§ Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)
I beg to move,That this House condemns the economic and social policies of Her Majesty's Government which have led to the continued decay and dereliction of the inner city areas; draws attention to the high levels of unemployment, homelessness and family poverty, to the neglect of the environment, and the loss of local industry and public services; and calls for policies of investment which will revive the economic life and the provision of essential services in these areas.
This debate takes place against the background of next Tuesday week's Budget and the billions of pounds that will be available to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his preelection tax give-away. Those potential tax give-aways are enormous. Whatever may be the ifs or buts in the Chancellor's speech about what he thinks he will be able to do, we know that vast sums of money will be given away. Report after report has clearly shown that money will be given away to the better-off people. They will do far better than many other people who urgently need money to be spent on their needs.
Against that enormous give-away, the problems that are to be found in our inner cities will grow worse and will increase. We hear in this House of the north-south divide. I suggest that it could be narrowed down to a particular area in a borough or city where there are the "haves" and "have-nots". None suffers more from this have/have-not syndrome than the great cities. The terms of the motion are so drawn that hon. Members with inner city constituencies will be taking part in it. I am a Member of Parliament for a London constituency, but I know that it is not only in London that there are crucial, pressing problems about which urgent action needs to be taken.
These issues are not new, but, in view of the forthcoming Budget, it is essential that they should be discussed yet again in the House. My view is that if one represents an inner city constituency, it does not matter whether one sits on the Opposition Benches or on the Government Benches, one knows of the problems that, sadly, exist in many of our cities.
The words "urban deprivation" are often heard. They cover a variety of issues: unemployment, housing, hospitals, education, the local environment in which people live and the problems that they have to face, whatever their age. We are told that these problems require careful consideration. I fully accept that. But urgent action also needs to be taken by the Government. They should give the lead to local authorities and commercial businesses so that hope for the future is given to the many people who live in our inner cities. However, that, sadly, is not taking place with the urgency that the problem deserves. I am sure that many hon. Members who 1138 will seek to take part in this debate will outline the problems that exist in the areas that they represent. We are in a vicious circle. The problems exist, the need for improvement is clear, but there are not the right means and will to bring hope.
Over the past two or three year there have been many debates on local government and rate support issues. Often the areas in greatest need have suffered because of the Government's policies, especially on rate support grant. Funding in those areas has been severely restricted and, in many cases, drastically reduced. Funding is the key to the success of rebuilding our major cities. It appears to many hon. Members that the Government either do not understand or do not want to understand that fact.
The editorial in Today of Thursday 19 February stated :Chance to help the have nots".It continued :Voters may be tempted by lower taxes. But there is plenty of evidence to show that that is not what they care about most. What they really want is more jobs, better schools and hospitals, and social benefits that would lift the poor out of their poverty.The editorial continued :The test of his judgment"—the Chancellor's—will be what he does for the disadvantaged. And most of all what he does for the unemployed.That is a fair, realistic comment on the type of issues which I hope will be discussed today.
We read in the newspapers comments by people who make flying visits to the inner cities and often do not live in them but who tell us what is wrong with them. Those of use who live in or represent inner city areas know that the overwhelming tragedy is the despair of so many of the people who live in them. People wonder whether anything well ever change in the day-to-day life that they as inner city residents have to experience, whether it is unemployment, housing or hospital services. We all know of communities that campaign to keep their areas alive, yet they find that neither national Government nor often local government wants to listen or to help them.
I represent part of the London borough of Wandsworth. Wandsworth is a classic example of an area of haves and have-nots. Property prices are becoming unbelievable and, for many people in need, properties are unobtainable because of their price. The other side of the "up-marketness" of Wandsworth is unemployment. There are 16,000 people in Wandsworth who are out of work. The number who have been out of work for between nine months and three years is 7,623. In Tooting, one of the parliamentary constituencies in that borough, 13.6 per cent. of the eligible work force are unemployed.
§ Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)
The hon. Gentleman has emphasised that he is a Member of Parliament who represents part of Wandsworth, which is an outstandingly well-run local authority area which has a good level of investment and treats its ratepayers with great respect. Will the hon. Gentleman answer a question about the unemployment problem? Why is British Rail short of 7,000 guards and hundreds of drivers—90 alone in Croydon—when it is offering pay approaching £260 a week? People are just not willing to take on those jobs. How can people remain unemployed for so long when such jobs are going begging?
§ Mr. Cox
That is an interesting point. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's comments will be noted with great 1139 interest by the unemployed not only in my constituency but in other parts of the borough. It may well be, as the hon. Gentleman said, that job opportunities exist in other areas of London, but the official fact is that well over 7,500 people have been out of work for long periods in Wandsworth. Whatever policies the Government say that they are using to help unemployed people, there is evidence that, because of their actions in combing out the long-term unemployed, as they describe it, there is substantial unemployment in my part of London. I am sure that hon Members who represent other parts of London will relate experiences similar to that of many people in my constituency and in Wandsworth generally. Figures and articles are often quoted in the House, but the tragic fact is that thousands of people in London want employment but, for whatever reason, are not able to get it.
§ Mr. Cox
To say that they are not willing to work is an insult. It is a disgrace to millions of people. Those of us who see people who are unemployed are left in no doubt that they want employment and that their family and the environment in which they live suffer because of their inability to get a job. It is an utter disgrace to say that they are not willing to take up employment.
We hear much about the great housing policies of the London borough of Wandsworth, but there is another side to that supposed glittering achievement. No local authority houses have been built for several years. Thousands of people are on the waiting lists. I have a letter sent to me by a constituent on 28 February in which he outlined the problems that he and his family face. His children are sleeping on mattresses in the family bedroon because they cannot get the type of accommodation which they would like in Wandsworth where they have lived for many years. My constituent says that, despite his efforts to get suitable accommodation from Wandsworth council for himself and his family, he sees countless houses boarded up and left empty as he walks around the borough trying to find somewhere to live. Hundreds of houses in Wandsworth are boarded up. There is one specific reason for that : the local authority wants to sell them. It is not concerned about housing needs. Thousands of people on the housing lists in the borough have virtually no hope of getting accommodation. Countless families are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation at enormous expense to local ratepayers, yet hundreds of houses are deliberately kept empty and boarded up so that they can be sold.
That is a deplorable indictment of the local authority when within its own community there are thousands of people wanting somewhere decent to live in which to bring up their families.
§ Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, according to figures from the Department of the Environment, there are 1,397 empty properties in the borough of Wandsworth. Is the hon. Gentleman also aware that there are 3,200 empty properties in Tower Hamlets and 3,100 in Hackney? If the number of empty properties in Wandsworth is a disgrace, surely it is doubly a disgrace in Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Surely they are equally guilty, if anybody is, of deliberately keeping properties empty and allowing the area to deteriorate.
§ Mr. Cox
The hon. Gentleman has made an important intervention. I agree that it is disgraceful. However, I wish that he would consider why in the boroughs he mentioned — Tower Hamlets and Hackney — there are so many empty properties. Many of them are empty—as I hope hon. Members from those areas will say if, as I hope, they participate in the debate—as a result of Government financial policy in the boroughs. That is the tragedy of Government legislation such as rate capping. When local authorities want to get their properties back into a decent state of repair so that they can be let, they do not have the money to do it. Report after report is available for any hon. Member to see the facts. Therefore, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is disgraceful that Government policies have caused those properties to remain empty for so long.
I want to return to the problems in the London borough of Wandsworth, especially with regard to hospitals. We often discuss in the House the problems of hospital closures and hospital services generally throughout the country. In Wandsworth, after several hospital closures, we have yet another battle to fight—the threatened closure of St. James' hospital in Balham. I give the Tory-controlled local authority credit because it is bitterly opposed to the closure of St. James' hospital. People throughout the borough are opposed to its closure, but we understand, that it is still the intention of the local health authority, because of Government cuts in Health Service expenditure, to approve the closure of the hospital. It is an utter disgrace, in view of the needs not only of the people in that area but of others, because people go for hospital treatment not only in the area in which they live but in adjoining areas. We are in no doubt that we shall see, as we have seen over several years, the run-down of the essential health services of a community such as Wandsworth.
§ Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)
I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman and I do not wish to see that hospital closed. However, will he accept that there are two reasons for the proposed closure which have nothing to do with the diminution of Health Service funds? One is the dreaded resource allocation working party whereby funds have been moved from the south to the midlands and the north to provide better treatment in those areas. Secondly, there is the vast expenditure on the magnificent new hospital, St. George's, in Tooting. That is rightly or wrongly drawing off funds from the other hospitals. I think that those are the reasons, rather than any cuts in Health Service funding.
§ Mr. Cox
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point about RAWP. We can all learn our lessons. Whereas initially RAWP may have been a good thing, I believe that it is now time that the Government looked again at the financial allocations for hospital expenditure. I have much sympathy with hon. Members, on whatever Benches they sit, who come from areas where there is an urgent need for hospital improvements. However, it is our duty as Members of Parliament to try to safeguard the services in the areas we represent. The sad fact is that within the London borough of Wandsworth we have seen the closure of hospital services, which has happened throughout London. Since 1979, 32 hospitals have closed in London. Hon. Members representing London constituencies not only on Opposition Benches but on Conservative Benches, 1141 repeatedly say that far too many hospital closures have taken place and that they must now stop. They are right to say that— this is not a political point because they realise the enormous problems that exist as a result of a lack of proper hospital services in their areas.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the money being put into the big new St. George's teaching hospital in Tooting. I agree with what he said. However, I visit that hospital from time to time and what I and a great many other people say is that it may he a superb hospital one day but there are three stages of development. There is a struggle to finish stage two, and we are repeatedly told that other hospitals have to be closed in our area in order to find the money to complete stage two. Where the money will ever be found to complete stage three, heaven only knows.
Many people see St. George's as an impersonal hospital. It is so enormous. It may have superb facilities —I do not dispute that—but all of us and our families would expect to go into a hospital where one felt that there was some concern being shown because of the problems one faced. The sad fact about hospitals such as St. George's, Tooting, is that one is nothing more than a name on a computer. One goes in one day, one is looked at and then a couple of days later one comes out again. There is no feeling that St. George's is a hospital we can relate to.
I compare the feeling about St. George's with the large tower blocks that we now all condemn. They are highly impersonal, and, unfortunately, many of our large hospitals are now becoming as isolated and impersonal as many tower blocks and large housing estates. That is something that we should consider.
§ Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)
The hon. Gentleman made an interesting point about RAWP. Does he accept, that as the population has left London, the people moving to the new areas must have hospital services? Therefore, to encourage some of the curious campaigns to maintain elderly and decrepit hospital buildings in London when the population has left is selfish at one level and nonsensical at another. What he and other London hon. Members should support, and I believe generally do, although not in every case, is campaigns to maintain hospital services and the standard of those services in London rather than bricks and mortar. The money must necessarily be spread properly to the regions where people have moved from London and other urban areas.
§ Mr. Cox
There is a lot in what the hon. Gentleman says. However, he omits to say that, although people are moving out of London, those who remain are invariably the elderly and the poor who, as report after report shows, are the people who need hospital services, be it within a hospital or the back-up services that relate to a hospital, far more, in many cases than those who are moving away. That is a fact not only in my area but in many areas. That is why we are concerned to stop the hospital closure programme and to maintain the hospital back-up services. We know from experience that it is not solely a question of a hospital being closed because, as the hospital is closed, many of the related services also disappear.
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. No doubt areas such as his have a pressing problem, but his pressing problem in no way diminishes the problems which, sadly, remain in the large cities, whatever movement of population there may be.
1142 Whereas I accept that we have problems, I try to be realistic in this type of debate and say that I do not believe that they have just started; they have been with us for a long time. But there is ample evidence that, unfortunately, over the past seven years, those problems have worsened as a direct result of the Government's policies and the actions that they have taken. For example, there is the cut in rate support grant, the cut in housing investment, the cut in job retraining schemes, the closure of hospitals that we have been discussing, the cuts in local health services—
§ Mr. Cox
It is not rubbish. I suggest to anyone who says "Rubbish" that he looks at the recently published comments of the Audit Commission, which are available for all hon. Members to read. They refer to London but can be related to many other large cities. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen to the comments that I shall quote, and, when he has heard them, I shall be interested to know whether he still thinks that what I said is rubbish. The Audit Commission said :Although London is the richest city in the United Kingdom, large parts of it face desperate social and economic problems. In some boroughs, unemployment among young men exceeds 45 per cent.; in some places, among young blacks, it exceeds 60 per cent. … Homelessness, housing conditions, crime, are worsening year by year, as the cycle of urban deprivation becomes more established.Once the cycle of decay becomes established it will be immensely difficult to reverse, Prevention is the only viable strategy; and this will undoubtedly cost money. There is therefore no time to lose if effective action is to be taken to prevent the emergence in London of the urban dereliction that now affects some large North American cities.That is what the Audit Commission says about London. Some hon. Members may not like to hear it, but it is also a sad fact in many other parts of the country.
§ Mr. Powley
Would the hon. Gentleman quote further from the Audit Commission report, which draws particular attention to the disgracefully inefficient way in which many of the inner London boroughs are administered? The report states thatspending per resident in the most deprived metropolitan districts"—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is hoping to catch my eye. He should not quote in an intervention. He should be as brief as possible.
§ Mr. Powley
I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Let me précis what the Audit Commission says. May I ask the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) why the most deprived inner London boroughs are the most inefficiently run boroughs in the country? What measures are they taking to improve their efficiency and to spend more of their resources on the measures that he advocates rather than on waste and inefficiency?
§ Mr. Cox
Of course, we would all welcome greater efficiency in any local authority. I am the first to say that if a local authority is criticised because a body such as the Audit Commission says that improvements can be made, I hope that the authority will take note of what is said about it. There are no ifs or buts about that. The Audit Commission said clearly what the problems are. I take the hon. Gentleman's point. If local authorities manage the areas of their responsibility in a way that is not conducive to tackling such problems, they should improve matters.
1143 Those of us who come from the large cities hear Ministers, particularly the Prime Minister, talking about their commitment to the family. That is laudable because we all belong to families; we know the benefit of the family. But on any night of any week an estimated 5,000 people are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation in London. Heaven knows what the figure is throughout the United Kingdom. I do not know how the Prime Minister or any other of her Ministers thinks that that helps to rebuild or unite a family. Many of the Government's policies in recent years have, in fact, eroded the unity of the family. The Government have taken action that breaks up families. Many thousands of families in the country have no wish to be separated or to live in poverty, but as a result of the policies followed by the Government in recent years the problem of families being broken up and living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation has been growing.
It would be better for Ministers, including the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, to visit our cities. I do not dispute that they do, but they should do so without the public press fanfare of, "The Minister's here today," or the syndrome of, "The Minister will see the good things that are being done." I suggest to any Minister who is involved with the inner cities that it would be far better to make visits in a small group of two or three people. Ministers are intelligent people—
§ Mr. Cox
I am prepared to be generous, even if my hon. Friend is not.
Ministers can see what is happening. They can knock on a few doors and ask people what they feel about their families' future. Ministers would learn far more by doing that than by spending hours reading reports. I accept that some reports are valuable, but far more could be learnt by meeting people who are experiencing the problems that I have outlined.
Whatever party we belong to, what do we expect to see in our cities in the year 2000? In 13 years' time, will we say, "We went through a rough patch in some of our cities, but thankfully, as a result of the combined efforts and willingness to act by organisations that have a role to play in the cities, things have now improved greatly"? All of us who are involved in politics must ask ourselves that question.
I commented briefly on the Audit Commission report. Report after report—some political, others not political in any way—says that action is needed now. None of us can dispute that.
I was asked about properties that remain empty. Several reports say that many properties in our large cities are standing empty which need money to be spent on them. No doubt during the debate comments will be made about rate increase. I am a ratepayer. None of us is happy when we read about substantial rate increase in the areas where we live. All of us, whether or not we have been in local government, know the services in the areas where we live or that we represent depend on the amount of money that is spent on developing and providing them.
Many local authorities are now faced with an enormous dilemma. If they want to make improvements in the areas, as a result of rate capping legislation the only way in which they can get the money to tackle some of the problems is 1144 by increasing the rates. Some hon. Members and, I am sure, some local residents do not like that. However, the reasons for that cannot be hidden by hon. Members saying, as we heard twice this week during Prime Minister's Question Time, "What does my right hon. Friend think about the rate increases in such and such an area?" Rates are being increased in many cases because of Government policies which have caused a reduction in national funding to those areas.
§ Mr. Cox
It is not good the hon. Gentleman saying no. The facts prove otherwise. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) sought to introduce a Bill on 13 February about housing in multiple occupation. Government records show that 81 per cent. of houses in multiple occupation lack proper means of escape from a fire; 66 per cent. have inadequate essential amenities such as baths, showers, toilets, washing and cooking facilities; 48 per cent. are overcrowded. Those are Government figures showing the problems that exist in properties in which several families or people live.
To the credit of hon. Members, that Bill was supported by Conservative, Labour and Alliance Members. They said that there was an urgent need for such legislation to be introduced. The tragedy was that, because of the tactics employed on 13 February, the Bill did not have a fair hearing; it received a little over one hour's debate. The problems outlined by the Government about housing in multiple occupation still exist. They will not go away. If local authorities want to tackle such problems, from where will they get the finance to do so?
Many hon. Members want to take part in this debate and it is only fair that I should cut out some of the comments that I intended to make and to give other hon. Members a chance to speak. I believe that hon. Members who take part in debates in this House should give way to interventions, but that obviously takes up time in a speech. In drawing my remarks to a close, I have wanted to outline the despair and hopelessness in London and many other areas. I want to outline the lessons that I hope will be learnt.
We all know the nature of the problem. However, as I have already said, what position do we hope that our cities will be in at the turn of the century? We must begin to give urgent attention to that question. National Government must be in the forefront of policies that will regenerate life and hope in our cities. Local authorities must also be involved. However, I believe that other organisations must be involved. We can no longer leave it to local authorities and Government alone to tackle the problems.
I would welcome initiatives from other organisations with the finance that is so urgently needed. I should like to see building societies, banks and pension funds beginning to invest in our inner cities. I should like them to start working alongside local authorities. Indeed, to their credit, many organisations are working alongside local authorities. We hear much criticism about Liverpool. However, I heard a report recently—and possibly the Minister will be more aware of this than I am—to the effect that Liverpool, to its credit, had sought to work with private organisations which wanted to come into the borough and develop. Those organisations had the money to do so and, to its credit, Liverpool is doing everything 1145 that it can to speed up development and planning permission so that new industries can enter the area. That lead should be followed in other places.
Organisations with the money can bring technical and managerial experience into our inner cities. That is very welcome. We want a long-term partnership in which regeneration will be the key for all those people who seek to be involved in development. However, what we do not want is the kind of press and media coverage that appeared last weekend about the future of Fulham football club and its ground. That was a clear example of an organisation backed up by people with money whose sole consideration was profit, not Fulham football club. Let us be honest; Fulham football club is not the most prominent football club in the country, but it is a football club to which many people relate and it has a long history. People involved with the club are entitled to ask, "Are the people who now control this ground interested only in selling it?" People were incensed when they read that the ground was to be sold to make a profit of £20 million. That is not what we want to see taking place in our cities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) was hoping to take part in the debate. He told me earlier in the week that many aspects of the Docklands development are welcome. However, there are many other aspects that are bitterly opposed by the local residents. The criteria among developers in that area seems to be, "How much money can we make out of the Docklands development?" In that part of London, better housing, better job opportunities and a better local environment for residents should be at the forefront of development. Unfortunately, all the indications are that the Docklands are being developed not for the community which has lived there for years, but for people who come in, develop, and make enormous profits without any commitment to the area. We do not need that in our inner cities.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that for about four decades plan after plan was discussed but no action was taken to clean up and improve an area which was getting into an appalling state of dereliction? Does he further agree that the development does not simply involve modern industries, but contains much new housing for sale and rent for local people?
§ Mr. Cox
I accept that for a long time there was not the commitment or the kind of development that we wanted to see in that area. I can criticise that, but I can equally criticise what is happening now. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, who I know is not a London Member, if he doubts me, he should go to the Docklands and listen to the people living in the area.
§ Mr. Cox
If the hon. Gentleman was there three weeks ago, he must know the deep fears felt by many people in the area about the developments taking place in what they regard as their home. They have as much right to regard that area as their home as we have to consider our areas as our homes. The Docklands development is not the kind of development that we should encourage in many of our large cities, because it does not meet the needs of local people who have a right to be heard as to how they would like to see their areas develop.
We should work together to develop the identity of the inner cities. We must get away from the divide which 1146 obviously exists in many areas and which—I make no bones about it — has been increased as a result of Government action in recent years. If we had a political understanding and a willingness by the Government to say, "We have a responsibility to lead the revitalisation of our great cities", we could start to make meaningful progress. Sadly, I and many hon. Members who represent our great cities do not see that willingness in Ministers when they make their pronouncements in the House and around the country.
Britain is still a great country. Our workers have great skills and talents, and the country is still enormously wealthy. If we began to marry all our abilities, there would be hope not only for those who live in the inner cities now but for those who will have to live in them in the future. I hope that the debate will focus attention on that point.
No one can dispute that problems exist. They will not go away. No hon. Member would wish the problems to worsen, so now is the time to work together to get hope back into our cities, which all of us are proud to represent.
§ Sir Reginald Eyre (Birmingham, Hall Green)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) for drafting his motion so as to allow hon. Members who represent constituencies in provincial cities to take part in the debate. Some of the points that I shall make are relevant to the matters that he raised.
From my experience in Birmingham, I would put the beginning of the deterioration in our inner cities at an earlier date than do most analyses. Before the war, in Birmingham and in other big cities in the provinces, large slum areas in the centres were cleared and families were accommodated in new traditional housing estates in the outer areas, such as Kingstanding, Glebe Farm and Stechford in Birmingham. But the heavy deterioration in formerly good and well-maintained roads of houses in areas such as Sparkbrook and Handsworth began with the bombing in 1940 and 1941. That deterioration continued during the war and in the immediate post-war years. It was significant that the exodus of people from those areas, many of whom had contributed much to the success of the communities, who could manage to move to the more pleasant suburbs, began to accelerate in those immediate post-war years.
As the post-war clearance of inner areas in the big cities got under way, many small businesses were wiped out and inadequate thought was given to resiting, so a loss of jobs followed, again accelerating the impoverishment of those areas. The planning system was insensitive and aided job destruction, and planning blight widened the areas of decay.
Although in the 1950s and 1960s enormous sums of public money were devoted to new housing developments, our town planning dreams during and just after the war all too often turned into nightmares. In what now appears to have been a period of municipal madness, we created tower blocks, appalling walk-up blocks of flats, large areas of faulty system-built houses and great estates of ill-designed housing. Many of those estates have been unpopular with and unacceptable to their occupants and enormously expensive to maintain and repair. Also, several of those nightmare estates were built in the outer parts of the big cities so that the people transferred to them have had to endure inner city conditions in the outer wards.
1147 Surprisingly, the problems of the inner areas were not generally recognised until 1969 when, through the agency of local authorities, attempts were made to ease the problems. In 1973, the Department of the Environment conducted studies in carefully chosen problem towns, and detailed reports were prepared. I was privileged to take part in the study of Oldham, and I well remember the friendliness of the people there.
Thus, more urban policies were formulated. The White Paper of 1977 was produced, and successive Governments added to urban policies and allocated increasing sums of money to support them. Improvements have taken place as a result, and they can be seen on the ground. But one has honest doubts about whether improvement for the people who live in those areas has been commensurate with the costs involved. Despite efforts with land registers and similar processes, vast areas of derelict land continue to exist in the inner cities. Much of that land is in public ownership.
Since 1979, the Government have brought to bear a new and important initiative—and the hon. Member for Tooting recognised it. Their purpose is to use public resources on a pump-priming basis to attract a private enterprise contribution to the regeneration of our inner areas. The leverage that can be achieved — with two, three or four times the amount of private sector money following the public investment — is vital to the economic and social regeneration of rundown areas.
The London Docklands Development Corporation has been massively successful. It started with 8.5 square miles of dereliction, and it has transformed great areas into residential and commercial property. The Mersey Urban Development Corporation has made considerable progress, too, following that principle. But in the actual operation of the UDC we should heed the advice of Lord Mellish of Bermondsey. In another place, he, in effect, said that if a concerned local authority played its part with the development corporation, it would be welcomed; but if a political change caused that local authority to withdraw its representation, its absence must be borne philosophically. Indeed, Lord Mellish expressed himself more vigorously than that.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I accept entirely the leverage point. In the LDDC area, the ratio between private and public investment is as much as 6:1. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one flaw, partly because of the stay-away attitude of local authorities—mine is the most guilty in this respect — is that the LDDC drafted its policy and set out on its work without seeking to respond to community need? It was often bought by market demand, and that, unmitigated, does not always act in the interests of the resident community. That is the flaw in what, in many respects, is a necessary development.
§ Sir Reginald Eyre
I have sympathy with some of what the hon. Gentleman has said. He will appreciate the need for political stability in areas of development, otherwise private funds will not be forthcoming. That is the crux of the problem.
§ Mr. John Fraser
Will the hon. Gentleman explain something which mystifies me? Despite the fact that well 1148 over £150 million has been spent in Docklands during the past three years, unemployment there has still gone up. Why?
§ Sir Reginald Eyre
That is a London issue. I am not sure of the accuracy of the hon. Gentleman's assertion. I hope that he will forgive me, but I am sure that a great many of my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent London constituencies will be glad to take up that point with him.
Because of the success of development schemes, the Government's decision to announce four more urban development corporations — three in the north at Trafford park, Teesside and Tyneside and one in the industrial west midlands—is to be warmly welcomed. It is profoundly encouraging that banks, major industrial and large building companies are so willing to participate in these schemes. It is this comparatively recent advance in funding and policy which gives me hope that we are at last finding a solution to what appeared to be intractable problems.
§ Mr. Reg Freeson (Brent, East)
Will the hon. Gentleman welcome Birmingham city council's proposed joint enterprise, which involves the private sector and many institutions, to establish an urban renewal company to act as an urban renewal agency? Will he urge the Government to endorse such a joint co-operative approach?
§ Sir Reginald Eyre
I am interested in that matter and, if the right hon. Gentleman will permit me, I shall deal with it as soon as possible.
People's involvement in the development schemes that I have described is assisted by the spread of home ownership and of small business ownership which can be promoted in the development. Moreover, as land in inner areas is made available, I am confident, on account of reports that I, like the hon. Member for Tooting, have read, that building societies, operating under their newly liberalised regime—which the Government provided—will work with housing associations and other agencies to provide attractive housing schemes for sale and to let, including accommodation for retired people.
I agree with the hon. Member for Tooting that it is possible that pension funds will recognise the prospect of providing housing facilities for their retired members and their families as schemes progress. By creating mixed housing developments in an attractive form, people will be brought back into inner areas, thus providing a wider range of occupation and helping to stimulate the local economy. The work and jobs thus generated in discouraged areas will be a great boon.
I should like now to consider the point raised by the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson) about Birmingham. The city council, with the support of the two main parties, is trying to set up its own inner city regeneration scheme through an urban development agency as distinct from a corporation. The proposals are for a two-tier company structure, so there is considerable complexity in that respect.
The prospectus says that the agency will bea market led, profit seeking creative development business. It will be private sector led and will operate with the active participation of the local authority who will also facilitate the redevelopment.That is a sign of Birmingham's realism and of the fact that lessons to be learnt from the LDDC and its success have 1149 been widely recognised. Undoubtedly, this is a means of making a substantial contribution to the solution of terrible inner area problems.
In its proposals, the city has the important support of the Birmingham Chamber of Industry and Commerce, which has an excellent record, through Birmingham Venture and other initiatives, of contributing to inner area efforts. Substantial private operators also support the proposals. They include Douglas and Gallifords, the civil engineering contractors, George Wimpey, Bryants Holdings, the builders, Lloyds bank, Citibank and Touche Ross.
The area of Aston and Nechells has been put forward as the first part of Birmingham's inner city for regeneration. The city is bringing its derelict, empty, nonoperational land into the project. That shows how we are all learning from the success of development corporations fostered by the Government.
I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has had meetings and correspondence with the city on this matter, and that he has quite properly required clarification about several matters, including planning considerations. As I have already said, some of the arrangements are complex, but it is the planning arrangements for development corporations which have helped to achieve success in such a short time. I believe that the city intends to conduct a feasibility study and that a high development value is estimated for the area. As a result, the requested urban regeneration grant would achieve valuable leverage.
My right hon. Friend knows that Birmingham, with the support of the main parties, is making considerable efforts to diversify the local economy. In addition to the contemplated extension of the national exhibition centre, which has been a great success, the Birmingham convention centre is well under way. My right hon. Friend's recent approval of urban aid to facilitate the provision of a new hotel at the convention centre is greatly appreciated. We are most grateful to him.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will personally draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to what I am saying. Visible progress with regeneration at Aston would be a further signal to the whole country that solutions to these persistent problems can be found. As my right hon. Friend will appreciate, the benefit to the people of Birmingham will be immense, as a new area of live economic activity will be created under Government policies.
§ Mr. Freeson
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. It is because this initiative is so important, not only for Birmingham but elsewhere, that I intervene again. What neither he nor the Government have done so far is to give a general welcome to the initiative. Notwithstanding the fact that many detailed matters have to be investigated, checked and studied, there has not yet been a positive endorsement of what Birmingham, with its partners, wishes to introduce in its area. Should not the Government be urged to give that support?
§ Sir Reginald Eyre
I made it clear that the Birmingham proposal has the support of the two main parties. I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to be political and over simple about this matter. If he studied all the papers on this matter, he would realise that in order to establish a proper framework in which private enterprise can be involved 1150 successfully and with confidence over a period of years, it is necessary to deal with certain planning aspects and with the longer-term requirement of political stability. These are essential to the success of the proposals.
Naturally, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State must devote considerable time to the detail. This is well accepted by the corporation in Birmingham. It has made it clear that it is prepared to develop the details of the scheme and to seek consultations with officials as it begins to build the proposals to bring them within my right hon. Friend's the Secretary of State's perfectly proper and reasonable requirements. I am merely saying that at this stage I would like my right hon. Friend to continue his sympathetic and understanding consideration of these matters, because I would be pleased if we could make progress.
It would be a great signal throughout the country if we could develop a system whereby we get the benefit of private funding and can be seen to be tackling these problems, in an area that for years has been neglected and which has a terrible effect on the people living there. It would be of great help to the people of Birmingham if some way could be found of advancing in accord with Government policies. In Birmingham, peace and stability in the outer areas depend on a solution of these problems in the inner areas, and that same consideration applies in all the big cities.
Other factors that contribute to improvement result from concentrating on the people who live in the discouraged areas and involving them in a number of different ways. First, following our policy lines of the 1970s, I would like to see local authorities agreeing to more involvement of tenants in running their own estates, through Estate Action. The great inefficiencies in repairs and maintenance continue in the big city housing estates to the distress and misery of the tenants.
§ Mr. Steen
My hon. Friend is familiar with the Government's commitment to improving the quality of life on these estates by the introduction last year of Estates Action. Last year the Government gave £50 million and this year £75 million to involve communities in the solving of their problems. Is that not the kind of approach that he would welcome?
§ Sir Reginald Eyre
Yes, that scheme is already of immense value and is playing a part in improving conditions in many big city areas.
Secondly, I should like to see greater involvement of parents in the education of their children, and increased representation on governing bodies is one way of doing this.
Thirdly, I am encouraged by the development of neighbourhood watch schemes in big cities. I understand that there are now 17,500 such schemes. The fact that people come together in small neighbourhood areas to counter unacceptable behaviour helps all those people involved in the scheme to get to know each other. It is my experience that community instincts are strengthened by this association. People can begin a renewal of feelings of neighbourliness that will be helpful in big city circumstances.
Fourthly, I hope that the initiatives of my right hon Friend the Paymaster General with task forces in eight main areas will continue, because they are providing 1151 lessons in the involvement of local people in voluntary organisations, and community participation in projects, all of which can be of great help.
Finally, I shall briefly refer to aspects that create optimism and hope in big cities. One is the super prix motor racing event in Birmingham, again this year on 31 August. The city will be pleased to see any hon. Members who wish to attend. It is extraordinary that that event attracts people into the inner area and creates a holiday or carnival atmosphere. It is helpful to cities such as ours, with the production of motors being an important part of our economy. Social events, such as marching bands and so on provide good family entertainment.
I want to counter the constant denigration of big cities, which does not do any good, nor does it help solve the problems. It is unjustified in many respects, because big cities have large and attractive areas that are popular and pleasing to live in. The national problem is that there are comparatively small pockets of decay in the big cities, where we have not produced a solution to the problems that have festered in such areas. However, we can now produce proposals that will help to solve them.
I shall refer to an interesting matter. With the encouragement of the English Tourist Board, National Holidays has put out a brochure about "Great English Breaks" which refer particularly to "Hotel Breaks in Great English Cities". It includes in its splendid list Birmingham, of course, Bradford, Manchester, Leeds, Portsmouth, Newcastle upon Tyne, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent and Leicester. If one looks at the brochure, one realises that there are a number of extremely attractive features in all these cities.
§ Dr. Hampson
Having looked through the brochure, does my hon. Friend agree that "Leeds Leads" and is the centre of the Yorkshire dales tourist industry?
§ Sir Reginald Eyre
I am impressed that my hon. Friend has seen the booklet. He is right to say that there is a claim, which I shall have to examine, that "Leeds Leads." I am told by the English Tourist Board that this form of advertisement has already generated over £1 million of business by way of visits to big cities.
We now have the possibility of developing policies that can deal with the worst of the problems. Many attractive and pleasant features exist in our big cities, and anybody who looks at these brochures will begin to understand that that is so. They represent more fairly the state of life in these big cities than some of the miserable and denigratory statements that are all too often made about them.
§ Mrs. Rosie Barnes (Greenwich)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech on a matter that is very dear to my heart.
First, I should like to pay sincere tribute to the former hon. Member for Greenwich, the late Guy Barnett. He was known and respected in Greenwich as a sincere, hardworking and caring Member of Parliament. I am sure that all hon. Members would like to join me in extending deepest sympathy to his wife and family. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
Just over a week ago the people of Greenwich put their trust in me by electing me to represent them in this House. I have promised to fight to improve the quality of their 1152 lives, which is clearly deteriorating rapidly. To most people Greenwich means a day out, perhaps a trip down the river, a visit to our beautiful historic buildings and, weather permitting, a picnic in our royal park. Tourists go home with their photographs showing them with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern, and people alert enough at noon to keep their eyes on the observatory see our famous ball rise and fall to signal Greenwich mean time.
Although the people of Greenwich are proud of their heritage, their preoccupations are of a different nature. Greenwich is part of inner London and suffers from many inner city problems: high levels of unemployment, especially among the young, a chronic shortage of housing, council housing that is often in an appalling state of disrepair, and schools and education standards that often leave a great deal to be desired. From the poorest council estates to the affluent Blackheath, there is great anxiety about the declining state of the National Health Service in our area, and law and order is a major concern — whether in the tower blocks or in the comfortable middle-class houses. I shall speak about each of these in turn—first of all, jobs.
There are about 5,000 unemployed men and women in Greenwich. That is approximately 15 per cent., or one in six, of the population. They are mostly young, unskilled and poorly educated, and often YTS failures. Although there has been a big drop in industrial and manufacturing jobs in our area, there is still a shortage of skilled labour. Even basic skills are at a premium. The Woolwich jobcentre, which covers Greenwich and Eltham as well as Woolwich, last year managed to fill only 38 per cent. of its secretarial vacancies, and the building trade and light engineering works also have vacancies. This clearly brings me on to education and training.
Despite all the money spent on them, Inner London education authority children are clearly getting a poor deal. Parents of children at the secondary stage feel particularly bitter in the third year of industrial dispute. Teacher-parent liaison is still very poor. The marking of work is patchy and we still have over 1,000 teachers surplus to requirements in some schools while thousands of children are untaught in others.
At a time when the number of pupils has dropped by one sixth and the number of teachers has dropped by one tenth, administration costs have virtually doubled from £44 million in 1981 to £87 million in 1986. To enable our children to get even those jobs requiring only basic skills, never mind the high-skill, high-tech jobs in the City that are currently filled by young people who commute from the home counties, the education of our children in London must be improved and basic standards must be restored. This is clearly important in the case of Docklands, where jobs of all kinds, including catering, banking and secretarial jobs as well as highly specialised ones, are there for the taking. It is an indictment of our education system that the youngsters of Docklands do not have the qualifications for the range of jobs available. Education and training must be given priority if the economy is to revive, and those things are certainly vital if the youngsters of London are to get the jobs that are there for the taking.
Housing in Greenwich is perhaps the major single source of despair among its people. There has been a fourfold increase in homeless families, from 323 in 1982–83 to 1,307 in 1985–86. Over the same period house starts 1153 have fallen by more than half. House prices in Greenwich have increased even faster than the London average, making it impossible for most local people, and particularly young couples, even to consider buying a home. Approximately 3,000 families are desperate for a transfer from council housing that is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons: chronic disrepair—and some of the disrepair that I have seen would not look amiss in a Dickensian film — overcrowding, children in tower blocks, or a combination of all three.
More than 16,000 people are on the council's waiting list, and that number does not include many people who feel that there is so little hope that they do not even bother to put their names forward. This disguises the fact that many young couples with families are living with in-laws in far from ideal conditions. Many young people who are ready to leave home to make an independent start in life but for whom no accommodation is available have to stay with their parents.
It is estimated that there is a backlog of £60 million worth of repair work on the Ferrier estate alone, and Greenwich council has only £15.7 million to spend next year on housing investment in the whole borough. How can we give hope to those people who are currently trapped either in a state of homelessness or in council housing that is totally unsatisfactory and who feel helpless and desperate? We urgently need a partnership of national and local action, and a partnership of public and private investment. The people trapped in those estates do not have any strong ideological view about where the money should come from. They need decent homes in which to live.
I turn now to the Health Service. In our area we have lost three hospitals in as many years — St. Nicholas's hospital, the British Home for Mothers and Babies, and the Dreadnought hospital. Now the Brook hospital is fighting for its existence. Hospital beds in Greenwich are becoming like conveyor belts because many patients are discharged far too early as doctors and nurses struggle to keep pace with the ever lengthening waiting lists. We have the worst mortality rate in the region, and infant mortality is a serious problem.
The future does not look promising. The regional health authority had to agree to cut the number of acute beds on the understanding that demand would fall. There has been no such reduction in demand, and, although the bulk of the reduction in acute beds has already been made, it has not resulted in anything like the cost saving that was anticipated, largely because the dedication of doctors and nurses has resulted in the remaining beds being more intensively used. We look with fear to the future because we do not know how we will make the necessary cuts without destroying a service that is already perilously close to collapse.
Law and order in Greenwich, as in so many other inner city areas, speaks for itself. Housebreaking, car thefts, violence on our streets, vandalism and criminal damage have risen dramatically in Greenwich as they have risen elsewhere and are now almost commonplace. People do not feel safe on the streets at night and our old people feel increasingly vulnerable, even in their homes. Jobs, education, housing and the Health Service must be given the priority that they deserve. Until the fabric of our society is restored Greenwich will follow the pattern of other inner city areas—a pattern of decline, decay and despair.
§ 11 am
§ Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)
The House has just heard an alarmingly competent maiden speech from a new hon. Member whom we all want to welcome today. We were already impressed by the charming manner and elegance of the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes), but now that we have heard her speak we recognise her as a formidable debater and someone with a very good mastery of her subject.
I had the pleasure as a Member of the European Parliament to represent the adjoining constituencies for five years, though I did not represent Greenwich itself, but I got something of the flavour of the constituency during my time as a Member of the European Parliament and I recognised the independence of the voters there, which made them decide on their landslide and somewhat surprising choice. Now that we have seen the hon. Lady, we are not surprised any longer that they have chosen somebody of such obvious competence.
Lady Members in this House are relatively few in number—what one might call a select band—but they are not a limited company. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has shown what opportunities lie ahead for lady Members.
I was reminded yesterday of an occasion when I was invited as a Member of Parliament to go to a hundredth birthday party for an old lady living in Kensington. Her friends had got together a number of local notables She spoke to each of us in turn and had a little conversation with all the visitors at this party. To me she said, "It is very nice indeed to be remembered in your old age." I said, "I don't suppose that anyone is likely to remember me, because I am just a politician." She looked quite reproving and said, "Let me say this to you, young man"— she was able to draw on long experience, and what she said to me that she wanted me to remember was, "You never know your luck." I think that perhaps that is an apt remark today, for the hon. Member for Greenwich must have wondered — when she started her campagn — whether she was going to win. I do not suppose that she ever expected that she would win such a substantial popular vote. We welcome her to the House most warmly and look forward to her next contribution.
I am particularly glad to have the opportunity of joining this debate this morning because I want to be the first Member in the House to give a very warm welcome indeed to the Landlord and Tenant (No. 2) Bill, which was introduced by the Department of the Environment yesterday. It is likely to affect some half a million households in England and Wales. It has a number of objects for which, together with a number of other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I have fought for a number of years. In the first place, it will give a greater measure of protection to tenants in blocks of flats and substantial conversions in private ownership. This is something which, as the Member for Kensington, I can say is urgently needed.
I trust that this Bill will go through all its stages before the House breaks up for the general election, because we do not want this measure to be postponed, even for a matter of months. All too many people living in the borough that I represent are suffering from the mismanagement of the blocks of flats in which they rive. This does not only apply to the low-grade or unhappy properties on low rents; in some cases it applies to the 1155 grandest properties on very substantial annual rents, which are just as unhappy and badly managed. I regret to say that I can assert that through my own observation.
I should also like to say that the handout published by the Department when it introduced the Bill yesterday gives us promises of more to come. In case this may not have been picked up, I should just like to read one paragraph from it. The passage reads:The Government intends that the Bill should give tenants tighter control over the handling of service charge funds and insurance as the Nugee Committee recommended. These provisions will be introduced into the Bill by amendment during its passage in the Commons.Normally, I am extremely critical of Departments that add to Bills after Second Reading, but if the Department has new provisions to add to the Bill in Committee, then I think that I am likely to be one of the Members who will welcome them very gladly.
The other aspect of the Bill that is most important is that it gives the right to buy to recognised tenants' associations in two ways—either by pre-emption when the owner of the property decides to put it on the market or by decision of the courts. This is something that I think the House will welcome particularly warmly.
The difficulty that we have all over London, and I am sure in many other inner cities as well, is that there are large numbers of mansion blocks and substantial conversions which have been in existence for many years which need a great deal of money spent on them in order to maintain their quality. It is difficult to see where the money is going to come from if it does not come from the tenants themselves. When the blocks are in the ownership of people who sometimes cannot even be identified—or overseas consortia, bodies of people in the middle east or with companies which one cannot fully trace in the Cayman Islands, and so on — the tenants are very resentful when they are called upon to pay very large service charges or contribute to huge sinking funds in order to enrich people who really have no particular interest in their welfare. If the tenants are willing to put up the large sums of money that will be needed in order to maintain these properties, then it has to be on the basis of co-ownership. They will only put up the money if they know that it is going into their own property, just as private householders will improve their property and maintain it because it is in their interest to do so.
The principle of co-ownership has to become established, in my opinion, if we are going to maintain the properties that we have in the inner cities, which used to be the glory of London. I am talking about the substantial blocks of flats which people were happy to live in in the old days. Mr. Edward Nugee, QC and his committee are to be extremely warmly commended for the excellent report that they brought out on this subject, and I would like to congratulate the Department on reacting so quickly and producing such a businesslike and competent measure. Having tried my own hand at drafting a Bill on these lines on a number of occasions in recent years, I can say that I appreciate how difficult it is to master some of the technicalities and to produce workable solutions. I think that the Department has made an excellent beginning and I am sure that as we go through the various stages in the House we may be able to make improvements to it as well.
1156 I would like to say that it seems to me that in the not too distant future we are going to establish co-ownership in blocks of flats as the normal formula for the relationship between the tenant of a single flat and the owners of the block or the substantial converted premises wholly let as self-contained flats in which the tenant lives. If we are going to think in terms of co-ownership, then we shall have to think in terms of new forms of finance. This is where, as has been mentioned already, we have to look to the building societies.
The whole problem of urban renewal is really one of finding very large sums of money. There is no escape from the fact that very large sums of money are required to maintain our inner cities in the condition that we should like. I do not think that local authorities or the Government should be expected to find the whole of that money. I must say this on behalf of the borough that I represent. Twenty years ago, under the leadership of Sir Malby Crofton—not nearly enough credit for the work that he did has been given to him, in my opinion —a very ambitious programme was begun in the north of the borough to get rid of the terrible slums and to build new and desirable properties instead. Sir Malby Crofton had the insight to realise that the right way to approach this was to work with housing associations which were more or less independent of direct local government control.
From somewhere — I do not know where — he managed to find a very large amount of money indeed and we can be proud of much of the new housing in north Kensington. People are happy to live in the new accommodation that has been provided there. In one or two cases mistakes may have been made that we can learn from in terms of design and so on; but in Kensington, in general, we have shown the way. We have shown that a local authority, in conjuction with other interests, is able to make a major impact in terms of urban renewal. Other local authorities which have not made the same effort do seem to me to bear something of the blame for the decayed condition and the sadly rundown circumstances which the hon. Member for Greenwich mentioned in her speech.
As I have said, it is not really only local authorities or the Government who should provide the money for urban renewal. It must come from the people who are living in our inner cities themselves.
In Kensington we have a rather special problem which I have to mention because it matters so much to many of my voters. I refer to the very high cost of private accommodation, which is artifically pushed up in our case by the amount of foreign money that is coming in to purchase houses and flats on behalf of people whom we welcome in London but who seem to have almost unlimited amounts of cash behind them to purchase desirable properties. I am speaking of the people in the embassies, and consulates, and the banks that are coming into London and want to be represented in the City—American busnesses, and business undertakings from other parts of the world. It seems that they have more money to spend on accommodation than honest British taxpayers could possibly put into the purchase of their houses or flats. So we see sensational prices being paid for properties which are sometimes not very grand properties at all, but which now are fetching almost unbelievably high figures.
I have thought of the possibility that in parts of inner London we might adopt what I might call the Swiss solution — that foreign residents are given restricted 1157 access to the purchase of freeholds. However, I do not know whether that would commend itself to the House; and I do not want to do anything at all that would discourage people from regarding London as a world capital to which they can come and go, freely to do their business or to represent their countries diplomatically, and so on. However, it would be welcome if we could have a wider dispersal of the foreign ownership of property in London, and if it were not all concentrated in Kensington and in one or two other inner-London constituencies, as it seems to be at the moment.
I think too that we must look at the purchase of property for use by executives of companies as a perk for their directors and other senior company officers, or simply for the purposes of business entertaining. There are all too many properties in Kensington now which look like private houses but which are, in fact, extensions of the office for entertainment purposes. Possibly the renting of such properties by business should not be admissible as a business expense for tax purposes. These, of course, are Kensington issues, which I realise do not apply in many other constituencies in London.
The cost of inner London accommodation in general is a matter for hon. Members in all parts of the House. If we are to bring it down or to stabilise it, the cost of new building must be attended to and we must find a way of increasing the supply of new properties which people can afford to purchase, especially if they are first-time buyers. I should like to see new small flats for first-time home buyers being built all over inner London, and in places with easy access to inner London. The pressure of demand is certainly there and I believe that there are suitable sites for the building of new and agreeable blocks of small flats. The building societies have a big opportunity here, and local authorities and planning authorities should also be as helpful as they possibly can.
I should like recognised tenants' associations to be encouraged to buy out and manage successfully existing properties and to modernise and improve them as far as possible. We must also make more use of unused accommodation. We still have too much accommodation in inner London which is in need of conversion, redecoration or modernisation, and which is standing empty. Unfortunately, the shorthold conception has not made as much progress in inner London as I would have wished. However, if there is less restriction on the initial rent that can be charged I believe we shall see shorthold bringing properties on to the market more and more. I certainly hope so.
I should also like building societies to promote the new building of flats with new systems of joint finance and participation. It may be necessary for there to be certain changes in the tax provisions to facilitate that movement, particularly in regard to the tax treatment of sinking funds. My hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction has emphasised what he calls the "right to rent", and that is recognised as being important in inner London. Not everybody wishes to purchase even a small flat in inner London. We have a large population of people who came to London to study or for short tours of business duty, for whom it would not be sensible to purchase a property. However, they find it very hard to find suitable premises to rent, possibly for periods of two or three years or shorter periods when they have business or family reasons for being in London for a while.
1158 I do not think that we have got the tax provision in the private sector quite right. I would not wish to abolish the relief of mortgage interest for people who are purchasing their houses: that is a satisfactory stimulus for private home ownership. For many years local authority support has also been given to the provision of rented accommodation in the public sector. However, we have not had any favourable tax treatment or allowances for renting in the private sector. That is one of the reasons, no doubt, that has contributed to the steady decline of the private rented sector; if has not enjoyed the tax advantages or the outright subsidies that have been offered to other forms of accommodation. As one would expect, market forces have tended to diminish the number of people who are looking for rented accommodation in the private sector.
It would be worth considering the possibility of a housing cost tax credit as an optional alternative for mortgage interest relief of an equivalent value, so that people who rent property would not find themselves left out in the cold as far as tax provisions for housing are concerned. At present we have means-tested housing benefits for people in the private sector, but they are extremely difficult to administer. I do not believe that the uneven application of those benefits is a satisfactory long-term solution.
That leads me to another aspect of a long-running campaign that I have fought in the House—for a basic income guarantee, or some totally new method of handling the redistribution of income. It might be a tax credit scheme—call it what one likes. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox)—I am sorry that he is not present—mentioned the problem of employment. Of course, that is something that one observes in Kensington, too, because we have a number of people who are unemployed; but we also have a very large number of job vacancies. If one speaks to the people who run employment agencies in Kensington they are desperate for people who will take jobs, even unskilled jobs, and jobs that are not especially insultingly low-paid. So we have the difficulty that people are looking for work, or believe themselves to be wanting work, yet, when it comes to the opportunity to take a job, do not rise to it.
In this country we now have 14 million people who are directly or indirectly dependent on means-tested benefits. That is a large number of people to whom the Prime Minister's injunctions to work hard and to save do not seem to apply. If they work hard, they may find that they are no better off than if they had remained in idleness. If they save money, they may then find that they are obliged to run their savings down before they are eligible for supplementary benefit. That means that we have a large number of people in an emerging subculture—14 million people, in fact — for whom the attractions of employment are not so very great. That is the underlying difficulty that we have in the inner cities because we have plenty of talent and people who are capable of work; but the incentive to take part-time work especially, or to work for short periods on relatively low wages, simply is not there. Thus, the generation of wealth in the inner cities by the people themselves is hampered by the systems that we operate for paying supplementary benefit and for other means-tested benefits of all kinds.
I should like to suggest—I hope that the Treasury as well as the Department of the Environment, the 1159 Department of Employment and the other Government Departments that are concerned about opportunities to work in the inner cities will consider the possibility—that we could move towards a tax credit system on the basis that one would be able to draw, as a right, a tax credit of a value equivalent to about half the present rate of supplementary benefit. That would not be a matter for means-testing, but would be a basic citizen's guaranteed income and it would, of course, replace the tax allowances which people enjoy if they go into full-time work. It would also be an option which those who are not in full-time work could rely on instead of claiming means-tested benefits. It would liberate a large number of people who at present are restricted from taking work because of the provisions of the supplementary benefit rules. It would give them the opportunity to take their chances of employment when they arise without the loss of their basic, underlying benefit. Something along these lines must come, because we need to get all our people back to work to create wealth as far as they can.
Reviving the inner cities is not just a matter for the Government, nor for local authorities; it is for the people who live in our inner cities themselves. Individual initiative and effort are the only way to create the necessary wealth to make London and our other great cities as prosperous and happy places to live in as they used to be.
§ Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) on her competent and confident maiden speech. She showed a grasp of the problems of her constituents, and as only 15 months ago I, too, came to this place following the harrowing experience of a by-election, I understand her feelings today. She made kind reference to her predecessor which we in the Labour party particularly appreciate, as will his family. Certainly if she shows the same dedication, loyalty and hard work as was shown by Guy Barnett, she will represent her constituents extremely well.
Talking of dedication and hard work, I notice that the few hon. Members in the Chamber today for the debate who are from non-London constituencies all come from the north of England—[Interruption.] I apologise to the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley), but I was referring to Labour Members. Besides these days anything north of the Watford gap is considered to be the north of England, so the hon. Gentleman is one of our number.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) for tabling the motion. It refers to the economic and social policies of the Government which have led to the continued decay and dereliction of inner city areas. It goes on to outline the particular features of Britain under the Tory Government which form the basis of the decline, decay, neglect and dereliction. Unemployment, low pay, poor housing and a drab environment are all part of the scene and lead directly to the centre of the problem.
Back in 1979, just before entering Downing Street and following her election victory, the Prime Minister quoted St. Francis of Assisi: "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is despair, may we bring hope." But, as with her other promises, such as not to increase prescription charges, not to double VAT, to 1160 tackle unemployment and to protect the Health Service, the words of the saint which were designed to win her support were empty words and empty promises.
The Prime Minister offered to bring harmony, but what have we had? Conflict. This has been a Government of conflict—conflict with the trade unions, leading to the longest, bitterest industrial dispute in our history; and conflict with local authorities, leading to a deterioration in services and a decline in standards and the environment, particularly in inner city areas. We have even been at war with a foreign country and supported aggression against other countries.
§ Mr. Clelland
I will give the hon. Gentleman something else to think about. We have seen rising crime and street riots in our inner cities. That is what the Prime Minister calls "harmony". If that is harmony, God help us all if ever she gets nasty.
§ Mr. Heathcoat-Amory
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that industrial disputes and strikes were at a record low last year? Surely that is not a sign of disharmony.
§ Mr. Clelland
It is a sign of the effects of rising unemployment and the fear of people for their jobs. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said, instead of concentrating on his intervention, he would know I said that we had the longest, bitterest industrial dispute in our history. That goes without challenge.
The Prime Minister's other promise was, "Where there is despair, may we bring hope". Yet unemployment has trebled and millions of people have been thrown out of work with little or no prospect of becoming re-employed. As a direct result of the Government's policy—their utilisation of unemployment as an economic weapon—four generations have been cast into a pit of hopelessness with no clear future and no security.
As if that were not enough, the Government's attacks on local authorities in the most needy areas have hit the services and support that were designed to help cushion the blow and make life easier for people when depression and recession occurs. The doubling of homelessness, rising levels of stress-related illness, suicides and attempted suicides, apathy and cynicism, and drug and alcohol abuse are evidence not of a hopeful, confident society, but that the Prime Minister has increased despair and hopelessness—the reverse of what she promised in 1979.
That is the Britain of 1987. It is a Britain in which inner city problems, which were recognised in 1976 by the Labour Government who introduced special financial assistance and inner area partnerships, have worsened and in which resources have been withdrawn from hard-hit inner city areas.
One of the so-called assisted areas is the Newcastle-Gateshead inner area partnership, within which sits the constituency of Tyne Bridge. Obviously the two councils welcome any additional resources that they can get, but the amount lost by both councils in rate support grant since the Government came to power far exceeds the amount given in inner area partnership grant. The councils know, and even the Government have recognised, that their area has special problems which must be tackled if the terrible deprivation that we have seen in some cities is to be avoided or at least minimised on Tyneside. To make 1161 up for the loss of grant, the councils have had to increase the rates. Despite the best efforts of the Conservative propaganda machine, people understand what has happened and why. Recognition of their efforts has come from sources that even Conservative Members may find hard to discredit.
Newcastle council is often criticised by Conservatives for being a high spender, which, in their way of looking at things, means that the council is inefficient. I have a document with me which states that Newcastle councilspends the money it take wisely and effectively—which privately, many Government ministers admit.That comes, not from Labour Weekly or some Left-wing publication, but from the Daily Mail of 9 December 1985—not a newspaper which is credited with supporting the Labour party.There is no anti-business element in the local authority, and that can be refreshing.That was said by Gordon Allanson, the manager of Eldon square, which is the biggest, most successful shopping centre in the country.Of course, I am grim about the rates…But there's more than one side to it. They inherited huge problems which have got worse"—I may well ask, inherited from whom? The previous administration was a Conservative one.Closed factories and shut shipyards don't chip in a penny to the kitty. But spendthrift? No, they are not.That was said by the industrialist, Dr. Ralph Iley, ex-chairman of the regional Confederation of British Industry.What we have done here I wouldn't have attempted anywhere else in Britain. Nowhere, and I have worked all over, would I have got this sort of gritty pride from the men. The sensible, pragmatic co-operation of other businesses, the services, and especially the local council.That was said by the chairman of Vickers Defence Systems. Therefore, local business people and the community, which consistently supports the Labour council, appreciate what the city council is doing and that it is tackling real problems and needs. It is not being profligate or overspending as the Government would have it.
Because the Government believe their own propaganda and Ministers show a worrying ignorance of how local government in general and local government finance in particular work both the city council and Gateshead metropolitan borough council have been rate-capped and will be forced to reduce their rates, therefore their spending, in the coming year. Some of us will watch carefully to see how many jobs are created by the businesses that will save money by the rate reduction, taking into account, of course, the jobs in local government that will be lost as a result.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
Does my hon. Friend recall that, shortly before he took over as leader of Gateshead council, it was one of the four local authorities named in the inspectorate report as liable not to provide an acceptable level of education? One of my hon. Friend's first tasks was to do something about that problem when, at the same time, the Department of Employment said that it was overspending by £1 million.
§ Mr. Clelland
I take my hon. Friend's point. Indeed, Gateshead council is attempting to resolve its great problems in education. Unfortunately, it is being held up by the parochial views of one or two parents, which we hope will shortly be sorted out. [Interruption.] With the 1162 help of the Government. We must get the authority of the Secretary of State for Education and Science before we can go ahead with our programme. If the Minister states that that authority is not likely to be forthcoming, I shall be interested to hear it, but I am sure that that will not be the case.
Unemployment, the scourge of the northern region in particular and of the country in general, is highest in the inner city areas and is running at 26 per cent., even on the Government's figures, which few people believe to be credible. The actual figure in my constituency is more like 30 per cent. Nothing that the Government are doing in the area is having a major impact on unemployment. Indeed, the closure of training centres, jobcentres and Government offices aggravates the situation, as does the relocation of Government offices outside the region. The Government have failed to take positive action to promote the shipbuilding and engineering industries, which, far from being outdated, as we often hear from those who live in the south and are ignorant of the north, are at the forefront of technological advance. The electrical engineering industry in particular is being run down, not because of lack of demand but because of Government prevarication. The minor grants to small business, as welcome as they may be, cannot begin to approach the impact that Government policy has had on major industries in the northern region.
The other major problem in the inner city area is housing. On the one hand, there is a shortage of housing and, on the other, for various reasons, inadequate housing. Housing—the inadequacy and lack of it—has reached crisis proportions, particularly in inner city areas. It is no good Conservative Members trying to score political points, as they have done today, by drawing attention to the number of empty council houses. That not only does nothing to resolve the problem but shows contempt for the intelligence of the general public and complete indifference to the real suffering that is being perpetuated while they enjoy their political knock-about.
It is quite obvious to any casual observer that, at any one time, there will be empty properties. But to suggest, as the hon. Member for Darlingon (Mr. Fallon) did a few days ago—it has been repeated by other hon. Members today — that local authorities are deliberately keeping homes empty when they desperately need not only the rent income but to meet demand and house people, is beyond comprehension. Of course, houses are empty. In Newcastle, for instance, 1,336 houses, from a stock of over 46,000, are empty. Of them, more than 400 are being modernised. Thirty five are awaiting demolition — still awaiting an answer from the Department of the Environment since as long ago as 22 July 1985. Sixty four houses are awaiting disposal or sale, and the remainder are either undergoing repair or are on offer to prospective tenants.
For those hon. Members who like to play around with statistics, that represents 2.9 per cent, of housing stock, compared with a rate of 4.1 per cent. of empty properties belonging to the housing associations in the area and 4.6 per cent. in the private sector. Of course, the Government are responsible for 6.9 per cent. of empty properties in the control of Government Departments. There are in no position to criticise.
Incidentally, the rate in Wandsworth is 3.7 per cent. Wandsworth has something to do to match the housing efficiency of Newcastle city council. I do not criticise 1163 Wandsworth for that. I understand the reason for empty properties and do not intend to use it, as some hon. Members do, in some sort of political point-scoring game. The continual harping on by Conservative Members about housing provision, particularly as it obtains in the public sector, which they despise, amounts to a cruel deception perpetrated on homeless families and others seeking decent accommodation. Even if Newcastle council were able to let every empty house tomorrow, there would still be 10,000 or more people on the waiting list. That applies in other boroughs, particularly in Wandsworth.
The answers to the housing crisis are to build and modernise more houses at rents and prices that people can afford, but the Government have done the opposite. They have severely cut the amounts that local councils are allowed to spend on housing, and now, in their 43rd local government Bill, they propose to attempt to channel public money into providing private rented properties. Ministers refer to the right to rent. That does not mean the right of tenants to rent property, but the right of landlords to rent property to tenants at massive profits.
The Government completely ignore the fact that the private rented sector — the absentee landlords, the Rachmans of this world — created the terrible slum conditions that Labour councils such as Newcastle and Gateshead cleared away to provide decent homes with modern facilities. That is, of course, with the exception of system-built communal properties forced on local authorities by central Government in the 1950s and 1960s, many of which are now completely discredited for the damp, dreary places that they turned out to be. That is another problem that plagues inner cities which councils wish to tackle but cannot tackle at anything like the necessary rate. Despite the difficulties, some local authorities such as Newcastle and Gateshead are tackling the problems of such developments, and in some case are removing them altogether, which is often the only suitable treatment for them.
If local authorities were free to get on with the job that they were elected to do, even with all the difficulties, they would have a much greater impact on the problem than they do at present because of the straitjacket into which the Government have placed them. The City of Newcastle has demonstrated that it can do that. It has been acknowledged, even by Ministers, as having the right approach to the problems. A recent report made certain observations. It referred to the past heavy investment in the city. It went on to state:This has not been without its cost and high rates and debt charges will be a burden to be carried into the next century.That aspect of local government life today has often been mentioned in the Chamber. The report also states:Had this not been done its position today"—in the city, that is—would be grave indeed.
The report recognises what the city council is about. It goes on to say:There is little evidence of political extremism, right or left wing, in the official political arena…although fundamental disagreement on policies inevitably exists, the interests of the City and its people remain the priority. Many other authorities would do well to consider the success of moderate politics.The report goes on: 1164If the Conservative Government remains in office, then the structure and service of Newcastle city council may have to severely alter if it is to remain intact.
The funding available through the Inner City Partnership has been used more effectively in Newcastle than appears to be the case elsewhere. The environment creates an image of stability which would impress prospective investors in the City.
The enthusiasm and determination of the local authority workers and officers give grounds for optimism." My final quotation from this document is this:There is more to this City than meets the eye, and we feel confident that its present difficulties will be overcome.Hon. Members may wonder from which report I am quoting. Is it a document produced by Labour party sympathisers or by trendy "Leftie" students? No, the report from which I have read extracts is the report of the Police Staff College's senior command course that visited the city of Newcastle less than 12 months ago.
I do not say that all the inner city problems have been caused by this Government. However, their policies have worsened and aggravated them. Those problems could have been eased, if not completely resolved. The Government's attacks, amounting to a virtual vendetta on local authorities, have prevented the bodies that could have tackled the problems from doing so effectively.
There are those who say that to make meaningful progress, to arrest the decline and to revive the inner cities means that Government policy will have to change. Most thinking people, as we shall soon see, know that what is really needed is a change of Government. That is what they will have, and the sooner the better.
§ Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)
Like his hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) has displayed an attitude of mind that makes the wording of the motion a mistake. We could be discussing the inner cities on a much better motion. I shall return to that point later. Most hon. Members who have been considering this problem for some time will recollect that if, as the hon. Member for Tooting suggested, one takes the year 2,000—13 years hence—and then projects 13 years back to 1974, most of us were then taking part in similar discussions making similar analyses and writing similar pamphlets about the questions that were then facing the inner cities. It does not matter whether it is the Audit Commission, the Archbishop of Canterbury's report or that of the Manchester chamber of commerce; they all make the same analysis and come up with a similar list of problems.
We know that there has been a change in the industrial structure of the inner cities and that transport changes have affected the inner cities. People have moved out to the greener pastures of the suburbs. We know also that there has been an erosion of the rate base. All these problems have created the doughnut effect in the inner cities. That is not unique to this country. We have drawn on the experience of the United States and other countries which face similar problems.
Unlike the speeches of the hon. Members for Tooting and for Tyne Bridge, this motion is depressing because the problem has been placed in the context of a party political ding-dong. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge smiles, but let me deal with what I believe to be a very important point. If one considers what has happened during the last 1165 10 years or so to inner city policies one realises that most of the new initiatives have tried to achieve two objectives. They have tried to isolate as far as possible the practical activities that are designed to help the people who live in the inner cities from the cut and thrust of political ideology. They have also tried to involve private capital and voluntary as well as political bodies. The objective has been to initiate united and continuous activities. That is the first and most important lesson that we should learn about the inner cities. It is no use continuously analysing the problem and coming up with new proposals. It is important that those who are involved with the problems should be able to rely upon a continuity of activities.
Secondly, we now realise that the problems involved will cost a great deal of money to solve but that sums of money are not necessarily the only answer to them and that very large sums of money can be very unwisely spent and produce undesirable consequences. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge referred to the housing developments of the 1950s and 1960s. He should not try to rewrite history and suggest that those developments were suddenly imposed upon councils. A certain attitude of mind pervaded local councils just as much as it pervaded the attitude of central Government. Many of the problems that arose from the planning to which my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre) referred were in the minds of all those who were involved. Huge sums of money were spent on estates that are now the slums of our modern towns. Very large sums of money will be needed to put right those problems.
Apart from asking whether the money is there, we have to ask whether it is being spent wisely and in the light of experience. There has been a very great increase in the amount of money that is spent upon the urban development programme while this Government have been in power. That is quite different from the argument about the general funding of local government which affects the inner cities and the shire counties and other areas. Urban programme money is specifically targeted on the problems that face the inner cities, and it is that money to which we have to address our minds.
We have learnt that by means of the urban development programmes we can bring together both private and public money. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said that the docklands development is attracting a 6:1 ratio of private and public money. That is an excellent development. The Americans were there before us; they have been developing these schemes with great success. There has been a similar scheme in Liverpool. I am very pleased that the Government have introduced such a scheme in Trafford. I wish it well—as, indeed, do all the political parties.
What do we learn from all this activity? We learn not that we need to go round and round the same course arguing whether this party did this and whether another party did the other. Of course there are strong political divides. In her excellent maiden speech the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) referred to the Inner London education authority. ILEA's policies are causing great problems that are having an effect upon the training of young people and therefore on the possibility of their obtaining jobs. That tough political issue will have to be fought out. There will be arguments as to whether or not it is better for council services to be privatised or to be run by local councils. I am not suggesting naively that we can pretend that these political issues will not divide us, but we 1166 have demonstrated that it is possible to deal together with some of the practical issues. The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge referred to Newcastle. That is a perfect example of people of different political persuasions working together to produce what I might describe as an insulated activity so that an attack on a particular problem is successful and can be made to last from one generation to another. It will take a very long time to overcome these problems.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) referred to new problems that affect London but not Manchester. Those problems are caused by a city that is over expanding and therefore suffering the penalty of too much money being sucked in. New problems will have to be tackled in the same way.
I hope that it will be possible for us gradually to achieve a common policy which can be accepted, even if it means compromises. I shall give an example. There is no doubt that housing is one of the key problems in the inner cities. Everyone's analysis agrees, and we have reports coming out of our ears. We know that one problem is how to find rented accommodation which is at a reasonable price, in a reasonable state and is freely available, so that people are not on a waiting list, do not have to join a queue and go through the paraphernalia of the points system of a local authority housing department—in other words, a fluid, free and active private rented sector.
The hon. Member for Tyne Bridge said that many private houses are empty. Of course they are. It is difficult to persuade people in Manchester if a property comes on the market to keep it as rented accommodation and not to sell it off into private ownership. But there will never be reform unless people feel sufficiently confident that, if there is a change of Government, their reform will continue. There must be a means whereby parties come together in a compromise to provide stability in central areas. Unless that is done, there will not be the investment and change that will open the way to people having a housing choice.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one way to ensure stability in local government arid balanced views is to make sure that there is proper, fair and stable representation of those views on local authorities? The present unrepresentative electoral system completely distorts that. There is a swing from one end to the other, which does not reflect the voters' change of opinion or real opinion. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that reform would help enormously in political terms to achieve what he wants?
§ Mr. Silvester
I might or might not agree on another occasion, but that is irrelevant to this matter.
§ Mr. Silvester
With respect, it is. If we are to throw into the pot all our particular political desires, we shall never get anywhere. It is possible under the present system, irrespective of changing the voting mechanisms, for people of good will and with a wide range of political attitudes to get together and adopt practical policies to solve these problems. We do not have to dig this matter up continuously, to reinvent the wheel or to find new policies and ideas. They are all lying around waiting to be picked up. There is plenty of money in different pots of gold all over the place and different forms of finance are available to back different schemes. There needs to be an effort of 1167 will by politicians of all parties to regard this not as an ideological but a practical matter and to tackle the problems through a joint effort.
§ Mr. Reg Freeson (Brent, East)
I agree with the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) that we do not have to reinvent the wheel or to continue digging up the problem, holding it up and analysing it, or whatever metaphor one chooses. With respect, the hon. Gentleman was being a little too bland. He said that, if only we all agreed, things would happen. I am not saying this in a party sense. I hope that, whatever I have to say about the Government, it will not be said that I do so simply because I am a Labour Member. Over the period to which the hon. Gentleman referred that is exactly what has been going on in central Government. It is a mixture of ignoring initiatives which have already been set in train and starting other hares running and of letting any sense of urgency disappear as soon as it appears.
I should like to go back just 16 months to our debate on 23 October 1985, following the horrifying "Urban Disturbances", as the debate's heading called them, in Tottenham and Handsworth. Those disturbances had followed earlier riots in 1981 in Brixton and Liverpool. Apart from Belfast they were the only riots of this kind that this country has experienced since the Gordon riots and hunger riots of the early to mid-Victorian period. Those riots shocked us, but already they seem to be a faint memory at the back of our minds. I should like to quote the comments of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who led the debate for the Government. I shall forbear to comment on the speech of the Minister who replied. I think that our memory is clear on the quality of that speech. The amendment moved by the Home Secretary said that Her Majesty's Government have acommitment to early effective action in the light of the recent urban disturbances.The Home Secretary said that the disturbances had been "shocking events." He went on to say:It is no good responding to them simply by the wringing of hands. We have to learn the right lessons from what has happened and to act on those lessons.He spoke of theresponsibility on the Government to shape policies that are calculated to avert disasters of this kind.The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Opposition's desire for greater public spending in the inner city areas and our complaints on that occasion, as on many other occasions, about various cuts that had been imposed on expenditure in the urban areas. He went on, quite properly, to say:one has to be sure that the money already spent is going to the right places and that we have the right machinery for distributing it…that is why we must ensure that the resources are properly targeted.He also said thatlocal government spending is not targeted on specific and pressing need, such as the urban crisis."—[Official Report, 23 October 1985; Vol. 84, c. 354–56.]Why do I pick on those phrases 16 months later? I pick on them in order to make one central point which has two or three aspects.
1168 The hon. Member for Withington was right to refer back to the time when various initiatives took place. One can refer to studies that were put in hand in the 1960s. For example, there was one in Oldham which was mentioned earlier. There were the six town studies. In the late 1960s the late right hon. Anthony Greenwood, the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, who was a member of the Government at that time, announced the central Lancashire new town. There was concern about the impact that that new town would have on the industrial urban areas of the smaller townships nearby. A special study, a very good one, was established to try to understand what needed to be done economically, socially and in the areas of planning, environment and transport in the network of the towns that would be affected by the creation of that new-old town corporation, which is what the CLNT was, unlike most others. It was a combination of new town and old town renewal.
There were the inner city studies, which I chaired for three years, in Liverpool, Birmingham and Lambeth. In the wake of those studies and other examinations of the subject the inner city White Paper was produced in 1977. In my view, moderate initiatives were taken. I was responsible for them at the time but I felt that they were too moderate. I would like to have been far more radical but that is for another debate or seminar. Those moderate initiatives were taken with the dynamic view that if we could create what we called the partnership machinery in some cities and the programme authority machinery as we called it in others, we would begin to reshape local government and central Government methods in the direction later recommended by Lord Scarman.
After the 1981 riots, Lord Scarman produced a report, which dealt mostly with policing matters, but he made strong recommendations. He made an urgent plea for greater integration, co-ordination, unification of action by central Government and local government and other institutions to be drawn into a partnership to renew areas and neighbourhoods physically, socially and economically and to recreate and re-enhance community — however we may define that term—relationships. The partnership and programme authority initiatives of a few years earlier had been the beginnings of that, however inadequate. Various studies were made within those partnerships of how it could be developed.
I tabled a question to the Prime Minister recently. It was neutral and not asked in a partisan way. I askedif she will describe the duties of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Employment relating to the implementation of Government policies concerned with the regeneration of the inner cities."—[Official Report, 15 January 1987; Vol. 108, c. 273.]There was a reason why I tabled that question, which is relevant to my point. Both politically and from my contact with and knowledge about people who are deeply concerned and involved with the public and private sectors in inner city matters, such as regeneration, I knew that there was a growing sense of confusion and incoherence in Government policy and practice. So I asked that question to try to obtain clarification. I shall not go through the whole answer. Hon. Members can refer to it. The implications are more serious than what is in the text. They are that there is little general co-ordination policy, and I suspect that there is serious incoherence of policy and a good deal of competition between Departments.
1169 One of the interesting things was the omission from the answer of a reference to the partnership and the programme authorities as coming within the oversight of the Department of the Environment. A junior Minister from that Department is here today. That is not just a matter of insignificant concern. It is significant in this respect. However inadequately they may be operated, as I believe to he the case, at least in theory the shadow of those partnerships remains. They are still identified. They are still the source for directing certain urban grant facilities, allocations, and so on. The same goes for the programme authorities, which were added to a year or 18 months ago. Yet, in describing those activities, the Prime Minister does not even mention what were originally, in the wake of the inner city White Paper, the beginnings of integration, co-ordination and coherence.
§ Mr. Steen
Can the right hon. Gentleman cast his mind back to February 1974? The then Labour Administration identified the problem of co-ordination of inner cities and appointed a Minister specifically with responsibility for the co-ordination of urban problems, but that disappeared without trace six months later. Clearly, the Labour Administration concluded that co-ordination at ministerial level would not solve the problem.
§ Mr. Freeson
With respect, the hon. Gentleman was not listening carefully enough to what I said. I was not suggesting that one Minister could co-ordinate all that I was talking about. I was referring to the machinery and using the word that the Home Secretary used in the debate 16 months ago. I recall that clearly. For about eight or nine months in the short Parliament in 1974 there was a Minister of State or Parliamentary Under-Secretary—I cannot remember which—responsible for urban affairs, who was one of our colleagues from Manchester. He worked closely with me for those nine months before the second general election. When the Government were reformed in 1974, all those responsibilities came to me. I took over the chair of the inner city studies and various other matters, so the responsiblity was not lost. There was nothing significant about the change. I believe that there is a strong case for a Minister with specific responsibility for urban renewal action.
I should like to refer to two or three areas where the Government are failing. I would say the same of any Government, if necessary, but it is this Government to whom we have to relate. There is incoherence and competition between Departments. We do not know whether the Paymaster General, the noble Lord Young or the Secretary of State for the Environment is taking the lead. No one in the Government knows who is taking the lead overall in urban regeneration policy and action. That is quite clearly on the record, no matter what the Minister may say today.
Several initiatives—for example, the urban regeneration grant—have been announced with fanfares, and I welcome those. However, it is clear from anyone who has contact with the Department of the Environment that the Department does not know what is happening and I suspect that Ministers are having to be re-educated by people in the Department who are in touch with people outside as to how the grant should operate. That grant is a very important part of the Housing and Planning Act 1986 and I wholly welcome it. I understood that that grant 1170 was supposed to apply to an area or neighbourhood approach by the private sector in conjunction with local authorities as part of the planning operation.
There is a case for co-ordination, and ministerial co-ordination. However, that should not be dressage at the top with a Minister given a specific title. There is a financial and administrative need to pull the threads together between the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Health and Social Security, the Department of the Environment, the Department of Employment, the Department of Trade and Industry and the various agencies for which they are responsible—the English Industrial Estates, the various health authorities, and agencies such as the Manpower Services Commission. There is a need to co-ordinate those bodies, to get them active, and to integrate them in a team-like fashion.
The nearest that we have come to that approach so far is the much-vaunted so-called city action teams, and subsequently the task forces. It would take too long for me to recount what some of us know is happening about the city action teams and the task forces. I do not intend any disrespect, but the city action teams consist of a number of civil servants who meet once a month to exchange ideas. There are supposedly eight task forces, although I do not suppose that more than two are doing anything, and the others, by their structure, are incapable of action although they have been running for months. That does not mean that they should not exist; it means that they are not operating. An important central reason why these initiatives are not operating is that they are not coherently conceived. They relate to tiny areas, they operate in different directions and they are responsible to different Ministers. What happens at the top, at Prime Ministerial level, I just do not know.
I was not going to make this kind of speech in this fashion although I intended to concentrate on this theme of the need for co-ordination, coherence and a neighbourhood approach because it is important. There are regional and planning strategy dimensions to the problem, yet those dimensions have been broken apart and thrown away in the past few years.
There is a need for a sense of direction and concentration. We have not had any riots for the past 18 months or so, but it does not follow that they cannot and will not happen again. Even if the riots do not take place, that does not mean that the social, environmental, economic and physical malaise of the inner cities does not exist.
I want to refer very quickly to other examples before I finish because they are all relevant. There has been a massive withdrawal of funding to the inner cities and urban areas. In the past few years about £3,000 million of resources have been withdrawn from the rate support grant. There has been a withdrawal of investment programmes. The public housing programme has been cut by about 40 per cent., or perhaps more. Even with the increases that were announced not so long ago, the Housing Corporation—the housing association movement — is operating at half the level of production in 1979. Then it was nearly 40,000 dwellings a year; now it is about 18,000 to 20,000, mostly in the inner cities.
I accept the point that is frequently made—I have made it myself in the past — that providing massive resources is not the only answer. But without them there can be no answer. We cannot cut housing programmes and then complain when hundreds of thousands of houses and 1171 left unnecessarily empty. They are unnecessarily empty because the local authorities do not have the resources to put them right. The fact that administration at local level is not always as it should be—that is not the general case, although there are some examples — does not answer the first point. Even if the authorities were the most efficient in the world, they would still need more resources.
I agree entirely with those who say that public money is not the only answer and that we should bring in other resources. I started to deal with the problem when I was in Government, and I have tried to do so as a Back-Bench Member who is interested in such matters since I left office. Several of us have been working on the problem. I am responding in this way because, on 5 February, an announcement made by the Minister for Housing, Construction and Urban Affairs effectively put at risk £500 million worth of private money—not even levered money—in housing investment initiated by the local authorities, housing associations and financial institutions, both national and in the Eurobond market. Those schemes have been cancelled, and the fact that the Local Government Bill, which had a Second Reading a couple of days ago, will require the Government's consent for each joint scheme of guarantees by local authorities for private funding will ensure that most of them will not go ahead.
I could give other examples where we need a joint institutional approach between the public and the private sectors. It does not matter whether we have an urban renewal agency, an urban development corporation, a Birmingham-type scheme or a Newcastle-type-scheme. There are variations on the theme. Some people used to call it the new town approach in the old town. It must be a co-operative approach. Whatever machinery we might construct to fit the different areas, and whatever we call the schemes, they will not be helped by a lack of Government action. The Government must support such an approach to urban regeneration because it will provide lessons for our other cities and suburbs.
I ask hon. Members and others, whatever our differences on other matters, who want a coherent, continual evolution and development of the approach for which Lord Scarman called, not to throw party policial bricks at local authorities or at the Opposition. They must challenge the Government of the day, whatever their political nature, on what they are doing to give substance to the ideas that I have mentioned. We want the economic, environmental and social renewal of neighbourhoods. That is long overdue.
I should like to make just one more quotation:Urban regeneration is our most urgent and challenging task. The hearts of our cities are sick. If something is not done soon in Government and local government and in other institutions to cure that sickness, the whole of our society will become ill.That is the opening paragraph of a report that I presented to the late Tony Greenwood just before the 1970 general election. I advocated and described action which could be taken. Just as I have argued today, I suggested a coherent urban renewal policy — an urban renewal agency approach. Worse will befall us unless we take such action. Seventeen years have elapsed since I made that report. People of all parties and of no party are still waiting for 1172 and advocating a coherent policy of urban regeneration which should be implemented at Government and local level.
§ Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) for raising this issue, and I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate him on at last arriving at the Bench appropriate for him.
The hon. Gentleman is an old friend. I represented his constituency on the Greater London council and his constituency borders mine in Lambeth. He mentioned some of the problems that he experiences in Wandsworth. If the Boundary Commission announced that my constituency was not longer in Lambeth but had been moved to Wandsworth, the singing and dancing in the streets would go on for days. There would be a party such as has not been seen for a long time. The problems in Lambeth are far worse than those in Wandsworth.
I want to take this opportunity to speak about one issue which is a scandal and is oppressing people in my constituency and the rest of Lambeth. It is the conduct of the direct labour organisation run by the directorate of construction services of Lambeth council.
Lambeth council seems to be ideologically committed to using direct labour. On 18 February, I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State whether he would take any further action against loss-making local authority direct labour organisations. He replied that he had asked two councils to submit special reports on their DLOs. The first was Lambeth borough council, the DLO of which lost some £1.4 million on major new building work in the three years 1982–83 to 1984–85 and which had still not produced figures for 1985–86 although they should have been submitted no later than 30 September 1986.
I know very well why those figures have not been submitted because I have them here. I have an appendix which was attached to the papers for a directorate of construction services committee meeting on 23 September 1986. The appendix is headed, "Costs to date of completed schemes." There are 22 schemes on the list and columns of figure running across the page. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) has seen these figures. If he has not he will be interested in what I am about to say. At the bottom are the totals of the 22 schemes. The left-hand bottom total is the "tender value"—that is, the total value of the tenders that the direct labour organisation put in for the 22 schemes-which is £28.2 million. However, the next column shows that the costs to date are not £28.2 millon but £50.7 million. The DLO has overrun on its tendering by £22 million, which is just under 50 per cent.
How can that have happened? The only conclusion to which I can come is that, as it has to put work out for public tender, when the tenders come in, whatever the lowest tender from a private company, the DLO then puts in a lower tender and gets the job, with no hope, intention or purpose of completing it at the value of the tender. Otherwise, how can it have tendered for jobs at £28.2 million that cost £50.7 million? If my supposition is correct, this is illegal. It is fraudulent, and against the Government's legislation.
However, this is only a small part of the problem. I can go on. The next column to the right on this sheet is headed "valuation to date". This is what the district valuer judges 1173 should be the cost of the work done on these 22 sites. He goes round looking at the work, and makes a list of what each site should have cost. Of the £50 million spent, he estimates that the work done should not have cost more than £35.2 million. That is a £15 million loss, which is 30 per cent. of the total spent. No wonder that Lambeth has not put in figures to the Department of the Environment.
The next column shows that the directorate of construction services, which runs the DLO, does not agree in every case with the district valuer. It has made its own valuations. Its estimate is that the district valuer has been a bit mean in saying that the work done is worth only £35 million, and states that it is worth £40.6 million. If it is right, the loss is not £15 million but only some £10 million. Whatever estimate one accepts, the ratepayers, taxpayers and citizens of Lambeth have lost not less than £10 million and probably not more than £15 million, or somewhere between the two, through inefficiency, and perhaps through more serious charges which one day may be laid.
§ Mr. Shelton
The explanation is the inefficiency, lack of value for money, or worse. The hon. Member for Tooting spoke about funding. Of course we need funding in Lambeth, and substantial funding, although we have the highest HIP allocation of any inner London borough, but it is no good putting in money when there are such scandals as this run by Lambeth council.
With housing repairs, there is another wretched scandal. The Lambeth DLO spends about £20 million a year on repairs to council houses. These repairs are priced according to a "schedule of rates" for each job. In other words, windows cost so much, a new door knob costs so much, and a new door costs so much, and the DLO then charges the housing authority, which is itself short of money. The charges in this schedule of rates are set each year by putting out each job for competitive tender. That is fine, super, well done. However, the catch is that the only companies asked to tender competitively are those which are subcontracted by the DLO to do the jobs. Rumour has it—I shall say no more than that—that the prices in the schedule are one third to one half higher for each specific job than they would be if the jobs were offered genuinely on the open market. As a consequence, of the £20 million spent on housing repairs by the DLO, tenants are getting only £10 million to £15 million worth of value—another loss for the citizens of Lambeth.
As I have said, Lambeth council is ideologically bound to use its direct labour organisation, but at what a cost! However, if we look more closely, we find that it is not bound in that way; it is just another bit of wretched old hypocrisy, because, although the DLO gets a contract, it subscontracts much of the work to private companies. What is more, a small handful of private companies are involved, and one is a rather mysterious company called Ardmore Constructions.
§ Mr. Shelton
No, I will not—not even in the House. The contract for the Unigate site in my constituency was won by the DLO with a tender of £4.3 million and it cost £8.1 million. That is typical. The value of the work done 1174 was £6.6 million, giving a loss of £1.5 million. Nearly 50 per cent. of the work done on that site was carried out by subcontractors, who were subcontracted by the direct labour organisation. The Rowton House site was bought by Lambeth with Government funding. It was reconditioned using Government money under a tender contract won by the direct labour organisation. All the work on that site was carried out by Ardmore Constructions for £900,000. The DLO charged the Government £1 million and, presumably, made a profit of £100,000.
The head of the construction services department, which is in charge of the DLO, recently left Lambeth council. I understand that he was given glowing references and a golden handshake of £15,000. Clearly, therefore, he was not at fault in the scandal that I am describing. I do not know whether what has gone on in Lambeth DLO is typical of what goes on in other inner cities.
§ Mr. John Fraser
I hope that the hon. Gentleman recognises that there is a good deal of concern among members of the Labour group on Lambeth council about some of those matters, and that they are about to set up an inquiry into the direct labour organisation.
§ Mr. Shelton
I know that, but I suspect that the hon. Gentleman was not entirely aware of what was going on. By looking closely at some of the figures that I have quoted, he will see what I mean. When Lambeth pleads poverty, we should tell it to put its house in order. For the sake of my constituents, I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to use his powers to direct Lambeth council to cease to undertake any further construction or maintenace work by its direct labour organisation.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
I am grateful for the opportunity to debate again a subject that is of the greatest national concern. If our cities, especially our inner cities, are not places of prosperity and harmony, that shows that our society is not a place of prosperity and harmony.
It is inevitable, as in every country, that a vast portion of the population will live in urban areas. It is inevitable also that suburban areas will be relatively the more affluent areas of our cities. The tragedy is—I say this to the Minister, a suburban Member, from my position as an inner urban area Member—that the greatest indictment of the Government is the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots since the Government came to office in 1979. That is clearly the position across the entire range of social and urban policy. The concentration of the have-nots in the inner city areas is greater than ever before.
The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), my political neighbour, has with him, as I have with me, a copy of our local Friday morning weekly newspaper, the South London Press. I shall quote from an article about a development in my constituency. It reads:The white structure on the left"—there is a picture of a building that hon. Members may know, the old Courage Anchor brewery site near Tower bridge, a fine landmark on the riverside—will eventually be what developers have labelled 'the ultimate penthouse in London'—at a cost of £2.5 million.It is thought it will be the most expensive flat south of the river.The luxury four-storey Dockland flat is to be the centrepiece of the massive Anchor Brewery development next to Tower Bridge, Bermondsey…1175The price tag is £1.5 million more than the previous most expensive flat in the area — the unsold penthouse in the brewery's boilerhouse.Both flats form part of a complex being built by property developers Anchor Brewhouse Development.The company has already built 35 flats in the boilerhouse, and all except the £1 million penthouse have been sold at prices ranging from £170,000 to £295,000.The next phase will see the development of the brewhouse and malt mill into flats ranging from £280,000 to £2.5 million.The final paragraph of the article is just as telling. It states:The development has been criticised by council tenants in the area.Greg Mulligan, 29, who lives in Devon Mansions, Tooley Street, said, 'It reflects an imbalance between people. This area needs more money spent on it but it needs to be spent in a fairer way.'No one denies that we need investment policies, but the question that we must face is, "What is the best way to invest to obtain the best, fairest and most appropriate regeneration of our inner cities?"
From my constituency experience, there is a telling sign of the right answer. Eastwards, down river from the development to which I have referred, there was developed a couple of years ago within the New Concordia wharf a new block of flats. These flats were not quite so expensive as those that will be part of the new Anchor Brewery development but they were in the £100,000-plus bracket. The other day the local community learnt that on a further neighbouring site, Jacobs island, where historically Bill Sykes was hanged and other interesting things happened, there are plans for the construction of a 220 ft high tower block comprising about 400 luxury flats. The council tenants of neighbouring estates are not the only people who have objected. Objections were also expressed by those living in the £220,000 private flats that have only recently been built. They said that it would be highly inappropriate to have a massive private development that would be out of keeping with the local community on the riverside.
Much more appropriate is the sort of development that is referred to elsewhere in the same issue of the South London Press, which would produce 600 rented housing association properties on the site near to the Bricklayers Arms, which is more or less outside my front door. That would be much more appropriate than the alternative private sale developments that we find in the inner city.
Housing is one of the areas where investment has gone wrong. It is crazy to say that all is well in the development of the docklands when it is "well" particularly and especially for those who can pay, but not "equally well" for those who equally, and desperately, need housing but have little to spend. If the latter wish to rent, the proportion of rented housing is small, and if they want to buy the chance of their being able to afford to do so is also small.
The Minister has young children. As he can well imagine, young couples come to advice centres such as mine every week saying "We want to buy. We want to stay and have our children here and contribute to the inner city". However, such people obviously cannot afford the prices now required for inner city developments. The balance is wrong, even allowing for some of the shared ownership schemes. There are a few cheap housing 1176 developments, but, overall, the balance is wrong and that distorts the type of development that we need in our inner cities.
The responsibility must rest partly, though not entirely, with the Government because they set the mood and define the parameters and objectives. When criticisms are made of local authorities—many are perfectly valid—there are often criticisms of the Government too, to which they do not respond.
I should like to ask the Minister one specific question about housing. On 10 December, the Home Affairs Select Committee, which, as the Minister well knows, is an all-party Committee recommended to the Government thatTower Hamlets' HIP allocation be significantly increased, to at least the extent needed to prevent further deterioration in housing conditions in the borough.The Committee stated:Special assistance to a particular local authority is not something this Committee suggests lightly, but we see three compelling reasons for itClearly I have an interest in the borough because my colleagues took over the administration last May. The Committee further stated:There is good evidence however that management failings are being rectifiedand things are generally improving. The borough has a massive housing problem, primarily caused by a massive influx of Bangladeshi families, larger than has been seen by any other local authority in Britain. Only the Government have the resources to respond. I should be grateful if the Minister could advise us whether that borough, which has been the subject of particular housing need, is one of the places in which, in the coming year, the Government will provide some extra resources to alleviate the problems involved.
The tragedy is that three of the key elements crucial to the regeneration of the inner city are areas of public policy in which Government investment has declined. Although Government investment may be only a lever, if the amount of that investment is reduced, the amount of leverage is also reduced. The three greatest losers in terms of public expenditure since 1979 have been transport, education and science but, most of all, housing. Unless the Government reverse that trend, they should not be surprised that they are indicted for having the worst record for education and science—they have, for example, the lowest take-up rate for higher education — and the greatest crisis in homelessness and bad housing of any of their European partners. The Government must respond, but so far they have not.
A second example is that of jobs. I looked at the list of south London constituencies and their rates of unemployment. In Surbiton, the Minister has the lowest at 5 per cent. Mine is one of the highest at 20 per cent., and if one takes the rate for men only it goes up to nearly 30 per cent. If we are to get people back to work in the inner areas, we must recognise and act on this list. The Government recognised it in part through the creation of the London Docklands Development Corporation, but that has not yet done anything to match the employment needs of the inner London work force. Most of the jobs there are not being taken up by people living locally, who have trained locally and learnt their skills locally.
I hope that the Government will begin to recognise the compelling need in all London areas — for obvious reasons, I argue especially for inner London—for a co-ordinated development agency for employment. As a 1177 subregion, inner London has the worst employment position of any area in Britain. It is as bad as any in western Europe bar one. It is about time that it was recognised and addressed as a subregional problem with the Government giving particular attention and direction to investment there.
Thirdly, if we are seeking to recreate employment we must do so in the context of partnership. Everyone pays lip service to partnership and all Governments seek to increase it, but the partnership must be not only between the public and private sectors, but with the voluntary caring sector. People are willing to volunteer. There is an enormous amount of community good will. Millions of people are willing to undertake part-time or full-time work for their community.
One major indictment of the Government is that their actions do not match their words. We had arguments about that when the Greater London Council was abolished. The London borough grants scheme was set up to fund voluntary agencies. Even today there is still a battle between the Conservative group and the other groups on that body. The Conservative group is not willing to fund the agencies to the extent to which the agencies say it is necessary to continue. The voluntary sector needs continuity of funding. If that is provided, the reward to society is enormous. The leverage is enormous and relatively little is paid for a great community reward. Law centres are an obvious example. Cutting funding to them is the most short-sighted policy, because when they work they help people to help themselves.
On 17 March the Chancellor of the Exchequer will introduce his Budget. That provides a great opportunity. If he wished, he could start to respond to the national mood. Comfortable, relatively affluent Britain is not saying, "We want great tax cuts please, Oh Chancellor." All the evidence suggests that comfortable Britain is saying, "We are willing to pay our share, Oh Chancellor" and is willing to have an economic strategy which favours those who need economic support and encouragement.
The hon. Member for Norwood said that that was the message from Greenwich. One message from Greenwich was, indeed, that services count and that people value them. The Health Service was the most important issue at Greenwich. The Tory candidate was rejected by a massive number of votes. He saw the greatest depreciation in the Tory vote since Sutton and Cheam in the early 1970s. That was caused partly because the Government do not recognise that adequate public, welfare, community services are fundamentally important. The Government's economic strategy undoubtedly favours disproportionately those in the higher income bracket, who during this Government's term of office have gained an additional 10 per cent. of income while those in the lower income bracket have been penalised to an even greater extent.
The Government have had an enormously good opportunity. In December 1985, the Church produced "Faith in the City", but that report was rubbished before it was published. Since then there has been one meeting between Ministers and the Archbishop of Canterbury and members of the commission. The Government could use the Church as the best moral conscience of the nation. The Church has a tradition of service in the inner cities and must continually engage in dialogue there. I should have thought that the Government could have responded to that experience and commitment.
1178 Will the Minister convey to his colleagues the importance of recognising the moral message on priorities? I ask that senior Cabinet Ministers agree to meet members of the commission and to listen and respond to the points made. As yet, the commission has received only a faltering, partial response from the Government. That must be remedied both nationally and locally. If the President of the United States and the General Secretary of the Communist party of the Soviet Union can negotiate away weapons of destruction across our continent and our world, surely it is possible for the Government to set a national example by trying to solve a problem that is much more manageable—that is, reversing inner city decline.
A moral case is made out every time anybody comments and gives the benefit of their advice to the Government. On a regular basis, the Church have beseeched the Government to respond. It is a social and moral scandal that they do not respond. I hope that compassion as well as sound politics will produce a response for the inner city sooner rather than later. If the Government will take the lead at the national level, perhaps we shall have more community partnership and collaboration at the local level, in parishes and communities in the cities of our land.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on his choice of subject and success in the ballot. I congratulate also the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) on her admirable speech. The hon. Lady succeeds a fine man, and she appears to be worthy of the position.
The motion refers to three aspects — housing, health care and rates. I shall briefly address all three. I shall particularise the London situation, notably Ealing. Ealing is a microcosm of what we can expect if the Labour party is elected to Government.
I note that the main news this morning concerned the leaking of a letter from the Leader of the Opposition complaining about the loony Left and the damage that it causes to the Labour party. I remind the House that only three weeks ago the Leader of the Opposition sent a letter to a resident of Ealing in which he approved of Ealing council's policies. Of course, its policies include the promotion of the teaching of homosexual and lesbian interests, high rates and so on, and they were singled out in the Leader of the Opposition's leaked letter. It is difficult to know where the Leader of the Opposition stands on the matter.
§ Mr. Greenway
As my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) said, the Leader of the Opposition does not know.
In May 1986, Ealing had the lowest rates in west London. Industry was increasingly attracted to the borough. Unemployment in my constituency was 6 per cent. below the national average. The Conservative council brought about a rate reduction of 4 per cent. Less than a year later, the evil hard-Left council imposed a rate increase of no less than 65 per cent. Some call the council loony, but I think it is hard-Left. Some of its actions have have been evil.
§ Mr. Greenway
I suppose all Labour councils are like it.
There has been a 57.5 per cent. increase in the industrial rate. I ask the House to consider the real world—if it is a real world — of loony Left councils under Labour control. I remind the House that domestic rates have gone up from minus 4 per cent. to plus 65 per cent. in less than a year. Council spending has gone up by 80 per cent. We know that its programme will cost an extra 80 per cent. in the coming year. The 15 per cent. not accounted for by the rate increase will be paid for by creative accounting. I understand that the council has been trying to sell the town hall. So far, it has been unsuccessful, but perhaps it will succeed in selling it, leasing it back and doing other extraordinary things.
Creative accounting will put extra rate burdens on my constituents in future. They do not bear the full burden now, but they will do so in future. The problem will be compounded by the fact that they will have to face other bills.
The effect upon industry is devastating. A food firm in my constituency will have a rate rise of £600,650. It will have to increase the price of tea, coffee, porridge, ice cream and the other foods that it produces or make people redundant, or there will have to be a combination of the two. Therefore, people face the prospect of losing their jobs and having to pay more for basic foodstuffs because of the direct actions of the Labour council.
The health aspect was referred to in very strong terms by the hon. Member for Tooting. Ealing hospital will have to pay an additional sum in rates, amounting to £306,000. How will it do it? Will it close wards and sack nurses? What will Ealing council use that money for? It will use it for its own evil purposes.
Another example is a small business man in my constituency, Ian Perryman. He told me last night that the rates on his business would be increased by £5,000. He employs five people, and he told me that there is to be a meeting today to decide which of them is to go.
Other people are affected in many and diverse ways. The Leader of the Opposition will have a rate increase of £337. I nearly said £337,000. I do not know whether he would have noticed the difference, judging by the way the Labour party handles figures. However, £337 is the true figure. This vicious rate increase is hard on everybody, but it is especially hard on the old, the disabled, those on fixed incomes and those who try very hard to manage and will not ask for rate rebates. There are many people like that—and why should they not have their pride? I am not saying that people should not have help if they are entitled to it, but there are those who do not like asking for help and they will struggle rather than ask for help.
Council tenants were told last May that their rents would not be increased if the Labour party won control of Ealing council. I understand that rents are not to be increased, but they will have to find an extra £5 or £6 a week—and some of them will have to find a lot more than that — for the rates element of their weekly payments. They, too, will be very hard hit. All this comes at a time of 4 per cent. inflation and wage increases of about the same level, which is reasonable.
Whatever the Leader of the Opposition may have said last night, the fact is that he supports Ealing council's policies. He said so in a letter that he wrote three weeks ago. What is the money to be spent on? New organisations are to receive £2 million in grants. Debt charges on a £100 1180 million deferred loan payment will build up to £20 million a year after nine years. Furthermore, there are to be 1,225 extra staff, some of whom are said to be Labour councillors from other Labour-controlled councils. They will cost £1.3 million. There is to be a new office block costing £3.1 million a year to house the extra staff. There is also to be an anti-apartheid festival in July that will cost £12,000. A race equality committee that has a campaigning role is to receive £200,000 in subsidies and grants. There are to be women advisers in each department. Some people call them spies. That will cost £200,000. Each committee chairman — they are called "chairs" by the Labour council, but I think that chairs are for sitting upon — is to have a personal assistant and clerical support costing £500,000 a year.
§ Mr. Shelton
Did I hear my hon. Friend correctly? Did he say that the leader of the Opposition had written to someone in Ealing supporting the expenditure by Ealing council?
§ Mr. Greenway
Yes, that is so. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) wrote to the Leader of the Opposition asking him whether he supported Sinn Fein coming to Ealing town hall, the flying of the SWAPO flag over the town hall and the non-flying of the Union Jack on the Queen Mother's birthday. He also asked him whether he supported the council's policy of promoting positive images of homosexuals and gays in schools. The Leader of the Opposition has written to a lady in Acton saying that he supports those policies, so he must take the consequences of his support.
Street cleaning has been de-privatised at a cost of an extra £1 million. Councillors' allowances have been doubled, and they all have free home telephones, Ansafones and electric typewriters. It has been said that some have computers. Those allowances will cost 180,000 a year.
Teaching jobs were advertised in The Guardian at a cost of £5.25 a line, as a way of getting at Mr. Rupert Murdoch instead of in The Times Educational Supplement at a cost of only £2.25. There has been a low response by teachers to The Guardian advertisements.
§ Mr. Greenway
Publicity material to promote the new council will cost £345,000 and there will be 10 public relations officers. A sum of £10,000 has been set apart to build so-called peace parks and another £10,000 is for the celebration of International Women's Day.
§ Mr. Greenway
God knows what it will do.
In addition to all that expenditure, the Labour council has conducted a strenuous nine-month campaign for homosexuality and lesbianism to be taught to children as being as valid as heterosexuality. A senior Labour councillor has said that sexual equality is more important to children in schools than mathematics and English.
§ Mr. Greenway
That councillor forgets about all that. This costs an enormous amount in terms of council 1181 officers' time, not to mention the grants paid to the gay and lesbian working party and its groups. It is sad that the Ealing football club was refused a £100 grant because it could not say that it promoted activities for gays and lesbians.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman recall that during the long discussions and acrimony about the projection of the images of gays and lesbian people in Ealing, a statement was eventually agreed with all parties and church support on the suitable methods of teaching positive images and positive respect for people within schools in the borough of Ealing? Would not the hon. Gentleman be more fair if he gave some credibility to the discussions in which many voluntary organisations and church groups have taken part with the council in agreeing this final statement?
§ Mr. Greenway
The hon. Gentleman is seriously out of date. It is true that the labour council produced a slightly changed form of words, but, according to a senior Labour councillor, the words have changed but nothing else has. the new wording has not been accepted by the Conservative group on the council, although it has been accepted by two of the three Liberals. The Conservative group voted against it. All the parents are against it and the Churches are considering their position. I promoted a conference on the family on St. Valentine's day to put forward the true values of society. The conference was addressed by Cardinal Basil Hume and leaders of the Moslem, Sikh and Hindu religions. To a man they upheld the family. The cardinal made it clear, although he had nothing to do with Ealing council's position, that the teaching of homosexuality is wrong; and so it is. Children from the age of five have been taking home letters about the council's homosexual attitudes. I think that is wrong.
§ Mr. Greenway
Yes, it is wrong.
As the Opposition seem to he so sensitive about this matter, I must mention that gay and lesbian couples are being given housing priority. Think how people who have been on waiting lists for 10 or more years feel.
§ Mr. Greenway
It is absolutely true. Instead of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) sitting there bleating, he should go and find out.
The motion refers to housing, and again I must mention the behaviour of Ealing council on that issue. Last May it inherited from the Conservative council a list of 30 homeless families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation costing £300,000 a year. It immediately abolished residence points which give reasonable priority to people who have lived in the borough for two years or more or who were born and bred there, since when people from all over the country and all over the world have been sucked 1182 into the borough and there are now 500 families on the bed-and-breakfast list. I am told that Ealing is a soft touch. It is encouraging people to declare themselves homeless and it is putting them into bed-and-breakfast accommodation. By April next year it expects to have 1,000 homeless families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation at a cost of £5 million a year.
How that can arise when there were only 30 families on the list in May is beyond comprehension. It is clear that the system is being abused. If one builds on every blade of grass in the London borough of Ealing, proudly known for so long as the queen of the suburbs, one will not rehouse everyone at that rate—[Laughter.] The point is made.
We are in a new planning situation with the relaxation of planning controls in country areas. Therefore, to suck people into the London borough of Ealing, while at the same time destroying jobs, as I have shown, is vicious, wicked and disgraceful, but it is typical of the modern Socialist party.
There is opposition by Labour councillors in Ealing to the development of Osterley park. I know nothing about that development so I shall make no comment upon it. However, those same councillors are seeking to take away Ealing green high school playing fields, which are urgently needed by the children. When I held a meeting to deal with vandalism in a certain area a few weeks ago, a Labour councillor stood up and said how concerned he was about it and how he would ensure that there were better facilities for children. That playing field is just down the road, yet the council proposes to take it away and fill up the area with concrete—without shopping facilities even.
§ Mr. Roger King
Could that have anything to do with the growing belief by many members on the Left of the political spectrum that non-competitive games would not need facilities such as playing fields?
§ Mr. Greenway
My hon. Friend has made an extremely good point.
There is another depressing aspect to the planning attitudes of Ealing council It has bought from an industrialist a five-acre site known as the Sadia site in Northolt where the industrialist was expected to develop jobs. The council is seeking a change of use of the site for housing. It seems to have given up any idea of creating jobs. There is enormous opposition in the local community. I held a public meeting on Monday to which 500 people came, and more were queuing outside who could not get in. That shows the strength of the opposition. However, it remains to be seen whether the council has any democracy left in it to throw out this proposition.
Councils such as Ealing must be rate-capped for the sake of their citizens and industry. We see minimally and at borough level the attitude of the Labour party that we should see nationally if it were to win a general election.
Hoover has been an important employer in the London borough of Ealing for many years. It had to decide whether to keep its headquarters staff of 600 employees after the Labour party won the council election last May. Regrettably, it has decided to move out of Perivale, where it started all those many years ago. I have had many negotiations with parts of the company and with potential employers, one of whom employs people who work in computers. A deal has been successfully negotiated with 1183 him by me. He will retain those employed on the computer side of Hoover — 70 jobs will be kept and 30 added. However, it has not been possible to hold on to some other jobs in view of the heavy rate rise and what lies behind it.
The Ault and Wiborg factory, which employs 220 people, will close for the want of .£1.25 million support, which the council refused to give.
Having set up an Ealing enterprise agency to bring jobs into the borough, having striven in every way that I can to hold on to jobs, create more and suck more in, at which I was being successful, I wonder what more one can do when faced with the imposition that industry now faces from a Labour council which just does not care about industry, jobs or people.
§ 1.6 pm
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I listened with some surprise and disappointment to the speech of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway). He disappointed me recently. I thought that he had a reputation as a great patriot until I saw him, no doubt financed partly by the Fees Office, driving out of the House of Commons in a new French car. I thought that the hon. Gentleman has a reputation as a Christian until his speech, which went some way towards stigmatising people who have differences, and showed lack of compassion about those who come from overseas. He has given us a list of distortions—
§ Mr. Fraser
We must make our own choices.
The hon. Gentleman gave a list of distortions of the way in which Ealing council had acted. I do not try to get involved in local controversy about local authorities. People vote for them, make a choice of programmes and then live with the programme for which they voted.
Gays and lesbians on the housing list, as in many local authorities, are accorded equal treatment with others on the housing list. Whereas previously they may not have received priority in absolute terms in rehousing, they now receive it. That priority is not accorded over groups with other sexual tendencies. What we had from the hon. Gentleman was a list of abbreviation and distortion intended only to bring the Labour party into disrepute. That was the purpose of his speech. It contained very little—in fact, I would say nothing—that was constructive.
§ Mr. Greenway
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not listen to my speech. If he reads it tomorrow, he will see that I gave solid examples of what the rate increase will mean in terms of extra rates to be paid and the effect on prices and jobs. With regard to my Christianity, the hon. Gentleman might like to know that I was putting a point of view as a Christian which His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster put only a few weeks ago. The hon. Gentleman may know better, but I am not sure that he does. I have never attacked people from overseas, and never will. If I drive a French car occasionally, I think that the hon. Gentleman may have done so himself.
§ Mr. Fraser
The hon. Gentleman also failed to point out that one of the reasons why an increase in expenditure by local authorities has such a sharp effect is the crazy, lunatic rate support grant system, which means that the 1184 more a local authority devotes to the service of its citizens and the more services it delivers, the more grant is withdrawn by the Government. That is one of the reasons why what are called the "slopes" tend to emphasise and exaggerate so greatly the increases in expenditure adopted by local authorities.
Having started on a tart and angry note, I should proceed to two notes of congratulation. First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) not merely on his good fortune in the ballot but on choosing a subject of such importance. Secondly, I associate myself with the congratulations extended to the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) on her clarity, confidence and sincerity. I will not disguise the fact that we were disappointed not to win Greenwich, but we agree very much with what she said in her tribute to the former Member for Greenwich, Mr. Guy Barnett. I spent many nights, some cold, some rainy, and some uncomfortable, trying to ensure that the hon. Lady did not get into the House. However, I will not let that rob her of the accolade that she deserves for her speech today.
The main subject of the debate is the inner city problem. It is not simply a problem; it is a fearsome combination of factors, and I mean "fearsome" metaphorically as well as literally. If a man or a woman suffered from 10 or 12 diseases or disabilities, we would regard him or her as being severely and impossibly afflicted. However, that is exactly what has happened to many of our large city areas. Indeed, like the biblical plagues that afflicted Eygpt, the inner cities and the outer estates to which some hon. Members have referred have suffered concurrent and consecutive social and economic plagues. However, I emphasise that the same combination of factors does not affect all of our inner city areas. It would be wrong to impose a single solution on any particular inner city area. There is a multiplicity of afflictions.
I want to begin by considering the Department of the Environment's indices of deprivation. I would not necessarily choose the same set of indices of deprivation. Several hon. Members have referred to unemployment. According to the indices, there is typically 25 per cent. male unemployment. However, the figure is considerably worse among school leavers. According to the Audit Commission report, the figures for London show :Unemployment is relatively high, particularly among young people. In October 1986 … 34 per cent. of all men age 20–24 were registered as unemployed (the figure was 46 per cent. in Hackney and 44 per cent. for Lambeth); for young people of Afro-Caribbean origin, the figure is likely to be higher still — in 1984 the unemployment rate among West Indians was double that for Greater London as a whole.There is an affliction of unemployment particularly among school leavers. Using the same month as that used by the Audit Commission, in October 1986 in Lambeth there were 3,500 school and college leavers without work. There were 2,600 out of work in Hackney and 2,300 in Haringey. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting, 1,500 were out of work. To put those figures in context, we should compare them with other boroughs in some cases within only a few miles. The borough of Richmond had only 350 unemployed school and college leavers, and that is only one tenth of the figure in Lambeth. In Sutton, the figure was as low as 250.
The second index of deprivation relates to overcrowding and poor housing conditions. Many of our inner city areas have single parent families. From the indices, Hackney has the highest number of such families and 1185 Lambeth the second highest. It is not simply the fact of being a single parent family that should concern us; rather we should consider the circumstances involved. It is possible to be a single parent and rich and know no deprivation. However, we should be concerned about single parents who are poor, and who live in poor housing conditions with little prospect in the inner cities.
The Audit Commission states :The number of single parent families is high.It is talking about London, but the position is similar elsewhere. It continues:In 1984, 31 per cent. of children were born into single parent families. (The figure was 39 per cent. in Southwark and 42 per cent. in Lambeth.) In 22 per cent.that is, one in five—of the cases, the mother was under 20 years old.That shows the lack of support, the lack of income and the risk that the children of that family will fall into circumstances of multiple deprivation from which it will be extremely difficult to escape.
There is often a high incidence of elderly people living in poverty and a lack of amenities. The Asian and black populations live in the inner city with an inheritance of discrimination, deprivation and an accumulation of redundant skills. They lack the bedrock of traditions and institutions which many other people in the inner city may have. In my constituency, Caribbean groups find it extremely difficult to obtain land on which to build their churches. The others have their bedrock, because they have their buildings, clubs and other institutions, but the ethnic minorities—the majorities in some wards in the inner city—do not have that bedrock on which to build. They are not helped by high land prices.
The inner cities have highly unstable populations. In some wards in my constituency — this is typical of London—there is a 27 per cent. turnover of population in one year. The velocity of population makes the administration of services much more expensive and difficult. Although I do not excuse the inefficiences and delays in paying housing benefit—if an authority cares for the poor it should pay them quickly—one reason why it is so difficult to do these things quickly is the velocity of population and the number of people wishing to move from hard-to-let accommodation and changing private bed-and-breakfast accommodation. The change in population has meant a breakdown not only in local authority services but in Government services. Sometimes the county court administration is in a shambles, as is the administration of single payments by the DHSS. Its offices in Lambeth and Southwark are often closed. The administration of single payments is so far behind that it is often done many miles from the centre of London. The inner cities are a tenure trap for some people and a speedy merry-go-round for others.
There is also the incidence of low skills in the inner cities, and attention must be paid to the need for retraining and skills education. The inner cities are full of contradictions, one of which is that there is often a shortage of people to fill jobs at a time of mass unemployment. The challenge is to match one to the other, although it is not easy when people are trapped in a cycle of deprivation. Poverty and high standards of education do not go together.
I am extremely worried about the fact that, during the past three years, the London Docklands Development Corporation has received £162 million in revenue and 1186 capital grants, yet employment among young people in the area has increased during that period. It must mean a mismatch between the skills that are available and the jobs that have been created by that investment. We must be careful about this. Investment in very high cost housing and inappropriate jobs for the community may make the problem worse. The problem of the inner city is often the contrast between richness and poverty.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
One of the problems is that, when there is an uncontrolled market, there is no chance of the community exercising control over the purchase of local firms. One of the sad tales of dockland development is the number of small firms with small profit margins with pieces of land of massive investment value which have been bought out because they cannot compete and nobody is allowed to intervene on their behalf. As a result, jobs simply disappear.
§ Mr. Fraser
Yes. Despite the fact that many thousands of jobs will come from some of the dockland developments, smaller firms are having to make way For the big bang companies.
I could add other indices to those used by the Department of the Environment. Poverty is one. Some 20 per cent. of London's population is below the poverty line. The proportion is much higher among ethnic minorities and single parents. We have 5,000 homeless families a night in the capital. That is no saving because it costs much more to keep people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation than permanent housing.
It is not sufficiently appreciated how much people in inner cities suffer from poor health. Birmingham, Hackney, Lambeth and Gateshead have perinatal mortality rates which are substantially higher than the national standard of 100. The same is true of mortality rates, especially in northern cities. Birmingham has a standardised mortality ratio of 180 compared with the national standard of 100. The figure for Liverpool is 116, for Manchester 119, for Salford 119 and for Newcastle and Gateshead 111.
There are often poor relations between the police and the community in inner cities. Everybody agrees that people are deeply worried about crime, which is a serious inner-city problem. We have a Government who were elected on a programme of law and order, but there is nothing to show for it.
I am not too fond of the phrase "no go" because it devalues an area and is often not an accurate description. The South London Press said in an article about an estate in Southwark, that it wasboycotted by doctors, social security staff, milkmen, cab drivers. Now the Post Office has taken the unprecedented step of refusing to deliver mail to 500 homes on the estate, following six attacks on postmen this year. Tenants now have to collect mail from the local sorting office.This morning's Daily Mirror tells us that there are areas whereMuggers and burglars are beating law and order on the streets of Thatcher's Britain. And if you want protection, don't expect it from the police.The chilling message from a top Home Office crime expert yesterday to ordinary decent people was: 'You're on your own.' …The report by the top Home Office researcher Mike Hough appears in the prestigious British Journal of Criminology.1187 Its implications are that street crime and mugging will call for even more self-protection instead of protection from a police force which, in London, has been rate-capped, just like local authorities.
One of the problems of the inner city is lack of an agreed set of values. There is sometimes ambiguity about crime and drugs and what is regarded as anti-social behaviour. The inner city is explosive and capable of spontaneous combustion, as we have seen more than once in my constituency. There is a danger of the inner city creating its own self-reinforcing momentum, with its own weather and climate. Last time we had an inner city debate, I gave an example of how this happens. For example, because of high levels of crime, it is difficult to get insurance to run a business. Because of that, there is less business, because of that fewer jobs, so more unemployment, and therefore more crime, and the self-perpetuating spiral continues.
Another example has been highlighted by the Audit Commission. The inner city management of social services, local authority services and central Government services requires extraordinary skills to deal with some of the extraordinary aggravation that one gets, whether with the management of council estates, running of housing authority services or dealing with social work. Social workers are in personal danger.
In such circumstances, one needs outstanding management and outstandingly dedicated and skilled people working in the inner cities, but the problems of the inner city in London and high house prices militate against getting the right kind of management and skilled people working on the ground. In consequence, the quality of the services suffers, and the self-perpetuating momentum continues.
The cycle of decay is immensely difficult to reverse. We should be humbled and sobered by some of the prospects of our inner cities and the difficulty that they have in coping with the problem that has been recognised by all parties and Governments for some years. As the Audit Commission says:This catalogue of problems is so serious as to be difficult to comprehend by those who have never lived in a rundown Inner City area.
At the same time, the inner city has a vigour, even a wealth, and often a variety of opportunities, so one should not conclude on any pessimistic note. Opportunities are there. What we need is the political will to make things happen. There are contradictions, which make the inner city problem even worse and for some people even more offensive. It is offensive that there can be so much bounty and affluence set beside the grossest deprivation. I have to live with such deprivation day in, day out, as do other hon. Members representing inner city constituencies with a shortage of resources, particularly for community housing.
That deprivation does not exist throughout London. Within a brick's throw of some of the bad areas can be affluence. I have here a copy of an article aboutHomes Ahoy at Chelsea Harbour".
The article speaks abouta 20-acre triangle of derelict land owned by British Rail and bounded by the railway, Chelsea Creek and the Thames.That is not unlike some of the areas in Southwark, Lambeth, Manchester, Liverpool and Tyneside.
1188 We are always being told about a shortage of resources, but in this development residential properties will be sold with 125-year leases at prices ranging from £150,000 to about £400,000, with penthouses a bit more expensive, ranging from £500,000 to £750,000. All the houses are spacious, but there are eight particularly large houses planned. They will have four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two reception rooms and 3,000 sq ft of floor space over five storeys. Their price is likely to be in the region of £3 million. In other words, the price of five of those houses will be equal to the entire partnership programme of the London borough of Lambeth. It is certainly much greater than the partnership programmes for Newham or Southwark, because they do not have any.
People were offended to learn just two weeks ago from one of the London evening newspapers that in some parts of London people will pay £35,000 for a garage. We were told by the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson) that it is possible for people to buy homes in London. Apparently all that they will get for £35,000 is a garage. If one looks at the South London Press to find the price of property in docklands, one sees that the cheapest property advertised is a studio flat at £41,500. That is not within the reach of ordinary people in need of housing.
The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) spoke about a £2.5 million penthouse in the middle of an inner city area. It is not that we are jealous or envious, but it is deeply offensive to those who live in the inner city to be told that there is a shortage of resources and that they will have to pull in their belts and stand on their own feet when they are living side by side with the result of extravagant expenditure which does not assist them in any way.
In almost every inner city area there is a backlog of improvements to local authority and private sector homes. Some 10 per cent. of private sector homes in London are unfit for human habitation, and a large number of public sector homes require about £8,000 to be spent on each of them. What has happened to the resources? I have looked at the housing investment programme for next year, but there is no hope at all there.
The borough of Newham, which is deeply afflicted by problems of poverty and inner city deprivation, has had a cut in real terms in its housing investment programme of one fifth. Wandsworth has had a cut of almost one tenth, Haringey a cut of almost one fifth and Hackney, one of the most deprived boroughs in the country, has had a cut of 16 per cent. in its housing investment programme for the year 1986–87 to 1987–88. Since 1976, local authorities in London have suffered a cut in their housing investment programmes of about 62 per cent.
As Socialists, we have a moral and political duty to create equality and access to opportunity for homes and jobs, and we have a duty to eradicate the urban scrap heaps upon which the casualties of change have been flung. On the base of the Statue of Liberty there is a inscription which says :Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."
Inner city policy ought to be about providing the symbols of liberty and emancipation inside the inner city so that the yearning masses of huddled poor do not have to look outside their own area.
What signs of hope and progress can we find? I am sorry to say that hopes are not too high. The report on inner cities by the Audit Commission brings little hope in 1189 describing the conditions. There is no sign that the number of unemployed school leavers is diminishing. Overall, school and college leavers represent about eight in 10 of the unemployed, and in the inner city partnership areas they represent almost 13 people out of every 100 who are unemployed. Even in the last three years for which there are reliable statistics, unemployment in some of the inner city areas is still extremely high. It has risen by almost 2,000 in Hackney since January 1984, by almost 2,000 in Islington, by just over 2,000 in Lambeth, by about 300 in the London docklands, and by about 2,000 in Liverpool. Only a couple of inner city partnership areas show any abatement in unemployment.
There is little hope for those who want to get on with the job of doing something for the inner cities. Every inner city partnership area will find that its inner city partnership moneys will be cut next year when they are compared with the provision that was made for the preceding year. In a letter from the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction I am told thatProvision for the Urban Programme … is a reduction of 1.5 per cent. in real terms.Faced with all the problems that have been canvassed in this debate and in every other inner city debate—there are the undoubted difficulties of unemployment, education, health and housing, for example — we are to experience a cut of 1.5 per cent. in inner city partnership funds for next year.
Following the dissolution of the Greater London council, there has been a cut in the amount of money that local authorities can make available for local initiatives and for the voluntary sector by grants under section 137 of the Local Government Act 1985. Until the dissolution of the GLC, each local authority put 2p in rating terms in the pool, which produced about £38 million in London. that money was used to support various initiatives, especially employment initiatives, and voluntary groups. the GLC was able to put into the pool the same amount as the London boroughs. There has been no increase in the moneys available for the voluntary sector following the GLC's dissolution. Many boroughs are finding that they cannot obtain any more moneys under section 137, even if they are using those moneys to fund schemes that the Government have urged upon them.
What constructive contribution can we make? Obviously we must tackle — I know that this is easier said that done—poverty and unemployment, which I believe to be the root causes of the problem. One sees great contrasts in the course of by-election campaigns. I was involved in the Fulham by-election and I am, of course, familiar with the streets in my constituency. There appears to be a great deal of money in many parts of Fulham, but I accept that there are centres of deprivation within the area as well. The presence of a great deal of purchasing power means that there are no derelict shops. It is clear that demand is able to foster jobs. That is something that does not take place in my inner city constituency. There is a great contrast to be drawn from the unemployment figures of the London boroughs. We must tackle poverty and unemployment.
There must be a training scheme that will enable us to deal with the mismatch of the skills and jobs that are available. There must be an intelligent targeting of funds to the creation of jobs that will serve the local community. It would be silly to think that every job created in Greenwich, for example, would go to a Greenwich person. 1190 The same applies to Southwark, and Lambeth. It would be preposterous to expect that to happen. It would be equally preposterous if jobs created with public money., or a combination of public and private money, served merely to increase house prices by encouraging others to come in from outside, or if jobs were created in areas where there is overheating of the economy.
Some figures for Southwark showed that, of the new jobs that were the result of job creation, only about 10 per cent. went to the local population and that 90 per cent. of them were taken by people not living in areas of deprivation. We must target much more intelligently to ensure that the jobs that are created go, as far as possible, to local people. Where there is a demand for labour, we must ensure that training matches the job opportunities that are created by job investment.
With my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), I sat on the Cabinet committee that considered the inner cities that led to the programme for the inner cities of 1977. At the heart of it was the necessity for cohesion between Government Departments. We do not want the advice that we receive nowadays from the Dispatch Box. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster tells people that they should leave the north, get on their bikes and come to London for work. However, the Secretary of State for the Environment comes to the Dispatch Box and advises people to steal somebody else's bike and cycle to the empty houses of the north if they find themselves homeless as a result of coming down south to do the jobs that are available here.
The Government should get their act together. They should also ensure that hospital closures do not take place in inner city areas. Government initiatives should draw together instead of pulling apart. The Government should stop penalising and cutting expenditure programmes for local authorities in inner cities and partnership areas. I have already mentioned the cuts that will take place next year in aid for inner city partnership areas. However, it is equally true that cuts have taken place in housing expenditure. Figures supplied to me by the Association of London Authorities state that there has been a25 per cent. cut in real termsin the allocation of total resources in the inner city boroughs in London since 1977. It continues to state thatit is no good having an urban programme that isa smokescreen to conceal massive cuts in overall Government spendingas well as now imposing cuts in inner city partnership expenditure, and having an urban programme which hasinadequate and erratic funding; restrictive targeting and project time limits".
We need to create jobs in the inner city by expenditure on housing and by supporting initiatives in, for example, the social services. If the right resources are given to local authorities and if Government work closely with them, there is an opportunity to create work and to meet needs in health, social services and housing. However, as well as that—that is not unimportant in itself—we must go for initiatives that are wealth creating and revenue generating, alongside the wholly necessary services that are revenue absorbing. We must get the best brains, the right resources and powers and the best practice to create jobs in the new industries and new services in our inner cities.
We can draw upon many good examples of the way in which that could be done. I know that my local authority is much reviled—we have heard it reviled today—but it 1191 does no service to the inner city if Tory politicians run up and down accusing many inner city boroughs, often Labour controlled, of being "loony" when we are trying to encourage the private sector to co-operate with those local authorities. There are many examples of good practice. In my borough of Lambeth about 1,000 jobs have been created in small enterprises, in which the local authority, the private sector, advisers from National Westminster bank and other people are working together to create new businesses, using the existing statutory powers and inner city partnership money to create jobs. Not all of them will be a success, but the nature of business is that some people will fall off the log.
We must put more weight and time behind creating new expanding businesses because private sector investment in the inner city does not just represent money coming into the inner city and the creation as well as the consumption of revenue, but means that there is a long-term commitment. Those people will be anchored in the inner city once the investment has been made, whether they live there and start up their own business, or bring in business from outside.
I want to see not just small businesses but the high quality success of firms such as Marks and Spencer in the inner cities. That firm has done a great deal to back inner city initiatives. It is important that inner city enterprises range from the big, high-quality stores, such as Marks and Spencer, which provide many jobs, to the single manufacturer.
We must avoid the antagonism which sometimes unintentionally occurs between local authorities and the private sector and which is fostered by silly remarks made about some of our inner city boroughs. The Tories must stop frightening business men away. [Laughter.] Yes, they must stop frightening business men away. They urge business men to co-operate with the Merseyside development corporation but warn them against partnership initiatives with Liverpool city council.
§ Mr. Nicholas Baker
The hon. Gentleman is talking pure Conservative policy and, generally, I welcome that. Is he aware of the opposition of Southwark borough council to the policies that he is talking about and of opposition to councils run by his loony Labour friends? Why has it taken the Labour party 20 years to mouth the sensible generalisations that he is now mouthing?
§ Mr. Fraser
Southwark council has a long history of cooperating with the private sector to attract new industry and jobs to Southwark which dates from well before the creation of the LDDC. If a local authority were given the powers and resources that are given to an urban development corporation, it could probably do the same job. But the Government have used urban development corporations to bypass local authorities. They have given disproportionate resources to organisations which are not subject to democratic control and have denied the same resources and powers of land assembly to local authorities.
These matters must be dealt with on the basis of partnership. Both the private sector and local authorities have their strengths and they have different functions. We sometimes fall down on the time that it takes for action. Too long an interval elapses between a plan and action. I want to see a corporate targeted approach to the development of businesses and services in the inner cities 1192 which has the speed of response to which people are accustomed in business. That speed is not always present to the same degree in local authority administration for perfectly understandable reasons : democratic accountability takes longer than business decisions which do not have to be explained to electors.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that until 1982 Southwark was willing to co-operate with the private sector. Sadly, since then, it has taken a more exclusive role. That was capped the other day when a conference to create jobs in the borough was opened by the leader of the council who welcomed any private sector people present with the words, "Welcome, comrades." That was hardly the way to engender partnership spirit for the rest of the day.
§ Mr. Fraser
I shall not get myself embroiled in every word said by every community leader. I simply assert that co-operation between local authorities and the private sector is vital. We must put together the best practices that already exist and I shall mention an institution which may be able to do something about that.
I shall now turn from the use of money and resources to the asset of people. The problem of the inner cities is twofold—resources, and the behaviour and the way in which people react to their environment. We must invest in people, who live in the inner cities with a greater sense of dignity and involvement in the control over their community. That can be done in a variety of ways—sometimes through the involvement of the Church, which is a strong stabilising influence, and sometimes through tenants' organisations or through community groups.
We must beware of short-term programmes. There is no use financing a local group for a short time only for the group to find that its time has expired before the programme is completed. There is more disillusionment at the end of its existence than at the beginning. Successful community enterprise must be possible. Tenants' and citizens' organisations must be able to survive beyond the short time spans supported by some inner city partnerships.
Support for inner city projects must have clear objectives and good expenditure tests. It is no good putting money into badly designed projects. We must think matters through and consider what advantage will flow from them. I shall be interested to see the benefit of investment in neighbourhood centres. I saw a strong, supportive Caribbean club in Moss Side. Investment in buildings and other facilities had nurtured a stong, supportive community spirit. Inner city partnership programmes need professional support. One of the reasons that many tenant associations fail is that they do not have the right kind of professional back-up. A good deal might be provided by the voluntary sector in that respect. Inner city projects need proper integrity of account monitoring and adequate advice.
We must try to sustain people in the community, especially single people and the sons and daughters of those who live on estates who are often forced to move out of their neighbourhoods. When people take pride in their neighbourhoods and have greater control over the management and design of them, and when minority groups in particular have their own social institutions, whether they be a bar, domino club, or sports club, community commitment is bolstered. Some people might 1193 yearn for the right to escape from the inner city, but the general desire for mobility will not solve that inner city problem.
There must be a black dimension. The black population must participate in community policies through entering housing and employment in the professions, the bench, business and other forms of self-expression that involve community commitment.
We need to use good practice and skills that have come from present partnership initiatives. There have been many successes. We need a storehouse of excellence and a populariser of good practice, whereby the experience of local authorities and central Government in relation to consumers, tenants, community organisations and the voluntary sector can be exchanged and promulgated. Successful overseas experience cannot be ignored. Apart from all the other things that we have, we need an institute or a commission for urban renewal which in itself would be an act of partnership and would concern itself with advice and the promulgation of good practice. For instance, I refer to local employment and the way in which urban development corporations can be used in partnership with local authorities rather than working against them and bypassing them. We need such an institution to try to develop not a political consensus—that is not possible—but a consensus among those who deal with inner city policy matters so that successful good practice can be transferred from one area to another.
I do not underestimate the enormous challenge of the inner cities. When one looks back over the past few years and considers how little has happened positively in response to even limited expenditure, one realises what a big problem and challenge we face. It is no good finishing on a pessimistic note. We have vigorous people — sometimes their vigour leads them on to wrong paths—and there is often an excitement in the inner city, which the Archbishop's commission underlined. Provided that Government can act by forming a partnership with local authorities, if local authorities can form a partnership with the private sector and with community groups, and if we can use the undoubted available capital resources, the problem can be overcome. At the end of the day, an act of political will and faith in the city is required.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)
I must record right at the outset the anger on this side of the House that so many of my hon. Friends, who are well known for their interest in urban problems, have been unable to speak because of the length of the speeches by Opposition Members. It merely reflects the fact that no Opposition Members were there to support the hon. Members for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), who made very long speeches. The mover of the motion made a speech that lasted 42 minutes. The Front Bench Opposition spokesman has just made a speech that lasted for nearly 50 minutes. That has deprived Conservative Members—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the longest Back Bench speech of the day was made on his side of the House.
§ Mr. Steen
I shall not argue with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about the length of speeches, but the length of Opposition speeches has robbed Conservative Members of 1194 the opportunity to make speeches in a very important debate. In terms of numbers and quality of contributions, we feel more strongly about this subject than do Opposition Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) had an important contribution to make. Unfortunately, he has been unable to make it. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) was planning to make a very important contribution on urban problems. He is still here, but he will not have the opportunity to speak. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson), whose interest in urban problems is well known to the House, has had to leave.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) managed to make a short but impressive intervention. He is well known for his interest in these problems—he lives in the middle of this great capital—but he was unable to make a speech. Conduct of this kind in such an important debate is a great imposition on the goodwill of all hon. Members.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes), who made an impressive speech because it was so short. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman could have learnt a good deal from the hon. Member for Greenwich. In her 10-minute speech she said all that was required.
When one is squeezed in at the end of a debate like this it is impossible to make a meaningful contribution, and I shall not try to do so, in protest at the behaviour of the Opposition. It is significant that while I am making my speech there are only two Opposition Members here—the Opposition Front Bench spokesman and the hon. Member for Tooting, who moved the motion. Only two Opposition Members are here when a subject is being debated that the Labour party says arouses burning feelings among its members. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman made a most measured speech, but it was twice as long as it ought to have been and he must bear some responsibility for the fact that all the Benches behind him are deserted today, while the Benches on this side of the House are filled with keen and enthusiastic hon. Members who want to make a contribution to the debate. As I have been told that my hon. Friend the Minister wishes to wind up the debate soon after 2 pm, I shall refer only to a few matters, so I shall have barely the opportunity to say anything.
The problems of the inner cities transcend party boundaries, but the two sides of the House find themselves in difficulty when they try to agree on a solution to those problems. The motion suggests that the "inner city" is a geographical area, but it is not. The greatest problems are to be found in the outer city estates, way beyond the early boundaries of the cities. People from the inner cities were decanted and put into vast, soulless council estates, and that is where one finds the greatest poverty, hardship and handicap. The hon. Member for Tooting referred at great length to the inner city problems, but that is not where the real problems lie. They lie in the outer cities where the vast majority of people now live. Those people suffer the greatest deprivation, and the motion ought to have identified that issue.
Labour Members always argue, "Give us more money." Conservative Members are more imaginative and flexible and geared towards private enterprise. Both approaches are valid, but Labour's approach has failed because, as more and more money is pumped into urban areas, conditions merely become worse. If I have a 1195 criticism of the Government, it is that they have poured more money into the cities than any other Government, yet the problems are still getting worse. A new approach is needed to tackle urban problems. It is not a matter of pouring more money in—that has been proved, over the years, not to work—or of having an exclusively private enterprise economy or Hong Kong approach to urban deprivation. The Conservative and Labour parties have failed in that they have not involved local people in solving problems for themselves with help from central and local government.
The estate action programme which the Government initiated last year gives money to facelift council estates in the outer cities. Under the formula proposed by the local authorities, local people are involved not only in management but in employment. If the estate action scheme works, local unemployed people will have opportunities to give the estate on which they live a facelift with funding by public as well as some private money. This gives responsibility to the people living in inner cities and will ultimately start to solve the problems. Both mainstream parties have failed to advance that approach. I am delighted that, through estate action and £57 million this year, the Government are starting to realise that the solutions to inner city problems will not be found by pumping more central Government money in or by relying on private enterprise.
Another fundamental problem needs to be grasped. Some of the problems of the inner cities have been caused by the constraints that prevent people from doing things to help themselves. If planning controls were lifted dramatically in our inner city and outer city areas, giving people an opportunity to experiment and do things in their back yards, flats and garages, they would create their own jobs and own wealth. The dead hand of bureacracy controlling the planning regulations has prevented many people from helping themselves. The Government must pioneer that approach. Only by giving people in neighbourhoods the opportunities and power and resources to help themselves will the problems about which we have been speaking all morning be resolved.
I have merely touched on matters which need to be developed. One was asked to make a substantial speech because of the shortage of speakers and Conservative Members were prepared to contribute, but, because of the Opposition's obsession with hogging the time available, I am afraid that those Conservative Members who would have liked to do justice to the topic have not been able to do so. I wait with great interest to hear my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State.
§ 2.3 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Richard Tracey)
I am sure that the House would wish me to say that this debate of almost five hours has been particularly graced by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes). I must confess to her that I share something with the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) — I, too, was in Greenwich trying to stop her from coming here. But the hon. Lady will understand how the process of democracy works, and she is now with us. I congratulate her on her maiden speech.
As we remember well, the hon. Lady's predecessor was a man of great common sense who was much respected by 1196 both sides of the House. The hon. Lady has shown that she is following well in that tradition. She commented on the local authority in Greenwich. She has commented also on the Inner London education authority, which today is trying to get the books to balance. I am sure that she will continue to make those comments and we look forward to hearing her in this place.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) has done the House a service by raising this issue, although he would not expect me to agree with the terms of his motion. There is one small niggling point. I have seen at close hand his extremely good work as a constituency Member in Tooting and, in a way, I wish that he had brought to the House more of his experience and record on that part of the inner city, rather than perhaps an over-larding of the dogma of his party which did not do him the full credit that I would have expected.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) made the point, in one way or another, that this debate has been characterised by a heavy presence of Conservative Members speaking and wishing to speak on the important subject of the inner cities. Indeed, my colleagues who were not able to speak have made some extremely telling interventions. It is a shame that more of the large number of Conservatives in the Chamber were not able to put across their experience from all over the country on this subject.
There is a great deal of consensus about the problems of our inner cities. One of the most telling speeches was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester), who fairly pointed out that it would be better if there was a common core view about the solutions to the many problems rather than attempts to score points on dogma and sometimes on cant. My hon. Friend made the House think seriously about the problems of the inner cities and some of the solutions that he believes are desirable. We are agreed that the problems are complex and deep-seated. They are certainly not confined to the older urban cores. The problems of some of our larger outer housing estates are just as severe. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Sir R. Eyre), a man of great experience in the House, on the inner cities, especially Birmingham, and in my Department, pointed that out clearly.
There is not so much common ground on the solution to the problems that can be identified. Twenty years ago it was largely assumed that a combination of bottom-up community projects and top-down exercises in social engineering was the answer. We now know that scattering financial resources like confetti creates work, raises expectations which cannot be fulfilled and is generally ineffective. At the same time we have seen now centralised planning and housing design that leave people out of the equation have blighted our cities. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green.
The Government's policy is to make inner cities more competitive and to improve the quality of life of their residents. That means turning the natural strengths of cities to their advantage rather than standing in the way of inevitable change.
Several of my hon. Friends referred to the depressing dereliction which exists in many urban areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), mentioned one particular site. Not only does that undermine the confidence of residents but it deters investment. Derelict or under-used land is a wasted 1197 resource. Failure to use it properly throws pressure on undeveloped land outside urban areas. So one of our prime objectives is to bring inner city sites back into use for development. That point has been raised many times in the House by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams. I am sure that he would have gone into it in more depth if he had had the time.
The public sector must put its house in order. Land hoarding by local authorities and other public sector bodies is a serious problem. To tackle that, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Urban Affairs and Construction set up the land register system— 50,000 acres of previously unused land have been brought back into use in the past four years. For the first time, the amount of land still on the register has dipped below 100,000 acres. I think that the House will agree that that is encouraging, but we are not satisfied with progress. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State initiated more than 100 forced disposal proceedings in 1986.
Apart from improving the supply of land for development, we are helping, through derelict land grant, to prepare sites for development amounting to more than 3,200 acres a year, or—you would expect me to use this comparison, Mr. Deputy Speaker—an area the size of Wembley stadium every working day. To show how much priority we attach to mobilising the urban land market, I should tell the House that the derelict land grant resources have doubled in real terms since the Government came to office in 1979.
We on the Conservative Benches are well aware that cities need enterprise and investment if their momentum and wealth are to be restored. These points were raised in interventions by my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friends the Members for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) and for Leeds, North-West (Dr. Hampson).
Both central Government and local authorities have an important part to play, but they must support the real business of wealth creation and regeneration. At national level, the Government have set the framework. Successful anti-inflation policies and the more effective use of public expenditure have created the conditions for six successive years of growth. There is no contradiction of that fact. We must make sure that inner cities do not miss out on that success.
In practical terms, that means using public resources where they can be made and seen to work. Some £3,350 million has been spent since 1979 on the Department's range of targeted urban initiatives, apart from the main programme support and programmes promoted by other Departments. That £3,350 million has led to more than £2,000 million in private investment.
I should like to deal with some confusion in the mind of the right hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson), who is clearly mystified by the growing contribution that my colleagues at the Department of Employment are making to urban policy. I should have thought that, as an old Department of Environment hand, he would welcome that. The Manpower Services Commission is now making the inner city areas a priority for its work. We heard proof enough of the need for that in the speech by the hon. Member for Greenwich, who said that, in an area of high unemployment, the local jobcentre cannot fill vacancies that require only basic skills.
The city action teams and the inner city task forces are putting together the complementary and constructive 1198 efforts of all the Departments involved. For example, they are customising local training programmes to meet the needs of employers and creating jobs as a result of urban development grants. They are building links between local schools and local industry and commerce. They are helping to develop the skills and enterprise of local people. The right hon. Member for Brent, East should not dismiss that as confusion and incoherence. It is the exact opposite.
The right hon. Member for Brent, East mentioned partnership as though it started in 1979 and has now died. On the contrary, the approach of supporting coherent inner area programmes, drawn up by local authorities, has been extended. There are now 57 authorities preparing inner area programmes for 1987–88 compared with just 24 in 1979–80. Resources for the urban programme have risen by 73 per cent. in real terms, and for the urban programmes they have risen by 131 per cent.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Does the Minister deny that overall the money going to inner city areas has, since the Government came to power, been substantially cut? Despite specific project increases, overall there has been a substantial cut. Why has that happened?
§ Mr. Tracey
The hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber when I began my speech. There is no doubt that some years ago, as I described it, money was used rather like confetti. We are now more precisely targeting those very important resources. We should not forget that the resources that we are using are raised from the taxpayers of this country. The alliance may regularly forget that fact. Taxpayers' money must be used, and it is being skilfully targeted by the Government.
The most spectacular example has been London docklands. We now take that for granted. However, we should not be blasé about the wholesale tranformation of one of the blighted and derelict areas of the country—an area which had been allowed to fall into greater and greater dereliction by a total lack of agreement between the local authorities of the area and the now defunct Greater London council.
Private investment commitments in the London Docklands Development Corporation's designated area total more than £1,500 million. Three hundred companies new to the area are operating there, providing 8,000 jobs; and 7,500 homes have been built or are under construction. We have heard the cry during this debate along the lines that local people seem to have lost out. It is not just the so-called fat cats and yuppies who have benefited in the docklands area. The LDDC has allocated 42 acres to the docklands boroughs for council housing, with space for more than 1,200 homes. Residents of the three dockland boroughs of Newham, Southwark, and Tower Hamlets make up 40 per cent. of all occupiers of new homes on LDDC sites. Of course, there are wealthy incomers. That is one consequence of success. No one should lose sight of the fact that that area is now far and away more wealthy than it ever was in the previous confusion.
The achievements of the Merseyside Dock lands Corporation are sometimes overshadowed by those of the LDDC. Perhaps the MDC did not have geography on its side in quite the same way as the LDDC. None the less, no one can fail to be impressed by the redevelopment or the grade 1 Albert dock buildings or by the more than 3 million visitors who passed through the turnstiles of the Liverpool international garden festival.
1199 Building on success, the Government have announced proposals for four new urban development corporations in Trafford park, Teeside, the black country and Tyne and Wear. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be gratified by the congratulations that he has received this morning from my hon. Friends. Assuming that Parliament approves the designation, with the London and Merseyside corporations, they will cover 20,000 acres of urban land that must be reclaimed and serviced to provide a suitable environment for investors.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hall Green mentioned the Birmingham renewal agency. My right hon. Friend is aware of the proposals and has been in touch with the city council in respect of them. He strongly supports proposals which encourage private development in hard-pressed urban areas, and the Government exemplify this by the many programmes designed to encourage such private investment. The largest urban development grant of £6 million has just been offered to Hyatt hotels to support a £32 million hotel project next to the new convention centre in Birmingham. The successful urban development grant scheme has to date supported 234 projects, with a total investment of £593 million, with grant of £117 million.
Birmingham city council is making progress with its proposals in east Birmingham. The main issues to be resolved are what private investment is proposed over what area and the input required from the public sector through grants. The commitment of public sector grant must bear some relationship to the funds available, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is approaching the matter positively, but it is reasonable to assess what the output will be for a given grant input.
§ Dr. Hampson
I welcome all the initiatives, which will be a turning point in the regeneration of many of our inner cities, but is the Department taking the Scottish Development Agency as a model? Those of us in cities such as Leeds, which will probably never get an urban development grant, are attracted by the idea of an organisation that can deal with small projects, as the SDA did in Clydebank, or with major developments, as it did in east Glasgow. Such a body would be less likely to stamp on the feelings of local councils than would the large, imposed urban development corporations.
§ Mr. Tracey
That is a very interesting point. We have been watching other models and examples carefully. The Department wishes to find the best and most cost-effective ways to tackle the problems, and the example used by my hon. Friend is one that we are considering.
Hon. Members' minds have been occupied by the role of local authorities and whether they encourage enterprise in the inner cities. The attitudes and actions of local councils can make or break a local economy. The hon. Member for Tooting knows very well what is happening in Wandsworth, with a vast amount of building and a great deal of enterprise and industry springing up, so it was interesting to hear him cast aspersions on that council. Perhaps it was for party political reasons. The hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that the only way in which to improve services is to increase rates. He knows from firsthand experience in Wandsworth that that is not true. Wandsworth has streamlined administration, improved staff productivity, tested the costs of services by opening 1200 them to competitive tendering and generated revenue savings and capital receipts, which have been ploughed back to improve services and the housing stock.
Net revenue costs per head of population in Wandsworth and therefore half of those in Islington, Hackney, Lambeth and Southwark. That is why Wandsworth is able to spend more than its neighbours on improvements and sheltered housing while helping more people to control their housing conditions as owner-occupiers.
We can contrast the success of Wandsworth with Ealing, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) gave an account. He gave the facts in a most measured way, and I could not understand why the hon. Member for Norwood took such offence. I imagine that, having heard the details, the Leader of the Opposition will have to set about writing more letters, certainly to Ealing and possibly to other Labour-controlled authorities, saying what horrific consequences there could be for the Labour party if the Ealing example is copied.
§ Mr. Greenway
I was unable to conclude my thoughts because of lack of time. Ealing council is increasing rates by 65 per cent. and has fallen out with its staff to the extent that the council's administration is today at a standstill. All of its workers are out on strike. Even emergency services are not working. A lady telephoned me earlier to say that a pipe had burst and that she cannot get service from the council. The council has achieved less than nothing.
§ Mr. Tracey
I am grateful for that extra information.
It might be the coup de grace for the Leader of the Opposition, who might now have to write as an Ealing ratepayer to insist on his services being resumed.
What has happened at Ealing is horrific but not uncommon. We are becoming aware of rate increases being put through by other London boroughs. It is interesting that hon. Members who represent Hammersmith and Fulham, who normally make such a great contribution to these debates, are not here to speak about the effect of rates on their inner city area.
We have heard about the Audit Commission's report on the efficiency, or lack of it, of various inner London local authorities. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) mentioned the Archbishop of Canterbury's report, "Faith in the City." That report says thatthe real need is for a thriving local economy to be developed which can offer employment.That is at the root of our employment policy in the inner cities and the range of urban initiatives that we have developed since 1979. I only wish that our efforts to secure urban regeneration and cost effective use of resources were matched by those of many local authorities, particularly in the inner cities. The "Faith in the City" report relevantly comments :The Audit Commission provide sufficient evidence that there is wastefulness and extravagance in the way some (not all) urban authorities meet local needs.This—
§ It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.