§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Goodlad.]9.37 am
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir George Young)
It is only right that there should be this opportunity early in the new Session for the House to debate issues affecting our capital city, and I am delighted in particular that new London Members on both sides will have this chance to express their views so soon on a wide range of subjects which vitally affect their constituents' interests.
At the risk of reopening old wounds, I would point out that with 56 seats this is the highest ever total of Greater London seats held by the Conservative party. Indeed, we won nine more seats than in 1970, although London now contains 18 fewer constituencies.
It would be invidious of me to single out any of the achievements of my many hon. Friends who were returned at the last election, many with substantial swings, but I wish to mention three in particular. According to my calculations, which are not infallible, the largest swing to win a seat took place in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks and I compliment him on a result which gave us great satisfaction.
Secondly, I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) for successfully seeing off a well publicised Liberal challenge. Unlace the rest of the country, both the Liberal party and the SDP lost seats in London and have only two representatives left.
Thirdly, I also compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), my parliamentary neighbour, on his decision to stay and fight a much more difficult seat than the one he won in 1979 and for being returned with a handsome majority. I was delighted to play a small part in his victory by giving large numbers of my supporters leave of absence to cross the river Brent and conduct commando raids on vulnerable parts of Ealing, North.
In a spirit of magnanimity which I think will not be repeated, I take this opportunity to welcome new Opposition Members. On many issues London Members of Parliament unite, usually against the Government, to fight for what they believe to be right for London, and I have no doubt that hon. Members on both sides will campaign vigorously for what they believe to be right for the capital.
The message from Londoners on 9 June was quite clear. The Labour party lost seats, the SDP lost seats and the Liberals lost a seat. Only the Conservative party emerged with gains, and no amount of statistical juggling and special pleading can alter that basic fact.
We last had a general debate on London in April 1981, shortly before the GLC elections in May of that year. Since then London has had to put up with two years of the Livingstone regime. Weighty issues such as nuclear disarmament, the problems of Northern Ireland and female circumcision have been discussed at length at County hall. These are issues which need serious consideration in the proper quarter but they are not the sort of problems that most Londoners elected their local government representatives to wrestle with.
805 Our money has been invested in such projects as Babies against the Bomb, the English Collective of Prostitutes, the London Gay Teenage Group and the provision of creches for the ladies of Greenham common.
The GLC has spent £500,000 to finance the Londoner, a Left-wing newspaper which the Labour party should have the decency to fund itself. The mayor of Moscow and the IRA have been invited to the capital while our own Labour GLC members pointedly refused to attend the royal wedding.
For some time there have been good practical reasons for abolishing the GLC — my right hon. Friend mentioned them in his speech on the Address on Thursday—but the antics of Ken Livingstone and his colleagues have ensured that a strong intellectual case now commands widespread support. If there was one clinching argument on the doorstep three weeks ago which persuaded many of the doubtfuls to come into the Conservative camp, it was our commitment to abolish the GLC. When Mr. Livingstone and his colleagues argue that they are defending Londoners in resisting abolition, I fear that few Londoners will believe them. The Labour GLC members are defending their own interests and the interests of those who have become dependent over the past two years on the GLC's largesse. Few others will mourn its passing and the majority will greet it with relief. For the past two years London has had not so much a county hall as a music hall. We shall rid London of this extravagant and irrelevant bureaucracy.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and with the indulgence of the House—
§ Mr. Greenway
—I wish to bring before the House the way in which the GLC is causing the standard of London life to deteriorate. It made a grant of £8,000 to the Marriage Guidance Council for 1981–82 but refused to make a grant for the following year and has so far refused to make a grant for the current year. It is putting systematic pressure upon the council to broaden its interests and to embrace, for example, lesbians and gays, and it is only on that basis that it is considering whether to make a grant. It is this sort of thing that is enraging Londoners.
§ Sir George Young
I agree that the Marriage Guidance Council is a much worthier recipient of public funds than some of the other projects that are funded by the GLC.
I shall refer to three or four subjects of concern to Londoners. In doing so I shall be conscious that I am omitting many others. That is not because they are not important but because I do not want to abuse the House by speaking for too long. I begin with the all-important issue of the economy, which is crucial to London and the entire country.
There is no doubt that London's economy is responding to modern-day requirements. For example, the computer and related software industries have doubled their employment. Significant successes have been achieved by London firms and these are often ignored by the prophets 806 of doom. For example, Ford announced in May that its Dagenham plant will supply all its United Kingdom and continental plants with the company's own diesel car engines. STC Ltd. of Greenwich has won a £100 million contract for subcontract work on Plessey Ptarmigan battlefield communications systems.
There are countless reports of London firms gaining major orders, often against stiff international competition, and undertaking significant investment to maintain and expand their London operations. The only effective way to tackle the general decline of manufacturing in London, as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, is to create a favourable economic climate in which industry can prosper and flourish. Our policies are designed to achieve this, and all the signs, including the CBI report this week, show that the policies are working.
The outlook for the construction industry, so vital to our economy in London, is looking considerably brighter. In part, this recovery has been helped by some major contracts in the public sector. For example, the contract for the fourth terminal at Heathrow is worth about £150 million. In the last year alone, contracts have been let for various sections of the M25 worth a total of £126 million. Our plans will help the recovery to continue. The latest public expenditure White Paper provided for a 10 per cent. overall increase, compared with estimated outturn last year, in public capital expenditure on new construction work in 1983–84.
I move on to our policies for the inner city and the help that London receives under the urban programme to rebuild its economy and to make the inner city a more attractive place in which to live and work. The total allocation for 1983–84 to London's partnership and programme authorities — Brent, Tower Hamlets and Wandsworth were three of the eight new programme authorities designated earlier this year— is about £53 million, with a further £19 million allocated to designated districts and through the traditional urban programme. That represents a substantial commitment of resources at the highest level ever. We made it clear in our manifesto that we should continue to give priority to the areas most in need and to encourage greater opportunity for all who live in our inner cities.
§ Mr. Reginald Freeson (Brent, East)
The hon. Gentleman has said that £53 million is to be provided under the urban programme for a variety of local authorities. He claimed that there has been an additional resource provided for inner city authorities. Is he aware that Brent has lost £35 million by the Government's withdrawal of rate support grant? The losses of all the other authorities amount to more in terms of public expenditure resource than the moneys that have been gained by the urban programme.
§ Sir George Young
We have expected all local authorities to seek economies in their overall budgets. The right hon. Gentleman should show some gratitude because, unlike the previous Labour Government of which he was a member, we have given Brent programme status. That was a decision that he refused to take when he was a Minister at the Department of the Environment.
One prime example of our commitment is the London docklands development corporation, which the House decided to set up two years ago today. The LDDC has been allocated £40 million and any hon. Member who visits the 807 Isle of Dogs or Beckton and sees the activity in site preparation, road construction, factory building and house building will appreciate that the corporation has made rapid progress in securing the regeneration of docklands, a job which the GLC and the London boroughs signally failed to tackle.
In the Isle of Dogs enterprise zone, for example, over 100 acres have been released on to the market for industrial and commercial users. A further 35 acres have recently been bought for preparation for new industry. New factory space of 250,000 sq ft is being built on 13 acres and 55 firms are providing over 200 jobs in existing corporation-owned buildings and the Cannon workshops development. Many more jobs are on the way.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Does the Minister agree that most of the infrastructure, including roads, drainage, planning, the development of new print works and the Billingsgate market development, were introduced by the joint committee of the London boroughs and the GLC before the introduction of the LDDC, and that much of what is on the ground is due to its planning? The boroughs and the GLC worked together and the fruits are now being seen.
§ Sir George Young
It would have been remarkable if the local authorities had done nothing in that area over the past 20 years. At least there has been some progress. The LDDC has been a useful catalyst. As I have said, substantial development and employment are on the way. I maintain that that is due to the LDDC's work. We would not have seen such progress if we had continued with the old arrangements.
The corporation has arranged and provided the land for the first large-scale housing development for sale in London docklands since the war. Private builders have developed a 22-acre site in Beckton for 601 houses and flats, 450 of which have been completed and sold. Work has started on sites released by the LDDC for over 1,000 further homes in Beckton and the Surrey docks area. The emphasis in these developments is on housing in the lower price ranges for first-time buyers. When I attended a ceremony last November marking the completion of Wimpey's Beckton development, I was delighted to see the extent to which tenants of local authority housing were among those buying the new houses. This initiative is changing the face of east London.
I am happy to make a further announcement today about development proposals for the Hays wharf site in dockland. The London docklands development corporation has put forward development proposals for the Hays wharf site stretching along the south bank of the Thames between London bridge and Tower bridge. The corporation has submitted the proposals to my Department for approval under section 148 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980.
My right hon. Friend has now considered the submission and the representations made to him following consultations with the appropriate local authorities. He has decided to approve the submitted proposals for development — subject to certain minor amendments. Letters giving advance notice of the intended decision are now with the LDDC and the local authorities most concerned.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Does the Minister accept that what is proposed is 2.25 808 million sq ft of office space, when after a public inquiry in 1981 the inspector recommended the approval of only 750,000 sq ft of office space? It is clear that in London there is already a considerable excess of office space that is used purely for speculative development and has no advantage for the local community. Will the Minister confirm that there is to be no public inquiry into the development of a key site in the centre of London with a historic interest, that the decision has been taken away from the local authority, and that there has been no proper consultation or public debate?
§ Sir George Young
The letter that we are sending out sets out the formal decision in detail. It will be sent to the hon. Gentleman. It will deal with some of his points. There is a substantial office development, but we are using powers given to us by Parliament to proceed with a planning decision for that site. The decision is right for this reason. The Hays wharf site, which covers about 24 acres, has unfortunately fallen into decay in recent years as the traditional uses have declined and users departed, yet the site has enormous potential because of its location, so close to the City of London. With the decision that we have announced — although I accept that some may resist it — a first but important step has been taken towards ending years of uncertainty and opening the way for substantial early investment in redeveloping one of the capital's last major central sites.
The proposals, as they are implemented, will bring new life and many jobs to an area that had been allowed to run down for so long. There will also be a considerable gain for the environment. Conservation has a proper place alongside new building in the proposals. Valuable listed buildings that remain on the site are to be refurbished and brought back into productive use. The most important of these is Hays dock itself.
In building a strong economic future for docklands, we have no intention of forgetting our heritage. Docklands has had a rich and vivid history, and its past is still evident — often strikingly so — in architectural terms. That varied heritage has a considerable part to play in making docklands an attractive and interesting environment, as well as a thriving economic community.
To ensure that the architectural heritage of the area is fully taken into account in future redevelopment plans, my Department is today issuing a full set of revisions to the statutory lists of historic buildings for docklands. The revisions — 115 additions in the relevant areas of Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Newham—will provide the London docklands development corporation with a fully updated, comprehensive list for its area, and an essential planning guide for the future.
This is an important step forward. It demonstrates our commitment to the view that development and conservation are not mutually exclusive, and that together they provide a richer variety than either can do alone. The new list for docklands will help to ensure that the best of the past continues to make a distinctive contribution to the docklands scene.
The Government are also supporting the proposed provision, for which parliamentary powers are being sought, of a light railway system by the LDDC and the GLC costing £77 million to link the Isle of Dogs to the City of London to the west and the rail and underground network to the north. The scheme will have a major impact on the development potential of docklands.
809 The new housing and industry, together with the extensive site preparation and infrastructure works, and the light railway proposal, are creating a new confidence in docklands. There are signs that with that confidence the regeneration of docklands is starting to gain its own momentum, with the private sector leading the way.
Another new and exciting initiative in the Government's strategy to reverse urban deprivation and decline is the urban development grant. We have consistently stressed the need for the public and private sectors to work in partnership in our towns and cities. The UDG scheme builds on that philosophy. It gives local authorities an incentive—in the form of a 75 per cent. Exchequer grant—to bring forward with private sector partners new and imaginative ideas for urban development projects that would not otherwise go ahead. Some £60 million has been set aside for the scheme this year.
It is too early to measure the success of the UDG scheme in terms of factories completed or new jobs filled. But there is no mistaking the enthusiasm with which the introduction of UDG has been welcomed by local authorities and developers alike. The first results are very encouraging. Nationally, we have so far approved 83 projects representing total investment of £175 million. Of this, £141 million of additional private investment will be secured by just £34 million of public money. That is a leverage ratio of more than 4:1.
We have received from local authorities in London 68 bids for UDG. So far we have approved 17 applications, representing a total investment of £44 million. Nearly £37 million of that will come from the private sector. Therefore, for every pound of public money spent on UDG projects in London, we shall generate over £5 more of private investment.
We put no restrictions on the type or size of projects that might be submitted for UDG. That approach has been borne out by the diverse and imaginative projects that have come forward. For example, we have approved industrial projects, ranging from the £1.5 million scheme in Greenwich to provide accommodation for "bad-neighbour" businesses to the £310,000 scheme in Lewisham to build 18 small industrial units. We have approved commercial projects, such as the £3.7 million proposal in Wandsworth to assist the development of a new headquarters and distribution centre for a laundry company. We have approved shopping developments such as Brent's £8.5 million scheme to redevelop a rundown site to provide a major new shopping centre in Harlesden.
In Southwark we have approved a £4.6 million project to construct a supermarket, shops, banking premises and car parking in Camberwell. Schemes in Tower Hamlets and Lambeth are now going ahead.
Those examples demonstrate the flexibility of the UDG scheme and the potential it offers for stimulating economic regeneration and raising the sights and confidence of our declining towns and cities.
I refer now to ethnic issues under the urban programme. Over 40 per cent. of members of the ethnic minorities resident in England are to be found in Greater London. My Department's main way of tackling the particular difficulties faced by these groups and developing their potential is through the urban programme, and I am 810 pleased to say that in London, as elsewhere, the level of funds going to worthwhile projects run by, or for, ethnic minorities is steadily increasing.
I pay tribute to an initiative launched this week by Capital Radio entitled "London Project". With the broad object of promoting better relationships in London, the programmes are giving practical help to all voluntary groups by offering advice on how to gain access to funding, particularly through the urban programme. It will also enable such groups to advertise their needs— for example, equipment, voluntary help, professional expertise and so on—in the hope that people listening will come forward to help.
I refer now to housing. Without doubt, one of the most successful and welcome policies pursued during the last Parliament was the right to buy, a policy we plan to build on and expand in this Parliament. Between October 1980 and May 1983, over 77,000 council tenants in Greater London applied to buy their homes under the right-to-buy provisions of the Housing Act 1980. I am pleased to say that some 27,000 have now completed the purchase of their homes and have joined the growing band of people who are now home owners. Although some boroughs have now achieved substantial success, we believe that others can still do far better than they are doing.
We therefore intend to pursue vigorously our policy of urging councils to achieve better progress when there seems to be delay, and to bring to their attention the nature of complaints against them—such as failure to justify high levels of service charges, delays in dealing with technical difficulties in the purchase of flats, problems with restrictive covenants and so on—so that action can be taken. Some Labour-controlled authorities have exercised all conceivable ingenuity to seek to deny tenants the right that Parliament sought to give them. Ministers in my Department will take up the cudgels on their behalf.
The Housing and Building Control Bill, which has recently been republished, will enable tenants whose landlord does not own the freehold of their homes, but who otherwise qualify under the existing right-to-buy rules, to have the right to buy a long lease of their homes. The Bill also provides for an increase in the maximum discount available under the right to buy, from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent. for tenants of 30 or more years. We also propose to bring in provisions to give a tenant the right to repair defects in his own property.
The success of our right-to-buy policy contrasts vividly with the failure of some local authorities to make proper use of the dwellings that they own. In April last year there were over 34,000 council houses and flats lying empty; that is 4.1 per cent. of the total stock. These figures mask large variations between London boroughs—many have less than 2 per cent. of their stock vacant, but there are some London boroughs where the figure is 7 or even, in two cases, over 8 per cent.
§ Sir George Young
Most of them are Labour-controlled authorities. I think that Hackney, Southwark and Tower Hamlets are the worst offenders. Most worrying of all is the fact that 9,000 dwellings in London have been vacant for more than a year; nearly half the national—
§ Mr. Leighton
Does the Minister not agree that there are more empty properties in the private sector than there are in the public sector in London?
§ Sir George Young
Statistically, I am sure that that is absolutely true. The Government have no mandate for the private sector. Those who are answerable for the public sector, where public money has been invested in the housing stock, have the duty to make the best use of it. I hope that hon. Members will support the high priority that the Government now attach to bringing these long-term vacant dwellings back into use.
We have asked authorities, when making their submissions for the 1984–85 HIP allocations, to indicate their specific proposals, with expenditure bids, for bringing any vacant dwellings which have been empty for more than one year back into housing use, and we shall take particular account of these proposals in determining the allocations.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
Does the Minister not agree that there would be much less private accommodation empty if the Labour party would withdraw its scandalous proposition to repeal retrospectively the shorthold tenancy provisions?
§ Sir George Young
Indeed. The Opposition's policy towards the private rented sector does not encourage anybody to put property out to rent. If they would abandon their vindictive policy against the private landlord, they might find that the private rented sector came back to life.
The past year has seen a significant rise in housebuilding activity throughout the country. London and the south-east are leading the way in this upsurge. In 1982 there was an increase of well over 50 per cent. in the number of new starts in Greater London compared with the previous year. The figures for the public sector were up by more than 75 per cent. on 1981, whilst private sector starts were the highest for nine years. The first provisional figures for 1983 show the trend continuing.
Nor has this dramatic increase been at the expense of the repair and renovation of the existing stock. On the contrary, the legislative changes that we have made and the resources that we have provided have led to a considerable rise in the number of home improvement grants paid. In last year's Budget the rate of intermediate and repairs grants was increased to 90 per cent. and this higher rate will continue for all applications received up to March 1984. Local housing authorities were allowed to spend on grants without limit in 1982–83, while for this financial year authorities are assured of additional allocations if their expenditure on grants meets certain criteria. In London 13,000 home improvement grants were paid in 1982 compared with 9,500 in 1981; that represents a 37 per cent. increase.
These initiatives are especially important in London where there is such a high proportion of older housing and where the problems of disrepair are, as a consequence, more serious than in many other areas in the country. It comes as no surprise to me, therefore, that provisional figures for the first quarter of 1983 show that, in London, twice as many grants were paid as in the same period last year — a massive impact that demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that the investment of past generations is not allowed to go to waste.
The Government are fully conscious of the need to help those who have been hardest hit by the present high levels 812 of unemployment, and there is a considerable range of special employment and training measures, such as the community programme, the community industry scheme, the young workers scheme, the job release scheme and the DHSS scheme for older workers. I am aware of the tragic effect that unemployment can have on young people who come on to the labour market for the first time, and the new youth training scheme has been designed specifically for them. Good progress is being made towards achieving the youth training scheme targets in London, and there are few problems in getting sufficient Government-sponsored places. Equally, there are likely to be more than enough places sponsored by employers, although there is still a risk of some mismatch between the types of places available and the needs of youngsters in London. The commission's large companies unit, which is arranging nationally based programmes with major companies, is doing a great deal of work to overcome this problem.
With two exceptions, local authorities in London all support the scheme, and have plans to become sponsors, but it is a pity that some local authorities and some sections of the trade union movement in London have seen fit to refuse their support and to criticise the scheme before it started. The very people who continually express the greatest concern for the plight of our young people seem to be determined to undermine the scheme for their own political motives. There is no advantage to anybody in sacrificing our young people for the sake of some trade union dogma.
I believe that the youth training scheme in London will be a success, and that the scheme will remedy he lack of basic work skills and training which many young Londoners suffer from. It will provide school leavers with a full year of work-related training, both on and off the job, which will give then the basic skills needed to compete in the labour market as well as a firm base on which to build up the sort of skills our modern industry needs.
A substantial number of major health service improvements are either on the way or planned throughout the Greater London area. They reflect our awareness of the need for increased provision of primary health care and services for the mentally ill, the handicapped and the elderly.
Our strategy of concentrating the acute services in London on a reduced overall number of hospitals, based on the major centres of teaching, has enabled us to release resources to redistribute to the underfunded parts of the Thames regions, and also to reinvest within London, to bring about necessary improvements to services for the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped and the elderly. For example, many parts of London still rely on the old, large mental illness and mental handicap hospitals located in the surrounding counties. Local services need to be developed where none exists, and this development is now under way.
§ Sir George Young
I wish to complete my speech.
The Government believe that, as the nation's capital and largest city, London's need for a significant share of transport resources is indisputable. Priority is currently being given to completion of the M25, which will bring 813 big benefits to London. Another £800 million or so will be spent on trunk roads in London during the next 10 years.
In public transport, the Government will be contributing about £66 million to the docklands light rail project, which I mentioned a moment ago, and about £14 million to the Heathrow terminal 4 extension of the Piccadilly line; both have been designated as projects of regional and national importance. Almost 30 per cent. of PSO grant to British Rail—about £300 million—goes to the London and south-east sector. The 1983–84 transport supplementary grant settlement gave £200 million in grant to the GLC to assist it in the discharge of its transport responsibilities—an increase of 11 per cent. over the previous year and nearly 45 per cent. of the total national grant.
Substantial progress has been made in providing adequate resources for the transport needs of London. What has been lacking is the means to ensure that proper use is made of these resources. It is now clear that the organisation of transport in London is fundamentally flawed. The Select Committee on Transport, in its report last July "Transport in London" which was based on many months of taking detailed evidence, firmly recommended that responsibility should now be transferred away from the GLC.
Since the then Labour Government passed control to the GLC in 1969, London Transport has been buffeted by violent swings of political direction from county hall.
§ Sir George Young
This has made the task of those responsible for planning and managing London Transport almost impossible. That is why the Government are committed to establishing a London regional transport authority.
The new arrangements will provide continuity of policy in planning London's public transport. They will also secure a system that offers much better value for money and that seriously tackles the integration of London's commuter railways and other modes of public transport. Our objective is to secure a better deal for the traveller.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)
I wish to remind the Minister that I was the only London Member of Parliament who sat on that Select Committee which brought about an excellent and intelligent report for London. Will the Minister confirm, however, that the Committee did not recommend the abolition of the GLC? We gave it a prime role in the new structure that is necessary for a capital city which receives massive support from the Government. When the Minister was a member of the GLC he never played much of a role in that sphere.
§ Sir George Young
The hon. Gentleman put his name to a report which stated:In the light of the general objectives set out above we have concluded that a new body needs to be created which would seek to achieve the better co-ordination of transport decision-making in the London area. We therefore recommend the creation of a new Metropolitan Transport Authority.That is exactly what I said.
Our debate today takes place three weeks after Londoners returned more Conservative Members than ever before. They did so because they believe that our policies were the most realistic and relevant for the capital.
814 Our commitment to streamline the administration of London, to curb the extravagance of a few London boroughs, to promote home ownership and to renovate our housing stock, to involve the private sector in the regeneration of the inner city, to improve both public and private transport in London and to tackle the problems facing the school leaver—all these strike a chord with the average Londoner, and that is why we secured their support. We owe it to the capital, and indeed to the country, to bring our policies to fruition.
§ 10.11 am.
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
I fear that the only item in the Minister's long speech with which I can agree is his welcome for this debate on London today. I was born in Chelsea. I do not remember much about that, but I believe that the property has since been removed as slum. The family moved to Kilburn. That property, too, has disappeared. The family was then rehoused in an LCC overspill estate in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). When I married I moved to what is now the London borough of Havering, and I represent a constituency in Newham, next door to the area in which I went to school and in which many of my relatives lived. I also know Hammersmith and Fulham, so I am well acquainted with the city that I love, and I agree with the comment attributed to Dr. Johnson thatwhen a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.Nevertheless, superficial and misleading impressions are given of London in the country at large. Many people believe that the south-east, especially London, is an area of great prosperity, as parts of it are. People see the areas around Buckingham palace, Piccadilly, the west end and even Westminster, but there is another side to our city. Travelling to my constituency in the east end, one cannot help but be hit between the eyes by the contrast. Having passed through the City, a centre of enormous wealth and power, once past Aldgate Pump one sees cheek by jowl with that opulence some of the poorest, most disgusting and squalid housing in the country—derelict buildings and damp, dilapidated houses where families try to bring up children in a bare existence, of poverty and loveless privation. Tonight hundreds of people will sleep rough in our city and unemployment in the inner city areas is running at 30 per cent., 40 per cent. and sometimes even 50 per cent., with all the humiliation, degradation and vandalism that that brings.
The bitterness and frustration engendered by those inner city discontents boiled over riotously and frighteningly in the summer of 1981. One has only to look southwards across Chelsea bridge to see conditions similar to those that I have described. If the people there cross the bridge, they come to Sloane square and Kensington where they see in the shops a vast cornucopia of the good things of life. There is a great division in London and the causes and roots of the discontent that caused the riots remain untreated. Indeed, they are getting worse. The deprivation and racial disadvantage are increasing and the contrast between the deprivation of some areas and the opulence of others is a scandal and a disgrace to civilised society.
In the borough of Tower Hamlets, for example, there are 36 miles of corrugated iron. Britain is becoming more divided under the Tories, and so is London. In the areas represented by Labour Members, youngsters come from crummy housing, often tower blocks, they go to schools in which they underachieve and when they leave they are 815 faced at best with intermittent unskilled work or, more likely, permanent unemployment. Not for them are the good things that they see flaunted in the television advertisements and the colour supplements. That is the evil that is pulling our society apart.
The Minister spoke of London's economy. I remind him that under the Government's regime unemployment in London has increased by 300 per cent. In May 1979, it was 122,900. It is now about 380,000. Unemployment has trebled. I hope that the Government will take some responsibility for that.
A letter from Jack Hart, MBE, leader of Newham council, who has devoted a lifetime to distinguished service in local government, states:The 1981 Census showed only one other Council in England and Wales with a higher percentage of dwellings lacking basic amenities. In all, 4 per cent. of public tenants, 13 per cent. of owner-occupiers and 50 per cent. of private tenants lack or share a bath and inside WC. This means—in our borough—11,000 households.A massive 26,000 dwellings in the Borough are unsatisfactory in some way or other—either lacking amenities or unfit or in need of major repair. Again, the problems an. concentrated in the private sector. Three-quarters of all privately rented dwellings fall into this category.He continues:One particularly worrying aspect of the problem … is that such a high proportion of elderly people are affected by poor housing conditions. As many as 4 in 10 single pensioner households (i.e. 7,000 old people) lack the basic amenities of a bath or inside W.C.…Currently the waiting list stands at 5,300 and approximately 300 a month are joining the list. A further 134 homeless households sought the Council's help each month between April, 1982 and March, 1983. 4,500 of the Council's own tenants are registered as needing a transfer of accommodation to somewhere more suitable.Because of the recent cutbacks in the amount the Government will allow the Council to spend on its housing programme, the number of new houses available for letting in 1982–83 was the lowest since the inception of Newham in 1965—one-sixth of the number ten years ago when well over 600 new homes were completed.
§ Mr. Tim Eggar (Enfield, North)
As the hon. Gentleman is reading out propaganda from the leader of Newham council, will he tell us whether the council leader also commented on the number of empty council properties currently available in Newham and what measures the council had taken to ensure that private landlords especially took up improvement grants?
§ Mr. Leighton
I shall come to that. A parliamentary answer given to me by the Minister himself shows that the problem exists primarily in the private sector, not in the public sector. A league table produced by the Department of the Environment comparing local authorities in England under various heads shows that, out of 377 local authorities in England, Newham has the second highest percentage of households without their own bath or inside WC, the fourth highest percentage of overcrowed households and the 20th highest percentage of single parent households. It also shows that only Tower Hamlets has a level of social deprivation almost as high as that of Newham. Councillor Hart is explaining to me that the council has been doing its best—
§ Mr. Leighton
If the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) would have the courtesy and common sense 816 to listen, he might learn something. I am attempting to explain what the Labour council in Newham did during this period.
Having referred to the 1971 census, Mr. Hart goes on:Since then the Council has demolished 7,000 old substandard dwellings and built 7,500 new—and helped owners and landlords by giving over 6,000 improvement grants … London is becoming increasingly depressed by the interference with the freedom of locally elected councillors and now we have a threat to the GLC".He told me:If this Government interference with local government continues it will become impossible to get men and women of calibre willing to serve on local authorities.
§ Sir George Young
I listened with interest to what the hon. Gentleman said about housing spending in Tower Hamlets and Newham. Can he say why, after nine months of the last financial year, Tower Hamlets had spent only 34 per cent. and Newham only 32 per cent. of their housing investment programmes?
§ Mr. Leighton
The first reason is that the HIP comes very late in the year. The second is that it comes for only one year at a time and does not give a council the opportunity to plan properly.
I remind the Minister of his reply to me on 24 January, when he said that about 23,000 dwellings in Newham were substandard, that in the private sector about 44 per cent. of the dwellings in Newham were substandard, and that this compared with the national average of 9.4 per cent. It is in the private sector primarily that this problem exists.
Looking at London's housing in general, we see that there are 239,000 families on waiting lists, 500,000 families awaiting transfer, 130,000 householders and their families living in overcrowded conditions, 200,000 families sharing accommodation, many of them involuntarily, 250,000 homes which are unfit, and 500,000 homes in serious disrepair.
Since 1979 this Government have cut the money available for public sector housing spending by 50 per cent. On their own figures, in 1985–86 they plan to spend 3 per cent. of public expenditure on housing, whereas in the 1970s the proportion was 10 per cent. A decade ago we were devoting 10 per cent. of public expenditure to housing. The Government propose to bring that down to 3 per cent. Is it surprising that there has been a collapse in public sector building?
In 1976 there were 24,000 new council starts in London. By 1982 that figure had gone down to only 5,500. That also has an effect on council house rents in London. In April 1979 the average council house rent was £7.93. In April 1983, after four years of Conservative Government, that had gone up to £16.81. Council house rents were increased by 112 per cent. The general price increase in that period was 52 per cent.
The Conservative Government are penalising and punishing council house tenants. The Minister spoke about underspending. I wonder whether he remembers the complete moratorium on all building which his Government introduced in the autumn of 1980?
I remind the House of the pledge in 1979 to revive the privately rented sector. A Government supporter told the House that this was to be done by introducing new forms of tenancy. Two that were mentioned were the shorthold tenancy and the assured tenancy. The Government cannot blame their failure on the Opposition, because they have an assured period in office, but I ask the Minister how 817 many of these tenancies have materialised. If he does not know, I can tell him. In the first year there were only 377 shortholds, and there were just seven assured tenancies. We see what an appalling and abysmal flop the whole idea was, because those figures have to be set against the 193,000 privately rented homes considered to be in very poor condition.
With London's manifold problems in mind, the previous Labour Government directed resources into it, in common with the other metropolitan areas. The present Government have done the opposite. They have taken money away, robbing London to aid the shires. They appear to be motivated by a malign vendetta against London. With all the deprivations in London, it is criminally wrong to switch resources from the capital.
My researches show that over the past three years London local authorities have suffered a cumulative loss of grant of some £1 billion. It is for that that London has to thank the Government. It is an appalling record, and it is a sign of how much London has suffered from the Tory Government.
An important omission from the Minister's speech was any reference to law and order. He did not say a word about it, and I can understand why. In 1979 the Tories went to the country on a blatant law and order ticket. They have not been able to deliver. According to the report of Sir Kenneth Newman, the gross expenditure on the Metropolitan police last year was £734 million, of which Londoners paid £323 million in rates.
Like a number of other hon. Members, I have been obliged to move into different office accommodation, and in the recent past I have been clearing out my desk and throwing away or filing in the waste paper basket all sorts of valuable documents. I came across one which I decided at the last moment to save. It is a report from County hall, which I thought might be of some interest. It bears a picture of a radiant Prime Minister, and she is accompanied by a cheeky chappie resembling the late Max Miller. I discovered from the legend beneath the photograph that it was someone named Sir Horace Cutler. The House may remember him.
In the section dealing with law and order, I read:Uniquely in the country London's police are not the responsibility of the county authority … the Marshall report made reference to more involvement of the elected authority in the running of London's police.The idea that the Greater London council should have some say in running the police is not new. It is not an idea of Left-wing extremists. It originated in the Marshall report and it was put to us by Sir Horace Cutler in the period between 1977 to 1979.
It is completely anomalous and quite unacceptable that the Metropolitan police should be responsible to just one man, the Home Secretary and, ostensibly through him, to Parliament. We all know that that is largely a fiction and that it must be reformed. The police should not be defensive or suspicious or resistant to reform. Page 3 of the Commissioner's report reads:The main debate centres on the issue of police accountability.It is quite wrong that the police service is the only one in which discussion is thought by some people to be taboo. It is wrong for the police service to assume that any proposals for change are motivated only to undermine it. Each generation has to work out anew how to achieve a 818 proper balance between law enforcement and the consent of the community. We should not fear this vigorous discussion which is now taking place. It is a necessary and healthy part of our democracy.
In 1979 the Conservative party said a lot about law and order, but it has not said a word about it today. The Government have failed hopelessly. There has been a huge increase in crime and there have been fewer convictions. I believe that the situation will get worse, because the Government are creating conditions that breed criminals and crime by creating extra millions of unemployed people and heaping up more deprivation and poverty.
During the debate on the Queen's Speech on 23 June I intervened in the Home Secretary's speech and said:The Home Secretary said recently that he intended to develop a strategy to fight crime. Would he anticipate that at the end of his period of office the crime rate would be lower than it is now?The Home Secretary replied:I said that I intended to develop a strategy for crime prevention, which is a quite specific aspect of the duties of the Home Secretary. It would be unwise for any Home Secretary to give the sort of undertaking or promise that the hon. Gentleman suggests."—[Official Report, 23 June 1983; Vol. 44, c. 184.]Therefore, the Home Secretary does not claim that the crime rate will be less after he has implemented his new strategy or at the end of his period of office. The Government are creating the conditions that breed crime and it is the police who have the unenviable task of picking up the pieces. When we study conditions in London, we can see that the police will have an increasingly difficult job.
Crime statistics should always be treated with great caution. They are often misleading, but they provide some guide. We know that it costs much more to maintain each policeman in London than in Manchester, Merseyside or elsewhere. We also know from the Commissioner's report of 1982 that the clear-up rate in London dropped to 16 per cent. Although the figures must be treated with caution, they give an interesting comparison. For the same period, the clear-up rate in Manchester was 41 per cent., in Merseyside it was 34 per cent., the average for Metropolitan areas was 39 per cent. and the average for the shires was 45 per cent.
§ Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)
The hon. Gentleman must know that the method of recording crime in the Metropolitan police area is different from the way in which it is recorded elsewhere in England and Wales so no comparison can possibly be drawn between the clear-up rate in London and other great provincial cities.
§ Mr. Leighton
I hope that next time we get crime figures, especially when they are broken down on the basis of colour, we shall remember what the hon. Gentleman said.
§ Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
Is my hon. Friend aware that only 13 per cent. of the 158,000 burglaries in London were cleared up and that only 7 per cent. of the 220,000 thefts in London were cleared up? Does he agree that that is what the people of London are worried about?
§ Mr. Leighton
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I prefaced what I said by saying that crime statistics must be treated with great caution. They are always misleading, for some of the reasons that the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) mentioned, but they are a guide. What else do we have to go on?
819 The Commissioner's report informs us that recorded auto crime increased by 14 per cent. last year, burglaries by 9 per cent. and recorded robbery by 11 per cent. Therefore, under the Conservatives, crime increased and detection and conviction decreased lost year. The hon. Member for Westminster, North cannot pretend that all is well and that we can be satisfied. I am confident that we shall have to return to this issue.
§ Mr. Bidwell
Does my hon. Friend agree that the increase in crime is what the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), who was sacked by the Prime Minister, meant when he referred to the high cost of youth unemployment?
§ Mr. Leighton
I am sure that that is right.
I come to the GLC. The GLC was set up by the Conservatives after careful thought and consultation. That is in sharp contrast to the rush at the moment, which is based on what I can only describe as preconceived, doctrinaire, dogmatic, prejudices and rash arbitrary decisions. The London Government Act 1963 had its genesis in a White Paper, several ministerial statements, a Royal Commission that sat for three years and invited evidence from more than 400 bodies and several parliamentary debates. That is how the Conservative party set up the GLC. Now we simply get a bare announcement that it is to be abolished. In 1962 the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and Minister for Welsh Affairs, now the Secretary of State for Education and Science, said:In a masterly Report of clarity, humanity and vision, the Commission set out its reasons for its unanimous conclusion".He said that the Act gave effect to the report's general policy and that one of the main conclusions was the creation of an overall authority to meet needs which, by their nature, are the needs of Greater London as a whole.
But there is no single local authority responsible for overall planning of the Metropolis. There is no single local authority responsible for the traffic management of the Metropolis or for measuring and coping with the need to build houses and provide work outside for those who for lack of land cannot be decently housed inside. No one existing authority has any responsibility for considering the needs of Greater London as a whole. Yet Greater London is, in a very real sense, a single city … The Bill adopts the Royal Commission's recommendations that these great strategic tasks of planning, traffic, roads, overspill housing and all the other needs affecting the whole of Greater London should be made the responsibility of a directly elected Greater London Council.The Conservative manifesto makes great play of what are called "joint boards".
§ Mr. Leighton
Yes, but boards are mentioned. The Royal Commission considered them.
The Minister said that the solution of setting up ad hoc authorities for various possibilities was rejected. Another suggestion wasthe creation of some sort of joint board. The Government agree with the Royal Commission in rejecting this.This is not a new idea, but an old idea that was rejected by the Royal Commission and the Government. The Minister continued:The Government believe, and they have the full authority of the Commission for believing, that London government is at the crossroads. If we cannot find ways within the local government system of coping with the overall London problems … responsible local self-government in the capital will wither." —[Official Report, 10 December 1962: Vol. 669, c. 52–66.]820 The Government do not intend to allow it to wither now. The proposal before us is that we should cut its throat. They wish deliberately to destroy it.
The then Minister for Health, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), said:The principle of the Bill recognises the two undeniable facts about London as it is today. First, that the continuous built up area, inhabited by 8 million people, calls for a single administration of the strategic and planning services … This Bill offers to the Metropolis the renewal of civic life in modern terms. To large parts of Greater London it offers for the first time the opportunity of government which is at once really local and really responsible.He ended by saying:I ask the House not to deny these benefits to the capital city of the Empire."—[Official Report, 11 December 1962; Vol. 669, c. 338.]On that note, the Conservative party, including the present Prime Minister, marched into the Lobby and voted to set up the GLC. That is how the Government of the day made and rested their case. But why this volte face? Except for a few cheap gibes at the beginning, we have seen no documentary evidence to make out their case. In 1962 there was much talk about gerrymandering, and the Conservative Government believed that the people who lived in the London county council area voted Labour incorrigibly. They believed that if they could expand the area they might bring in some Tory boroughs, which would be more to their liking. However, one cannot rely on those who live in the GLC area to vote Conservative, and because the electors have the temerity from time to time to vote Labour the Government's malice and hatred are being turned on the GLC. The implication is that local democracy is valid only if the Conservatives win.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Another reason why the Government might be unhappy about the present administration of the GLC, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, they created, is that it is a minority administration. With a different electoral system we might have a representative GLC.
§ Mr. Leighton
In 1985 there will be an opportunity for local democracy to work, and there might be a different majority. To abolish lawfully elected authorities simply because they pursue policies which the Prime Minister does not like suggests that she is determined to eliminate any body of opinion that does not agree with her dictum that she knows best. It would savage Londoners' democratic rights and it would mean that unaccountable quangos would run London's services. It is a sop to the backwoodsmen who wish to do something about rates. But Government taxes have increased much more than rates, and the proposed abolition is simply for party political reasons. It will leave London as the only capital city in the world without its own voice. The GLC is democratically elected and gives Londoners a vote on London matters, and its abolition would eliminate accountability.
As my hon. Friends have said, we shall have instead a plethora of joint boards, ad hoc committees and appointed quangos, which will be a negation of democracy. It will be costly, and an invitation to inefficiency and confusion. London needs an extension of democracy in the Health Service, and water and sewerage services, rather than an end to it.
Perhaps when the Minister replies to the debate he can tell us what the proposals will cost, because Conservative experience of reorganisation must tell them that it does not 821 save money. It will not bring cash benefits, because the services administered by the GLC must still be paid for. What will happen to the loan debts of the GLC? Who will take over the housing debt, which at present is £240 million? Are there any guarantees for the staff of the GLC? Will they be made redundant? Will there be golden handshakes? I hope that the Minister will give us clear answers before the end of the debate, because we are entitled to know.
I deal next with transport. Two million vehicles enter and leave the capital every day, and the transport density in London is 50 times the national average. The value of a strategic planning authority dealing with bus lanes, parking charges, fares, parking controls, and the role of road and rail is obvious. The GLC's Fares Fair policy of 4 October 1981 was a huge success. During the brief period of its operation, bus journeys increased by 13 per cent. and underground journeys by 7 per cent. There was a 6 per cent. decrease in car travel in the congested areas.
That trend was reversed by the unfortunate decision of the Law Lords, as a result of which there was a 16 per cent. reduction in bus journeys, a 13 per cent. reduction in underground journeys, 6 per cent. more cars came into the centre of the city and there were 20 per cent. more motor cycle journeys. The fare increases especially hit 16 to 24-year-olds, the retired, and 45 to 64-year-olds, and it is estimated that they caused an extra 3,700 road casualties. Fares have now come down again. But what do the Government propose? They propose another huge quango with powers as yet undefined. That could reverse the cheaper fares policy and lead to poorer services, with Londoners having no say in the matter.
Education in London was last debated on 4 February 1981, when the then Secretary of State for Education and Science said:The weight of educational opinion, including the voluntary bodies and the churches, is that the problems of inner London call for a single authority of adequate size and with adequate resources to administer its schools as well as further and higher education, and the careers service; and that responsibility for the schools should not be separated from the rest of education. The Government share that view.He went on to talk about money, which is what it is all about, and said:The Government's public expenditure plans require local authority current expenditure on education in England to go down by about 7 per cent. in real terms between 1978–79 and 1981–82." — [Official Report, 4 February 1981; Vol. 998, c. 296.]As locally elected representatives are unwilling to accept the dicta of central Government, the Government propose to do something about it and to dictate policy from the centre.
The then Minister of Education, who later became Lord Boyle, said:The Inner London Education Authority will decide how much money it needs and how much of this money should be raised by loan; and the Greater London Council will then precept for it on the inner London boroughs. In effect, therefore, the whole control of the education service in inner London is placed in the hands of the Inner London Education Authority, for all practical purposes exactly as it is entrusted elsewhere to a county or county borough council."—[Official Report, 11 December 1962; Vol. 669, c. 244.]That was the policy of the then Minister of Education, and that is what the policy should be.
822 I remind the Government that parents fought on a previous occasion to save ILEA. The Government seem to have realised that they cannot abolish the substance of ILEA. Therefore, they want to neuter it by interfering with its powers over money. The parents in London will fight again.
London has suffered badly from this Tory Government. Now that they have won an election, the Tories are about to launch a further offensive on London. I serve notice, on behalf of the Labour party, that we shall fight them with all the means at our disposal.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think the House well knows that, as a London Member, I take a great interest in the debate. No fewer than 22 right hon. and hon. Members have indicated their wish to take part, and seven of them are new Members of Parliament. I propose to give preference to those hon. Members who have not yet spoken. I ask all hon. Members who are called to speak briefly, so that as many as possible—if not all those who wish to take part in the debate—may be called.
May I say to the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), whom I propose to call next, that if he has not finished his speech at 11 am I shall have to ask him to sit down for the statement.
§ Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)
I thank you sincerely, Mr. Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech in this historic place, and I thank the Minister for his kind remarks.
Richmond and Barnes is a new, enlarged constituency, containing the well-known communities of Barnes in the north-east, Mortlake, Palewell, East Sheen, Kew, Richmond, Petersham, Ham in the south and St. Margaret's and east Twickenham, north of the Thames. It is now the only London constituency which spans that great river, and a greater utilisation of it, coupled with the preservation of its beauty, will be one of my regular pleas in this House.
I pay tribute to my predecessor as the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey, Sir Anthony Royle. He served his constituency for nearly 25 years and was also Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 1970 to 1974. His wisdom and guidance over the last two years were instrumental in my being here. Many things are said by many people—perhaps occasionally with a political axe to grind—but I must set the record straight concerning that gentleman.
During the last two years I have met literally hundreds of people to whom Sir Anthony had given help and they would willingly walk to the end of the earth for him. If people called on him and he believed they were genuinely in need, he would unstintingly seek a satisfactory solution, but, unlike certain cynical politicians, Sir Anthony would never parade his constituents' problems through the press. That, for him, would have been a breach of privacy and honour.
There were, of course, thousands of people who never needed to seek out Sir Anthony for help and therefore had no evidence of his care and concern, but there are nearly 100 new Conservative Members of this House who would vouch for his labours, because for the last four years he 823 has been the vice-chairman of the Conservative party, with responsibility for candidates. During that time he has radically changed the selection and training system.
Perhaps only time will tell whether the new intake will be of particularly good vintage, but I believe that it will be, and that, far from some of the more spectacular and lurid speculations made by less well-researched journalists—and, indeed, the Opposition—the new Members, in my experience, are almost exclusively men and women of compassion, loyalty and dedication, possessing simple common sense and energy. That is Sir Anthony's doing.
I must also pay tribute, on behalf of those in east Twickenham and St. Margaret's, to their previous Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). That he should lose, through redistribution, his east Twickenham ward, and the constituents for whom he cared for 13 years, was a great distress to him. His record as one of the very best constituency Members for exposing and fighting those matters that affect the peace and environment of those who are his responsibility is, quite literally, an inspiration to me. I hope that we may, as brother Members for the same borough, work together for the mutual benefit of the nearly 200,000 people whom we represent. I have much to learn from him, and I offer him my deep gratitude for his willingness to help me.
Tributes are deemed to be traditional, but I hope that I shall be permitted to pay a less conventional compliment. My opponents in the general election were men of the highest integrity and a credit to their respective parties. Their attitude throughout the last few months and years, their co-operation on matters of community interest, and their willingness to work with me rather than against, have constructively caused local wrongs to be put right wherever possible. Co-operation between political rivals — unfortunately by no means commonplace — can produce a combined weight against which it is hard to resist.
On the Richmond Royal hospital, on London Transport's bus policy, on Windham road nursery school, on aircraft noise and on Richmond's traffic blight, we have fought our battles together. That has meant that the campaign in Richmond was, if anything, more healing than divisive. It also helps that whoever won the battle could feel that he had the support of the whole community, not merely the party of his preference.
We candidates had many differences in political and social policies, some of them diametrically opposed, but it is pointless in politics to strike a pose, purely to propose some separate dogma, when co-operation can achieve so much. I hope that all my constituents will know that I am open and willing to hear their problems, as I intend to serve their constituency in the way that I believe it deserves.
We are fortunate in Richmond and Barnes that, in addition to being one of the most historic parts of London and Surrey, we have 21 miles of river frontage, 743 acres of urban parks and open spaces and, indeed, the highest number of conservation areas in London. That is in addition to the Royal parks and Kew gardens. The greatest pleasure to be derived from those enormous benefits is in quiet enjoyment of the facilities offered, but quiet enjoyment is what we sadly lack.
While it is a beautiful area in many ways, the immediate impression of Richmond and Barnes is scarred by the inordinate and constant noise from road traffic and 824 from the air. The blight to the area caused by the south circular road, the constant landing of aircraft at Heathrow, flying directly down the line of the upper Richmond road west, and the ever-increasing helicopter noise, causes conversation in the street to be rendered impossible for more than a few moments at a time. A casual meeting of neighbours in Sheen or Palewell is more often accompanied by nods and waves than by words.
In my 10 years of political experience, I have met my various opponents on many platforms and experienced a wide range of opinions and views, often vociferously put, but since coming to Richmond I have never known an issue to unite people of different political persuasions so closely as that of aircraft and traffic noise. On Saturday 5 March 1983, the threat of a possible fifth terminal at Heathrow caused all three political parties to unite in a march to show our strength of feeling. I am not one to take to the streets with banners raised at every opportunity—and, indeed, believe that little good usually comes from such protest—but I was moved in that instance to give my active support, and that of my wife and family, to demonstrate that political barriers had been dropped and that the community as a whole was moved to join together. The suppport of those along the route was indeed heartening, and those who listened to our speeches later in the centre of Richmond gave us evidence that our complaint was shared by people who would not normally have been moved to protest. Incidentally, during our march of three miles, my younger son counted 32 aeroplanes of varying sizes flying directly overhead. That made the decision to take to the streets that much more rational. Hardly any of the Conservatives in our contingent had ever joined such an event before.
Quite apart from the countless letters that my predecessor Sir Anthony Royle received over the years on the subject, already in nearly two years I have had over 200 letters complaining about aircraft noise, and that must be the tip of the iceberg. Wherever I go in my constituency, whenever I speak to constituents, aircraft noise is second only to traffic noise and volume as a reason for complaint. That we are used to it, as British Airways seems to believe, I refute. We might accept our experience as being unavoidable, but we shall never become used to it and will always pray for its reduction. With summer here, during a hot and airless night it is impossible for almost half my constituents to open their windows, because 15 to 25 aeroplanes destroy the peace which we believe to be ours by right when trying to sleep.
It being Eleven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 5 (Friday sittings).
§ Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did not raise this point of order with you before the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) spoke because I did not wish to discomfit him when he was about to address the House for the first time. Nor, I hope, will the Minister be nervous or put off.
I ask you to rule, Mr. Speaker, on the intervention by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). I am referring not to its rambling and diffuse nature but to its extreme length. In view of your request to the House that speeches should be brief, are you prepared to say that the hon. Gentleman crossed the line between an intervention 825 and a speech and that should he rise to catch your eye later today he should be allowed to speak only with the leave of the House?
§ Mr. Speaker
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I did tell the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that his intervention was somewhat longer than one would normally expect. I think that he has taken the message.