§ Question again proposed.
Clause 8 seeks to widen the council's powers under the Housing Act to cover land other than a highway, particularly in respect of the growing problem of parking obstructions on council estates. Not only do tenants suffer from the growing problem of irresponsible parking, and not only by other tenants but sometimes by commuters seeking refuge from parking restrictions of the public highway; at least as important are the difficulties presented for the emergency services. I imagine that many hon. Members could cite instances of real difficulties faced by ambulances, police and the fire service in gaining entry to certain parts of council estates when there have been real emergencies.
Moreover, parking grievances are often the source of contention between tenants and harassed estate officers seeking to enforce parking restrictions. Anything which reduces that tension is to be commended. Notwithstanding particular grievances which may get an airing in this debate, I believe that it is recognised that the majority of estate officers carry out a sound job conscientiously and with consideration for their tenants.
Clauses 9, 10 and 11 seek to confer powers sought by several local authorities in private Acts in recent years to enable them to reach such agreement with developers that the planning authority shares in the profits of a development. Clause 9 would help the authority to enter into an agreement to determine the way in which the land is to be developed and to ensure that the resources of the developer are adequate. Provision is also made for the agreement to be enforced if necessary and the clause permits the local authority to take or acquire shares or other securities in any company incorporated in the United Kingdom with which such an agreement is entered into.
Clause l0 seeks powers for the councils to participate in any development of land which they own or have agreed to acquire and which they are entitled to dispose of by statute by entering into an agreement with any person under which a payment can be made to that Person in return for an interest in the development. Clause 892 11 confers the borrowing powers on the London borough councils and the City Corporation in connection with their exercise of their powers under the preceding two clauses.
The intention behind Clause 12 is to enable the councils to have the power to establish foreign loan reserve funds. The present Treasury underwriting of foreign loans ensures that the council's effective rate of interest is only 1 per cent. below the appropriate Public Works Loan Board rate, although the councils can offer and in the past often have offered secure loans at much more favourable rates. If the councils had funds to enable them to bear the exchange loss risks themselves, they would be enabled to borrow abroad economically.
Part IV, of course, represents provisions relating to Southwark Council and its desire to remedy the deplorable condition of Nunhead Cemetery, Linden Grove, S.E.15, which I imagine are quite unexceptionable.
I thank the House for the tolerance that it has extended to me in the arduous and no doubt over-lengthy task of moving the Second Reading. Despite the length of my speech, I am all too well aware of the imperfect way in which I have been able to identify the major proposals in the Bill. Had I intended to tackle this formidable task with the attention to detail to which hon. Members are entitled, I may have been accused of seeking to replace the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) in the Guinness Book of Records for length of a back-bench speech. That would have been as unwelcome to the House as to the sponsors of the Bill, who would have seen the Bill no doubt submerge in the parliamentary equivalent of the waters of Lethe.
I have therefore sought to comment on the clauses most likely to awaken the critical interest of hon. Members. I hope to be able to reply to any points of substance raised in the debate. I hope that all hon. Members will recognise, however, that particular details can be appropriately reserved to the Committee stage, should the Bill gain its deserved Second Reading.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
I compliment the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) on the fluent way in which he 893 moved the Second Reading. Over the years, we have heard many hon. Members move Greater London Council (General Powers) Bills, and he lived up to the calm and sensible standard which they have set on those occasions.
Alas, the tenor of this debate has been in danger of being altered by the garrulous ramblings of a small-time local politician named Harrington. His article in the Evening News last night was an insult to all 92 London Members. He is clearly so busy making speeches that he fails to read what happens in this House. He failed, for instance, to notice the unity of the London Members on the question a few days ago of industrial development certificates, or the fact that London Members of Parliament have made major contributions to debates on subjects of particular reference and interest to London —housing and rates.
One is tempted to think of blocking the Bill in view of his remarks, but I suppose that Illtyd Harrington is of so little real importance that it would do a disservice to the people of London to interfere for that reason with legislation which they want. None the less, he owes an apology to all hon. Members.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)
On behalf of all London Members, I am sure that I can say that we all share the sentiments the hon. Gentleman has expressed about the offensive article to which he referred. I undertake that in correspondence I am now having with Mr. Harrington I shall ask him to write a letter to the hon. Gentleman and, I hope retract some of the remarks which he made in the article yesterday. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that he referred to 92 hon. Members, and that was a bit sweeping even for Mr. Harrington.
§ Mr. Finsberg
That is an extremely handsome intervention which, I am sure, all hon. Members greatly welcome. I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Let me dismiss Mr. Harrington by saying that I imagine that his speeches and articles are part of his design or his bid to become not deputy leader but leader of the Greater London Council.
It seems to me that there are several sensible provisions in the Bill. I turn, 894 first, to the end of the Bill, which deals with cemetery proposals. From inquiries which I have made, I see these proposals as of extreme importance. It may be that, in a future Session, there will be a requirement for similar legislation to cover the Highgate Cemetery in the London Borough of Camden, which is in equal danger of neglect. As it has such distinguished graves in it as those of Karl Marx and Sir Rowland Hill, an ancestor of my wife, I am sure that the cemetery is completely bi-partisan, and the sort of proposal put forward would receive some support.
There are three items in the Bill which give a little cause for concern. I shall refer to Clauses 3, 6 and 7 in general, and make some detailed comment also.
Clause 6, probably the most important one, deals with bus lanes. The hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) went to great length to try to explain the problem of contra-flow lanes and other lanes. Certainly, it is quite a frightening experience to stand in Piccadilly and hope that the bus will remember to come the right way and have its headlights on. But we are not concerned with the contra-flow lanes, because they derive their legislative existence from a different Act. We are concerned with the extra powers that the GLC wants to take in order to have more with-flow bus lanes.
Up to now, the problem with bus lanes has been that the police have been gravely undermanned and unable to enforce the provisions. There is a bus lane in Finchley Road. I travel down that road every morning at bus lane time. I am always passed by seven or eight cars in the short space of a few hundred yards, and they seem to get away with it. I am left fuming, because I decide that it is right to be law-abiding. If there were sufficient police, the people who try to jump the bus lanes would be prosecuted, and there might be more general observance of the law.
The Greater London Council is asking to take powers to provide permanent barriers. This is where I think some difficulties arise. As the hon. Member rightly said, there are two sorts of barrier—the mountable and the non-mountable. As I understand it, the mountable type of barrier is made of a strip of rubber, approximately 4 inches 895 thick. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will forgive me if I do not try to convert that into the metric system, because off-hand I do not know what it would be, and I am not sure that the House would want to know.
§ Mr. Finsberg
I accept that, if it is right. This mountable bus lane divider will compress into approximately 2 inches. If the hon. Member in charge of the Bill, should he be fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is able to say that this would be the general type of divider put in. a lot of the fear many of us have would, I think, be removed. I and, I am sure, many other hon. Members, have had representations from organisations such as the Multiple Shops Federation, which has been in touch with the Greater London Council and its parliamentary agents for about six weeks.
It seems that, if the Bill goes through with the clause drawn in its present form, there will be no guarantee that the Greater London Council will normally use a mountable, as opposed to a non-mountable, type of barrier. That would present many problems. There are many premises in London where there is no rear access road and where vehicles seek to unload. Those vehicles will be put in a very difficult position if they have to park on the other side of the road, or if they have to park on the off-side of a permanent non-mountable barrier.
For example, what will happen to bank bullion vans which are delivering valuable cargoes daily? It must be a security hazard, adding to the problems of the police, if such vehicles delivering to banks where there is no service or rear access road have to park on the other side of the road or outside the bank but separated from it by a permanent lane. It would be simple for a gang of villains to use that lane with a car, quickly do some damage to the people delivering, and take the money. The security angle should be looked at.
I am not all that happy about saying that bank bullion vans should use rear access roads, because the first thing one learns in security in this area is that one must try to avoid using the same routine and the same route. The possibility of 896 non-mountable barriers would make it that much easier for wrong-doers to know that there was a sitting target on certain days of the week.
I am told that in the West Central district of London the district post office is worried that it will not be able to complete its first delivery of mail in the morning as early as it does now if it is forced to remain outside the barrier.
I specifically ask the hon. Member to try, if he can, before the end of the debate to get some undertaking from the Greater London Council that it would be prepared to state that, where there is no rear access, it would use only the mountable type of barrier.
Clause 3 seems to be somewhat unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman gave reasons why he thought it necessary. I should like to hear a little more, because I am not certain that local Bills are the best way of dealing with the matter. In my view, there should be national legislation, and my understanding is that this is provided for in Section 1 of the Health and Safety at Work Act. It would be dangerous for many local authorities to start introducing their own powers when one would hope that the Government would make regulations which would then be applicable to all local authorities. I am worried that one local authority Bill should do it.
Perhaps the Minister will be able to give us some guidance as to whether the Government would wish to see this provision removed from the Bill in Committee, with some sort of undertaking that they will introduce the appropriate powers in a Government Bill or under appropriate regulations.
I have had discussions with the promoters about Clause 7, because I am not happy that it is right in present circumstances. I accept that it is right that local authorities should have the power topublish, prepare for publication, contribute to the publicationand so on, but the people of London are complaining that their rate burden is extremely heavy. I put this as non-controversially as possible. It would be unfair at this time to ask them to run the risk of having to make a contribution to such a scheme as the clause nvisages, which might run at a loss.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman can confirm that the promoters are prepared 897 to give an undertaking to move a suitable amendment in Committee making clear that the clause would be subject to—in the technical term—taking one year with another, the income being sufficient to defray the expenditure thereunder. That is a necessary safeguard. Such an undertaking would be in accord with precedents in the Water Act 1973 and the Local Government Act 1974, and would remove fears that the clause would be operated without too much concern for London's ratepayers.
§ Mr. Michael Ward (Peterborough)
Does the hon. Gentleman wish to prevent London local authorities from issuing to their ratepayers small booklets and publications free of cost relating to their functions and services or their history? Next year, things might be easier, and they might want to issue such publications under powers given in the Bill. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he is not prepared to trust London local authorities to make a judgment on these minor matters?
§ Mr. Finsberg
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. There are two ways of looking at the matter. One is for local authorities to prepare, have available and, if necessary, distribute to their ratepayers informative leaflets on their functions. I am not certain, though, that it is right that they should have the unfettered power to publish anything else without regard to cost. The operation should be self-balancing. I am not asking that it should be profit-making.
Clause 8 is extremely important for all of us who have local authority housing estates in our constituencies. No so long ago, we had the constant complaint from our council tenants that the police were not willing to include council estates' internal roads on their beats. Both sides of the London Boroughs Association put a great deal of pressure on the police, who have now agreed that they will include such roads in their normal work. That is greatly welcomed.
The clause gives the local authority an opportunity to commence proceedings against those people, some of whom live in the estates and some of whom do not, who use the roads to park their surplus vehicles. Quite a number of the vehicles are fugitives from salerooms. It is wrong that council tenants should have those 898 vehicles dumped on them and have their amenities ruined, without the local authority being able to take action. The clause takes care of that irksome matter, about which many tenants have complained.
In general, the Bill is acceptable. It gives an opportunity for the House to discuss London matters, and in particular to consider the powers being sought by the GLC and the London boroughs. Because of the procedure adopted by the local authorities in London, we can see at once which parts of the Bill are the requirement of the GLC and which are inserted at the request of the London boroughs. It was not long ago that some members of the GLC, belonging to both political parties, were not happy about allowing their Bill, as they called it, to be the vehicle for some borough proposals. Those days have gone. Probably it would be unacceptable to the House to have a Greater London (General Powers) Bill and a London Boroughs (General Powers) Bill. But, if friend Harrington goes on as he has, it might be wiser for the London boroughs to have their own legislation, which would not run the risk of being blocked.
If the hon. Gentleman can give us assurances on the two points I have mentioned, the Bill will deserve to be given a Second Reading in the interests of Londoners.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Gordon Oakes)
I intervene briefly at this stage as it may help the House if it knows the Government's attitude to the Bill, so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield. North (Mr. Davies).
I deal first with the remarks recently made in the Press by Mr. Harrington. There may be a failure of liaison or communication somewhere, but, having been a Minister for 12 months, I can assure the House. Mr. Harrington and the public of London that at Question Time, in delegations, in letters, in committees and in debates hon. Members from both sides of the House who represent London constituencies are never slow at coming forward. I read Mr. Harrington's remarks with astonishment. I can only attribute them to a failure of communication somewhere along the line.
899 Generally speaking, the Government have no objection to what the Greater London Council is trying to achieve in the Bill. There are a few points still to be discussed with the promoters, but 1 hope that they will be resolved before the Committee stage.
The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) raised a number of points which could better be discussed in Committee. For example, he mentioned the special powers in Clause 3 with regard to the fire brigades. Not being a Home Office Minister, I cannot give a detailed reply, but the matter can be dealt with in Committee.
The hon. Gentleman's point on Clause 7 concerns a matter which is subject to negotiation. The 1972 Local Government Act gives wide powers to local authorities in these regards, and we shall want to know in what respects the GLC wishes to exceed those powers or to have different powers.
I must mention the powers given in the Bill with regard to Nunhead cemetery. All hon. Members will agree that what has happened to that private cemetery is a disgrace. It is saddening for all the people whose relatives have been buried there, and it is an environmental eyesore. The Bill gives powers to the London Borough of Southwark to deal with the cemetery. I have received delegations led by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Lamborn), my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip. No junior Minister lightly disregards a deputation led by his right hon. Friend the Chief Whip.
Although the Government will be introducing a variance Bill subsequently, it is unlikely that it could be reached in this Session, and many of the difficulties with regard to Nunhead Cemetery could be overcome in this Bill. I am not certain about the position on Highgate Cemetery. I understand that the London Borough of Camden is seeking to acquire it. I do not know whether, under the terms of this Bill, discussion of that matter can be raised. I hope so.
I therefore ask the House to follow the convention on Private Bills and to give the Bill a Second Reading so that it can go to a Select Committee which 900 can examine the detailed issues involved with the benefit of extra evidence before it.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
I follow my hon. Friend's argument about Illtyd Harrington's statement, but my hon. Friend and his Department are in part responsible for that man's attitude. After all, he is chancellor of the GLC. I wish that my hon. Friend would understand that the rate support grant does not show any favour to London but, on the contrary, hurts London very badly. I resent what Mr. Harrington has said. But my hon. Friend and his Department should be looking at ways of giving more rate support grant help to London to enable it to resolve its problems.
§ Mr. Oakes
I quite understand my hon. Friend's point. If Mr. Harrington had attacked me or anyone in my Department, that is fair game in politics, but it is quite wrong to attack 92 hon. Members for deficiencies he may consider that we have in that regard. Perhaps my hon. Friend will be able to pursue tomorrow some of the points he is trying to raise today.
I repeat that I hope that a Second Reading is given to this Bill so that the detailed points which will no doubt be raised later in the debate can be examined in Committee.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), I find nothing particularly offensive in the Bill. Indeed, I find a good deal to commend it. I am particularly pleased to see the provisions in Part IV concerning cemetaries because in my constituency we have a similar problem at the Chingford Mount Cemetery. Although the local authority is hopeful that we shall be able to acquire it and put the cemetery to rights without taking compulsory powers, we have taken the precaution of discussing the matter with the GLC and may want to use similar powers at some other time. I shall be pleased, therefore, to see those powers enacted.
Part II gives us a particular opportunity, and a right one, in Clause 3, to refer to the London Fire Brigade. It is all too rarely that we have an opportunity not merely to legislate to assist the fire brigade but to acknowledge the work that 901 its members do in London. I live in the City not very far from the main City Fire Brigade station. I know how often the brigade turns out. I hear it every time it turns out. Because I live so close to it, I was acutely aware of the work that members of the fire brigade did during the recent Moorgate disaster. It is a pleasure—although under sad circumstances in this case—to be able to pay tribute to all that the brigade has done for Londoners.
Part II also relates to highways and bus lanes. I hope that if I stray over the edges of a bus lane here and there, Mr. Deputy Speaker, into more general highway matters, in view of the relatively rare number of occasions on which London Members are able to debate London affairs, you will not be too keen to call me back to the straight and narrow.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
It all depends on whether the hon. Gentleman strolls or canters, because many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.
§ Mr. Tebbit
As ever, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall watch most closely the expression on your face.
However, there are other forms of precedence for traffic on London roads. In particular, there are such things as heavy lorry routes. If ever we should find that we have heavy lorry routes with bus lanes as well, we shall be in very deep trouble. Under the Bill that could happen. The effects could be quite devastating for many people. I should like to quote briefly from a letter which I received only this morning. It is dated 11th March—so some of the mail must be getting through. It is from one of my constituents in Chingford, who says:At present, I can honestly say I am awakened every morning between the hours of 5 and 6 a.m. by lorries thundering past here, after coming down Friday Hill.He continues in similar style, commenting on the difficulties of getting the road kept in a good state of repair, the noise, the danger to pedestrians and even larger hold-ups than occur during the already busy rush hours. He says:Apparently the hauliers claim they can save three-quarters of an hour in getting on to the M1 by using the A110 instead of the North Circular.902 The hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) will be familiar with the A110 and all that it means to our constituents. Indeed, a new lorry route is being proposed, which runs from the hon. Gentleman's constituency to mine. It will run up an already dangerously steep hill on which there have been many accidents, through the edge of a shopping area, past a parish church, past schools and through residential roads. I hope that in these few hours that we have to discuss London's affairs, Mr. Illtyd Harrington can spare an ear for our proceedings. He may take note of the concern which London Members express over these matters.
Of course, lorry routes are sensible, and there should be a diversion of heavy traffic on to roads that are suitable for it. But the problem arises when there are no suitable roads and when the heavy traffic is diverted along residential roads. The GLC's policies towards transport and the GLC's predisposition towards protection of public transport have unfortunately been accompanied by a predisposition virtually to forbid road development in the Greater London area. As many hon. Members from the northern part of London will know, there are difficulties over the current improvements to the North Circular Road, the A406, at the junction with the A10, where the Greater London Council, curiously not hearing anything of what has been said here, has been extremely difficult about the roundabout reconstruction.
§ Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of lorry routes, may I ask whether he agrees that there is a great problem in that there are many roads, as I know in Southgate, which lorries are already using but which they should not be using because the roads are not wide enough? But now those roads are being designated as lorry routes because the lorries are already using them, so instead of stopping this we shall have even more lorries.
§ Mr. Tebbit
My hon. Friend is right. That is the position in relation to the route I am describing in my constituency. We all know that the lorries will not go away, any more than the buses will—except when one is waiting for a bus. 903 The lorries will be there. Unhappily, all the road transport cannot be transferred to canals or railways. This is just not realistic. Since the Greater London Council has decided that it will not build new roads in London the problem has become worse. It will continue to get worse. The abandonment of the old ringways idea is now a long way in the past, and we should not go over that.
The need for further improvements of Ringway 2, the North Circular road, and the outer ringway, Ringway 3—although it is outside the boundaries of the Greater London Council area and outside the terms of the Bill—is imperative. The Minister is well seized of that. His Department is doing all that it can to help. Indeed, even the Greater London Council is not obstructing that—possibly because it is outside its own boundaries —despite its propaganda against road building. That is the main feature of the Greater London Council's activity concerning my constituents.
Mr. Harrington and his friends would be well advised to remember that at the end of the day when the inevitable increase of traffic occurs on dangerous roads such as Kings Head Hill. it is they who will take the blame and not the unfortunate lorry drivers.
The only other matter about which the Greater London Council is upsetting my constituents, apart from the increase in rates about which there will be a debate tomorrow, is the council's housing policies. I welcome the minor but important provisions in the Bill for the removal or control of parked vehicles on council estates. This is a major problem and a great irritation to council tenants. Council tenants do not have a good life, especially in London. Their rents may well be lower in many cases than they should be, but in many ways they get a pretty raw deal from their housing authority.
In the main the Greater London Council's housing policies are appalling. As many hon. Members have had a bash at Mr. Harrington, I would add that one beacon of light at County Hall is Councillor Tony Judge, chairman of the Housing Management Committee. He has dealt with personal problems brought to him by myself and many other hon. 904 Members. He is always courteous, helpful and most concerned with the welfare of his tenants. This makes an extremely pleasant change. My constituents are greatly affected by the Greater London Council's programme of municipalisation. Now that the money is not available for former tenants to improve the houses they have bought, matters will become worse.
It is a pity that we do not have more time to talk about London. I am not sure how much time is given to Wales, but I am aware that a great deal of time is given to Scotland. There are Scottish Questions and there is a Minister for Scotland. I do not think that Scotland has a greater claim than London in these matters. I hope that note will be taken of this in high places, not least by the Government Chief Whip who I know has the interests of London at heart—even if it is sometimes in a somewhat perverted way—and that we shall have more time to debate London affairs than we get on this customary occasion of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
I put my name to a motion to prevent this Bill from becoming law without a debate. Although some Conservative Members did the same, there was no collusion between us. I blocked it for my reasons, and no doubt they blocked it for theirs. I wanted to ensure that I had an opportunity to express my grievances, and those of my constituents, about the inefficient housing management of the Greater London Council—not about its housing policies. It is rather odd to use the House of Commons as a platform to express grievances about the conduct of a local authority, but since this House is invited by the Greater London Council to pass legislation, we should use the opportunity to express grievances and to seek remedies before the legislation is passed.
I concede that many of the housing management problems facing the Greater London Council are largely intractable. I shall not express the grievance felt by one third of Greater London Council tenants who wish to be transferred from one tenancy to another. There is a severe limit on the extent to which the Greater 905 London Council can accommodate the wishes of a fraction of those people.
Certainly, the Greater London Council cannot hope to satisfy all the people who are seeking council accommodation but who are not at the moment housed by it. However, aspects of its conduct of housing management can be improved. I am not suggesting that the GLC is the worst authority in the country, but it is certainly very had. I echo the remarks of the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) about the present chairman of the housing management committee of the GLC. I hope that he will rapidly introduce badly needed improvements to the efficiency of the machine.
Among the general criticisms which can justifiably be mounted against the GLC's housing management are that it is impersonal and inefficient, and that people who are up against it feel that they are up against a brick wall. They feel that they have to nag to get anything done. Usually they do not get it done even when they continue nagging, and even when they use their elected representatives. In the face of this inefficient machine, they feel quite helpless.
I know that they must feel helpless because I, too, feel helpless.
Around Christmas, I wrote to the leader of the Greater London Council saying that, in the light of some recent events, I intended to block this Bill. Five weeks later, when I had received no reply, I was invited not to block the Bill on the ground that my letter had been passed down to the housing department and had not yet come up again. If my letter can be dealt with like that, I wonder—indeed, I know —what happens to Mrs. Smith's letter about her blocked drains. To be asked to withdraw opposition to the Bill on that ground adds insult to injury.
I also asked to see the form of the notice to quit served by the Greater London Council, when necessary, on its tenants. I did not receive it. I asked another councillor for an account of a meeting with local district officers on a problem in my constituency and did not receive it. This is happening all the time. Every hon. Member could repeat cases of that type. It is high time we said that the Greater London Council housing management is lousy and that it ought to be and can be rapidly improved.
906 I illustrate this by the example of repairs. In a tenant's rent book there is a form which can be used to notify the council of the need for a repair. I shall refer to a few cases, but I do not want to invoke a remedy in individual cases through this debate. The other night, I visited Mr. and Mrs. Bull who live in Stranraer Way. They moved into a new GLC flat last September, and since then they and their neighbours have suffered from blocked drains. It is not the grievance but the lack of response to the grievance that is significant. The blockage has been cured for most of the people originally affected by it.
These people have had this trouble since last September. Not only does the water not drain away from their kitchen sink but the bath water from the upstairs neighbour does not drain away properly. It drains into their kitchen sink and bubbles up there. When the people upstairs have a bath and then pull out the plug, that water finds its way into the kitchen sink of the flat below and has to be ladled out with buckets and thrown over the outside garden wall. It is a severe grievance. It might be thought that any competent officer would say, "We have to do something about that". Nothing has been done about it. The problem has been corrected nearby, but not in that instance.
In all that time, not a single letter has been received by the tenants from the district office saying, "We are terribly sorry. We are doing all we can to put it right, but we are having this or that difficulty and it will take us three weeks" —or whatever the time. This is what I am complaining about—not the original grievance but the way in which the situation has been allowed to be delayed and the manner in which the tenant has personally been neglected.
Tenants simply do not know what is happening about this incident because they have heard nothing from the local office. The same situation exists in the empty flat next door, where the sewage just bubbles up into the kitchen sink and spills over on to the floor. It can be seen through the window.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
Would my hon. Friend agree that this is not on the housing management side, in that the appropriate department is the architect's and 907 surveyor's department because it built the place like that? The real issue is that the architects and surveyors are unable to find a solution to the mistakes in the building they have put up.
§ Mr. Cunningham
No, it is not. I totally disagree with my hon. Friend. I am not complaining that the surveyors or the architects or someone put in a drain that was blocked. All sorts of things can happen when a building is being constructed. What I am complaining about is that the housing management side of the GLC has not seen fit to give this matter sufficient attention and have it corrected. It will have to be corrected some time. The tenants cannot go on having other people's bath water coming into their kitchen sink for ever. If it were given the right priority, it would be dealt with. It should not be the case that a tenant affected by such a severe grievance does not hear a word from the local office. That is what I am complaining about.
There is a Mr. and Mrs. Hurst in Braithwaite House. I am taking examples from different parts of my constituency to show that it is not just one set of officers involved. Mr. and Mrs. Hurst had no hot water from October of last year until February of this year. Three lots of plumbers came, confessing that they were unable to deal with the situation. That was spread over many weeks. I am glad to say that that case has recently been attended to by a new and much better estate officer for that area.
Other tenants in Braithwaite House in Bunhill Row have repeatedly complained about people improperly spraying cars, mending car engines, taking engines out of cars and putting in new engines—generally using the grounds of this block of flats as a garage. Cleaning was not carried out. The lavatories on the ground floor were allowed to become so filthy that they were totally unusable. That is admitted by the GLC officer who attended a meeting of the tenants' association a month or two ago.
Many of the tenants at that meeting said that they did not know who the estate officer was. They are supposed to know who the estate officer is. They are supposed to get a letter telling them who he is. The letters were apparently sent 908 in their direction but they never received them. When it was suggested that the letters had not been posted but had been handed to the caretaker to pass on to the tenants, they said, "Oh well, that is clearly what happened. The caretaker put them down the chute". They have had plenty of experience of what happens in that block to back up that view.
None of these things was attended to until they formed a tenants' association and until some of us put some weight behind the complaints being made. It ought not to be necessary for a Member of Parliament to be involved in this. I have other things to do than get involved with such affairs. I resent the fact that I have to become so involved.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
I am listening to my hon. Friend with care. It is right and proper that these complaints should be aired. So far, he has not mentioned what is a vital ingredient when discussing the GLC. May I ask him what was the rôle of the GLC councillors in this?
§ Mr. Cunningham
That is not a matter with which I intend to deal. I have a Mr. and Mrs. Creelman in Grimthorpe House who had a plumbing difficulty which was reported to the Chalton Street office of the GLC, which in my experience has the very worst reputation of all the GLC offices for dealing with complaints—and that is saying something. This problem was reported on 2nd September and various people called almost immediately. A plumber called a couple of weeks later without notice and therefore could not put it right. In early November another plumber came. He managed to puncture a pipe causing a flood.
All of this is verified from the accurate records kept by the Citizens' Advice Bureau which assisted Mr. Creelman in presenting his complaints. When I took this case up with the GLC, I was told in a letter of 12th November that it had had only one notification of this complaint, on 18th October, and that it had been rectified on 30th October. What comes out of that case is the fact that complaints were made but were clearly not recorded. In its letter to me. the GLC said that it had been notified only once. Much of what I am complaining about could be corrected by a proper system of recording complaints when 909 people send them in, telephone them in or call personally.
I wrote to the district officer on 3rd December asking whether he could reconcile the account of the Citizens' Advice Bureau about the number of times the complaint had been made with his account to me. That was on 3rd December and I still have not had a reply.
There is a Mr. Bunby in Orkney House. When it rained, the water came in through his window, in very large quantities, because he lives on the top floor of a high block and the wind blows the rain against the window. That was the fault of the architects. We all know what disasters occur when the over-excited imaginations of architects cause them to use new and untried devices in local authority designs. The defect was notified in the autumn of 1972. It was finally fixed about 18 months later, in January 1974.
I wrote to the former chairman of the housing management committee of the GLC on 12th August 1973 after months of trying to deal with the matter through officials. There was no reply. I wrote again on 29th October 1973. No reply. I wrote again on 8th January 1974, and finally I received an answer on 30th January 1974 which said:I am sorry I had not been given the necessary information about the rain penetration problem to permit me to reply before this.There is no cold water supply in Godfrey House on the St. Luke's Estate. This was reported in September 1973. Difficulty with the cold water supply there had repeatedly occurred since the place was put up in 1969. In 1971, it took the GLC from April to August to get it right. I should say that at that time that area was represented in this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown). I wrote to the GLC about that case. It took nine weeks to reply to my letter. In January 1974 the trouble recurred.
Those are only illustrations of the incompetent manner in which the GLC deals with notifications of complaints. We all know, and every GLC councillor knows, that that is the kind of thing that happens. I have picked out not all the cases in my files but only a selection from different GLC blocks.
My second major complaint is about what I call the counter—about how the 910 GLC tenant or would-be GLC tenant is dealt with when he goes to a GLC office. In a word, badly.
There are three reasons why people may go into the local GLC office—to get a place, to get a transfer, or to notify the need for repairs and so forth. It is the common view of all GLC tenants who come to me that they are treated rudely. This is partly because the GLC in most district offices uses for the purpose the junior clerks in those offices. These clerks did not join to do that work and they are not trained or equipped for it. They do it only for about half a day per week, and that is a perfectly common situation.
I have suggested that it would be better to use on the counter the kind of experienced woman who runs a citizens' advice bureau. There is a difficulty because then the gap which now exists between the public and the office might become a gap betwen the counter staff and those who take the decisions. But such a woman would be a useful intermediary between the public and the officers. I have had complaints recently of people having to wait three hours in the King's Cross office in my constituency—partly because it is being improved to speed up the process by which people are interviewed.
Tenants are frequently told, and they resent it enormously, that their files are lost. Usually they are not lost; they just cannot be found.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but will he be kind enough to say to which part of the Bill he is speaking, because he has been speaking for a long time?
§ Mr. Cunningham
I blocked the Bill in order to ensure that we should have a little time to discuss these things, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and, as you will be aware, there is a part of the Bill specifically dealing with housing management. I think the whole of my remarks come within that broad definition, but I shall certainly try to avoid going into great detail on the subject, and you will be glad to know that I am nearly through.
But I must stress that these little things are the things which matter, and thousands of my constituents want me to use this opportunity to say to the GLC not just that it is getting exposure in 911 the House of Commons but that, if these things do not improve, the next Bill will not pass—not with my vote, at least, and with my opposition.
I wish that counter staff would not tell people that their files are lost when they just cannot lay hands on them.
Recently the GLC has initiated an experiment—an information office at Highbury Corner in my constituency operated in conjunction with the local citizens' advice bureau. The blurb about this office states that the GLC officials should not sit in their offices waiting for people to come to them but should go out and reach the people. Frankly, the GLC tenants that I know do not want the GLC to come out and meet them; they just want the GLC to deal competently with their complaints when they bother to go to the GLC's offices.
There are other matters not concerned with the counter service or repairs that I could charge the housing management department with, but time inclines me to cut these matters out.
The essence of the difficulty is not staff shortage, which is the excuse frequently advanced for these grievances. The essence of what is wrong is lack of supervision. There is a lack of supervision of caretakers by estate officers and of estate officers by district officers, a lack of oversight of counter clerks by the heads of the offices in which they work and a lack of supervision of the district officers by the officials at County Hall. Bosses just do not take enough interest in what their subordinates are failing to do, and if that could be remedied by pressure from on high the quality of administration would greatly improve even without taking on lots of caretakers and the better staff the GLC wants.
The remedies are clear. Bosses must take more of an interest in what their subordinates do and they must make themselves responsible for their subordinates. Second, it must be recognised that dealing with the public is a special task not to be undertaken just by any junior clerk who has been recruited to the office for other purposes. Serious consideration should be given to having a special corps of people recruited for that purpose alone. Third, I suggest that some sort of leaflet or booklet should be made 912 available to tenants telling them the essential facts about their tenancy, who they are to complain to and so on, and including the name of their GLC elected representative.
Finally, and this is perhaps the most important, the GLC would do everyone a favour if it would adopt the practice of abating the rent of any tenant who has had for a reasonably prolonged period a marked reduction in the quality of his tenancy because of drain blockage, no hot water, no central heating, and so on. Under the Housing Finance Act it was perhaps illegal for any such reduction to be made, but under the new legislation I believe that the court could hold that it was reasonable to reduce the rent if there had been such a reduction in amenity. I hope that some tenant soon will make an experiment of taking a case to court in order to get a reduction in rent for these reasons. Nothing would make the GLC housing management department move faster than the possibility that there would be a reduction in rent revenue.
I believe that the GLC has a very bad record on these matters. I recognise that the chairman of housing management has a difficult task, but unless there is an improvement in the kind of complaint which is coming to me, I intend to use the next opportunity when a GLC Bill comes before the House not just to require that it should be debated but to do my very best to ensure that it does not pass until there is a reduction in this kind of grievance.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Macfarlane (Sutton and Cheam)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) on his marathon speech. The House has every right to hear of and listen to the problems and complications which all who live within the Greater London Council area have to suffer every day of their lives. Those problems are not peculiar to inner London. The problems in the outer London boroughs, one of which I have the good fortune to represent, are identical.
The Bill no doubt contains many aspects which are beneficial to residents in Greater London. We have heard the details of some of the important contents of the Bill ably presented by the hon. 913 Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies). It is good to know that his leadership is equally effective in the Chamber as on the football field. It is gratifying to know that there is such versatility in his performance and I congratulate him on the manner in which he presented the proposals.
The Opposition's principal objection to the Bill is in relation to Clause 7 in which reference is made to the GLC seeking powers to enable local authorities to buy, publish or produce and sell, books, pamphlets and so on. My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) referred to this. That subject can be discussed later in Committee. As so worded, the clause is not totally acceptable to the Opposition.
I have been privileged to receive the customary communication from the Solicitor and Parliamentary Officer of the Greater London Council who, whenever Socialist legislation is about to be proposed, beseeches me to support it, but he suffers the hallmark of the eternal optimist which, in this case, is the name "H. Wilson". I read these communications but on this occasion I shall not be asking the Opposition to divide the House and I shall support the Bill.
Although we accept the Bill, it causes deep concern to many hon. Members on both sides of the House because of the current problems within the GLC and the fact that in many respects it is local government at its worst. There can be no one in the House who does not feel concern and apprehension at the way in which the GLC operates within our society. That goes for whichever party is in power in County Hall. That is why I want to devote a few moments to the general principle of the Bill and the underlying causes of a potentially massive problem for residents within the GLC area.
The Bill seeks to confer further powers upon the GLC and other local authorities within London. While many of its aims are beneficial, the whole principle of giving further powers to the GLC must be called into question. Most people in London know the GLC and County Hall as an oversized and totally remote giant which has expanded into people's lives since its birth 11 or 12 years ago. Not only Londoners view the misery and 914 problems of London with alarm; its deputy leader does, too. We are bound to look fairly closely at what was said by Mr. Harrington in yesterday's Evening News. In a frenzied and hysterical outburst, which I believe is not always a characteristic of the Welsh, he said that it was up to the 92 London Members of Parliament to be more effective.
§ Mr. Molloy
Before the hon. Gentleman goes on too much about the "Wilson" name, may I intervene to say that he has made a devastating attack—with great justification—on the creator of this amorphous body, the GLC and the London boroughs—one of the greatest evils the Tory Party ever perpetrated. The creator was none other than his right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who was recently involved in trying to get rid of his former leader the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).
§ Mr. Macfarlane
I follow to a certain extent what the hon. Gentleman says. I agree that the GLC was brought into prominence in the early 1960s by the Conservative administration, but the time has come to take stock of it. As I said earlier, irrespective of whichever party is in power in County Hall, everyone has grave misgivings about its operation.
The deputy leader of the Labour majority in County Hall clearly has lost his relish and capacity for the job. Many of us who have read that article feel in some respects that Mr. Harrington's comments echo the near hopelessness which many residents within the Greater London area feel. Mr. Harrington said,I am tired of our MPs. There is no one so smug as an 'arrived' politician. I spoke to a meeting of MPs on a problem of special importance to London. Only one-third of them turned up. That's the problem. London's MPs have got to pay more attention to London.Mr. Harrington says that he addressed a meeting at which only 30 Members of Parliament turned up. I do not believe that Opposition Members were invited to attend the meeting. There may be good reason for having a combined meeting of representatives from both sides of the House to hear the problems and to argue them out in full. But to launch upon this outburst is unworthy of the relationship between County Hall and the Chamber.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
My colleagues and I were in the audience addressed by Mr. Harrington. He addressed 42 of my colleagues, which is between 75 per cent. and 80 per cent. of our strength in the House.
§ Mr. MacFarlane
I take the hon. Gentleman's point. That is a high percentage. Back-bench committees on both sides of the House which meet regularly from Monday to Thursday do so from four o'clock until after 6.30 p.m. With all the various committees—between 15 and 20 —Mr. Harrington has done extremely well to get so many Members of Parliament. That undoubtedly demonstrates the great interest which Socialist Members of Parliament have in Greater London affairs.
The GLC has been like a runaway vehicle. There has been no brake and no steering wheel for some time. This problem has to be looked at not only by the Government but by this House as a whole. It is our problem as well. But I say to the deputy leader of the Labour majority on the GLC that if he has lost his nerve, if the job is too big for him, I hope that he will get out before he does any more damage. The confidence of Greater London residents has been gravely damaged over the past 24 hours.
The damage is quite terrifying. Apart from more than £2 million council housing rent arrears, which is the current situation, there is a likely storm over next month's rate increases. My constituents write to me, as I am sure they do to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, saying, "I can't pay. It's not that I won't pay. I simply can't pay. What do I do?" I am sure we all get letters like that, and the problem is growing. We are getting more and more letters, and all of them reflect an element of the mood of sheer hopelessness surrounding everyone in these days of inflation.
The GLC-Government spending was amply highlighted in a recent excellent article by Mr. Joe Rogaly in the Financial Times which went into one of the most important problems in the situation facing the country and facing the Greater London Council. Mr. Rogaly wrote:The pitiful case of London Transport tells the story best. Its capital debt was written off 916 by a generous Government at the end of 1969. In each of the following four calendar years it made a small surplus on revenue account. In the coming 1975–76 financial year it will need a subsidy of at least £40 million from the GLC plus a further £53 million handout from Whitehall.The principal reason for this £100 million turnround into loss is that the Labour Party took control of the GLC in April, 1973, having made an election promise not to increase fares. What happened after that, in the words of one official, is that Sir Richard Way, the then chairman of the London Transport Executive, 'ran rings round' his nominal masters at the GLC in negotiations for improvements in staff pay and conditions. These were necessary to improve recruitment and hence the service; what the Labour councillors failed to notice, even when nudged by their own internal staff memoranda, was that you could not do this without increasing the price.On the face of the Rogaly article and GLC affairs, it would appear that there is considerable justification for a public inquiry into the management and operation of the GLC,!especially of its finances. A good case in point is its housing policy. I can see no justification for the GLC embarking on a land-buying spree when it already owns enough land to build 37,000 dwellings. If there is a target of 6,000 dwellings per year, the next six years could be fully occupied in that activity.
The wretched fact is that at present we have a fares standtill, a rent standstill, municipalisation, staff increases, an accumulation of unused land and too tight a control of commercial development.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
The hon. Gentleman mentions a fares standstill. He is aware, of course, that in 10 days there will be a substantial increase in fares.
§ Mr. Macfarlane
That is to be welcomed, but it is a little too late. The damage has been done. That is the tragedy of the situation.
The matters referred to by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury concerning the problems on housing estates occur regularly in my constituency. I have two large housing estates, the Ben-hill and Shanklin estates, and enormous problems are created for their GLC councillor and for me because of the inadequacy of their administration. The hon. Gentleman spoke of having to wait five weeks for a reply. I would settle for that. At the moment, I find that it takes two or three months to get replies from the GLC.
917 Many of these large blocks of houses and flats suffer gravely from substandard designs and building materials. There are leaking homes. Many of these constituents live in near squalor as a result of inefficient and leaking buildings. The GLC tends to pass the buck to the London Borough of Sutton. But Sutton does not have the powers and is not able to begin the work which it would like to see done without the guidance of the Greater London Council, which is, alas, too slow.
If the inadequate Chairman of the GLC's Policy and Resources Committee cannot help to put his own house in order —and it is principally a GLC matter when these problems arise—I urge my hon. Friends to prepare for the day when the GLC must cease to operate in its present rôle. The time must come when the Department of the Environment will have to have a junior Minister for London and the London boroughs will have to be given more autonomy. The residents of London are sick and tired of vast organisation and I disagree with those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have long held to the theory that bigger is better. I do not believe it is.
Time is running out and a serious decline in local government could be the slippery slope to a breakdown in our recognised organisation of life in this country. A swifter slope could emanate from County Hall. The confidence of Londoners has been badly shaken by the outburst of this deputy leader who runs the GLC, and the fact that he cannot put his own house in order should hasten his resignation to his leader Sir Reginald Goodwin.
I dislike the very principle behind the Bill, but I can see that there are many advantages and benefits to be gained from it. I have no doubt that if at some future stage more legislation is introduced on the Floor of the House designed to give wider powers to County Hall we in the Conservative Party will vote against it.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Lamborn (Peckham)
When speaking on a Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill, I usually refer to the fact that for 15 years I was a member at County Hall of both the 918 London County Council and later the Greater London Council. In view of some of the remarks that have been made this evening, I suppose that I should almost hide my head in shame, but local government in London, and local government at County Hall, has some tremendous achievements to its credit.
I agree with the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) that the new format of London and, indeed, of general local government is far too large. It has ceased to be local government. I spent many all-night sittings at County Hall demonstrating the opposition of the Labour Party, which was then in control of the GLC, to the London Government Act, and I think that most of the problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred stem from the fact that the GLC is too large. The administrative problems which it was expected would arise have all too vividly been shown to be real.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said that we can now take stock of the GLC because it has been running for 10 years. But, far from taking stock, only two years ago the Conservative Government were steam-rollering through another local government reform measure to impose on the rest of the country what they had inflicted on London.
I believe that the London County Council, the predecessor of the GLC, was the finest example of local government administration in the country. It pioneered local government not only for Britain but for the world, and people came from all over the world to see it.
One of the problems arises from the blurring of functions between the GLC and the London boroughs. There is far too great a tendency in planning, for instance, for the GLC to interfere with decisions on the ground which should be left entirely to the London boroughs. The GLC's functions in planning should be strategic, and it makes a mistake when it goes too far and starts dealing with day-to-day matters. The problems arise from the size of the GLC.
On housing management matters, I deal with two district offices. Although, of course, I do not always receive satisfaction, I invariably receive a reply within a week. The situation which has been 919 described by some hon. Members must be special to their area, which shows that it is an administrative matter rather than a matter of general complaint.
I wish to speak particularly to Part IV of the Bill concerning Nunhead Cemetery, which is in the borough of Southwark. The cemetery occupies about 52 acres in inner London. It is in a disgraceful state.
As the Minister said, and as the Secretary of State in the previous Government will know, together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Silkin), I have over the years made the strongest répresentations for powers to be available to deal with the situation that has developed at Nunhead. We have all had hundreds of letters from constituents and have attended many meetings with relatives of people buried there.
Almost two years ago, I attempted to introduce a Private Member's Bill which would have enabled local authorities to deal with the situation in cemeteries in their area, particularly privately-owned cemeteries. The problem arises because such cemeteries were developed in the early part of the nineteenth century. With the development of large urban areas, church authorities could no longer cope with burials in their areas. As local authorities did not then have the necessary powers, large private cemeteries were developed.
Many cemeteries in this category no longer receive burials. Nunhead has been closed for burials since January 1969. Highgate cemetery to which the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) referred, is in the same ownership as Nunhead cemetery.
I hope that the Minister, apart from welcoming the steps which will enable Southwark to deal with the situation at Nunhead, will say that the Government recognise the great need in many urban areas for powers to enable the local authority to step in to ease the situation.
Since January 1969 no burials have been carried out at Nunhead, and since then no maintenance has been carried out. Indeed, little or no maintenance has been done for the last 12 years. When I was mayor of the borough in 1963, I 920 visited the cemetery as a result of complaints I had received from borough residents. It was in a deplorable state at that time, and with the passing of the years it has grown much worse.
The cemetery is 137 years old, it contains 45,000 graves, and the estimate is that there are 250,000 persons buried there. The whole place is more like a jungle than a cemetery. There are huge trees growing out of the graves. The Southwark Council has had to deal with dangerous trees along the perimeter of the cemetery which would have been a hazard to traffic. The council has just obtained the agreement of the owners to enter the cemetery to deal with other dangerous trees which are in danger of falling on private dwellings on the far perimeter of the cemetery. It is possible for relatives to obtain access to the cemetery only at weekends. It is barred for the rest of the week.
I welcome the fact that the GLC has included within the legislation a provision to enable Southwark Council to deal with Nunhead Cemetery. Both the council and relatives have represented to me the need for action to be taken. Furthermore, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which has the responsibility for 690 Commonwealth war graves there, has written to me decrying the deplorable condition in which the cemetery has been allowed to deteriorate.
I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading to enable the Southwark Council to attempt to undertake the enormous task of restoring some kind of order to the chaos which at present exists.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)
It is a pleasure to be called to speak following the remarks of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Lamborn) with whom I spent three years at County Hall, albeit on opposite sides of the council chamber.
I wish to pay tribute to the way in which the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) introduced the Bill. I am sorry that I cannot display towards the hon. Gentleman the same enthusiasm and loyalty that I was able to display on the football pitch last Sunday.
As a member of the Greater London Council for more than three years and as a Member of Parliament I did not share 921 the experience of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). In my dealings with the GLC I have had prompt and courteous replies from senior staff. If I had undergone any different experience, I would have got hold of the GLC representative concerned and I am sure he would have taken up the matter very quickly and ironed it out as my GLC member is conscientious and efficient. It is intolerable to expect Members of Parliament to do their own duties in Parliament and also to be expected to do the duties of the GLC in their constituencies.
It is appropriate that we should be discussing these matters tonight following the hysterical outburst in the Evening News. In the light of the accusations made in that newspaper, I asked my secretary to contact Mr. Harrington this morning to ask when the meeting was held to which London Members of Parliament had been invited. I gather the gentleman concerned was courteous in a long and diverting conversation with my secretary, but he was very evasive in his replies. I understand from the remarks of the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) that Conservative Members were not invited. If there was a low attendance of Labour Members, I imagine that it was a reflection of their opinion of Mr. Harrington rather than their opinion of the importance of London. I think that the article displayed advanced symptoms of a disease that has unfortunately become prevalent in County Hall—namely, a willingness to blame everyone else for the problems of London but itself. It will blame the London boroughs, it will blame the Government and it will even blame the Common Market, but it never blames itself for the problems now facing London.
It is time that the GLC had a good look at itself. It is time that it asked itself whether it is not responsible in some way for the problems it accuses everyone else of being responsible for before it dishes out these general accusations to MPs and to various organisations.
The article suggests that MPs representing London boroughs are less effective than Members representing other 922 areas. That is totally misguided. Time after time we have been told in the Chamber by Members representing constituencies outside London that all the culture in the country, all the investment, the highest wages and the lowest rates of unemployment are to be found in London. Their argument is that London Members have been too effective in representing their constituencies and not ineffective, as is alleged in the article. It is interesting to read Mr. Harrington's comment. He said,There is no one so smug as an 'arrived' politician.No one has tried harder to get into this House than Mr. Harrington and no one has failed so often. It ill becomes him to make this criticism. I hope, in the light of the intervention of the Government Chief Whip, that Mr. Harrington will be deleted from the list of Parliamentary candidates for the Labour Party.
I am in agreement with Mr. Harrington when he says that the Layfield inquiry is too long and too late. Of course, on this side of the House we made it clear that we would offer immediate relief to ratepayers in London and elsewhere by removing the burden of education from the rates.
The specific criticisms that I have to make concern, first, London Transport and the deficit of £126 million that has been accumulated since Mr. Harrington took over control of the Policy and Resources Committee. My right hon. and hon. Friends have grave concern when they see that the block transport grant allocated to London does not go towards building new tube lines, or buying new buses or trains but is used to subsidise fares. It is a misuse of the funds for improving London's infrastructure if the funds are diverted and used for subsidising fares.
Secondly, there is the problem of accommodation. It appears from the newspaper article that there has been a cutback of the funds available for modernising the property that has been acquired. It would seem sensible to reduce the money spent on acquiring property and to divert it to modernising the property that has already been acquired. The houses which the GLC has acquired will remain empty and unused if funds are 923 not diverted. That would be a misuse of the housing stock.
My third point of criticism is the rate. In the last two years of the period when my colleagues and I were in command of County Hall the rate was held virtually static. In the past two years it has increased by 85 per cent and 80 per cent. It would be immodest to claim that the difference is due only to the change in control. There have been other factors at work. Possibly the increase in the number of staff at County Hall is in part responsible for the increase in rate. There has not been the same financial discipline in County Hall since the change in control.
It is time that we had a good look at the GLC. It is time that we tried to define its functions somewhat more clearly. All over the country we are seeing the same sort of problems as those which hon. Members who represent London seats have seen in the past 10 years. There is the confusion of responsibility. That is the confusion of determining where the boroughs end and the GLC begins. There is the problem of the access to funds to carry out the projects which are the responsibility of the top-tier authorities. I hope that it will be possible for the Department of the Environment to set up an independent inquiry to determine how the new structure of London government is working. It has existed for 10 years. There is a fund of experience of the problems that the new structure has created. We have heard about some of those problems this evening.
Cemeteries are mentioned in the Bill. It seems from what was said by my hon. Friends the Members for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) and Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) that the problem is not confined to the London Borough of Southwark. In my own constituency there is a disused churchyard in Churchfield Road which is an eyesore and which has been so for many years. Has the time not come to employ some sort of general Bill to deal with the question of disused cemeteries rather than to pick them off one by one in a general powers Bill? I throw out that suggestion to the Department of the Environment.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)
If hon. Members will cooperate, everyone will get an opportunity to speak in the next hour.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
; I note what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will be brief.
I do not propose to join in the general condemnation of the GLC. Nor do I believe that we should react like a bunch of tender flowers because some harsh words have been spoken about us by a robust Londoner, Mr. Illtyd Harrington, who has done so much for London. I think that at least would be acknowledged on both sides of the House. At the same time, knowing Mr. Illtyd Harrington, I am sure that, having said a few harsh things about us, he will not mind it we say a few harsh things about him.
I want to put firmly on record that I consider Mr. Illtyd Harrington to be one of the greatest products of London local government that this great metropolis has had. He has devoted his life to the enhancement of London local government.
Having said that, I should like all members of the GLC to understand that it takes time for London Members of Parliament to adjust when a Labour GLC takes over from the appalling myopia of its Tory predecessors. We must also acknowledge that it is in many respects an amorphous organisation. Indeed, when I was involved in local government in the metropolitan borough of Fulham. I was appalled at what was proposed. We were told by the right hon. Member for one of the Leeds seats—I do not know which seat any more than I know to what socio-economic group he belongs, but that should identify him—that wonderful things were to happen, that expenses would be reduced and administration made much easier. Many of us felt that the comfortable, cosy and, more efficient manner in which the old LCC boroughs operated was first class. They had excellent liaison with the greatest local government organisation in the world—the London County Council. London had the most forward-looking, sensible, efficient and caring local government in the world.
I ask Mr. Harrington to bear in mind many issues—for example, the fading 925 away of factories and the threatening rise of unemployment in London. If some of our colleagues on the GLC had been prepared to listen to what we were saying when they were giving so much encouragement to the planning committees of the London boroughs, things might have been different. For example, in my constituency it was easy to obtain planning permission—indeed, encouragement was given by the GLC, of which I understand Mr. Harrington is deputy leader—for the removal of factories, the loss of almost 1,000 skilled jobs, and the erection of warehouses, all of which will add to the awful traffic problems being endured in Ealing to which reference was made by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). Much of that can be related to the lack of liaison between the planning officers of both the GLC and the London boroughs as a whole.
My last little message to Mr. Harrington is : "You, too, boy, should pull out your finger and get all these planning officers together. Let us not have so much of the nonsense that we have had to endure from County Hall and we will do our best to try to meet the points of criticism that you have made of us." It is difficult for people in local government to endure the screams from Conservative Members and members of the general public when the rates go up. Any suggestions from the GLC or the London boroughs about cutting services are always wrong. We have to put up with the Jekyll and Hyde attitude of so many people to taxes and rates.
I acknowledge the awful problems described by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), and I hope that they will be quickly remedied. I asked him to explain why his GLC councillors were doing nothing. I am sorry that he is not here, because he said that he would explain it, but he omitted to do so. I have a first-class liaison with the Rev. David Mason who represents Ealing, North at County Hall. I cannot imagine such appalling incidents as have been described tonight being perpetrated on our constituents.
In both national and local government we should consider the awful trend 926 perhaps inadvertent, towards inhumanity in the bureaucracy we create. The great ideals of housing and education which were put into practice by London local authorities show a record of magnificent achievement. I pay tribute to Sir Reginald Goodwin and his colleagues, but there are still some warts spoiling the aspect of the GLC and giving an unbalanced picture of what it is trying to do.
There are problems particularly in housing and transport. Those great ideals put on the statute book by members of my party at County Hall are the achievements of men and women who believe that this should be the best capital city in the world. I do not want that marred by inhuman administration or unfortunate utterances by some of their leaders. The great record of the GLC should not be spoiled by isolated incidents. If one person is disgruntled, frightened or hurt, his case must be pursued. If we can bring into the administration of local government much greater compassion and humanity, we shall make a great leap forward in raising the status and enhancing the dignity of local government in London.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) made a robust speech and gave some advice to County Hall. I, too, shall try to be brief and robust and to give advice to County Hall.
The hon. Member referred towards the end of his speech to "the bureaucracy we create". He is so right. The GLC staff increase since the Labour Party assumed control is 3,700. In the six Conservative years prior to that, the reduction was 3,500. There is a lesson for all of us there.
I shall confine my remarks to one area of one policy. Faced with the many examples of incompetence and mismanagement that characterise the workings of Mr. Harrington and his kin in County Hall, it is tempting to range wider. Why do I choose this one area? Because I am convinced that it will lead to greater homelessness in Greater London.
"Municipalisation" is an ugly word which conceals an ugly and evil reality. As a policy it is not a crime but it is a blunder, as many hon. Members know. 927 I accept that in all walks of life there are some rotten apples. The Conservative-controlled Greater London Council on occasions had to step in and buy up privately-rented property where the landlords were totally unable or unwilling to fulfil their social and humanitarian obligations. Alderman Perkins was the distinguished chairman of the Housing Committee at the time. I supported his approach, which was realistic and compassionate.
In total contrast is the foolish and antisocial approach adopted in County Hall today. Mass municipalisation cannot be adequately defended on housing grounds by any Labour hon. Member. I remind hon. Members of the words of the deputy director of Shelter, Mr. Christopher Holmes, who has said,The great risk of municipalisation is that local authorities will dissipate their resources on houses that are easy to buy and easy to manage. They will prefer to buy by agreement—it's so much simpler and faster.…the effect will be to by-pass once again the needs of those tenants trapped in the worst, multi-occupied, badly equipped and poorly repaired houses.In other words the policy that the Labour Party has put forward at national and local level is by-passing the housing needs of Greater London.
The Labour Party's interest in municipalisation is not for the sake of improving housing conditions, but for basic, primitive, Socialist reasons. It believes that control by county hall and town hall is good in itself. It is delighted that home ownership in the Greater London Council area is well below the national average. It ignores the importance of the privately-rented sector to London which has a special requirement for such a sector, as it has a large mobile population with special needs.
Put simply, the fact is that Labour Members believe that a good dwelling is a council dwelling, for Londoners, if not for themselves. How many Labour Members live in council houses? Rightly, very few, because as hon. Members they can afford to make their own arrangements.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has a record for attacking the management of housing in County Hall. When I was 928 working there I had on several occasions to listen to similar speeches. Yet he is a standard bearer of mass municipalisation. He is pushing hard for greater control by councils over individual lives. How can he match his attitude on housing to the reality of what is happening inside County Hall?
§ Mr. George Cunningham
Just as 1 can criticise bad council housing management and nevertheless want good municipalisation with good management, so can the hon. Gentleman, I presume, criticise bad private landlords, but nevertheless support private landlordism as such.
§ Mr. Townsend
The hon. Gentleman may have missed my opening remarks, when I criticised some landlords. Having listened to his speeches on the way the Greater London Council administers its property, I believe that the GLC is hardly a good recommendation for taking more private housing into public ownership. Labour Members make great use of rented accommodation in London. and rightly.
I believe that the Labour Party has failed completely to think through this disastrous programme. It forgot initially the number of staff that would be required to carry it out—a specialist staff in short supply. To attract them costs a great deal, and they are attracted from London boroughs.
Having attracted the staff and gone in for the purchase, which in many cases is compulsory purchase, the council has to administer those extra properties year after year. Perhaps it is no surprise that under the present administration the staff required by the Housing Department has risen so steeply. Last year the GLC bought a pricey West-End office block, which will cost Londoners about £l0 million. The GLC is always very generous with other people's money.
Should the GLC be managing more houses? No. It should be reducing its stock of council housing. I accept the arguments for maintaining a float of about 50,000 houses, but the GLC's housing stock is far bigger than that. What right has a strategic authority to be in the housing management business? It should see housing at the strategic level, as a regional Government, and should 929 not be involved in organising housing in other people's boroughs.
What is the cost of this great venture of which Labour Members are so proud? The GLC is spending £69 million on the acquisition of private dwellings in 1974–75 —£30 million for new property and £39 million for existing property. The money must be borrowed. If we assume interest rates of 15 per cent., we can see that we are talking of £10 million for 1975–76.
The average cost of acquiring a dwelling is £11,800. We must also take into account that it costs about £13,000 to convert many dwellings to the right standard. Therefore, the true cost is about £24,000. During 1974 a total of 3,170 dwellings were so acquired, only 1,117 being with vacant possession. About 5,000 people can be housed in those dwellings. That means that £40 million has been spent on housing about 5,000 people—£8,000 for every man, woman and child.
Labour Members may be proud that this is Socialism, but if they come into my constituency and meet the blue-collar workers in the pubs they will find it described by a sharper name.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
Is the hon. Gentleman complaining that the GLC is paying too much for bad housing, that it is buying bad property which costs too much to put into good repair? Is he suggesting that it should confiscate such property, rather than pay £11,000 per dwelling?
§ Mr. Townsend
Of course I am not in favour of confiscating property, but I am totally against the whole programme of municipalisation. For the same cost the GLC could house 17,000 people in nearly 4,000 brand-new dwellings. Would not that be a better alternative? How can Labour Members continue to give their support to such a wasteful programme?
The Secretary of State for the Environment has rightly said that local authorities should contain their expenditure if possible. The Department's Circular 171/74 recognises, in paragraph 43, the additional costs of managing municipalised dwellings in scattered locations away from housing estates. Where it is not possible to achieve full compensa- 930 tory savings in management to pay for this extra work, the circular states:reductions in repair or maintenance expenditure should be made.Labour Members are encouraging the GLC to proceed with a crash programme of mass municipalisation at the same time as they are admitting that the repair and maintenance of the GLC housing stock will suffer. Are they aware that when they took over control of County Hall about 50,000 properties still required rehabilitation and modernisation? When the Conservatives took over six years earlier, the figure was much higher. Are Labour Members aware that some 2,000 GLC properties are vacant at present? Are these compelling reasons to spend some £70 million of the ratepayers' money in our city today?
The main charge against this programme, however, is that it is reducing the supply of rented accommodation at a time of acute housing shortage in Greater London. I remember only too well after the Labour Party had produced its manifesto for the GLC elections that ridiculous phrase about "removing the scourge of the private landlord from London", and the number of telephone calls and letters that were received at County Hall from people who decided to give up being in this line of business. They were moving out of housing and reducing the number of bed spaces available for the citizens in our conurbation.
I do not accuse the Government or the the party in control at County Hall of lacking compassion. I accuse them of lacking the competence to cope. The record of the Labour Party in the GLC over the last two years is proof of that. The GLC's municipalisation programme is a crazy programme because it is adding to homelessness. The GLC is reducing the stock of housing in London at a time of growing homelessness. If the Labour Party continues to run County Hall as it has been doing over the last two years, the pressure will mount on all sides of the House and in all parts of London to do away with the GLC.
I happen to be a supporter of the GLC because I support a strong strategic authority for Greater London. If we do not have a strategic authority, we shall have just 32 London boroughs with varying degrees of urban disease. We would be 931 ruled by Whitehall. I would rather that London were ruled in the strategic sense from the far side of the river rather than from this side. I invite Labour Members to get a grip on their party at County Hall and see whether they cannot produce a better deal for Londoners and my constituents.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)
I wonder what form the debate would have taken if Mr. Harrington had not made his intemperate outburst yesterday. We shall never know.
The Bill before us is fairly narrowly prescribed. One can understand and perhaps forgive the outbursts of, for example, the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). He was making political points and one can understand these things. However, I am hoping that in the last few minutes of the debate we may return to the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies), introducing the Bill, stated its purposes very clearly. He said that he was hoping and, indeed, expected that during the evening hon. Members representing various London constituencies would give examples of how the Bill would affect their particular boroughs. That is what I propose to do.
This Bill suits my borough very well indeed. I want to refer to just one or two aspects of particular interest which are welcomed by the Borough of Redbridge, of which my constituency is part.
My first point arises on Clause 3. As has been explained, the basic idea in the clause is to give much greater protection to the fire brigade when it has to deal with certain substances which are in storage. The proposal is so to signpost the containers that the brigade would have very little difficulty in dealing with these things. This matter is of particular importance to my constituency because there is there a large chemical complex of Laporte Industries, which is adjacent to a school and a highly built-up residential area. There has been a great deal of trouble and anxiety in this area, particularly since the Flixborough disaster. There has been a great deal of uncertainty because, faced with this rather awesome complex on their doorstep, the 932 people in the district are not too sure about what is in the various containers and they are worried. They know that there are storage facilities for cyclohexane. This gives them cause for complaint and anxiety.
Most of the containers within the complex are quite innocuous and if the residents knew what they contained the impact would be lessened and there would be greater understanding between the residents and the firm. Although this is mainly designed for the protection of the fire brigade, it would have that effect in my constituency.
I agree with the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) that this is a matter that could be introduced on a national scale rather than on a city scale. It could be extended to cover the containers which deliver chemicals and other substances to chemical complexes. These containers pass through my constituency on their way to the Laporte chemical works. The vehicles travel along narrow roads and often find it difficult to manoeuvre, which gives rise to anxiety by the residents. This is highlighted by the tragedy that has happened today.
Large vehicles carrying these containers hurtle through my constituency on their way to the tip at Pitsea. It might be a good idea if the containers were labelled with their contents so that in the event of a breakdown in London or in my constituency, the police and fire brigade would know how to deal with it. My authority welcomes the proposals set out in Clause 3.
Clause 8, in Part III of the Bill, deals with the management of housing estates. This will be of value to authorities which have been plagued by parking on their estates. Hon. Members have pointed out the dangers and hazards caused by such parking, over which councils have little control. These additional powers and the co-operation of the police, who hitherto have been loth to go on to council estates because they regarded them as private property, can obviate many of the difficulties facing local authorities. My constituents are worried about illicit parking, the blocking of entrances to estates and parking on narrow roads which often means that vehicles such as furniture removal vans 933 are forced to park on verges and pavements and so cause damage and expense to the borough.
I welcome the Bill on behalf of my constituents.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)
I welcome Clause 5 which relates to the Thames barrier. This is an important subject which has not been mentioned in the House in the past two or three years. Nevertheless, the need for it remains as great as ever. The need for it is growing because the risk and dangers of a large flood in Central London are increasing year by year. Those risks are increasing partly because the southeastern corner of this country is sinking by one foot every 100 years relative to the sea. I do not know whether that means that your part of the country, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is rising by one foot every 100 years. We do know that there is a great interest in the question of water supply in Wales but at least you are not so threatened by floods as we are in London.
The second reason for the risk increasing is that the estuary of the River Thames has been dredged to allow large tankers to come a long way upstream. This facilitates the inward flow of the North Sea surge when it arises. A North Sea surge comes about because a heap of packed-up water moves southwards from the upper area of the North Sea, which is more or less triangular in shape. If this heap of water—which was experienced severely for the last time in 1953 when about 50 people were drowned at Canvey Island in Essex and at Mablethorpe and Skegness in Lincolnshire—coincides with an abnormally high spring tide in London, coupled with a large flow of water coming downstream from the non-tidal area due to heavy rainfall, conditions are present for a serious flood.
The risk of this is great. Professor Bondi, Professor of Mathematics at London University, produced a report for the Greater London Council in 1960. He assessed the risk in any year as being about 1 in 10 by the late 1960s. I have a Question tabled to the Minister for Agriculture to be answered next week asking how that risk is now assessed in the light of the works carried out on 934 flood walls by the Greater London Council in the interim. I would like to quote an extract from a publication by the GLC of a few weeks ago called "Thames Flood Defences". It says:Such a flood in London would paralyse the central part of the underground railway system, knock out power, gas and water supplies, cut vital telephone and teleprinter services and severely hit thousands of homes, shops and factories, businesses and buildings. It could take months to get London functioning normally again. Nobody can accurately assess the probable flood damage bill. It could be enormous—easily £1,000 million—and that would not count the sheer human misery, suffering and loss of life. Everyone involved must see that everything possible is done to prevent it.Apart from the economic damage to the whole country, let alone the capital city—-which would be extremely serious if the Underground were to be out of action for many months—there is a danger to life. If the Underground were flooded and if the warning system did not work in time, there could possibly be a casualty list which would make the Moor-gate accident seem like chicken-feed in comparison.
I refer to the effect of the floods on my constituency, which comes as far upstream as the tidal area of the Thames goes. There are flood walls as far upstream as Hammersmith because, following the severe floods of 1928, the then London County Council constructed flood walls as far to the west as its area extended. That did not include the Middlesex and Surrey banks of the tidal area of the Thames, where the Greater London Council has been constructing some local flood walls. This work is not complete and the existence of the walls in some cases means that there is an enhanced danger of flooding in the remaining places where the walls are not yet complete. I would like the GLC to complete these works as quickly as possible.
There was a bad flood on 29th January and some of my constituents approached me about it. Their house had been flooded indoors to the depth of one foot. The carpets and floors were ruined. The electricity system of the house was damaged and a great deal of distress was caused to the household. This was one of several such cases in my constituency, and on that occasion the trouble was caused by only a mild North Sea surge. In the event of a bad North Sea surge the damage could be very much 935 worse. I therefore hope that the GLC will hasten the work it is doing on the walls, and I hope that the barrier will not be postponed from 1979, which is the intended completion date according to a reply to a Question I put down two weeks ago. In spite of heavy cost, it is imperative that this important barrier scheme is not deferred.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)
I agree with some of what was said by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) to the effect that the GLC is too large a body, that its powers are not too well defined. But why was it created? It is too large a body and it was not given the strategic powers that alone could justify creating a body of that size. We should not be politically innocent on this matter. It was created because the old London County Council, a very good local authority, was consistently Labour controlled. The electors re-elected it Labour for three years after three years and the then Conservative Government believed that something had to be done about it. That is why this body, with all the criticisms that have been made about its structure, was created. Now, alas from the point of view of the Conservative Party, the electors are voting for Labour Greater London councillors as well.
§ Mr. Townsend rose—
§ Mr. Stewart
I will not give way. The hon. Member made an aggressive speech and I did not attempt to interrupt him.
Now that the GLC is beginning to show Labour majorities, we are told that it is time to have a look at the council. The need to have a look at the GLC has existed ever since the GLC was created, but Conservatives take that line only now that the council has become Labour controlled.
I do not believe that there can be major surgery on the capital's local government once a decade. I believe we would do great harm if we tried to carve it up now. For some time ahead we shall have to make the best of the present structure. For that reason I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for 936 Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) on his clear presentation of the Bill. I welcome it, and I particularly welcome Clause 7. I think that his financial anxieties about it will be met by an amendment that I understand it is intended to make.
I have a special constituency reason for welcoming the Bill. The Borough of Hammersmith is to become the owner of what was the Palace of the Bishop of London at Fulham. I hope that part of the premises will be used for a local museum. The diligent work of some of the local archaeologists who established for the first time that there was a Roman settlement at Fulham will, I hope, receive due recognition.
In the capital city one of the problems is that there are a number of areas which inevitably have a floating population. I believe it is important for each part of the capital to try to give people a sense of local identity and local history. The effect of this is not immediate, but if one constantly regards cultural matters as things which can be shoved to the bottom of the list and, always for reasons of economy, ignored, then one has only oneself to blame if in time a city is produced which has no dignity or self-respect and which has an unnecessarily high crime rate. I welcome Clause 7 and think that it will be valuable.
We use this debate as an occasion for any complaints we have about the GLC. With a body of that size, whether private or public, some things are bound to go wrong and there are bound to be some causes for complaint. In all fairness, nothing in my experience would justify my making the tirade made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham).
I shall merely mention two matters which I hope that the GLC will notice. First, there is a tentative proposal, only at officer level, to turn Wandsworth Bridge Road into a juggernaut route. I hope that, before making any decision, the GLC will listen to the opinions of the London Borough of Hammersmith about that route.
Secondly, one knows what can sometimes happen when the GLC is engaged in development. In one area in my constituency badly needed development is being done, but I ask the GLC to consider whether such a long period must 937 elapse between the beginning and the end of such development. During that interim period, the people have an awful life. As one family after another is rehoused, the remaining families find themselves living in a desert of vacated properties to which come squatters, vagrants, rats and the danger of fire. It is important that the interval between the first knocking down of houses and the rehousing of everyone in the area is as short as possible. I hope that the names Bayonne Road and Everington Street will be engraven on the hearts of those at the GLC who are responsible.
I have one general point. Why are we debating these important matters under the guise of a Private Bill? This debate is made possible only if someone is prepared to go through the hostile gesture of saying that he does not want the Bill. There should be a London grand committee. It would not interfere with the proper rights of London local authorities any more than the Scottish Grand Committee interferes with the rights of Scottish local authorities. There should be a Minister responsible to it. That would solve many problems. For example, it would give Londoners some control over their own police force. I make no complaint of the Metropolitan Police—quite the contrary—but it is anomalous that Londoners should have to pay a police rate but have no say in the control of the London police.
We all know that there are many problems in London that require the knitting together of the police, the local authorities at both levels and departments of central government. That is often a laborious process. Therefore we want a Minister. He need not be called the Minister for London. He might be from the Home Office or the Department of the Environment. He would have direct responsibility to the London grand committee. We could then conduct these debates as they should be conducted and possibly Mr. Illtyd Harrington would occasionally turn up to listen to them.
§ 9.42 p.m.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
The GLC is putting forward proposals for the closure of Rainham Creek. I am concerned about the proposal, although it is connected with the subject of the speech made by the hon. Member for Twicken 938 ham (Mr. Jessel)—flooding. I have no time to develop my theme and I will merely make a brief apeal. I ask the GLC to think again on this proposal because it is possible for the creek to be closed at times of maximum danger without necessarily being closed permanently. I am in principle opposed to the closure of tidal ways unless there is no alternative. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to give due notice to the GLC that I shall oppose any proposal to close Rain-ham Creek.
Secondly, the GLC will shortly put up proposals to my hon. Friend about the southerly route across the marshes in connection with the A13. I hope that my hon. Friend will give careful consideration to those proposals which are to come forward shortly.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on two clauses which have relevance to recent happenings in my constituency of Edmonton.
The first is Clause 3 which refers to the need to protect firemen, those who work in buildings and the public. The effect of the clause is to strengthen protection against fire risk. We have had two experiences in Edmonton in the past two or three years. One was a warehouse fire. Unbeknown to many people, stored inside the warehouse was a large quantity of PVC sheeting. Fortunately, there was no loss of life, but there was a great deal of near-lethal smoke. The powers in the Bill will make sure that that which is stored in such premises is known and sign-posted so that anyone working in the premises will be alerted.
The other case was more serious. Two people were burned to death in a lift when they were trying to get out of a building. The Minister informed me in a letter that the fire started in the bulk store on the ground floor, near but not immediately adjacent to the lift shaft. The store contained materials—polyurethane foam—which are amongst the most highly inflammable solids used in industry and which, when ignited, produce large quantities of smoke and toxic fumes.
I am advised by the Minister that efforts have been made and that research and inquiries have been carried out. A code of practice has been published 939 recently which will strengthen the powers and draw to the attention of people working in buildings of this kind the need to look at these matters.
I warmly welcome the provisions in Clause 8 which widen the powers to control parking on private service roads and courtyards on estates. I expect that we have all experienced similar frustrations to those of fire appliances, ambulances and even of ordinary citizens as a result of the careless parking of individuals living in and visiting estates. The powers in the Bill will make it more difficult for people who unthinkingly decide that they can park their cars where it suits them, regardless of the resulting dangers to others.
I am pleased that the Bill is so practical. In essence, it will be to the benefit of a great many people in the Greater London area.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Davies
This has been a most interesting debate. In the short time remaining to me, perhaps I might comment on a number of the matters raised in the debate and give the assurance that, if I fail to comment on any, officials of the GLC will write to those hon. Members who made them. That applies especially to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams), who raised a matter of substance late in the debate which is considered to be very important.
I could have wished that there had been on both sides of the House greater sympathy for local authorities in their present plight. Even including the GLC, local authorities are caught between the Scylla of ever-increasing demands made upon them by the public and by central Government and the Charybdis of an outdated, unfair and unproductive system of finance. I sought to guide this Bill on behalf of the authority so that the vessel in which it travels could gain added sails and seaworthiness. In order further to improve the supports of the vessel, may I deal with the defects in the Bill identified by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), who raised some very important issues which, subsequently, other hon. Members reinforced?
Reservations were expressed about Clause 7 and the council engaging more 940 enthusiastically in producing and selling pamphlets and books than is consistent, in the view of the hon. Member for Hampstead, with the financial stringency necessary in these harsh times.
The promoters of the Bill have prepared an amendment which they propose to move in Committee. It is to add, at the end of the clause:… without prejudice to the exercise of their powers under any other enactment, the council and every borough council shall use their best endeavours to secure that, taking one year with another, their income under this section is sufficient to defray their expenditure thereunder.I think that that gives some assurance that no unjustified expenditure is likely to be incurred under this clause.
I propose now to comment on the other substantive point made by the hon. Member for Hampstead. He referred to bus lanes. It is because the council is mindful of the many problems which bus lanes create that it is seeking to introduce the concept of flexibility, a concept which, on the whole, the Department of the Environment does not altogether share but about which it tends instead to be rather rigid.
The hon. Gentleman is right in assuming that what the council wants is a situation where dividers are used for bus lanes. They will not, as things are now, be used in all cases by any means. The mountable type will be used in the great majority of cases for the "with-flow" bus lanes. It is not possible to give an absolute assurance that the non-mountable type will not be used in "with-flow" cases, but they could be used only in special circumstances, and certainly only where 24-hour bus lanes are envisaged.
Clause 3 has been promoted by the council because of the anxiety of the fire brigade over casualty levels—witness the figures which I mentioned in my first contribution to the debate—and in the knowledge that any regulations governing matters of this kind, which could perhaps be made under the Health and Safety at Work Act, are likely to take an unacceptably long time to appear.
It seems to me that in this debate we have reached a great deal of concurrence on many of the points that have been raised. In fact, vast sections of the Bill have scarcely been commented 941 upon, except perhaps in support of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Lamborn) clearly identified the issues raised by Part IV, and I did not detect any reservations in the Chamber about that part of the Bill.
Perhaps the unity of the debate has been partially contributed to by recent events. I have felt this evening that there has been a political football in the Chamber, and it has not been one of the clauses of the Bill. This football seems to have been kicked pretty consistently and accurately in the proper place. Some hon. Members will be aware that I have covered myself in mud, if not in glory, in pursuing difficult targets recently, and thus I have refrained from joining in the game this evening.
I remind hon. Members that the Bill is of enormous importance to local authorities in the London area—not just the GLC itself, but also the London boroughs. It is enormously important to the people of London who will derive significant benefits from the various clauses. Bus lanes help to promote improvements in traffic flow, and they certainly help to improve public transport. Many of us have reached the stage at which we recognise that public transport makes a significant contribution towards dealing with the massive problem of commuter traffic in London and the vast numbers of people who have to move across London to and from their daily work.
I think few hon. Members present would doubt that the provisions in the Bill which are welcomed and supported by the fire brigade are those which we should like to see enforced for the benefit of that group of men who give such sterling service to London and risk their lives in such a way that we ought to make every contribution that we can to their welfare and safety.
Bearing in mind the assurance that no undue expenditure will be incurred, I think that the clauses relating to the publications of local authorities reflect a growing awareness on the part of local councils that people are demanding a greater amount of information not only about what the councils themselves do, and that for which they are responsible, but also about the facilities which councils control so that the public's enjoyment of these facilities—particularly 942 museums and historic buildings—can be enhanced.
A considerable part of the debate has concerned the question of housing management. None of the criticisms which have been voiced should be taken lightly. However, in all conscience I must aver that other housing authorities by no means as large as the GLC can be subject to much the same criticisms. I suspect that there are hon. Members present from outer London boroughs who would from time to time echo the views advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury when he identified certain deficiencies of the GLC.
Hon. Members have expressed real concern about the administration of housing in the London area. However many intermediaries there are between the council and the tenant, and however many people are solicitous on tenants' behalf, hon. Members are from time to time drawn into these difficulties. Every surgery that hon. Members undertake throws up, if their experience is similar to mine, a whole range of housing cases. The vase majority of representations which are made to us concern housing matters.
I would not want to minimise the impact of the various representations which have been made in the debate. If authorities can be defended, it is along the lines that the vast proportion of their resources and their commitment in terms of manpower and ideas should be directed to house building and to the increase in home provision in London. I am only too well aware of the validity of many of the points which have been made, but, however intense the grievances of tenants are, people without homes are in an even more grievous state. It is important not to minimise, when asking for a redirection of resources, the concentration of the effort of housing authorities upon the essential requirement of ensuring that sufficient homes are provided
The debate has enabled an exchange of views to take place and a number of problems have been aired. It is a pity that the way in which the House organises its business means that London, which comprises such a substantial part of the 943 nation's population, which commands such a great deal of resources, and on which the rest of the country is so dependent. is accorded less time than is justified. I am glad that in the debate it has 944 been emphasised that it is important that the House should be enabled to discuss London's questions more frequently.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.