§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
I beg to move,That this House approves the policies of Her Majesty's Government which have resulted in increased prosperity and happiness for the people of the Greater London area;and regrets that the actions of many local government bodies have recently been out of harmony with the spirit of legislation passed by this House for the well-being of all citizens in the Greater London area.It is customary for certain deliberations to begin with apologies for absence. I have none to offer for my hon. Friends on this side of the House, but I have one or two regrets for the absence of certain right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. I am moved to utter this expression of regret by a report in the Evening Standard in which the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker), who unfortunately is not present, had the impertinence to attack what he described as the total failure of London's Labour M.P.s to speak up for Londoners.
Hon. Members in this House will know how baseless and unwarranted is that charge. Time after time hon. Members on this side of the House have sought to put pressure on our right hon. Friends to take appropriate action with regard to local authorities in the Greater London Area. Where those authorities are Conservative-controlled they are grossly and wilfully neglecting their responsibilities. It may well be that in this debate there will be demands by my hon. Friends, who take their duties very seriously, for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government to take appropriate powers to compel certain of those local authorities to meet their responsibilities.
I particularly regret the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition because I understand that the most important issue of sludge pumps at Bexley may well arise during this debate. Only a few weeks ago my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) had to bring this matter to the attention of the House without the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Roebuck
My hon. Friend asked "Where is he?" I do not know, but I have observed in the public prints that there is not a total absence of all affection for the right hon. Gentleman in the Conservative Party. I understand that some misguided young Conservative has been writing love letters to the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman will link what he has to say with the Motion that he is seeking to move.
§ Mr. Roebuck
I will most certainly do that, Mr. Speaker. I was seeking to find some excuse for the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath). No doubt his constituents would expect him to have an excuse. It is a wonderful thing if he has found somebody in the Conservative Party to love him.
There are other right hon. Gentlemen who belong to the Conservative Party and who sit for constituencies in Greater London who are not present. I am wondering why. It is possible that they have observed that the first few words of my Motion are:That this House approves the policies of Her Majesty's Government which have resulted in increased prosperity and happiness for the people of the Greater London Area".One can well understand that the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), the architect of the difficulties inherited by this Government, has found discretion the better part of valour. Likewise, the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) who is also absent.
It may be that they have seen how well they have been Hansardised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Wyatt) in the Daily Mirror this morning. He referred to the great increase in prosperity which has been achieved as a result of efforts by this Government, and which reflect directly on all who live in Greater London. My hon. Friend points out that this week's official figures for the first nine months of the financial year show a balance of payments surplus of £450 million. He notes that, when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his last Budget speech that he was aim- 1712 ing to get a balance of payments surplus of £300 million, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite laughed with scorn. He quotes the right hon. Member for Bexley as saying on that occasion:It is a dead end Budget by a fag-end Government.My hon. Friend comments:Some dead-end. Some fag-end.My hon. Friend also draws attention to the words on that occasion of the right hon. Member for Enfield, West, whom, we are told, should there be an aberration at the polls, will have charge of the nation's finances. The right hon. Gentleman's words were:It is a defeatist Budget of a defeated Government.My hon. Friend comments:If we have any more defeats like this we shall soon be the richest country in the world.Any doubts that I might have had about the topicality of this subject faded after the publication of my article in London's largest selling evening newspaper last week. I have been inundated with letters from all parts of the Greater London area, and so, I understand, have many of my hon. Friends. There has been an enormous post-bag, and it is clear that the citizens of Greater London are anxious that there should be the fullest and most wide-ranging debate on all the problems they face.
There are many definitions of the Greater London area. My remarks will mostly be addressed to the area bounded by the fence of the Greater London Council. But the House should recognise that there are many planners who feel that Greater London extends further than that. This was recognised as long ago as the war years, when Sir Patrick Abercrombie was commissioned to plan the whole Greater London region. He defined the area as running from Royston in the north to Hazelmere in the southwest, and from High Wycombe in the west to Basildon in the east. That is an area of 2,600 sq. miles.
The Abercrombie plan, published in 1944 and accepted in 1946 as the main approach for the treatment of the region, was only one of several plans which have been produced in an effort to make Greater London man the master of his environment. This point is well taken by many of my correspondents. They 1713 say, "We have had all these brave new plans, but none of them has been executed." That is not quite accurate. Some have been partly executed, but certainly none has been fully executed.
We have had a vast expenditure on eminent planners and architects but, as yet, a solution to the problem of Greater London has eluded us. The result is that, in large parts of Greater London, one sees people living in what can only be described as a dark urban mass. It is a measure of the progress which has been made that, if the poet Blake were alive today, he would think of creating the new Jerusalem not among the dark satanic mills of the North-West but among the dark urban mass of Greater London.
That is what this debate is about. I seek to start a controversy not only in this House but throughout the region with the object not so much of new plans being produced but of getting action taken on the old plans and getting some exciting work started by the local authorities.
This is a highly political issue, and I would be the last person to seek to deny that. There is a clear division between the parties. From time to time, usually coinciding with election periods, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite pay lip-service to many of the ideals of right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House. They would appear to believe that the good things that we seek to achieve will be brought about as a result of the inter-play of private interests. It is my case that, in the light of the Conservative record in national Government and local government, in the running of the Greater London Council and many of the Greater London boroughs, such a belief displays a triumph of superstition over experience.
The division between the parties can be clearly illustrated with two quotations. The first is contained in a letter from Councillor Plummer, the Conservative leader of the Greater London Council. My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford made representations to him concerning the sewage smell in his constituency. My hon. Friend referred to this matter in the last debate that we had on Greater London Council matters. Councillor Plummer wrote to my hon. Friend: 1714You refer to the complete elimination of all odour from the sewage works, and I must repeat that even with all modern techniques such a situation cannot be guaranteed. This is not to say that any smell arising need be unacceptable. Indeed the smell one normally associates with a river can be and often is regarded as an asset. The analogy is apt in that such smells have great similarity to the healthy sewage treatment plant."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February 1970;Vol. 796, c. 731.]That is the sort of London which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite seek.
I contrast that with words contained in the Labour manifesto for the Greater London Council election:What is planning all about? It is all about protecting and improving conditions—conditions in which people live and work and fulfil themselves. It is all about producing a good environment. That is what we in Labour mean by planning.It goes on:We will do everything possible to make London a pleasant place to live in.That means to say that one will have a decent river and not a substitute river in the sense of the sewage smells in my hon. Friend's constituency.
We have apathy and artifice from the Conservative Party and a crusading spirit from the Labour Party. The present situation is that hundreds of thousands of people in the Greater London area seek to live modern lives in nineteenth century houses with nineteenth century roads, a nineteenth century public transport system and in a framework which is fossilised by town councillors with nineteenth century minds.
This Government have done much to improve the present quality of life in the Greater London area, and they have created conditions under which local authorities could, if they had the will, transform their areas to bring greater happiness and fulfilment to London. Unfortunately the hard-faced and tight-fisted representatives of the Conservative Party who control local government at present have been actively engaged, either out of stupidity or for the most squalid of reasons, in frustrating legislation initiated by Her Majesty's Government.
This is most clearly demonstrated in London's public transport. Since this Government took office, vast sums of money have been pushed into London Transport to try and make it much better. All these efforts culminated recently in 1715 the passing of an Act which placed the responsibility for public transport in the Greater London area on the Greater London Council. It was not just a simple pushing off of responsibility. No one sought to "pass the Roebuck". It was a matter of the Government saying, "We believe that public transport is best looked after by local authorities", so they wiped out the massive deficits of London Transport and put the G.L.C. in a splendid position to build a fine public transport service for the people of Greater London.
What has happened since then? All that we have had out of the public transport discussions in Greater London since that took place is a preposterous proposal to double the minimum fare consequent upon decimalisation. That is what happens when the friends of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are given responsibility for these matters. It is clear that they will never be able to solve London's public transport difficulties with their philosophy. For theirs is not a philosophy of public service. No capital city in the world can possibly run a public transport service at a profit, which is what the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite are seeking to do. They like to describe themselves as businessmen, but are they? I wish that the vast sums of money which the nation is spending on Concorde could be spent on public transport in the Greater London area, for if that were done there would be a tremendous economic benefit to the nation. So much time is now wasted in people getting to work late and arriving in a state of frustration because of traffic difficulties that this situation is bound to impede production. But the nation is saddled with this vast expenditure on Concorde because we had a businessmen's Government and the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery)—who is unfortunately not here—drew up the sort of contract which had no escape clause at all. So we are committed to greatly increasing costs as this curious aircraft advances towards the stage when it might possibly fly.
My constituents in Harrow, East are far more concerned about being able to get to the centre of London quickly and comfortably than to New York an hour quicker. I only wish that some of my 1716 right hon. and learned Friends could find a way out of the difficulties in which hon. Gentlemen opposite have put us over Concorde.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
One of the causes of the difficulty is that so many of the elected conservatives at County Hall never have to use London Transport and if they were compelled to use London Transport some improvement would come about rapidly.
§ Mr. Roebuck
The knowledge which my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) has of London is like that of Mr. Weller—"extensive and peculiar". He most clearly knows about the comings and goings of the Greater London Council. I do not know so much about them, but in Harrow a Rolls-Royce motor car was recently bought for the mayor at a cost of about £10,500 and that borough, like other Conservative-controlled boroughs, does nothing to make life easier for the pensioner who seeks a concessionary fare.
Turning to the question of leisure in the Greater London area, I must again issue another regret. I regret that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South-end, West (Mr. Channon), who speaks for the party opposite on artistic and cultural matters, is not here. He would have had a rather good audience—more than he got when he came to speak in my constituency without letting me know. There was a public meeting with the hon. Gentleman as principal speaker and not one member of the public turned up for the meeting. The hon. Gentleman has missed a great opportunity. If he wishes to come and speak in my constituency again and will let me know I shall guarantee an audience.
Greater London is fortunate in having the nation's central artistic enterprises close at hand and this accident of geography has meant that Londoners have benefited far more than most people in England from the Government's patronage of the arts, which has been substantial. Total grants in the United Kingdom have been more than doubled since 1964–65—from £9.13 million to £20.6 million. London has benefited particularly in a number of ways. For example, in 1963–64 music, including the Royal Opera House and Sadlers Wells, was supported to the tune of £1,341,000 1717 and in 1968–69 the figure was £3,476,000. The figure for drama in 1963–64—when hon. Gentlemen opposite were responsible—was £269,000 and in 1968–69 the figure was £531,000.
In addition, we have increased substantially grants to arts associations and also helped to house the Arts in a number of different ways. Sadly the Government effort has not been matched by the local authorities. Although the local authorities are entitled to levy up to a 6d. rate for such purposes most in the Greater London area levy one of just over 1d. In fact, I have been unable to discover, despite a considerable amount of research, any major project in the Arts or any other leisure activity which has been initiated by a Conservative local authority in the Greater London area over the past few years. Yet when Labour had control of London the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the Crystal Palace Recreation Centre were built. Moreover, the National Theatre was then planned and preparations were made for a more effective use of Alexandra Park and Palace.
Unfortunately, the Greater London Arts Association, which was set up in July 1966, does not yet seem to have found a real sense of purpose. It seems uncertain whether it should act primarily as a co-ordinating body or whether it should take the initiative in raising funds and distributing grants. I suggest that at its next meeting it should set up a committee to consider planning a Festival of Greater London with art exhibitions, musical performances, poetry reading, plays and sporting events—a mini-Olympics such as the Greeks had with plenty of art and sport. Let groups of people come together in each of the boroughs and look at the areas in which they live with fresh eyes and put some dynamism behind the vague idea of improving the amenities of the Greater London area.
It is a matter of profound regret that, notwithstanding the encouragement given by the Government for the improvement of the environment, the G.L.C. has let drift plans for the Lea Valley regional park and the Colne Valley scheme. The palsied hand of conservatism lies over many great plans brought forward by previous Labour administrations in the boroughs for improving the environment 1718 and the opportunity for leisure for Londoners.
My constituency contains Bentley Priory, a fine mansion with sweeping views over London which was formerly the headquarters of Fighter Command. The Royal Air Force are likely to cease to have need for this building quite soon and for some time a number of people have been pressing the local authority to start thinking about this matter. It has been suggested that it should be turned into a musical centre on the lines of Kenwood and possibly named after the late Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding who wrote there his famous letter to the War Cabinet—the letter which many people quite rightly think saved this nation from destruction in 1940. It is a bold and imaginative idea but there has not been a flicker of response from the local authority.
As one looks right across the boroughs of Greater London from County Hall one sees them engaged only as spoilsports when it comes to arts and leisure activities. They have not been content just to put up the fees for sporting facilities in the parks and now seek to carve up the parks services and distribute them piecemeal around the boroughs.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)
My hon. Friend says that most of the London boroughs are spending about the product of a 1d. rate on the arts. Is he aware that in my own borough of Redbridge expenditure on the arts is about one-ninth of a 1d. rate?
§ Mr. Roebuck
I was not aware of that. I hope that my hon. Friend will bring it forcefully to the attention of the electors in his constituency, as I am sure he will.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
As the hon. Member representing the other half of the borough, may I say that at least one thing which the Borough of Redbridge does not do is to use art funds to subsidise criminal activities and riots?
§ Mr. Roebuck
The hon. Member must be responsible for his own activities.
I return to the subject of parks. The proposal by the friends of hon. Members opposite will result in the break-up of the splendid organisation which has been built up by the G.L.C. Parks Department and almost certainly as a result 1719 of that we shall have an increase in the rates which at election periods, hon. Members opposite are so keen to tell us they care about.
The Government have sought to give great encouragement to sportsmen, particularly young sportsmen, but this has not received an appropriate response from local authorities. The G.L.C. is to put up its fees for such sporting activities. Successive Ministers of Public Building and Works, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), who has since moved on to other things, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) have kept fees in the Royal Parks steady, notwithstanding the fact that there has been pressure from certain quarters to increase them to balance the outrageous fees charged by the Greater London Council.
The great issue for most Londoners, of course, is that of decent housing, having a roof over their heads. When we turn to this aspect of the situation, we are confronted with a horrible spectacle. The facts can be stated briefly and baldly.
There are 10,000 homeless families in the Greater London area and there are about 190,000 families on council house waiting lists. In other figures, there are 600,000 people on council house waiting lists. There are 228,000 sub-standard homes in which 800,000 people are living because they cannot get anything better. There are thousands of young families in overcrowded accommodation.
§ Mr. Roebuck:
Living with their parents, as my hon. Friend says.
The Government sought to tackle this problem in a most vigorous manner when they took office. They outlawed Rach-manism, for which hon. Members opposite were responsible. It was an evil which was exposed originally by our late colleague Ben Parkin and there must be thousands of Londoners who bless the fact that he did so and also the fact that eventually we got a Government of compassion which dealt with that problem.
1720 Nationally, the position is that as a result of the Government's policies, more houses have been built in this country both for owner-occupation and ownership by councils than ever before in our history. Since the Labour Government took office, 100,000 more houses a year have been built than under hon. Members opposite.
§ Wing-Commander Sir Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)
Have the Government attained the target of 500,000 houses by 1970 set by the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Roebuck
No. The Government have not attained that target, and one of the principal reasons is Conservative sabotage. If the hon. and gallant Member is so concerned to see more houses built in the Greater London area, I am astonished that he should address that question to me and not to his friends on his local council.
§ Mr. Pavitt
In the borough which I share with the hon. and gallant Member, whereas we had nearly 2,000 houses in the pipeline then, it is down to 20 in the current year.
§ Mr. Roebuck
I agree with my hon. Friends that it is a disgrace. The fact is that the dropback in council house building in the Greater London area is not just because of traditional Conservative sloth, but because of Conservative sabotage.
One need only consider the words of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) on this subject. I am sorry that he is not here, but he is worth quoting, because the right hon. Member for Bexley usually follows his lead. Addressing the Federation of House Builders a few months ago, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said:My proposition is that there ought not to be a housing policy.He has his wish among certain of the Greater London boroughs.
The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) who had the brazen effrontery to talk about my hon. Friends not looking after the interests of Londoners, but is not in his place today, went even further and gave 1721 a few orders to Conservative Party housing chairmen. He said:I hope that Conservative councils will take great care to resist the temptation to go on building council houses for all sorts of seemingly good purposes.He need not have bothered;in the Greater London area they did not need a warning;they are not building council houses to the degree necessary. His warning was totally unnecessary.
Incidentally, the policy of abandoning responsibility seems to come naturally to people in the Conservative Party who seek to be councillors in the Greater London area, for since their election several of them have abandoned their responsibilities, thrown in the sponge, given up chairmanships, gone away, and the principal reason they have offered is that they want to make money in their businesses and they cannot do it if they attend to their public duties.
§ Mr. Roebuck
I do not know;doubtless they will be explaining it to the electors shortly. My hon. Friends should be patient and so should those persons on the Greater London Council who seek to be relieved of their responsibilities, because I am certain that the electors will soon do the job for them.
§ Mr. Roebuck
They have already started, as my hon. Friend has said, and one of the places is Bexley.
§ Mr. Roebuck
My view is that within the period of one month most of the rest of them will be swept from office, unhonoured and unsung and, from the point of view of Greater Londoners, regretfully unhung.
It is abundantly clear that the advent of Conservative control at County Hall and at town halls in the Greater London area has been a disaster for housing policy. The area will rot if not enough new houses come along every year. We need housing tenders for at least 40,000 local authority houses now from the G.L.C. and other boroughs in the Greater London area. The Government have constantly urged this upon them.
1722 When he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey went around all the boroughs jogging them along in his inimitable fashion and, as the result of the pressure which we all know he can exert in most charming ways, he managed to get them to increase the number of houses which they proposed to build.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Robert Mellish)
They were Labour-controlled.
§ Mr. Roebuck
My right hon. Friend anticipates me;he need not worry;everything is under control;they were Labour-controlled. But since then the Conservatives have taken control and housing starts have dropped, tenders have not been put out, in some cases not at all, and we have this frightful situation in which last year the G.L.C. and the London boroughs put out to tender a miserable 27,000 dwellings. A further drop is threatened for this year. This is a most serious matter, and it is a scandal that local authorities should behave in this way. It is callous behaviour which should make hon. Gentlemen opposite blush blue with shame.
It is most instructive to compare the record of the Conservatives at County Hall and on local borough councils with that of their Labour predecessors. From 1965 to 1967, as a result of co-operation between County Hall and Whitehall, there was a programme of 18,750 dwellings going out to tender, and at one point the figure shot up to 19,643. There was every indication of increasing that figure. Indeed, the programme planned for 1968–70 was for 24,850 houses, but when the friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite gained control they slashed the building programme in the manner I have described, and then started what amounts to nothing more, or less, than a vendetta against the council tenant.
They sought to increase rents without proper excuse. They sought to pretend that the council tenant was not a ratepayer in the same way as every other citizen who is a householder. They have flung on to the council tenant charges for housing welfare officers, the maintenance of sites awaiting development, notice boards and road signs, old 1723 people's wardens, works in connection with the sale of council houses—which in itself is an appalling thing for a council to be engaged in when there is such a shortage of houses for renting—property awaiting development, the cost of the maintenance of vacant sites, and in one case the maintenance of an historic building. All that has been put on the bill which the council tenant has to pay, instead of it being spread among the general body of ratepayers. And the situation is similar in many other boroughs.
The right hon. Member for Bexley, who has still not turned up, went on television the other week and made a speech in which he said that the Conservative Party was very concerned about housing. He said that the Conservatives love the people but they want to concentrate on housing for the old. It is significant to point out that it was the Labour-controlled G.L.C. which pioneered the idea of building bungalows at the seaside for retired people to give them a happy eventide of life and to release bigger houses in the G.L.C. area for younger folk.
Soon after the right hon. Member for Bexley appeared on television and said how his heart bled for those without houses, I received a letter from a housing association which functions in the borough of Harrow. It said that the association had bought an old house and wanted to equip it for old folk. It had submitted the plans, which were similar to those which have been passed elsewhere, and had been drawn up by a very competent partnership of architects, but the local council said that it would not allow the association to do the work because there was not adequate car-parking. My correspondent pointed out that most of the people living in such houses are over 80. It was most unlikely that they would need car-parking space. He went on to ask why the Conservative councillors were acting contrary to the views expressed by the Leader of the Opposition. I do not know, but if the Leader of the Oposition were here perhaps he would be able to tell us.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Is my hon. Friend aware that in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency of Bexley there is a classic example of sabotage of the housing pro- 1724 gramme by Tory councillors? The contract for building 92 houses on the Crook Log site had been put out to tender. Tenders were submitted to the Minister. Everything was ready for building to commence, but in 1968 the Tory council cancelled the scheme. The land is still lying vacant, and 92 families in Bexley have been deprived of a decent home by the friends of the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Roebuck
I did not know that, but I can trade with my hon. Friend a horror story from Harrow, because that Conservative-dominated council did not put any houses out to tender last year. It has sold building land, and this at a time when there is a waiting list of 2,400 families, of whom 1,100 are considered to be urgent.
I now want to say a few words about crime in the Greater London area. I said earlier that I had not an apology for absence to offer, but I may have—I leave the House to judge. I wrote to the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) and said that I should perhaps have cause to refer to one or two statements that he had made. In reply, I received a printed card which said that the right hon. and learned Member—
§ Mr. Roebuck
The hon. Gentleman says that I was lucky to receive a reply. We all understand the discourtesy and the lack of normal form in this House which is apparent on the Conservative benches and which manifested itself—
§ Mr. Grant rose—
§ Mr. Grant rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Member who has the Floor does not give way, the hon. Member who is seeking to intervene must resume his seat. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) does not need to wave his papers to indicate that he is not giving way.
§ Mr. Roebuck
—to a considerable degree last week in an incident to which proper attention was drawn by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford. The hon. Member for Harrow, 1725 Central (Mr. Grant), in seeking to intervene somewhat rudely, has merely underlined those observations. If the hon. Gentleman now wishes to intervene, I willingly give way.
§ Mr. Roebuck
Another construction which might be put on it is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has become accustomed to seeing the House being treated with contempt by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who makes speeches in the country which ought to be made in this House, very often to unsophisticated audiences.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone let loose his ideas about crime in the Metropolis to that highly intelligent group known as the St. Marylebone Young Conservatives Association. It may be he felt that his remarks would be subject to somewhat less challenge there than in this House.
It is of paramount importance to the happiness of the citizens of Greater London that they should be able to sleep peacefully o'nights and be able to walk safely in the streets without fear of attack from footpads. I am sure that all hon. Members will want to pay tribute to the Metropolitan Police, both for their work in the Metropolitan Police district, and for the splendid job they did in Anguilla. Any increase in the incidence of crime is a most serious matter, and I am sure that hon. Members on this side of the House will want to consider it with the gravity it deserves.
In some recent statements right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have given the false impression that the crime situation has considerably worsened as a result of there being a Labour Government in power. No one has made more reckless statements in that regard than the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone, the magic megaphone of the Conservative Party. His intemperate speeches on this subject, made to such important audiences as the St. Marylebone Young Conservatives, have embarrassed not only the more fair-minded 1726 of his hon. Friends, but also the police, who properly object to being regarded as a political football. About the only thing which can be said in favour of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's views on this subject is that they have demonstrated once again that the ancient art of humbuggery is not dead in the Conservative Party.
Our opponents have thrown down the gauntlet on this issue, and it should be picked up. The most serious threat to law and order in the Metropolis in recent years has been from the growth of organised gambling, bringing in its train the protection racket, violence, and other Mafia-like activities. It was the Conservative Gaming Act of 1960 that opened the door to crooks of that ilk. It was this Government, with their Gaming Act, that slammed, bolted and barred the door in such a resolute manner that not even highly-paid lawyers such as the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone—briefed and backed with capital from unsavoury foreign customers—could open it. It is no exaggeration to say that, without this Government's Gaming Act the Mafia would be prowling the streets of London today and the crime statistics would be much more serious than they are.
The provisional crime figures for 1969 for the Metropolitan Police District leave no room for complacency. I shall have some proposals to make for a more effective use of manpower—
§ Mr. Lipton
Although it is true that in 1969 the crime rate in the Metropolitan Police District rose by 7.5 per cent., it is not without significance that in Brixton, in a similar period, it dropped by 5 per cent.
§ Mr. Roebuck
We all know my hon. Friend's influence for good, not only in his constituency but elsewhere.
We ought not to minimise the seriousness of crime in the area, but I agree with my hon. Friend that we should not pass over certain significant improvements that occurred in 1969 when compared with the previous year. In that connection, I want to draw attention to three points. First, the provisional figure for murder, at 52, was five fewer than in 1969. Secondly, the figure for manslaughter and infanticide, at 34, was 18 fewer than in 1968. Thirdly, the 1727 clear-up rate—the number of cases of crimes pursued by the police to conviction—was 26.8 per cent. in 1969 compared with 24.8 per cent. in the previous year. That is still far too low for comfort, but the police deserve congratulations for that improvement, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary deserves congratulations for giving the police force the tools with which to do the job properly.
It is, however, most disturbing to find that serious crime—indictable offences—increased by 22,564 to 321,431. To some extent that increase may be due to lumping in the figure for the unauthorised taking of motor vehicles, but I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that it is still intolerably high. So, too, is the figure for wounding and assault, which jumped by 28.7 per cent., to 6,820. More happily, in respect of that offence the clear-up rate was 67.4 per cent.
I have sought to analyse the reasons for this increase in crime statistics in the Metropolitan Police District. I found, as I suspect many other hon. Members who take this subject seriously have done—unlike the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone—that it is a task of extreme difficulty. Particularly is this so if one seeks to find the true position and is not concerned to scarify people into voting Conservative. There are many reasons for the increase. It is probable that the community now takes a more serious view of violence than it did hitherto. More assaults are therefore reported to the police. More vigorous police activity is known to have a tendency to result in more crimes being reported, because the police are more easily accessible. Certainly that is so in the Greater London area, as a result of the introduction of the unit-beat police system by my right hon. Friend. This is having a very good effect in keeping down the crime rate.
Another problem that arises in examining crime in the context of our capital city is the difficulty one finds in making comparisons with conditions elsewhere. The figures for the provincial cities for 1969 are not yet available, but the previous figures suggest that the level of crime in London is no worse than it is in other cities, and is better than in 1728 some. But London is a cosmopolitan capital city, and it would be more meaningful if we could compare it with similar cities in other countries. I have sought to do this but have failed. Because of the different legal definitions of crime and different recording methods, it is not possible to make a meaningful comparison, but most hon. Members who have travelled abroad would agree that there has been an increase in crime throughout the Western world, and that the level of serious crime in London is much lower than it is in many comparable cities abroad—for instance, New York. Furthermore, the general standard of policing and the integrity of our police command respect and admiration throughout the world.
§ Sir E. Bullus rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I remind hon. Members that interventions prolong speeches and that many hon. Members wish to speak.
§ Sir E. Bullus
I only wanted to ask the hon. Member whether he thinks that any notice should be taken of the opinion of the police in regard to the abolition of hanging as a deterrent to the crime of murder. Should not hanging be restored in respect of those who commit murder against police officers, as police wives and police officers require?
§ Mr. Roebuck
The hon. and gallant Gentleman should consult his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, who voted for the abolition of the death penalty. Moreover, he should listen to my speech. I have already told the House that the figure for murder in the Metropolis in 1969 fell, as compared with 1968. The hon. Member should take the matter up with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)
Perhaps my hon. Friend will consider adding to his reply the fact that in New York, where the death penalty is imposed for murder, there are more murders per week than there are in London per annum.
§ Mr. Roebuck
The whole House will echo the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo).
We can note with approval the fact that some steps have been taken to deal with the serious crime situation in 1729 Greater London. The Commissioner has recently increased the strength of the C.I.D., and certain specialist squads, including the Fraud Squad and the Drug Squad, have been strengthened. The question of drugs is of particular relevance in Greater London and many hon. Members will wish to applaud the recent introduction by my right hon. Friend of a Bill to increase penalties for drug traffickers.
§ Mr. Roebuck
I cannot give an explanation for that, but the unit-beat police system, in which an officer appears at irregular intervals in certain areas, should help to control that situation.
In his annual report in 1968 the Commissioner said that there was no evidence that crime was organised in London on a large scale, and that to the extent that "protection" does occur the victims are usually on the criminal fringe. Happily the gangs which were beginning to appear on the scene in Greater London—I do not want to make a party point, notwithstanding provocation—when the Government supported by hon. Members opposite were in power have been brought to justice. The police techniques in these cases—the setting up of special squads to deal with them—have been made permanent, to ensure that large-scale organised crime does not get a hold.
The Government have done many things to help the police force do its job better. The strength figure of the Metropolitan Police on 31st October, 1964, was 18,341; on 25th January last it was 20,671. Secondly, at the beginning of 1964 there were 924 radio-telephone sets in cars and on motor cycles; at the beginning of 1970 the figure was 4,725. In October, 1964, there were 25 personal radio sets in the force; today there are 6,125. Thirdly, in October, 1964, there were 1,455 motor cars or vans and 950 motor cycles in use; in March, 1970, the figures are 2,705 for motor cars and 651 for motor cycles—motor cars being considered rather better equipment. Fourthly, a computer was 1730 installed in 1968 to save police time by processing fixed penalty and excess charge notices and other scientific data.
Those are impressive figures, and my right hon. Friends are to be congratulated on them, but there are, I am sure, more effective ways of using police manpower. For instance, far too many policemen are employed on traffic duties which could be done by people with less training, perhaps poorer physique and by an older generation. I hope that fresh consideration will be given to having a special traffic corps within the Metropolitan police and I urge my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to set up an appropriate committee to consider this.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
This also applies, of course, to school crossings, which sometimes have to be manned by police officers.
§ Mr. Roebuck
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Unfortunately, many local authorities pay too little to attract people to take over these responsible and necessary duties. But, as the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), who is an engineer, will know, technology has been brought in to help to deal with the traffic problem and in West London traffic lights are now computer controlled over six square miles. I understand that this experiment has been successful, and one hopes that the system will be applied in other areas in Greater London.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Before he leaves this point, is my hon. Friend aware that while, in this country, it is, fortunately, extremely rare for a policeman to be murdered, it is, unhappily, by no means rare for them to be killed by motorists, and that this is the most common accidental source of death among policemen?
§ Mr. Roebuck
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underling another reason why we should use technology to deal with these problems—
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow East) rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I would remind the House that interventions prolong a speech. This is a debate, and many hon. Members wish to speak.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that police decide 1731 whether those who control crossings outside schools—the "lollipop men" as they are called—shall or shall not be appointed by gauging the flow of traffic? Therefore, this point is erroneous.
§ Mr. Roebuck
No doubt hon. Members can take up these specific points with the authorities in their own constituencies, but there is a great deal in what the hon. Gentleman says.
Although there has been a lot of rumbling from the less reponsible members of the Opposition about crime in Greater London and elsewhere, there has been a deplorable lack of any specific proposal for improving the matter, apart from a return to ancient and barbaric punishments which would make Torquemada blush. There have been only two specific proposals outside that. One was revealed by the Daily Mirror on 2nd March when in its excellent and well-informed "Inside Page"—
§ Mr. Roebuck
—it said:A Tory plan has been produced to cut the amount spent on fighting crime. Although details are still secret, Inside Page can reveal that the Chancellor will ask Parliament to reduce Home Office expenditure by £30,000,000 on the force of Law and Order.Quintin Hogg, the Shadow Home Secretary, who has been storming about the lack of Law and Order, would do well to have a quiet word with his Front Bench colleague, lain Macleod, Shadow Chancellor. For it is Macleod's plan.Unfortunately, neither right hon. Gentleman is in the Chamber, so we are unable to pursue that. But it makes absolute nonsense of the case which the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone has been making—his great plan for the New Britain—"Build more Prisons." Apparently some of his hon. Friends are concerned to cut down the amount of money which has been spent on the police force. I emphasise again that this Government have spent more than the previous Administration, and apparently hon. Gentlemen opposite wish to cut that expenditure.
The other specific proposal was from the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor). I said that I would refer to him. His proposal was that we should bring back the stocks. I do not know 1732 whether that suggestion commends itself to hon. Members with Greater London constituencies: I only observe that the stocks were introduced about 1355 under the Second Statute of Labourers, to deal with unruly artisans, and that it was not a proposal which commended itself greatly to the authorities then. About ten years later, it was necessary for another Statute to be introduced to compel defaulting villages to put up stocks. It did not seem to have had very much effect, however, on the unruly artisans.
Before leaving the question of crime, I want to say something about demonstrations. They are extremely important in connection with Greater London. There has been a number of imprecise statements about these demonstrations from hon. Gentlemen opposite. They talk vaguely about the need for fresh legislation. There is no need for fresh legislation, but there is certainly a need for members of the Bench to become better acquainted with the views of the general public with regard to punishment when offenders appear before them. They seem too often to deal far too leniently with those persons who break up orderly demonstrations and public meetings.
However, it is easy to get the situation out of proportion. In the 12 months ended 1st November, there were 500 demonstrations in the Metropolitan Police area, and in only one or two cases were fringe elements able to cause trouble. In the circumstances, there is no case for altering the law, which gives everybody the opportunity to express views. However, I repeat, I wish that magistrates would deal a little more strongly with people who are brought before them for disturbing public meetings.
It has sometimes been maintained by some of the more Neolithic hon. Gentlemen opposite that this rowdyism is only from Left-wing elements. This is not the case: very often it is from Right-wing elements. It is interesting to trace back the course of violence at public meetings and demonstrations over the past decade or so. I believe that this outbreak of violence started at Conservative Party conferences, when some Right-wing Conservatives objected to the colonial policies being pursued by Mr. Macmillan and the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod).
1733 One further suggestion: we might consider, in order to save police time, having magistrates' courts sitting in the evening. This would mean that we would need to increase the number of magistrates, but it would enable cases to be dealt with more speedily, instead of people having to wait about for their cases and policemen wasting their time in court. Perhaps a start could be made with traffic courts meeting in the evenings.
I hope that I have demonstrated, however inadequately—
§ Mr. Roebuck
—yes, and briefly, that the people of Greater London have every cause for satisfaction with the policies which have been pursued by Her Majesty's Government and every cause for dissatisfaction about those who have been pursued by friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are in control in the boroughs and at County Hall. Much needs to be done to make London a better and more lively place, to give it life and soul, and there will be an opportunity for all Greater Londoners to do this on 9th April.
I hope that will be a day on which we can start building a better, more beautiful and more compassionate London.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I had intended to begin by reassuring the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) that hon. Members on these benches who represent London constituencies would wish to take part fully in the debate, until it began to become apparent that he did not wish to leave us very much time for the purpose. The difference, of course, between hon. Members representing London constituencies opposite and on this side of the House is that we seek to take part in these debates when elections are not pending as well as when they are.
It has been painfully apparent during the speech which we have just endured that the whole of this exercise is designed as an electioneering measure, a fact which was confirmed by the hon. Member's peroration with its specific reference to an election date. Indeed, it falls, perhaps, for argument whether the expenses 1734 of today's sitting should not be allotted to the election expenses of Labour candidates at the Greater London Council election. I would be prepared to argue the contrary, because it would be most unfair to Labour candidates at the G.L.C. election that so crude an attempt at electioneering should be charged against them. I have far more respect for them than to believe that they could not do it a great deal better than the hon. Member for Harrow, East has done.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I intend to go on to such part of the case as the hon. Member allowed to obtrude at various points of his dissertation.
I begin by reminding the House that the hon. Member for Harrow, East made eloquent reference to the problems of London with nineteenth-century houses and nineteenth-century transport. I wonder whether it occurred to the hon. Member that if that were true—and there is a great deal of truth in it—a considerable measure of responsibility for that state of affairs must lie on the party which controlled London local government for about half the period since the nineteenth century ended, and that, if nineteenth-century houses and nineteenth-century transport prevail in London today, the Labour Party, which controlled County Hall for 33 years immediately preceding 1967, must accept a considerable degree of responsibility.
To take one of what seemed to me to be the smaller points made by the hon. Member, although he appeared to attach great importance to it, in connection with local authorities under Conservative control. He said that they were spoilsports. He immediately went on by a curious, almost Freudian, connection to refer to sewage. It reminded me that one of the last acts of the Labour Administration, before it fell, in County Hall in 1967 was to give a luncheon to the sewage conference which cost the ratepayers of London £2,000 and gave, therefore, perhaps a new interpretation to the old expression about the treatment of sewage.
I find considerable disparity between most of the hon. Member's speech and the terms of his Motion. His Motion 1735 can be almost summed up as an address to the people of London: "You lucky people"—the happiness and prosperity which have resulted from the measures of the Labour Government. Yet he devoted a great deal of his speech to the contrary theme, to the suggestion, not unfounded, that there were many miseries and unhappinesses affecting the people of London.
It therefore falls to us on this side who seek to reply to the hon. Member to deal with the curious situation in which the Motion appears to suggest that everything is happy and splendid as a result of the wonderful and inspiring measures of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, as the result, for example—I am glad to see the Minister Without Portfolio present—of those triumphs of the Department of Economic Affairs which caused the Prime Minister to wind up that Department.
§ The Minister Without Portfolio and Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Shore)
The right hon. Gentleman may recall that in the quarter preceding the establishment of the D.E.A., Britain was running a deficit of nearly £900 million a year. In the last quarter preceding the demise of the D.E.A., Britain had turned into a surplus of something like £400 million a year. There may be some connection between those two events.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If there be some connection—and I understand the right hon. Gentleman's natural anxiety to establish that there is—it becomes the more inexplicable that the Prime Minister should abolish that Department. It would seem to suggest that the Prime Minister with his closer sources of information did not wholly share the exuberant enthusiasm of his right hon. Friend on this subject.
We must, however, deal with the Motion. I ask the House to contemplate what we are being asked at the end of the debate to assert: that not only do we approve the policies of Her Majesty's Government, but that they have resulted in increased prosperity and happiness to the people of London—all the people of London without qualification or limit. That is what the hon. Gentleman is asking the House to record. It will be re- 1736 ceived, I think, with rather different feelings by people outside—by the chilled, packed crowds who clamber into inadequate and belated trains every evening on Waterloo station;the young people whose hopes of being able to buy a house have been frustrated by direct governmental action;the housewife who is struggling with an increase in retail prices of 25 per cent. over five years. Does she notice the happiness and prosperity which have resulted from Government measures?
Does the man who sees his little business ruined by the credit squeeze see happiness and prosperity resulting from Government measures? Does the rising young executive, who finds an ever-increasing proportion of his earnings removed by ever-increasing taxation, see happiness and prosperity resulting from Government measures? Do the children who are still in schools that the Secretary of State for Education and Science will not allow to be rebuilt—and there are many in the London area—for which the local authorities concerned have submitted necessary schemes but which the Department of Education and Science has either failed to approve or has first approved them and subsequently withdrawn the approval;are those children getting happiness and prosperity as the result of Government measures?
What about the elderly widow who sees her savings invested in gilt-edged eroded every year in terms of shrinking values expressed in a shrinking pound? is she enjoying the happiness and prosperity which, according to the hon. Member for Harrow, East, has resulted from Government measures?
§ Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)
I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that possibly the elderly woman with no private investments has been made a little easier by the increases in pensions which she has received under the present Government.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If the hon. Lady, who is knowledgeable in these matters, wishes to go into their history, she will, I think, be generous enough to accept that under the preceding Administration, the widow who was left with children received the biggest proportionate increases that she has ever received 1737 in the record of social security. The hon. Lady knows, however, because she altered my phrase, that the widow to whom I was referring was the type—and we all know of their existence in our constituencies—whose husband provided her with a small competence invested in gilt-edged securities because, at that time, they were thought to be safe and because, indeed, the late Lord Dalton suggested that that was a patriotic direction in which to invest. I am asking the House whether the people of London, including people like that, are enjoying happiness and prosperity. The hon. Lady, being an honest person, must admit that the reverse is the case.
We see at once that these Government measures have not resulted in happiness and prosperity to those very large sections of the community, including the old, the young, the housewife, the young couple seeking a home and the young executive trying to make his way in the world. All these people have seen, as a direct consequence of Government measures, happiness and prosperity recede from them. Indeed, if the hon. Member for Harrow, East—and the Patronage Secretary, who is also Chairman of the London Labour Party—had not had some doubt whether, in the near future, the people of London would be able to recognise these benefits, this debate would not have been arranged.
§ Mr. Roebuck
There is no basis for that statement. Ever since I was first elected to serve in this House for a Greater London constituency, I have taken a continuing interest in the quality of life in the Greater London area, unlike many of the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. and hon. Friends who are not present this morning. It is quite wrong to suggest that, had it not been for an election in the offing, I would not have sought to draw attention to these matters.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman says that it is pure coincidence. He must leave it to the House to judge. He concluded his speech by a specific reference to the G.L.C. election, complete with the date, so perhaps the two matters are not wholly disconnected.
I want to take up what the hon. Gentleman said about transport. Outside this House, posters are displayed which show some unhappy-looking 1738 people standing in a bus queue. Underneath, is the legend:You pay more for waiting in Tory Town.That is a clear reference to the inadequacy of London Transport, with the suggestion that it is the responsibility of the Conservative Party and, in particular, the Conservative Party on the Greater London Council. Plainly, it has no other point or relevance.
It is an insult to the intelligence of the simplest of electors. The House knows that, until 1st January of this year, London Transport was administered as a nationalised industry under the control for the last five or six years of Labour Ministers. If people pay more for waiting in London today, it is obvious that the responsibility lies on those whose policies have controlled London Transport for the last five or six years and not on those to whom responsibility was transferred by the Government's legislation barely two months ago.
I hope that those outside who follow these matters will be driven to the conclusion that a party which is obliged to use this type of argument must be conscious of the utter barrenness of its case if it can produce nothing better.
Obviously I agree with much that is said in condemnation of London Transport. I use public transport a great deal, and there is no doubt that the bus and Underground services have been deteriorating in recent years—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I will come to that, because I suffer from it, too. That is a direct nationalised industry still under the control of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. But, if the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) will allow me, I will deal with London Transport first.
§ Mr. Mikardo
The right hon. Gentleman makes a valid point when he says that the operation has changed since 1st January. However, if he takes a bus to the Isle of Dogs, assuming that he can get one, and asks the people there what difference there has been in the service and the attitude to them of the transport authority since 1st January, he will be able to come back, assuming that he can get a bus off the island, 1739 and tell the House that even in those two months there has been a huge deterioration.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman is chairman of the Select Committee which looks into these matters and, therefore, is very knowledgeable. Does he think that the best administration in the world taking over on 1st January a concern in the condition in which London Transport was when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite handed it over could conceivably have produced results in two months or, indeed, in six? The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not so and that, if there had been a deterioration running for some years, it would be impossible even to arrest it in the course of a couple of months. In that time, no one could compensate for the failure to provide proper investment for modernisation and re-equipment or restore the position of labour relations in an industry riddled with industrial dispute in which certain trade unions, which at any rate are not affiliated to the Conservative Party, are not exactly helping to maintain efficiency. With his experience, the hon. Gentleman knows that.
Therefore, I return to the point that this is the most barren argument that a party seeking power could put forward
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich) rose—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Harrow, East and incur your disapproval, Mr. Speaker, by prolonging my observations—
§ Mr. Roebuck
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order to suggest that I have incurred the disapproval of the Chair?
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has expressed an opinion, and that is all.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
When some of my hon. Friends sought to intervene in the hon. Gentleman's speech, I understood your observations, Mr. Speaker, to indicate that, enjoyable as his speech was, it would be a pity to prolong it.
§ Mr. Marsh
The right hon. Gentleman has referred specifically to the London Transport Bill, for which I had some responsibility. He will be well aware that the last three fare increase announcements in London Transport, two of them before the hand-over of London Transport, while approved by the Labour Government, were approved because the Greater London Council demanded those increases as a condition of taking over the Board.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The right hon. Gentleman has direct experience. What he says is true. With his experience, he will be able to carry it further. It was he who wished to hand over London Transport to the local authority. That is why he used the phrase "made it a condition". He will confirm that the Greater London Council, quite properly, was not prepared to accept an additional liability for the hard-pressed ratepayers of London, and that therefore the fare increases are not the responsibility of the Greater London Council but of the Government who insisted on transferring this unremunerative enterprise to it. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for helping me to bring out that point.
I come now to the Southern Region, in response to the request of the hon. Member for Orpington. This is the direct responsibility of Ministers opposite. They appoint the boards and provide the capital, and they can remove the boards.
I do not know how many hon. Members have seen the rush-hour into Waterloo, Liverpool Street, Charing Cross or other London termini. I do not know how many have sought to travel in the rush-hour out of Waterloo. Conditions are appalling, and they are getting worse. Punctuality is increasingly poor, as the Central Transport Users Consultative Committee has reported to the Minister, and as the right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) will recall. The rolling stock is antiquated and uncomfortable. Services have been curtailed. The congestion is appalling. Yet many people have to endure this twice a 1741 day every working day of their lives, including thousands of my constituents and those of the hon. Member for Orpington and many others. These are the people who, we are told, are enjoying happiness and prosperity as a result of the Government's measures.
I wish that the hon. Member for Harrow, East would confront some of the crowds coming off the trains and tell them that. On reflection, I do not wish that, because it would necessitate a by-election in Harrow, East, and we would lose the hon. Gentleman a little before we are due to lose him, anyhow, at the next election.
Nothing has been done. Waterloo in particular, seems to have a peculiar hostility to its customers. They are obliged to queue in enormous files across the so-called concourse, where they are charged by motor trolleys, no doubt conveying very necessary goods. They are not allowed on platforms generally until trains are due to depart, though perfectly good trains may be standing there.
There is a fearful disregard of the comfort and health of the travelling public. Derailments, defects, breakdowns, are far more frequent than they used to be, as is borne out by the published figures, yet hon. and right hon. Members opposite, though many of us have appealed to them again and again, have done nothing whatever about it. These are matters bearing very much on both the prosperity and happiness of the people of London.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Mr. Ibbotson, of the Southern Railway, has asked the Minister of Transport if he may be allowed to spend £220 million on improving the services of the region, and that this request has been before the Minister since last September but that no reply has yet been given? Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the Minister should say what he is prepared to do to alleviate these conditions in terms of spending, and improving rolling stock facilities?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It only reinforces my complaint that the responsibility for these conditions lies with the Government;not with people like Mr. Ibbotson—for whom I person- 1742 ally have the highest regard—but with the Government who deny them the capital and help they need to modernise a system of transport for which the phrase used by the hon. Member for Harrow, East about the nineteenth century would appear to be, if anything, rather flattering. Because the people in the nineteenth century certainly did not travel in the degrading conditions in which some of my constituents have to travel today.
Another section of people in London are not being given happiness or prosperity as a result of the Government's policies. They are the employees of the Royal Mint, who are being faced with forcible transfer against their will to South Wales. Some hundreds of excellent workers are affected. The Royal Mint won the Queen's Award for Industry and Export in 1966. The Mint on Tower Hill has a thousand years of tradition behind it. There has been a Mint on Tower Hill since before the Norman Conquest.
The workers at the Royal Mint have a skill and competence unequalled in any Mint in the world. Yet they, with their families, are faced with compulsory transfer to a part of the country wholly strange to them. If they refuse to transfer, their chances of employment, in the conditions created by Government measures in London, are very poor. At the beginning of the year, there were 58,000 unemployed in London and only 18,500 vacancies. So when we talk of people being made happy and prosperous by this Government's measures, let us remember those workers, who have served the country very well.
I am told that the decision was originally taken in 1967 on a basis which has now wholly altered. The basis, which may then have been reasonable, was that the amount of work available was so great that there was not room on Tower Hill adequately to deal with it. The forecast now is, I understand, that about half that amount of work is available, and those actually doing the work have assured me personally, because I have had the pleasure of seeing some of them, that there is no reason whatever why the volume of work which the Government themselves now contemplate should not be done on Tower Hill if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom they have also 1743 seen, unsuccessfully, would only reconsider his decision. These people want to remain happy and prosperous—and Londoners.
§ Mr. Shore
The right hon. Gentleman is talking about an establishment in my constituency. I wholly agree with what he says about the skills and traditions in the Mint but he should get the facts right. First, it was decided, following a review of the Mint's facilities in the early 1960s, that it would be necessary to build a new Mint, and that this would not be possible on the existing site. Secondly, following on that decision, the Government did not announce that the Mint on Tower Hill would just be closed, but agreed to do it over a period of five years. Further, at least half of the people now employed there were taken over subsequent to the 1967 decision, and the other half have either transferred or have found jobs elsewhere.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It is very little consolation to be given sentence of execution partially suspended for five years which is what the right hon. Gentleman says. Nor does the right hon. Gentleman, who is, after all, supposed to represent these people, deal with the arguments which they have put to many of us—including some of his own hon. Friends, I understand—that though the decision in 1967 was arguably right in view of the then expected volume of business, the present volume of business, due to the newly-come independence of territories which will not use the Royal Mint, is now only about half, and is perfectly within the competence of the establishment on Tower Hill to deal with. Does the right hon. Gentleman dispute that argument? If he does not dispute it, will he tell me why his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has refused to reconsider this decision in the light of changed circumstances?
§ Mr. Shore
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the Mint a short time ago and the point which the right hon. Gentleman now makes was made then. But the whole point is that although it is true that there has been a drop off in export orders at the Mint, my right hon. Friend does not accept the judgment that the present trend 1744 will continue, but rather that export orders will again increase.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It is very easy for the right hon. Gentleman to say that when the facts over the last year or two are plain and—
§ Mr. Russell Kerr
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not possible to leave the Mint and get back to the roast lamb?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. As long as hon. Members are in order they make their speeches in the way they want to make them. The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck), who opened the debate, was heard without interruption.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If the hon. Member does not care about 400 people with their wives and about 800 children who wish to remain Londoners, some of us do. And if hon. Members opposite adopt this attitude when the General Election comes they will suffer the very same fate as has been suffered by their candidate at Bridgwater, who was defeated by 11,000 votes.
§ Mr. Shore
The right hon. Gentleman is doing this quite deliberately. If anything like the same concern had been shown by the Conservative Government for people unemployed, and the same concern shown in dealing with problems of redundancy and closure as has been shown by this Government, many thousands of people would be very much happier than they are today.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I should be happy to argue that matter at length with the right hon. Gentleman on an occasion when it was in order to do so. I am dealing with something which is in order and which affects, not wide general issues, but the people whom the right hon. Gentleman represents.
In referring to housing the hon. Member for Harrow, East used a rather good phrase about a "grey urban mass". Again, I am sure that he does not really think that those who have been in power in London for three years could have resolved that problem after 33 years of neglect. He knows better than that. In this connection, I should like to take up—and I am glad to see present with us the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the 1745 Ministry of Housing and Local Government—the attitude of the Minister of Housing on this matter. In a recent housing debate the Minister sought to attack housing authorities in London, including my own, for what he called the inadequacy of their housing programmes. He specified the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. He did not mention that the Royal Borough has at the moment 662 dwellings under construction. He did not mention, either, that other schemes which the Royal Borough has ready to put out to tender have been held up because of the failure of his own Department to give planning permission or authority for compulsory purchase. It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary shaking his head: I have in my hand the facts, which the Town Clerk has provided.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Reginald Freeson)
If the right hon. Gentleman wants the facts of the case, I shall be happy to give him copies of the correspondence. Despite the interest now shown by the right hon. Gentleman, we have had no correspondence or inquiry from him. It is not sufficient to keep on talking about buildings under construction which were planned three to five years ago. The concern of the Ministry, and my concern, is to keep up the tender programmes, and the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames did not put in any tender programme whatever last year.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman says, perfectly truly, that I made no inquiries of him. I will tell him why. I prefer to go to a reliable source rather than to the Department or to a Minister who was prepared at the Dispatch Box to give a wholly biased view of facts in the housing debate without warning, and incidentally without informing me.
As the hon. Gentleman has gone further in that way, I can give him the facts. He may be interested to know that 662 dwellings are under construction. People on the waiting list are much more interested in this because these are houses which, if the right hon. Gentleman will cease to interfere, can be swiftly completed. I have particulars of five schemes, all of which wait to go out to tender for action—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman rightly asks "When?"—as soon as his Department gives permission. I hope that he will give me the assurance now, as he is so interested in this matter, that these permissions, some of which have been waiting since before the beginning of the year, will be given next week. Will he give that assurance?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Again I remind the House that interventions prolong speeches and many hon. Members wish to speak in this debate.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am very conscious of that, Mr. Speaker, but it is customary, I think, to give way to a Minister of the Crown when one has attacked his Department.
§ Mr. Freeson
The right hon. Gentleman has asked a question on a matter which is between the Department and the town authority which will receive replies on planning matters, as he well knows. If he is telling me that it is the intention of the Kingston upon Thames authority, and he is speaking on its behalf, to increase its rate of tendering over the next two years, I shall be interested to receive the fullest possible information about its plans for those years.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Taking the first point made by the hon. Gentleman, I am extremely well aware that it is for his Department to reply direct to the town council. Because it has failed to do so, I have raised the matter here. I hope that by his answer he was not seeking to hide behind his officials on matters for which he and his right hon. Friend must accept responsibility. I hope that before the debate ends he will do something to expedite the giving of permissions, which matter is holding up the very things which he charges the local authority with not doing. I hope he will realise that the sin lies in his Department and not in the local authority which he seeks to criticise.
This is true all over London. Has it not occurred to the hon. Gentleman that the fall-off in housing all over the country is national in scope, and therefore national in cause? Has it not occurred to him that the fall-off is nationwide? 1747 [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It has occurred for reasons which are not difficult to see. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."]
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
One reason is the high price of council houses, which has risen from £3,500 to £5,000 under this Government. Another is the effect of S.E.T. on building and building components and another, petrol tax, which is affecting the cost of transport. A further cause is the credit squeeze. The hon. Gentleman knows this. He knows that if we want a better housing programme both in the private and the public sectors we need a change at the top—in the Department.
I agree very much with one thing said by the hon. Member for Harrow, East. There has no doubt been a conflict between the central Government and Greater London Council and other local authorities in London. The Government have sought to interfere to an unprecedented degree—unprecedented in history—with the autonomy of freely-elected local authorities. Those local authorities can claim to have been refreshed by a more recent mandate from the people than can right hon. Members opposite. Their moral authority to govern has been more discredited by the Bridgwater result.
Yet this is the Government which seeks to override local authorities and deny them the right to sell council houses to tenants when they seek to do so. This is the Government which seeks to interfere in secondary education and in matters which for many years have been regarded as the responsibility of local authorities. In the case of London the attempt to introduce commercial radio and to add to the quality of life by improving the radio service in London has been thwarted by this Government. I agree that there is a conflict, a conflict between local authorities in London and many other parts of the country and this Government but if we wish to secure out of this conflict happiness and prosperity for the people of London, the Government can make just one contribution. They can resign.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Reg Prentice (East Ham, North)
There was a curious lack of logic in the attempt by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) to make some kind of distinction between the terms of the Motion with its reference to happiness and prosperity and the criticisms made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck), who moved it, in a very effective attack on Conservative rule in London. The fact, as we all know, is that the prosperity and wellbeing of our constituents depends upon a mixture of policies, including policies followed by the national Government and, in the case of London, by what in effect is a regional government, the Greater London Council, and policies followed by the borough councils.
I think the answer to this alleged contradiction is simply that our constituents are now more prosperous than they have ever been before as a result of the Labour Government. If one takes in all the indices about the level of real wages, about the real level of pensions, about the amount of home ownership and car ownership and every aspect of standards of living, telephone installations, holidays abroad and all the rest, the standard of life is higher now than it has ever been before. This is related to the economic recovery of Britain under the Labour Government. Therefore, my hon. Friend was right to phrase the Motion in the way he did.
If we turn to the policies for which Greater London Council is responsible, having been under the control of the Tories for three years, and of the London boroughs, most of which have been under Conservative control for two years, we can bring forward a catalogue of failures, faults and unfulfilled promises, and that also is why my hon. Friend spoke as he did. This is becoming realised by larger and larger numbers of electors in the Greater London Area. In the last week or two there have been seven municipal by-elections, two this week, and they have shown an average swing from Conservative to Labour of 13.8 per cent., which indicates that a growing number of people in London are sick and tired of the broken promises of the Conservatives who have taken 1749 charge and control of their borough councils, and they are seeking a change.
I propose, in what I hope will be a brief speech, to make a mixture of partisan and non-partisan points. I turn to a non-partisan subject, which perhaps will lower the temperature for a few moments. We should recognise that in Greater London, as in all major cities of the world, we are facing in the 'seventies a number of complex issues affecting the environment which are the result of technological changes of our time. I want to look at that kind of problem from the point of view particularly of the Borough of Newham, but also in looking at the Borough of Newham to look at that ring of development in London which is outside the centre but further towards the centre than the more recent suburbs.
Newham, I think, is typical in its history of some parts of Greater London which grew up in the later part of the 19th century. In Newham there was a growth of industry along what now is the western part of the borough in the Lea Valley from the middle of the 19th century onwards and particularly the railway complex at Stratford, and also a growth of industry along the riverside associated with development of the Royal Docks. Following that there was the spread of housing, first in West Ham and later in East Ham, the spread of modest terrace-built houses, very solid in construction, which have lasted for a long time. This happened in a way which gave the citizens very little by way of open spaces. We had, too, a network of roads adequate for that period but grossly inadequate for this period, so that areas like mine suffer from severe traffic problems. Therefore we find in these boroughs a number of problems affecting housing, affecting transport, affecting the location of industry, and many other aspects of the environment, and which are due simply to the changing nature of the physical assets of the area.
I want to refer to the housing situation as it affects the Borough of Newham. I suppose my experience is similar to that of most Members of Parliament for the Greater London area in that since I have represented my constituency I have had more people complaining to me 1750 about their housing problems than about any other single issue. This, of course, is still the case now in 1970, as it was in 1957 when I became a Member for the area. At the same time I can say, and I believe that this would also be the common experience, that the actual threshold of hardship has changed, and the severity of the hardship for those people who are high on the housing list, as they are rehoused, is less;the problems, though still severe, are less severe than they were some years ago.
Here I do claim credit for the Borough of Newham and for the two county boroughs of East Ham and West Ham which preceded it, and I make this partisan point, that these boroughs have been continuously under Labour control. Indeed, a few months ago we were able to celebrate the fiftieth year of Labour control as it affected the West Ham area. In the last four years some 14,000 people have registered for houses in the Borough of Newham;4,000 of them have been rehoused;3,000 failed to reregister;2,000 have asked that their names be removed from the list;and the list now is at 5,000, of whom approximately half have a housing need represented by a deficiency of one bedroom, and needs in that direction.
Since the Greater London system came into existence the Borough of Newham under Labour control has built more houses and flats than any other borough in the London area. We can take pride in that, and we can take pride in it as a party. When hon. Members opposite say to us that it is all very well for us to speak about our 400,000 record but why is it not 500,000, I would say that if the other housing authorities in the country had done as well as the Borough of Newham we would have a rate of 500,000 or more.
As we look forward, the Borough of Newham has calculated that it needs a housing programme for the next 10 years of 1,200 houses a year, and it needs them in order to tackle the problems of its housing list and also to tackle the much larger problem, numerically, of slum clearance, because of the 76,000 houses in the borough some 10,000 need to be cleared under slum clearance plans. That is why the programme is as ambitious as it is. Superimposed on the problem of building new houses, it has 1751 the enormous problem of trying to modernise those houses which are old and which are lacking in modern facilities. By the standards of the Housing Act, 1969, over half of the houses in the borough are lacking in some of the amenities described in that Act.
Therefore, from the point of view of the decent housing of my constituents—and I repeat that this would apply to many parts of the London area—first of all we need to continue to have a local authority, a borough council, which gives the kind of priority to housing which Newham has given, and I believe that that continuation requires Labour control.
Secondly, the borough is entitled to look to the Greater London Council to make a contribution to meet the borough's housing needs. In the nature of things there has been only a very small contribution from there in the past. I make no particular point about that because East Ham and West Ham were outside the L.C.C. area, and there has been only a fairly modest number of G.L.C. houses built, but looking forward to the future in terms of the needs which I have defined Newham should be able to look to the G.L.C. for a contribution, and we want to see on the G.L.C. a majority who believe in the building of council houses, and therefore we want to see a return of control of the G.L.C. to Labour.
Thirdly, the borough is entitled to look to the Government for financial assistance. I am not satisfied on all points with the record of the Labour Government here, and I particularly think of the costs arising from measures which need to be taken with tower blocks of the Ronan Point type in respect of which there should have been greater financial help from the Government than there has been. What I do recognise, and I think we should all recognise, is that the financial help from this Government to local authorities has been at a higher level than under the Conservatives and much greater than if the Conservatives had been in office in the last few years.
I turn for a moment to the industrial problems of areas such as Newham. The problem is the problem of the age of the industrial establishments, which throws up particular problems now about the 1752 pattern of employment in parts of London such as this. Because so many of the factories are in old premises they need to be modernised, with new buildings and new plants, but they tend to be established elsewhere. I do not criticise the general strategy of Government of trying to encourage industrial development in the development areas, which necessarily means discouraging greater development in Greater London and the South-East. The Government's general strategy is clearly correct, but there are in the Greater London area certain districts where some greater flexibility is needed. To cite Newham again as an example, whereas at the end of 1966 there were 160 vacant industrial or commercial premises the latest figure is 251. That illustrates, among other things, the difficulty of firms in getting industrial development certificates in areas of this kind.
In Newham and the surrounding areas this is aggravated first of all by a change in the pattern at the London docks, and the fact that there is less activity in the Royal Group and in the group farther up the river and more activity at Tilbury, and also by the change in activities in industry. The Beckton gas works was the largest gas works plant in Europe but the work force has been reduced considerably because of technological change and this has an important effect in the area. I do not want to suggest from that that we have heavy unemployment. We do not. The general employment situation in the Greater London area is good. Nevertheless, there is a trend which worries us, and we do have locally in Newham more unemployment than we had a few years ago. It is still a small percentage of the working population, but the figure now is twice what it was a few years ago.
That reflects a problem of people who find it difficult to travel any considerable distance to work. I am thinking of elderly workers, of disabled workers, and of women who, if they go out to work, need to work near their homes, and, of course, they do not show up in the unemployment figures. Therefore, there is a real problem here, and it could grow.
Secondly, because of the travelling difficulties in Greater London, those of us who represent London constituencies want to see a variety of work available 1753 to our constituents near where they live, so that they can choose whether to work locally or further away. A few years ago it was calculated that the average worker in Greater London spends about two years of his life in rush-hour travel. Rush-hour travel is grim and we should strive to avoid it by creating a pattern of employment which will enable more people to work near home.
Thirdly, the borough is worried by the loss of rateable value through the movement of industry out of the borough. This will make it all the more difficult to tackle housing and other problems that it has to finance For all these reasons, I hope that we shall see a greater flexibility in the Greater London Development Plan, in the borough's development plan and in the extent to which the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is prepared to accept a new view of industry in these parts of Greater London. We also need greater flexibility in the issue of industrial development certificates, not to provide a big expansion of industry in areas of full employment, but to enable the run-down to be avoided and to prevent it getting worse in the years ahead.
May I turn briefly to two wider issues. I promise not to mention again the Borough of Newham. Among the electoral changes to which I look forward with eager anticipation in the next few weeks is the resumption of Labour control of the I.L.E.A. One of the brightest chapters in the history of the Labour Party's achievements was the L.E.A. and later the I.L.E.A. under Labour control. I saw this particularly during the 18 months between October, 1964, and March, 1966, when I was Minister of State in the Department of Education and Science. It was a good authority at every level of education.
The one aspect to which I shall refer is the most controversial aspect, and that is the process of going comprehensive. I was privileged at the time to visit a number of comprehensive schools in the period 1964–66. This was an interesting time because boys and girls who had entered the first form of the schools when they were very new and had not established their reputation were now coming into the sixth forms. Those boys and girls had come into those schools in the late 'fifties when their parents did not 1754 choose the comprehensive schools but the remaining grammar schools. The comprehensive schools were not, by and large, getting many of the pupils who showed up as being the brightest pupils by the arbitrary test of the 11-plus examination. Yet, by the time those boys and girls reached the sixth form, there were large, viable sixth forms of a hundred or more boys and girls who had "failed the 11-plus" but who, nevertheless, were doing well on A-levels, getting good university places and providing that practical proof of the comprehensive theory that was needed.
One of the tragedies is that the I.L.E.A. has come under a control which is slowing down the process of moving over to the comprehensive system.
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Labour Party is now so sure of the pattern of comprehensive education which it wants to see in London, that it will pin its entire faith on neighbourhood comprehensive schools? If so, is he convinced that Government resources will be available to pursue this policy more quickly than it is already being achieved in London?
§ Mr. Prentice
No, Sir. My point is that, in the process of changing over to a completely comprehensive system, every local education authority has to have a phased programme, and the time it takes, which may legitimately be many years, depends on the availability of buildings and other local factors. There is all the difference in the world between a local education authority that wants to move as quickly as it can along that road and one that wants to make the process as slow as possible. It is the local education authorities that want to make the process as slow as possible that worry me. I am not so worried about the troglodytes in Richmond and Kingston and such places. Their refusal to submit a plan can be dealt with under the Education Bill which is now going through the House.
§ Mr. Prentice
Of course it will operate in the long period of Labour Government ahead. Those authorities will produce plans, and will need to come off 1755 the absurd position which they have adopted. The question of whether each local education authority does this as quickly as it reasonably can can be dealt with only at local level. This is what is at stake in London. Whereas we are proud of those hundreds of boys and girls who have gone into sixth forms of comprehensive schools, and glad that they have had the opportunities which would have been denied to them if Labour had never controlled the I.L.E.A., we should simultaneously be worried about the thousands of other boys and girls who are not getting those opportunities and will not get them until there is a comprehensive system throughout the whole country.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
In the Borough of Greenwich, where the Conservatives for years opposed the establishment of comprehensive schools, a Conservative councillor is now Chairman of the Board of Governors, and the Conservatives are boasting about the comprehensive schools.
§ Mr. Prentice
I have often met councillors who took that attitude. More significantly, I have met ex-grammar school teachers who took that attitude and who, after having had experience of working in comprehensive schools, became devoted to the idea and would never go back to the selective system.
§ Mr. Prentice
The hope for Kingston would be accelerated if the people of Kingston had the wisdom to elect a borough council with a Labour majority and if as well there were a Greater London Council with a Labour majority.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman referred to the election of the borough council by the people of Kingston. He might be interested to know that, on the most recent occasion when they had an opportunity to do so, out of 60 seats they returned one Labour member.
§ Mr. Prentice
I am aware of that. I am also aware that Kingston is a very backward place, and that most of Greater London is more sophisticated. I wish 1756 that more people in Kingston and more people generally would see for themselves the success story of comprehensive schools and realise what they are denying to boys and girls by clinging to systems that are educationally unsound and socially unjust.
May I finally refer to transport. One of the points in the Labour Party manifesto for Greater London is the pledge to work for a scheme of concessionary fares throughout London for the elderly, the infirm and the blind. Some years ago I presented a Petition to the House from the benches opposite which was signed by large numbers of elderly people in my constituency and the surrounding area, asking the then London Transport Executive to introduce a system of concessionary fares. That Petition disappeared into the green bag behind your Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as Petitions will, and nothing was done about it. The first act of the Labour Government in 1964 was to introduce a Measure to enable local authorities controlling transport undertakings to introduce concessionary fares for elderly and infirm people and other special groups. This has already taken effect in some parts of the country. I am sure that this simple measure could mean a very great deal in the human happiness of a very large number of our constituents in the London area.
The point has been made to me over and again by old age pensioners that they find the expense of travelling very difficult to meet and consequently are inhibited from visiting relatives and friends, from going to clubs of which they are members and from engaging in other activities. It will be even more difficult for them to bear. If the view prevails that the minimum fare on London Transport is to be 1s. Something should be done about concessionary fares, and this is one of the many reasons that the people of London in a few weeks' time should vote for their Labour candidate. I make no apology for returning to the partisan aspect of this debate.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that despite continued representations to the London Boroughs Association in the last few months, the Tory majority have simply turned down any scheme for concessionary fares for the retired and disabled in Greater London? Is he also 1757 aware that in the Borough of Croydon where he lives, the council has refused to support any such scheme?
§ Mr. Prentice
Yes, I am aware of that. I am also aware that the Labour-controlled Borough of Newham supports such a scheme. I want to see this scheme operate throughout the Greater London area.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
We heard yesterday that without any consultation whatever the Leader of the Council, Councillor Plummer, refused to meet the five representatives of the five London boroughs who wished to have discussions with him. He waited until the Council had risen before he gave an answer. Does my right hon. Friend not agree that it was a disgraceful performance.
§ Mr. Prentice
I agree that it is a disgraceful performance and it reinforces my point. This is one of the issues that the people of London will be able to deal with in a few weeks' time. I hope that they will take a greater interest in the Greater London Council elections than they sometimes do in elections of this kind. I hope that the issues will be considered carefully, that there will be a large poll, and that they will return a Labour-controlled Greater London Council.
§ 1.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian Batsford (Ealing, South)
I am glad to have the opportunity of following the right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) since he is a former Minister of Public Building and Works and it is my intention to mention in my speech quite a number of aspects dealing with that Ministry. On the other hand, perhaps it is only fair to say to him that I will excuse him the usual courtesies and there is no need for him to stay to hear my remarks.
When I first saw this Motion on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) with the wordsTo call attention to the quality of life in the Greater London areaI thought what a wonderful opportunity it was for the hon. Gentleman and for all London hon. Members to talk about the qualities of London. Usually when one 1758 mentions the word "quality" one means a degree of excellence, but the hon. Gentleman devoted practically the whole of his speech to calling attention not to the quality of life, but to a party political exercise.
I also noticed his invitation in the Evening News last Monday which was headed:If you love London, drop me a line.I was interested to hear that he had received some replies. Also in the same article he invited the people of London to write to their own Members of Parliament. I have not received any letters, but I will be happy to hear from them any suggestions about London. I do not know how many letters he has received, but I hope that one day—and it it is a pity we did not have it this morning—we may debate some of the suggestions which they have put forward to him.
It is a pity that he and his hon. Friends have taken so much pride in the fact that the Government have interfered as much as they have in the government of London, a democratically-elected body, and in the affairs of other local authorities.
The hon. Gentleman in his Motion asks the House to approve the policies of Her Majesty's Governmentwhich have resulted in increasing prosperity and happiness for the people of the Greater London area".The right hon. Member for East Ham, North returned to this same subject. But surely prosperity to a large number of people means the ability to earn more money and to keep it. One can hardly say that it has been the policy of the Government to achieve it. Surely the people of London want to feel not that they have got a £in their pockets but 22s. 6d., rather than 17s. 6d. as at present. Prosperity means less taxation not more. It surely means a lower cost of living and not a greater one. I doubt if there is any business in London, large or small, which truly can say that as a result of Labour Government policy over the last four years it is more prosperous. Many would say that despite the activities of the Labour Government over that period they are doing well. This applies particularly to retailers, news-agents and people who have to pay S.E.T.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
The hon. Member surely is being tendentious. He should also look at the number of hairdressing establishments, the expansion of solicitors' businesses, and so on. He might also bear in mind the fact that we now eat scampi and chips and chicken and chips instead of fish and chips and remember the expansion in the number of Chinese restauarants. If he looks at the working-class standard of living he will see that there has been a large increase both in profitability and the standard of service. It is quite tendentious to suggest the contrary.
§ Mr. Batsford
I am sure that there are many different types of restaurants which have increased, Italian restaurants for example. That does not necessarily mean prosperity for the people of London. The increase in the number of solicitors can only mean that the legislation introduced by the Labour Government is so complicated that it needs more solicitors to put it right.
§ Mr. Bruce Campbell (Oldham, West)
While my hon. Friend is looking at the number of fish and chip shops, will he also remember the number of bankruptcies and the number of small firms that have gone into liquidation in the last year or so?
§ Mr. Batsford
I am very fond of fish and chips, but I would rather come on to a much more serious aspect mentioned by the hon. Member for Harrow, East, namely, the patronage of the arts. I will be the first to acknowledge the excellent work of the right hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Jennie Lee) in the arts since she has been in her office. But the hon. Member in introducing this Motion gave the impression that the Greater London Council's support for the arts has shrunk. This is certainly not the case, and I have a few facts to prove it.
Grants to the National Theatre Company and the Sadlers Wells Company, which the hon. Gentleman included as part of the work done by the Government for the people of London, are the responsibility both of the Arts Council and the Greater London Council. The grant to the National Theatre Company in the coming financial year is bigger 1760 than ever before, at £120,000. Assistance given to the National Theatre has trebled since 1964–65. The contribution to the Sadlers Wells Opera has doubled over the same period. Larger subsidies will be given to the London Orchestral Concert Board—£150,000—and the figure for the Festival Ballet Trust will rise from £133,000 to £150,000, if the Arts Council increases their grant.
The Greater London Council is contributing £3¾million towards the £7½million which is required to build the National Theatre. It has given the valuable site on the South Bank as an additional contribution. The Council has leased the Hayward Gallery to the Arts Council at a peppercorn rent. It is making grants to other organisations, including Sir Robert Meyer's Youth and Music and the New Shakespeare Company at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre. It has made a warehouse at St. Katherine's Docks available free to young people, and an exhibition has been held recently to encourage the painting by young artists.
In these circumstances, I do not see how the Greater London Council can be called Philistine. The hon. Member for Harrow, East mentioned festivals. Perhaps I might remind him that, throughout last year and the year before, we discussed the idea of a European Festival of the Arts in London in 1971. In the end, it was decided in agreement with the Arts Council not to spend the money at that time, but that a better idea would be to hold such a festival in conjunction with the opening of the National Theatre. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, if that proved to be possible, it would be a great attraction.
I want to take this opportunity of mentioning one or two subjects which are involved with the quality of life in the Greater London area. London is recognised as possessing probably more good qualities than any other city in the world. It is a healthy city, second only to San Francisco. The hon. Gentleman quoted the leader of the G.L.C. referring to the smell of the river. Of course the river has a smell. I have lived near to it for some years. The smell which comes up the River Thames is the smell of the sea, and that is why London is such a healthy city.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
The right hon. Gentleman has misconstrued what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) said. He pointed out that at Thamesmead the G.L.C. has decided to split the site in half. Half of it will be developed by private enterprise and the other half by the G.L.C. However, the half to be developed by the G.L.C. is to be built on a sewage farm and, as a result, the people living there will have to become accustomed to a smell which Councillor Plummer referred to as being only as bad as the smell of the river.
§ Mr. Batsford
I know about the concern of the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) with sewage and the smell at Thamesmead. I will come to that later.
London is a clean city. Many visitors remark how clean it is. The smokeless zones which Londoners now enjoy have made a tremendous difference. However, that will not continue unless the Government provide adequate supplies of smokeless fuel. It is a beautiful city, with a great number of parks and open spaces, largely thanks to eighteenth century planners. We have heard a lot about the nineteenth century, but it was the eighteenth century which made the greatest improvements in London.
It is a quiet city in comparison with Paris, Milan, New York, Brussels and Barcelona. It is a modern city. We have examples of that in building, transport and engineering which we can show proudly to the rest of the world.
Some hon. Members have questioned whether it is a safe city. That is a point which I hope will be taken up by one of my hon. Friends. It is one of the most important aspects of life in London today, and the hon. Member for Harrow, East was right to draw attention to it.
All these features add up to the phrase in the Motion, "quality of life". However, the aspect of London which provides the greatest quality of all is the River Thames. It is the oldest quality. It was because the river was here that London was built. But it has been sadly neglected by London for centuries. We have turned our backs on the River Thames. We have neglected our opportunities. We threw away the chance when Christopher Wren wanted a flight 1762 of steps from the river to St. Paul's. The only people who have really appreciated the Thames have been the Italian artist Canaletto, the American artist Whistler and that great Scottish engineer, John Rennie. It was he who built Waterloo Bridge, Southwark Bridge, and many others.
I agree with the hon. Member for Harrow, East that parts of the South Bank are a disgrace—
§ Mr. Batsford
Yes, and the North bank, too. However, the hon. Gentleman cannot blame all that on the present Greater London Council. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) asked, who was in charge of the river Thames and its banks for 33 years to 1967? It was the Labour-controlled L.C.C. However, thanks to the Thames Action Sub-Committee of the Arts and Recreations Committee of the G.L.C., a face-lift is planned on several stretches of the Thames. Architects have been appointed for the stretch from Albert Bridge to Wandsworth, and other improvements are planned in Southwark, probably between Tower Bridge and London Bridge. In addition, the G.L.C. has launched a large scheme for St. Katherine's docks. No doubt many hon. Members saw illustrations of it in yesterday's papers, and I am glad that the Minister has given his approval. The council is also investigating the idea of a Thames barrier.
Going back to the new riverside city which is to be built at Thamesmead, I was sorry to hear about the criticism from the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford. About a third of the new city will be in his constituency, and I am sure that he was extremely proud when it received a world award from the International Union of Architects last year.
In his article in the Evening News last Monday, the hon. Member for Harrow, East referred to the stretch of the river by the Festival Hall as "looking fine". I regret that I do not agree. It may have a sort of municipal tidiness about it, but the Shell building is a dull and monolithic tombstone, and in spite of their excitement as examples of architecture, I fear that the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Hayward Gallery are an arid desert of 1763 concrete, quite unrelieved by any softening of vegetation. I recall that in the war we used to call the big building at the Admiralty, H.M.S. "Impossible". It is to be hoped that, as there, there is always virginia creeper. No doubt it could be used to advantage on the South Bank.
I agree that the whole South Bank complex can provide a wonderful entertainment and cultural centre for London. Unfortunately, it is entirely divorced from the centre of London and inaccessible from the entertainment centre in the West End. That could be overcome with drastic action. Charing Cross railway station could be moved to the other side of the river. Hungerford Bridge could be converted into a covered way rather like the old London Bridge, lined with shops and with a "travelator" along the middle to help people cross it. In this way we would join the great entertainment areas of the north side around Trafalgar Square with the new complex on the South Bank, with the National Theatre and everything else.
That piece of waste land, or no-man's land, now covered with cars and between County Hall and the Festival Hall should be entirely glassed in, like a Crystal Palace or the Galleria in Milan, as somebody recently suggested in the Press, for exhibitions. There is no exhibition centre in the centre of London which could be under a glass roof such as that, and yet it would be a great advantage on the South Bank instead of the windy desert which it now is. We would be able to have cafés and restaurants and entertainment under this glass roof free from all the vagaries of London's weather.
Speaking of the River Thames brings me to the subject which is also an area of great quality in London. When I referred to the right hon. Member for East Ham, North, I had in mind Westminster and Whitehall. We hope that the Whitehall plan will provide a great Parliamentary precinct. Precincts are the only possible solution to decent life in the middle of a big city. It does not matter whether it is an entertainment area, a shopping area, a building area, or anything else. We already have some wonderful examples in London—Lincoln's Inn, Grays Inn and the Temple on the other side of Fleet Street.
1764 But the only way in which we can create such precincts is by the diversion of traffic. It is clear from the Second Report of the Select Committee on House of Commons Services, which was published last week, that the Committee had clearly in mind that our new parliamentary building was to be part of a parliamentary precinct. The same Report makes it clear that the Committee has been informed by the Minister of Public Building and Works, the Minister of Transport and the G.L.C., which is the traffic authority, that we are to have some form of traffic going down Bridge Street.
That does not surprise me, but the possible alternative plan for diverting the traffic is appalling. I ask hon. Members to imagine a tunnel of four lanes of traffic going underneath the Terrace of the Houses of Parliament. I presume that it has been worked out that there will be no vibration for hon. Members in the Chamber, but I cannot believe that we shall enjoy the time which we spend on the Terrace in the summer with lorries rattling along underneath. That suggestion is appalling and costly.
The greatest quality of all, the streets of London, are being spoiled by this heavy traffic. I do not agree that it must go through the historic streets of London. Some of the lorries which we see every day turning the corner into Bridge Street and driving past this building are monsters, and I understand that the Government are to propose that we should have even larger monsters in our streets. Yet the very moment the G.L.C. proposes a ringway system to keep all this traffic going round London and to create better amenity in the centre, there are howls of indignation.
I have worked out that most of the traffic going down Bridge Street is not local traffic but is coming to the docks from the West Country. But surely the correct route for that sort of traffic to and from the docks is across what I would call the bulge of South London.
§ Mr. Batsford
The hon. Member may remember that it was William Walcot, an architect, who about 30 or 40 years ago conceived the idea of diverting the River Thames across that bulge of South London, converting the whole of that 1765 great area in the bend of the River Thames to the south, with a wonderful boulevard all along the bed of the river. It is too late to do that now.
I still feel that in examining this plan we should seriously consider whether it is not right to divert the traffic along the South Bank of the river and not the north. We have heard much talk about the South Bank, but I would rather have traffic in Parliament Square than have traffic in tunnels underneath the Houses of Parliament. If we want to get rid of the heavy lorries, I think that the other side of the river would be the place for them.
Hon. Members have referred to environment, which is an essential part of the quality of life in any city. The skyline of a city is an essential part, perhaps subconsciously, but an essential part for every resident, for everybody who looks out of his flat window or out of his office window. The skyline of London is very important. There must be many hon. Members who deplore the fact that so many high buildings have been built in London since the war. I must admit that if 10 or 20 years ago, I had been in a position to have said whether they should go up, I would have said an emphatic No. I would have said that we must restrict the height of buildings in London to 10 or 12 storeys.
Look at it today! The interesting thing is that the first to go up was what I have already described as the monolithic tombstone opposite us here. the Shell Building, a height of 351 ft. Why? Because it went up with the blessing of the L.C.C. in January, 1957. As it was not stopped, it was too late to stop the process. Now we have many high buildings in London, many of them out of proportion. Anyone standing on Primrose Hill and looking down can see these buildings are out of proportion. One of the main reasons is that they have been truncated, I believe at the request of the Royal Fine Art Commission. Perhaps if they had been left, they would have been better.
The policy now being pursued of trying to combine high buildings to certain places;to keep them out of the area around St. Paul's and to allow them to come no closer than now to the Houses of Parliament is in harmony with the Government's policy. On the other hand, 1766 high buildings provide one asset which not many people notice. It is that these great cliffs of glass and steel form a sort of backcloth or background to isolated old historic buildings. This can be seen in the City, and it can be seen in New York.
Some of these buildings, smaller churches and so on, are set off by the high backcloth of the skyscrapers. As we look across the river from here, I think how easy it would be to preserve that charming little chapel of St. Thomas's Hospital in the centre where it would look delightful with all the high buildings around it. This, of course, applies to very few isolated buildings.
The great charm of London architecturally is in its town and country planning, the squares, the streets, the terraces. These are the things which we have preserved and this is why I was delighted with the policy of Conservation Areas which was introduced by the Civic Amenities Act, 1967. We now have to make up our minds what areas, not what individual buildings or streets, we are to preserve in their entirety for posterity. That is the only way in which to avoid disasters such as the destruction of Woburn Square. I am making these suggestions for the preservation of the quality of life in London partly in reply to the request from the hon. Member for Harrow, East in his article in the Evening News. But also because quality is important not only for Londoners but for visitors to London. It is important for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to London every year. One aspect of paramount importance to the visitors is the provision made for them in the way of accommodation, particularly for young visitors.
This is now become a very serious problem. As hon. Members are probably aware, last year thousands of young visitors from overseas slept out in the parks. Fortunately it was a fine summer but if it had happened to be a wet summer, one might have had a disgraceful situation.
I remember that before the war I was concerned with a project called Youth City. That was a proposal to build in London a great centre for youth from all over the world where young people could come and live in London. We felt that by doing that they would 1767 get to know each other's ways and behaviour and get to like each other more. A committee was set up to examine this proposal and to make recommendations and a number of hon. Members from both sides of the House sat on that committee. There was Mr. Tom Smith, the hon. Member for Normanton—who was a man I greatly admired—Mr. Beverley Baxter, as he then was, and Mr. Hamilton Kerr, and I had the honour to be in the chair on this committee. We had representatives of the National Union of Teachers and the National Union of Students and the Committee's report was finished in August, 1939, just before the outbreak of war, and nothing more was heard about the scheme.
Today, 31 years later, the demand for accommodation for young people in London is acute and 85 per cent. of overseas visitors spend all or part of their time in London when they are in this country. More than 1 million holidays of four or more nights are spent in London by British people from other parts of the country and about half of the 4 million people who come to this country as tourists every year are under 30 years of age. On the other hand, suitable transient accommodation for them is lamentably deficient in London.
One of the best known modern hostels is Hyde House which is run for both sexes by the Y.W.C.A. and that only has 126 beds. Last year it was completely full from May until August and on top of that it had to refuse requests for accommodation from 13,500 people. If we are proud of London we should be proud to show it to the younger generation—the younger generation in our own country and the younger generation from overseas. Yet at present although thousands of overseas visitors come here every year this is only a fraction of the number of people who could come to London if there was accommodation provided for them.
And the problem is not confined to visitors. The demand for accommodation for school children for example, from other parts of Britain is enormous and under present circumstances this demand can never be met.
As the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) knows, all the youth organisations in this country recently 1768 formed themselves into what they called The Conference on Accommodation for Young Visitors to London—an organisation supported by Sir Ronald Gould, the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, and Sir William Alexander, the Secretary of the Association of Education Committees. Sir William led a deputation to the Department of Education and Science in 1965 and as a result the conference received a grant of £500. Using that £500 it has produced concrete plans for an international hotel with 500 beds and reckons that this will be a self-supporting concern once it gets going. It approached the Greater London Council and I am glad to say that the G.L.C. has offered it a site at the Crystal Palace. I wondered, funnily enough, whether the Crystal Palace was not too far out because I remember, more than 30 years ago when the first youth city was conceived, going on an experimental journey for time and distance with the chairman of the committee down to Crystal Palace. I came to the conclusion at least under those conditions, that it was too long a distance. We have heard a lot more about the Southern Region railway today, so perhaps the journey does not take quite so long now.
It is surely now up to the Government to offer some support for this scheme because I believe that the proper hotel accommodation for overseas visitors to London is an essential contribution to the quality of life in London. I hope that this will receive support from both sides of the House and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Education and Science to it and that the Government will seriously consider giving it their support.
In this, and in many other ways the Government have a clear duty to ensure the quality of life in London. I also believe they have another duty—to support and not to obstruct the work of local authorities at whatever level or of whatever political party.
§ 1.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)
I find myself closely in agreement with some of the general principles which were enunciated, particularly in the early part of his speech, by the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford). In particular, I agree very much first with what he said about the desirability of precincts 1769 in the city centre. Second, I agree with his contention that we Londoners deserve some discredit and some shame for our failure over the years, or the decades, or even the centuries, to make adequate use of our lovely river.
I make three observations about the river. First, I find it a little puzzling that the hon. Gentleman should say that the bit of the South Bank to which he rightly devoted a great deal of attention is inaccessible. Waterloo Station is only four or five minutes away from Trafalgar Square and is less than ten minutes away from Piccadilly Circus, Moreover, why should one assume that Londoners have lost the use of their legs? It is not all that long a walk over Waterloo Bridge, and it is a pleasant walk from the Strand.
My second point is that the hon. Gentleman said we should have routed the very heavy docks traffic, which is such a nuisance on the streets, down the South Bank. I interrupted the hon. Gentleman at that point—perhaps a little rudely, and I am grateful that he did not take offence—and said, "Not on the South Bank. Up the river." The greatest mistake which was made by the G.L.C.—and I am not making a party point here because I cannot remember whether it was started when the G.L.C. was Labour-controlled and ended when Tories were in control, or whether it was started by the Tories—was the closure of Brentford Dock.
The sensible thing to have done with a lot of the traffic from lower down the river which has to go to the Midlands—which was what the hon. Gentleman was talking about—would have been to lighter it to Brentford Dock where it could either have gone through Brentford Lock into the canal system up to the Midlands or on to spur road to the M4 and then by road into the interior of the country. That unfortunately is now an irrevocable error. It would have saved any amount of the thundering of these very heavy lorries through large parts of the city centre out into the hinterland, and vice versa. However, that is water under the wheel.
But there is another possibility which is not water under the wheel, and I hope that the G.L.C. and everybody else concerned will take some note of it. We are to shift Covent Garden to a new 1770 site at Nine Elms on the southern side of the river. A great deal of traffic carrying perishable goods, a lot of it coming from the Canary Wharf in my constituency, goes to Covent Garden on these monsters about which the hon. Gentleman spoke.
As long as they went to Covent Garden there was not much we could do about having them on the south side of the river. For at least the larger part of their journey they had to be on the north side and, indeed, in a difficult and congested part of the north side. But all that is going down to Nine Elms. It will be an absolute crime if we do not arrange access through the new Covent Garden at Nine Elms from the river, because otherwise we shall get these whacking great juggernauts still going through, and with a longer journey to do.
However we figure it—and I have looked closely at the map, and the hon. Gentleman with his great knowledge of the area knows it as well as I do—it will be impossible to prevent them from going through some terribly congested parts of London. There is one little difficulty about providing access from the river, and that is that the authorities—the G.L.C. and the market authority—have it in mind that between the market and the river there should be a nice river walk and a pleasant garden. I am sure that we would all be in favour of that, and I should not want to do anything to stop it, but that should not prevent access from the river for lighter-age, either through a tunnel or, more easily, through a covered cutting, so that we can have the best of all worlds, with a nice garden and walkway up the top, and barges going underneath straight into the market, and so get a lot of this stuff off the road.
I want to say something about the more general problems of London, and then about part of my constituency, the Isle of Dogs, which has been a little in the news lately, but before I do so I want to refer to one subject raised by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who is temporarily not in his place, and that is the Royal Mint.
I observe with interest that the Royal Mint is a matter in which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are taking an 1771 interest which with the utmost charity I can only describe as extremely belated. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore), in whose constituency the Royal Mint is situated, has, I know, been concerning himself with this matter for some years, and so have I, partly because of my interest in the Mint as an interesting study in location of industrial productive capacity, and partly because a lot of the chaps who work there are my constituents. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), who has had silence imposed on him because of his position on the Front Bench, has been interested in the matter for no shorter a period, and I wonder why right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite have suddenly woken up to this. I very much regret that the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, for whom I have a high regard, especially in connection with some responsibilities which we share upstairs, should have tried to make a great political "do" out of this, because it obfuscates the real problem which exists, and there is a problem.
Notwithstanding what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney in an intervention, I appeal to the Government to have another quiet look at this problem from a blank sheet of paper. I know that it is very difficult for a Chancellor of the Exchequer to go back on a decision taken by his predecessor, but the circumstances have changed since that decision was taken.
At that time the making of coinage in Great Britain was a growth industry. We had our own needs. We had the big problem of decimalisation to come and, happily, we had a large volume of export orders. The Royal Mint has always been one of our most successful exporters, and has achieved success on the basis of the unparalleled quality of its products. But what happened is that as one country after another became independent the first two things that they wanted to do for prestige purposes were, first, to have an airline of their own, and, second, to have a mint of their own. Generally, they cannot run either economically, but they still want to have them for prestige purposes and so, through no fault of 1772 the Royal Mint, overseas orders are falling off.
The forecast load now must be very different from what it was when the decision was taken in 1967. If I may be allowed to say so without immodesty, this is a matter on which I have some little expert knowledge. I think that the decision was taken on the mistaken assumption that the manufacture of coinage is a homogeneous operation, that it is all alike, and, therefore, work as between the Royal Mint at London and the new factory at Llantrisant would be interchangeable. In fact, it is not, because it is a different kind of work involving different types of skills.
The real give-away is that at the moment the forward production order book—I do not mean the sales order book—the load planned on the factories of the two establishments, is eight months in London, and five weeks in Llantrisant. An even bigger give-away is that at the moment an order placed on the Royal Mint by Bermuda for coinage has had to be contracted out, not to Llantrisant, which cannot do it, but to a private company, and, as it happens, a non-union company. With the greatest respect to my right hon. Friends, I do not think, from my experience, that that is a bit of good industrial planning as between two industrial establishments in the same ownership.
We all support the idea of providing more employment opportunities in areas like South Wales where employment opportunities are not as great as we would like to see them. Because the skills of the Royal Mint are irreplaceable, we have to shift hundreds of chaps from London to Llantrisant. This means that we are not providing employment for the chaps in Llantrisant, and it also means that houses which would otherwise be occupied by the local citizenry have to be set aside for people coming from London.
All in all, there is some doubt—I do not put it any higher; I do not want to be dogmatic about it—about whether the basis on which the original policy decision was made is still valid. I am not saying that the policy ought to be reversed. I do not know enough about it to be in a position to say that. All 1773 I am saying is that there is a case for another look at the thing from a blank sheet of paper, and another look at it on its merits, without the merits being overlaid by the natural unwillingness of the Chancellor to go back on a decision of his predecessor, and without the merits being overlaid by the desire of people to save their faces.
I want to make two points on London in general before I refer to my constituency. The first concerns the landlord and tenant policy of the Greater London Council. I shall not involve myself in an argument about the rent increases and the economic basis for them; my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck), in his massive speech—which I am sure we all enjoyed, even those hon. Members opposite who had to writhe a bit—listed a number of matters which are charged in the housing revenue account, on the basis of which rents for council tenants are calculated, and which should never be included in that account. I could add more items to that list, including a very heavy one.
It is possible to make out a case for saying that the tenant of a council house, over the 60 years that he occupies it, ought to pay all the cost of that house, including the amortisation of costs over the period. The theory is that by the end of 60 years the house is not worth anything and, therefore, that the tenant has used up all the asset, has left nothing of it to the ratepayer and therefore ought to pay the full cost. But we cannot put forward the argument in respect of the land. When he gives up the house—when it falls apart after 60 years—the land still belongs to the ratepayer, and is almost certainly worth a lot more lolly than it was when he first took it up. Therefore, there is no case in equity or in accountancy for charging land into the totality of what the tenant has to pay. Much less is there a case for charging him in respect of what the land cost for the three or four years while it was being held preparatory to the commencement of the building of his flat.
I could say many other things that would show that the rent calculations of the G.L.C. are absolutely "phoney", but it is a complicated subject and I do not want to go into too many details. I doubt, however, whether anybody—even hon. Members opposite—can dispute the 1774 fact that the G.L.C. has abused the privilege that the law gives to public landlords in the form of an exemption from the obligations of private landlords under our landlord and tenant legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown) will recall the occasion on which he and I, together with another of our hon. Friends, went in a deputation to County Hall and put this point to the people there.
I do not say that there is never a case for evicting a council tenant; there are circumstances in which there might be good reasons for doing so. Both public and private landlords can evict a tenant if he grossly damages or abuses the property in which he is living; if he turns it into a brothel; persistently refuses to pay his rent, or whatever. But the privilege that the public landlord has and which is denied to the private landlord is that he can obtain such an eviction without giving any reason. Public landlords were given this privilege on the theory that they will always behave responsibly—because if they do not their electors can throw them out and replace them with other people at the next election.
That theory made some sense when council house tenants formed a small proportion of a community. That denial of the protection normally to be found in landlord and tenant legislation was imposed only upon a small proportion of the community. But there are parts of London—and the borough in which my constituency lies is one of them—where council tenants form the majority of the population. On present calculations, by 1975–76 about 90 per cent. of the people in my constituency will consist of council tenants and their dependants. Surely we cannot deny to that sort of proportion the protection which the law gives to what will then be a minority.
That is the theory. In practice, the G.L.C. has abused this privilege. It could have sought evictions on a case stated. It was scared to do so, or could not be bothered to do so. It was either too incompetent or too cowardly to do so—I should not want to say which. So it relied on blanket powers. If that is the way in which some local authorities are going to abuse the privileges that they are given of exemption from the normal 1775 provisions of landlord and tenant legislation, there must be a duty on the House to pass legislation amending the present law so as to take those powers away from those authorities. I devoutly hope that the party of which I have the honour to be a member will include in its next election manifesto a provision to that effect and will justify it on the basis of the behaviour of the Greater London Council and some other Conservative-controlled councils during the last few months.
Reference has been made to the question of concessionary fares for old-age pensioners. It seemed an absolute "natural", when London Transport passed to the local authority—and when, therefore, the power which London Transport did not have to give concessionary fares became possible—that one of the changes which would be incorporated would involve a system of concessionary fares for pensioners. The refusal of the Greater London Council to entertain such a proposition was rather mean. The proposal then went to the London Boroughs Association, which is now dominated by Conservative-controlled boroughs, and that association flatly put its foot down.
The four or five boroughs that remained under the control of the Labour Party are willing to spend money out of their own revenue to work out a system of concessionary fares for the benefit of their pensioner citizens, but they will not be able to do the mechanics of the operation because there are no bus routes or underground routes that start and finish in those boroughs. Even though the boroughs are willing to pay for it themselves they will not be able to do so without consultation with the G.L.C., and this consultation the G.L.C. refuses. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury reminds us, Sir Desmond Plummer not only refused to meet them but waited until after a council meeting had ended before announcing the refusal, in order that it should not be published. This man Plummer—I do not know him—is rapidly acquiring the deserved reputation of being the meanest man in London. When he ceases to hold office in the Council his epitaph will be, "That was the end of the career of the meanest man in London."
1776 I want finally to say something about a part of my constituency called the Isle of Dogs—a most interesting part of London. It is the only largely inhabited island in the Thames and it is an island: it projects into the Thames, and 12,000 or 13,000 people live on it. They have a fierce local patriotism. One of my most amusing memories when I first became Member of Parliament for Poplar—although I knew the island for many years before that—was meeting an old lady of nearly 80 who was born and brought up on the island. She described to me a new neighbour she had acquired, saying, "He is quite a nice chap, especially when you bear in mind he is a mainlander." The point at which she said this to me, as the crow flies, was 200 yards from the mainland.
It is an island because it is cut off by two swing bridges which lead into the docks from the mainland. It is pear-shaped, narrow at the top and wider at the bottom, and the only through transport is a ring road which runs around the edge. The south-east corner, I think, has the most beautiful vista in London; one can look across from the Island Gardens to those gorgeous Wren façades at Greenwich on the other side: it is all breathtakingly beautiful.
There is no cinema on the island and no entertainment except pubs, some of which are beautiful. There is nothing for the young people to do, there is the most hideous difficulty in getting on or off the place with public transport, and there is no real community centre. There are enormous housing developments, increasing the population at a furious rate, and there is no secondary school on the island at all.
I see that there stands on the Order Paper a Motion in the names of some half a hundred hon. Members opposite, making a rather silly jejeune schoolboy crack about U.D.I. for the Isle of Dogs. The overwhelming majority of the people on the island, like the overwhelming majority of their fellow-Britons, are good, sound, sensible people. I dare say there are one of two nut-cases on the island, just as there are one or two nut-cases in this House, but the overwhelming majority are good, sound, sensible people who will not be amused by having the mickey taken out of them by hon. Members opposite using the Order Paper to make these infantile jokes against them.
1777 There are some very real problems there, as I have said, and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets a couple of years ago—long before hon. Gentlemen opposite ever took an interest in the place—initiated a study, which has been completed and is now being discussed with all the people on the island. But the island has four principal problems, all of which are the responsibility of the G.L.C. and all of which have been grossly ignored by the present Council. When hon. Members opposite reproached my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East for making some political points out of all this, I had it in mind that one cannot get away from the facts and that there are four major problems on which the present G.L.C. has worsened the plans which were made by their Labour predecessors for services on the island.
The first problem concerns the foot tunnel which runs under the river from the southern end of the island to Greenwich. It is amazing how few Londoners know that this tunnel exists. It is a very interesting walk, and it is very useful for the people of the island. A lot of people come to work from south of the river to the island or vice versa in a seven-minute covered walk, where they do not get rained on. Recently, the Greater London Council proposed to restrict the hours of opening of this tunnel, which would have been a great blow to the people of the island. It was only some tough protests by my own constituency Labour Party and the Tower Hamlets Borough Council which induced them to change their minds.
Second, there is the ring road around the island. In parts, it is absolutely appalling. It is narrow and winding. There is a section of three-quarters of a mile which is particularly narrow and winding, where all the corners are blind because one side of the road has a very high dock wall. In fact, that bit of road is known locally as "The Walls". I would not let any child of mine, or anyone, cycle down there. It is not even safe for kids to walk on the pavement, because there is so much heavy dock traffic which has to swing on to the pavement, very often, to get into the yards of wharves and into the dock itself. Even the pavement is not safe.
Some years ago, the G.L.C. made a plan to straighten and widen that section of road. If the original plan of the 1778 G.L.C., under Labour control, had been operated, the works for it would have been begun by now. The present G.L.C. has postponed it without any firm date having been fixed. So there is a clear instance of deterioration in conditions due directly to the change of control in the G.L.C.
Then we have the problem of schools on the island. We had a secondary modern school on the island called Glengall Grove. It was not a very good school. It was a very ancient building and it was running down. The G.L.C. concluded, rightly, that it should be shut as a secondary school and that they would provide a new one. They got themselves a site in this beautiful south-east corner of the island which I was describing by the Island Gardens and hypothecated it, froze it, for a secondary school. That is marvellous, first-class.
They then closed down Glengall Grove and were re-vamping it as a primary school to take up the slack of this enormous building which is going on, most of which is being occupied by youngish families with lots of young children. Glengall Grove has been shut for two years. They were supposed to start immediately to re-vamp it as a primary school. Nothing has happened.
Then there is the secondary school. This island, with the one road, on the one side blocked by this narrow winding bit, on the other side by two swing bridges which open and shut all the time and can hold up traffic for 20 minutes at a time, has about 1,000 children of secondary school age and no secondary school. Every one of them, every child above the age of 11, has to go off that island to go to school.
I made a calculation—which no one has disputed—that if, in the operative hour in the morning when niblets go to school, and the operative hour in the afternoon when they come home, nobody except secondary school children got on a bus—there were no workers going to and from work and no housewives going to and from shopping—it would take all the buses an hour and a quarter to transport the children off and on the island. So how on earth can they conceivably get to school on time? This shot is not on the board.
1779 Now we have this beautiful site hypothecated for a secondary school. A date was fixed. If there had not been a change of control at County Hall, that school would be a building or would have been built by now. It would either have been completed or it would be nearing completion. It is still not in the programme of the Inner London Education Authority, having been postponed one time after another. Nobody can blame my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. As soon as it is put up to him in a programme by the I.L.E.A., at that minute the Authority will get approval. My right hon. Friend still has not got it in a programme yet. By 1972, we shall have 1,300 children trying to get off and on the island on buses every day for five days of the week.
The other real problem of the island is public transport, about which I will not say much because I ventured to intervene earlier when the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames was speaking. It is, however, complicated by the swing bridges and it is extremely complicated by the schoolchildren. In the days of London Transport, I was able to take a delegation of people from the island along to see the then chairman, Sir Maurice Holmes, and we got somewhere with it. Now, we cannot get any access. We cannot talk to anybody about it, and we would dearly love to.
My hon. Friend's Motion pays some tribute to the Government. This is only a small point, but nothing has pleased me more than that we have on the island a famous rowing club, the Poplar, Black-wall and District Rowing Club, which has supplied many visitors to the famous Doggett's Coat and Badge race and has supplied Henley and Olympic scullers of great distinction.
Its boathouse was falling to pieces. A few days ago, the foundation stone of its new boathouse was laid. It was made possible by the interest and generosity of my hon. Friend the Minister of State whom we all think of as Minister for Sporting Affairs and the generosity of the Tower Hamlets Borough Council. There is one small but pleasing example of the truth of what my hon. Friend 1780 the Member for Harrow, East has said in the first part of his Motion.
The problems of East London go back a long time. They were there under Labour Governments, they were there under Tory Governments. They were there under Labour local authorities and they were there under Tory local authorities. Although the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames was crowing about how well his party did at his election, we have not had a Tory on our council since Hickory Slim was a two year old.
§ Mr. Mikardo
The problems have been there a long time. They will not be easily solved. I say without any fear of contradiction, however, that progress towards their solution has been, in concrete terms—and I have given specific instances—slowed down since the present mob took charge at County Hall. I for one, therefore, will weep no tears, and nor will the people of the Isle of Dogs and the rest of my constituency, when that mob goes out of control in the establishment on the other side of our bridge.
§ 2.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
I rise not to curtail the debate but because I think that this is a convenient point to do so. Two things have emerged from the opening speech of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck). The first is that the political silly season has now formally opened as we get nearer elections and the second is that the Labour Party are becoming desperate as the realisation grows upon them that they stand absolutely no chance at all of capturing London in a few weeks' time. For those two reasons, the time of this House is taken up with a Motion and a debate of this kind.
What does the Motion really say? It says that all that is good in London, the happiness and the prosperity of Londoners, is due to a Labour Government since 1964 and that all that is bad in London is due to a Conservative Administration at County Hall since 1967. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It appears from the cheers on the benches opposite that I have correctly interpreted 1781 the meaning of the Motion. I hope that Londoners will note the insult to their intelligence that hon. Members opposite are seeking to perpetrate.
If the hon. Member for Harrow, East was really concerned, as he said he was, with the quality of life in London, he would have attempted to try to analyse a little of the problems of London to see how they arose and what is the quality of life today in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Batsford) was absolutely right to put the debate in its historical perspective, because unless one has regard to the history of the growth of London one cannot begin to understand why life is as it is today in London and what is needed to try to make it better for the future.
The hon. Member for Harrow, East should have started with the premise and realisation that since the Middle Ages, London has been the political and commercial capital of England. In time it became the centre of a vast worldwide empire. It became the trading centre of the world. The wealth and prosperity which that created on the banks of the River Thames attracted populations not only from all four corners of the Kingdom, but from all four quarters of the globe. We thus have within Greater London representatives of every country over which the United Kingdom held sway as the centre of an empire.
For those reasons, because of the magnetic attraction of the wealth here, the growth of London has been phenomenal. By 1700 it had surpassed Paris as the largest city in Europe. By 1800 its population stood at 1 million. By 1900 one-fifth of the entire population of England and Wales was to be found in the London area. Today, Greater London covers 620 square miles, the equivalent of 13 other major cities of the United Kingdom, and its population is approximately 8 million.
Taking into account this phenomenal growth of population and the period of time over which it took place, the quality of life must be governed by those events. A great number of London's buildings must be old and antiquated and most of its primary schools, in the inner London area certainly, were built in the nineteenth century and are due for replacement. London's road system was not geared to or created for the 1782 kind of transport that is generated by the population today.
All these matters are highly relevant in discussing the problems of London and the quality of life in London. It is futile to say seriously to the people of London that those problems have been created simply during the last three years because of the Greater London Council and that such benefits as the people enjoy from living in London have been created by the Labour Government since 1964. That is so meaningless as to make it unworthy of hon. Members opposite to put forward a proposi-of that kind, as they have done in all seriousness, in the Motion today.
If one wished to look at this from a purely political point of view, ignoring the historical growth of London and the way in which its problems have been created, one could fairly comment that this area was under the political control of friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite for 33 years.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Bearing in mind that the change took place in 1963, though effectively in 1965, the hon. Gentleman is not correct in his last comment because a large part of the area to which he is referring was comprised of for example, Essex and Middle-sex, which were Conservative-controlled.
§ Mr. Rossi
The hon. Gentleman must appreciate the validity of my argument. He is indulging in semantics. He knows that the grievous problems which we are discussing existed in the former L.C.C. area. The outer London areas have their problems, but not to the same intensity as the older parts of the Metropolitan area. The responsibility rests in great measure with the administration of the L.C.C. Middlesex used to change hands consistently. In any event, many areas which comprised the old Middle-sex area do not have the problems which the inner London boroughs face.
When speaking of the quality of life, what are we really talking about? We are referring to the houses in which people live, the schools in which their children are educated, the surroundings in which they live and the amenities they have for their enjoyment and entertainment. It is in this context that we must discuss the Motion.
1783 Housing is clearly the most grievous problem in the Greater London area. When the present administration of the G.L.C. took control three years ago, it found that about 10 per cent. of Londoners, three-quarters of a million people, were inadequately housed—that is, living in overcrowded or substandard conditions—that 250,000 new buildings were needed to provide proper homes for them and that about 1 million houses in the London area were over 80 years old. In addition, it found groups of obsolescent dwellings, including those in multiple occupation.
There has been a great deal of criticism of what the G.L.C. may or may not have done in those three years to try to correct the situation. Since 1967, 95,000 new dwellings have been completed by the Council, by the London boroughs or by private development. During 1969–70, about 15,500 homes will be available from all sources, which is a 40 per cent. increase on last year.
The present administration at County Hall discovered when it took over in 1966–67 that there were about 30,000 under-occupied premises, to the extent of two bedrooms or more, in the Council's pool. The L.C.C. had allowed that situation to arise because of the way in which it had managed its pool of housing in the previous 33 years.
This has meant re-emphasis in the building programme, and the G.L.C. is now seeking to build 72 per cent. of its present programme in one and two-bedroomed accommodation. This will allow it to take families out of under-occupied accommodation and put them in new one or two-bedroomed accommodation, so releasing the larger accommodation for bigger families. Why has it taken 33 years for this to be discovered and for action to be taken?
We must consider the age of council dwellings and the fact that many tenement blocks date back to the earliest days of the L.C.C. The old Socialist-controlled council had a modest scheme of conversion and, in its last year of operation, 595 of these antique dwellings were modernised.
In 1967–68, 1,002 were treated by the Conservative G.L.C. while in 1968–69, the number was 1,500, a realisation that not merely is it necessary to build new houses but that it is also necessary to improve 1784 the quality of life of the people living in the existing stock of houses. The present G.L.C. has, therefore, made a determined drive to deal with conversions of this kind.
The G.L.C. has also tried to encourage housing associations, which are preeminent in the sphere of rehabilitation. The old Socialist-controlled L.C.C. spent £1 million in its last year encouraging housing associations. In the last three years, under the present administration at County Hall, £10 million has been spent, and, if given an opportunity by Londoners, in the next three years the G.L.C. will spend £75 million for this purpose, in addition to its existing and normal council housing programme. There will, therefore, be 15,000 new dwellings from this source, of which 9,000 will be allocated to people on the G.L.C. housing list.
The total commitment of the G.L.C. and the London boroughs for housing purposes is running at about £150 million a year. This is not a niggardly sum, whatever hon. Gentlemen opposite may suggest for the purpose of making party political points. For example, hon. Gentlemen opposite have quoted statements made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker) suggesting that because he had said, in effect, that Conservative councils would take care to resist the temptation to go on building council houses for all sorts of "seemingly" good purposes, my hon. Friend had given a directive to Conservative councils—and the G.L.C. is preeminent among them—to deliberately cut back on council housing.
If hon. Gentlemen opposite look carefully at the context of my hon. Friend's remarks and compare it with other statements he has made, they will realise that he gave no such directive. What he has been saying is that council housing should go ahead where there are good social reasons for it, but that councils should take care not to build council houses just for the sake of building them, and where there may be no real need for them.
We are talking now of the quality of life in London. What is necessary for the quality of life in London, or any other part of the United Kingdom, is that we should have a properly balanced community and not one vast council estate 1785 stretching from one sea coast to the other. Therefore, what my right hon. and hon. Friends insist upon is that there must be activity on behalf of those people who want home ownership. That there must be activity by housing associations and by local authorities, but it is wrong to say, as hon. Members opposite try to say, that it is municipalisation only that will solve our housing problems.
The text following on that argument is that Tory local authorities seek to sabotage the efforts of the Socialist Government to build more homes. Nothing could be further from the truth. What is happening is that the Government have put obstacle after obstacle in the way of local authorities throughout the country in proceeding with their housing programmes, and Labour-controlled authorities—and the House has been given the figures time and time again—are as behind and as, if not very much worse than, Conservative authorities in this respect.
How have the Government created this situation? They have done it by their financial and economic policies; by the rise in building costs by approximately 4 per cent. per annum since the Government came to power; by land prices increased to a phenomenal extent; by soaring interest rates; by selective employment tax on the building industry and on local authorities, which has cost the G.L.C. alone £50,000. All these items set the severest limits on what local authorities can do, because any community can build only what it can afford to build, and if a Government put financial and economic impediments of this kind in the way they cannot expect local authorities to come forward with an expanding housing programme.
The Minister of Housing himself has said in the House that it is the economic situation that has caused the cut back in housing in the past year or so in both the public and the private sectors, but particularly in the private sector, because private individuals do not have the ratepayers to fall back on to make up their losses.
Again, there has been Government discouragement of local authorities lending to people to enable them to buy their own homes. If a demand is not generated, fewer homes will be built. 1786 Four years ago the Greater London Council was lending £80 million a year; today, it can lend only £11 million to people, particularly young people, who want to buy their own homes. How can a Government say that they are helping and are adding to the quality of the life of people in London when they are depriving local authorities of the opportunity of enabling people to buy and live in homes of their own?
This is not a matter merely affecting London. It affects the whole of the United Kingdom. In a Written Answer on 11th March, the Minister told us that 77,000 advances were granted by local authorities in 1964, whereas in 1969 only 19,000 advances were granted by local authorities, which is the direct result of Government action. It is about these things that we have to talk when talking about the quality of life of our people.
As to the great help which the Government have given to the people of London, we know of the way in which they have consistently and persistently interfered with the Greater London Council so that it has not been able to carry out the mandate given to it by the electorate—
§ Mr. Rossi
The hon. Member says "Nonsense", but if he had followed the previous Greater London Council elections he would have noted that it was part of the Conservative Party's platform to sell council houses to those council tenants who wished to buy. A public opinion poll showed that 80 per cent. of people wanted to buy and live in their own homes. This is the will of the people—and we are talking about democracy. That poll showed that 80 per cent, of people wanted to buy and live in their own homes, and not to be the feudal tenants of a Socialist-controlled local authority. The Greater London Council was prepared to help those 80 per cent. of the people to do that. Within a few months of the scheme being announced, 3,000 tenants had offered to buy their own homes, and 70 houses a week were beginning to be transferred.
But then what happened? At one week's notice, without consultation, the scheme was banned by the Government and the sale of houses was reduced to 1787 a proportion of one in 400. [HON. MEMBERS: "Excellent."] Hon. Members opposite say "Excellent", but I hope that those electors of London who voted for this programme in 1966 will bear these facts in mind in a few weeks' time, and will bear them in mind at the next General Election, because a Conservative Government will enable local authorities to do what they wish and what they consider to be in the best interests of their own people, and not what Whitehall considers to be in their best interests.
Mention has been made of the fair rents scheme, and we have had criticism of the Greater London Council for daring to suggest that some tenants who are able to pay a fair rent should be asked to do so. One of the first things which the present administration at County Hall did on taking over power three years ago was to carry out a comprehensive review of rents. It discovered that this was the first time that such a review had been made in 30 years. It had never entered into the heads of the old L.C.C. or the Labour-controlled G.L.C. that it might be necessary to make a comprehensive review of the financial and rent structure of the Greater London Council tenants.
It was found that council rents were between 60 per cent. and 100 per cent. below the rents being paid by private tenants in private accommodation under the fair rents scheme, introduced by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was also found that the average income of the tenants in this private accommodation was below the average income of the tenants in the council property. So the G.L.C. was faced with the situation that such of the general body of its ratepayers living in privately rented property and having incomes below, on average, those of the council tenants were subsidising those council tenants and, at the same time, were seeing those tenants pay rents 60 per cent. to 100 per cent. below what they themselves were having to pay. The Greater London Council saw that if the situation economically continued as it appeared to be going, its housing revenue account would show a deficit of £10½million in three years.
This led it to the inescapable conclusion that if people were able to afford 1788 to pay a fair rent they should be asked to do so and should not expect to be subsidised by people many of whom were less well off than they. A scheme was introduced the result of which would have been that those well-off council tenants would be required to pay, not full fair rents but 90 per cent. of the fair rents, comparable to people in private accommodation. For party political reasons, hon. Members opposite opposed such a suggestion, and they have done so consistently.
Again, they have interfered with a local authority discharging what its members promised the electorate they would do and for which they had a mandate when they were elected. There is no justification for that. There certainly is no social justice in the attitude of hon. Members opposite which suggests that the less well-off members of the community should be expected to subsidise the rents of those better off than themselves.
The right hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) made reference to Inner London Education Authority. He went to great lengths to praise that authority when it was under Labour control and suggested that things are not so well now as they were then. When the Conservatives had control of Greater London Council and the I.L.E.A. it was discovered that there was an antiquated, archaic system which had not been changed for many years. Changes took place and the I.L.E.A. has now been streamlined, the number of committees reduced by half and the paper work reduced by half. The saving to ratepayers of Inner London is £1 million. I think that is going forward, not backward. It is not something which shows anything to the credit of the past Socialist-controlled G.L.C. and the farmer L.C.C.
Another thing which the present Administration at County Hall discovered was that a great number of the primary schools were housed in 19th century buildings and had been shamefully neglected for years. As a result of the new policies there are today 24 new primary schools under construction and 86 of this category of school are having more than £5,000 each spent on them, compared with the 12 which were receiving this treatment in 1966. Here is a 1789 comparison of the records in control of the G.L.C.
Another thing which has happened in the last three or four years is that the teacher-pupil ratio has been improved. I think this important. It has also been discovered that the reading ability of children in Inner London primary schools leaves much to be desired. As a result, I.L.E.A. has urged on the present Government that an inquiry into teacher training should take place to see why teacher training, as it exists, should result in this kind of teaching of children whose reading ability is causing so much concern. It has taken Conservative control to discover this and to urge the Government to do something about it.
On secondary schools Greater London council is not concerned with party politics and the yah-boos about comprehensive schools. It has had a school-by-school study to see what is necessary. As a result, 40 grammar schools have been retained and there is a choice and variety of education available to the children of Inner London, a choice and variety which would not exist if hon. Members opposite had their way.
Hon. Members opposite have spoken about travelling within the Greater London area. Throughout the world travel in cities is a problem. One of the main frustrations of city life throughout the world is difficulty of travelling quickly and comfortably to work, for shopping, to visit places of entertainment or to visit friends and relatives. The problems of noise, fumes, traffic jams, delays and waste of time in travel are not peculiar to London. They are shared by every major city in the world. There cannot be any short cut to a solution of these problems.
It is ludicrous and infantile for hon. Members opposite to say that the present travelling conditions in Greater London are due to the fact that for the last three years they have been Conservative-controlled. Such conditions are common to all great cities and it takes years to find solutions. Greater London Council, now having the power to deal with matters of planning and roads and the problems of passenger transport, is in a position for the first time to go forward with co-ordinated plans which, one hopes, will cure this problem.
§ Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)
Will the hon. Gentleman say whether he approves of the attitude of the Conservative-controlled G.L.C. and the Conservative-controlled Greater London boroughs to the problem of providing concessionary fares for the old on London Transport?
§ Mr. Nicholas Scott (Paddington, South)
Will my hon. Friend compare the attitude of hon. Members opposite today with the way in which they quite shamelessly turned down a proposal to provide pensions for elderly people who have no pension?
§ Mr. Rossi
It is always easy to be generous with other people's money. That is what is involved.
I state this purely personally. I should like to see help given over fares to elderly people and pensioners. I think the Greater London Council and the London Boroughs Association between them will eventually be able to agree where responsibility for this lies and a means will be found to do this. I am expressing that purely as a personal view.
In view of the time which I have already occupied I shall not go into the question of amenities generally, the Greater London Council's patronage of the arts, radio, concern for amenities and matters of that kind, and there is no need for me to, because my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South, in an excellent speech, if he will permit me to say so, more than adequately covered that. Speaking also as an alderman of the Greater London Council, he more than anyone this afternoon has shown the great concern which exists in the present administration in County Hall over matters of that kind.
The Motion before the House is really one of great nonsense, and it cannot be 1791 treated by any Member of this House with any seriousness at all—the proposition that all of London's problems arise from three years of Conservative control of the G.L.C., and that all the blessings which exist are because of the last four years of a Socialist Government in Whitehall. The people of London will treat that with the ridicule it deserves.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. Reginald Freeson)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) ended by presenting the same Aunt Sally that he put up at the start of his speech. Really, nobody at all in this House on any occasion has suggested or is likely to suggest that all the problems which face a major city like London arose in such a short space of time and can be solved by any administration in a short space of time. This was not the case, and he knows perfectly well that it was not. All that he did really, at the start and end of his speech, was to argue with a case which has not been presented, and he did that in order to avoid the main points put by my hon. Friends on this side.
Although I shall not be able to deal with all the points which have been raised I personally welcome this kind of debate on a Motion of this kind, whether it be at this time of the year or on any other occasion, regarding the future of our city of London or, indeed, the future of any city of this country. I think it rather regrettable that what was a well presented Motion and a well-argued case should be treated in such a fashion as it was by the hon. Member for Hornsey.
Of course, there is a long history to the troubles of London, as there is to those of every major urban centre in the world. I do not intend to go back to mediaeval times and trace stage by stage a summary of history as the hon. Member for Hornsey did early in his speech. But I say quite clearly, since he was at great pains on several occasions, as, indeed, other hon. Members opposite were, to refer to the 33 years of Labour administration of the L.C.C. and, more recently, the G.L.C., that if action had been taken by Governments in this country to legislate adequate town planning and public authority powers 1792 to deal much, much earlier with the problems of our urban environment, then we would be much farther along the road of solving many of the serious problems which face us today.
It was not until only 20 years ago—in fact, fewer—that the full effects of sensible town planning procedures were felt as the result of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1947. Only as recently as that did we begin to see building up the improved town and country planning procedures, to mention only one field of activity, which many people on the left in politics, and, indeed, outside politics, had been urging for generations before. Indeed, if something like the 1947 Act and other pieces of legislation, to which I shall, no doubt, refer during my remarks, had been introduced by Parliaments and Governments in the 'thirties and in the 'twenties, when already there were people urging that something along those lines should be done, then all local authorities, of whatever political complexion, and including the L.C.C. under a Labour administration, in prewar and postwar days, would have been able to handle the very serious problems which still face us. So let us not continue with the rather foolish argument about there being a case to be made that the problems were created in three years and can be solved in three years. Nobody has put that case, and, therefore, there was no need to knock it down.
Let me turn to some of the main points at issue which have been dealt with by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hornsey. Because if we accept that the major problems of our city are covered by the general term "urban renewal" in all its aspects, and which lie at the centre of London's problems as they lie at the centre of the problems of all our major cities, we must accept that the heart of the problem of London—I pluralise the word: problems—lies in housing and many other problems which are closely related thereto. These are matters such as education, amenity, community services, the meeting of special needs in the community, traffic planning and so on. The only way in which we shall ever get at the answers to these problems is by looking down on the ground, area by area, within our cities and between our cities to uncover and to understand the problems. It is the failure 1793 in the past to legislate adequate powers to public authorities to enable them to tackle these problems that is responsible for the problems which we have inherited.
The case that has been made by my hon. Friends is that in the last few years, since there has been a change of political control at County Hall, and subsequently at many town halls in the London area, there has been a bogging down in the policies which have been initiated by legislation to tackle the problem of housing, and so on. There has been a slowing down, a bogging down and, in some areas, a cessation of activity by local authorities. All this is reflected in the attitude adopted at County Hall since the change of control. That is the general case that has been made. The case is not that we should expect all problems to be solved in three years, which is a nonsense that should never have been introduced.
It has been argued that Government policies had brought about an increase in prosperity and happiness in London, whereas local authority policies in recent years have tended in the opposite direction. In answer to that, hon. Gentlemen opposite, in particular the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said that there had been a slowing down in educational development, and that the Government had placed obstacles in the way of the educational development policy of Greater London. I am not using the actual words, but that I think is a fair paraphrase of what he said.
Let us look at the facts. In 1964, the last year of the Conservative Government, which was the election year when there had been a build-up of public expenditure at the fag-end of their period of office, for the whole of London expenditure was £7½million. In 1969 the figure was more than double. £16.3 million. Even allowing for rising costs, changes in design, switching from primary school building to secondary school building and vice versa, which alters the cost per head of the building provision for teachers and pupils, it must be accepted that there has been a major expansion of school building in London in the last five years. This is by no means an obstacle that has been placed in the way of educational development but an expansion of educational development.
1794 What is even more important, is that there has been a major shift of emphasis towards the replacement and renewal of old school buildings. In some of the older parts of London capital expenditure has risen from about £150,000 in 1964 to about £800,000 in the current year. That kind of shift in expenditure is of great importance in terms of social policy.
It is not sufficient to look at the total figures of spending; but it is important to look at where the expenditure is being moved to. It is important to put greater emphasis on tackling problems in the oldest parts of our cities, including Greater London, in all aspects of social policy. This has been particularly noticeable in education where there has been an advance in policy during the past five years.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman has rightly said that these things are best dealt with by specific examples. What I had in mind in saying what I did was that in my own constituency 2½years ago the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Education and Science approved two major school rebuilding programmes but subsequently withdrew them. He still persists in that withdrawal.
§ Mr. Freeson
I imagine that there is a good deal more to that situation than the right hon. Gentleman has told the House. If he wants the facts I invite him to send the detail, if he has not already done so, to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. If he seeks to pick out certain facts, then let him state them all to the House. I do not suggest a further interruption of my speech, but he can find some other opportunity, perhaps by an Adjournment debate, to put his case. I imagine that there are a lot of difficulties on the side of the local authority as well as on the part of the Ministry. I was indicating that there has been an expansion, not a contraction, of expenditure in these matters which is of vital importance to the quality of life in London.
The hon. Member for Hornsey referred in congratulatory terms to the increased teacher-pupil ratio in the Inner London Education Authority. I, too, am full of congratulation and I welcome the increase. The difference between the 1795 hon. Gentleman's approach on this matter and that of this side of the House is that, although we were advocating such positive discrimination for areas of social priority for a period of 10 years before we came into office, nothing was done along those lines by the then Government. Since we have come into office we have legislated and have altered administrative and financial policy to achieve a shift in the pupil-teacher ratio in parts of the country most gravely in need of teachers, areas suffering educational stress. This is not something introduced by the I.L.E.A. or the G.L.C. under the Conservatives. It was offered by the Government to them and to other education authorities in similar situations. My own local authority, the Borough of Brent, which is not within I.L.E.A., is benefiting considerably by this innovation in policy introduced in 1966.
While we are on the matter of positive discrimination in favour of areas of social stress, it is valid to refer, in relation to the Greater London Area and the G.L.C. to the Educational Priority Area policy by which it had been possible to add to the normal school building programme again in areas of special social need, with additional school building projects, equipment and staff by special allocations of money. This was never done by the previous Government, but had to await the present Government to get this policy going in London and elsewhere.
I should like now to refer to a matter which has not yet been referred to in the debate, and that is the importance to London of the Urban Programme over and above normal capital expenditure on school services and other public services. In addition to the normal programming by way of this policy introduced by the Government towards the end of last year, further resources have been allocated to areas of social need in London during the past year. An additional £4 million expenditure has been allocated for such things as nursery schools, pre-school play groups, special housing for the homeless, ramily welfare services and a whole variety of social projects put to the Government at their invitation by local authorities, including the G.L.C., and all the London boroughs. This is important to raising the quality of life of children and families in difficulty in our city, and 1796 it will continue to be so in the next few years ahead.
Under the scheme, exceptionally, 75 per cent. grant aid is given by the Government to local authorities to get these projects going. It is a matter of regret to hon. Members on this side of the House to learn that some boroughs refuse to operate this policy to the extent that they are being invited to by the Government. I will not name them, because that might be inappropriate, but it is most regrettable that there are some boroughs which have even halved the allocations which they have been given by the Government although, for the most part, the money would have been made available by the Government. I need hardly stress that they are Conservative and not Labour councils.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Is my hon. Friend aware that, to keep the rate down to a penny increase, the London Borough of Hackney in its precepts has cut £17,000 off its welfare committee expenditure, which has resulted in the loss of 26,000 hours of home helps?
§ Mr. Freeson
That is an interesting example. In the second circular which the Government put out under their urban aid programme, they indicated the types of project in respect of which they would like local authorities to make application to the Government for assistance. They included family services of this kind, whereby local authorities would have received 75 per cent. grant and the rest would have been carried in the normal way by the local authority.
Moving to the subject of welfare generally and away from education, let me show how, as a result of Government policy, there has been a marked increase in activity in improving the quality of life of people in our city. Let me refer, for example, to the provision of old people's homes. It is not enough to make pious platitudinous speeches about special provision for the elderly, the disabled and other minority needs in our society. We have heard a great deal about these in terms of housing in recent times. However, I will come to that later.
It is not enough to make speeches and indicate broad general policies. It is doing that counts. Let me again quote figures, which show that there has been a trebling in the provision for homes for 1797 the elderly in London since the Labour Government came to office. In 1964 in the whole of London there were projects for old people's homes totalling £3.1 million. In 1969, the figure was over £10½million. Again allowing for changes in design, standards, rising costs and all the other variables, it cannot be gainsaid that there has been nearly a trebling in the provision year by year in the last five years. It must not be forgotten that the figure with which I compared it was that of the General Election year of 1964. when we know that there was a massive increase in public expenditure by the Conservative Administration.
In terms of health centres and clinics and medical provision generally at local authority level, there has been a quite startling improvement. In 1963–64, no health centres were built. The position was the same in 1964–65. In 1966, it was a small figure but a complete increase from zero to £75,000. Last year, from zero under the previous Government even in a General Election year, the figure in London rose to £714,000 of capital cost on the provision of health centres.
I hope that it will be accepted that this is very important for the quality of life of mothers and children and other sections of the community, especially when most of these projects are being allocated to areas of grave social stress where people experience the worst social and physical conditions. If one looks at it from that point of view, the expenditure is seen to have an even greater impact than when expressed in total London terms.
I come to the third main responsibility of public authorities, Government and local authorities. The hon. Member for Hornsey rightly spent most of his time talking about housing. To put it mildly, he was a little selective in some of his information and he rather gabbled some of his statistics. If they had been spoken a little more slowly, the truth would have come out a little more clearly.
I refer first to Government aid. There is much talk about the terrible obstacles which the Government place in the way of County Hall building homes. Hon. Members will be interested to know that when the final calculations have been agreed—this is a rough estimate, because this is by no means the final calculation—for 1969 there will be something 1798 approaching £1¾million worth of Government help going to County Hall alone, with further money going to the London boroughs, to assist in the provision of the homes completed in that year, never mind those built a year earlier or those to be built in the coming year. Let us accept that it is a reasonably sizeable sum for one year for one local authority service.
I take it a little further. In 1964, Government housing assistance to housing in the Greater London area was roughly £4½million. In 1960, it was nearly £9 million and in 1970 it will be higher still. We have doubled the assistance by the Government to keep down costs for the local authorities. That covers not just building costs, but the purchase of land when that is very expensive.
There are some other respects which are vitally important not only to County Hall and the town halls themselves, but to the communities with which we are concerned. The Housing Act, 1969, deliberately encourages local authorities to go beyond just building new properties, into making massive improvements to older properties which are not slums by way of considerable grant aid from the Exchequer. There has been much talk about the increased activity in London as a result of County Hall policy. It would never have taken place but for the Government policy in the White Paper, "Old Houses into New Homes", which was published in 1968. Hon. Members opposite did not even mention this, but they must know it, and it is within the parameters of Government policy and Government financial aid that this policy is expanding in London as elsewhere.
Let us examine the matter a little more closely. I was interested in the particular words used by the hon. Member for Hornsey. He said that housing associations were pre-eminent in the field of rehabilitation. If he studies HANSARD, he will see that I have quoted his words. That is not so and it cannot be so. I will go so far as to say that I regret it, because I am a great believer in genuine well-based housing associations, but it cannot be so.
§ Mr. Freeson
They are not preeminently suitable; they are suitable. The chief responsibility must lie with the local authority and I will quote some figures to indicate this.
It is estimated that there are about ¼million homes in London which are sub-standard and obsolescent. The figures already published by the G.L.C. and repeated by the hon. Gentleman to some extent—this was where he gabbled a little—show that at current levels and prospective levels of expenditure about 2,000 to 3,000 homes at most, existing properties, could be purchased for conversion and modernisation under the policies described on behalf of County Hall by the hon. Member for Hornsey. That is 2,000 to 3,000 as against a problem of one quarter of a million. I do not have to argue this further. Can he then still argue that housing associations must be pre-eminent in this field? I am the first to say that they must join in, be brought in and encouraged and helped to come in if they are well based and well organised.
To make a personal observation, I was involved in trying to get housing associations into this field about 10 years ago. My first experience was a result, incidentally, of people being threatened with eviction under the 1957 Rent Act. I helped to keep them in their homes by finding means by which they could come together collectively and buy their own flats. Having done that, those people have done a good job since and have low rents. I am not speaking antagonistically on this. I have worked in this field and have been a supporter of it, but I do not kid myself. It is fundamentally wrong for hon. Members opposite or Conservative Members at County Hall to parade themselves in the Press regularly and consistently by saying that it is not chiefly their responsibility and that they are going to help the housing associations to solve the problem. It is the other way round. The housing associations will help local authorities to solve the problems, if the local authorities want to do their jobs.
I stress this because if we are not very careful all this "kidology" from County 1800 Hall will seriously obscure the issue, and in five or six years we shall have as big a problem, as a result of the obscuring of the real issues, as now. I urge and plead with Conservatives either in this House or at County Hall to stop this nonsense and get on with the job themselves as well as drawing other agencies in. It is their responsibility and it is pre-eminently the local authorities' job to organise housing improvement policy.
Again, on this, we have had somewhat rather garbled statistics. I stress that in London as elsewhere it is wrong to talk of a housing improvement policy as a substitute for new building or as a substitute for slum clearance. But that is what is happening in far too many cases. The housing improvement policy, which I think is of fundamental importance to the future of housing in this country, must be seen as an addition to slum clearance and new building. It is an extension of housing policy. What have we been seeing in London under the Conservatives?
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
This was not the policy put forward in the explanatory note to the Housing Bill of 1969. It was clearly said that the expenditure on improvements would come out of the general public expenditure of the public sector of housing.
§ Mr. Freeson
The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has raised this matter before as has his hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Peter Walker). Hon. Gentlemen opposite have been in this House longer than me and should know better than to select little phrases from explanatory notes.
§ Mr. Freeson
The hon. Gentleman should know better than to select phrases from paragraphs of documents as if they represented the whole of the policy. The hon. Gentleman must know—as do all hon. Members—that we have made it perfectly clear to every housing priority area authority that there is no ceiling to new buildings. I have said it to everybody I have seen, and we have said it in this House and directly to them. But I will make it quite clear now that we want to see housing improvements in addition to slum clearance and new 1801 building. What is more, we want to see more slum clearance under way.
There has been a cut-back in housing in London and there can be no obscuring of this issue. If one takes the last three years of Conservative control at County Hall and also the three years for which they have announced their intentions, one will see a reduction of at least 12,000 new homes in London. They have had a shortfall of about 2,000, broadly speaking, per year since they came into office. They now propose to cut back their original 9,000 new starts per year to 6,000 over the next two or three years if they stay in office. That is a cutback when we have 250,000 sub-standard and obsolescent homes, and an expected crude shortage, irrespective of the condition of the property, of nearly 100,000 dwellings over the next five years.
These figures are accepted by County Hall, and in the midst of a crude shortage of that kind the Conservatives at County Hall decide to cut back their housing programme. They have cut their figure of 9,000 and more per year to a prospective 6,000. This is a disgraceful decision, and I hope that they will reconsider the matter very seriously. There have been some vague indications in certain correspondence columns of the Press that they are to do so. I hope that they will reconsider it officially and up the programme to push it beyond what they are currently building, and get it back at least to the 9,000, which was the programme they inherited from the Labour Party when it went out of office three years ago.
This has nothing to do with a failure by the Government to make resources available. The fact is that we make more resources available per unit built in London than to any other authority in the country. More financial help is given to the G.L.C. for building purposes and to other boroughs within London in similar circumstances than to any other authority in the country. What is more the G.L.C. has land available on which to build, despite the fact that the G.L.C. has been selling some land. It could build homes for about 35,000 families in the next few years on land which is available now or which is likely to be cleared by way of slum clearance.
That brings me to the point about slum clearance. There is grave under- 1802 estimation by County Hall and many of the London boroughs of the scale of the slum problem facing them. This is not peculiar to London. I regret that it is happening in many authorities all over the country, and I get more and more evidence of this as I visit the authorities with whom we have been in touch recently by correspondence.
The Greater London Council's so-called conurbation study of the condition of property produced a figure of 22,000 slums. The odd thing is that if the returns which we have had from the London boroughs and the G.L.C. are totted up they show that 33,000 houses are to be cleared in the next five years. I think that there is some over-optimism there, in view of what is going on in some of the London boroughs from the point of view of housing-building, but that is what is on paper.
The House will be interested to know that we estimate that there are more than 100,000 slums in London. This is on the basis of information available in the Ministry. We take very seriously the shortcomings in the estimates produced by this survey work. It is of a much lower standard than that which has been initiated by the Ministry in co-operation with several local authorities in other parts of the country. I quote these figures to show how serious the situation is. There are about 250,000 obsolescent and substandard homes, and a crude shortage of about 100,000 dwellings in the G.L.C. area. It is estimated that there are more than 100,000 unfit properties in Greater London.
In the midst of all this the Conservatives at County Hall, and in town halls throughout London, are cutting back on their building programmes. This has nothing to do with objections to owner-occupiers. There are a million more owner-occupiers today than there were when we came to office. There has been an increase in slum clearance, but what we are fearful of now in London, as elsewhere, is that there will be a bogging down of the slum clearance programme, instead of an expansion of it.
All these matters are at the centre of the quality of living in London. My hon. Friend has introduced a debate on a serious matter. It will continue to be a serious matter, whoever is in office at County Hall or in Whitehall. 1803 The difference between us is not that we think that the problem can be solved in one, three, or five years. The difference is that we want to see an expansion of these public developments in housing, in education, in social services and in community services. And not only do we want to see an expansion but we take action to get it, and I quoted figures to prove it. That is very different from the kind of experience that we have had at the local government level since the Conservatives gained control. What is more, it is different from the experience that we had when the Tories were in control in Whitehall a few years ago.
In statements made by hon. Members opposite—from their Leader downwards—about their future housing policy, I constantly hear echoes of what they did when they were in office. Since 1955 statements had been made by the then Ministers of Housing and Local Government and other members of the Tory Government to the effect that the first priority in housing—which lies at the centre of the quality of life—was to clear the slums. They said it every year, in all their White Papers and speeches, in reply to Questions, and in statements in the House.
But what happened while they were making their speeches? There was a reduction of 50 per cent. in local authority building. It dropped from well over 200,000 to about 100,000 dwellings a year. They could not do both things at once. They could not talk about priority in dealing with our housing problems and, at the same time, cut back on the activities of the very authorities that had the chief responsibility for dealing with the problems to which the Tories were supposed to be giving first priority. Their recent talk about the emphasis on housing and about cutting back on Government expenditure in housing begins to smack of the kind of talk we had between 1955 and 1964.
§ Mr. James Dickens (Lewisham, West)
. Does not my hon. Friend recall that between 1956 and 1961 one reason for the massive reduction in local authority building was the complete removal of the general needs housing subsidy? Is not that precisely what the party oppo- 1804 site would do in the unlikely event of its being returned to office?
§ Mr. Freeson
My hon. Friend has put his finger on the point. We allow that there can be variations of subsidy policy; indeed, some would mean increased subsidies. We do not argue about that. But when that is said against the background of a general policy we see that the results would be a slow-down and not an increase in the very field of activity to which the party opposite is supposed to be giving priority.
§ Mr. Graham Page
Is it not the case that the removal of the general needs subsidy had the effect of concentrating efforts on slum clearance and rehabilitation? During the period between 1955 and 1956 slum clearance and rehabilitation increased.
§ Mr. Freeson
That is a most odd set of facts. The number of local authority dwellings being built at that time fell at one point to 118,000 completions. I have forgotten the precise year—I do not have the relevant table in front of me—but I believe that it was in 1961 or 1962. It was two or three years before the 1964 General Election. The figure dropped to 118,000 when it had been running at between 240,000 and 250,000 eight or so years earlier. That does not happen if there is an intention to increase slum clearance activity. The party opposite cannot do both.
Notwithstanding the difficulties of 1969, what has been particularly important to London and similar cities is that there has been an increase in both fields overall. We know that we have had to suffer much badinage and argument about what happened last year but, taking our policy as a whole, while we have been in power there has been an increase by 25 per cent. in the building of houses. That has been reflected in both the public sector and owner-occupation. That is what we want to see maintained. But the party opposite, while talking about quality, will reduce the very activities that will improve the quality of life, especially in housing.
I am very glad to have been able to ventilate my remarks on this subject. This debate is of very great importance, not just for today or for 9th April, but 1805 for months and years ahead. The arguments will continue, and I know on which side right will come down, either at the beginning or the end.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hunt (Bromley)
Earlier this week, we were given advance warning from the Patronage Secretary, speaking in the guise of his other post, as Chairman of the London Labour Party, that Labour Members in this debate would, in his words,…direct a withering fire on the Tory housing record in London.Despite the somewhat slanted speech to which we have just listened, it seems that the fire has withered a little in the course of the debate.
We on this side gladly accept the Labour Party's challenge on this issue. We believe that it is the Conservative G.L.C. which has sought to restore sanity and solvency to the housing policy of Greater London. We believe that it deserves all credit for having tried to do so. In an excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) reminded us that, when the Tories took control of the G.L.C. three years ago, they immediately set about a comprehensive review of housing rents in London, which revealed that they were 60 to 100 per cent. lower than rents for comparable private properties, even though the average income of the council tenants was, in many cases, higher than that of the private tenants.
So the G.L.C. adopted not a formula devised by Horace Cutler or Desmond Plummer but a yardstick adopted by the Labour Government themselves in the Rent Acts of 1965 and 1968—the yardstick of a fair rent. That fair rent was combined with something which, of course, is not available to private tenants, namely, the opportunity for a generous rent rebate scheme.
§ Mr. Lubbock
What the hon. Gentleman means to say, of course, is that if this scheme had been implemented the rents of Greater London Council tenants would have increased by 60 to 100 per cent.
§ Mr. Hunt
Not necessarily—not in a short time, because this would have been a phased programme. In any case, as I have made clear, the essential difference was that those on low incomes would 1806 have been excused that increase. For example, those earning between £12 and £14 a week would have had no rent increases at all. That, I believe is combining financial sense with humanity.
§ Mr. Marsh
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman again so quickly, but he and his hon. Friends always make these comparisons between council tenant subsidies and the private owner-occupier. Would he not accept that the latter, who buys a house on mortgage and pays tax at the standard rate, is subsidised far more highly than a council tenant?
§ Mr. Hunt
I was referring not to the private owner-occupier but to the private tenant. If possible, I should like to see some kind of rebate schemes operated for private tenants as well, if that could be done. Perhaps this could be explored in due course.
But the Greater London Council tried to put into operation a sensible fair rent policy, and all that happened was that the Minister intervened to stop or limit the rent increases which were proposed. The result was that the unrealistic rents were allowed to continue, and the deficit on the housing account was allowed to accumulate. Let none of us be under any illusions as to what the effect of that is. It means that elderly, retired people in my constituency, in Harrow, and throughout Greater London who are not privileged to be council tenants are being called upon to subsidise and support those living in G.L.C. properties, often with far higher incomes than they themselves enjoy.
Is that what the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) means by the quality of life in Greater London? Let him tell that to those in his constituency who have struggled over the years to buy a home of their own and who now, at the end of their lives, living on fixed incomes, are faced with a mounting rate burden, which goes, in part at least, to subsidise those living in much more affluent conditions than they themselves, unhappily, can.
It is this scandalous situation which the Conservative G.L.C., to its credit, has tried to remedy, yet it has been subjected to this continual and intolerable interference from the Socialist Government and, in particular, from the Minister of Housing.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that, in order to justify what they are proposing to do in increasing rents, the Tory G.L.C. has loaded the housing revenue account with large sums which are not properly payable by the tenants at all—for example, over £7 million in relation to Thames-mead? They have even charged them something for the maintenance of historic buildings. These are not matters which should be properly related to the housing revenue account at all.
§ Mr. Hunt
The fact remains that there are many factors which the G.L.C. is entitled to take into account and which, when they are taken into account, must inevitably lead to an increase in rents, which is only fair and just, compared with rents in the private sector.
I find all the arguments that we have heard from hon. Members opposite this afternoon a little baffling. It seems to me that the Labour Party believe in democracy all right just as long as the Labour Party are running it. They seem unwilling to accept the verdict of the electors. They fail to see that the policies which the G.L.C. has implemented or has sought to implement during the past three years are policies for which the G.L.C. got a clear, decisive and overwhelming mandate from the electors three years ago.
The trouble with the Labour Party is that ever since the era of the late Herbert Morrison, they have somehow imagined that they have a divine right to govern London. They have never got over their defeat of three years ago. This explains the attitude of spite and sour grapes which has epitomised their approach to the G.L.C. during the past three years and explains also the speeches of many hon. Members opposite this afternoon.
It explains their interference with the fair rents scheme, the vicious cuts in the home loans scheme and the petty ban on the sale of council houses, on all of which the G.L.C. had a clear and decisive mandate from the electors of Greater London three years ago. Not content with breaking their own promises, the Labour Government have done their best to prevent the Conservative G.L.C. from keeping its promises.
The Labour Party know little and care even less about the real hopes and aspirations of the great majority of people 1808 in Greater London—for example, the ambitions of young people to own their own homes and the hopes of the elderly to move into smaller and more compact accommodation. My hon. Friend the Member for Homsey referred to the number of properties—I think he mentioned a staggering figure of 30,000—which were under-occupied to the extent of two bedrooms or more when the Conservatives took over the G.L.C. in 1967: houses where mother and father were left, their families having grown up and moved away. This represented, I am sure, an inexcusable waste of resources when the housing list was full of other, younger families clamouring for housing accommodation.
Thus the problem was tackled and, as we have been told, 72 per cent. of the housing expenditure of the G.L.C. is now devoted to the building of one- and two-bedroom dwellings, so that larger properties will progressively be released for the larger families who really need them. Similarly, as we have heard, a massive increase is in train for the housing associations, a sphere of activity to which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary appeared to give very lukewarm support in his speech.
As we have heard, a further £75 million is to be made available during the next three years, producing 15,000 new and converted dwellings in Greater London. Again, these will be smaller units, of great help and assistance to those who are anxious to move out of the larger accommodation which they now occupy. Thus there will be a dual, two-pronged effect upon the housing shortage.
In housing, therefore, I believe that the record of the G.L.C. is one of progress and innovation in the face of inexcusable harassment and interference from the Government, quite apart from all the incidental devastating effects of such things as the sharp and continuing rise in building costs, the increase in land prices, soaring interest rates and the effects of selective employment tax, which alone have added well over £100 to the cost of each new dwelling at present provided by the Greater London Council. These factors have added to the difficulties of the G.L.C. in maintaining its housing programme, about which the Minister commented unfairly.
§ Mr. John Fraser
The hon. Gentleman's borough has a creditable record, with 634 new dwellings started in the first nine months of 1969. Can he explain why, for example, Bexley had no starts at all in that period? Since Bexley should surely have made a contribution in this sphere, would the hon. Gentleman explain the failure of the Conservative borough of Bexley to contribute, when the hon. Gentleman's borough and my borough, both of which are Conservative-controlled, have creditable records?
§ Mr. Hunt
I cannot discuss the building performances of individual boroughs. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his complimentary remarks about my borough. I do not know enough about the housing policy of Bexley Council to answer his question further.
We have seen harassment and interference in many other spheres, such as the deliberate blocking of the G.L.C. plan to introduce a Greater London lottery and to inaugurate a Greater London radio station. Both projects have immense appeal to the overwhelming majority of Londoners and both would have added zest and vitality to life in Greater London.
I must refer to the streamlining of administration which has been of great benefit to Londoners as a result of the efforts of the G.L.C. in the last three years. As a result of work study schemes carried out by the Council, the number of manual workers employed by the G.L.C. has been reduced by 2,300. This has been done without redundancies, with the co-operation of the trade unions concerned and it has saved the ratepayers of Greater London about £2½million a year. A similar work study scheme is to be applied to the office side of the G.L.C. staff.
If anybody wants to spotlight the difference between Conservative and Labour administration, let him contrast that reduction of staff at County Hall with the increase of 77,000 in civil servants under central Labour Government in Whitehall. In all these ways the Conservative G.L.C. has shown much greater flair and imagination in the government of London in the last three years than its Labour predecessors showed in the previous 33 years.
1810 This ridiculous Motion will have the people of Greater London laughing all the way to the polling stations on 9th April. But if, by chance, anybody takes any notice of the hon. Member for Harrow, East and wishes to assess his judgment and perception on issues of this kind, I commend a brief look at the hon. Gentleman's election address in that constituency in 1966, in which we were assured, with characteristic modesty, of his intimate knowledge of great national and international affairs, after which he explained:The £has been saved".Devaluation came just 19 months later.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
The thread running through many speeches has been to the effect that the Government have interfered with local authorities. There is a conflict here in that some local authorities want to go one way while the Government want policy to go the other. There is no real contradiction at all, and it is about time it was recognised in Greater London that local authorities have a duty to their citizens, particularly in the provision of housing.
The trouble is that we do not spell this out clearly enough. Local authorities have other clear duties, such as the provision of education for children of from five to 15, which will soon be 16. No one would accuse the Government of interference if local authorities fell down on that job and the Government stepped in and did it. There is a clear public duty in that respect. There are similar duties under the public health legislation, and if a local authority fell down in respect of them no one would accuse the Government of unfairly interfering with local authority discretion.
In Greater London we have a situation in which the housing programme ought to be fought like a war. It is not being fought like a war, There is not that degree of co-ordination among the Greater London boroughs and councils that there should be. In fact, we have 33 divisional commanders, some of whom are fighting the battle while others, frankly, are on the other side.
Even if Bexley has solved its housing problems, which I very much doubt, it, and boroughs like it, should be making 1811 a contribution to the difficult rehousing problems of the inner London boroughs. Lambeth and Southwark have housing lists of about 11,000 each, and many other inner London boroughs have problems which they cannot possibly solve by themselves. They look for help from housing in the outer boroughs. The truth is that with certain honourable exceptions, and I have named Bromley as one of the exceptions, Conservative-controlled boroughs in outer London do not want to take working-class people from the inner areas, while I suspect that some of them do not want to see coloured people moving to the outer areas—
§ Mr. A. H. Macdonald (Chislehurst)
I thank my hon. Friend for his panegyrics in favour of Bromley, of whose council I was once a member. I remember the great resentment of the Conservative-controlled council there in respect of ribbon development policy and it was only when it was pressed that it did its duty.
§ Mr. Fraser
Bromley may have its shortcomings, but even under Conservative control it demonstrates that something can be done. But a number of Conservative boroughs that build no houses at all are sabotaging London's housing programme, and are to be castigated for their lack of consideration of the problems of London as a whole.
I believe that the whole of London should be treated as a single area which must have a co-ordinated housing programme, and the G.L.C. could be the instrument. It could step in and provide housing in the outer boroughs like Kingston upon Thames and Merton, and others which are not willing to tackle the job. The G.L.C. could act with the agreement of the borough concerned, or with the consent of the Minister of Housing. Such boroughs are not living up to their responsibilities. The problem in the centre of London is that available land no longer exists. An inner borough has to clear an area and then rehouse the people from that area, so that all the time the population is just moving round the borough. We must have a coordinated policy for London and, if necessary, a housing agency run by the Government. This would not be inter- 1812 ference with the local authorities' responsibility, but a fulfilment of the obligation that central London has to its citizens—
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Does not my hon. Friend recall that the G.L.C. sold off enough land to have housed 50,000 people?
§ Mr. Fraser
I appreciate that point. I repeat that the Government will, if necessary, have to set up a central agency for the whole of London in order to solve a problem which cannot be treated as just a little matter to be dealt with from borough to borough—
§ Mr. R. W. Brown
Has my hon. Friend seen the G.L.C. advertisement which, I understand, is published in 171 newspapers, but which could have been sent to each tenant instead, asking "Are you paying too much rent?" The G.L.C. is asking that question of its own tenants. It is a disgraceful waste of public funds which could have been put into housing.
§ Mr. Fraser
I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend. Let us say that if that were done much more housing could be built, but the result is that it has put up rents—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.