§ The Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr. Reginald Freeson)
Substantial progress has been made in establishing partnership machinery and in starting work on an inner area programme. Work is already in hand on an £11 million package of construction works for completion by April 1979, and I have recently announced an allocation of £30 million under the urban programme to Birmingham for the period 1979–80 to 1981–82. At least £1 million of urban programme support will be available next year. I shall chair the first meeting of the Birmingham Partnership on 13th December.
§ Mr. Eyre
I am sure that the Minister welcomes the energetic co-operation of the Birmingham Council in these matters. Is he aware that the Government's statements about partnership agreements are 1496 misleading when they refer to the sums of money that have been made available? I say that because the money is provided mainly by means of loan sanctions which authorise local authorities to borrow extra sums at a time when the Government are operating cash limits themselves throughout all Government expenditure. Does the Minister realise that consequently extra costs fall upon taxpayers who live in the middle and outer areas of Birmingham and other cities?
§ Mr. Freeson
There is nothing misleading at all. The situation is the same as it has always been. When a Government announce or authorise capital works programmes, that implies loan raising. There is nothing secret about that. In this context we are arranging considerable grant aid so that a good deal of the burden will be obviated by central Government assistance.
§ Miss Boothroyd
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the problems of the older industrial towns in the Black Country, whose needs are not dissimilar to those of our major cities but whose claims he has not been able to meet under the increased urban aid programme? Will he give priority and practical help to the metropolitan borough of Sandwell by providing assistance from the £400 million that has been allocated to the construction programme?
§ Mr. Freeson
The £400 million construction industry package is already the subject of distribution or allocation. There is then the question whether there is any scope to assist local authorities outside the partnership agreements to embark upon inner city or inner city-type programmes. We see the partnership agreements and the programme authority initiatives as the first important steps towards developing policy in this area. We shall bear in mind other areas with similar problems.
§ Mr. Rooker
Will my right hon. Friend use the partnership agreement with Birmingham to try to persuade the city council to levy rates on empty office blocks instead of giving £1 million a year from the rates to property developers? Will he also liberalise the bureaucratic rules that govern council tenants to enable some of them to paint their front doors a different colour?
§ Mr. Freeson
The powers for local authorities to rate empty properties already exist. They may use the powers according to local judgment. We are sympathetic towards the problems caused by tenancy agreements. We have been doing a great deal of work in the Department with the management advisory group and we have issued guidance to local authorities on tenant participation and on the relaxation of the bureaucratic rules that exist in a number of areas.
§ Mr. Heseltine
Does the Minister agree that the most effective way of enabling tenants to participate is to give them the right to buy their own homes?
§ Mr. Freeson
As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is indicating from a seated position, the authority is already there. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will direct his attention to the needs of tenants in tenanted estates. I hope that he will not push too far the policy that he is rather indiscriminately pursuing, which would reduce the supply of rented property.
§ 9. Mr. Anthony Grant
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what progress has been made with the partnership agreement in relation to the inner area of London; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Shore)
Considerable progress has been made. The partnerships in Docklands and Lambeth, which I announced in April, have been allocated £17 million and £5 million respectively for this year and next. The first formal partnership meetings will be held within the next three weeks. Further provisional allocations have been made of £45 million for Docklands and £15 million for Lambeth under the urban programme for the period 1979–82.
The partnership for Islington and Hackney was announced on 8th November and £5 million has been allocated for immediate expenditure. Preliminary discussions between officials have already taken place and I hope that the first partnership meeting will be held early in the New Year.
§ Mr. Grant
Will the Secretary of State come clean with the House and admit that all this inner city electoral activity means either that areas meriting special attention, such as Hammersmith, must increase their borrowing, which must be paid for at some time, or that there is an added burden upon the ratepayers and taxpayers of other areas, such as Harrow or Brent?
§ Mr. Shore
I find the hon. Gentleman's comments extraordinary, because I believe that there is considerable agreement in the House on the recognition of the needs of many of our inner urban areas. I think that the general feeling in the House is that it is time something was done about it. It is no good the hon. Gentleman's dismissing the programme as being electorally attractive. I have no idea whether it is. If it is, it is electorally attractive in areas in which the hon. Gentleman's party has just as much interest as ours does. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the programme increases the borrowing, but, as has already been explained, it is grant-aided roughly to the extent of 75 per cent. if it comes under the urban aid programme or, if it is extra housing, to the extent of 66 per cent. That is widely welcomed by the authorities concerned.
§ Mr. Lipton
It is all very well to talk about what the Secretary of State has done for Lambeth—I agree that it is not inconsiderable—but will he explain why he has prevented the London borough of Lambeth from using land in Tolworth, near Kingston, on which 1,000 people could be rehoused? The Secretary of State turned down an application that Lambeth made to use its own land in that area.
§ Mr. Baker
Is the Secretary of State aware that private organisations in London, such as the Clerkenwell Workshops and the Rotherhithe Workshops, are producing more jobs more quickly than are local authorities in London? As these planning agreements have been going ahead for six months now, can he tell us when we shall see the first factory or 1499 workship open, operating and producing jobs?