§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 10.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)
I commend the Third Reading of this Bill to the House. As hon. Members know, this is an annual Bill which allows the G.L.C. to indulge in capital expenditure and to lend money. The amount involved this year in its current expenditure is some £217 million.
I shall be very brief in my remarks. I only hope that my brevity is shared by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
I want first to make one or two observations upon the procedure for Private Bills as regards the two London Bills. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has intimated that the Select Committee on Procedure ought to look into the conduct of Private Bills in this House. I personally welcome this and hope that the Select Committee on Procedure will look into what has happened to the London Bills over the last two or three years.
I have no criticism of hon. Members opposite who have opposed them. They have acted within their constitutional prerogative and powers. However, I cannot help thinking that those who devised the procedure for Private Bills in the past could not have thought that it would be used in this way. The debates on Private Bills sponsored by the G.L.C. in the last two years have varied from a straight political ding-dong, if an election has been pending, to prolonged adjournment debates on constituency matters. I hope that the Select Committee 720 on Procedure will look into this, because I cannot believe that it is a satisfactory way of using the time of this House.
As I have said, the Bill before us concerns the current expenditure of the G.L.C. The sum involved is £217 million, most of which is direct capital expenditure. The G.L.C. will lend some of this £217 million to mortgagees or housing associations. During the passage of the Bill through this House, the G.L.C. announced that it intended to lend a further £50 million to housing associations in the next four years. This means that housing associations under a Tory controlled G.L.C. will be able to borrow £125 million over the next four years. The G.L.C. hopes that this money will be taken up. If it is fully taken it will provide 25,000 extra houses for London over and above the programme of the G.L.C. and the London boroughs. The G.L.C. has nomination rights over 50 per cent. of those 25,000 houses. I express the hope that those London boroughs which have recently become Socialist controlled will be more sympathetic towards housing associations than they have been in the first few days of their power.
I am the chairman of a housing association in Acton, which is beginning to build some of the best flats in the London Borough of Ealing. Each flat has a patio garden. We were destined to receive one and a half acres of land from the London borough of Ealing, but now that it is Labour controlled we are not to receive it. This is a pure surrender of the housing interests of West London to dogma.
The Bill also allows the G.L.C. to lend money to those who want to buy their own houses. The G.L.C. has engaged upon a programme of selling council houses, and it has extended that programme in the last fortnight. It has already sold 5,650 houses and receives applications to buy houses at the rate of 130 a week. I find it intriguing that certain Labour councillors throughout the land, who have suddenly become councillors, have, in the last three or four years, bought their own houses. They are now committed to not selling houses. They fought a tremendous battle with their consciences, and won.
§ Mr. Baker
This is not a ding-dong. This is an exposition of the excellent government of London under Tory G.L.C. domination. I hope that the excellent example of the G.L.C. in selling council houses—by selling council houses the housing stock is not reduced by one house; it is merely a transfer of ownership—will be extended throughout the country.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
The hon. Gentleman at the outset said that he was not anxious that this matter should become a political ding-dong. He made a great point about it.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has a great knowledge of being slovenly from the position in which he now sits. How does the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) reconcile what he said at the beginning of his speech with the utter hypocrisy which he is now mouthing?
§ Mr. Baker
I can understand that the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) is concerned about a political ding-dong. I believe that he will not have a seat to fight at the next election. The electors of Hackney are so satisfied with the hon. Gentleman that they may decide not to readopt him at the next election. I will resist the temptation to indulge in these political fireworks and concentrate on the Bill.
The Bill also allows for a continual capital expenditure for Thamesmead. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) has informed me that he intends to speak on the matter. The G.L.C. has decided to go ahead with the third stage of Thamesmead. I hope very much that it will receive the approval of the House. It is an adventurous and exciting development. Already about 3,500 people live in Thamesmead, and by going ahead with stage 3 the G.L.C. and the Government together will provide homes for a further 5,000 people.
Any hon. Members who oppose the progress of Thamesmead will be opposing progress in the building of homes for 722 5,000 people. This Measure has been supported by the previous Government, by our own Government, by the previous G.L.C., when it was Labour-controlled, and now by the Conservative-controlled G.L.C. I thank the Government for extending the cost yardstick to allow stage 3 to develop, because without that it could not have been started.
About 1,400 homes will be built in Thamesmead. Also, there will be a children's play centre, 24 toddlers' play centres, and three old people's rest rooms. I hope that this will be a vital and important centre of life in London in the years to come. The project will cost nearly £15 million, and it is to the credit of the G.L.C. that with the support that it has received from the Government, it can go ahead.
I now propose to touch briefly on the Thames barrier and flood protection in London, as this was raised at length on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing). Since then the hon. Gentleman has had meetings with the chairman of the committee, Mr. Black of the G.L.C., who deals with the barrier, and the hon. Gentleman was accompanied by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew), and the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford.
There are two sources of criticism of the London Thames barrier. One is that it is not in the right place. I think that that is the view of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford, who would like to see a Thames flood barrier somewhere on the line of Southend to Margate. The second criticism is that the barrier is not of the right sort, that it should be drop gate rather than rising sector.
The first criticism that it is not in the right place at Silvertown is, I think, a political one. This site has been examined by every expert authority on the positioning of dams and waterways, by the Government, by the G.L.C, by independent consultants, and by riparian authorities in London, and their collective decision is that it should be at Silvertown.
As to the type of barrier, which was the point raised by the hon. Member for Acton, there are basically two types. There is the conventional barrier, which is the lock, which most of us know, with gates coming down. There is then the 723 type which has been selected by consultants, by the Government, and by the G.L.C., the rising sector type, which is like a saucer on the bed of the river. It is raised when there is a danger of a flood.
The G.L.C. has opted for the latter, and it has done so for a variety of reasons, one of which is cost. The cost of a drop gate barrier would have been about £48 million without a lock. The cost of a rising sector barrier would have been about £36 million without a lock. The question whether there should be a lock combined with a barrier is a rather technical matter, but the G.L.C. tells me that it is prepared to consider including a lock. The consideration is that if the barrier has to be raised when there is a danger of flooding from water coming in from the North Sea, it is unlikely that the lock will be used or needed, but nonetheless the G.L.C. is prepared to consider that.
The G.L.C. and the Government have selected a rising sector barrier at Silver-town because it allows 200 ft. openings. The depth of the water at Silvertown allows piers to be built so that the mechanism of the gate can be examined by bringing it up, without using divers. It seems that technical opinion generally is in favour of the rising sector barrier, but those who still have doubts will be able to express them on the Bill to be introduced next Session by the G.L.C. The barrier will be the subject of a separate Bill in the next Session.
The financing of London, of which this Bill is an essential part, is a growing and continuing problem. The rateable value in London is growing at the rate of only about 1½ per cent. per year. This is not an adequate tax base for the capital and current expenditure of London. The costs of running Greater London rise at about 8 or 9 per cent. a year, including inflation. If the tax base, or the rateable value, increases by only 1½ per cent., the dilemma is obvious. It means that unless an alternative source of revenue is found the rates will have to rise. This is the dilemma of London. It is also the dilemma of New York, Washington and of any capital or major city in the world.
I look forward to the Government's Green Paper on local government financing. I hope the Minister will be able to 724 say that this Green Paper will be produced very soon. If the level of capital expenditure that is needed in London is to be sustained, alternative sources of revenue will have to be found to supplement rates. I do not believe it is possible to substitute any alternative source of revenue for the rates, but we should seek to find methods of supplementing it.
The Greater London Council has put forward various ideas, such as a tourist tax, a hotel tax, a local sales tax and so on. If we are to depend entirely on rateable value and on ratepayers, we must face the fact that in 1968 there were about 2,403,000 domestic ratepayers in London and in 1971 there were only 2,430,000. This means that the residents of London, the ratepayers, and particularly the domestic ratepayers, will have to face an ever-increasing rate burden unless some alternative is found to finance the capital requirements of London.
I welcome the fact that the G.L.C. under Tory control has not cut the capital programme of London; it has not cut the revenue programme. It has decided to go ahead and try to make London a proper place to live in. But the cost is very great and we in this House and the G.L.C. will have to give considerable thought in the years to come as to how this expenditure can be financed. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)
I am glad to be called after the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker), who, as some hon. Members will know, was previously the Member for Acton, the constituency I now represent.
I have two major issues to raise, but before doing so I would take up two of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He mentioned Third Reading debates on Private Business, and it may well be that the Committee on Procedure will look at this matter. I wish to raise two major issues, one the Fleet line and the other the barrier, which has been mentioned by the hon. Gentleman and which is a matter for the Government as much as for London. I am using this debate in the time-honoured way in this House as a means of criticising, or commenting, or asking questions of the Executive—in other words, of the Government of the day, whoever they may be. When the Committee on Procedure looks at this matter, 725 I hope it will see that there is a place for such an opportunity in respect of Private Bills, particularly those introduced by the Greater London Council.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned housing associations and referred to the London Borough of Ealing and to happenings there recently. Perhaps he is aware that under a former administration in the borough some 30 acres of land which had been acquired by a previous administration for council housing was allocated to housing associations. Some of those associations had had no previous experience in building or managing houses. Furthermore, they were going to use land that was already allocated to public purposes. That was an element in the consideration he mentioned. The former Conservative administration managed to start a total of 22 houses for public ownership last year in the whole of the Borough of Ealing. When he says that the present administration has withdrawn the offer of 1½ acres—I cannot identify those 1½ acres as I did not know that he would raise this matter—he ought to bear in mind the total context of the situation in the past few years, of which he is well aware.
On the matter of the Fleet line, which is very important to London, I have been asking Questions of Ministers on this subject. On 16th June a Written Answer from the Minister for Housing and Construction told me that this request for infrastructure grant to the G.L.C. was made on 18th July, 1970. So we have waited nearly a year. In his Answer then he gave no indication that the criteria which the Government were applying to this particular investment was any different from that which the G.L.C. gave, except implications for the South-East generally. Further, his right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Industries, in a letter to me on 30th June, a couple of days ago, admitted that the Government had given a 75 per cent. grant to Liverpool—good luck to Liverpool. But he said…I did make it clear that our continuing policy is to pay capital grants on worthwhile public transport projects in London or elsewhere. The key word here is 'worthwhile'.I wholeheartedly join with the hon. Member for St. Marylebone, who on Second Reading called for a statement from the Government on this matter. Perhaps the Minister will say whether he 726 considers that the Fleet line is not worthwhile for London. That is the implication of the study being undertaken by the Department of the Environment.
I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mr. Marples) in the Chamber, because it was under his administration that the go-ahead was given to the Victoria line, although we knew then that it would not stand on its own feet financially. I hope that the Government will continue the precedent set by the right hon. Member for Wallasey.
I feel a little hesitant about raising the subject of the Thames barrier because it is a complex matter and hon. Members may ask why I am bringing technical matters to them tonight when they could be sorted out in County Hall or elsewhere. There is another debate to come, of which I am well aware. I took the opportunity of meeting officials at County Hall yesterday, and I received a certain amount of information from them. I reiterate that my concern is not for one type of barrier. I have no vested interest in any particular type. The debate on what is the right type of barrier to build which should have taken place has not. There should have been a free and open debate in which information was freely available. When a solution is reached it should be seen to be the right one. We cannot take lightly the risk of flooding in London.
Hon. Members opposite and my hon. Friends often debate semantics and abstract issues, but this is a fundamental and tangible issue. I am concerned that not only the right decision is taken but that it is seen to be rightly taken. Unfortunately, we have not had all the facts, even though the decision was taken last December.
Very often in planning inquiries people are told, "Wait a while; this will be taken later". Tonight the hon. Gentleman has said, "Wait for the Bill". Often when people raise queries at that later time, they are told that they should have raised them before. That is why I have taken every opportunity in the past few weeks to raise this matter in every possible way—so that at a later stage nobobdy could say, "You should have raised this before." I have raised it.
On the background of this matter, I have no complaint on the work of the Government or the G.L.C. from 1968 727 to January, 1970. There was a very thorough report then, and a joint Report meeting at County Hall between the Government and the G.L.C. despite the two political interests things were going well. At that time the situation seemed fairly clear. In September, 1969, the joint consultants came to this conclusion.Having considered many different types of rising gate, the Joint Consulting Engineers are unable to put forward any proposal for such a barrier which entirely eliminates all disadvantages and offers a reliability of the same order as barriers of some other types.In other words, they were referring to the drop gate barrier, which is the alternative. That was taken up in the official G.L.C. report published in October, 1969, the First Report of Studies, on page 40. The G.L.C. said:However, the search for reliability has confirmed that where a span of 500 ft. or less is envisaged a drop gate provides the most satisfactory solution.In May, 1970, the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, we are told in a report of the G.L.C. dated 15th December last,concluded that on the evidence before him it appeared that the best solution might be a drop-gate barrier in part of the River Thames from Woolwich Reach to Blackwall Reach. The Council was asked to continue its studies and to make firm proposals.Up to that point everything is clear. It is from then, and indeed from July, 1970, according to the G.L.C., that we get a strange change. It is the way in which the change has come about that I am by no means satisfied, even with the explanation which was courteously given by Mr. Peter Black and his officers at County Hall.
In that same Report the G.L.C. said thatthe most suitable location for a movable barrier was the western part of Woolwich Reach.I agree that that is a very reasonable solution. The report then says thatif 200-ft. openings were accepted for navigational purposes it might be practicable to consider a structure with rising sector gates.That is the second time it comes back. The first time it is discarded because it is less reliable. Here it comes back again. I do not think that by any stretch of the imagination that phrase could be interpreted as a recommendation. It is certainly nothing like it.
728 We heard nothing afterwards until 22nd December when the Secretary of State for the Environment brings out a Press release—not even a Written Answer, but a Press release, of which the right hon. Gentleman is rather fond. It concludes that a rising sector gate will be the best solution. It says this:From the point of view of cost and speed, the rising sector is clearly the more attractive proposition, but the question we had to consider was whether the openings would be wide enough to be safe for shipping. The organisations responsible for shipping in the Thames have now advised that they are prepared to accept openings not less than 200 ft., and accordingly I have adopted the recommendation of the Greater London Council in favour of the rising sector gate.As we have seen, that was the recommendation that never was. Here we have the Secretary of State for the Environment making the decision. The facts on which he has changed his mind or on which the G.L.C. has changed its mind from one type of structure to another are still not finally made entirely clear.
What about the navigational interests? The Annual Report of the P.L.A. for 1970 says this of the type of barrier which is proposed by the G.L.C.—that is, the rising sector of 4×200 ft. openings—This type of barrier was not favoured by the Authority on navigational grounds and it was considered that an alternative design with a 450-ft. opening flanked by smaller openings and closed by means of drop gates was more suitable.So the P.L.A. did not agree with the Minister and the G.L.C.
Trinity House are also concerned with navigation in the Thames. A letter sent to be by the Secretary of Trinity House, dated 10th June, 1971, states:Trinity House did in fact write to the Minister of the Environment in December last stating that a central drop gate opening, with a minimum width of 350 ft., flanked on either side by a 200 ft. rising sector gate was favoured, and that four 200-ft. rising sector gates were not attractive as they would require elaborate tendering…Mention was also made of the 450-ft. drop gate favoured by shipping interests, but that Trinity House accepted the G.L.C. view that the expenditure and delay involved in providing such a gate were not warranted.In other words, it is the time-old political move: their arms were being twisted, in that they were being told that if they insisted on a wider opening it would take longer to construct and would be more expensive, and if the flood came, London 729 would be flooded and they would be responsible; so it was said, "You had better agree with what we say."
The letter gave the view of Trinity House, but they are not the only people concerned. In a letter sent to me on 18th January by the Under-Secretary of State now on the Front Bench, I was told that the navigational experts at the Department of Trade and Industry are satisfied that these openings are big enough.and the Chamber of Shipping has assured us that the rising sector gate is acceptable to them, provided tugs are available…But it is not as straightforward as that, for a copy of a letter to the Department of Environment from the United Kingdom Chamber of Shipping dated 7th December 1970, states that:The Chamber of Shipping has consistently preferred the Silvertown site with a drop gate structure giving a minimum opening of 450 ft. in the general interests of the safety of navigation.In view of the savings in cost and time that a sector gate type of structure would permit, this question has recently been reexamined by the Chamber, and against this background their views are as follows …Their arms are twisted as well.
The Department of the Environment says that navigational interests have agreed, whereas we see that all the three navigational interests concerned have agreed only because they have been told, and they have accepted, that this design is both cheaper and more quickly erected. So it may be, but I see no conclusive evidence to that effect, and I have no doubt that they took those assurances in good faith.
The only Department concerned with navigation which wholeheartedly accepted this design was the Department of Trade and Industry, which said in a letter to me on 1st July, that there were considerable advantagesover the drop gate design in terms of cost and construction time.We see, therefore, how people's arms are twisted. Perhaps it is right, if the evidence is there, but let us look at the question of time. In their report some time ago, the joint consultants said that 6½ years would be the time for construction of a drop gate barrier, and less for a narrower opening. The G.L.C.
730 says that the rising sector gates at Silver-town, without tide control,would provide protection soonest (possibly six years)".So the time element does not seem to be there at all. I cannot see why the arms of the navigational authorities were twisted on the basis of time, because, on the evidence before us, the time was approximately similar.
The hon. Member for St. Marylebone has made some reference to cost. I stand to be corrected, but I believe that this is the first time that proper comparative costs have been given publicly, for the costs previously given have been on a different basis.
The question of time and cost is not the only consideration. We are concerned with reliability. Reliability is of paramount importance when we are dealing with the possibility of flooding in London. The design which was considered not so reliable is now adopted. What has caused the change?
In 1969, the consultants stated that a rising type of barrier was not as reliable as other types. In 1969, the then Minister asked the G.L.C. to go ahead with a drop gate design. What happened to change this view? I received a copy of a report on this matter yesterday. I did not have it until yesterday because, for some reason or other, the G.L.C. did not see fit to let me have it. I asked what was the actual technical report on which it based its recommendation—which was not a recommendation—to the Minister. I have it here. It more or less starts from scratch.
The terms of reference given to the G.L.C. engineers are referred to—undated, incidentally. No letter is dated here, as they were in the previous reports. The G.L.C. has proposed that the barrier should incorporate four navigation openings, each 200 ft. wide, and it asks the engineers to say what sort of barrier would be best.
It is curious that the figure given is 200 ft. It did not say, "a minimum of 200 ft.". Now, it so happens that 200 ft. is the maximum width to which this particular type of rising gate will be mechanically effective. So here we have the Greater London Council in a request to its consulting engineers asking for a width of barrier which happens to have the same maximum as the chosen design.
731 What is more, this report is different from the kind of report we have had previously. Not only are there no terms of reference properly written up but the date of the request from the G.L.C. is not given, and neither is there any covering letter or date showing when the same consulting engineers gave their answer. Instead of being very full, this report is five pages of foolscap. It is rather thin. It does not refer to their previous report two years before when they came to different conclusions. It does not give any reason why they have changed their mind. Some of the technical reasons they gave to the disadvantage of the rising sector are not even mentioned in the report. So the reason for the about-turn is shrouded in mystery.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
If the objections are being mooted, why has no Socialist member of the G.L.C. mooted them in the respective Committee? Why did no Socialist member of the Environmental Planning Committee, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member, moot them when they were specifically put to the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of that Committee? Why do we have to have all this detail in the House? The G.L.C. Environmental Planning Committee deals with it. Why were the Socialist members of the G.L.C. so sleepy that they did not twig it? Why must it be brought up at this stage?
§ Mr. Spearing
I am very glad the hon. Gentleman has asked that. It is the second time he has asked. His hon. Friends with him were not here then. I apologised then in a way for having to raise these new matters here. The first reason is that I did not initially regard it as a party political matter, though I am beginning to have doubts. Second, I am on the Environmental Planning Committee, which has no powers in the matter. I wrote to the clerk—
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
Is my hon. Friend aware that had it not been for the intervention of hon. Members on the issue the whole question of whether there should or should not be interim flood protection before the barrier was built would never have been raised?
§ Mr. Spearing
I was about to say that the fact that I am a co-opted member of one committee of the G.L.C. does not make me responsible for what my colleagues do or do not do on the Council.
This is a technical matter on which I happen to have some knowledge, and as a London Member I am not prepared to let any Government get away with this doubtful management of our affairs. I am very sorry that Conservative hon. Members seem to resent these matters being brought here. I put down an instruction to the Committee on the Bill to look into them, because I do not regard the Floor of the House as the right place to do it. It should have been done before, but when I asked for details from the G.L.C. they were not prepared to give them to me. This is the only way in which I can raise the matters. I should have thought that hon. Members opposite would think it right that Parliament should consider them. When I put down an instruction to the Committee to look at these matters, some friends of hon. Gentleman opposite objected. I am sorry that they did so.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
Does my hon. Friend accept that it is for the House to consider these matters on Third Reading? It is scandalous that it should be said that it is wrong for Members of Parliament to examine in some detail a Bill which is alleged to have been properly examined in a Committee in another place.
§ Mr. Spearing
I will conclude by putting six points to the hon. Gentleman who is to reply. I hope that he can answer them tonight. Does not he agree that the decision on the barrier design was made on a questionable basis? He may not be responsible for that. The person at the apex of an organisation is in a difficult position in many ways.
First, did not he make the decision on a recommendation that did not exist?
Second, is it not in the face of previously published evidence?
Third, is it not true that the statements and assurances from the navigation authorities were made under some duress, and that the evidence given to them is 733 shown this evening to have little basis in fact?
Fourthly, does he accept an undated small report which upturns the previous report by the same consultants as a satisfactory basis for flood protection for the whole of London? Fifthly, is he accepting the design on a basis of speed and cost, as he said in his previous statement, can he now give the evidence and confirm that the cost is different, but the time is the same? Finally, as the reliability of the design which has been preferred has not yet been shown to be superior to any other sort, and I have no preference either way, will he now ensure a proper comparative design statement is made so that everybody concerned with this vital problem may be sure that the right decision has been taken and has been seen to be taken?
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
I regret that the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) did not go into slightly more detail to explain an item in the Bill of particular interest to me. Item 2 in Part I of the Schedule sets out the expenditure on capital account and says that the estimated requirement for the year ending March, 1972, will be £830,000 and for the six months ending 30th September, 1972, £375,000. In Part II of the Schedule it is said that £10 million is to be lent to the London Boroughs for purposes which are not specified and, during the six months ending 30th September, 1972, £5 million may be lent to the London boroughs.
By a smart operation on the part of the G.L.C., the House was persuaded to accept Statutory Instruments in the earlier part of the year, No. 228, which gave effect to a scheme by the G.L.C. for redistribution between the local authorities in and near Greater London of the ownership and management of certain parks and open spaces vested in the council, and No. 229, which redistributed the ownership and management—
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston upon Thames)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are on the Third Reading of the Bill. Is it in order for the hon. Member to inaugurate on argument about Statutory Instruments which 734 are not made under the Bill but which are quite separate?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Provided the hon. Member keeps to points which are contained in the Bill, he will be in order; if he goes outside that he will be out of order. I am paying close attention to the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Lipton
The item in the Bill arises from the fact that Statutory Instruments were approved by the House in the earlier part of the year.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
My hon. Friend is not quite right in that, because there were many hon. Members who prayed against those Statutory Instruments, but the Government never had the guts to have them debated in the House. That is the most serious part of the matter and my hon. Friend is right to challenge it.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
Further to the point of order. It may assist the House if I explain that Item 2 does not concern the Statutory Instruments but the provision of parks and open spaces, which is entirely different. The items it covers are those parks left exclusively under the control of the G.L.C., and they are very limited.
§ Mr. Lipton
That is one of the things I am complaining about. The Greater London Council has passed the buck to the London boroughs—
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)
On a point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member to refer to things that he thinks ought to be in the Bill but are not?
§ Mr. Lipton
And I am not doing that, either. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone praised the Greater London Council, because it had cut its capital expenditure. He paid some vague tribute to the Council for having done some noble work in that respect. The Bill says quite clearly that the Greater London Council has transferred a very heavy liability from its own shoulders to those of the London boroughs. I will quote just one example of this. The Greater London Council transferred to the Lambeth Borough Council the whole 735 of Clapham Common, and that will entail—
§ Mr. Baker
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With great respect, the transfer of parks is not covered by the Bill. The expenditure referred to under Item 2 of Part I of the Schedule refers to certain specific parks and open spaces in the East End of London of a very restricted nature. The transfer of parks such as Clapham Common is not in the Bill.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. No doubt you are in the same difficulty as we are. When the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) moved the Third Reading he did not go into detail, and neither you nor I, nor any hon. Member other than, apparently, the hon. Member for St. Marylebone, has any idea what is covered by the Bill, because of the inadequate way in which both the hon. Member and the Greater London Council have presented the matter in the memorandum circulated to hon. Members. I submit that it may or not be as the hon. Member for St. Marylebone has stated, but you and I do not know, because the facts have not been placed before the House this evening upon which a judgment or a ruling can properly be made.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
Further to that point of order. The promoter of the Bill in this House is now telling us that the amount of money shown in the second item in Part I is for the East End of London. I do not know where that information has come from, but I hope to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in order to make the point that it is not in my part of the East End of London—which is my major criticism. So how do we find out whether what the hon. Member tells us that this amount of money is for the East End—is indeed the fact?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
We can get into great difficulties here if we are not careful. The hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) should be very careful not to go outside the terms of the Bill. I do not 736 think that the House wants an indefinitely long debate—we have important business to follow. I think that expedition and keeping strictly to the terms of the Bill will be greatly to the advantage of the House.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
That is not quite correct. I am responsible for that being done, not the Government.
§ Mr. Lipton
In those circumstances, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will have to carry an additional burden of responsibility in regard to our discussion this evening.
What I am trying to draw attention to is the item in page 4 which says that a sum of £830,000 will be required for the year ending 31st March, 1972, forProvision and lay-out of additional open spaces, contributions towards green belt schemes and other purposes.I am trying to find out in which direction this increased provision and lay-out of additional open spaces is to be made—
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
My hon. Friend has raised an interesting point. He points out that the Bill speaks of a contribution to green belt schemes. Can he, or can the hon. Member for St. Marylebone, tell us where in East London these green belt schemes are for which, according to the hon. Member for St. Marylebone, provision is made?
§ Mr. Lipton
I am obliged. I am also trying to find out what is going on. It is not proving easy. But one must persevere, and, with your concurrence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that we shall elicit some hard facts from any hon. Member opposite who is in the confidence of the Greater London Council to a much greater extent than are London Members on this side of the House.
It is proposed to provide £830,000 for additional open spaces, green belt schemes and other purposes. I want to know what those schemes involve. All I know is that up to now the Lambeth Borough Council has been saddled with additional expenditure of £159,000 in the current year for taking 737 over Clapham Common from the G.L.C. There is another site in Lambeth which is in very great need of development—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That is just the sort of thing which the hon. Gentleman must try to avoid discussing, or he will be out of order.
§ Mr. Lipton
I shall conclude. Having been denied the opportunity of putting what I consider to be some very relevant questions, we shall still be in the dark by the time this debate has ended, although it may be dawn by that time.
The situation is most unsatisfactory. We must take advantage of every opportunity of exposing the inadequacies and lumbering bureaucratic methods employed by the G.L.C. This is our only chance of bringing the G.L.C. to book, and, whether we are successful or not, we owe it to the citizens of London to take advantage of every possible opportunity to show to what extent London is being badly governed. We are not getting value for the money which this House is being asked to approve.
§ 11.7 p.m.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
The Bill contains provisions which affect my constituency both in respect of the Greater London Council's development at Thamesmead and in the provision of finance for the building of the Thames flood barrier. It is my pleasure to speak in support of the money Bill, and I hope therefore, because the Bill covers my area and because I support it, I will manage to keep in order.
I should like to deal with one or two points raised by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker). He referred to the comments made during business questions last week in respect of the procedure on Private Bills and the fact that the Leader of the House indicated that the consideration of Private Bills might well be a matter for the Select Committee on Procedure.
We often have these Measures presented by the G.L.C. in a vacuum, as has happened tonight, due to the inadequate information made available to hon. Members by the promoting authority. I say to the hon. Member for St. Marylebone—and I hope that as well as taking instructions from the Parliamentary Secretary he will be able to listen 738 to the debate—that it might be for the use of the House and of the authority on whose behalf he purports to speak if consideration was given by the G.L.C. to stopping this praotice of presenting an annual general purposes Bill. I shall not go into that because, rightly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would call me to order as that is not the Bill before us. The Bill before us is a Money Bill, and is required by law to be presented to Parliament. When the Money Bill comes to us we receive a letter from a gentleman called Mr. H. Wilson—not, I hasten to add, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, but Mr. H. Wilson, the Solicitor and Parliamentary Officer of the Greater London County Council—[Interruption.]—if the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir R. Grant-Ferris)
I would not if I were the hon. Gentleman. Let us listen to the hon. Member's speech.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I am always prepared to assist in maintaining the good order of the House by giving way when an hon. Gentleman shouts at me from a sedentary position, but, as usual, the hon. Gentleman has nothing sensible to contribute to the debate—
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
The hon. Gentleman was not here during the long debate on Second Reading, but he will doubtless join me in the plea I then made that Parliament should change the law so that the Money Bill does not have to come before us.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The letter we receive from Mr. H. Wilson does not set out sensibly and understandably the provisions contained in the money Bill. The hon. Member for Marylebone also has failed to deal with the matters contained in the Bill. This is most unsatisfactory.
The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) referred to the Second Reading debate, and I make no apologies to him for not being here on that occasion. When I tell him that I was in Southampton assisting my hon. Friend 739 the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) to return to the House, he will appreciate my sense of priorities.
The hon. Member for St. Marylebone said that it was regrettable that debates on G.L.C. Bills should develop into a political ding-dong, but his contribution this evening was no example of the way in which he would like the debate to be conducted.
In the debate on the earlier Bill, the hon. Member for St. Marylebone said that he was prepared to ensure that Councillor Sir Desmond Plummer would be trotting along with his cheque book to the London boroughs to buy up "at a stroke" any available land for building. I was disgusted that the hon. Gentleman presenting the Bill, which contains all the financial provisions which the G.L.C. considers to be necessary, did not draw our attention to the specific item in the Bill which provides the finance for that famous cheque book which he promised would be available to assist in the eradication of London's housing problem.
I am often told that if we argue that the Thames barrier should be on the best possible site, and that the areas we represent should be included in the flood protection provisions, this will delay the provision of finance and disaster will fall upon Inner London. If I represented an Inner London constituency I should be concerned about the safety of my constituents, but I represent an Outer London constituency and therefore make no apology for any activity I engage in in respect of this or any other Bill to ensure that my constituency is protected from the risk of flooding.
The hon. Gentleman said that I considered the siting of the barrier at Silver-town to be wrong. He is quite right. I did hold that view, and still do. But I am prepared to accept that a decision has now been taken and that it will not be overthrown, unfortunately, by any activities in which I might engage. I therefore must come on to the next leg of the argument to protect the citizens of Erith and Crayford who live on the flood plain—and that is to ensure that the money in this Bill is used properly in providing adequate bank protection from floods from the Thames.
740 Not all the evidence which the hon. Gentleman claims was available to the G.L.C. and the Minister and published was in favour of Silvertown. I do not want to go back over the old arguments, but I will refresh his memory on some of the facts about the case for siting the barrier at a more suitable place, at Crayfordness. The G.L.C. at the public inquiry into Thamesmead gave solemn evidence that it considered that the best site was not at Silvertown but at Crayfordness in order that adequate protection could be given to the citizens of the new town of Thamesmead. The hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary of State will recall that the Department's own inspector concurred with these sentiments in his report and said that the protection to Thamesmead should be provided by a barrier downstream.
My own local authority, the London borough of Bexley, maintained that the barrier should be downstream. The London borough of Greenwich was also of that view. Above all, if we are considering the technical reports, the weight of the technical evidence was not against Crayfordness, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. I remind him of the letter from two eminent firms of consultants contained in the first report of the studies on the flood barrier. They did not say that Silvertown was the right site. They said that Crayfordness was best and the preferred site and that it was engineeringly feasible for the barrier to be built there. So when I say that the people of my area, and Thamesmead in particular, have been misled and betrayed on the question of the flood barrier. I speak upon the weight of evidence and upon the word of the G.L.C. itself, given at that public inquiry.
We want to ensure that the money in this Bill for flood protection is spent wisely by ensuring adequate protection in my area and in the area of the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Trew). We want to ensure that the flood walls in the downstream parts of London are raised to an adequate height. The right hon. Lady the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) and I had a meeting, with the London Borough of Bexley Council and other London councils, with the G.L.C. a few days ago. We made and listened to the representations of Bexley about the complete lack of 741 consultation which has taken place between Bexley Council and the G.L.C.
My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) is right. On the question of the flood barrier it is virtually impossible (to prise out of County Hall the facts of the situation. My own local authority is on record repeatedly as pointing out that there has been very little meaningful consultation between the G.L.C. and the local authorities involved in flood protection. This is not a party political issue because, when the Conservatives were in control of Bexley before last May, they took exactly the same view as the present Labour Council does—that the G.L.C. has failed time and again to give to the authorities primarily responsible for protecting their citizens' lives and property the full facts upon which those authorities could base a proper judgment.
I hope that, before the money in the Bill for flood protection in London, especially in Erith and Crayford, is spent, the hon. Member for St. Marylebone will ensure that his council has the courtesy and courage to go to Bexley and to explain the facts to that local authority.
I turn, then, to Thamesmead, where an equally serious situation has arisen. At Thamesmead, there is a runaway financial situation. It is building up not only to a financial disaster but a social one.
The scheme at Thamesmead for the housing of 60,000 people began with an estimated total cost of £30 million. That figure has now soared to about £43 million or £44 million. There has been a tremendous escalation in costs, with the result that a tremendous burden will be placed on tenants in respect of rents, as well as on rate payers and tax payers.
There has been difficulty in respect of the Government grant for the building there. The whole issue of the housing yardstick again has been shrouded in secrecy. Even in this House, we have found it virtually impossible to prise the information out of the Government, let alone out of the G.L.C.
The clash between the costs of stages one and two at Thamesmead and the Minister's yardstick was averted only by a meeting between the Minister and Councillor Sir Desmond Plummer. But no statement about it has been made. It was a secret meeting between the Minister and the G.L.C. No information has been 742 made available to this House. We are still in the dark about the true financial situation at Thamesmead. I hope that the Under-Secretary can tell Parliament, the taxpayers and ratepayers the true financial position and what has been the average cost per unit of accommodation in stages one and two. Many people believe it to have been in excess of £12,000. That may be incorrect. If it is wrong, the hon. Gentleman should give us the detailed make-up of these financial facts.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
I wonder if my hon. Friend's attention has been drawn to an advertisement in the Daily Telegrap last Tuesday, comprising 14 lines at £1 a line and offering unfurnished properties at Thamesmead. In that advertisement, one-bedroom flats are offered to anyone for £440 a year, and four-bedroom houses for £780 a year.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I have not see that specific report, but I am aware that rent levels at Thamesmead are scandalously high. No doubt the properties to which my hon. Friend refers are in the four blocks being built alongside South Mere, one of the lakes at Thamesmead, which will be let to people who are not on the housing list but who have the ability to pay the rents demanded. This is quite scandalous.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
I understand that the properties being advertised have been built next to a charming lake, whereas council tenants are forced to pay high rents for accommodation by the sewage works.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I cannot assure my hon. Friend that that is a fact, because I have not seen the report to which he has referred. But it appears to refer to the four blocks of flats being built at South Mere.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
My hon. Friend must get it right. This is not a report; it is an advertisement in the "Unfurnished houses to let" column of the Daily Telegraph.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Nothing surprises me about the Greater London Council faced with a desperate housing situation in London. I am not surprised that this miserable council, backed by this miserable Government, should be making homes available for those who can afford 743 them rather than for those who need them.
§ Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)
In fairness, will the hon. Gentleman accept that hundreds of tenants at Thamesmead are paying rents which, because of the rent rebate scheme, are well below half the economic rent?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I do not doubt that. If the right hon. Lady would like me to give detailed illustrations of rent levels I shall be happy to do so. Even those who have substantial means-tested rent rebates are still paying rents above the average level for the area as a whole, which is going outside Thamesmead. The rents are scandalously high. I know from personal contact that many tenants are paying £10 or £11 per week for accommodation at Thamesmead. It is a high rent area.
The Under-Secretary should give the House the full facts about the financial situation. I believe that it has been a runaway situation. Incompetence and mismanagement—perhaps even worse—at Thamesmead has brought about this soaring upsurge in building costs. I am sure that no one in this House would want to defend a cost of probably over £12,000 per unit for accommodation if that cost was not creating homes which were fit for people to live in at a reasonable rent. This is happening, and I shall explain to the House the conditions in which some of these tenants are living despite the extortionate rents which they are paying.
The Thamesmead scheme, provided partly by finance under this Bill, has won an international award because of its great design. I have no doubt that in all the planning centres of the world Thamesmead is referred to almost with bated breath as the great example of modern planning. Indeed, it may eventually so turn out, but at the moment that is not how the tenants see it.
If any hon. Member were to visit Thamesmead tomorrow he would see not just in one or two windows, but in virtually every window on the estate, a little poster saying, "I've got damp", because these houses and flats which have been built by the council and let at such high rents have water penetrating 744 to an outrageous extent. It comes in through the windows and, I am told, through the concrete slabs used in the industrialised building of these multistorey blocks. I should be delighted to show the Under-Secretary round Thamesmead. He would see literally hundreds of these posters in the windows of houses and flats, some two years old and others which have been let for only a few days, complaining of water penetration.
The problem is that in the Bill there is provision for a further stage of the Thamesmead development which will be built on the same design work. There are to be 794 further units built on the same system, and no doubt subject to the same design faults and the same degree of water penetration.
A survey was carried out among the tenants to ascertain the extent of the water penetration. It was initiated by a Mr. Kelly, but it has now been taken over by the Thamesmead Community Association. A large number of forms was put out. I have not brought them all. I have brought only a few to illustrate what has been achieved by the expenditure of money authorised by Parliament.
One man, who pays quite a substantial rent, said:Water in kitchen comes in so much we have to put basins on the ledge, then we have to empty them at least twice before we can go to bed because they are full in the morning…That is a tenant in a brand new property, paying more than £9 a week. Water is coming into his place to such an extent that he has to put out bowls and basins to collect it.
A lady says that a pool of water collects on her bedroom floor every time it rains. She, too, is living in a brand new property built by the G.L.C. Another man says that he has to put up with water penetration, and he asks a rather pertinent question. He raises an issue to which the hon. Gentleman did not refer. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not sit there and smirk. If he does not think that this is a real problem, he should go to Thamesmead and tell the tenants there that he is satisfied with what the G.L.C. has done. The hon. Gentleman will get pretty dusty response if he adopts that smirky attitude at Thamesmead.
745 The gentleman to whom I have referred asks who will pay for the £148 carpet that has virtually been ruined by the penetration of water into his brand new flat. The G.L.C. is not keen on paying the bill. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will intervene and say whether there is provision in the Bill for the payment of compensation to tenants who have been put to this discomfort and financial loss as a result of the faulty design of his council's property. If the G.L.C. will accept responsibility, I shall be delighted, but I know that the hon. Gentleman will sit silent because, like the famous Councillor Plummer's cheque book, there is no compensation for the tenant. They are told to grin and bear it, but they arc not going to. There will be a hell of a stink.
Another complaint is from a man who pays £10 a week in rent. He, too, complains about water penetration, and he ends by saying that the saddest thing is that no one has even bothered to call and see the trouble. No one from the G.L.C, or from Cubitts, the builders, has called to see him to discuss what can be done.
I say to the Minister that not only is there a financial scandal brewing at Thamesmead, but a social one, too. The social scandal arises from people being put into homes that are faulty in construction, to the extent of letting the rain in. The situation is outrageous.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
Would my hon. Friend, with his considerable experience of housing in London, agree that complaints of this kind are made not only about newer properties, but that people make numerous complaints to the G.L.C. about the older properties, in particular, and find that nobody takes the slightest interest in them?
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
I agree that in my hon. Friend's constituency, with its older properties, that is a problem. The situation really is outrageous. But what I think is even more outrageous is that in brand new property, in which tenants have lived for only a week or two, this rain penetration is occurring, and yet we are being asked to provide more finance so that the G.L.C. can go even further 746 along the field and build identical properties, to the same design, and incorporating the same faults.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
The Bill provides money to build more properties, but in my constituency the G.L.C. refuses to modernise about 150 homes in which people still have to bathe in the kitchen.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
That is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs, and no doubt, if my hon. Friend has an opportunity to take part in the debate, he will develop that. I think that I had better concentrate on Thamesmead, which is my responsibility as the Member representing that area.
These properties are not cheap. The proposal for the extension of stage three of Thamesmead is for another 1,412 units at a cost of £14,750,000. A quick calculation shows that the properties will average some £10,000-plus per unit. This is an enormous sum to pay for faulty property in which the tenants' furniture runs the risk of water damage. The Department of the Environment must look into the situation.
The residents at Thamesmead, who come from all walks of life, some of whom lived previously in appalling conditions, see in Thamesmead a vision for a better life. But I must warn the House, as the Thamesmead Residents Association has warned me, that this great enthusiasm for and vision of a new community will disappear unless adequate provision is made financially to right defects and to allow tenants to be compensated.
I hope that the hon. Member for St. Marylebone will tell the G.L.C. what has been said about Thamesmead tonight and will ask the council to consider two important matters. First, a crash programme to eradicate the faults that exist in these properties; secondly a programme of financial compensation for tenants who suffer personal loss. The council might even like to consider giving tenants a further rent rebate while they have to put up with the inconvenience.
We want to see Thamesmead develop into a happy community and become part and parcel of Erith and Crayford and of the London Borough of Bexley, but it will not develop in that way unless Ministers, the Department of the Environment and the G.L.C. get down to the 747 serious problems that confront my constituents at Thamesmead.
§ 11.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
I did not intend to discuss the Bill in any detail, but since the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) drew attention to political issues, which are not strictly involved here, I feel that I should go into the matter a little deeper.
I wish to refer to the issue of open space which is dealt with in item 2 in the Schedule. My hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) referred to the introduction of a statutory instrument. Although I had down a Prayer for some 39 days, the Government in an anti-democratic way refused to give time for a one-and-a-half hour debate on the matter. Had we debated the statutory instrument to authorise the transfer of the responsibility for open spaces from the G.L.C. to the London boroughs, we would have pointed out the relevant issues.
The hon. Member for St. Marylebone said that the item in the schedule on open spaces would relate purely to lands in the ownership of the G.L.C. It might be of interest to know that of the 7,704 acres of open space previously owned by the G.L.C, only 2,788 acres has been handed over. They are retaining 4,924 acres. One would be happy if that figure reflected extra moneys for maintaining them. But it is interesting to see that the financial arrangements referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton were that whereas for those 4,924 acres the cost would be £2,100,000, for the 2,780 acres handed over to the London boroughs the cost would be £2,600,000. There is the interesting sum that for the transfer of 36 per cent. of the open space to the boroughs, the boroughs will pay 55 per cent. of the cost.
Somebody should explain that little exercise because the Government wilfully refuse to discuss it under the democratic procedures of the House, for which they will stand condemned. It has now been suggested that we could not discuss it under this item. We now see that for those 4,924 acres we are to have £830,000 for the first year and £375,000 allocated for the second six months.
I raise this subject in a general way, as the hon. Gentleman chose to highlight it, 748 but I go a little further. As he is a promoter of the G.L.C. I accept that he knows what he is saying. He says that this £830,000 is for the East End. As my constituency is right in the East End, let me tell him how wrong he must be. In the half of my constituency called Shoreditch, three areas of open space are allocated. One is Shepherdess Walk openspace, for which compulsory purchase orders have been outstanding since 1965. That is little more than 1½ acres. Another one is Shoreditch Park, about 24 acres, of which a very small part is at present under development, but this has been stopped since April. Then there is Haggerston Park, again about 24 acres, and again part of which has been completed. Those are the only open spaces in Shoreditch. They do not exist yet, but are planned.
But in my constituency they have developed and warehoused the people to a density of 136 persons to the acre. It was anticipated that, having warehoused people to that high density, the open space that goes with it would be provided. From 1964 I have continuously hammered the G.L.C. and the local boroughs to provide that open space. During many, many meetings about Shepherdess Walk, for instance, only about 1½ acres, I pestered, argued and rowed on two grounds. First, that the existing homes are in a distressing state and I could not get any of my constituents rehoused for any reason—even though one receives letters from the local authorities saying how distressing are their circumstances—because it was, I was told, a G.L.C. open space development and therefore, until the Council got control of the homes, if they were to move out any of these distressing cases others would move in, and the Council would have to continue rehousing them. I continually pressed for the open space to be created.
Finally, I saw the chairman of the appropriate committee in 1968 and he agreed that the Council would start this on a phase basis, of phases 1, 2 and 3, finishing, he hoped, by 1971. I wrote him a letter saying how grateful I was that at long last we were to start on this vast scheme of little more than 1½ acres.
It is true that by 1969 the first very small part was completed. It was very 749 costly. They got up to all sorts of silly antics. But, for the first time in Shore-ditch, there was a little green grass, and I was delighted to see it.
Then I waited and waited for phases 2 and 3 to be completed. I was not insensitive that, when the G.L.C. thought that it would have an opportunity of divesting itself of open spaces, it began to back off from the proposition.
I then came across an extraordinary document emanating from the Architects Department at County Hall which described the homes which I was trying to get pulled down and which were already the subject of compulsory purchase orders as houses of architectural merit. As one Conservative councillor said to me of that description, "You could have fooled me". As a result of this clever technique, it was referred back to the Council of the London Borough of Hackney asking the Council whether it wished the homes to be rehabilitated, this overlooking the fact that the area was zoned and should have had open space provided there.
The Hackney Borough Council was Conservative-controlled. I understand that it fought desperately with the G.L.C. but lost the day because Councillor, now Sir Desmond, Plummer was able to convince his colleagues on the Hackney Borough Council that it should not go ahead with open space but should consider rehabilitating. That was a good delaying tactic, but it took 12 months for his colleagues on the London Borough of Hackney finally to decide—in February, 1971–that it was too expensive to rehabilitate: it would cost about £2,500 a unit and, in their view, was uneconomic.
Hackney handed it back to the G.L.C. in February, 1971, well knowing that by 1st April, 1971, the G.L.C. would hand it back again, because this was one of the sites which was to be handed over by Ministerial action—I would almost say dictatorial action. The property was handed back to the London Borough of Hackney well knowing, as the Ministry must have known, that that borough had made no provision for continuing work on the open space at Shepherdess Walk. It had not provided the money, because it had no money, and it had not got a cat in hell's chance of rehousing these 750 people, because the borough had cut back its housing programme and could not house other families, let alone these people.
I asked the Minister whether he was aware of the distress that he was causing to my constituents in Shepherdess Walk. He received from them a deposition and a complaint telling him of their distress. I asked him whether he was aware of the delay that his transfer on 1st April had caused. Then, to my utter astonishment, he had the effrontery to tell me, "I am not aware that development of land in that area has been delayed". Either the Department is utterly incompetent or the G.L.C. did not tell the Minister the truth. One way or the other somebody should inquire how the Minister was allowed to give that reply when it was already obvious that he must have known that the borough council—his friends—had returned this property to the G.L.C. saying, "No deal. It is too expensive". He knew that on 1st April he had forced it back on to the borough council saying, "Whether you like it or not you are going to have it". He must, therefore, have been aware that the borough council was not in a position to carry out the phased programme which the G.L.C. already had for that open space site.
At the moment, we have less than one-sixth of the site with grass actually on it. I read in item 2 that £830,000 is to be spent in 12 months, presumably only for the East End of London, which suggests that other areas of London get nothing, yet the Council has been completely unable, since 1965, to develop less than two acres of land in my constituency.
Something is radically wrong with the Bill in these circumstances. We are right tonight seriously to question whether the Greater London Council is aware of what it is doing. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) and I have returned this evening from by-elections in our constituencies. A large number of people turned out. We have not heard the result yet, but it is a pretty sure bet that the people of Hackney, the people for whom we speak tonight, are telling the Government in no uncertain terms that they are not satisfied with either the Government or this Bill—
§ Mr. Brown
—or the G.L.C. I do not believe that the £830,000 is for East London, but, if it is, I hope that the G.L.C. will immediately get on with that area of less than two acres at Shepherdess Walk, and the other things which need to be done for Shoreditch Park and Haggerston Park so that we can have some green grass in our area of East London.
Is it thought that the £830,000 will do the job? This surprises me, too. When we were discussing the transfer of open spaces, the one element the G.L.C. refused to give—I used to say that it was unable to give, but I am now satisfied that the right word is "refused"—was the cost of the transfer. Time and again, I warned the London boroughs of the hidden cost of this transfer which was not included in the financial agreement.
I pointed to a number of factors, not least the cost of buying out industry in areas zoned as open space, which would now be the responsibility of the ratepayers. I pointed to the problem of rehousing families from any of the properties within the open space area so zoned, another difficulty problem with which few London boroughs, certainly in Inner London, can possibly cope. The total cost of the rehabilitation and of buying out factories would fall directly on the rate payers of the areas concerned, but, because of the absurdity of the way things were arranged, we were never able to get the case across in the House as the Government refused to give us time to debate the Prayer which my hon. Friends and I had put down.
Now, item 21 in the Schedule,Contributions to London Transport Executive towards special expenditure".I regret that the hon. Gentleman did not explain that a little more clearly. We did not have it clear on second Reading either.
§ Mr. Brown
I assure the hon. Gentleman that Barbican station is still closed, and there is no evidence that it will be opened. It was closed because, according to the Greater London Council, it would have cost £8,000 in my constituency to keep it open. It is an area in 752 juxtaposition to the City, and, because the City closes down every evening at half-past six, and every weekend after Friday evening at half-past six, the G.L.C. decided that the constituents of Shore-ditch and Finsbury should be deprived of the opportunity of travelling by Underground, since the City was not working. I cannot see why £8 million in the first year and a further £4 million in the second six months should be allocated for special purposes when as far as a can gather those special purposes do not include providing an adequate service to meet my constituents' travel needs.
I have discussed the problem ad nauseam with the G.L.C., the City of London Corporation and the London Borough of Islington. The G.L.C. then instructed the London Transport Executive that it was to be financially viable and was not to support uneconomic social services. So in the same area as it has closed the Underground it has now withdraw bus services. My constituents now have to walk, because of the futile argument that the City of London is dead at night.
The City of London Corporation has the same powers as all the borough councils in London, but it has a population of only about 5,000. It will not spend its money to keep the Barbican station open. Many of its tenants live in my constituency. The tenants of its estates do not live in its own area but everyone else's. So the whole social cost of looking after the people who are tenants of the City Coropration is borne by the ratepayers of other areas. That rotten little borough will not give any help to its own tenants. I have to fight for them because they are my constituents.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
On a point of order. The provision of the Bill to which the hon. Gentleman purports to be referring is to provide, through the G.L.C, for capital expenditure for London Transport. With respect, I submit that his argument about the failure of certain boroughs to provide certain current subsidies is wholly out of order.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Gentleman is developing that point, he is going beyond the bounds of order.
§ Mr. Brown
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has not been listening, because he will follow the argument, 753 having been a Financial Secretary to the Treasury, that to go on building extra stations and at the same time to close stations such as the Barbican is a silly exercise. Someone must first decide whether the station is necessary, since the Barbican had the same sort of capital expenditure upon it and is now closed for two days of the week. I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the matter is uninteresting.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My submission to you was not that the hon. Gentleman ever fails to be interesting but that he plainly was out of order.
§ Mr. Brown
We may agree, Mr. Speaker, that I am not out of order, but that I was very wise to raise the matter for the right hon. Gentleman's education.
The amount of money provided is unreasonable in that it will not go anywhere near meeting the cost of the work necessary, certainly in my constituency. In the London Borough of Hackney we have little or no Underground system, and we have very poor bus services. This causes great distress. To cross the constituency it is necessary to walk most of the way. I am at a loss to understand what the G.L.C. will spend the money on. The hon. Gentleman did not make the point, and I can only guess that there is not enough money available if it is to meet all the requirements in my constituency.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
Does my hon. Friend consider that the problems which he has mentioned will be further exacerbated if the recommendation made by a Committee of the G.L.C, which the Council is to debate next Tuesday, on the withdrawal of cheap fares for children during peak hours—
§ Mr. Brown
I accept your Ruling of course, Mr. Speaker, but it is interesting to observe that because the figure is only £8 million, school children in my constituency have to pay full fare on buses if and when they can get them. If more money were available, the L.T.E. would not be forced to make this disgraceful suggestion at the behest of the Greater 754 London Council that school children on their way to school—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is a debate on the Third Reading of the Bill. It is what is in the Bill, not what is not in the Bill, that the hon. Member is entitled to discuss.
§ Mr. Brown
You are absolutely right, Mr. Speaker, and the point I was making was that the £8 million will clearly not satisfy the needs of London. I should have thought that one of the special expenditures in a Bill of this kind would have been to enable children to travel to school at a child's fare, but the Bill does not once—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member must confine his remarks to an item of capital expenditure. That is what is in the Bill.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
My hon. Friend could discuss whether the capital expenditure is sufficient to contribute towards the buying of any necessary printing machines required for the special passes and forms needed for special facilities for pensioners and children having reduced fares. That may well be interesting.
§ Mr. Brown
My hon. Friend is right to draw my attention to that, but as you feel, Mr. Speaker, that I have explored that item sufficiently, I will move on.
Part III of the Schedule speaks of "for other purposes". Perhaps hon. Members opposite who are making so much noise are knowledgeable about the purpose of the £15 million being set aside by this provision. It is difficult to get information from the G.L.C. and I regret that the hon. Member for St. Marylebone did not tell us, for I do not know why there should be this £15 million when only £830,000 is to be spent on all the open space development in London and the green belt to boot. There is already an item "sundry charges", and yet this vast sum of £15 million is tucked away. This is a classic example of this sort of provision and I am delighted that we chose to examine the Bill.
755 The Bill is shrouded in mystery. I support it because I favour local government having the right to do exactly what it wants, and I have defended that right throughout the last 20 years. But when a local authority asks the House for vast sums of money when the Government are cutting everything they can cut and when they are putting up the price of children's milk, it seems a little odd for permission to be given for money to be spent in this way without our being told on what the money is to be spent.
Further Mr. Speaker there are the odd priorities we see in the Bill. The Council is providing £2 million for the Inner London Education Authority, which does an immense amount of excellent work. It does good work in my constituency. I do not complain of that allocation. But I do not understand the £15 million to be devoted to "other purposes". Those purposes must be known to the Greater London Council. It provides sufficient money for anything that the House determines needs to be done between now and 31st March, 1972, but then it puts in another £15 million for 12 months, and another £7,500,000 after that, for unspecified things.
I hope that I have shown the necessity for the Greater London Council, when it next presents a Money Bill, to be courteous enough to give explanations for the expenditure of such vast sums of money. I ask the council to show understanding of the great problems facing London people. The Bill shows a lack of such a understanding and I hope that next year the council's approach will be much more serious.
§ 12.7 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)
It might be for the convenience of the House if I were now to intervene in what has been described as a "ding dong" between the two sides. In so far as the hon. Members opposite have made points that are relevant to my Department, I shall be very happy to look into those points and deal with them, if necessary in writing. But I must remind the House that this is a G.L.C. Bill, a Private Bill. It has been considered by a Private Bill Committee, and that Private Bill Committee advised that the Bill 756 should be given a Third Reading. I must say on behalf of the Government that that is our view. We accept the Bill, and commend it to the House for Third Reading. So at this late hour it might for the advantage of all concerned if I deal with the utmost brevity with some of the points that have arisen in so far as they concern my Department.
My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) made some extremely important and constructive points about the finance of local government. I cannot tell him exactly when the Green Paper on Local Government Finance will be available, but I can assure him that it will be available as soon as possible.
The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) asked about the Fleet Line. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] I am bound to say that, the hon. Member having indulged himself in a speech that went on for some 20 minutes, at a guess—which to some of us seemed like 50 minutes—I find it a little curious that he should not have waited for the reply I had hoped to give on the points he raised.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
It may be that my hon. Friend has gone out to prepare his speech on the Mersey Docks and Harbour Bill, in which I know he also takes an interest.
§ Mr. Griffiths
It is very encouraging to hear that the hon. Gentleman felt it more important to prepare yet another harangue, rather than to wait courteously for the answers to the harangue he has already given. Very briefly, I say to the hon. Gentleman that we are looking very carefully at the question of investment in the proposed Fleet line, and we shall be guided by a desire to achieve value for money and to look at the implications for the South-East generally and the development of the London docklands in particular. I see no point in going further in the absence of the hon. Gentleman.
Then we had the effusion of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). He spoke of the noble vision of Thamesmead and then pro-ceded to describe it as a social disaster, a runaway financial disaster and a scandal. He made two essential points. One concerned cost escalation. We all regret 757 cost escalation, but I have not noticed him or his party resisting some of the inflationary wage increases which have led to the cost inflation about which he complains. The hon. Gentleman spoke of damp. He even waved a placard complaining of damp. I well understand the feeling of his constituents, for I too have constituents who complain about damp in their houses. But it was not the Conservative G.L.C. which invented damp. I am advised that this scheme was conceived and probably begun while the hon. Gentleman's party was in charge of County Hall.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would turn aside from his political points and tell the House whether the G.L.C. intends in stage three to carry on with exactly the same design which has proved faulty on stages one and two.
§ Mr. Griffiths
The short answer is that that is a matter for the G.L.C. to decide. But my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction intends to hold a conference with the London housing authorities shortly to discuss all these and related problems. The hon. Gentleman would do best to wait until that conference has taken place when these matters will be discussed.
I notice that the hon. Member for Acton has returned to the Chamber. I made some aspersions about his absence. In view of his return, I withdraw them.
§ Mr. Spearing
I apologise for not being here when the hon. Gentleman made some remarks on my speech, but I did not remember that he had the right to intervene in this debate before other hon. Members who I thought might try to catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I understand. I am glad that so much concord is breaking out on both sides of the House.
The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Browne) spoke about parks. They, too, are a matter for the G.L.C., but insofar as the hon. Member's speech touched on matters for which my Department bears a responsibility, I will read his speech carefully and will write to him about any points relating to my responsibilities.
§ Mr. Lipton
I made one or two remarks about parks and open spaces, too. I hope that, having waited patiently to hear the Minister's reply, he will at least mention that I raised some points about parks and open spaces and that whatever he communicates to my hon. Friend will be communicated to me.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I assure the hon. Gentleman that his speech is among the first that I read when I open HANSARD whenever he has taken part in a debate. I give him the same assurance as I have given the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury.
The only other matter remaining for me to mention—it was raised by the hon. Members for Acton and Erith and Crayford—concerns the Thames barrier. Although home hon. Members would have preferred it to be lower down the river and others would have preferred it to be higher up the river, we have reached a decision with the G.L.C. and all the navigational interests that the best place for it is in the Silvertown Reach. We have made a decision in consultation with all concerned in favour of a rising sector barrier.
The reasons for this are simple. The hon. Gentleman does not need to devise a great detective story about it. We chose the rising sector because, first, we know it will be reliable; secondly, it will cost about £12 million less than the alternative; thirdly, it will take a year less to construct and, fourthly,—and I place considerable reliance on this—it will be relatively unobtrusive in appearance compared with the enormous portcullis of a drop-gate. There is no case whatever for any other type of barrier or any other site on the river.
I assure the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved), who is right to represent the views of his constituents about the wall raising downstream from the barrier, that the Government, working closely with the riparian authorities, the Thames River Authority, the Port of London Authority and the G.L.C, are just as sensitive to this problem as he is and will do their utmost to ensure that his constituents and the constituents of all hon. Members representing London constituencies are well served by this Thames tidal barrier.
§ 12.16 a.m.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
I wish to make three points on the Bill and one preliminary point in relation to the speech of the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker), who was determined, unhappily, to make a number of political points rather than to explain the Bill. He relied largely on his imagination rather than on facts. He referred to me personally by stating that the Hackney Central Labour Party had decided not to select me again. Where he got that information from I do not know. It is probably as reliable as other information—
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
The hon. Gentleman must be disappointed, because I was unanimously re-selected last Thursday. So much for the hopes of the hon. Member for St. Marylebone. He may not be so fortunate if the Conservative Party at St. Marylebone is wise.
Item 10 of the Schedule refers to the Coroners Act, 1887, the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, the London Government Act, 1963 and the Administration of Justice Act, 1964. As I understand, it is the duty of the G.L.C. to provide court buildings in Outer London and also other accommodation, furniture and books for magistrates' courts. Some of the courts in Outer London are a disgrace. One only has to mention Willesden, Barnet and Ealing to illustrate the surroundings in which the public, advocates and magistrates are expected to undertake their duties. The House is entitled to an explanation of how this money is to be expended. Are these outmoded courts where the conditions and facilities are outrageous to be changed? The hon. Member for St. Marylebone will perhaps give the House information about that.
The second point I wish to raise relates to item 11 of the Schedule,Housing Act 1957 and other Acts relating to housingdealing with theAcquisition of property, erection of dwellings and other purposes".Those purposes presumably include repairs. In my constituency—and I am sure that this must happen in St. Marylebone 760 as well—many of my constituents who live in G.L.C. blocks, particularly the older ones, complain to me bitterly about the neglect which they suffer when they make complaints about the conditions of the properties. This must happen to every hon. Member who represents a London constituency with G.L.C. blocks in it.
§ Mr. Selwyn Gummer (Lewisham, West) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Selwyn Gummer) shakes his head. He is fortunate because in at least three of the old blocks in my constituency—Morn-ingside, Pembury Estate and Kings Mead Estate—where conditions are appalling, people complain to me constantly that despite the fact that they make complaints to the housing department, they are persistently ignored.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
I think that the hon. Gentleman will be fair and accept that this complaint could equally be levelled against the Labour-controlled London County Council, because the administration for looking after tenants' complaints was and is bad.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
I am not seeking to make a party point. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman is so sensitive. He obviously shares my experience about constituents' complaints. I think that if the hon. Member for Lewisham, West were fair about this, he would confess that experience too, because it happens day in and day out. People's needs are being constantly neglected.
§ Mr. Selwyn Gummer
I find it difficult to understand what precisely this has to do with the Bill. When I shook my head earlier, it was really to indicate my feeling that this subject is rather a long way from the Bill.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
That is a matter for the Chair and not the hon. Gentleman.
The G.L.C. should give urgent attention to this matter because the complaints of these tenants should be dealt 761 with. Perhaps there is an inadequacy of workers available to carry out the work; perhaps there is an inadequacy of staff to deal with the day-to-day requirements of the housing department. But this is something to which the G.L.C. must turn its attention. The discontent being expressed is but a ripple now compared with what I think is going to be a flood tide.
§ Mr. Ronald Brown
Does not my hon. Friend think that the situation has been exacerbated by the Government's decision to transfer some of the G.L.C. properties to the boroughs? The result has been that many of the staff who should be available for maintenance with the G.L.C. have been transferred to the boroughs.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis
That may well be so, but this is a long-term matter which has been going on for a number of years. I am sure that the situation will have been aggravated by that decision.
I hope that the hon. Member for St. Marylebone, if he has a right of reply, will give these matters some consideration or, if not, that they will be considered very carefully by the G.L.C.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.