§ Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.11.20 am
§ Mr. Wheeler
We return to the perils of using the Underground system in London. I was about to describe how this aspect of life in London has increasingly become a major scandal. The citizens of London, whether young or old, fit or infirm, now fear to use the Underground, particularly from the mid-evening onwards. I am sure that hon. Members on 1772 both sides will be well aware of the views of their constituents and of their desire to see some action to deal with this aspect of London life.
The House will be familiar with the incident which occurred at Neasden and the subsequent action by the staff of the Underground system who felt that they should protest because of the lawlessness on the " tube ". They might well take that course. Assaults on members of London Transport staff are now running at over 1,000 a year, as against 890 in 1977. In 1979, 291 members of the staff of the Underground were assaulted and the latest information I have is that there are now about 30 assaults a month—in other words, one a day.
But the problem is not confined to the staff. Those who use the system are increasingly assaulted. I refer to the most serious assaults, those causing grievous bodily harm, where people are injured, blood flows or limbs are broken. The total of such assaults is 494. Worse still, of that number reported, only 192 were cleared up by the British Transport Police.
Theft from the person is a particularly offensive crime to many London people. Over 5,000 such offences were reported in 1978, and a mere 124 were cleared up. There were over 1,000 reported offences of criminal damage, and 183 were cleared up.
Those figures show the seriousness of the problem, but they conceal the truth. Many people using the transport and Underground system are not reporting to the authorities the fact that they have been assaulted, that they have been mugged or have been present when damage has been caused.
I can do no better than quote the experience of one London citizen who uses the Underground system in my constituency, at Queensway. However, before I go underground, I should like briefly to discuss what happens above ground in Queensway. It has surely become one of the most squalid thoroughfares in inner London. That is not the fault of the Westminster city council, which is responsible for cleaning up the area, or of the Metropolitan Police, who seek to police it. One has great sympathy with both those authorities.
The authorities require some support. I wish that I could persuade Ministers to 1773 look at the Control of Pollution Act and bring into operation that part of it which enables the compactor to be made available and used especially in conjunction with the local authority. We should then see some improvement above ground in those major thorougfares where the pressures from the community are so serious.
But to return to what happens below Queensway——
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
Before my hon. Friend does so, on this immensely important point about the use of the compactor, what would be the approximate cost of such use if it were introduced by all restaurants and hotels, thereby substantially improving the cleansing of London Streets?
§ Mr. Wheeler
I believe that the cost would be no more than £300. For the sort of businesses that operate in the Queensway area—the take-away food shops, for example—this would be a mere pittance, but the result in cleanliness and the improvement in the quality of life for residents and visitors would be enormous.
It would also assist if the planning regulations could be improved, certainly for the inner London authorities. It is possible to open a take-away food shop with almost no restrictions. If we are concerned about the quality of life in inner London particularly, the authorities should be invested with some ability to require people to do things for the benefit of the whole community.
I now return below the thoroughfare of Queensway, to the Underground station. A London resident writes to me as the court of last resort appealing for help because of what is happening below ground:I first became aware of this group of six..... youths in December 1979 and I, along with two other passengers, assisted a young American tourist who had been robbed of her wallet. A few days later I was punched and kicked by a member of the same gang when I obstructed the door of a tube train which closed prematurely. The carriage contained one of the gang's victims and the obstrucion of the door thus represented a threat In January of this year "—1980—I met a woman seeking the protective company of a member of the station staff because she had noticed youths that had robbed earlier on. In a conversation with her and several other passengers I learnt of what must be the 1774 vast number of robberies for which these people are responsible.In other words, " these robberies" are not being reported to the police. He goes on:In December of last year and January of this year I made six complaints by telephone to the London Transport Police.He says that he received a sympathetic hearing. I pay tribute to the London Transport Police. They do their best and are a good force, but the resources are not available to them.
My constituent goes on to say that the police themselves could offer no real hope that they could enforce the law. He says that they were aware of the seriousness of the problem but that they felt unable to offer a solution to it.
That is the evidence of one London citizen and I am sure that the same story could be told over and over again. The problem is to give attention to the policing of the Underground system in particular. At present the British Transport Police are responsible for policing below ground in London. Above ground, in Queensway and elsewhere in London, the Metropolitan Police are responsible. If one goes down a few steps, one is outside their jurisdiction.
The British Transport Police are responsible for law and order on the railway system and the Underground system throughout the United Kingdom. Their present strength is 1,917 officers for the whole country. The number of officers available for policing the London Underground system is 146. With the best of intentions, such a police force is not able to bring back law and order to a considerable and extending Underground system.
The National Union of Railwaymen, which is most concerned about the problem, has addressed a great deal of time to finding some solutions. It has suggested that the London Transport Police force should be at least 500 strong if there is to be any real resolution in tackling the problem of law and order. I could suggest a number of technical proposals for improving law and order—for example, the need to provide radio communication between police officers on the Underground system. Such technical advances would help. But there is a difficulty. A small police force, with a lack of resources, is not able to summon 1775 to any particular incident or serious situation large numbers of police in a short time. The only solution to an urgent situation is to seek help from the Metropolitan Police.
The time has now come for the Home Secretary and the Minister of Transport seriously to consider changing the arrangements for the policing of the Underground system. The whole House will be aware of the serious problems facing the Metropolitan Police. At this moment hundreds of police officers are dealing with a serious incident only a mile or two from this House at the Iranian embassy siege. All hon. Members acknowledge the increasing duties and problems faced by the Metropolitan Police. I believe, however, that the time has come for that force to become responsible for law and order on the Underground system. Only that police force, 22,000 strong, with its training, resources, and equipment, can solve the problem of lawlessness on the Underground.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne, spoke of the quality of life. What can be more important to the people of London than the ability and freedom to move about their streets and to use their transport undertakings in safety? What can be more important to those who seek employment in those undertakings than to be able to do so with the confidence that they have a job that will not bring them into peril on a daily basis? There is one assault a day. It is no wonder that so few people wish to work for the transport undertaking in London.
I invite the authorities to grasp the nettle and to seek an early solution involving the use of the Metropolitan Police in the policing of the Underground system in the same way that we were obliged to use the Metropolitan Police to police Heathrow airport.
§ Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)
Before coming to the main subject on which I wish to speak, I should like to make a couple of points about the Metropolitan Police and other police forces operating in London. If consideration were to be given to the amalgamation of the Metropolitan Police with the London transport police, the possibility would also have to be considered of amalgamating the parks police—those 1776 who were called park keepers but who are constables and have the powers of constables in the Royal parks.
Hon. Members are aware that the Metropolitan Police have difficulty in finding large numbers of officers to deal with incidents such as the Iranian embassy siege. It would seem sensible for the parks police to be available to the Metropolitan force in such circumstances.
More importantly, I am increasingly disturbed by references made to the alleged non-accountability of the Metropolitan Police. Hon. Members are aware of the difference in the form of control, although " control " is not quite the word, over the Metropolitan Police compared with that over police forces outside London. It is not true to say that the form of authority that exists over the Metropolitan Police is any less democratic than the form that exists over non-London police forces. It is at least arguable—it is certainly my view—that Members of Parliament are better placed to be able to exercise influence and control over such a mighty thing as a police force as councillors outside London.
The police authority for London is the Home Secretary, who is answerable to this House. I beg to suggest that Members of Parliament who wish to raise a police matter find it a great deal easier to get satisfaction, through their ability to raise the matter in the House, than even a councillor who is a member of a police authority outside London finds possible. The time may come for the House to examine the whole situation and perhaps amalgamate the two systems in order to achieve a common system. I believe personally that if that happened we would have to recognise the reality that authority exists in the Home Office and that what exists at local level is, at most, consultation. In London, there is no formal method by which local authorities are involved even in consultation with the police forces. That situation could be improved.
The main subject to which I wish to refer is "gipsies". I put the word in inverted commas because legislation in this country, in its typically sloppy-minded way, has defined the word " gipsy " contrary to all common sense. The Caravan Sites Act 1968 provides:'Gipsies' means persons of nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin, but does 1777 not include members of an organised group of travelling showmen ".If I take to a nomadic habit of life, I have become a gipsy, and I am the beneficiary of such rights as are enshrined in this Act and elsewhere.
I believe that legislation on this subject has been misconceived from the beginning. I perceive in this debate and on other occasions a growing recognition that this is the case. Some action has to be taken to relieve our constituents of the unbearable nuisance from which thousands are intermittently suffering due to the stationing of caravants in their vicinity.
The Cripps report of a few years ago recognised the special situation that applies to the inner city areas and, above all, the inner city areas of London. But that recognition, to which lip service is paid, is not reflected in the action taken under the legislation. I think I am right in saying that not a single London borough is the beneficiary of exemption under the Caravan Sites Act. A number of London boroughs have been designated under section 12 of the Act, which means that they acquire additional powers and that the illicit stationing of caravans in those areas becomes a criminal offence. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) has drawn attention to the fact that this is a very weak additon to a borough's powers and that the existence of a criminal offence is not effective.
The main action that Governments could have taken in at least some inner London boroughs would have been to give the exemption permitted and anticipated under the Act to those London boroughs where it was completely contrary to common sense for there to be a gipsy site. My borough of Islington asked for exemption some years ago. The Department of Environment's response was to say " Why are you asking for exemption? There are no gipsies in Islington and there is no prospect that gipsies will resort to Islington, so why bother us? " The matter was laid aside, and the inevitable happened. Some caravanners started resorting to Islington. The council was in breach of its statutory duty to provide sites for those caravanners. The caravanners complained to the local authority ombudsman, who upheld the complaint. The local authority was not to blame. It was the fault of the Department of the Environment, which 1778 did not foresee the possibility that people would resort to areas where it was unnatural, in common sense terms, to go.
It is absurd that an inner city area with one of the worst housing situations in the country should be asked to provide and equip a site worth probably about £1 million for caravanners. That means that a handful of people are given priority over all the families waiting for housing, above all the young couples living with their mothers and fathers or who are split up because they are. Thousands of such people should be given higher priority than people who drift into an area with a caravan or, more commonly, a lorry and proceed to pay scant respect to the rights and entitlements of people in the area.
Islington has experienced three major incidents in recent years—at Laycock Street, Northampton Buildings and, very recently, at the southern end of Barnsbury Road. We should not mince words about the nuisance caused to our constituents. It is not just a question of people going on to the land with lorries and, when they finally depart, leaving behind chunks of metal and other refuse. The things that are done on those sites are things that should be done in lavatories. The things that are done on those sites, in open view of everybody, are things that should be done in private places. Many of my constituents woke up about two months ago to find that within a shorter distance than that which lies between me and the other side of the Chamber they were in a type of goldfish bowl lavatory.
Why on earth should the legislation and the behaviour of successive Governments subject any of our constituents to that nuisance without remedy? Some might say that there is a remedy because the local authority or landowner can go to court and obtain a possession order requiring such people to move. Normally that process takes many weeks. Between six and eight weeks would be a modest estimate. That is the length of time which, at best, it has taken local authorities in my area to have the caravanners moved on. On the last occasion they moved on to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown). When he manages to get rid of them they will come back to my constituency or to that of my hon. 1779 Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis).
We must find better ways of dealing with the problem. Government must be told that there was a misconception in the legislation from the beginning and that we are not prepared to put up with it for much longer.
It was suggested earlier that the provisions for legal action which have been dropped from the latest version of the local government Bill might be put back by Back-Bench action. I understand that that has been ruled out and that it is not possible because of the terms of the Bill's long title. If that is so, it is open to the Government, as the authors of the Bill, to take the initiative and put back those provisions. In the light of remarks made from both sides of the House today, I hope that the Government will examine that possibility and recognise that the provisions should be put back.
The powers which a local authority acquires when it is lucky enough to have its area designated by the Department of the Environment are too weak in two respects. First, it is necessary to know the identity of the person who is to be prosecuted. The law of the land does not always require that. If someone parks his car on the street, the police may tow it away without knowing the identity of the owner. I do not see why in a designated area the same method should not be adopted. Such vehicles should be towed away so that the onus is on the owner to find it.
Secondly, there is the question of the criminal nature of the offence. The Act provides that in a designated area the parking of caravans and other vehicles on non-permitted ground is a criminal offence. But the fine is £20. That was the ridiculously low fine set in 1968. It was far too low then and it is certainly absurd now. The fine should be raised to a more significant level. There should be consultations between the Department of the Environment and the Metropolitan Police about the action which the Metropolitan Police are able and willing to take to enforce the law. The police axe reluctant to be involved in such action. However, if a caravan is parked in a designated area a criminal offence is involved. When that is brought to the attention of the police by a local authority, the police 1780 should take action, as they would in relation to any other criminal offence.
I hope that the Government will take seriously on board the fact that many hon. Members and many local authorities are insisting, in a way that they did not a few years ago, that greater powers are needed to protect citizens against that intense nuisance. I hope that the Government will take action while the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill is going through the House to provide the powers that are required.
§ Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) referred to London's dockland and the dockland southern relief road. I want to whip the House into a fever of enthusiasm and to send my hon. Friend, the ministerial maid of all work—the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security—hussling off, determined to come into the House on bank holiday Monday to give effect to the points that my hon. Friend and I are making.
The 5,000 acres of land available for development in dockland, at the heart of our capital city, gives us a unique opportunity which no other capital city enjoys. Not only is it essential to develop that land in the most exciting and imaginative way for the benefit of every Londoner, but it is vital that transport facilities to and from it are adequate to allow it to live, to breathe and succeed.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) chaired a committee which reported a few weeks ago to the Centre for Political Studies on this matter. We all know that reports on London matters over my hon. Friend's signature gain instant and unqualified acceptance. Referring in that report to the reasons why dockland had not been properly developed more quickly—the problem has been with us for a number of years—he said, first thatthe roads and transport facilities are inadequate.He said, secondly, that, sadly, the objectives of the five dockland borough councilsare hostile to economically viable development.
§ Mr. Stevens
I do not want to make this a party utterance, but it seems to me that the Labour Party has adopted a negative approach to this exciting opportunity.
Third, the efforts to co-ordinate these developments have not been very efficient, and planning delays have been unnecessarily extended. The uncertainties of political change and political pressures discourage developers from getting to work until public money has been committed. They do not know whether, if they establish a business or plant within the dockland area, the rest of the area will be developed as they hope, or whether they will find themselves isolated in a desert. We must give potential developers the confidence to believe that they will form part of truly exciting central metropolitan area. Co-operation between the Government and developers is therefore essential.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) seemed sceptical when I begged the Labour Party to be less negative. He said that the Labour Party was not negative, but what is one to say to Mr. Andrew Mackintosh who on 11 March this year, as planning spokesman, saidthe first thing we will do in May 1981 "—if his party should be returned to power at County Hall—is to kill it "," it" being the proposal for the docklands southern relief road. My argument to-day is that this road is an essential factor in the success of docklands. Unless my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench make sure that the plans for the road reach an irreversible stage in the next 12 months, we always have to face the possibility, though not on a 3.9 per cent. swing, that Mr. Mackintosh might, if the worst came to the worst, have a chance, in his unlovely phrase, to " kill it".
It is therefore disappointing that the public inquiry into the proposed dockland southern relief road, which was to have been held this summer, has now been postponed until the spring of 1981, and that we cannot expect a decision until the following May. I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister, with all the emphasis of which I am capable, that he could then find that it is too late.
Briefly, the arguments in favour of the development of the southern relief road are these. By providing first-class cross- 1782 river access linking five major roads it will open up the whole dockland area to the employment, investment and confidence that it so badly needs. No improvement to existing roads could provide adequate first-class access and the infrastructure essential for development. Without this road the Government's policy for an enterprise zone in the docklands will be crippled and ineffective. Without the road most of the schemes for the Surrey docks will fall.
I know that it has been thought that the Surrey docks might be made part of the urban development corporation, and that is still one of the options. But the attitude of the Southwark council has been such that I understand that Mr. Broackes and his deputy chairman, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) might defer to the wishes of the local authority and not seek to make the Surrey docks area a part of the corporation.
Whatever decision the Government and the chairman and his colleagues arrive at on this issue, I beg my hon. Friend to ensure that his ministerial colleagues know, as I am sure they do, that if this chance of including Surrey docks within the total area of the dockland development is lost now it will not recur.
The road should be very high among the priority schemes in London of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. An early start is critical. The opposition to the road from the dockland boroughs is parochial and short sighted. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has from the outset of the Government's term of office made it clear that he is sympathetic in principle to our views. On 25 June 1979 he committed the Government to a comprehensive approach to the problems of London's major roads. On 22 April this year he announced that the studies on the Jubilee line were going forward. I have a report from the Greater London Council into ways of achieving the benefits of the Jubilee line at a lower cost.
Only two days ago my right hon. Friend announced that £105 million would be made available for a river crossing from Beckton to Thamesmead which would link the A15 and the A2, which, while far to the east of the area I am describing, will make an important contribution to opening up East London. For 1783 centuries the River Thames has been the capital's main highway. In the past it enabled London to flourish as the world's greatest port. Unrestricted river access was essential to the Port of London, hence the absence of bridges over the river and the dependence on tunnels.
London is segregated by the Thames. It can be crossed 25 times upstream of Tower bridge and only twice downstream within the same distance. The need to keep the river open for navigation has resulted in the docklands section having only one-third of the crossing capacity which today exists for the equivalent section upstream from Chelsea bridge to Kew bridge. That constitutes a major lack of communication facilities in the dockland area compared with the western side of London. I do not want to take the time to make a prolonged breakdown of the historical background to the need for the relief road, nor to seek to review the arguments advanced in an unsatisfactory document by the London boroughs of Southwark and Tower Hamlets in which they set out the case against the road. I think that most of the professional people, including those who found themselves appearing to be the authors of the document, have felt that it was less than a totally satisfactory or mature approach to the argument.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Even if the hon. Gentleman does not accept those arguments, will he agree that they are put forward on technical grounds? How does he square that with his suggestion that the opposition of the boroughs is based purely on political doctrine?
§ Mr. Stevens
I do not think that I mentioned politics. I said that there had been a negative attitude. For example, the first plank of the report was that the dockland southern relief road was not part of the London docklands strategic plan, which was approved in 1976. That was a highly misleading statement, because at the time to which that document referred, the GLC was actively pursuing an investigation into the southern relief road. As the hon. Member well knows, it has now given its full endorsement to the proposal. It would have been slightly more honest—again, I am talking not about politics but about the professional presentation of the facts—had that report indicated what the true facts were, instead 1784 of suggesting that the GLC was opposed to the road, which was not and is not the case.
I do not want to delay the House—because many other hon. Members wish to speak—by rehearsing these arguments at length. However, I shall circulate them in written form, as I have already done to my hon. Friend, to London Members who are participating in the debate so that they can have the benefit of studying them at their leisure. I hope that we shall not, as we have done in the years leading up to this debate, allow this matter to fail through lack of publicity, understanding, inspiration or a desire and ability to seize an opportunity.
I hope to organise a group of like-minded people in Greater London, on an entirely non-party political basis. I hope that the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) will join me if I can persuade him that my heart is pure and that the case is unanswerable, as I think I can. In that way I hope to lend nonpartisan public support to the development of docklands and the relief road. I beg hon. Members to accept that this is a tremendously exciting opportunity which we shall lose if we do not grasp it. Other metropolitan cities in the rest of the world would give their right arms—if cities had arms—for such an opportunity. Let us make the most of it. Above all, do not let us waste it.
§ 12.2 pm
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)
I shall follow the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) in talking about docklands, but I shall not follow him in his obsession with the southern relief road. Docklands is an area which is full of problems, and those problems are full of complexities. Problems which are full of complexities always require solutions which are many-sided. One of the things which worries me about the passionate—I could almost say, obsessive—advocates of the southern relief road is that they look upon it as a magic wand, and that given the southern relief road all the problems will be solved.
Anyone who has been involved in studying the problems of docklands over the years could not fail to recognise that that is a gross over-simplification, to put it at its best. It could well be that the southern relief road would bring some 1785 benefits. But one must consider the balance of advantage. It would also result in some disadvantage. One must also consider whether the same amount of resources, if applied in different ways, could produce better results for docklands than this magic wand formula.
Many people have applied their minds to the road proposal. To be as dismissive as the hon. Gentleman was of those who oppose it, as though they have not thought the matter through or have some prejudice or whatever, will not do. Powerful arguments are involved. It is a very difficult question indeed. One must allow for the disturbance which such a project would cause as well as the benefits that would result. One must allow for the planning blight and the sterilisation which will be caused over a period of years. One must take into consideration all the other things which will be stopped while the road is being built. One must weigh up all the pros and cons. A much more sophisticated judgment is required in coming to a decision than the hon. Gentleman, with all respect, has so far applied. I beg him to believe that there are many more points which he should consider before arriving at a final conclusion.
I mentioned the danger of planning blight which results from a major project. There is very little understanding of that outside the areas which are most directly affected. For example, the Tower Hamlets patch of the docklands area has been affected by all sorts of blight for a long time—one could almost argue, ever since the war. First, there was bombing blight. Then there was development blight. During the period when the overall plan for docklands was under discussion, there was planning blight. The trouble with planners, as with so many other technicians, is that they always seem to be willing to make an enemy of the good. Whenever a plan is produced, it is not executed, because just as it is about to be someone comes up with a bright idea which might improve it. As a result, everything stops while that idea is considered. If such a plan is improved, everything stops while those improvements are considered, and so it goes on and on.
I had experience of this in a different context during the war with regard to the building of aircraft. In the end, Lord Beaverbrook cut through the problem. 1786 But at one stage no aeroplanes were supplied because they were being designed and redesigned all the time and never got off the drawing board. We started with a simple design which could have been put into manufacture very quickly, but by the time the designers had finished it was covered withbubukles, and whelks, and knobs ",just like a Christmas tree. Therefore, we never got around to making it. In the end, 'Lord Beaverbrook told the industry " I would sooner have some imperfect aeroplanes than no perfect aeroplanes". It is exactly the same with physical planning in an area such as docklands.
I think of the time and money which was wasted by the Travers-Morgan inquiry, which produced all sorts of fanciful and theoretical schemes such as a safari park, golf courses and heavens knows what. That report included everything except the provision for houses and jobs for those who live in the area. That was the last of its priorities. That held us up.
That was followed by the establishment of the Docklands Joint Committee, which I think has been unfairly criticised. A new body takes time to get into the swing of things. If the Urban Development Corportation goes ahead, there will be another few years of planning blight, because inevitably it will take just as long to get into the swing of things as the DJC. I do not say that by way of criticism.
The chairman and the members of the corporation will have to appoint a staff and find somewhere to house that staff. That staff will sit down and look at all the plans that have been produced. It will go all the way back to Travers-Morgan, the DJC and all the rest, in order to produce a plan of its own. It will probably take a couple of years before a spade is shoved into the earth in anger in order to turn over a spit of earth and do anything at all. That will happen all over again.
It is tragic, because the stage has now been reached when the joint committee, having completed the initial preparation period, which included delays in research and development—which are just as great in planning as they are in manufacturing—is now swinging into action—and the action is swinging. If the hon. Member for Fulham persists in his idea that the Docklands Joint Committee is a dead 1787 body, I shall have to invite him on a tour of Tower Hamlets so that he can see what is going on there. His eyes will pop out of his head.
The research and development period has now been completed, and for someone to say that that plan should be stopped, and that another organisation should be brought in, which will have to start from scratch, is an absolute tragedy for the developments that are now taking place in the docklands.
It also has to be borne in mind that, whatever is said for or against the joint committee, it is a responsible and accountable body. There will be no accountability on the part of the development corporation. It is one thing to set up a development corporation and to develop a place such as Milton Keynes—a small village with empty green fields, but the development of the docklands is completely different. Part of the designated docklands area falls within the borough of Tower Hamlets, which has only a quarter of the acreage of the area. There is much more acreage in Newham, next door. That quarter of the acreage holds more than half of the total population, and it is a densely populated area. There are no green fields, and there is no one with any interest in the area or who has a right to have a say in what goes on. It is one of the few areas where the population is increasing at present. Mr. Nigel Broackes and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) should not be able to tell the people what to do. They should not be able to say that they were not elected, and therefore cannot be kicked out if the people do not agree with what they are doing. I can envisage enormous public relations difficulties and enormous difficulties in relationships between the corporation and the community, because what is happening is absolutely inappropriate.
I wish to refer to the proposed enterprise zones. I do not take a blanket, doctrinal objection to them immediately, because I do not yet know what they are, or where they will be. At present we simply know the title. We do not know what form they will take, what they will do, or what changes will be made to set up an enterprise zone. We should reserve our judgment until we see the proposition that is put forward.
1788 There will be great difficulties if the wishes of the more extreme advocates of this sort of enterprise are fulfilled. If we give people the right to breach the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act and the Factories Acts, to pollute the atmosphere, to work in dangerous conditions or cause enviromental damage, a great deal of difficulty will be created in all these areas. However, we do not know that that will happen, and I shall keep a vigilant eye on the situation to ensure that it does not happen. I shall suspend my judgment until then. We do not yet know where the areas will be. We do not know which London boroughs will be designated as enterprise zones, what conditions may be put on the bids, or whether those conditions will be acceptable to the Department.
If the Department really wants bids from London boroughs, information must be given about the provision and the cost of the provision of infrastructure. In many of those areas infrastructure costs will be very high. If the enterprise zone for London falls within the dockland areas, in addition to all the normal problems of site clearance there will be the problem of clearing water off the site. That is an expensive operation, which will have to be taken into account by boroughs when they consider whether to put in bids. The benefits to them will be indirect—for example, higher rateable values. From their point of view the enterprise zone is a loser. Unless the Department gives information on who will bear responsibility for the high cost of infrastructure, there may not be an enterprise zone in London, because no borough will be willing to prejudice its financial position by putting in a bid for such a zone.
I hope that the Minister will give some information about that. If he does not he will find that the bright idea of the Chancellor of the Exchequer will prove to be a very addled egg.
Mr. William Shefton (Streatham)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) is not present, because I wish to tell him I agree with what he said about the problem of caravans. I was disappointed by the report of the Countryside Commission. If the clause governing caravans is re-established in the 1789 Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill, I shall support it.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) as chairman of the committee which bore his name, and am delighted to say how much I agreed with his remarks. I say that as one who served in the Inner London Education Authority some years ago as chief whip.
I also pay tribute to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ravens-bourne (Mr. Hunt), and I agree with his remarks about the quality of life in London. The only caveat I enter is that the quality of life for those living in Streatham and Lambeth is somewhat soured by the antics of the Lambeth borough council.
Once again, I wish to dwell for a few moments on the goings-on of that extraordinary council with which Lambeth is cursed. I am not referring to the amenities and contributions from Lambeth and Streatham, about which comment has been made in the press recently.
I do not know whether hon. Members saw a league table of rates in the Evening Standard some weeks ago. At that time, 29 boroughs had declared their rates. The worst performers in that league table—those 10 with the highest rates—were all Labour. The 10 best—those with the least rate increases—were, of course, all Conservative.
§ Mr. Mikardo
One of the most fascinating statistical conclusions deriving from a study of the result of yesterday's elections is that Labour did best in the highest-rated boroughs. That goes to show that the ratepayers and the other electors do not attach to the level of rates anything like the significance that the hon. Gentleman attaches to it.
§ Mr. Shelton
If I may say so, that is a very shrewd remark, and I shall return to it a little later in my speech.
It is extraordinary that the impact of rates on votes is not yet appreciated as much as one would expect. I have some reasons for saying that and I shall come to them a little later.
The London borough which had the greatest rise was—surprise, surprise—the borough of Lambeth, which had a rise of 49.5 per cent., following a rise of 40 1790 per cent. last year, making a cumulative rise of 110 per cent. in two years.
It is especially bitter for the people of Lambeth—judging by the vast amount of correspondence that I receive not only from Streatham but from all over Lam beth—that alongside Lambeth lies the Conservative-controlled borough of Wandsworth. The irony was highlighted by a photograph which appeared in various newspapers a few weeks ago of Hazelbourne Road, one side of which is in the borough of Lambeth and the other side of which is in the borough of Wands worth. On one side, the rates are £233 a year. For identical houses on the other side, the rates are £376 a year. I shall allow hon. Members to guess which borough has the higher rates and which borough has the lower rates. In fact, the Lambeth rates are some 60 per cent. higher for identical properties. In talking to householders——
§ Mr. Dubsbrose——
§ Mr. Shelton
I shall give way in a moment. I always welcome the hon. Gentleman's interventions. From talking to householders on each side of the road, it has seemed to me that the services they receive are indistinguishable.
§ Mr. Shelton
The major cause of concern about the cuts in Wandsworth has been the closure of the swimming bath. None of the people to whom I spoke in Hazelbourne Road ever uses the swimming bath. They were not concerned about it.
The rates are merely the symptom of the problem in Lambeth. The cause is that costs in Lambeth are out of control. I am not talking about cuts, because there have not been any cuts in Lambeth. I am talking about bad housekeeping and about inefficiency. I am talking about ideological spending. I am talking about the complete irrelevance of need in the borough. I am talking, as I said, about gross inefficiency—Marxism in 1791 action. I am talking about the Lambeth loonies who are running the council.
The work force in Wandsworth is 7,279—down by 298 in the past year. The figure for Lambeth, with an almost identical population, is 10,232—up by 396. For 1980–81, the estimate in Lambeth for white collar employees is 5,305, compared with 4,512 in 1978–79—an estimated increase of very nearly 800 in white collar employees alone.
It is not a matter of services in Lambeth; it is a matter of inefficiency and of bad housekeeping. I shall give some examples of this. We still have the same catalogue of spending idiocies and inefficiences. We have rent arrears continuing to run at about £3 million. The number of empty council properties is increasing. The borough is at the top of the shame league, and is drawing still further ahead. It now has over 4,000 empty properties, which means over £1 million in lost rent and rates. We have the costly and wasteful consumer advice service, which is still increasing. We have the costly and ill-founded council inquiry into the police.
We have dances and carnivals on the rates. We have grants to fringe Left-wing groups. The Union Place Resource Centre continues unabated—its march—led, no doubt, by the " Under Fives Against Fascism " and " Rock Against Thatcher " groups—not inventions of Peter Simple but happening in our constituency.
In Lambeth we have one council employee for every 28 people living in the borough. Lambeth overspent by £4.7 mil lion on its financial estimates last year. No wonder it has to spend £250,000 on its press and publicity services. I am deeply disturbed—as are the ratepayers and, I very much hope, the district auditor— about the use of ratepayers' money for the publication of polictical literature. I shall not weary the House with all the examples that I have here——
§ Mr. Shelton
Unless the hon. Gentleman is careful, I shall weary the House with all the examples. I have a great number of them. The first one, which is quite extraordinary, says:Winter swimming at Brockwell Lido ".1792 It goes on to say:This lido has been re-opened because Lambeth council has decided to fight the Government cuts ".It has been re-opened, apparently, not so that people may swim there but because the council wishes to make a protest, by re-opening it, about the Government cuts.
I have here a letter which has been sent to every council tenant. It reads:Dear Tenant, Details of the increase in council rents and heating charges are enclosed.It is an apologia for the fact the council is having to put up the council rents. The final paragraph says:Meanwhile, we are forced by financial and legal considerations to impose this rent increase. We ask all tenants to support us in our fight against the Tory Government's attack on working people in Lambeth.Opposition Members may agree with it; and I accept that some people may believe it. But what I do not accept—and what, on reflection, Labour Members should not accept—is that those sentiments should be printed and published at the expense of the ratepayers of Lambeth and sent out on Lambeth council note-paper. That is a misuse of council funds. I hope that the matter will be taken up in other quarters and that a reprimand will be issued. It is a quite improper use of council funds.
§ Mr. Hollandrose——
§ Mr. Shelton
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.
Lambeth Local news-sheet has become famous—" infamous" would be a better word. I shall refer the House to some headlines. This one says:No to house sales and service cuts. Council to fight.It also says: " Police to be investigated."
Another reads:Lambeth not alone in attack on Government blackmail. Thousands say no to cuts.This one says:We have decided to take our stand now. No cuts, and big campaign of protest.Another headline says " Saved from the cuts." At the bottom it says "March against cuts." Obviously, the council is far more obsessed with the cuts than with the South Circular road——
§ Mr. Shelton
In a moment. This one says:Government cuts force up rates... Heseltine slashes house building.This is understandable and no doubt acceptable in a Labour Party publication. But we are discussing not a Labour Party publication but a publication financed by Lambeth's ratepayers, most of whom I suspect, are Conservative voters, if one includes the business rate. It is quite improper. If a Conservative council did that, every Opposition Member would be on his feet protesting, as I am protesting, and I look to hon. Members opposite to support my protest.
§ Mr. Holland
Is the hon. Gentleman claiming that the Secretary of State for the Environment has not introduced cuts and that they should not be commented on by the council? If the hon. Gentleman insists that the council does not have the right to express its policy in a publication of that kind, does he also deny that right to the Central Office of Information, for example, which is itself funded by public funds?
§ Mr. Shelton
I am saying that it is quite improper to use public funds for political purposes. I refer the hon. Gentleman to a paragraph in the letter which I read a moment ago:We ask all tenants to support us in our fight against the Tory Government's attack ".It does not say " the Government's" attack. It says " the Tory Government's attack ". I hope very much that the question whether this is political will be decided by people other than Opposition Members.
I have in my possession a copy of the district auditor's report for last year, which was published on 18 April. It makes very interesting reading. Unfortunately, a number of objections have been raised by ratepayers. I understand that for the first time in the history of Lambeth the auditor has had to leave them out of his report for a separate report at a later date. He says:A Certificate of Completion to the report cannot be entered... because objections to these accounts... have still to be decided.So there is no mention in the report of the principal problems which I suspect have been raised about, for example, the political use of public funds in printing such stuff as I have been reading, the level 1794 of council rents, and perhaps many other matters. What remains in the report however is a damning indictment, albeit phrased in the rather timid language used normally by district auditors, of the bad housekeeping of this wretched council and the profligate use of funds with which it makes play.
The general rate fund balance was £8 million in 1977. In 1980, it was £9,207. It dropped from £8 million to £6 million, to £2 million and to £9,000. The auditor says:This is the result of decisions by the council to meet part of general expenditure from this... balance.He goes on in stirring language:I share the view that it is insufficient as a working balance for Lambeth council.I am sure that even Opposition Members will agree that £9,000 is insufficient. The auditor continues:In arriving at these balances, Lambeth council has taken no account of outstanding liabilities and bad debts (mainly arrears of housing rents which could be in excess of £1 million).They have not been included. As I say, Lambeth loonies are running this council.
A later comment by the auditor is instructive to anyone attempting to discover how Lambeth council runs its business:One of the factors affecting the financial position of the council is overspending on the housing repairs budget by about £2 million, which is about 25 per cent. of the total budget.According to the auditor, apparently the red light was put on in July 1979, shortly after the financial year started. The officers prepared a report and put it forward to the housing management subcommittee on 5 September. The Committee looked at it and, by a vote, withdrew it. It was not prepared to consider the officers' recommendations. At the full housing committee on 17 September, the officers again expressed their concern. No recommendation was made to take any action, other than to instruct the director to endeavour to control levels of expenditure.
The auditor pathetically remarks:When a decision is made that actual expenditure must be kept within the budget, then it is to be expected that the council will normally support proposals to this end submitted to them by the officers.That does not apply to Lambeth. 1795 When I read the report, my sympathies went out to this unfortunate, apparently rather timid, auditor. I have no doubt that he is an excellent auditor, but his language is extremely timid. I remind the House again of what he said:the council will normally support proposals to this end.The auditor goes into the problem of homelessness. The council had an expenditure of £830,000 against a budget estimate of £350,000. Next year it is estimated to be £1.4 million. The auditor describes squatters as " a substantial problem." Then he deals with the internal audit. It is not often that a district auditor comments on the internal audit of a council. He says:The council's internal audit does not reach the standards normally expected... A comprehensive review of the structure, the organisation and the methods of working is needed.I should think so
. This auditor's report coupled—I trust and hope—with the decisions made about the objections raised by the ratepayers confirms the view which I have held for some time that it is a wretched council. It is a bad housekeeper, and it is profligate. It is inefficient, but it is also undemocratic and arrogant. A public meeting in Streatham was held on 22 April to which were invited the people of the area to ask questions and make comments about the rates. The meeting was well attended. It was chaired by a councillor, and the leader of the council was present. Three Conservative councillors of that ward were present. They were not allowed to ask questions or to speak. Eventually the audience discovered what was happening and started booing and shouting. The meeting was closed without any opportunity being given to the Conservatives present to ask questions or put forward their point of view. It was a blatant disregard, though quite understandable in the case of a Marxist council, of normal democratic procedures.
I come finally to what can be done. As I said at the beginning, I do not believe that reliance can be placed on the impact of rate increases always to change political control. It did in Wandsworth. I suspect that it will in Lambeth. But that cannot be relied on, because in 1796 areas such as Lambeth the rates do not have a universal impact. The rate base is only about one-third of the voters of any area. Secondly, in parts of Lambeth a great many people receive fairly extensive rent rebates. Thirdly, when there are many people in local authority housing, they are cushioned by pegged rents. Council house rents in Lambeth have not been increased since 1976. Therefore, the tenants' cost of living does not go up by that much, and they can pay the rates.
I make two pleas. First, will the Government move more quickly towards ending domestic rating? Secondly, will they put auditors into councils that increase their rates above a certain percentage, to show how money can be saved, instead of there being a rate increase, and can the results be made public? Only by public opinion, through public knowledge of what is going on in Lambeth, can it be brought under control.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) made an almost identical speech six months ago. Even the jokes were the same. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's speech has improved with age. He compounded his problems by making it double the length, which could not have appealed to many of his hon. Friends who want to speak in the debate.
The common theme of the present Government in relation to their taxation and social services policies and to local government has been to penalise those most in need and to reward those best able to look after themselves. I was delighted that this common theme was roundly indicted by so many electors throughout Britain—unhappily, excluding those in the London area, who did not have the opportunity to vote yesterday—despite the rather squalid campaign by the Secretary of State for the Environment.
It was noticeable that Labour did best in the more highly rated areas. That is because people are desperately alarmed about the cuts that are being made in social services, which they prize and want to see nourished and sustained.
The common theme of the present Government, particularly in their attitude towards local government affairs, is as destructive of decent standards of life—the 1797 quality of life to which Conservative hon. Members have referred—as some of the acts of hooliganism that have rightly been condemned today on both sides of the House.
My own area has for long been recognised as one of great poverty and deprivation. That was recognised by a previous Secretary of State, now the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It was recognised to a greater extent by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) when he was Secretary of State. He brought relief to areas such as mine in a positive way.
It is all very well for Conservative Members to say that no answer to the problems is to be found by throwing money around; but if we do not sustain the aid-programmes for the inner cities with money, we shall have no programmes at all. As the Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg)—well knows, because he has been to my area many times, we unquestionably have severe problems with our housing conditions in Hackney—appalling overcrowding, homelessness, poor, virtually unendurable conditions, and indifference by the Greater London Council. We have problems of mental stress, heightened by the stressful conditions. They are not unique, but they abound in Hackney.
When Conservative Members condemn Hackney, among other areas, for increasing the rates, I reply that they have no understanding of the problems, no understanding of the needs for the social services that help to make life more tolerable for so many and that are now under attack from the Government. I am proud—not ashamed—that the Hackney council is not prepared to carry out a vendetta against its council tenants, as this Government would encourage.
I should like to illustrate some of the problems that we have faced. The rate support grant has been cut by £4 million. We have had to take £2 million from the balances to compensate for Government cuts. Otherwise, the rates would have increased even more. There have been savage cuts of £14 million by the Government in the housing improvement programme—in an area that I have already characterised as being desperately short of housing and where the need for housing improvement is clear.
1798 Therefore, Hackney will be £20 million worse off in the next financial year as a result of this Government's activities. Coupled with that, we have inflation running at 19 per cent., and rising, and interest rates at record levels; and the local authority has had to allow £2.7 million to compensate for that.
Against that background, it is outrageous that the Secretary of State should engage in the pork barrel politics that he has indulged in, as a sort of inverted Robin Hood, taking from the poor and giving to the rich. The shire counties have benefited from his interventions in local government politics and the poor and most deprived areas are having to make the most sacrifices. That is pork barrel politics on an unprecedented scale.
I turn briefly to the question of social services in my area. I must refer to the Government's more general approach in this respect. They are aiming at a reduction in real terms of 6.7 per cent. in spending on social services compared with 1979–80. It is not just the reduced growth—the euphemism used by the Secretary of State for Social Services—but a real reduction of 6.7 per cent.
The matter was put authentically by the Government's own advisory body, the Personal Social Services Council, which said recently:Cuts of the order envisaged by the government cannot be achieved, in the Council's view, without a serious deterioration in the quality and range of social services. Both statutory and voluntary sectors now face a mismatch of resources and responsibilities that neither greater cost effectiveness in service provision nor attempts to increase community participation—desirable as both are—can hope to reconcile. The prospects of those who rely on such services will be diminished to an extent that should be unacceptable in a just society.That puts the hon. Member for Streatham in his place, and it comes from an authentic source.
The Government are trying to distance themselves from the public condemnation of the effects of their policies by concentrating cuts in the social services on those provided by local authorities. It is a myth that there is a panacea, that we can simply solve all the problems by cutting out waste. The Association of Directors of Social Services has said that to suggest that cuts can be financed painlessly in this way is totally unrealistic. I believe that that is right.
1799 In my area, just as in many others, the poor and the handicapped will pay dearly for the present policies. They will not find them painless. The services most affected throughout the land—unless they are maintained by increased rates—will be residential care, home help and mobile meal services, social work services, grants for voluntary bodies, aids for the handicapped and holidays for the elderly and handicapped. May I say, in parenthesis, that one of the things that I most rejoiced in doing when I was chairman of the welfare committee in Hackney some years ago was introducing continental holidays for the handicapped, giving them something that they could not otherwise have hoped for. That needed public support. It is that kind of provision that is being imperilled by what is happening today.
Staff have to be trained; and immense cuts are being made in the staff training programme.
Although I should very much like to go into the matter in more detail, I shall conclude, because I am sensitive, as the hon Member for Streatham was not, to the fact that other hon. Members want to take part in the debate.
This Government's policies will strike most heavily at many services specifically aimed at alleviating the misery of the old, the sick and the handicapped and those who find the stresses of present-day society intolerable. The Government will have to answer that indictment in due course. They will have to do so when the GLC elections come next year and when the local authority elections come later. Above all, I believe that they will be incapable of answering that indictment when the next general election comes in the not-too-distant future.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
The debate has ranged over a number of borough preoccupations of hon. Members on both sides of the House. That is understandable. The usual differences have emerged between the preoccupations of hon. Members with inner London borough constituencies and those with outer London borough constituencies.
Most of the comments that we have heard in the debate have come from hon. Members with inner London borough constituencies. That is understandable. 1800 However, there is an intellectual gulf between those who represent inner areas and those who represent outer areas.
Often we in the outer London boroughs do not manage to realise the true severity of the extra problems facing the inner London boroughs—for example, areas of deprivation. Per contra, Members with inner London boroughs think that we in the outer London boroughs are referring to problems that are relatively light compared with their own.
Many of those who live in the outer London boroughs migrated to them at various stages in the hope of a better life and better living conditions. However, the struggle for any family in Britain—certainly in Greater London—is very much the same nowadays with inflation and rising costs. There is a tremendous preoccupation within all families with the huge increase in some domestic bills. That means that in the outer London boroughs the net economic struggle is the same.
As an outer London borough Member, I make no apologies for referring to problems that are different from those experienced by inner London Members but severe for those who reside in outer London.
I pay tribute to my local authority. I agreed with the devastating attack made by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) on the grossly irresponsible local authority in Lambeth. I pay tribute to my local authority for the measured, balanced and disciplined way in which it has instituted a programme of financial control leading to a rate increase of about 26 per cent. for domestic ratepayers. At the same time it has managed, with considerable ingenuity, to maintain the most important services virtually intact. That has called for a tremendous amount of housekeeping, husbandry and financial self-discipline.
It is a reflection of the age in winch we live that, as a result of the first ominous signs of reduction in industrial employment in outer London boroughs, the development of deep-seated unemployment and redundancies taking place in large enterprises—an example in Harrow is Kodak, a major employer—that for the first time the largest employer in the borough is the local authority. I am glad 1801 to add that the number employed by the local authority has not increased. There is stabilisation and a standstill. It is a sign of the times, however, that must be worrying to those concerned at all levels with the management of the London economy.
I shall be brief, as I know that there are other hon. Members who wish to participate. I shall make three different points rather quickly and I hope that my speech will not appear to be too disjointed.
I have been concerned recently about the need to promote home ownership of different sorts. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends are enthusiastic supporters of the programme of council house sales. I hope that local authorities will move fast to meet the natural and urgent demands of many of their tenants who want to become home owners. The programme will have a most beneficial sociological result in areas including outer London boroughs such as Harrow. The programme is going ahead in Harrow. There have been delays on valuations and estimated price agreements, for example, but I hope that the delays and difficulties will be ironed out as soon as possible.
A facet of home ownership that will be important in the outer London boroughs—especially in Harrow, and in Brent to a slightly lesser extent—is the large measure of co-ownership and housing associations. The great and complicated debate is about to begin on whether we can now enable co-owners to become real owners in specific developments by the transformation of their equity stake in the unit. I was glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment was able to confirm on Wednesday that a suitable amendment will be drafted to the Housing Bill so that the process may begin to take place.
It is, of course, a complex subject. However, my right hon. Friend confirmed that it would begin to happen as soon as possible after the Bill is enacted. That will be tremendously important for many co-owners who wish to transform themselves into proper owners.
I do not underestimate the complexity of the operation. Agreements will have to be tailor-made for each housing association development. There will be co-owners who for various reasons, including
1802 advanced age, will not wish to take advantage of the programme, but it will be a tremendous forward development.
I have also been concerned about the strange and legal concept of landlord anonymity. As it is strange and legal I shall deal with it superficially and mention it only briefly. I am struck by the problems that it presents for tenants, be they tenants of a small landlord or a small property company or a large landlord or company.
There are real problems if tenants do not know the identity of their ultimate landlord or the owner of the property. There are a number of tenants in that position in Harrow, East. In legal terms it is a hugely complex issue. Therefore, I do not rush in with instant judgments. However, I hope that the Government will consider introducing fresh legislation to deal with it so that tenants will have the right to know the identity of their ultimate landlord.
The majority of landlords reveal themselves. The majority of small and large property companies are entirely reputable. A minority of landlords, through negligence or the wish to remain anonymous, are protected by a middleman or agent and will not reveal their identity to a tenant who may have some grievance or complaint about the property.
A preoccupation of mine over the years has been heavy lorries and juggernauts, which present an especially severe problem in the outer London area, including Harrow. Therefore, I make no apology for referring to it briefly.
I am the author of what is known in the trade—it is rather agreeable to have an Act that bears one's name—as the Dykes Act, the Heavy Commercial Vehicles Act 1973, which gives additional powers to local authorities to control the movement of juggernauts. I hope that statutory powers will be used much more thoughout the country, and especially in Greater London where the GLC is the relevant authority, to enable my long-suffering constituents to have more peace and greater relief. My constituents have to suffer the movements of the heaviest lorries on main roads in areas in which lorries should not be allowed. The construction of the outer orbital motorway will provide relief in four years time.
1803 One of the special problems that we have in the outer London boroughs is excessive development. I am worried about the areas that front on to the green belt in my constituency called Stanmore and Harrow Weald, where the amount of physical development, at densities which were unacceptable only a few years ago, is beginning to reach unbearable proportions. It is having a major effect in changing the physical environment for those who are already there and who are paying substantial rates pro rata, partly for environmental and amenity reasons for which they do not have to apologise.
There is also the problem of commercial development in areas of residential development. There are schemes that are too large for the economic development of the area. This is happening in zones such as Harrow Weald and Stan-more. Severe problems are created and such development is very unfair on the residents. I hope that that will be heeded as my local authority considers the future envelopment of those areas.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ravensbourne (Mr. Hunt) is not in the Chamber. I wish to thank him for his kind and encouraging remarks about the success of the Jubilee sports hall in Covent Garden. I must declare an interest, although it is not a financial one. I am an unpaid director of the charitable company that runs the hall. I hope that the hon. Member for Ravensbourne and other hon. Members who support his view will set about the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg), as it is clear that his personal intervention within the Department has threatened the prospect of the hall's survival.
It is clear from the memorandum that was leaked to The Guardian that that action was taken because if the hall is saved by the Secretary of State for the Environment it will be politically embarrassing to the GLC at the next election. However, if the hall is not saved it will be an even bigger embarrassment to the Tories at the next GLC election.
Generally speaking, the standard of living of those whom we represent in London 1804 has been severely reduced. That applies to social services, hospitals—to the rest of the National Health Service. Jobs are being lost There is an anti-London bias. The Government have taken specific measures that have damaged the interests of Londoners. However, individual Government policies have not damaged the interests of Londoners as much as the Government's overall policies. Those nationwide policies have a particularly damaging effect on inner urban areas, especially central London.
The Government's White Paper on public expenditure particularly affects housing. The quickest glance will tell one that Government expenditure on housing will be halved between now and 1983–84. As a result, dramatic cuts may be made in the amount of money spent on building and improving homes. Perhaps tenants will suffer massive rent increases. However, it is more likely that we shall see a combination of the two. Those who pay higher rents than they should will find that they have lost their money for ever. However, rent increases may be toned down in future in order to compensate for that loss. It may be argued that manpower and materials should be made available to enable house building and renovation programmes to go ahead, even if deferred by the Government's unfortunate activities.
The Government's policy on land may wreak lasting and irredeemable damage on those Londoners who are not well housed. The Government intend to establish a register of public land that is not being used by the bodies that own it. Many local authorities, Conservative-controlled as well as Labour-controlled, established land banks for housing development and associated purposes. They intended to use that land as and when money was made available. However, that money will not be made available. In the past that might have meant that the sites would lie fallow. They might have been used for temporary purposes. Building would have gone ahead as soon as the money had been made available. That will no longer apply.
I represent part of Camden. Reductions have been imposed on its housing investment programme, and further reductions are expected next year. Certain sites—particularly surplus railway sites—were bought by the council with the approval of the Department of the Environment, 1805 with the approval of those of both political persuasions. Those sites will not now be used for housing development. The Government have refused to provide the necessary funds.
Such sites will be identified on the register of public land. The Government's friends—property speculators who have made massive contributions to Tory funds—will be able to pick off that land and buy it. The local authority may not wish to buy it. If the Housing Bill succeeds, speculators will be able to appeal to the Secretary of State. He will have the power to force public bodies to dispose of such land. No more land is being made available in inner London. Land that is used for non-residential purposes, or to provide parks and amenities round existing housing, will be gone for ever.
I hope that those Tory " wets" who are always planning to have a rebellion will rebel over this issue. I hope that they will do something about it. I am trying to think of a collective noun for " wet". However, having listened to the debate, I conclude that the collective noun might well be " flannel". We have heard a great deal of that today from the Conservative Party.
I hope that Conservative Members will straighten themselves out. Those who represent inner London constituencies should tell the Government to stop such practices. The Government have always said that the cuts are temporary, and that when things improve the country will be able to indulge itself and provide decent housing for everybody. However, if these sites are sold, and used for non-housing and non-local purposes, we shall not get them back. The next two or three years will be crucial for housing and amenities in inner London. I hope that borough councils, along with everyone else, will fight against these measures. I hope that Tory " wets" will wring themselves out. I hope that they will go to the Department of the Environment and persuade it to drop this provision from its ridiculous and monstrous Bill.
§ Several Hon. Members rose——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
This is an important debate and many hon. Members representing London constituencies have indicated that they wish to take part. The last three speakers have set an excellent example. 1806 Speeches of about 10 minutes will enable me to call all those hon. Members who wish to speak.
§ 1.5 pm
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
Of necessity the debate has been wide ranging. One would expect to find a wide variety of problems in a city the size of London. I shall therefore attempt to restrict my remarks to two subjects. I shall try to keep to the target that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have set.
It is a shame that the Labour Party has announced that it is not in favour of the south orbital route. Traffic has a major effect on the environment of my constituency, in North-East London. That can be resolved only by a suitable road network. Traffic should be taken away from residential areas. In 1973, the Labour Party abandoned the road network planned for the whole of London. I was very disappointed that it did so. Only by introducing such a system into the metropolis could we have caught up with the environmental conditions enjoyed by most in many other major cities in the world. Such conditions are lacking in London.
The issue has taken on political significance and has become worthy of this type of statement, because those who find themselves on the route of the proposed network experience great terror. They feel that they will suffer a grave injustice as regards compensation on the compulsory acquisition of their property. Successfully to resolve this issue, we must ensure that people are compensated for the fact that they are unwilling sellers. They are entitled to expect a price higher than the market price for their property.
Such compensation would save an enormous amount of time and an adequate transport network might be introduced more quickly. The acquisition of land and buildings on any route normally amounts to less than 10 per cent. of the full cost of the road works. If that is so, those whose property is compulsorily purchased should receive greater compensation. Such compensation would add but a small percentage to the total bill and the whole process would be speeded up. If the amount of compensation given to an unwilling seller were increased by 20 per cent. much of the terror might be reduced. Owners find that once their property has been blighted it becomes 1807 —whether they like it or not—less marketable. They do not receive adequate compensation and cannot find alternative accommodation which is both suitable and to their liking. I therefore hope that we can turn our attention to that aspect of acquisition. The effect would be lasting and helpful to the economy of our capital.
Another aspect that causes me concern is shorthold tenancies. My concern is not the same as that of Labour Members. Shorthold is not the answer in London. Fair rents assessed under the present rules are not likely to produce the desired result. The great upsurge of interest by outside agencies in the provision of residential accommodation will not result from fair rent officers setting the level of rents, as at present. The only solution is to ensure that the cost of construction is taken into account in assessing fair rent. We should not allow the subsidies required to help those who cannot afford to pay a reasonable rent to confuse the issue of the total cost involved. In assessing a fair rent, scarcity value should not be attributed to the cost of construction. It is scarcity value that the fair rent officer should ignore when accessing a fair rent.
If the cost of construction was taken into account the market would be opened up to organisations such as insurance companies, pension funds and, believe it or not, the trade union movement, which has enormous funds to invest on the stock market. There is no reason why trade unions should not be encouraged to play their role in the provision of private accommodation, as in other countries. If the rent was at least 8. per cent. of the total cost of construction, even allowing for the fact that the land has to be acquired, the benefit of future increases should outweigh the reluctance of these wealthy organisations to play their part in the provision of residential accommodation. I urge the Minister to ensure that due account is taken of that issue.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sorry to interrupt again. I thought that the Minister had spoken, but he has not. Therefore, in order to facilitate everyone who wishes to speak, speeches will have to last only about six minutes.
§ Mr. Bryan Magee (Leyton)
It is a great benefit to London that this debate is ventilating such a wide range of issues of importance to Londoners. However, in order to be brief, I shall not offer a thinly spread survey of many issues but devote my remarks to one—the construction of a new motorway in the northeastern segment of London, of urgent and enormous importance to a vast section of the capital's population.
Everyone accepts that there is urgent need for a new M11 link road from Red-bridge to Hackney. The controversy is over the six alternative schemes. Five have been put forward by designers backed by the Ministry of Transport, and one is the production of local architects and designers—known, after Mr. Lister and Mr. Goldsmith, who produced the designs, as the Lister-Goldsmith plan.
Argument about those alternative schemes has been going on for several years, but as a result of all the discussion and debate an astonishing unanimity has developed locally on which scheme is to be preferred. Almost everyone in the two boroughs chiefly concerned, Red-bridge and Waltham Forest, is agreed that the Lister-Goldsmith plan is vastly to be preferred to the other five. It is not a party political question. Local bodies backing the plan include the Wan-stead Conservative Association, the Wan-stead Liberal Party, the Wanstead Residents Association, the Leyton Labour Party, the Leyton Liberal Party, the Leyton Society, the conservators of Epping Forest, the Friends of Epping Forest and the regional branch of the Royal Institute of British Architects. So the preference extends across the whole range of poitical opinion, and throughout responsible local organisations.
One of the local Members of Parliament is the Secretary of State for Social Services. Until he entered the Cabinet he was one of the warmest public advocates of the plan. I only hope he is pursuing his advocacy of that plan in the privacy of Government and the Cabinet. For the Government are about to make their decision; and I regret to say that all the advance signals are that they will make the wrong decision. I am devoting my speech to the subject in the hope of doing a little to avert that.
1809 Every one of the five schemes that the local people do not want would create a surface ribbon of concrete and pollution that would split in two the three main local communities of Wanstead, Leyton-stone and Leyton. Those long-standing communities would be sliced down the middle, and their life would be permanently disrupted. All local journeys for local vehicles would become awkward and involve long detours, people would be cut off from shops, and there would be all the other damaging effects to local life that we have seen from the worst of road schemes elsewhere.
It is typical of the divorce from reality of the working party that it offers as an enticement that there will be long pedestrian subways to cope with these problems. I do not know where the members of the working party live, but for people living in East London few prospects are more frightening. Long pedestrian subways in East London are almost certain to be dangerous places, especially at night. Nor will they be aesthetically pleasing. It is almost equally certain that they will soon come to display large areas of pornographic grafitti. They will neither be lovely places to go through when safe nor safe places when dark. People are right to be frightened at the prospect.
All five schemes will put a box around one of the most popular and important parts of Epping Forest and shut it off from the remainder. They will all completely split Wanstead Flats from Epping Forest altogether. The roads will also themselves swallow up large strips of Epping Forest land.
The working party admits that when it made its recommendations it had not taken account of the fact that the Government are proposing to develop the third London airport at Stansted. That will vastly increase the traffic flow between central London and Stansted, and that traffic will have to go through north-east London. None of the five schemes is designed to bear that increased traffic load. If one of them is adopted, yet new roads will need to be built to cope with the increased load between now and the end of the century, with all the consequences that I have already mentioned redoubled, and with an inevitable increase in costs.
The Lister-Goldsmith plan is the only one genuinely integrated with the needs of the environment. It is a much more 1810 direct route than the alternatives. It achieves that by the cut-and-cover technique—that it is to say, most of the road is planned to go under ground. After the sunken road has been built it is roofed level with the surrounding surface, and then that " roof " turned partly into local roads and partly into a long strip of parkland which would join up with Epping Forest. That would result in no splitting of the communities, no boxing off of the forest, no pollution or noise for local inhabitants, very few of the dreaded pedestrian subways, and no disruption of local traffic, which would be separated entirely from the through traffic.
There is an enormous need in East London for more green space, and we would get not only the amenity of the road itself but the vastly increased amenity provided by the long strip of park on top of the road. Furthermore, the scheme is the only one of the six schemes which has the capacity to cope with the extra traffic that will be generated by the development of Stansted airport. Both these things should be included in the reckoning of what we shall get for our money, for the only objection to the scheme is that it will cost marginally more than the alternatives. But the difference between it and any alternative that has any practical chance of being adopted is, in financial terms, comparatively small. I maintain that, because East London is such a notoriously socially deprived area, the element of redistribution of resources involved in making such a route is more than justified. The enormous increase in amenities that it would bring to East London, and the obviating of unnecessary new social problems, is worth the marginal difference in expenditure.
I therefore urge the Government, while there is still time, to opt for this scheme. As I mentioned earlier, one of the most distinguished members of the Cabinet has been arguing for it for a long time. I myself commended it in my maiden speech as long as six years ago. Now that, after all these years, the moment of decision is finally upon us, I commend it again, and with all my heart, for I do so knowing that I speak for all aspects of political opinion and all responsible organised local bodies.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
The one matter that is of greater concern than 1811 any other at this moment to my constituents, and to the people of London, is the holding of hostages by force of arms at the Iranian embassy in Knights-bridge.
We congratulate the police on their calm and brilliant handling of this disgraceful incident and pray, most sincerely, that their policies will be successful. In case there was any late news I looked just now at the tapes. The only message there was that the police constable who is being held hostage has sent a message to his wife telling her to keep her chin up. I think that is a fine attitude on the part of the British people who are being held.
Another matter of intense interest to my constituents, to the people of London and to the country in general is the identity of these pro-and anti-Ayatollah demonstrators who are upsetting local residents and generally turning the area into a bear garden. Are they students, and, if so, are they attending to their studies? There is also the question of who is paying for their studies.
Are they, possibly, illegal immigrants living off the sale of drugs? I think that the people of London, and of the country, are fed up with this demonstration in the road. Efforts should be made to find out who these people are. We should find out if they are entitled to be here and stop them from holding demonstrations which are upsetting the local community.
I know that my constituents are disgusted by the demonstrations we see on television. I have also had the opportunity of speaking to my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), who is deeply aware of the outrage of his constituents, who are even more directly affected than are mine by what is going on.
This is Knightsbridge, London, not Ayatollah Square, Tehran. I see no reason why the Iranian Embassy in London should be turned into a replica of the American Embassy in Tehran. The vulgarity and violence of the behaviour of these crowds is handicapping the police in carrying out their duty and it will work against the British " cool-it" technique in dealing with the problem.
1812 If I had had the time I would have developed my theme concerning the police more elegantly. I would have spoken about the role of the police and particularly the role of the Special Constabulary in dealing with the violence mentioned by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Particularly, the Special Constabulary in London, under Chief Commandant Arthur A. Hammond, are doing an exceptional job.
Recruitment is good and the standard of volunteers coming forward is first class. However, the numbers are still small and though I know that it would be unwise to try to plan a crash programme to increase the size of the special constabulary I hope that the Home Secretary will look at the possibility of the expansion of this fine national voluntary service, to its maximum.
This debate, in line with most debates on London, might well be a catalogue of miserable facts. I will mention three general and light-hearted aspects of London and say something about the great things that have been achieved by the Greater London Council.
First, there is the brilliant cleanliness of the Thames. Secondly, there is the attraction of our newly cleaned buildings which is the result of the Clean Air Act. What a great day it will be when Westminster Abbey—which has received a donation from the GLC—will reappear in its full splendour after being cleaned.
There is the beauty of our parks through which it is a joy to walk in the daytime. There is also the proud beauty of the private gardens in the outer London constituencies which give so much pleasure to those of us who drive through those areas.
The GLC has achieved great things. It has reduced its staff by 3,500 and thus saved £28 million a year. In five years the GLC has increased rates by 24 per cent.—4 per cent. a year only—as opposed to Lambeth's 110 per cent. in two years. About 100,000 dwellings have been transferred to district councils and 10,000 houses have been sold and mortgages granted for another 10,000. Seventy-five per cent. of the income from rates is devoted to the inner city and—this is so often forgotten—the council has repaid all outstanding external non-housing debt, amounting to £130 million. That is 1813 an achievement in London of which we can all be proud.
§ Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)
Several hon. Members have talked about Lambeth council and made comparisons with Wandsworth council. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) is no longer in the Chamber. I would have liked to bet the hon. Gentleman that after the next local elections in London, Lambeth will stay Labour and Wandsworth will go Labour.
Wandsworth council has virtually abdicated its responsibilities for the homeless, the badly housed, the elderly, the handicapped and children. It has abdicated its responsibilities for the cultural and social life of the borough. The only positive thing that it seems to have done is impose mammoth rent increases on council tenants as a way of making them pay for the bulk of the borough's services.
The council has got itself into confrontation with the majority of the community that it is supposed to serve. That is why, at a nursery school in Nightingale Lane in my constituency, mothers and children are sitting in in protest against its threatened closure and why the local community are taking the same action at a library for children in Batter-sea.
The conclusion can only be that local people in Wandsworth are not prepared to see their local services decimated without protesting against a council which seems to have lost all touch with reality.
The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) talked about the ILEA. I am sorry that he is not here, because he said some misleading things.
What is the history of the ridiculous proposal to close down ILEA and hand its responsibilities over to the London boroughs? The idea appeared from nowhere last July, put forward by the leader of the Wandsworth council. It had been the subject of no discussion at the previous local election or of any local consultation. It was foisted on the local community without previous discussion.
One wonders where the idea came from. It has no parental or other support in Wandsworth. The only people in Wandsworth who have made representa- 1814 tions in favour of the proposal to the Secretary of State for Education and Science are the leader of the council and the council itself. The rest of public opinion has been solidly against it
Outside Wandsworth, the Secretary of State has had eight representations in favour of the proposal—all from Conservative politicians or organisations—and five of the eight have had nothing to do with inner London, including the Worthing Conservative Association. If that is where the Conservatives have to go for support for this ridiculous proposal, it would be better to drop it forthwith.
More important, not one educational argument has been put forward for breaking up ILEA. It has been claimed that ILEA is not as good as it might be. Of course it is not perfect, but no argument has been adduced to show that there would be any benefit to the children of London if educational responsibility were transferred to the boroughs.
The Marshall report under the Conservative-controlled GLC, did not recommend the break-up. On 22 February this year, The Times Educational Supplement, speaking of the Sherlock report about breaking up ILEA, said that it wasa hasty and unbelievably superficial document that achieves the rare distinction of actually saying less than leaks have suggested. The figures used break every rule in the book in that they are selective, out of date, fail to compare like with like, or what goes in with what comes out.That is condemnation indeed.
I know of no major city in the world where the educational arrangements are sub-divided into a number of individual authorities. After all, ILEA covers many of the most deprived parts of the country. It is surely misleading to compare its educational performance with that of other educational authorities covering both deprived and non-deprived areas.
This proposal should be dropped forthwith. It is a matter of great regret that the Secretary of State is now setting up a more formal investigation, presumably to make up for the deficiencies of the proposals put forward so far. I hope that the result will be that this silly proposal is dropped and that we shall hear no more of it. It would damage the future of the children of London.
§ Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)
As I wish to talk about housing and mortgages, particularly relating to London, I suppose I should declare an interest as an estate agent and surveyor.
I have always believed that we should encourage young people in the private sector and public housing tenants to purchase their properties. In the last few months, there has been a scarcity of building society money to provide the funds for those two groups to do so.
The Chancellor gave some relief in the Budget with regard to stamp duty. It must be remembered that in London and the South-East house prices are, and will remain in the foreseeable future, much higher than in other parts of the country. The decision on stamp duty, therefore, does not help London so much. It is difficult to buy a property in any part of London below £23,000 or £24,000. I am concerned that the quota from which the GLC has in the past been able to grant loans in the private sector has been cut off by the Department of the Environment. This programme has helped the home loans situation in both the private and public sectors. It has helped in the private sector especially in the inner city areas.
The GLC, for a number of years, has been restricting loans mainly to inner city areas. When it has granted loans in outer London areas, the area chosen has always been adjacent to the inner city. Only part of my constituency qualified for GLC mortgages. This helped first-time buyers and young people in the conurbation.
I understand that, under the GLC programme, there are some 9,000 sales in the pipeline that have yet to be completed. A mortgage for those who have already made application and received an offer will be honoured. I am worried about those young people and others wanting to buy their council houses who have not yet approached the GLC or, if they have made an approach, have not yet received an offer. Many of those people may be disappointed during the next year.
I recognise that the Secretary of State has announced that more facilities will be made available to local authorities next year. But this means that there is likely to be a void period of 12 1816 months during which some people will be disappointed. I understand that the GLC has approached the Secretary of State about the possibility of utilising funds already available to the council. I have referred to the fact that 9,000 sales are in the pipeline. I understand that there will be a £40 million profit from those sales. The GLC has also embarked on the disposal of land that will bring in another £72 million.
I plead with the Secretary of State to give serious consideration to allowing the GLC to utilise these finances to bridge the gap that could occur in the forthcoming year so that many people will not be disappointed in their hopes of owning a home.
§ Mr. Ernie Roberts (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
This debate indicates many of the problems facing the people of London, made worse as a result of Government policies. One of the worst problems is the need of people for a decent home at a reasonable rent. This basic right of all people is denied to hundreds of thousands of people living in this city. About 3,000 homeless families are living in temporary accommodation in bed and breakfast hotels and hostels, or as squatters in old derelict properties. A considerable number are to be found in the constituency that I represent. Many have been sent by Tory councils such as Wandsworth which have not faced up to their responsibilities towards their citizens. There are about 200,000 households in London registered on local housing waiting lists, 12,000 of them in Hackney. Another 200,000 have to share the house in which they live with others. Another 45,000 households, including 15,000 single parent families, are forced to live with relatives having no home of their own. In Hackney over 5,000 single persons are applicants for homes in that area.
Nearly 200,000 families are living in overcrowded conditions in London. It is estimated that over 300,000 homes are unfit for human habitation. They lack flush toilets, baths or hot water supplies. Yet it is estimated that over 100,000 homes are standing empty and that one in four of them has been empty for more than two years. Over 2,000 of those empty properties are in Hackney. About 25,000 of them are owned by the Tory-controlled GLC. In spite of 1817 London's massive housing problems the Tory GLC is selling council houses and cutting back on building houses to let. Tenancy transfers are now almost impossible.
In the blue book of atrocities—the Government's expenditure plans for 1980–81—we find that the Government are cutting £118 million off current housing expenditure and £547 million off local authorities' housing capital expenditure. The total cuts are such that by next year housing expenditure will have been cut by 50 per cent. since 1974–75.
All local authority council house building and rehabilitation schemes are being slashed because of the Government's monetary policies and massive interest charges. Rents and rates are rocketing because of the Government's economic policies, as described in the blue book of atrocities.
A three-bedroomed house costing about £25,000 to build costs the ratepayers and tenants in a 60-year period over £200,000 because of interest charges. If an economic rent were charged for such a house tenants would have to pay £80 a week.
We live in a moneylenders' paradise and we have a moneylenders' Government. The Tory Party and the Tory Government look after the rich moneylenders. I end with a quote from a well-known Tory, Winston Churchill. He said that the Tory Party was:The Party of the rich against the poor; of the upper classes and their dependants against the masses; of the lucky, the wealthy, the happy and the strong, against the left-out and shut-out millions of the weak and poor.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
The debate has ranged over a number of topics in which London has an interest. Many problems of social deprivation, housing and unemployment have been mentioned. One problem is not peculiar to London, but London has a particular interest in it. I refer to the subject of law and order. Nothing could be more important.
The Metropolitan Police is the finest police force of any large capital city in the world. I sometimes wonder whether we deserve such excellent police, bearing in mind the numerous criticisms of individual members of the force by politi- 1818 cians and others who simply do not appreciate how lucky they are to have the Metropolitan Police to defend them.
The Metropolitan Police force is pathetically small in relation to the scale of its duties and responsibilities. About 22,000 men and women are members of the force out of an establishment of about 26,000, so it is 4,000 short. In addition, the establishment was set some years ago at a time when indictable crimes numbered only 250,000 a year. The number of indictable offences recorded in the last report of the Commissioner was over 500,000. So, with almost the same number of men, the force is expected to deal with almost twice the amount of crime. In addition, it is expected to discharge particular functions. It is required to establish special squads such as the fraud squad and the porn quad, and special duty groups and others which are peculiar to the capital. The Metropolitan Police also has to back up the numerous provincial forces and is expected from time to time to send its men out on detachment to other parts of the world.
In view of all that, we must re-consider the strength and establishment of the Metropolitan Police in relation to the demands made upon them. Current events show that sudden demands are made from time to time which result in a fall in the reserves and the strength of the police. Fortunately, in London—and I say "fortunately " because it helps to preserve the safety of citizens—the policy of the Commissioner in respect of demonstrations has been to use sheer manpower. In that way there has been a great deal of success in coping with the sort of demonstrations which in other cities have resulted in terrible violence. To a great extent, we have avoided that in London and we should be thankful for that. However, it simply means that we are relying on manpower to deal with violent demonstrations. It means also that the men who are required for these purposes have to give up their weekend leaves and are required to suffer loss in many other ways.
Against the tremendous contribution that the London police make must be set the few cases where individual policemen do not live up to the high standards that we expect of them. I hope that the Operation Countryman investigation, which has been much exaggerated by the media, can be brought to a speedy conclusion so 1819 that the appropriate trials and prosecutions can take place soon. This has for long been a running sore and it is damaging the morale of the London police, 99.95 per cent. of whose members are honest and above the sort of suspicion which is generated by the media as a result of Operation Countryman.
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) made an important point about the attitude of councils which, like Lewisham, are threatening to cut off the police precept this year. I believe that threat is stupid and irresponsible because, if the people of Lewisham were deprived of the services of the police as a result of that threat by their elected council, they would certainly know immediately just how much they depend on the police for their law and order.
There is a further point I wish to make concerning police and the way in which we should back them up. The disturbance at Neasden Underground station recently was on railway property. I understand that the London Transport policy is that when a disturbance of that kind arises, London Transport must first be informed. If London Transport feels that it is a matter for its own police—the British Transport Police—it tells them. If it feels that it is necessary to call in the Metropolitan Police, it does so. It should be unnecessary with an incident such as that for the Metropolitan Police to have to wait to be called in by a local, small and much less efficient force. The Metropolitan Police should have overall strategic and tactical control of all police in London, including the British Transport Police.
The Metropolitan Police need and deserve our full support. It is London's duty to provide and help maintain their high standards.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
The time left available will force me to be very brief. The subject on which I wish to speak is of great importance, perhaps the most important, not only to my constituency and London but also to the nation as a whole, and I believe that we must set aside time to debate it in more depth. I refer to race relations.
1820 I represent a constituency which contains a significant number of ethnic minority groups. I am proud of that fact. I have always said that I would be proud of it. During the general election, I said that I would do everything possible to improve the position of ethnic minority groups in our society. I feel strongly that if other Members of Parliament did that, we might be able to give a lead to those who are looking for such a lead, and for a higher moral standard, than that which is often provided by those who adopt more tribal and primeval attitudes towards ethnic minority groups.
We should distinguish between prejudice and discrimination. I regard prejudice as a psychological state which is very difficult to change, although it is possible to do so. It is fundamentally dangerous, because it is people who are basically prejudiced who end up supporting the Adolf Hitlers of this world. In a way, black and brown people can deal with prejudice which is stated and overt, but it is much more difficult to deal with discrimination which is hidden. That is something which in a number of ways runs throughout our society.
In 1969, the Cullingworth report suggested that we should count the representation of ethnic minorities in housing. I then felt that that was wrong, but over the years I have become convinced by the arguments of the ethnic minority groups and others involved that that is absolutely right. I very much regret that the ethnic question has been left out of the census. While I accept all the problems that emerged in Haringey, I believe that it is vital to include that question. I would have preferred a simple question, along the lines of " How do you see yourself? ", to which the reply could have been " Black British, brown British or other, please specify.". The thing which scared the ethnic minority groups in Haringey so much was that the word " British" was not included and they feared deportation. I make no bones about it that, so far as I am concerned, the ethnic minority groups in my area are British, be they Irish British, European British, West Indian British or whatever. That is an aspect of great importance.
The most important area that I want to stress relates to black unemployment, 1821 especially among young blacks. Potentially it is a highly explosive issue. We have seen the problems which it can cause, both in Notting Hill and Bristol. If something is not done about the black unemployment rate, which so far as I can make out is about double the white unemployment rate in some areas, we shall build up serious trouble for the future and we are operating double standards which cannot be condoned.
We are doing the same with regard to housing. Despite all the rumours which are thrown around, the evidence is becoming increasingly weighty that black and brown groups are under-represented in council housing, particularly good council housing. That produces major problems in certain areas which eventually become ghettos. Again, I believe that that problem requires drastic action.
I should like to finish by referring to a positive approach. In a way, the most worrying area in London is the East End. I do not represent an East End constituency, but I think we all accept that it is there that the problem of the National Front has been most severe. It worries me very much when I see youngsters, sometimes 15, 16 or 17 years of age, parading the Union Jack and at the same time mouthing racialist slogans, writing them on walls and attending marches everywhere. Unless we do something about that, we shall again cause problems for the future.
We must tackle this matter at a basic level. We cannot change the parental attitudes, which are probably largely responsible, but I ask the Minister to consider making approaches to his relevant colleagues to devote extra money to the areas with that type of problem so that both teachers and children may be given greater opportunities of exploring ways of improving the inter-racial atmosphere. Apart from anything else, that can be done by visits to Commonwealth countries, and I emphasise that.
§ Mr. Tim Eggar (Enfield, North)
I begin by referring to the speech of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham). I assure him that the ratepayers and electors of the London borough of Enfield do not share his enthusiasm for the return of a Labour-controlled council. They only have to 1822 look to the activity of the Labour group on the council, who voted against the 30 per cent. increase in rates on the grounds that the increase was not great enough.
I should like to refer to the remarks that I made in the Adjournment debate on Monday. I said then that Enfield was a booming industrial area and that it was dependent for its future industrial growth on the provision of adequate infrastructure. I am happy to be able to tell the House that in at least two respects there has been some marginal improvement, as a result of pressure from local groups. There has been some improvement in the train and bus services between Enfield and inner London.
Unfortunately, however, the area has received two setbacks in the past week. Last Monday the GLC decided that there should be no direct link between the new north-south industrial relief road, which is designed to take industrial traffic from the industrial area of the Lea Valley on to the M25. I regard that decision as both misguided and extremely shortsighted. A direct link between those two roads is inevitable in time, even if the planners do not recognise it now. I shall be looking to the GLC and to the Government for every possible assistance for those whose homes will be affected by the new routing of the north-south road.
Enfield has suffered from the decision of the Manpower Services Commission to go ahead with the building of a skill-centre in Camden, stating merely that it may review the decision to close the Enfield skillcentre when the Camden centre becomes operational. I do not understand the logic of that decision. The majority of people who are being retrained in Camden will be able to look for jobs only in the Lea Valley industrial area and Brimsdown in east Enfield.
If the Manpower Services Commission is really serious in its proposal to examine the future of the Enfield centre in two years, it should start now to discuss with local and regional union representatives and shop stewards whether the trade unions at a local level—I stress local level—will stop classing people who have been retrained at the skillcentres as unskilled. Unless the unions recognise that people who have been through the retraining process at the skillcentres are skilled, and should be treated accordingly, unfortunately there will continue to be 1823 far too low a take-up of the available training places at the skillcentres.
I turn now to another aspect of suburban life—the frightening growth in lawlessness and vandalism. It is unfortunate that in suburban London we are now beginning to see the amount of lawlessness and violence that has become accepted as part of everyday life in inner London. There is no doubt that lawlessness has increased over the past few years. Time and time again we read in the weekly press about people being mugged, stones being thrown at buses, and stations being completely vandalised. It is a most disturbing trend.
Recently we have had evidence that a bout of glue-sniffing has hit part of Enfield, and that youngsters of 16, 18 and 19 have deliberately involved young children of 7 or 8 in that practice. There is evidence that glue-sniffing parties have been followed by a number of violent acts against property. The unfortunate thing is that far too many parents either do not care what their children are doing or do not seem to know what they are doing.
§ Mr. Stuart Holland
I simply wish to draw to the attention of the hon. Member that the Minister will be replying in about five minutes, and that we hope to have yet another contribution by an Opposition Member.
§ Mr. Eggar
I shall be drawing my remarks speedily to a conclusion, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
No one claims that there is an easy solution to the problem of vandalism, but the State can play a part by increasing the number of police on the beat. The police force in Enfield is seriously under strength at the moment. While there is no lack of recruits to the Metropolitan Police, there is a shortage of training places. I am concerned that in allocating the newly trained men between the inner London divisions and the outer London divisions, there may well be a temptation to put them into inner London. Outer London needs additional police urgently, and I hope that preference in allocation will not be given to inner London.
§ 2.2 pm
§ Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)
Several very important issues have been raised during the debate on London. One is the future of the Inner London Education Authority, and I regret that several Conservative Members failed to take into account the reason why ILEA has problems—especially the syndrome of deprivation to be found among the social and economic class that is concentrated in the inner London area. This relates, for example, to the job prospects of the young and, therefore, to their expectations of the gain to them from education. The breakup of the ILEA also would have serious implications in the sense that it would no longer make as easily possible the coordination of the best available schools for children across inter-borough boundaries.
A further important issue raised today concerns the so-called free enterprise zones. These, in my personal judgment, would be of no effective advantage either to London or to the rest of the country. Although some local authorities would be rebated the rates which they forgo, there is no evidence whatever that incentives alone would attract small enterprise and create jobs. There is much evidence to the contrary. The biggest problem for small firms is not, as assumed by the Government, the burden of taxation, but in practice the increased power of big business and the squeezing of small firms into the lower end of traditional markets—here also is the problem of the small entrepreneur, who, through his failure to find a successor, will disinvest in his enterprise rather than continue it.
Reference has been made to the manifesto of the Labour Party for the Greater London Council elections next year. The proposals made in the manifesto for municipal and co-operative enterprise over the whole of the Greater London area offer a much better based future for the economy of London than do the so-called free enterprise zones.
With regard to housing—and in particular the underlying problems of housing—it is clear that the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton), in his intemperate and, in my view, unfounded attack on the so-called housekeeping of the Lambeth council, has failed to direct himself to the main problem. The problem is that 1825 there is overcrowding in the inner London area. Various councils of both political complexions tried at one stage to solve that problem by building upwards. We know what happened to the tower block solution. We know what was the response of residents.
With the pressure in the inner city and with crowded space, the only real solution is to move at least a part of the population—where they choose to do so—by means of inter-borough nomination schemes into the Greater London area as a whole. But this Government have slammed the door on the inner city areas with their policies on council house sales. Their massive cuts in projected council house building will aggravate the fundamental problem.
In effect, the hon. Member for Streatham took a caricature view of the problems facing Lambeth council with a Mickey Mouse monetarist approach that it is simply a matter of balancing budgets rather than solving problems. In his enthusiasm to lead a virtual ratepayers' revolt from Streatham, he should pay attention to the problems caused by public expenditure cuts for those who support his party and who back it by contributions to party funds.
At least two major builders—Higgs and Hill and Marshall-Andrew—have recently come off the tender list of the Greater London council as a result of their financial difficulties because of the public housing cuts. It is not only the working people in my constituency who suffer. It is even private enterprise itself.
§ 2.6 pm
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
No one need worry: I shall not make the speech that I intended to make. However, I wish to explain one or two matters.
London is the greatest city in the world. It is not just a series of constituencies put together whose representatives can come here and make constituency speeches about London.
I had intended to make a wholly constructive speech about the future of tourism in London, about the environment and about the necessity for a policy of cleanliness, and I am happy to say that one of my hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment will be opening 1826 a cleaner city campaign on Tuesday of next week.
I wanted to discuss with the House, if I may put it that way, measures which should be taken in what is, as I have said already, the greatest city in the world. It is also the most prosperous city. Listening to the morbid tones adopted by Opposition Members, one felt that everything seemed to be wrong. However, I remind the House that each year we have 20 million visitors, 8½ million of them foreign visitors and 11½ million visitors of our own. They cannot all be wrong. We have 100 existing hotels which are good and cheap. In Oxford Street alone, £250 million is spent annually according to the traders' association. Against that background, we are trying now to get a theatregoers club going.
I beg hon. Members representing London constituencies to recognise that they have an extremely good London Tourist Board and the English Tourist Board and that a great deal is being done to help London retain its position as the greatest and most prosperous city in the world.
I live in London. I do not represent a London constituency. Because of that, I have had to wait just in case hon. Members representing London seats were not sufficient in number to carry the day. They have taken up nearly all the available time, and I have been shut out. I say merely that, either during some not-too-distant debate on the Adjournment for a recess or on some other early occasion, I hope that I shall have an opportunity to address the House—I am the chairman of the tourism committee of my party—on matters which I believe have an immense and constructive bearing on the future of London.
§ 2.8 pm
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Sir George Young)
I have attended all the debates on London over the past six years, and I have spoken in nearly all of them. All these debates have been of a high quality, and today's has been no exception, doubtless because the capital attracts the best Members of Parliament.
I shall try to deal with as many matters as possible in my remarks. I shall write to those hon. Members whose comments I cannot cover in the time available to me.
1827 Several Opposition Members tried to gain some comfort from the results of the municipal elections yesterday, which I interpret as a welcome swing back of popular support to the Government after some recent by-elections and opinion polls. The Labour Party got five out of eight seats in Liverpool last May, but it failed to gain control of Liverpool yesterday. How hon. Members can draw any comfort from what happened, I fail to understand.
The debate was opened by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown), who indulged in one or two exaggerations. My notes of what he said include the following: "The Government have declared war on geriatric patients... The great city has been brought to its knees... Life is becoming impossible... Primary health care is almost non-existent." It is an insult to the intelligence of Londoners to describe their capital in those terms.
The hon. Gentleman's serious point was that the Government's housing and transport policies were a return to those of the 1930s. We would say that the hon. Gentleman's solution, of a greater reliance on statutory powers in housing or transport, has not worked. We seek a more effective partnership between the public sector and the private sector, particularly in housing, to avoid reliance on a monopoly. That reliance has resulted in many of the problems that doubtless many London Members will shortly hear in their surgeries from people who live in large, unpopular council estates and tower blocks. If we had a housing system that was more responsive to people's needs and the forces of the market, would so much housing stock in London be devoted to a form of tenure and a type of accommodation that people clearly do not want?
The hon. Gentleman made some remarks about unemployment. He said that it had risen by 20 per cent. in Hackney during the past year. That is true, but between March 1974 and May 1979 it rose by 127 per cent.
The hon. Gentleman was followed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ravens-bourne (Mr. Hunt), who made a constructive and balanced speech, outlining the positive steps taken by this Government. In particular, he spoke about the 1828 quality of life and about tourists, whose custom the capital needs. I refer my hon. Friend and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) to a perceptive publication—" Tourism—Blessing or Blight? ", which I wrote about six years ago and which looked at the questions that tourism poses a capital city. It says that one must devise a strategy to ensure that one obtains the benefits of tourism without being saddled with all its problems.
My hon. Friend also spoke about the police, as did other hon. Members. They expressed their concern about the possible deterioration in relations between the police and young people in parts of London. I think that we all agree that the Metropolitan Police have a most difficult job, and try to do it very well. The Commissioner attaches the greatest importance to maintaining a good relationship between the police and all sections of the community. He has recently commissioned a study of the problem by the Policy Studies Institute, with a view to finding better ways of improving relations
My hon. Friend also mentioned the Jubilee Hall; and what he said was echoed by other hon. Members. It is a matter for the GLC, which is the responsible local planning authority and is the owner of the site. It would not be right for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to comment, particularly as a scheme by the Jewish Cultural Foundation may come before him on appeal. But before development, by whichever developer is finally selected by the GLC, planning permission will be required, as will listed building consent for demolition, because the hall is in a conservation area. Therefore, objectors will have a further opportunity to put their case when such applications are made.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Cartwright) asked for more resources for London, and said that it was unfair, because of the recent rate support settlement grant, to blame inner London for putting up its rates. Our point is that in inner London there is a difference in the rate increases between Conservative-controlled and Labour-controlled boroughs. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's solution is not as simple as might be thought.
The hon. Gentleman also complained that people with small children were 1829 stuck in flats. That is a perceptive criticism of the way in which we have relied too much on the municipal sector to solve London's housing problems.
§ Sir G. Young
Out of courtesy to those who have been here longer, I should try to make progress.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East mentioned gipsy sites. Our policy is to assist local authorities in the provision of an adequate number of licensed sites in their areas. To this end, we have proposed three main provisions, with the support of the local authority associations. First, we propose the continuation of the 100 per cent. grant to local authorities towards the capital cost of providing such sites. Secondly, we propose an extension of the existing provision which enables my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to designate areas where he considers that an adequate provision of sites has been made. The designation requirements for London are being discussed by the Department with the London Boroughs Association.
Our third proposal is to enhance the enforcement powers mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) to overcome some existing legal difficulties concerning the service of notices and hearing of cases. The three proposals were included in the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill, which was introduced in another place. When it was decided to reintroduce that Bill in this place, it was necessary to reduce its size to make it manageable for the remainder of the Session. In doing so we had reluctantly to drop two of these provisions and to retain only the grant provision. I am happy to say that that provision has been included in the Bill in Committee. The other proposals remain our policy. We shall seek a suitable opportunity to reintroduce them.
I refer hon. Members to a debate that took place on 6 March, when my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, set out in slightly more detail than I can today the Government's strategy on gipsies.
§ Mr. George Cunningham
I suggest that it would not add much time to the 1830 consideration of the Bill if the three full provisions were to be reintroduced. I press that consideration on the hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir G. Young
I understand that there is a problem about the long title. It is very much a matter for hon. Members who are considering the Bill in Committee. They will read the hon. Gentleman's remarks and the suggestion that he made in his speech. It must be for the Committee further to debate the issue.
§ Sir G. Young
It is a matter for Ministers as well, who will note what the hon. Gentleman has said.
Future resources for the urban programme were mentioned by a number of hon. Members. Resources for 1980–81 showed a slight increase in real terms over previous years. Allocations to partnership and programme authorities were the same for 1980–81 as for 1979–80. For authorities receiving support through the traditional urban programme, there has been an increase in resources for 1980–81. No decisions have yet been taken about detailed allocation beyond 1980–81. The fact that there is no separate PESC line is of no significance.
I know that many local authorities have had to make difficult decisions about their housing investment programme. That is because they have received substantially smaller capital allocations this year than those for which they hoped. This is not the time for a debate on the general state of the economy and the urgent need to reduce public expenditure that lies behind the allocations.
London has fared no worse than other parts of the country, receiving, as in previous years, over one-third of the national total. We have tried to ensure that the more realistic allocations that we have made to authorities are used to maximum effect. We believe that local authorities are the best judges of particular needs. We have introduced a single block allocation instead of the more restrictive three block allocation. Secondly, we have made it clear to local authorities that the encouragement of low-cost home ownership need have little or no effect on their HIP allocations, and that in some instances it will significantly boost the allocations.
§ Mr. Clinton Davisrose——
§ Sir G. Young
I must try to make progress out of respect to hon. Members who have asked questions.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) made a perceptive speech, as one would expect from someone who used to represent Acton. He spoke about his report, which I read the moment it appeared. I passed it to my wife, who spent three years as a member of ILEA and who has based her own budget arrangements on the ILEA system—spending exactly what she wants and precepting upon me. There is a slight absence of accountability.
I, too, welcome the announcement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science of a comprehensive Government examination of local government arrangements for the provision, administration and financing of education in inner London. If my memory serves me right, there was meant to be a review under the London Government Act 1963. That review never took place. It is odd that Labour Members criticise our review against that background. I know that my hon. Friend's report, which I commend, must have influenced my right hon. and learned Friend in his decision to set up the group.
My right hon. and learned Friend has already received a wide range of representations from hon. Members and others both for and against the proposal to alter the current arrangements. The Government will be willing to consider any further written expressions of view and will take fully into account earlier representations made in the course of the present study as well as representations made today.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone blew out of the water the Labour Party's platform for next year's GLC elections.
The hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) made what I thought—I think that this view will be shared by others who know him well—was an uncharacteristically ill-tempered speech. I propose to write to him about the specific issues that he raised. He relied heavily on his local paper. We are all rather worried about his speech material should the provincial newspaper strike spread.
1832 My hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Wheeler) raised the issue of whether, in view of recent violence on the underground, the British Transport Police should be amalgamated with the Metropolitan Police. Policing of the London Underground is a matter for the British Transport Police. However, the Metropolitan Police lend assistance when necessary. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Minister of Transport are holding a working conference on violence on public transport, on Tuesday 6 May. I understand that the problem of hooliganism on the London Underground—as highlighted by recent violent incidents—and possible remedies to it, are likely to be discussed. I shall draw my right hon. Friends' attentions to my hon. Friend's speech.
There are now more assaults per year on staff employed on London Transport's underground system than on the whole of the staff of British Rail. The problem on London Transport's buses is far worse than that on the Underground.
As one of the tallest hon. Members, I listened with mixed feelings to my hon. Friend's hymn of praise about a device called a compactor. Under section 24 of the Control of Pollution Act 1974, waste disposal authorities have a duty to prepare, periodically revise and publicise a litter plan, in collaboration with other interests such as voluntary groups.
Of course, the Department of the Environment encourages the use of compactors, where they reduce the amount of waste to manageable proportions. However, there are no powers under the 1974 Act, or elsewhere, for central Government to compel authorities to use them. Unfortunately, present public expenditure constraints prevent us from implementing the full provisions of the Control of Pollution Act. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be opening a cleaner city pilot scheme in Westminster on Tuesday of next week. He will make a point of encouraging the greater use of compactors as part of that scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Stevens) spoke about the need for better transport links for docklands. I welcome this opportunity to make clear that the Government remain 1833 committed to the broad need to get the transport links right. However, it is essential to arrive at solutions that match transport needs to the availability of resources. The interim report of the study of lower cost alternatives to the Jubilee line represents a step in the process of improving our understanding of the real costs and opportunities. The aim, shared by the GLC, is to arrive at a choice that is operationally feasible and realistically related to resources.
The proposals for the southern relief road are a matter for the GLC. That is the appropriate authority. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) spoke with feeling about planning blight. In many cases, London has been more planned against than planned for. There are far too many over-ambitious and unrealistic projects, which are unrelated to the needs of the community or to financial realities. I say that as a Minister who works in Alexander Fleming House, in the middle of the Elephant and Castle.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment assures me that steps have been taken to streamline planning procedures in London. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow made some pertinent criticisms about the establishment of a Docklands Urban Development Corporation. I wonder if those criticisms are shared by his right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who has an equally legitimate right to speak on behalf of docklands, and who is deputy chairman designate of the corporation. There is no basis in the claim that the establishment of an urban development corporation will delay progress. The shadow corporation is being built up and preparations are being made, so that it will be able to take immediate and effective action on vesting day. In the interim period, it will build up links with local authorities. There is no reason why existing local authorities should defer schemes that are useful.
Many Opposition Members spoke about enterprise zones. I hope that they are only against enterprise zones, not enterprise. When I listened to some hon. Members, I had the feeling that they were against enterprise. In the Budget, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a proposal to set up about 1834 six enterprise zones. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow asked tor details. Briefly, exemption will be given from development land tax and from industrial and commercial rates. There will be 100 per cent. capital allowances on industrial and commercial buildings, and a significantly relaxed planning regime. Exemption will be given from industrial development certificate requirements and from the scope of industrial training boards. The administration of other controls on development will be speeded up. However, there will be no relaxation in standards needed for health and safety or for pollution controls—which I hope deals with the point about sweat shops made earlier.
The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow asked about infrastructure costs in enterprise zones. That is one of the issues to be taken into account in choosing sites. There is no indication of a lack of interest among local authorities in suggesting sites.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I am grateful for (he hon. Gentleman's reply, but is he prepared to say anything about Government contributions to infrastructure costs?
§ Sir G. Young
Discussions are taking place with local authority associations on the subject, but I understand that no decisions have yet been taken about the exact amounts required.
I did not hear the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton), but it was clearly effective in view of the reactions that I did hear from Labour Members. Since I and other Conservative councillors ceased to have control of Lambeth in 1971, the financial management of the borough has steadily deteriorated. In two years' time the electors of Lambeth will have the opportunity to re-elect a more responsible regime.
The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis) attacked the RSG settlement, and I should like to say a word about that in a minute. He said quite a bit about the impact of changes on the personal social services. We have to reduce public expenditure, and personal social services cannot be exempt. The reduction in expenditure of 4 per cent. in 1980–81 compared with 1978–79 is not great in the light of the rapid growth in the 1970s. The planned level is almost double what it was 10 years ago. We have asked local 1835 authorities to protect services for the most vulnerable, and they are seeking to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) made an effective speech about the damage that can be done by heavy lorries, and spoke of the problems that many outer London boroughs face in losing employment.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) asked about land registers. We simply must make the best use of our land. Too much land is idle which could be better used, redeveloped or handed over to recreation. Land registers, which are provided for in the Local Government, Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill, are part of our drive to activate public land which is unused or under-used. The object is to expedite the disposal of such land. Putting it on a register will enable the general public and developers to know what land is available for resumed use or new development. The legislation includes a power for the Secretary of State to direct disposal of registered land where a case for its retention has not been made.
I should like to write to other hon. Members about the points that they raised, which were mainly constituency matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) injected a sharp dose of common sense, as we expect from him, and I believe that he spoke for us all in what he said about the role of the police at the Iranian Embassy.
I hope that the hon. Member for Battersea, South (Mr. Dubs) did not intend to give support to those who are, as I understand it, illegally occupying local authority accommodation in Wandsworth.
The economic prosperity of London is closely linked to that of the economy as a whole. The role of the Government is to create the environment and stimulus for the private sector to create new wealth and jobs. This year's Budget introduced many measures to assist small business men, who are so important to London, through changes in tax thresholds and allowances, We are taking steps to get the Government out of the private sector's hair by simplifying the planning system and easing the impact of company law.
1836 We are pressing ahead to see that the best use is made of our land. The repeal of the Community Land Act and the introduction of the land register will do much to improve the use of this most precious resource.
We are also taking active steps to provide incentives towards the economic regeneration of run-down areas. The imaginative proposals announced in the Budget for enterprise zones are one example, and at least one of those zones might be in inner London. The Docklands Urban Development Corporation represents the most serious attempt yet to tackle the dereliction in docklands and realise the potential of the area.
Those are only a few examples of the measures that we are taking to tackle the underlying problems in London. The solution of those problems will do much to ease the difficulties that we face in providing services for the people of London.
Mr. Ronald W. Brown
With your permission Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I say how much we appreciate the helpful and courteous way in which the Minister has replied to the debate? We all have views and engage in arguments, but today we have had a useful opportunity to canvass the problems of London. I hope that our future debates will be conducted in the same way so that we can range over the issues and show the people of London that we in this House are aware of the difficulties and problems which they face and that we shall press all Governments, whatever their political persuasion, to provide special help for London.
We much appreciate the way in which the Minister handled our debate today.
§ It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.