is a wide debate.
§ Mr. Howie
Further to that point of order. If it is in order for the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) to refer to the Government's housing programme in general, and in critical terms, may I ask whether it would be in order for him at the same time to point out that is very much better than the housing programme of the Government of which he was a member for so many graceful years?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Happily, it is the practice of the Chair never to rule hypothetically. I think that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen ought to allow the debate to go ahead and allow the Chair to decide as the debate proceeds whether a matter is in order or not.
§ Mr. Moyle
I am fortified and encouraged by the course of action on which I had embarked by the intervention of the right hon. Gentleman. Since it was the implication of that intervention that it was the Government's action which 691 restricted the increase in rents which the Greater London Council was set upon effecting. It is all of a piece. After all, the Tories failed to operate the option mortgage scheme when they had power, and they want to remove rent control from private property. The logic of their policy is that they will seek, if they are ever returned to power, to remove income tax relief on the interest payments of owner-occupiers. They are seeking to remove State and public support from housing of all kinds.
How long do the Conservatives think that they can maintain a situation where the only section of the population which would obtain relief from the State in respect of housing would be what is generally regarded as the better off, the private owner-occupier buying a house on mortgage and paying interest payments? The alternative is the Labour policy of maintaining help to hold down rents, of maintaining the option mortgage scheme, and of assistance to all forms of housing, because we believe that the proper housing of the population is one of the first priorities that any Government should accept.
Another point which disturbs me about the Bill is the omission of any powers to enable the G.L.C. successfully to manage the properties which it holds. If we had an active G.L.C. as opposed to the rather supine body which exists at present, in perhaps 10 years the London housing problem could be solved, and we could look forward to the G.L.C. spending more time on the management and administration of its estates.
One of the greatest problems in the management of estates is effecting a transfer from one council property to another. This is, I believe, one of the greatest restrictions on the liberty of the subject in this country. To draw a parallel, if an owner-occupier wishes to move his house, the decision is his. It may cost him time and money, but in the end he will effect it and he will probably move to an area which he prefers.
But the position is quite different for an inhabitant of a council property. When he wants to change his place of residence he is very much in the position which we were all in when we were in the Armed Forces. His fate rests with a large, faceless, inhuman bureaucracy. He may say 692 that he wants a transfer, but whether he gets one under the present administration depends entirely on the skill or energy or sense of urgency of officials of the G.L.C. They have not yet succeeded—and, so far as I can see, they have been given no leadership in this matter—in producing a scheme to allow council tenants to transfer from one property to another with the minimum of fuss and inconvenience, and roughly when they want.
It was while I was conducting a campaign in my constituency about one estate, the Heath Side Estate, where the problem of transfers is particularly bad and there had been some Press publicity, that the Conservative chairman of the South-East London Housing Committee was so bold as to say that he thought that council tenants were "mollycoddled". If the situation which I have just described is mollycoddling, it is about time that we got rid of the Conservative chairman of that committee and most of his colleagues as well. They have no sense of human sympathy whatsoever. But a lack of compassion is one of the major criticisms which I would make of the Greater London Council under its present administration.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Would my hon. Friend allow me to remind him, also, that, as part of the skilful management by the Conservatives on the G.L.C., by raising the rents, as in my constituency, to £6, £7 and £8 a week, they are forcing people who cannot afford to pay that much to go into property which still has a bath in the kitchen? They excuse themselves by saying that when it is not in use it has a top on it.
§ Mr. Moyle
I take my hon. Friend's point.
Only last Sunday morning, when canvassing in my constituency, I came across a whole group of council houses which still have baths in the kitchen. There is no programme that I can discover on the books of the G.L.C. to convert these properties to an outside bath or a bathroom upstairs. I am taking this matter up with the G.L.C. and I hope that there will be a swift response to my proposal that a conversion programme be put into operation for all these properties. Having a lid on the bath is no help to the housewife. That is the only way that she can 693 live in the kitchen because the kitchens are so small that the bath takes up about half of them.
§ Mr. Roebuck
Is it not a fact that, if the Greater London Council was sufficiently aware of these matters, it would be able to get assistance in improving all sorts of properties from Her Majesty's Government as part of the beneficial measures which they have introduced?
§ Mr. Moyle
My hon. Friend is right to call attention to the terms of our Amendment.
I want to turn from housing to motorways, because that is the subject of earnest and serious consideration by constituents in South-East London. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) present. He has also been afflicted by the present proposals of the G.L.C. My constituency will be subjected to two of these destructive monsters if the plans of hon. Members opposite and their friends in County Hall go through.
There is a peculiar situation in my constituency. Half my constituents are continually writing to me to draw attention to the inadequacies of the public transport system, for which the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite are now responsible. When I take up the inadequacies drawn to my attention, sometimes I make progress and sometimes I do not.
If I do not, the point often put to me is that this would cost several thousand pounds as in the case of Hither Green Station, for instance, or £4 or £5 million, or, for widening and increasing the capacity of Borough Market Junction, £20 million. This is always regarded as a major obstacle to effecting any improvement in London's public transport.
But the other half of my constituents are always "screaming blue murder" to me because their homes will be destroyed by some of the motorway monsters which 694 the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite are determined to thrust down the throats of good, honest, hard-working Londoners, who have spent many years putting money into their houses and are proud of them and proud to call them homes.
My solution to this problem is so blindingly simple that, if the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite were not so closely tied to the vested interests which will make such a vast amount of money out of the motorway projects, it would already have occurred to them. It is that they should scrap a large portion of the plans for the motorway network, for which they will have to provide not £10 million or £20 million, but hundreds of millions and possibly thousands of millions of pounds.
If they scrapped the network, most of the money could be saved and a small portion devoted to improving the standards of public transport in our great capital city. The net result is that public transport would be better. Thus, people who write to me complaining of its inadequacies would cease to do so and the other portion of my constituents who write complaining of the destruction which threatens their homes would also have nothing more to grumble about. In my constituency and, I assume, in those of most other hon. Members, at least on this side and probably on the other side as well, there would be peace and quiet and good government.
Another point in relation to the motorways scheme is that this year is European Conservation Year. In Britain and, with such resources as they can muster, in Europe, Governments will be devoting their attention to trying to preserve our environment. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, with his usual concern for the public weal, has already given the nation a great lead on this matter and has appointed a senior Cabinet Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), to look after this side of national policy and to effect it.
It is very interesting that certain hon. Members met in Surrey not so long ago. After their meeting at some gracious hotel in the Surrey suburbs, not one word emerged on the subject of the preservation of the environment.
695 Indeed, it is no wonder that the Conservative-controlled G.L.C. should take its cue from its leaders. In my constituency, and in that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), we have what is probably the finest urban environment in London south of the river—the Blackheath and Greenwich Conservation Area. It was made a conservation area because the London boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich wanted it, in the days when they were Labour-controlled, because the G.L.C. wanted it, in the days when it was Labour-controlled, and because a Labour Minister of Housing and Local Government approved the idea.
This is European Conservation Year, and yet the planners at County Hall, which is under the control of the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite, are planning to crucify that conservation area by putting through it, not one eight-lane motorway, but a total of 14 tracks of motorway in a distance of 1½ miles. I cannot understand how the G.L.C. allowed this Bill to appear before the House without taking the extra power which it obviously needs for the protection of conservation areas, because it has been unable to stand up to the pressures of its own engineers and preserve part of London's finest heritage. It is a disgraceful exercise in town planning, and shows a complete lack of order and good government, but this is the sort of thing which we have come to expect from the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite in their control of County Hall.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) raised some relevant points about the transfer of parks from the G.L.C. to the boroughs. This arises from a pure piece of doctrinaire thinking on the part of those now in control of County Hall. For reasons best known to themselves, when hon. Gentlemen opposite were putting the London Government Bill, 1963 through the House, a Measure which was fathered solely by them and had few friends on this side of the House, and to which most of our present troubles can be traced, they included a Clause which said that in due course parks should be taken away from the G.L.C. and handed to the borough councils.
I have a vested interest in this matter, because I was asked to be the honorary 696 president of the South London Save-Our-Parks Committee, a post which I accepted because I could see the defects of the scheme which hon. Gentlemen opposite had written into the 1963 Act. It was an all-party body, consisting of sportsmen, Conservatives, Socialists and Liberals. I even received letters from Communists asking me to join the committee. We have held meetings in South-East London, and I know that there is tremendous opposition to the proposals put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
As far as I can see, once the parks have transferred from the G.L.C. to the boroughs the average Londoner will see no improvement in his parks. All that will happen is that in my Borough of Lewisham the rate in the £ will go up by 3d. What else will happen? Parks are no better than the men who look after them, and the men who look after them are no better than the terms and conditions of service which they are given, and the training which they receive.
§ Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)
The hon. Gentleman referred to the 1963 London Government Act. Does he recall that there has been another London Government Act since his party came to power, which put off local elections by a year? If he feels so strongly about this issue, could not a Clause have been inserted in that Bill to meet the point that he is making about the parks?
§ Mr. Moyle
The hon. Gentleman was very effectively answered by myself, and others, at the time on the question of the London Government elections. If the hon. Gentleman has not taken the trouble to read the speeches made at that time, there is little that I can do now to lighten the purblind ignorance with which he graces the proceedings of this House.
The parks of London have been maintained by means of a central training system for park keepers and their supervisors. They have central negotiating machinery which is manned by members of the National Union of Public Employees, amongst others. The terms and conditions of service for the park staff are not as good as I should like to see, but they are far better than the employees can expect with the fragmented schemes which may result if the 697 whole parks organisation is broken up. If it is broken up by hon. Gentlemen opposite, all that we can expect is an increase in the borough rates and a deterioration in the standard of upkeep which we have been led to expect in the London parks which are enjoyed by so many Londoners.
Two years ago, when the G.L.C. General Powers Bill of that year was discussed in the House, I moved a series of Amendments to secure an improvement in the council's superannuation scheme. At that time the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford), who was speaking on behalf of County Hall, said that it would not be possible for the G.L.C. to introduce the improvements which I was suggesting because the Government had ruled them out of order on the ground that they were preparing a review of the social security system. Indeed, that was confirmed during the debate by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot), who was then the Minister of State, Ministry of Housing and Local Government. He said that the Government took the view that the provisions were untimely and premature because of their imminent proposals arising out of their review of the social security system. I therefore withdrew my Amendments.
But the situation has altered. Not only have the Government brought forward their White Paper outlining their proposals for improving the national superannuation scheme, but they have been included in a Bill which was given a Second Reading by the House, and which is now before a Committee upstairs receiving detailed consideration. But where are the provisions which were so evident two years ago for improving the G.L.C. superannuation scheme? No doubt the provisions of Clause 6 of the Bill will be well received by those who will benefit from them, but they represent a minority.
What has happened to the proposal to increase widows' pensions from one-third of the pension to which their husbands were entitled to one-half? There is no sign of that in the Bill. What has happened to the extension of widow's pensions and children's allowance to employees transferred from other county councils, such as the Kent County Coun- 698 cil, a portion of which was taken over by the G.L.C. in 1964?
Two years ago there was a provision which would have allowed a woman employee with an incapacitated husband to be treated as a male employees for the purposes of contributions and benefit. What has happened to that provision? There is no sign of it now. There was a proposal that we should increase benefits for contributory service beyond 40 years to two-sixtieths for each year, instead of by one-sixtieth. There is no sign of that. That has been sunk without trace.
The idea was also mooted two years ago that redundancy pensions should be payable after the age of 50, instead of 55, but, again there is nothing about that. I could go on with other examples. There were other proposals which hon. Gentlemen opposite put forward two years ago, but which have now been removed from human ken. There was a proposal that re-employed pensioners who received the top limit of the salary of their old posts should receive the top limit of the salaries now carried by their old posts.
There is no sign of that in the Bill, and yet, as I have been emphasising, the entire provisions of the Government's review of the national superannuation scheme are well known. Why is it that hon. Gentlemen opposite have not taken this opportunity to press the Amendments which I urged on them, and which they said could not be accepted only because the Government's view was that everything should await the review of the national superannuation scheme?
Finally, it was suggested by me at that time, and hon. Gentlemen opposite gave no sign that they objected in principle, that frozen pensions should be granted after the age of 50 after 25 years' service rather than at the age of 55. One sinister explanation occurs to me. It is that hon. Gentlemen opposite were prepared to put their names, if they could, to these good proposals for improving the Greater London Council staff superannuation scheme when they knew the Government would not accept them and, therefore, that they could throw political criticism at the Government for not doing so at a time when the Government's hands were tied by the impending review of the national superannuation scheme. When 699 hon. Gentlemen opposite know that there is some risk that the Government might accept these improvements they do not put them in the Bill and press them in the House.
If any hon. Gentleman opposite is willing to deny that this is the case I am willing to give way so that he can explain why these provisions are not in the Bill. If they do not give me a satisfactory explanation, I shall have to think the worst of them.
The Bill is the culmination of three years of Conservative government at County Hall. I am sure that we will agree, on reflection, that it is a pathetic Bill, notable only for its omissions and nothing else. Who among the general London electorate can remember what good Conservative government at County Hall has done for London over the past three years? Nobody. The Bill is the culmination of three years of classic incompetence by the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite, after 30 years of steady progress under Labour rule. It is the culmination of three years in which the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite have earned only one reputation, the ability to set up a loud howl when anything happens and to blame everybody but themselves for their own mistakes and shortcomings.
Over the last three years the friends of the hon. Gentlemen opposite have become adept at using the old lags' cry across the world and down through the ages, "It wasn't us. We was framed." That is all they can say every time they are in trouble. I believe that the Tory old lags' cry will have the same appeal to honest men and women in London as the old lags' cry has always had throughout the ages and in every country, and that it will be greeted on 9th April by a healthy scepticism and a determination that they do not want to hear the old lags' cry any longer.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)
I am always pleased to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. R. Moyle) even though he called me purblind. I have not been called that before. It is an interesting word. He recalled the discussions we had at the time of the London Government Act during the debates on which I made a num- 700 ber of interventions, as he did. I forecast at that time that forcing through a postponement of the London borough elections by one year would have only one effect on the electorate; and what happened was exactly as I had forecast. In my own London Borough of Enfield at that time we had 31 Labour councillors and 29 Conservative councillors. After we were allowed to have an election we had 51 Conservative councillors and nine Labour councillors.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) will correct me if I am wrong but I believe that is the London Borough of Haringey they came down to seven Labour councillors as compared with 53 Conservatives. So much for the effects of that postponement. We all know very well what happened in last year's election and what will happen on 9th April this year.
§ Mr. Berry
If the hon. Gentleman was so convinced that it was right to have done that, I remind him that the London borough elections will be coming up this year and he will have a chance to show my borough and others that Labour Government works, ha! ha!
It is a rare treat in these days to find myself supporting a Bill. Since I have been in this House there have not been many occasions when I could do so. I must admit that I came here today after having read the Bill in great detail and made inquiries into it. The first thing I realised from the speech of the hon. Member for Lewisham was that the one thing needed was not a discussion of the Bill itself, for he hardly mentioned it.
§ Mr. Berry
Apart from mentioning the long list of Amendments that have been put down, his speech contained little about the Bill. But the hon. Member for Lewisham has decided to open the G.L.C. campaign here in the House of Commons. If he wishes, so be it. No doubt he will see that his local paper next week will 701 print his speech in full, and his constituents, or his few supporters among them, may or may not be impressed, [Interruption.] I am following the hon. Gentleman in what he said even if, speaking from his usual sedentary position, he does not like it.
I want to go straight on to the question of motorways. It is easy for Members like myself, who have no motorway proposed in their area, to speak with a more detached view than others, but I happen to believe that the principle of the motorway box system is right and that the G.L.C., during its three years of Government, has gone a long way towards carrying out its declared intention of getting London moving. Anybody driving as I do up Cromwell Road and along the roads leading from the airport must realise how tremendously traffic has speeded up during the past few years. Full credit to the G.L.C. for that. One has to remember the troubles they have had because of the incompetence of central Government.
To give just one example, I have been pressing now for about two years, if not longer, for a decision about a rail or underground link with Heathrow Airport. As soon as the jumbo jets were first announced as being due to start this year I began asking the Minister of Transport when this decision was to be taken, because it was obvious that the extra traffic coming to and from London by road would cause still further congestion on the outskirts of London, on that side, and in central London.
I have continued to question the Minister of Transport. His last Answer in November was that he hoped to give a decision early in this year. I let one possible Question go, but I have put down another for next Tuesday. I may get an answer, I may not, but this is something for which the G.L.C. cannot be blamed. It has improved some of its roads, but congestion in that part of London is due to the failure of central Government to take a decision one way or another on a rail or underground link. I am not pushing one or the other, but a decision must be taken. It is vital for Londoners that that should happen.
I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Lewisham, North accuse my hon. Friends of lacking compassion, for he 702 usually speaks sincerely. He must know that we have sympathy and compassion for any householder if it is necessary to demolish his house for a development. The motorway box system will require 15,000 houses to be demolished and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have sympathy and compassion for each one of the households that will be affected.
That being so, I agree that full compensation must be paid. The G.L.C. is well aware of this. The council is equally aware that great attention must be given to householders who, while their homes may not be immediately affected, or their gardens removed, will suffer from the amenity point of view; for example, as a result of noise caused by traffic on new roads. It is, therefore, essential that a thorough investigation is made into, for example, sound-proofing and the provision of grants.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has referred to the question of compensation, because I agree that full and equal-value compensation should be given to people who are dispossessed as a result of G.L.C. policies. Would he explain why the G.L.C. has not included provisions to ensure the proper payment of compensation to Londoners who are dispossessed as a result of its policies?
§ Mr. Rossi
My hon. Friend is right. Compensation is a matter essentially for national and not local authority legislation. If the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) is so interested in the question of compensation, perhaps he will be in attendance on Friday, 27th February, to support a Bill in which my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) intends to deal with this subject.
§ Mr. Berry
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I, too, hope that the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends will be here Friday week and will vote for the Bill to which my hon. Friend referred by about 3 o'clock, because I have the Bill following that one. As my hon. Friend pointed out, this is not the sort of Bill for that type of legislation. Compensation is a central 703 Government matter and when the Conservatives form the next Government this will be one of the first issues with which we will deal.
At the time of the last G.L.C. elections the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Social Services conceived the idea of morning sittings of the House. Those meetings did not work quite as he had intended, partly, no doubt, because we were able to obtain a few Adjournment debates on subjects which the Government probably did not expect would be raised. On the Monday morning before those elections I had an Adjournment debate on the sale of council houses. I forecast what would happen and my forecast came true. The G.L.C. has not been able to sell as many council houses as it had hoped, the reason being that it has been prevented from doing so by the Government.
An hon. Gentleman opposite suggested earlier that the Conservatives wanted to "get out of housing". If desiring to see more people owning their own homes is getting out of housing, I cannot imagine what hon. Gentlemen opposite would regard as getting into housing. We want to see more people owning their own homes and, when we have a decent Government, that will happen.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have made great play about various matters that are not in the Bill. They should reflect that they did not take advantage of the courteous offer that was made last December to suggest to the G.L.C. any provisions which they thought should be in the Bill. When, as I hope, this Measure is in Committee, hon. Members will have ample opportunity, because of the special procedure that applies to Bills of this kind, to make suggestions. Had the sort of matters that hon. Gentlemen opposite want to see in the Bill been included, they would still have objected to the Measure, and that is probably why they did not make any suggestions.
The big trouble is that hon. Gentlemen opposite have never forgiven the people of London for voting primarily Conservative at the last G.L.C. elections. They cannot forgive them now because they know in their hearts that they will do the same at the next elections. Meanwhile, hon. Gentlemen opposite are doing 704 their best to halt the progress which the G.L.C. wants to make. By putting obstructitons in its way, they hope that the G.L.C. will be obliged to break its promises to the people of London.
This is a small but important Bill and I wholeheartedly support it. Only when we get a Conservative Government who will be in a position to support an overwhelmingly Conservative G.L.C. will the G.L.C. and the people of London gain the credit and advantages that they deserve.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) for his very able and comprehensive speech. I am not so sure that it was the beginning of an election campaign for the G.L.C. I think that our case in this respect has yet to be deployed, but my hon. Friend did show the general line on which our attack can be made.
I should also like to congratulate the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), for the very skilful way in which he explained the various Clauses of this rather timid Bill. Some of us who have seen him in action in the House before have discovered that this evening he was not in a particularly combative mood. The hon. Gentleman was in a rather subdued mood, which I think I prefer, and I can well understand that mood because of the nature of the Bill. By now the House will have gained the impression that there is a great deal of criticism of matters which are not touched upon at all in the Bill rather than of some of the Bill's Clauses. I should like to ask about a number of detailed points in the Bill and, after that, I shall go on to say something of a more general nature about matters which, unfortunately, are not included.
There is a proposal in Clause 12 to amend Part 2 of the 1969 Act to allow means for the conveyance of sewage sludge to carry trade effluents. As the hon. Gentleman told the House there is support for this proposal from the Confederation of British Industry. It is important that certain types of trade effluent do not go into the River Thames. During the passage of the 1969 Act, undertakings were given by the G.L.C. to the river authorities, interested county boroughs and the Port of London Autho- 705 rity to the effect that no sludge main outfall would be constructed so as to discharge directly into the tidal waters or any stream as defined by Section 2 of the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act 1951.
In any case, my understanding is that if any such outfall was desired—and perhaps my hon. Friend on the Front Bench can enlighten me on this—further legislation would be required to authorise it. However, I understand that the G.L.C., in consultation with the Government Departments concerned, is thinking of a long-term proposal for the provision of a sludge main outfall into the sea 8 or 9 miles off the North-East Kent coast. Meanwhile, I take it that the powers under the 1969 Act—as amended if the Bill goes through tonight—can be used for the construction of a sludge main either to land outfalls or to link certain of the council's disposal works.
The Amendment being sought to the Bill is being promoted at the request of the Confederation of British Industry. Part of its case, as I understand, is that there are cases where industrial effluents, because of their nature and quality, should not be disposed of in the local sewers, but perhaps, after suitable treatment—and also subject to some financial payment, I understand—can be transmitted to a convenient sludge main.
My question is whether the G.L.C. will retain absolute control. This is important. I should like elucidation from the hon. Member for Hornsey. Does he feel able to give an assurance that the G.L.C. will retain absolute control?
§ Mr. Williams
I am grateful for that assurance. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us when the working party set up by the G.L.C. to consider the whole question of the disposal of industrial sludges and toxic wastes is likely to make its recommendations known.
I want now to refer to some omissions from the Bill, particularly in relation to Part II, which concerns land. It is well known that, for the past few years, there have been increasing demands for land to be allocated for development, par- 706 ticularly of residential properties. I want to relate an experience I had which has some bearing on the question of omissions from the Bill and is concerned with the direct responsibility of the G.L.C.
About two and a half years ago, I asked the Brixton School of Building to undertake for me a feasibility study for the development of the Rainham Marshes. I did this because I understood that neither the Borough of Havering nor the G.L.C. had prepared any detailed plans. The G.L.C. had thought in some general conception of development of the marshes, but beyond that no detailed plans existed up to that time.
After six months' study, the school recommended that I should ask a reputable firm of consultants and architects to undertake a professional study of the area and so, purely personally as a Member of Parliament, I appointed a reputable firm to tell me what was possible in terms of a feasibility study of the Rainham Marshes. It reported two years later. I have the report here. I circulated over 50 copies, including some to the G.L.C. and the Borough of Havering. I must say that the attitude of the G.L.C. was one of intense interest because the proposals I made were not dissimilar from proposals which were to come some months later in respect of the St. Catherine's dock development.
It is clear that the opportunity for an international trade centre, coupled with housing, a conference centre and other developments, could be ideally sited by the River Thames. Whether it would be in place of the old St. Catherine's dock, or whether it could be sited on the Rainham Marshes, is, no doubt, an argument that could be debated, but I am of the opinion, following my study and the report submitted to me, that the Rainham Marshes provide an excellent opportunity for a development which would fit in with the new Foulness complex which may include both facilities for docking and facilities for the third London airport. I do not want to anticipate the decision of the Roskill Commission in this respect, but most people would be prepared to say that there is a chance that the lower reaches of the Thames will be the site of the third London airport. If that is the case, the Rainham Marshes will be in an ideal position for development.
707 Even more interesting, however—and this is why it is such a pity that the Bill does not refer more to the question of development of land—the site would be ideal for mixed development. My town planners estimate that we could house about 50,000 people at Rainham. We could house them without knocking down any buildings. As my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) will know, this is marshland and ideal for development. The whole project is a matter for debate. I hope that the Borough of Havering, which is also studying plans, will be able at least to decide in principle that development is possible.
The whole project is likely to be threatened if the Thames barrier controversy is not decided in one way or another. Of course, I am not complaining that this particular aspect is not dealt with in the Bill, but I think that it has some bearing on my argument for the development of Rainham Marshes. If the barrier is above Rainham, the possibility of flooding will be greatly increased there and any buildings will be at risk. Therefore, I wish to touch briefly on the question of the Thames barrier controversy. I think that the G.L.C. should consult local boroughs on this question, because the siting of the barrier should be at the top end of Long Reach and not in Woolwich Reach.
I hope that when the G.L.C. consult the Borough of Havering and perhaps other—
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Greater London Council made available the Thames flood report to such Members of Parliament as my hon. Friend who is interested in the river in respect of development so that his planning consultants could study it, that would be better than keeping the report secret, as the council appears to be doing at present?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Alan Lee Williams) has said that he does not complain that this matter is not in the Bill and that makes it difficult for me to rule him in order. He can argue that things in the Bill should not be there or that matters not in the Bill should be included 708 but when he gets outside these propositions it is difficult for me to rule him in order.
§ Mr. Williams
I realise that some of my criticisms might be misconstrued by hon. Members opposite as slightly on the unfair side—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The Chair is not concerned with the quality of the hon. Member's remarks, but whether they are in order, and they are not in order.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
When he gets his consultants to look at the feasibility of using Rainham Marshes, will my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Alan Lee Williams) consider that in the Borough of Islington there are two prisons and that we are trying desperately to export one of them? Will he consider whether it would be possible to build a prison on that land which is free from housing congestion?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
On a point of order. There is an Amendment on the Order Paper in my name and the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch and Luton (Mr. Howie) which refers to the Thames flood report and the provision of that report to the citizens of London so that consultations can take place between Greater London Council and citizens. Mr. Speaker did not rule that Amendment out of order. May I take it, therefore, that it is in order to make at least some reference to the Thames flood report in this debate?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The question of order is a matter for the Chair. It is perfectly correct that the point the hon. Member has enunciated is in order, but the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Alan Lee Williams) was going rather wider than that.
§ Mr. Alan Lee Williams
If I may, I wish to answer the brief point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown), so that there may be no misunderstanding in my constituency. I think that my constitutents would be wholly opposed to building a prison on Rainham Marshes.
I go back to my main criticism that it is a great pity there is no provision in the 709 Bill for improvement of the River Thames, particularly as 18 months ago Greater London Council held an interesting conference in the Festival Hall dealing with the development of the river in its amenity and commercial senses. That sparked off many interesting studies and a number of organisations have prepared respective plans for improvement of the Thames. It is a very important part of the whole question of the development of land to see the problem comprehensively.
There is no doubt that as time goes by the G.L.C. will get an increasing share of responsibility for the Thames. Hitherto, this has been the prerogative of the Port of London Authority. It is an easy guess that it is the intention of the Port of London Authority or the new Ports Authority—whatever it will be called—to get rid of some of its responsibilities for the upkeep of the river. This is certainly true of the upper reaches, and it is likely to be extended to the lower reaches. Therefore, at some time—certainly next year—the House will be faced with the need for legislation in this respect.
It is a great pity that the many initiatives started after the conference at the Festival Hall have not been followed up by the G.L.C. If I may offer one party political criticism, we have seen the technique of public relations at work in respect of Government and County Hall, which is damaging for the whole political process. One may gain in the short term, but in the long run one stands exposed. There is no doubt that in the next few months the electors will be faced with a choice. I hope that they will go to the polls bearing in mind that a great opportunity is presented for a governing party in County Hall which is prepared to use its imagination to make the River Thames one of the great attractions of London and to make sure that it can be developed commercially and for amenity. I do not think that there are many hon. Members representing London constituencies who would dissent from that.
The Bill is timid and in many ways irrelevant, but it does not arouse sufficient opposition for us to go into the Lobby against it. We only hope that next year the Greater London Council can do better.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
The House might wish to have the guidance of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, so it I rise now it is not to curtail the debate in any way but to enable him to see what the Opposition Front Bench thinks about the Bill so that he can provide the answers.
It has been obvious from the Motions on the Order Paper and the tenor of the debate that the procedure of the House in opposing Private Bills is being used on this occasion for party political purposes. I acquit the hon. Members for Hornchurch (Mr. Alan Lee Williams) and Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) from that charge, because they have constituency problems and grievances. Apart from them, the opposition does not seem to have been to the contents or merits of the Bill. Indeed, I understood that the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) said that he has no quarrel with the contents. Indeed, he found them very satisfactory. The opposition has been to the Greater London Council because it is a Conservative Council. It is opposition that I suppose will be mounted to any Bill the G.L.C. brings before the House; it is an electioneering exercise.
The hon. Member for Lewisham, North wound up his peroration by specifically referring to 9th April. The hon. Member said that there had been no reference in the Bill to provision of housing in London and claimed that the intention of the Opposition in this House, and the Conservatives in the Greater London Council, was to remove help and support from housing. Nothing could be further from the truth and the facts. The position about Greater London housing is that the London boroughs are primarily the housing authorities and they build about 15,000 houses a year. The G.L.C. has built 5,000 houses in 1968–69 and is stepping that up to 7,000 a year. It has acquired a number of dwellings outside London for the elderly and has modernised 1,600 houses over the past year. It has taken up nominations in new towns so that Londoners have been housed outside London to the extent of 5,000 families last year.
It has given substantial help to housing associations and has just stepped up the figure to £25 million a year over the 711 next three years. During 1968–69 the G.L.C. enabled over 27,000 families to improve their living conditions, either by moving from new houses to modernised, converted and rehabilitated dwellings, or to dwellings outside London, in the new towns and elsewhere. It is quite untrue to say that the G.L.C. has not paid proper attention to housing. The hon. Member said that proper housing is the first priority of the Labour Government. The figures show that the erection of new houses over the past year has dropped back to square one, to the figure at which it stood when the Government took over. By the end of 1970 the average over the years of this Government's period of office will be no more than the amount of new houses built in the year when they took over.
It is extraordinary to claim that only a Labour Government gives priority to housing. They have dropped that priority entirely over the past year. The hon. Member shed crocodile tears about the absence of bathrooms in some of the houses in his constituency, but I would have thought that the blame fell more on Labour control of London over the past 30 years than on Conservative control over the past three years. The hon. Gentleman went on to discuss motorways. Perhaps he believes that there should be no urban road development for through traffic but would leave it all to continue causing misery in local roads. Perhaps this is what he meant by preservation of the environment.
We can always find complaints about any proposed road development. It will always hit some householder badly. The G.L.C. has been bold enough to bring forward a plan for public consideration and to submit it to an independent public inquiry, which will start shortly. The public will then be able to express a full opinion of the details of the plan. I wondered whether the Government support this electioneering exercise on a Private Member's Bill. If a report in today's evening newspapers concerning the Government's attitude towards London government is true, I suppose that they do support this attitude.
Perhaps something should have been included in the Bill to protect the Greater London Council from this Government disregarding their obligations under the London Government Act, 1963, which 712 requires the Minister to give effect to agreements between the Greater London Council and the London boroughs for transfer of housing estates to the boroughs. Agreement has been reached and the Minister is obliged to make an Order giving effect to that agreement. He has made that Order, and now he it is reported that he will advise his supporters to vote against his own Order. Is this a repetition of the parliamentary boundaries trick? Hon. Gentlemen opposite have been saying all evening that something else should be in the Bill, and I am pointing out that something should have been in the Bill to protect the Greater London Council against this sort of trick by the Government.
§ Mr. Roebuck
Surely it is a matter for Parliament to decide and not the Government. The hon. Gentleman surely is not suggesting that there could be anything put into the Bill which would in any way diminish the sovereignty of Parliament?
§ Mr. Page
I am suggesting that something should be put into the Bill to oblige the Government to carry out the requirements of the London Government Act, 1963. I am asking if it is the intention of the Government to make Orders and then to tell their supporters to vote against those Orders, as is reported in the Press tonight. If that is so, it is a disgraceful trick to play on Parliament, the G.L.C., the boroughs and the electors. Perhaps we shall have a denial of that tonight. Here is a local authority being kicked in the teeth for coming to Parliament with a Bill to carry out undertakings which it has given to Parliament in agreement with third parties and other local authorities. The Greater London Council on the occasion of the previous Bill gave an undertaking that it would bring in a Bill to provide a code concerning statutory undertakers' apparatus in walkways. In all good faith it has entered into agreements, and it has brought the Bill before the House for confirmation of those agreements.
The contents of the Bill can do nothing but benefit the London boroughs, the superannuitants, the ratepayers and the traffic and help in the prevention of pollution. I do not agree with all the details of every Clause and I hope that there will be considerable alterations in Committee.
713 Clause 4, which deals with Wandsworth Common, should contain a right of preemption. If owners have been dispossessed from these houses for a certain purpose and the purpose is then changed, those owners should have the right to have their houses back again without loss.
I do not think the House should approve Clause 5, the family settlement clause, which gives blanket approval to every variation. I had great difficulty in finding the purpose of that Clause until it was carefully explained to me.
In Clause 10, dealing with the walkways code, it is wrong to give statutory undertakers the right to place equipment on the walkways. This was decided against the undertakers in the Acts dealing with the City of London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Liverpool. This is a departure from precedent which I hope will be carefully considered in Committee. These matters can be thrashed out in Committee, and when on Report the Bill returns to the Floor of the House, hon. Members can decide whether or not they like the result. I hope that at this stage the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has sat down. There are many hon. Members still to speak.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Reginald Freeson)
Had the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) not sought to comment on certain general matters, but confined himself to the Bill before the House, I might not have been tempted to make any observations on them. But the hon. Gentleman has made a number of points on housing which must be corrected. Not for the first time, no doubt unintentionally, he has misled the House.
Although shortly I shall come to deal with provisions of the Bill and express the Government's view upon it—and I say straightaway that I hope that it will be given a Second Reading—I make it clear that the hon. Gentleman went very wide of the facts in criticising the Government for a shortfall in the housing programme and commending the Greater London Council for increasing it. I do 714 not know whether the hon. Gentleman knows the true position, but when the current housing programme for 1965–70 was agreed between the G.L.C. and the Ministry it was the intention to build up to a rate of 9,000 tenders a year, independently of the boroughs, by this coming financial or municipal year.
From 1965 until 1967, there was a rise in the number of dwellings put into tender from about 5,500 to about 7,500. In 1968, the first year following the change of political control at County Hall, instead of that figure increasing it dropped to 5,300 dwellings, which meant a shortfall of 2,300 tenders on the proposed agreed programme for the year, In 1969, when it was intended that 8,500 dwellings should be put into tender by the Greater London Council, about 7,000 dwellings went into tender. It has recently been announced that instead of a consistent 9,000 dwelling going into tender per year, as was the original programme, which we would have seen achieved from the end of 1970 onwards, the programme is being cut back to 7,000 dwellings a year.
I regret to say that there is far too much indication in terms of slum clearance returns coming into the Ministry that, on the basis of past experience, that cut-back to 7,000 dwellings going to tender will not be achieved unless there is a radical change in policy, conduct and organisation in County Hall. There are parts of London where the rate of slum clearance over the past two years has shown a shortfall of nearly 50 per cent, on the original programme agreed by the G.L.C. That is causing considerable concern not only to my Ministry, but to some of the officers serving the borough councils in question.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
My hon. Friend will recall that I am in correspondence with him on this matter. It is not only the boroughs and their officers who are concerned, but the occupiers of the dwellings who are forced by the vacillations of the G.L.C. to remain in these properties far longer than they should.
§ Mr. Freeson
My hon. Friend has been extremely diligent in pursuing the question of the slow-down in slum clearance on a number of sites in his constituency. Of course, it is causing great concern first and foremost to those who 715 live in the dwellings. It is causing no less concern to the Department, since we are seeing not an increase, nor a levelling off, but a fall-back.
Perhaps I might relate the position to the criticism of the Government's programme in national terms. There has been a shortfall of 40,000 dwellings in the past year. In connection with that figure, it is relevant to point out that the kind of construction tender programmes that we would wish to see and for which resources will be made available, as we have made clear to all the London boroughs and the G.L.C., should be running at something between 30,000 and 40,000 tendered dwellings a year.
In fact, it had risen to 27,000, but it is now falling back because, for a variety of reasons, the borough councils and the Greater London Council have lacked the political will to maintain the level of tendering which they inherited when they took over control two or three years ago and, to make matters worse, have been cutting back drastically. There are boroughs in London which have reflected the same experience as that which I am reporting to the House as being our experience with the Greater London Council.
I am speaking in measured tones. It would be easy to be polemical about it. Since the subject has been pursued by the hon. Member for Crosby, I felt it necessary to put the facts on record. This is not a matter to be treated lightly. A very serious situation faces London when there is a failure to maintain an expanding public sector in the house-building programme. There are a few marked exceptions on both sides of the political spectrum, but I hope that all the authorities concerned, including the Greater London Council, will reconsider the position.
§ Mr. Freeson
We will make the resources available and bring as much influence as we can to bear on local authorities to keep up their programmes and, where possible, to increase them.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have allowed great latitude in this debate. Hon. Members on both sides have touched upon a wide variety of matters. The boroughs are not one of the matters concerned in the Bill, and the question of detail is one of which I must take some account.
§ Mr. Freeson
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I take note of what you have said. I was about to say that I take note of my hon. Friend's intervention as well. However, it is not a matter to be pursued tonight. If he wishes to make representations, he is free to make them to his own authority or to the Ministry, assuming that he considers it to be a matter of public and national policy. We will no doubt desire to probe such allegations to see whether there is any help that we can give to "up" the housing programme in question.
I now turn to the Bill. I have indicated that the Government hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading. The provisions of the Bill are of no great significance to the Government, except those relating to walkways, but I do not intend to discuss this matter in detail.
The hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) referred petitions which are being put in against certain aspects of these provisions which will have to be dealt with in Committee, if the Bill gets a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Freeson
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information.
It is of some significance that the petitions come, as it were, from each side of the spectrum: from those representing the statutory undertakings—the public services, electricity, water, etc.—and from those representing property owners, shop developers and the like. I understand that both types of petition are in somewhat contrary terms. This may indicate that there has been a broadly sensible middle course pursued by the G.L.C.
717 My main point is that the provisions relating to walkways have been introduced into the Bill after the fullest consultation with my Department and with other interested bodies. Indeed, they have been introduced on an undertaking given to the Government last year, and they relate to better planning control and design of pedestrian and traffic separation schemes. We would wish any detailed matters to be pursued in Committee rather than on the Floor of the House.
Whatever anxieties and criticisms hon. Members have about other aspects of the Greater London Council's policy and administration in the various spheres which have been touched on—housing, parks administration, public welfare, and the like—they are not grounds for rejecting the Bill, understandable as those anxieties and criticisms may be. I am not objecting to the rights and the opportunity which hon. Members rightly take on Second Reading of a Bill like this to go somewhat more widely into matters of policy relating to the local authority concerned. I am merely urging that they should not be taken too far. We should not lose the opportunity for improving certain aspects of legislation, planning and development control which the Government have sought to have introduced into the Bill in discussion with the G.L.C.
Having made those remarks, somewhat in sympathy with some of the general critcisms which have been made, I hope that hon. Members will heed my plea.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I was glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary give a firm lead to the House saying that in his view and that of the Government and his Department, the Bill should be given a Second Reading tonight. The reasons were so clearly given by my hon. Friend the Member for Hornesy (Mr. Rossi), in a most admirable speech, that I would have been very surprised if the Parliamentary Secretary had said anything else. It is clear that if this Bill were to be lost there would be lost with it quite important matters of considerable significance to large sections of the community.
There are pensioners who stand to gain under Clauses 6 and 7, there are very important planning regulations and the complicated machinery in respect of 718 wallways. It is important that the Bill should be given a Second Reading and allowed to go into Committee. The House knows the procedure—that any interests affected have the opportunity to appear before the Committee, sitting as a quasi-judicial body, and to put their points of view, to have them argued and considered at length and at leisure.
I echo the Parliamentary Secretary's appeal that in due course this Bill should be permitted a Second Reading and should go through the normal procedure of this House as innumerable Bills promoted almost annually by this authority have done in the past. I would be the last to make any complaint that during the course of its passage a certain amount of political discussion should take place.
It is within the recollection of the House that I have not always abstained completely from that agreeable pastime and I should plainly be a hypocrite if I suggested that, now the Conservative Party is installed at County Hall, there was anything wrong in hon. Members opposite taking advantage of the procedural opportunities which some of us in different circumstances were not slow to exploit in the past.
I want to follow up what the Parliamentary Secretary said outwith the immediate structure of the Bill, but within the rules of order as laid down earlier. The Parliamentary Secretary read the G.L.C. a lecture upon what he regarded as its inadequate housing performance. I am bound to say that it came singularly ill from a representative of a Government, indeed a Department, which only the other day had to admit the lamentable failure of their own housing programme. It was Satan rebuking Sin, with all the technical advantages that Satan has on that topic.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I must apologise for introducing Satan. Somehow to see a representative of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government present inescapably reminds me of Satan. I think that that representative desires to take wing.
§ Mr. Freeson
If the right hon. Gentle-wishes to use words such as "Satan" in the course of his remarks, I hope that 719 he will not keep wagging his finger in my direction. I take the point that he has raised. He will appreciate that when we speak of a shortfall on an original target level of house building which the Government have achieved, that cannot be treated as something separate from what the G.L.C. or any housing authority or developer has undertaken. If there has been a shortfall of many thousands of dwellings going into tender in London last year, and it is threatened again this coming year, that shortfall shows itself as part of the national shortfall and there is a responsibility on the G.L.C. and many of the borough authorities to build more. The shortfall will be less if they build more, as we want them to do.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I accept the hon. Gentleman's profound statement that if more houses were built the shortfall would be less. That hardly requires argument. The hon. Gentleman is on a serious point. The equally serious point I would put to him is that the shortfall being national to the extent of a reduction of 45,000 on the previous year, it would surely occur to him that the fault must also be national rather than local in origin. The hon. Gentleman has helped me in the argument to which I was coming. The difficulties which the G.L.C., like all local authorities, and all private builders, has been encountering, difficulties which are reflected in the tragic falling-off in new house building, which the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend had to admit the other day, stem from the same series of causes, which are causes within the control of the Government of the day. The credit squeeze—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
With respect, Mr. Speaker, other speakers in this debate were permitted by Mr. Deputy Speaker to refer to problems of national housing, and in response to a point of order which I specifically submitted to Mr. Deputy Speaker about one and three-quarter hours ago I was informed that as hon. Gentlemen opposite had been permitted to refer favourably to national policies in housing, those who spoke from this side of the House would be permitted to refer to them unfavourably.
720 That is my clear recollection, and it was in that belief that I was addressing myself to the matter. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, I think that you returned to the Chair in time to hear a very strong argument in favour of the Government from the Parliamentary Secretary. With respect, I should have thought that in those circumstances a brief reference to this matter would not incur your disapproval.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that the right hon. Member has made a brief reference to this matter. I think he is arguing that he protested about an hon. Member on the other side of the House being out of order, and he now wants to be similarly out of order himself.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
With respect, Mr. Speaker, if I left you with that impression, it is my fault. My argument was the exact converse, that an hon. Gentleman opposite having been permitted to refer to this topic, I inquired whether others on this side would later be allowed to refer to it in a contrary sense, and I was told that that would be possible.
§ Mr. Speaker
If an hon. Gentleman on the other side was out of order, the right hon. Member is equally right to be out of order to the same extent, and he has now made the brief reference that he wanted to make.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I take it that the Parliamentary Secretary, on his own reasoning, accepts that it does not lie in his mouth, or in that of a representative of the central Government, to criticise this or any local authority for any shortfall in its housing programme, because, if that has happened, it is the direct result of his actions.
There is only one other point which I desire to take up, and that springs from what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). My hon. Friend inquired of the Parliamentary Secretary what his right hon. Friend's attitude was to the transfer of some of the G.L.C. housing estates to the boroughs, to which reference is made in this evening's Press. I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not reply at once. About 50,000 houses are involved. As I understand it, the Order has been signed in accordance with the provisions of the London Government Act, 1963, and all 721 the preparations, lengthy and expensive, have been made by the G.L.C. for the making of this transfer.
The Leader of the G.L.C. has been informed by the hon. Gentleman's Department thatthe Minister would like him to know that in making the Order he has complied with the statutory requirements. The Order is, however, liable to be debated in Parliament, and the Minister wishes to reserve his attitude for the present.That has a familiar ring for some of us. But I feel, as my hon. Friend said, that if the G.L.C. had suspected that the Minister had any such intention it would be a legitimate criticism of the Bill that a provision had not been included to deal with that in the terms of the Bill. But the G.L.C.—and this may be a criticism of it—trusted the Minister. This may well be a mistake. It may well be a grave blemish on the Bill that it was not made Minister-proof. But the hon. Gentleman cannot just shrug this off. He cannot deliberately leave 50,000 families uncertain as to their future. He must really tell us whether it is his right hon. Friend's intention to back the order he has made or to run away from it.
§ Mr. Freeson
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way on this point. The Minister has indicated that he has reserved his position and it is not for me to go in conflict with that. The matter will be before the House very shortly. All I would say at this stage, in the light of what has been said in the debate on this Bill, is that the right hon. Gentleman should, like myself, be more concerned with the many thousands of families who are not going to get any kind of municipal dwellings as a result of the cut-back by about 12,000 dwellings currently on the G.L.C. housing programme.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That is not good enough and the hon. Gentleman knows it. Surely, he must tell us whether his right hon. Friend proposes to recommend his hon. Friends to support this order, or whether he does not, and is going to run away from it.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
I would like to take up the last point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and to tell 722 him that without a shadow of doubt I would oppose the Order for the transfer of houses from the G.L.C. to the boroughs through and through as I have already opposed what he chooses to describe as an exercise by the G.L.C. in bringing forward these plans.
It was the most prising job trying to get the G.L.C. to "come clean" on what they were proposing to do. On the London Boroughs Association we had to fight month after month and we still never got the answers either on transfer of housing or transfer of parks and open spaces. It is the biggest cheat operation ever mounded by the Tory Party at County Hall.
Let the right hon. Gentleman not talk about 50,000 families left in a dilemma, for that is grossly unfair. The Greater London Council and Councillor Plummer were warned time and again that they would have to "come clean" with the information. Therefore, it is quite wrong to make the suggestion that there was any impression that what Councillor Plummer was proposing to do was popular.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a Ministry official has sat in on all these deliberations and has said nothing about the Minister reserving his rights until the Minister makes an Order? Is not that a trick on the G.L.C.?
§ Mr. Brown
I do not know the background against which the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) makes that observation. I did not sit on the working party either, but I knew what was going on and the London boroughs with whom the G.L.C. were allegedly consulting knew. There were officers sitting on the working party, and two representatives from the Ministry sitting in as observers, holding a watching brief on behalf of the Minister. As I understood, when the proposals were brought forward all that they had in mind was a procedural point, something that could be done if, in the interests of Londoners, what mechanically could happen if the Minister desired this to happen when submissions were made.
I have grave doubts about the obligation on the Minister. I have studied the Act of 1963, as I studied it at the time, and subsection (3).
§ Mr. Speaker
The Chair is trying to get on the wavelength of this debate. I hope that we can link what we are talking about with the Bill.
§ Mr. Brown
I was carried away by the argument when it was alleged that the transfer of housing was being done in a way that a lot of people really want. That is not true and I wanted to indicate my position very clearly. I saw the Press this evening and thought that the words, "Life in London gets worse", were a preamble to this document. It was a grave commentary on Conservative administration in County Hall.
Let me make my position clear. I am a member of the London Boroughs Association. I was, therefore, one of those concerned in asking the G.L.C. to bring forward Clause 14. I therefore wish to see that provision in the Bill. However, I have in mind Julius Caesar and I wish to ensure that no evils live on after me.
I say this because an argument has arisen over Clause 14 in that a decision contrary to anything that we have known in local government in London has been taken. I refer to there having to be a majority of greater than two-thirds of council members. The Conservative majority in the L.B.A. insisted that the majority should be three-quarters. On reflection, it must be agreed that the only reason why that decision was taken was because it was hoped that a stop could be put on any proposals that might come forward from the Inner London boroughs.
In other words, there is a delaying factor in the sense that it will be more difficult for us to get a majority of three-quarters for a proposal than it has been in the past for us to obtain a majority of two-thirds. Is it really thought that the outer London areas are indifferent to what the Inner London ones have in mind?
I regret that the Gentleman who pushed this majority decision through on behalf of the Conservative Party has removed himself from the scene. The trouble is that while his evil remains, the G.L.C. will have this delaying factor when considering proposals brought forward by the London Boroughs Association. Now that that gentleman has departed, I hope that we will soon return to the two-thirds 724 majority principle, which we have always known in London.
Clause 5 worries me, particularly in view of the "architectural merit" label which the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) applied to it. It worries me because of cases that have arisen in my constituency. What will happen when the G.L.C. suddenly decides to change its mind over a plan? For example, one area in my constituency was to be cleared because I can only describe it as a slum. Suddenly, the G.L.C. decided that the dreadful properties involved, in which many of my people are living, were excellent examples of Victorian structure.
That decision caused alarm and despondency, not only to the local authority but to each one of the people living in those properties. I hope that somebody with expertise in this matter will make a close study of what the G.L.C. is proposing in this provision, for we do not want it to be used to retain dreadful properties which should be pulled down.
I understood the hon. Member for Hornsey to say that Clause 8 was based on the Liverpool Corporation Act. That worries me, also. After all, it was alleged in connection with the 1961 Act that the citizen had a right to proceed against a local authority if there was any damage or danger due to negligence in the construction of the footway. However, in the case of Meggs v. Liverpool Corporation in 1968 an extraordinary judgment was given, and in my submission that virtually ruled out the possibility of the individual being in a position to proceed against an authority.
I say that I am worried about Clause 8 because, whatever Liverpool Corporation may have done, this proposal in the Bill may make it impossible for people to claim damages from a local authority in view of the 1968 judgment to which I referred. I am, of course, referring to walkways, and the 1968 judgment was to the effect that although paving stones may be 1¾ in. to 2 in. proud, that was not unreasonable and should not cause people to fall over.
The problem in my constituency is that people are not in an earnings scale which enables them to employ lawyers to take up their grievances. [Interruption.] I do not know why hon. Gentlemen opposite 725 are noisy when I say that. If they have legal aid in mind, then my experience is—I have spoken with the Attorney-General about this—that lawyers tend to say that the case of Meggs v. Liverpool Corporation rules out any possibility of a case being won unless paving stones are more than 2½ in. proud. I am at present pursuing two cases of this kind in my constituency, but unfortunately, because lawyers take this view, my constituents do not have the financial means to press on and litigate.
Therefore, I want to be sure that in the Bill we do not perpetuate that situation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will satisfy me that he is not intending to do something which, in the long run, will be to the detriment of the citizens.
I read Part IV of the Bill, on walkways, with great interest and related it to my own constituency.
§ Mr. Brown
I will describe to my hon. Friend what it means and I shall take my constituency as an example.
It means that the G.L.C. will give instructions to the transport authority that it is to be financially viable and must put £2m. to reserve each year for five years. Then the G.L.C. says "How can we make life extremely difficult for the people living in Finsbury?" The G.L.C. says that one of the things that can be done, because Finsbury is a built-up area, is to close the Underground station on Sundays. Next, it says, "That is not enough, because the residents are still getting about, so let us close the Underground on a Saturday as well."
At this stage, the G.L.C. is getting nearer the point of making life difficult for the people of Finsbury because the Barbican station is then closed on a Saturday and Sunday. But is is discovered that people are using buses, so it is said, "Stop the buses running after eight o'clock on a Saturday and remove them completely on a Sunday". The residents now have to walk all the way from Finsbury to the Angel, because that is the only way they can get there. That is a description of a walkway.
I do not know why it took Part IV to describe this. If one wants to make 726 life a little more difficult, one introduces a parking meter scheme precisely designed to ensure that the resident cannot park and the public commuters can. So a scheme is designed for an area with three 24-hour firms working on shift work. One then provides 10-hour meters and 2-hour meters. I explained to the G.L.C. in simple terms that that would not work and went through the whole story, but it insisted on implementing the scheme.
As I forecast, the employee of the three 24-hour shift working firms who are commuters must come in by car. The position is that the first shift goes onto the 10-hour meters and when the second shift comes along it takes the meters over and the same thing happens when the third shift comes along. Consequently, residents in my constituency are unable to park their cars anywhere except on the 2-hour meters.
As we all know, the law says that one must start buying meter time from 8.30 a.m. Many of my residents are also shift workers. They arrive home at 6 a.m. and then have to play the pyjama game and get up again at 8.30 a.m. to take their cars off the 2-hour meters and park them elsewhere. That makes it extremely difficult. In my constituency, the residents have to suffer this walkway game because as they cannot park their cars they cannot keep them and so get rid of them. They then find that they have no Underground and that the bus services are withdrawn, but, of course, there is a walkway for everybody.
This is what the G.L.C. desires to call "work on behalf of the people of London". It is understandable that my name should be attached to several of the Amendments, because I feel very sad that the G.L.C. has failed in every way, particularly over the question of walkways, to make any provision for the needs of London.
The G.L.C. has failed in its transport policy as a whole. I regret that we still see no provision in the Bill for concessionary fares. The London Transport Act, 1969, gave London a municipal transport service and in the Bill the G.L.C. could have introduced concessionary fares for the aged and the handicapped, who enjoy this privilege in almost every other city in the country.
§ Mr. Brown
Including Liverpool, as my hon. Friend says.
But County Hall and the majority of the administrations in the borough town halls in London have taken the deplorable decision to make it impossible for the old and the handicapped to travel on our municipal transport. The transfer of London Transport to the G.L.C. could have been done by any Government, but it was left to the present Government to give London its own municipal transport. It is only regrettable that it should have been done at a time when there is a Conservative majority at County Hall.
I must be brief, because other hon. Members wish to speak. There is so much that I would like to say, however. I would like to have entered into discussion about the transfer of parks and open spaces. There is a long story to be told about that. I look forward to the appropriate Order on that matter coming up in the House, because I shall have something to say about the G.L.C.'s behaviour.
Why is there no provision in the Bill for the protection of trees and for the provision of a tree bank? Nothing is being done to make London streets more attractive and look as if they have some amenity. We just have these walkways with no trees or hedges or anything of amenity value. It is disgraceful that the G.L.C. is doing nothing in the Bill to help beautify London.
One of the things which most certainly should have been in the Bill was a decision to support a Royal Air Force Museum. It is scandalous and a commentary on our time that the Conservative-ruled County Hall and the majority of the Conservative-ruled town halls in London refused to find enough money to perpetuate the honour of the Royal Air Force at Hendon. It could have been done in the Bill. They could have shown at least some understanding and respect for all that the Royal Air Force has done. They could have perpetuated that honour in London. But such is their paucity of ideas that they could not find it in themselves to do it.
While I am not of a mind to oppose the Bill, I believe that it is poor and weak. I do not believe that it has one jot of interest to the G.L.C. I believe that it was the boroughs which asked the 728 G.L.C. to put it through for them. It is a sad commentary that the G.L.C. had not the courage to do anything else.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington, South)
Last year when a Private Bill concerning one of the great councils in the North came before this House for Second Reading, I made it the opportunity to comment adversely on Clauses regarding superannuation. Superannuation in local government is a subject on its own. The provisions of the 1937 Act make it possible for local authorities to do extremely well by their employees, particularly when they leave the service in the middle of their careers. Transferability of pension rights is one of my particular interests. Whenever, therefore, an opportunity presents itself such as is presented tonight to examine what a local authority is doing about superannuation, I think it right to seize the opportunity.
Last year I seized it and, I am sure, made myself a very unpopular figure for a time with one of the local authorities in the North. I did not, however, pursue my vendetta to the extent of preventing the progress of that Bill. I look for further opportunities when there are paternalistic but obsolete trends to pass similar strictures on local authorities in future. This is a very different matter we are considering tonight. It is only appropriate that comment should be made on the attitude of Greater London Council to the question of superannuation.
I do not think enough praise has been voiced in this House of the superannuation provisions of the 1968 London (General Powers) Act which, as local authorities go, are exceptionally progressive and even experimental in the best possible sense. Two very minor amendments are required by Greater London Council and I strongly commend the Bill to the House if only because of the small, but not insignificant, amendments to the superannuation provisions which the council desires to make. One is to confer better benefits in a case where mercy is particularly desirable, that is to say, in cases where the earner of pension rights has died within a year of completing his service. The other is to give wider transferability when people in the service of the authority change the precise nature of their employment.
729 As the hour is late, I do not think it behoves me to speak at much greater length on this subject, and it is a matter which we shall be discussing tomorrow, but I did not wish to allow the opportunity to go by without saying that these provisions are entirely in tune with the forward-looking nature of Greater London Council. I strongly commend the Bill to the House for that reason.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) on the brilliant speech he made covering all aspects of the Bill. The most important point he made was that tonight those who are speaking in opposition to it are not doing so on matters contained in the Bill, but on the dismal failure of Greater London Council to put into their Bill this year many matters which we consider highly desirable from the point of view of good government and the wellbeing of the citizens of London.
I join with my hon. Friends in saying that it is not our intention to divide on the principle of the Second Reading of the Bill, but we believe that it needs to be adequately debated. It is with that intention that we have been speaking tonight.
The first point I make is in relation to Clause 12, concerning sludge mains. As the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) pointed out, the Greater London Council is seeking powers to enable trade effluent to be discharged into sludge mains under the control of the council. If those mains were to take off pressure from the Thamesmead sewerage works in my constituency, I would, of course, join with him in welcoming the possibility of trade effluent entering straight into a sludge main.
But I must ask the hon. Member: where are the sludge mains in London? There certainly is none connecting Thamesmead sewerage works to the coast. The great fear in my constituency is that Greater London Council does not intend to put in sludge mains from Thamesmead to the coast to take sludge away, but to put in mains to bring sludge from other areas to Thamesmead, thus increasing the problems for my constituency.
§ Mr. Rossi indicated dissent.730
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If he likes to give me an assurance that the first sludge main to be constructed by his council will take the sludge away from the Thamesmead sewerage works to the coast, I should be delighted to give way to him. He sits silent.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The hon. Gentleman has given no assurance that the first sludge main installed by the Greater London Council will take the filth away from Thamesmead, the housing estate his council is now building. Many thousands of people in the Thamesmead area are affected by the foul stench from the sewerage works. There has been very little action, although there have been plenty of promises of the same sort as we heard tonight from the hon. Member for Hornchurch—I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Alan Lee Williams); I meant to refer to the hon. Member for Hornsey. I would not like to insult my hon. Friend.
My constituents are appalled by the Greater London Council's complacency.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Would my hon. Friend confirm that it is proposed to bring in the sludge main in the area being retained by the G.L.C. for council development, whereas on the other side of the development it is selling land to private enterprise?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
My hon. Friend can rest assured that it is unlikely that the G.L.C. will sell any land at Thamesmead for private development adjacent to the sewage works. It is reserving that portion for council tenants. That is part of its philosophy.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I hope that when, at a distant date, the G.L.C. starts to redeem some of its promises in this matter it will go right down to the coast and discharge out to sea, thus relieving not only my constituents but the whole of London.
731 I want to refer to the complacency of the G.L.C. and of Councillor Plummer in particular. In 1968, I wrote to him about the loss of amenity in my area caused by the sewage smell, and I had the pleasure of receiving a letter from him. He told me:You refer to the complete elimination of all odour from the sewage works, and I must repeat that even with all modern techniques such a situation cannot be guaranteed. This is not to say that any smell arising need be unacceptable. Indeed the smell one normally associates with a river can be and often is regarded as an asset. The analogy is apt in that such smells have great similarity to the healthy sewage treatment plant.I do not know where Councillor Plummer lives, but I know that he does not live near the sewerage works, though my constituents do. Therefore, I make
|Division No. 69.]||AYES||[10.0 p.m.|
|Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead)||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Iremonger, T. L.||Sandys, Rt. Hn. D.|
|Baker, Kenneth (Acton)||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Scott, Nicholas|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Lane, David||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos. & Fhm)||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||Sharples, Richard|
|Biffen, John||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Longden, Gilbert||Silvester, Frederick|
|Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.)||MacArthur, Ian||Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)||Smith, John (London & W'minster)|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Maddan, Martin||Speed, Keith|
|Chichester-Clark, R||Maginnis, John E.||Stodart, Anthony|
|Costain, A. P.||Mawby, Ray||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.|
|Crowder, F. P.||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Dance, James||Monro, Hector||Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)|
|Doughty, Charles||More, Jasper||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Elliott, R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)||Tilney, John|
|Eyre, Reginald||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Farr, John||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Fisher, Nigel||Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Walker, Peter (Worcester)|
|Foster, Sir John||Neave, Airey||Ward, Christopher (swindon)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Goodhew, Victor||Nott, John||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Gower, Raymond||Page, Graham (Crosby)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Grant, Anthony||Page, John (Harrow, W.)||Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William|
|Gurden, Harold||Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Peel, John||Worsley, Marcus|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James|
|Harvey, Sir Arthur Vers||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hawkins, Paul||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Mr. Anthony Berry and|
|Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Royle, Anthony||Mr. Hugh Rossi.|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Roy Roebuck and|
|Mr. James Wellbeloved.|
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the Affir/native because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 32 (Majority for Closure).
§ It being after Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.732
§ no apology for using every opportunity that presents itself to me in Parliament to press and press the G.L.C., as I shall continue to do so long as I represent the constituency, to eliminate the foul stench that arises from its sewerage works at Thamesmead and is smelt all over a wide area of my constituency.
§ The situation is far more serious than that, because the G.L.C. is developing at Thamesmead new homes for 60,000 people. Those new homes are within a few hundred yards of the sewerage works, and the tenants moving in now—
§ Mr. Berry rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question put, that the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 89, Noes 0.