HC Deb 18 March 1971 vol 813 cc1731-874

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

I am not selecting the Amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) and other hon. Members— That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill that so clearly fails to make provision for the good government of London. The arguments which hon. Members might want to adduce upon it can all be developed in the debate on the main Question.

7.11 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Baker (St. Marylebone)

I commend the Bill to the House. Each year the G.L.C. initiates and sponsors two Bills. One is a Money Bill, which the Council must initiate under the London Government Act, 1963, and it is the way in which the House can effectively control the Council's spending. The Money Bill will be tabled within a few weeks.

The other Bill, which is the Bill we are now discussing, is a General Powers Bill. This is something of a misnomer. It is not a Bill to regulate the Council's general powers. It is a Bill to amend existing powers.

The powers usually amended in a Bill of this sort tend to be of a relatively minor nature. Every year the L.C.C. existed there was a General Powers Bill, and every year the G.L.C. has existed there has been a General Powers Bill. The provisions of the Bill are usually at the instigation of other authorities within the Greater London area. In the old days various borough councils would often initiate a Bill themselves. It is now the duty of the Greater London Council to speak on their behalf and put forward a Bill.

Of the material Clauses in this Bill, Clause 3 is at the instigation of the Greater London Council, Clause 4 at the instigation of the Greater London Council and of the London Boroughs Association, Clauses 5 to 7 are at the instigation of the London Boroughs Associa- tion, and Clause 8 is at the instigation of the London Borough of Hillingdon.

The details of the Bill were sent out by the Solicitor to the Greater London Council, Mr. Wilson, on 30th November last in a very helpful and informative letter. Mr. Wilson offered any assistance that he or his department could give to any London Members. He has not heard from any London Member about any matter on which he could offer him information or assistance. As the House probably knows, no petitions have been laid against the Bill.

As for the title "(No. 2)", it is not usual for the Council to introduce two General Powers Bills in any year but, as hon. Members who were here in the last Parliament will recall, in February, 1970, there was a very successful blocking operation of the Greater London Council (General Powers) Bill, 1970. That Bill was delayed by the same hon. Members whose names appear on the Order Paper against the Amendment today. [Interruption.] Not entirely, apparently. On reading through the debate on Second Reading of that Bill I was overcome with floods of nostalgia, because many hon. Members who then spoke are now in the roll call of the Labour fallen. They fell in June. There was Alan Lee Williams, whom many hon. Members on both sides will miss. There was Will Howie, whom many hon. Members on both sides will miss. And then there was Roy Roebuck.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

Has not the hon. Gentleman forgotten to include himself? He was rejected by Acton.

Mr. Baker

I stumbled but quickly recovered.

It is usual for the Government of the day to give some assistance to the passage of the Bill. A year ago the then Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Freeson), whose speech on Second Reading of the Bill last year I have read carefully, was less than enthusiastic in his recommendation of the Bill and could not bring himself to vote for it at ten o'clock. The hon. Gentleman recommended that Bill with all the enthusiasm with which an emaciated vegetarian speaks of good red meat. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not in his place tonight.

This Bill is on the whole a narrow Measure. Clause 1 is the short title. Clause 2 is the definitions Clause. Clause 3 is the first material Clause and repeals Part II of the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1924. That Act was brought in because there had been flooding of Beverley Brook in the Barnes district of London. The 1924 Act empowered the L.C.C. to build and maintain a sewer bringing the flood waters from Beverley Brook into the River Thames. It charged the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames for that an annual fee which is at present £850. Under the London Government Act, 1963, the responsibility for the whole of London sewerage was taken over by the G.L.C., and it is, therefore, inappropriate that Richmond should have to pay this extra amount. It is a relatively small amount. The effect of Clause 3 is to relieve the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames from having to pay that £850.

I want to mention in passing the very good record of the G.L.C. in handling its responsibility in relation to main sewerage. In 1969–70 it incurred capital expenditure of £4 million on improving the man sewerage system, and in the current year it has incurred about £9 million. The cost of disposing of all London sewage comes out at about ½p per person per day in London. This sort of expenditure and the increase in the expenditure since 1967 is one of the factors which have contributed towards the cleaning up of the River Thames. We as Londoners should be proud that of all the rivers flowing through capital cities it is only the Thames that is steadily getting cleaner and better. There is more oxygen and less sulphides, and fish are beginning to reappear in the middle reaches of the Thames.

Clause 4 deals with quite complicated building regulations. In the area of outer London matters of drainage, sanitation and lavatories are controlled by the Building Regulations under Section 4 of the Public Health Act, 1961. These can be waived by the London boroughs to allow for new processes or new techniques. For example, on the whole plastic pipes are not allowed by the building regulations, but they are coming to he used more generally, and where a regulation says that a plastic pipe cannot be used, that regulation can be waived in outer London.

Another regulation prescribes that when a lavatory is added to a house there must be a ventilated lobby joining the lavatory to the house. That regulation can be waived in certain cases—for example, in the case of severely handicapped people.

In outer London these regulations can be waived by the borough council, but, rather strangely, in inner London the borough councils cannot do that because the G.L.C. draws up the regulations and, on the whole, they are not waived at all. But, as hon. Members will appreciate, the pressure to waive them in order to allow for new techniques is very great.

Clause 4 allows the Inner London boroughs to waive these regulations with the approval of the Greater London Council. There is an elaborate system of recording waivers, of appeal if a waiver is rejected, and of extending fines if there is a breach of a waiver by the person who has received it.

As Clause 4 deals with sanitation, it might be appropriate at this stage to deal with a remark made in the House last December by the hon. Member for Shore-ditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown), when he said in the course of a supplementary question that he intended to oppose this Bill because the G.L.C. had gone back on its word in the matter of sewerage and refuse disposal. The hon. Gentleman was referring to the fact that during the council workers' strike the G.L.C. had discharged from the Crossness sewerage works a certain amount of digested sludge on to 25 acres of land at Thamesmead. That digested sludge has undergone mesophilic treatment. I am advised that it has little smell. It is one of the more harmless sewage treatment products consisting of 97 per cent. water.

The discharge worried the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Well-beloved), who is an expert on digested sludge, and the hon. Member for Shore-ditch and Finsbury, who alleged on 16th December that the Council had given an undertaking never to discharge this sludge. The G.L.C. was disappointed, because it drew the attention of the hon. Gentleman to a letter that it had written to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford in April of last year in which it said: The adoption of such a procedure"— which is to discharge the sludge— at Crossness cannot be discarded out of hand if unreasonable industrial action, or any other unforeseen event, were to lead to a severe emergency in sludge disposal by ships. The hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury was ungenerous, to say the least, in suggesting that the G.L.C. went back on its word since it had said in April that it would have to do this if unforeseen circumstances arose.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

I shall try to develop the argument later, but the hon. Gentleman is not being fair. What he has said is not in accordance with the facts. The sludge could have been dumped in the Thames if it was not harmful. There was no strike of bargees. However, I was told that it would pollute the Thames. In view of that, it follows that it would pollute the land at Thamesmead.

Mr. Baker

That is a slightly separate point. The point that I am making is that the G.L.C. did not go back on its word. The word was clearly set out in the letter to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford in April of last year.

I turn now to Clause 5, which deals with borough council insurance funds. Certain London boroughs are allowed to maintain their own insurance funds to cover fire and theft of council property. Some boroughs carry their own insurance risk. Others carry some of it and put some out to the commercial market. It is entirely a matter for the boroughs to decide. But some boroughs do not have the power to have their own insurance funds. This is an anomaly, and Clause 5 seeks to put it right by allowing all London boroughs to maintain insurance funds if they wish to.

Clause 6 deals with the rather extraordinary cases where officers of a local authority have to act as receivers under the Mental Health Act or as administrators of deceased persons. When I first heard about this, I thought it would only happen in a few cases. However, I understand that it happens quite frequently, and that the London Borough of Hillingdon, which is concerned about this, has a considerable call on its services. When someone has to be committed to a mental home and has no dependants, an officer of the public health department may have to take charge of his assets and property. As the London Borough of Hillingdon contains London Airport, it has to take the responsibility of anyone who becomes mentally deranged when passing through the airport. The calls upon the public health services of the London Borough of Hillingdon in this regard are quite substantial.

When an officer of the public health department has to be appointed as the receiver of someone who has been committed to a mental home or has to act as the administrator of someone who has died, possibly a council tenant with no dependants, he has to look after the property that he takes, and it may be that the eventual recipient of the property alleges that he has not looked after it very well.

Clause 6 seeks to allow councils to indemnify their officers if claims are made against them when they act in these rather unusual capacities. I am sure that the House will agree that that is reasonable. The Clause does not grant a general indemnity for malpractice or maladministration of funds. The criminal law is sufficient for that.

Clause 7 again seeks to rectify an anomaly. It concerns the location of crematoria. Under the Cremation Act, 1902, buildings of a crematorium can be sited without consent only more than 200 yards from anyone's property. The London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1935, varied that to 100 yards because there was pressure upon cremated. Burial authorities in Inner pressure is even greater today when over 52 per cent. of deceased people are cremated. Burial authorities in Inner London can build new plant, chapels, new burning appliances or any other buildings required in a crematorium as near to other property as 100 yards. In Outer London, it is 200 yards. In this connection, two Outer London crematoria are experiencing difficulty. The Clause seeks to standardise the position for the whole of London.

Clause 8 is sponsored exclusively by the London Borough of Hillingdon. It deals with the deconsecration of a certain part of Northwood Cemetery. If land is consecrated, people may be buried there only with the rites of the Church of England. In the London Borough of Hillingdon, people wish to bury deceased relatives with other rites or with no rites at all. The result is that what is required is less consecrated land and more deconsecrated land.

In order to consecrate land in the first place, one needs a bishop et al. To deconsecrate land, one needs an Act of Parliament and the three Estates of Parliament. It is intended to deconsecrate eight acres of Northwood Cemetery. I understand from the London Borough of Hillingdon that the requirement is urgent, since the available plots for burials not according to the rites of the Church of England are now exhausted.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

Having been deconsecrated, could the land be made available for building purposes if the need arose? Is that part of the purpose of these provisions?

Mr. Baker

Strictly speaking, the land could be used in that way after it has been deconsecrated. But that is not the intention of the London Borough of Hillingdon since there is a responsibility placed upon a burial authority to provide land for burials.

Clause 9 is concerned with the costs of the Bill. They will be approximately £4,000 for advertising, printing and agents' fees.

I have gone through the Bill in detail, and the House will appreciate that it contains no provisions which raise important issues of public policy such as would merit the Bill being rejected on Second Reading. I was, therefore, surprised to see on the Order Paper this morning a hostile Motion, in the names of six Socialist Members representing London seats, urging the House to decline to give a Second Reading to a Bill that so clearly fails to make provision for the good government of London. The good government of London depends, and will depend more in the 1970s and 1980s, on how much money the G.L.C. and the individual London borough councils are prepared to spend on improving the basic infrastructure of our capital City. That is what will make government better.

The Tory-controlled G.L.C. has nothing to be ashamed of since it took over in 1967. Every programme which it has taken over it has extended, modernised and expanded. Indeed, this year in the capital expenditure programme it has allocated £10 million to capital reserve for the improvement of services in London. The Labour opposition on the G.L.C. moved that that capital reserve should be reduced to £7.5 million. So Labour Members in Parliament who are asking for good government should coordinate with Labour members on the Greater London Council who are asking for good government on less money. The two do not go together.

I should now like to touch on one matter which is peripheral to the Bill, but is probably the greatest problem facing London—housing. The first social priority of the G.L.C. is to improve the housing situation in London. I shall not be satisfied or happy until every London family has a decent house in which to live. This is an enormous task. Looking at any forecast over the next 10 years to 1981, there is likely to be a shortfall of upwards of 100,000 houses in London.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

I share the hon. Gentleman's desire to rehouse every citizen of London who wishes to be rehoused. Will he direct his mind to his council's activity at Thamesmead? Does he think it likely that that desirable objective of rehousing London's citizens would be achieved by his Council embarking on a housing scheme where the average cost per unit is in excess of £12,000?

Mr. Baker

The cost of housing at Thamesmead, as the hon. Gentleman well knows as it is part of his constituency, is due in large measure to the difficult problems of building on the low-lying land on that site. The hon. Gentleman has raised an almost irrelevant point. The G.L.C. has completed the first and second stages of Thamesmead. The provison of houses at Thamesmead forms a very important part of the extra provision of houses in London over the next few years.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that a problem which is making itself felt throughout a number of London boroughs is that new G.L.C. properties are being left unoccupied because the rents required for them are far too high?

Mr. Baker

I think that the debate has become rather wide. However, the average rent of Greater London properties, taking the old with the new, is £3 10s. this year, which is 9s. less than the G.L.C. in 1967 thought it should be in 1971. I cannot agree that the rents of council properties in London are exhorbitant. I have not come across any case—I have represented both an inner and an outer London borough—where the rent has been a factor in an applicant turning down the offer of a council house or flat.

On lettings, all is not black. In 1971, the G.L.C. will have 16,150 lettings. That is an improvement of 16 per cent. over 1970. Compared with when we came to power on the G.L.C. in 1967, it is an improvement of 36 per cent. If hon. Gentlemen opposite say that that is because of the good work which the L.C.C. did when Labour controlled, I remind them that in 1974 we intend to have over 19,100 lettings a year. It is the lettings figure, the rehousings, the turnover which is so important.

The G.L.C. is in the process of lending £75 million to housing associations. Those housing associations will provide 15,000 homes over the next three years for the people of London. I concede the beneficial effects of the Housing Act, 1969, which increased the grants, which have gone up three times in the last four years in Greater London. Yesterday the G.L.C. announced it was making available £50 million for mortgages. Of that figure £35 million is for newly-weds and engaged couples thinking of setting up their first home. This is positive help with London's housing. The G.L.C. should receive much greater credit for the work that it is doing.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)

The hon. Gentleman has told us that the G.L.C. has laid out about £100 million-plus for new housing in London. Can he tell us how many million ponds it has spent on purchasing land for its own housing construction over the last year?

Mr. Baker

I have those figures. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises, because he now represents a constituency which I used to represent, that the difficulty of development in the whole of London is the availability of land. That is true of both inner and outer London boroughs. There is a general feeling that the whole of outer London is full of virgin sites waiting to be developed. Mr. Desmond Plummer, the Tory leader of the G.L.C., is prepared, if the hon. Gentleman can take him to a site anywhere in Greater London, to go with the hon. Gentleman with his cheque-book and buy it tomorrow. [Laughter.] I should qualify that by saying "a site which is available for development." I should also add that Mr. Plummer would buy it on behalf of the G.L.C. This is the greatest difficulty in the development of housing in London.

The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) knows that the centre of Ealing and Acton will produce a considerable acreage over the next few years, but the time lag between when the redevelopment starts and the first person moves into his council house or flat may be anything from three to 10 years.

Mr. Wellbeloved

The offer which the hon. Gentleman has made on behalf of the Greater London Council for Mr. Desmond Plummer to accompany any hon. Member with his cheque book to buy vacant sites is indeed a magnificent statement of G.L.C. policy. Will the hon. Gentleman start by asking Mr. Plummer to accompany the Prime Minister to a site called Crook Log in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency where a scheme for about 72 houses was cancelled by the Bexley Conservative Council and has lain dormant for three years? That would be an ideal site for Mr. Plummer to purchase as the first step towards implementing the pledge which the hon. Gentleman so generously made.

Mr. Baker

I shall be pleased to draw that to the attention of the G.L.C. and of Mr. Plummer. This is a serious matter. The availability, or non-availability, of land in both inner and outer London is restricting both public and private housing development in the capital.

I now turn from housing—

Mr. Spearing rose

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman must forgive me. I have given way once.

Mr. Spearing

The hon. Gentleman did not give the figure for which I asked.

Mr. Baker

The G.L.C. is also committed to backing up London Transport in its considerable capital works programme. Over the next 10 years London Transport will spend about £360 million —£36 million a year—on capital equipment. This will go towards the Heathrow link and towards the beginnings, I hope, of the Fleet Line, which is one of the most exciting developments in the underground system as it will open up a great deal of the dockland of London. I hope that the Government will review the request of the G.L.C. concerning the Fleet Line with considerable enthusiasm. It will also go to providing the Northern Line with 30 new trains, and the bus service will have £20 million to spend on the re-equipment of its bus fleet. Behind this capital expenditure programme of London Transport the G.L.C. stands full square.

One of the great problems in London is coping with the environmental difficulties and strains which a great capital city automatically generates. It is in this area that the G.L.C. has wide and far-ranging plans. On combating river pollution, for example, in the last three Labour years, 1964–67, £6 million was spent; in the first three Conservative years, 1967–70, three times as much, £18 million, was spent. In the last three Labour years, £600,000 was spent on flood prevention, compared with £1,400,000 in the first three Conservative years, or nearly three times as much.

The area of pollution of the river and the wider environment of London will provide some of the biggest demands and strains on the G.L.C.'s capital programme. In this, the G.L.C. has everything to be proud of. It has progressive and expanding programmes, it is making life better for Londoners, and it will make it infinitely better for Londoners in the 1970s and the 1980s.

7.41 p.m.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

I am sure the House is indebted to the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) for the thorough way in which he went through the Bill—a great improvement on the way in which a similar one was dealt with last year. He deserves the congratulations of the House. Also, at times, it was apparent that he anticipated some criticism of the G.L.C. and the Tory-controlled London boroughs, so he went on to explain how tight the Bill is. But the Preamble says: It is expedient that further and better provision should be made for the finances, public health and local government services "— that is a lot— of Greater London and…the powers of the Greater London Council…and of the London Borough Councils… That is a very wide Preamble, so the hon. Member's hints to Mr. Speaker can probably be ignored and we can have a very wide debate.

Towards the end of his excellent exposition, which he spoiled in his peroration, the hon. Member launched a gallant defence of the Greater London Council and he will be entitled to the accolade of the political Sisyphus of the era, because he is pushing this stone uphill but it will relentlessly fall back on him. He also had a great deal of courage to mention London Transport—a Tory!—and housing—a Tory!

We all know that the difficult situation now is that from last month and up to next May great interest has been and will be expressed in public housing in London by the Conservative-controlled councils and the G.L.C. There will be a wonderful reawakening to the probblems, and we all know why. Something is going to happen next May and they know full well that the democratic system will vent its vengeance on those who have neglected all these services. That is why the hon. Gentleman had to confine most of his remarks to sludge and the mentally disarranged passing through London Airport—[An HON. MEMBER: "And the dead. It was with respect that he mentioned the dead, because in political terms he knew that he was talking about his Conservative colleagues on the G.L.C. and the London boroughs.

Mr. Gorst

Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the Bill, or will he solely make an election speech?

Mr. Molloy

Within five minutes, I have been able to find that tiny, minuscule object, the Tory conscience—hence that intervention. The hon. Member is afraid that some people might take cognisance of the truths which I am putting forward. If the hon. Gentleman feels that he cannot take it, I understand that the tea room or the bar is still open.

When the hon. Member for St. Marylebone mentioned public transport, I knew that he understood the problem and appreciated that it has existed for some time. Over the years, there has been neglect by successive Governments of the problem of London Transport. The last Government decided that something had to be done, although they did not do enough. However, after representations, the then Minister of Transport acceded to the argument that London Transport might be more efficient if it were under the control of the G.L.C. This was a reasonable argument, and there was not great opposition to it. There were some financial problems, but they were technical and quickly resolved.

The theory is that London Transport should be the responsibility of the G.L.C. on the grounds that the G.L.C. councillors are much nearer to the public and able to understand what is going on, and that this leads to improvements in London Transport. It is a remarkable thing that I have never heard or seen the three G.L.C. councillors who represent the London Borough of Ealing. We saw them at the election and we have not seen or heard them since.

Of course, this has not happened. It is not entirely the fault of the G.L.C. that there has been no improvement, but it is their fault that there has been a deterioration. I know that they have a problem, just as the Ministry of Transport had, when that ridiculous and absurd formula was imposed on the L.T.E. of having to provide an efficient public service and see that it paid its way. Those last few words almost sounded the death-knell of London Transport. We should have learned the lesson by now, through trying to run a massive public transport system in the greatest capital city in the world on archaic capitalist lines.

London Transport has had to pay its way because the growth of private transport on the inefficient road system has led to a deterioration of the bus services. After that deterioration people resorted to using their private cars, which resulted in fewer bus passengers, which resulted in less revenue, which meant that London Transport was compelled to raise the fares, resulting in fewer people using the transport system.

Then, because of the almost intolerable conditions imposed on our fellow citizens who drive and conduct London buses, the staff has dwindled. There is no future in driving a London bus or being in charge of it. It has become not only unenviable but almost a distasteful job. I can understand why people have left the L.T.E. staff, particularly the drivers and the conductors. Throughout this time nothing substantial was forthcoming from the G.L.C. to arrest this serious trend. This negligence on the part of the G.L.C. has meant the quality of life for millions of Londoners being damaged.

Perhaps, therefore, the time has come when we should conduct a radical experiment to try to resolve a problem which is frustrating so many Londoners. I refer to the misery of standing in a queue at a bus stop waiting for a bus that never seems to come. When eventually it does come it is one of a convoy. Having waited for so long the passengers are irate and blame the innocent conductress, though the delay has not been her responsibility. This is having a deleterious effect on the life of the travelling public.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, the G.L.C., of which I am proud to be a member, took over control of the finances of London Transport only a year ago and that since then capital expenditure has increased by £2 million last year and £5 million in the current year on new buses and other equipment?

Mr. Molloy

I appreciate that, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the G.L.C. started with a clean slate. He can say, "We have spent more money, we have put up more fares and we have fewer passengers." What a record. The hon. Gentleman's deafening silence indicates that he agrees with me. I hope that those who were responsible for sending him here and for making him a member of the G.L.C. will be sure to give him time off to examine a simple problem like this.

As I was saying, a radical answer may be necessary. Perhaps we should introduce a scheme of free transport. If every London family had to pay 3s. or 4s. more on the rates, they would qualify for free transport within quite a large area.

I accept that there would be arguments about payments by visitors to London, but commuters already derive considerable benefit from the G.L.C. by way of roads, parking facilities and other amenities. These and similar problems would not be insuperable and, for example, London hotel owners could pay a surcharge to the G.L.C. to cover visitors staying with them.

Mr. Gorst

More bureacracy.

Mr. Molloy

It would be in no way bureaucratic. When the hon. Gentleman has created a licence to print money, he will require his bureaucracy—[Interruption.] —though the money will go into private pockets and not to the State.

The G.L.C. has taken a mean and despicable attitude towards concessionary fares for the aged and infidm. Such a person living in another part of Britain probably receives concessionary travel on public transport. Because of the "generous" attitude of the Tory-controlled G.L.C., any Londoner who is aged or infirm does not enjoy that benefit.

Under the scheme of free public transport in London which I have proposed, we could begin by having limited fares—fares of, say, 5s. for a weekly ticket—but old-age pensioners could immediately be given completely free travel. By so doing we would not only be behaving in a proper manner to those who have made their contribution to society, but would be encouraging those who now use their motor cars to stop cluttering up the streets and go by public transport. Incidentally, industrialists are always very concerned about the ability of their employees to get to work. They never seem concerned about how they get home after work.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The hon. Gentleman is a little confused. Under the Socialist Act of 1969 the G.L.C. was specifically exempted from having any responsibility, under Section 40, for dealing with concessionary fares by London Transport, and the hon. Gentleman voted for that Act. As a result, the Conservative-controlled London Boroughs Association introduced a scheme of concessionary fares which, I am glad to say, virtually every borough has accepted. This will mea nthat the alderly who are in receipt of supplementary benefit will get free bus passes, if the local borough approves.

Mr. Ronald Brown


Mr. Baker

I appreciate that the hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown) is trying to improve this concession. Nevertheless, for most London boroughs what I have said applies. Thus, it is not, in fact, a G.L.C. responsibility but a matter for the boroughs, and I am glad to say that most of them are taking it up.

Mr. Molloy

The hon. Gentleman's intervention demonstrates the danger of paying him a compliment. Having congratulated him on the informative way he introduced the Bill and having allowed him to intervene in my speech, he then went into an entirely different matter, and got it all wrong. He knows that that scheme was mean and cunning because it specifically ruled out certain people. Further, the London boroughs had to give their consent and approval to it. Let us simply have a system of concessionary fares for all Londoners and do without this manoeuvering and organising. We can do without the excuses. Let us at least begin by saying that all old-age pensioners should have concessionary travel.

Mr. Ronald Brown

The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) implied that the London Boroughs Association voluntarily came forward with the scheme about which he spoke. There were, in fact, three of us on that association who fought month in and out to try to get the scheme approved, but time and again his Conservative colleagues on the association wilfully said "No"—that is, until December, 1970, and only then did they express the poor and pious view which the hon. Gentleman has reiterated.

Mr. Molloy

I am glad that my hon. Friend has made that point, because it puts the matter in its true perspective.

The G.L.C. has not looked closely enough at the effects of this system. Consider the damage that is being done to the environment. Millions of people are using their motor cars when they should be travelling by public transport, certainly within the confines of Greater London. In both Inner and Outer London we have the serious phenomenon of the motor car that is not moving, leaving aside the traffic caught in the crush. I am referring to parked vehicles. This phenomenon is seriously afflicting many parts of London, including Perivale, Greenford and Cleveland in Ealing. The G.L.C. does not seem to know that it exists. It seems to imagine that, if motorcars are stopped somewhere, no matter where they go, the problem is solved. In fact, of course, that is no answer.

Particularly in the outer London boroughs, ordinary residential areas are slowly becoming nothing but massive car parks. What is more, an examination of the figures in the works and highways departments of any outer London borough will show that the cost of maintaining roads and pavements has risen enormously because of this growing phenomenon of street car parking.

In addition—this is another result of what I call loose-minded planning—there are parts of Ealing now where, although we have enough industry already and we have made our contribution, what were at one time residential areas are becoming factory sites.

I hope that the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) has Mr. Desmond Plummer's permission to hawk his cheque book around, because I shall be one of his customers tomorrow morning. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he goes to the Lyons sports ground which the Labour-controlled Ealing Council had almost purchased, the object being to build homes at rents which people could afford, to make a contribution towards housing the 5,000 homeless families we have in that London borough. Many hundreds of those families would have been decently housed tonight had it not been for the fate of Ealing in having its Labour Council defeated and succeeded by the Tories.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman of another site just over Hanger Hill. Perhaps he has seen it. I have to admit that, because of the actions of the Tory-controlled Ealing Borough Council, there are flats vacant now—very nice, well designed flats, I understand—for any London family who want them. These flats are for sale, so all Londoners can join the queue tomorrow near Hanger Hill and certain other parts of Ealing and buy them for £30,000 each.

What a massive contribution towards solving the housing problem! Hon. Members may be astonished at that figure, but it is there plain enough on the notice boards—£30,000.

In many parts of Greater London, ordinary homes are being damaged by the parking and passing of heavy vehicular traffic in residential areas. I am sure that the whole House agrees that something must be done about this grave problem which is now afflicting so many.

Now, another of our agonies. There was a serious complaint, rightly made, about the parking and passing of heavy vehicles through the streets, but it was noteworthy that no complaint came from one house. That house had been empty for almost two years. It belonged to the Greater London Council. It is criminal neglect that a great capital city with such problems of homelessness and inadequate housing should have an administration which allowed such a situation to develop. It was rectified only when I made a telephone call—I had better not repeat what I said—and sent a letter to the people responsible. One wonders how many other houses in Greater London remain empty because of such disgraceful maladministration.

We must have a fresh look at all these questions, but a fresh look will be possible only when there is a fresh authority. I hope that Londoners will realise that and do something about it when they next have the chance.

The problems of transport and housing are linked with the welfare services. A great city should organise its welfare services in a humane way. In the London Borough of Ealing, however, we have suffered grievously by losing first-class men and women who can no longer stomach the attitudes and practices of those who are now in charge in Ealing. When I say that "we have suffered grievously", I mean the infirm, the handicapped, the aged, those who are housebound, and the rest.

Hon. Members on both sides will, I know, applaud the passing of the Act under the Labour Government which raised the status of the welfare committee to make it a prime committee, with a director of welfare services in charge. I cannot speak for every London borough, but I must say that the Tories of Ealing are evading their responsibility to get on with establishing a director of welfare and social services and establishing a first-class committee so that our services may rank in the top echelon of local government provision.

In all these respects, my hon. Friends are fully justified in putting down their Amendment. Both the Tory-controlled London borough councils and the Greater London Council itself are exhibiting an conspicuous incapacity to fulfil their responsibilities in safeguarding and raising the quality of life of their citizens. Indeed, it is not so much that they have failed to raise standards and improve the quality of life of Londoners but, by their neglect, they have allowed those standards to deteriorate. I hope that the time is not far distant when the dry, acrid dogmatic Tory approach will be reversed and we can build a London of which we can all be proud.

8.8 p.m.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

I support the Bill as a whole, and, unlike the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) I shall refer to it. I refer, first, to Clause 3, which would remove a small but inequitable burden upon the ratepayers of the borough which includes both my constituency of Twickenham and that covering Richmond and Barnes; that is, the constituency of Mr. Anthony Royle.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he must not refer to an hon. Member by name.

Mr. Jessel

I apologise for that minor error, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I meant my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. Anthony Royle). The borough consists of just those two constituencies.

There flows through the area a small tributary of the River Thames called Beverley Brook. It rises in New Malden, comes down parallel to the Kingston bypass, through Richmond Park, and into Barnes, where it turns eastward and joins the Thames near Putney.

In the past, this river, like other tributaries of the Thames, has caused quite serious local flooding at the time of major storms. In 1924, the then London County Council was asked to agree to construct a culvert—that is, a glorified pipe—to relieve the area where the flooding took place and to discharge water into the Thames. The site of that culvert was in the then Borough of Barnes, which was outside the area of the then London County Council. Barnes did not at that time have the capacity in manpower, skill and resources to do the work, and the London County Council, which was expert in these matters, was asked to do it. But the Barnes Borough Council was asked to pay for it and for the maintenance and other charges arising thereafter. This brought about the London County Council (General Powers) Act, 1924, which the Bill will repeal.

After the London Government Act, 1963, created the new boroughs and the Greater London Council, the liability of the Barnes Borough Council was inherited by the new Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. However, in the 1924 Act the new culvert of Beverley Brook was classified as a main drain, and under the London Government Act main drains became the responsibility of the G.L.C. and their cost was to fall upon the ratepayers of Greater London as a whole. But those responsible for drafting it omitted the repeal of the 1924 Act, with the result that the cost of maintaining the culvert has fallen unfairly ever since upon the ratepayers of Richmond-upon-Thames, who are also contributing their share of the cost of the main drainage of Greater London as a whole.

There is no reason why the ratepayers of my constituency and my borough should carry this burden any longer, although it is not a great burden, and I hope that all hon. Members will support that part of the Bill in particular.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

Can the hon. Gentleman tell me what percentage of a penny rate is the total cost of the maintenance of the culvert?

Mr. Jessel

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the precise figure without notice. I agree that it is not a large amount, and no one has said or implied that it is. But there is a principle involved. These anomalies, even if they bear to only a small extent upon ratepayers, should be tidied up, and it is right that this provision should be included in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North raised a larger matter. He referred to the traffic situation in Greater London and spoke of the phenomenon of the car that is not moving. We should see this matter in perspective. There is an enormous demand in the country at large, including Greater London, to own and use cars. This tendency continues relentlessly year in and year out, whichever Government are in power and regardless of national prosperity. Car ownership has been increasing steadily by 4 or 5 per cent. per year, nowhere more than in the kind of constituency represented by the hon. Gentleman. In outer London suburbs car ownership has been rising even more rapidly than in inner London, but the usage of cars has been rising faster than ownership, because owners seek to get a bigger mileage out of them on average each year, so the mileage covered by cars is increasing at a rate more like 7 or 8 per cent. a year. This has been compound interest. Over the past 12 to 15 years we have seen at least a doubling in the mileage of all cars in Britain and in the Greater London area.

When we recall how severe the traffic jams were back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, we see that it is a most remarkable achievement by the local authorities, the G.L.C. and its predecessor, the London County Council—I say that, because I am not trying to make a political point—that the traffic jams today, despite the enormous increase in traffic, are not worse than they are. The first way in which this has been achieved is by getting more capacity out of the existing road system—by traffic management, to use the jargon, with measures such as clearways, yellow lines, prohibiting right turns, and one-way streets.

The G.L.C., and the L.C.C. before it, introduced an enormous number of such schemes, totalling about 1,700 or 1,800 over the Greater London area as a whole. Besides doing a great deal to help the flow of traffic, the schemes have enhanced road safety. For example, in a one-way system the pedestrian has only to look in one direction for the traffic; and the one-way systems are usually accompanied by yellow lines which ban waiting in the daytime, with the result that pedestrians do not step out so often from behind parked vehicles, which is a major cause of accidents. The G.L.C. should be given a great deal of credit for the successful way in which, aided by the London borough councils and the police, it has introduced a very large number of these schemes.

Second, the flow of traffic can be promoted by the construction of new roads, which obviously not only help the traffic moving along them but, by the increased capacity, relieve traffic congestion in the surrounding area, often over quite a wide area.

Third, it is the policy of the G.L.C. and most of the London boroughs to reduce traffic congestion by the introduction of larger and larger areas with parking meters. The purpose is, frankly, to deter the all-day commuter into central London and other large centres, such as Croydon, Bromley and Kingston, from driving into them by car when he could be using public transport. It is impossible ever with any available road system to cater for all those who would like to go to work by car and park all day. I believe that about one in 12 of those living in the suburbs and working in Central London, the City or the West End travels by car. If car ownership doubled again in the next 15 years, it would be impossible to cater for twice the number of cars.

However many car parks there were in the centre of London, we would never have the capacity in the road system to cater for all that peak-hour traffic. Therefore, parking meter systems are being extended to deter the car commuter and make it possible for those who must move about by car during the day to do so. I am thinking of doctors, salesmen, business men and executives of all sorts, people making professional, social and business calls of many kinds, lorry drivers, bus drivers, tax drivers and so on. They can now move about in the West End and many parts of Central London more easily than was the case 15 years ago before parking meters were introduced.

The hon. Membeh for Ealing, North particularly mentioned the movement of buses. He said that driving had become distasteful to bus drivers and implied that fewer and fewer people wanted to do it. But the extra capital expenditure of £5 million sanctioned by the G.L.C. since it took over the finances, but not the day-to-day running, of London Transport a year ago has been and will be expended more and more on the introduction of new one-man buses. The Red Arrow system was started in central London a few years ago. It is being extended by London Transport in central London, and one-man buses are beginning to appear on routes in outer London, including my constituency. I do not know whether they are in Ealing.

On the whole, these have been a great success, particularly with the bus drivers. I recently visited the Fulwell bus garage in my constituency, where I met a number of the drivers and one of the shop stewards. They all confirmed the view of the London Transport Executive that the drivers like to take control of one-man buses. It makes the job more interesting, because it gives them more contact with the passengers. They are in sole charge, instead of having to take orders from a conductor as to when they go and when they stop. It is more economical, and, as it is possible to pay one man instead of two, higher wages can be offered. The G.L.C. has been encouraging London Transport to go ahead with more and more one-man buses. But it should be obvious to everyone that it is not possible all of a sudden to destroy the stock of existing two-storey buses.

Mr. Molloy

Does the hon. Gentleman really believe' that, admirable though they may be in some respects, the one-man buses—the E-type buses, as we call them in Ealing—are answering the problem, or does he agree with the leader of the Ealing Borough Council, who described them when introduced by the G.L.C. as "cattle trucks"?

Mr. Jessel

That is an absurd and misleading description. It is true that some people, such as old-age pensioners, have found some difficulty in getting in and out of them. Not everybody likes the automatically closing doors. London Transport is giving careful attention to improving the design and perhaps altering the structure of the doors of some of the existing buses where possible. This is something that the drivers can take care of. On the whole, the buses, although not without fault, have been a great success, and the public generally do not dislike them. Therefore, I cannot accept what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mr. Molloy

It was not I who said it. It was the leader of the Ealing Council.

Mr. Jessel

The G.L.C. and London Transport have a great deal to be proud ofh ere. I hope that all hon. Members will support the Bill.

8.22 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)

I enter the debate because I am one of the signatories of the Motion and I believe what I say—that I do not believe that the Bill does anything for the society in which we live in London. I take objection to the Preamble to the Bill. Indeed, I take objection to most Preambles to Bills of this kind. I do so because they include the phrase …and the Common Council of the City of London. It is not a borough council, never has been and never will be. It is a fraudulent, rotten borough and should not be given these extended powers. It has powers which bona fide boroughs are given. It is extraordinary that we should keep on extending powers for the Common Council when the only objective part of its name is "common". I am opposed to the Bill on that ground alone.

The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) made a point about my altercation with the Greater London Council. It concerned the disposal of sludge and what I regard as the G.L.C.'s bad temper and unwillingness to play its proper rôle in local government, including a wilful refusal to meet people.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

indicated dissent.

Mr. Brown

I remind the hon. Gentleman that Mr. Cutler of the G.L.C. had something like six months in which to make arrangements to meet the London Boroughs Association's representatives—his own friends, since we on this side have very few friends in that Association. He refused to do so. But because of the action of myself and my hon. Friends over this Bill Mr. Cutler met the association's representatives last Tuesday. He still has not met the representatives of the five London boroughs who have been wanting to meet him for a year. Yesterday he sent a letter to them saying that because he had met the London Boroughs Association it was not really worth meeting them. Therefore, this problem between me and the G.L.C. has been going on for many years.

I attended a meeting about the question of the sludge disposal on 12th March, 1970. With me were my hon. Friends the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) and Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle). We discussed the problem of Thamesmead and the apparent proposal of the G.L.C. to deposit this filthy smelling sludge at the site of Thamesmead. It did not choose to deposit it on the private development side, of course, but on the council development side.

I represent an Inner London area and I have to tell my constituents to consider moving out of London if they are to be adequately housed. I have often had to tell them that Thamesmead is one of the good places to go to. I cannot go on advising them to accept nomination to Thamesmead if they are to get sludge dumped outside their front doors every time the G.L.C. decides to do so. I was at that meeting in March, 1970, because that is my interest. There was a long discussion during which my hon. Friends and I probed the intentions of the G.L.C. I was not satisfied that undertakings were being given.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford with his usual generosity and courtesy, was prepared to accept a reasonable argument from the G.L.C. officers that they could not conceive of a a situation in which they would dump the sludge. I said that if they were saying that it was only in a situation of an act of God that the G.L.C. would take the view that it should dump the sludge at Thamesmead, I would be prepared to accept that. I came away with the positive understanding that only in the situation of an act of God—words which I used at the meeting—would the Council consider this step. I was given the clear impression that it would dump the sludge only in exceptional circumstances.

The industrial action taken by workers of the G.L.C. had only lasted a few days before the G.L.C. started dumping its sludge at Thamesmead. I regard myself then as having been mislead and I still regard myself as having been mislead. How others regard it, I do not know, but I was mislead. If this action had been taken after the strike had gone on for weeks or months, I would have understood it. I would have been prepared to concede that perhaps it was an emergency, although even then the decision would have been taken rather quickly.

That was not the case. I stand by what I said. I understand from the meeting that it would only be in an act of God situation that the G.L.C. would dump the sludge at Thamesmead. My hon. Friend recalls my saying these things to him. I warned him, however, that I did not believe that it would only be done in those circumstances—that given an easy chance to dump the sludge at Thamesmead the G.L.C. would do so. I was proved right. So I do not apologise for having made the statement that I was misled. I stand by it.

This sort of experience has conditioned me very much in my attitude towards the G.L.C. I could quote a number of cases. I will give another illustration following the argument made by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). I have given undertakings about certain dates in planning matters. I have honestly believed them. I have passed them on to my constituents in relation to work and the completion of work—only to discover that the G.L.C. has been two years out in its calculation. These are not isolated incidents. There are many such cases.

Above all, we come up against the arrogance of Mr. Plummer and his cohorts, who feel that they have no truck with anyone else. If they are to continue this sort of behaviour, we shall continue to fight it and show Mr. Plummer and Mr. Cutler that they are responsible to the people of London and that we as Members of this House will defend our constituents to the utmost. I shall continue to oppose the G.L.C. in this way until it comes to the realisation that it is a local authority, that the London boroughs have a right to discuss things with it, that London must be run for Londoners and that it cannot engineer a takeover of the boroughs.

I find the suggestion that the G.L.C. is improving housing conditions quite extraordinary, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy). Sometimes I wonder whether we are all speaking the same language. On behalf of the G.L.C. Mr. Cutler said: The sooner we are out of the housing business the better. How one can tie that up with the suggestion that the G.L.C. is improving the housing situation is beyond me. Mr. Cutler is busy getting out of it. He is getting rid of the sites: he is refusing to build; he is ensuring that the G.L.C. does not do house building work. I have quoted the figures ad nauseam of the work done under the previous G.L.C. administration before 1967. I have shown how it lent much more money for house purchase under the Labour Government than the G.L.C. had been able to do under the Tory Government. Much of what the hon. Member for Twickenham claimed as a virtue of the G.L.C. was due entirely to the good offices of the Labour Government, who allowed it a large subsidy. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the 1969 Act.

Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, West)

I appeal to my hon. Friend to be at least a little more charitable to Mr. Cutler. He must appreciate that the Secretary of State for the Environment is on record as having upbraided Tory councils and their housing committee chairmen for being more enthusiastic even than Labour housing committee chairmen who want to build more and more council houses. The right hon. Gentleman having made these scathing remarks about Tory housing committees chairmen, clearly Mr. Cutler does not want to be put more or less outside the "in" crowd in Tory politics.

Mr. Ronald Brown

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to that. It is a useful piece of additional knowledge to store away.

I was about to turn to the question of the provision of land. In my constituency, the borough council is doing precisely what the G.L.C. is doing. It regards the G.L.C. as being Pooh-Bah. It believes that what the G.L.C does it must also do. There is a site in Islington, No. 75 to 77 Highbury New Park. It was purchased in. 1968 before the Labour council was defeated, and even before the new Tory housing committee had met the new chairman decided that he was going to sell the site.

This was for 20 one-bedroom units. These are a very valuable commodity in London, and they are something for which the G.L.C. will not take nominations. It claims not to have any. The Tory chairman decided to get rid of the site and that he would have to do it by trying to find some sort of housing association. I will not retell that story, because I told it only two or three weeks ago. The G.L.C. could have bought the site, and was invited by me many times publicly to buy it. I went to the London Borough of Hackney and asked whether it would hold talks with the G.L.C. about buying the site from the London borough of Islington. This is all on record.

The story I want to tell tonight is that after two and a half years there is not a brick on that site. The leader of the Tory Council has said in reply to a question from me, because I was rather upset about it, "Oh, well, if the council builds it, it will take much longer than two and a half years." I do not know how much longer it could take. He also said that if the Tory Council build it it will cost more.

To my horror the other night I read in the Evening Standard that this same leader of the Tory Council had written to the Secretary of State for the Environment asking the Minister to take emergency action and allow the leader of the council to purchase any of the railway land in Islington. Why would he want to purchase that if the council has not yet built any houses on this 20 one-bedroom unit site? It would be much more costly and would take longer than three years, he said. We begin to see how these silly little men work.

The hon. Member for St. Marylebone talked about rents. I do not know what they are in St. Marylebone and I was interested in his £3 concept. In my constituency they are £7 and £8.

Mr. Clinton Davis

What does my hon. Friend think is the likely effect in Hackney and Islington of the Government's rent subsidy policy?

Mr. Brown

This is an interesting point. If what we hear from the trees is true, that with the new housing subsidy rent will have to go up by 10s. and 15s. a week until they reach some economic rent level, and if we are then to do away with subsidies to reduce Exchequer expenditure, the total rent will be enormous. It is already £7, and we are nowhere near the economic level. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The hon. Member for St. Marylebone is speaking about reasonable rents, and he ought to look at this. We know how the G.L.C. does it. There are places in my constituency with a bath in the kitchen. I would throw them out for that if for nothing else.

The G.L.C. has been very active getting rid of its houses to the boroughs, and I have been worried about this. These houses having been transferred to the boroughs, it means that other boroughs will not get the service they ought to have. It is a pretty poor maintenance service now, but it will be even worse when the staff are transferred to the boroughs in whose areas the houses are, leaving other boroughs denuded of maintenance staff. Although we have prayed against the relevant Order, the Government have not seen fit to put that Order down for debate. The Government have not thought fit to lay the Order so that we might have the opportunity of discussing it. Those of us involved in the negotiations want a public statement in the House on the scandalous situation which has arisen.

We prayed against the transfer of parks and open spaces on the second day after the Statutory Instrument was laid. The Government appear to have no intention of allowing us to discuss it. The 40-day limit is up on 30th March, which is not far ahead. There is no indication in the business for next week that we shall be able to pray against the Statutory Instrument next week. Therefore, there will be only Monday and Tuesday of the following week on which we can do it. We suspect that the Government are so ashamed that they will not allow those of us who have been involved in these two unpleasant exercises concerning the G.L.C.'s decision to divest itself of responsibility to discuss the matter.

Who pays for the open spaces in the City of Westminister? Not the ratepayers or the people in the City of Westminister. The taxpayer pays for them. They are called Royal Parks. They have only about 50 acres of their own. Therefore, they are anxious to make sure that the G.L.C. gets rid of its open spaces on the boroughs so that they can divest themselves of their part of the precept. How clever and cunning.

I hope that the Government will allow us to pray against the Statutory Instruments so that we may argue the case and make the public aware of the situation. The London Boroughs of Hackney and Islington will have a great deal of money to pay. The ratepayers should know about that before 13th March so that they can make their own judgment on the Tory G.L.C.'s idea about getting rid of their property.

I come to the question of concessionary fares. This is one of the most unpleasant stories I have ever heard. I do not complain about people changing their minds. That is perfectly reasonable and valid. This is what education is about. We take people from the known to the unknown by logical steps and expect that they understand what it is all about.

For 12 months my colleagues and I on the London Boroughs Association were trying hard to get the L.B.A. to persuade the G.L.C. that, by precepting over the whole of the Greater London Area, a concessionary fares scheme could be operated. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown) was Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Transport when the Transport (London) Bill was going through the House in 1969. He will forgive me for reminding him that we had many acrimonious discussions about Clause 40 of the Bill and the validity of the G.L.C.'s argument that the boroughs should be responsible for implementing concessionary fares. I argued most strongly that to say that because the boroughs were welfare authorities they should be the implementers of a concessionary fares scheme was not valid.

I recall my hon, Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West saying to me, "If only Mr. Plummer would take on this task it would be much easier for me to do it." Mr. Plummer never had any intention of taking on the task. I resent hon. Members opposite claiming that my hon. Friend placed the onus on the London boroughs to provide concessionary fare schemes when it is well known that Mr. Plummer refused to cooperate in this exercise and ensured that the Government, if they wanted to get the Transport (London) Bill through and if concessionary fares were to be given to Londoners, would have to rely on the London boroughs doing it.

As soon as the Bill became law my friends and I on the L.B.A. asked for the implementation of Section 40. Time and again the L.B.A., with its Conservative majority refused. This was for several reasons but, above all, because it was argued that it was a national issue. We have to remember that there was a Labour Government then. The argument was that if concessionary fares were to be given, the Government should provide money for them, because this was a welfare service which should not be run by the boroughs. We all agreed that it was the G.L.C.'s job, but our view was that once the law had given it to the boroughs, the boroughs should do it. The Conservative view was that it was a national issue and that it was up to the Government, and for month after month my friends and I tried to get the L.B.A. to change its mind. We brought in new schemes and old schemes which had been varied and did all we could to keep the discussion going, but every time there was a solid Tory vote against it.

My friends and I persisted until December, when suddenly the Tories changed their minds and produced this cooked-up scheme which is so unfair. I do not complain about the Tories changing their minds. Whereas they thought it was a national issue under a Labour Government, as soon as a Tory Government were in power it became a local issue. I can understand the logic of that. Now this scheme has been agreed, and the Tories are pretending that there is more to it than there really is.

Between 9.30 a.m. and 4 p.m., 61 per cent. of the seats on the buses are empty. Those seats are already paid for, so that all we have to do is to put someone on them. The fares have been raised, and London Transport is making £2 million profit, so every seat on every bus must already be paid for. But London Transport will not have that. It is saying that a voucher will be given to enable a person to travel not at half fare but at a child's fare. The proposal is that this voucher can either be given to an elderly person or be sold to him. London Transport has argued the heinous case that any concessionary fares scheme will have to contribute towards the profitability of the London transport system. It is intended that concessionary fares should be used as a means of raising revenue and making a profit.

The Tory view is that passes should be given to men over 65 and ladies over 60, provided that they are on supplementary benefit or receiving a rate rebate. I assume that the Tories know that the reason why people are on supplementary benefit is that they are below the minimum income level. Therefore, the supplementary benefit which they get is prescribed for certain purposes, including food, to bring them up to the minimum income level. They know that there will be no spare money for travelling, because that is not what supplementary benefits do. Supplementary benefit is not for travelling, but only for very specified reasons.

Those of us who have had discussions on behalf of constituents and of old people, especially regarding increased supplementary benefits, know only too well what is laid down about this very limited range of areas for which money can be given. The Tories knew, when they said that it was only for people on supplementary benefit, that nobody would have the money with which to travel. Old people will understand the phrase "free passes for old people" as meaning that they have free travel. Yet they will not have it. They will be paying child's fare if they travel.

My first charge is that the Tories know quite well that for people on supplementary benefit it will be an impossibility, because they do not have sufficient money with which to pay for travelling. Supplementary benefit will not give them that sort of money but will only bring them up to the minimum.

Take the case of two people on the same minimum income, where one person has had to go to draw supplementary benefit to bring his income up, and the other person is on the bare minimum. The person who did not draw supplementary benefit because he was on the bare minimum would have to pay the full fare. That cannot be fair.

This matter transcends politics. Concessionary fares have nothing to do with politics. We are trying to allow the elderly folk of London to travel about in the main stream of life, visiting their children and their families, and living again in later life.

Mr. Thomas Cox (Wandsworth, Central)

My hon. Friend's last point is relevant especially to retired people. Even allowing for those people who will be able to scrape together the £3 7s. needed to purchase a voucher, there is no provision made for evening travel. Very often elderly people visit friends and relatives in the afternoon, stay for tea, and then want to return home in the evening. Unless they make use of the vouchers by 3.30 p.m., they will have to pay the full fare. A greater criticism of the scheme is that there is no provision whatever for use of the vouchers on a Sunday. This is the day when the vast majority of people like to travel—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Speech."] and yet there is no provision for that. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend, from his experience on the London Boroughs Association, could tell us what opposition exists on those two points.

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend has been seized of the real issues involved. I shall come to his points in a moment. We have this complete injustice between one person and another simply because one is on the bare minimum income and the other is below it and has to draw supplementary benefit.

The other case is that of a person who is having his rates rebated. There can be only one householder entitled to that.

There could be two spinster ladies who have lived together as sisters for some considerable time, with one of them in control of the rent book so that only she can claim a rate rebate, according to this cheme which the Conservatives have finally dreamed up after so long, and she will be able to have the "free pass" but her sister, living in the same house on the same money and in the same circumstances, will have to pay.

I argue, therefore, that it is a complete injustice, apart from the inhumanity involved. My hon. Friends have asked me to tell some of the stories out of school. I will do so, because it has hurt me, more than anything else, to see a political party so miserably—

Mr. Bob Brown

Will my hon. Friend accept my assurance that when I, having on two occasions introduced a Private Member's Bill to extend the right to local authorities on travel concessions, finally succeeded in getting that embodied as Clause 136 of the Transport Bill, 1968, I did not envisage that there would ever be such a shocking hotchpotch of a scheme as is now offered in London?

My hon. Friend talks about this transcending politics. Will he accept that in the County Borough of Newcastle-upon-Tyne the Tories to their credit, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central, (Mr. Edward Short) got his Measure on the Statute Book in 1965, behaved in a far more civilised fashion than the London boroughs are now doing. Pensioners in Newcastle for many years travelled at Id. They are now travelling at 2d., even under a very reactionary Tory authority.

Will my hon. Friend further accept it from me that at the time of the passing of the London Transport Act Mr. Plummer and his friends would not have needed to go down on their knees begging my right hon. Friend and myself to allow them to grant a complete concessionary scheme for London?

Mr. Ronald Brown

I am deeply grateful to my hon. Friend, who speaks from experience. On a number of occasions I myself and a number of other London Members discussed this matter with my hon. Friend and pressed him to take action. I know the feeling of desperation that he felt when the G.L.C. would not accept responsibility.

Mr. Gorst

I have followed with rapt attention the hon. Gentleman's references to parks and open spaces, education, concessionary fares, housing, justice, injustice, and so on. I should be grateful if, before he sits down, which I imagine will be in about an hour or two, he would address himself to the problem of what exactly in the Bill he does not agree with. I appreciate that there are many things he would like to see in the Bill.

Mr. Brown

It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not stay in the Chamber a little longer. If he had done so, he would have heard me refer to the Preamble, which refers to further and better provision should be made for the finances, public health and local government services of Greater London. If it is beyond the hon. Gentleman's wit to understand that concessionary fares, health and welfare are a part of local government in London, I cannot help him beyond saying that I am prepared to give him tuition on Saturday mornings in an effort to increase his understanding a little.

Then this rather poor scheme was brought forward by the Tories on the L.B.A. as their means of trying to salvage what they thought was a political issue. The rapidity with which they have taken this up in Press announcements and Press coverage is extraordinary.

I am grateful to those London boroughs—there are five or six of them, all of which are particularly concerned—which have said, "We will not do this. We will give vouchers to everyone over the age of 60 and 65". This means that in those boroughs everybody will be able to travel and return to the mainstream of life.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Epping)

I should like to get one thing straight whilst the hon. Gentleman is making the election speech for the London borough elections and the Greater London Council elections. Is he pledging himself and the Labour Party in London at some date, if it ever gains control of the G.L.C., to total free travel on all days at all times for all persons over 60? This seems to be the case he is making.

Mr. Brown

That is very interesting. But only yesterday I was fighting the hon. Gentleman's friends in the London Boroughs Association. There were no newspapers today, so, unfortunately, there are no reports of the battle. For that reason, perhaps, the hon. Gentleman is to be forgiven for not knowing anything about it.

In the course of those discussions, I asked for a feasibility study into the possibilities of a fare-free transport undertaking. There are a number of good arguments in favour of it, and I think that the time has come when such a study would pay dividends. I was asking for an independent inquiry. I do not want the Greater London Council to do it, as it says that it has done it. I do not want the London Transport Executive to do it, because it is under a restriction imposed by the G.L.C. to be financially viable, and any scheme which involves a possible rate fund contribution is automatically out. Consequently, I want such a study made by an independent assessor who will take into account all the other factors involved in assessing such a scheme. I assure the hon. Gentleman that this is very much in my mind.

However, I am dealing with the facts of the case. We now have this very poor scheme—

Mr. Bob Brown

It is a tatty scheme.

Mr. Ronald Brown

I agree, it is a tatty scheme. A number of London boroughs are being extremely harsh. Many of them rely upon the fact that the scheme will not come into operation before 1st April, and they believe that by the time that the elections take place on 13th May the people of London will not have realised how they have been "conned". The boroughs believe that the time scale will be too short for the people to understand the full implications of this scheme.

I hope that this debate will bring to the attention of the people of London how shoddy this scheme is. I hope, too, that we shall get as many boroughs as possible to improve upon it and make it possible for a concessionary fares scheme to be introduced in London that is at least equivalent to other schemes in various parts of the country.

I think I have dealt with the points that I wanted to raise. I believe we have been able to illustrate this evening that the Greater London Council could have brought forward a vastly improved Bill which showed its concern for the environmental health of the people of London and demonstrated its imagination about the requirements of the great Metropolis. It has fallen down badly, and, therefore, I oppose the Bill.

9.3 p.m

The Minister for Local Government and Development (Mr Graham Page)

I hestitate to interrupt in this election campaign rehearsal for the local government hustings, but it is customary for a Government spokesman to intervene briefly in the course of a debate on a Private Bill in order to inform the House of any respects in which the Bill might run contrary to Government policies.

On this Bill there is only one matter, and it relates to the contents of Clause 7 which is concerned with the distance of crematoria from houses. As I understand it, the intention of Clause 7 is to reduce the distance in outer London from 200 yards to 100 yards. We feel that if that is to be done there must be better provisions for the public consideration of proposed sites.

If the House sees fit to give the Bill a Second Reading and to commit it to the appropriate Committee, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make a report on the subject to that Committee. Perhaps the matter can be solved by an extension of what we call "the bad neighbour provisions" of the General Development Order or the planning application advertisement requirements of Section 15 of the Town and Country Planning Act, 1962.

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend is probably aware that what he has said will give much comfort to many people, among them a number of my constituents in Chingford who are affected already by a proposal to build a crematorium on a site which does not conform to existing legislation but which would conform to the proposal in the Bill. I have received many expressions of anxiety and requests to oppose these provisions. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's assurance that advice will be given to the Committee on the ways in which opposition to such proposals may be best accomplished.

Mr. Page

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that the proposals in Clause 7 go a little too far unless we have full public participation in the information about the proposed sites for the crematoria.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker) very ably explained the purposes, contents and merits of the several Clauses of the Bill: in Clause 3, the relief of Richmond from a double-drainage payment; in Clause 4, the power for Inner London boroughs to waive building regulations, where appropriate; in Clause 5, the power for London boroughs to operate an insurance fund; in Clause 6, the indemnity of local government officers acting as mental health receivers or deceaseds' representatives; and, in Clause 8, the deconsecration of the area of a certain cemetery.

During the debate we have had from the Opposition a scraping of the political barrel for charges against the Greater London Council, even from an hon. Gentleman representing a constituency in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown), which seem wholly irrelevant to the contents of this useful little Bill which contains subjects well worthy of consideration by a Committee.

I commend the Bill to the House.

9.7 p.m.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

Initially, I want to refer to one or two points in the Bill.

Clause 7 creates a neat situation, or perhaps it was created before, whereby the word "crematorium" was substituted for the words building fitted with appliances for the purpose of burning human remains. What a glorious term that is. I sometimes feel that it could almost be adaptable in this House if we called it a building fitted with appliances for eating words. It seems that the most extraordinary language is imported into the drafting of that Clause.

I observe that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) noted the disappearance from the scene in Ealing of his three Greater London councillors. I imagine that provision is being made for them in Clause 8.

The Minister for Local Government and Development has berated us for raising the general principles of London government, quite unjustly, I submit, because—

Mr. Gorst

Most unjustly!

Mr. Davis

The hon. Gentleman's berating was unjust, because he clearly omitted to observe the first recital of the Preamble: It is expedient that further and better provision should be made for the finances, public health and local government services of Greater London". Surely, by reason of that Preamble, we are entitled to question the efficacy of the provision which is at present being made for the finances, public health and local government services of London. This was the gravaman of the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. Ronald Brown). He argued with care and knowledge, being in a position of some responsibility in the London Boroughs Association, having occupied that position over a number of years—

Mr. Gorst

Far too long.

Mr. Davis

The hon. Member normally makes his contributions from a sedentary position and they are not normally very useful, but if he wants me to give way I will certainly do so.

Mr. Gorst


Mr. Davis

I should be pleased to give way, because any contribution from the hon. Member can only help this side of the House.

Mr. Gorst

I would be most grateful to the hon. Member if he would give way when he actually gets to the point.

Mr. Davis

It is a complicated one, but providing that he behaves responsibly in that regard I shall be pleased to offer the hon. Gentleman that open ticket.

Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)

Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, would he agree that the Bill is intended to introduce a measure of expedient improvement in the finances; public health and local government services not only of the G.L.C. but also of the London boroughs as well? He omitted that point.

Mr. Davis

I did omit that point, but I was certainly going to refer to it. I had pertinent things to say about the situation in the London Borough of Hackney in housing and welfare, which very much relates to the Preamble of the Bill.

One hon. Member rightly said that the first social priority in London must be to improve housing. Unquestionably, this is the gravest problem facing us all. Each one of us, holding his weekly or fortnightly surgery—perhaps monthly in the case of some hon. Members opposite—

Mr. Ronald Brown


Hon. Members


Mr. Davis

I would not go that far, but I know that some of them hold regular surgeries as often as we do.

The main burden of complaint and inquiry by the enormous number of constituents who come to us relates to housing. The indescribable conditions in which people, in Inner London particularly, live is something which each of us must be deeply troubled about. These matters have been discussed recently in the Greve and Francis Reports and the House will debate them at considerable length later on. But I am not being in the least tendentious when I say that all of us, regardless of our party beliefs, would accept that this is the gravest problem affecting the people of London at present.

With housing as inadequate as it is, all sorts of social problems necessarily follow. One of my complaints about the Greater London Council is that there is something of a soulless bureaucracy about the way in which it handles com plaints. May I illustrate this with a situation which I have mentioned in the House before, in the hope that some pressure might have been brought to bear on the G.L.C.? Unfortunately, my hopes have been dashed.

This situation arose during June 1970, and affected a small terrace of houses in Hackney in a street called Paragon Road. My attention was drawn to this because, as a candidate during the General Election, I was asked to meet the tenants, who had formed themselves into an association. I went—the other two candidates in my constituency did not go—and saw conditions which would have done discredit to the meanest private landlord. My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury knows something of this problem because I have consulted him from time to time, as a more experienced hon. Member, about the way in which one goes about bringing pressure to bear to resolve appalling situations of this kind.

This small terrace of houses was not merely squalid. Almost every house was structurally unsound, and some of them were in the most deplorably dangerous condition. I wrote to the Chairman of the Housing Committee of the G.L.C. asking him to meet a deputation from the Tenants' Association and a borough councillor and myself so that his personal attention could be drawn to the plight of these people. He had the grace to receive us. He said in August that he would give the matter his earnest attention, that we could expect to hear from him within six weeks and that he would have a survey done of the whole area.

Six weeks passed and nothing happened. After 10 weeks I eventually heard from him. I was told that there were difficulties with the London Borough of Hackney—difficulties about which Hackney had never been consulted—that the area was designated as an open space and that the situation would be resolved in the course of time because the Architect's Department would be inquiring into the terrace of houses. I was told that the G.L.C. had in mind spending a great deal of money, but that, initially, sufficient would be spent to make the premises wind and weather proof. That was a tacit admission that they were not in a wind and weather proof condition.

I remind the House that I am referring to premises owned by the G.L.C. and not by some tatty landlord in Islington or Hackney. Because of the pressure which we exercised locally, we discovered that the Medical Officer of Health for the London Borough of Hackney had, to the borough's credit, made provision for seven public health notices to be served on the G.L.C.

It must be unprecedented for one local authority to serve seven such notices on another in respect of 12 properties owned by that other authority. It was scandalous that the G.L.C. should have conducted its housing business in that way, instead of properly, fairly and justly.

Mr. Thomas Cox

While I am shocked to hear the example which my hon. Friend has given, his constituents at least had the pleasure, if one can call it that, of meeting the Chairman of the G.L.C.'s Housing Committee. In my constituency we have on one housing estate that belongs to the G.L.C. the annual general meeting of the estate committee on Wednesday of next week. The present Chairman of the G.L.C.'s Housing Committee has, according to the latest information available to me, refused to attend that a.g.m., although he has been invited. Perhaps I should mention that the G.L.C. members for this locality are Socialists and that they will be in attendance.

Mr. Davis

Scandalous though that may be, I do not find it in the least surprising. My hon. Friend said that my constituents had had the pleasure of meeting the Chairman of the G.L.C.'s Housing Committee. A fat lot of good it did them. Although some work has been done on this terrace of houses, they are still living there. I gather that they have been made temporarily wind and weather proof—[Interruption.] I am not sure which hon. Gentleman opposite commented on that remark, but I will willingly give way to whoever it was.

Mr. Tebbit

I was remarking that it was rather a pity that this House had not been made wind proof before the hon. Gentleman rose to speak.

Mr. Davis

The hon. Gentleman, who is notorious for his knowledge of windiness, has made a useful contribution to the debate—a serious contribution, if I may say so—and I have no doubt that contributions of that kind will be heard with great glee in Epping Forest.

Mr. Ronald Brown

My hon. Friend is making an important point. He will know that the London Borough of Hackney is suffering under pressure from the G.L.C. to delay action in areas designated as open space because the G.L.C. is trying to get rid of the open space on to the borough. This means that in areas where there is bad housing which has already been subject to clearance orders, action is delayed because the G.L.C. is waiting for 1st April to come in order to transfer the whole matter to the borough, with the consequence that the people living in those terrible conditions will have to remain there owing to this rather silly little political issue.

Mr. Davis

That is absolutely right. The point is made forcibly to me almost every Friday at my "surgeries", when people make the very complaint which my hon. Friend has just raised.

To return to the situation at Paragon Road, it is not just that the G.L.C. has failed to deal with the appalling housing conditions which these people have to endure; it did not listen to the complaints which were made month after month long ago. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not new."] Quite so. It is nothing new. It is a state of affairs experienced throughout many London boroughs, quite apart from the G.L.C.

I can illustrate the case by an example, a particularly bad example. I understand that in 1968 or thereabouts people first began to make complaints about the squalid state and the dangerous structural condition of these premises. They would go along to see the housing officer responsible, but nothing was done. During 1968, in one of the houses, occupied by a Mrs. Georgiou, there was a fire.

That fire should not have caught the G.L.C. by surprise, for Mrs. Georgiou had complained for months previously, not only to the G.L.C. but to the electricity board as well, that her premises were in a dangerous condition electrically. Even in 1970 and 1971, one could readily see that the situation had not been drastically improved, but I am told that in 1968 and 1969, when Mrs. Georgiou was making complaints, not only were the premises damp—in fact, wringing wet—but the wires were bare. However, neither the electricity board nor the Greater London Council paid attention to the problems which she was raising.

It took nine months after the fire for the G.L.C. to come and do any works of repair in the premises. Despite the fact that some works of repair were carried out, to this day in the room where the fire took place the charred remains round the window can still be seen, and one of the windows is still broken. Most of these terrace houses are occupied by large families and Mrs. Georgiou's is no exception. But the G.L.C. has not had the sympathy or compassion to go in and do remedial work in her house. Words fail me to describe the attitude of the G.L.C.

I do not know what will happen to those families. We have put such pressure upon the London Borough of Hackney that at the last meeting the Council called for very strong representations to be made for the immediate rehousing of those families who are still living there. Whether the G.L.C. will take the slightest notice, I do not know.

Mr. Jessel

Has the hon. Gentleman attempted to make any use of the three G.L.C. members for Hackney in drawing these matters to the attention of the authorities?

Mr. Davis

Of course I have. The hon. Gentleman must be naive—

Hon. Members

What did they do?

Mr. Davis

They raised the matter time and again at the G.L.C. Mr. Ellis Hillman was berated by the Chairman of the G.L.C. Housing Committee for trying to make political capital out of the situation, when he was simply trying to have those people's problems dealt with and have them rehoused.

Mr. Tebbit

How many times during the period in which the houses were falling into wrack and ruin, which was obviously not a sudden occurrence, did those same councillors make representations to the old L.C.C.?

Mr. Davis

The question did not arise during the time of the old L.C.C. The hon. Gentleman's knowledge of these matters needs to be improved. My attention was drawn to the problem last June.

Mr. Ronald Brown

Do I understand that the matter was raised on the floor of the G.L.C. time and time again and that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), who protested that he was a member of the G.L.C., did not know that it had been raised?

Mr. Davis

The hon. Member probably was not there. If he consults the G.L.C. minutes he will see the number of times the matter was raised by Mr. Ellis Hillman, whom he will know well as a very tenacious councillor. He will be able to see that I have not invented this, that it has been raised, and that the response has been lamentable.

Mr. Wellbeloved

My hon. Friend has rightly put to the House with great care and compassion the case of his constituents. Is he aware that at Thamesmead, a brand new housing development by the G.L.C., there are numerous complaints that the Council is even there failing to deal with many of the leaks and repairs that have already occurred? So his constituents are not suffering anything unique. People at Thamesmead, in new property, are suffering from the same disadvantages of a council that does not care for its tenants.

Mr. Davis

I have no personal knowledge of the situation in Thamesmead. I am fairly well preoccupied with what goes on in the London Borough of Hackney. But I have no doubt that what my hon. Friend said is absolutely right, because one of the most frequent complaints made to a number of my hon. Friends in this part of London is that people make complaints about fairly major things affecting them in their flats and houses and nothing is done, not simply for weeks but for months.

Mr. Gorst

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in 1966 596 dwellings were modernised by the G.L.C. but over three times that number were modernised last year? Surely that is in itself indicative of an improvement?

Mr. Davis

That is not the point I am making. When people make complaints it is a question of liaison between the tenants and those responsible for administering the properties. When a tenant makes a complaint, he is entitled to receive a reply to his letter fairly promptly and to have people come to see what needs to be done. This does not occur quickly enough. That is why councillors and Members of Parliament are inundated with this sort of problem quite unnecessarily.

Mr. Thomas Cox

I agree with my hon. Friend's point, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides can give examples. I have letters in my hand of cases such as he has outlined. The big criticism made by G.L.C. tenants is that rent increases automatically apply and are enforceable, but that when it comes to essential repairs there is a complete lack of willingness by the G.L.C. to do anything. That is why there is so much hostility on G.L.C. housing estates to the attitude of the authority.

Mr. Davis

That reinforces my point.

I turn from that aspect of the matter, the lack of liaison and the lack of an understanding approach by the housing authority towards the tenant, to another aspect of local government in London that particularly affects my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury. In Hackney we have one of the gravest of all housing problems. There is a great deal of multi-occupation, and we have many squalid tenements and a very large waiting list. We have one of the worst problems of homelessness, if not the worst.

I will say this to the advantage of the present local authority, that it has not adopted a hard line on the provision of temporary accommodation—at least, not as hard a line as that of many other local authorities. I want to say something about the provision it is making in a moment.

What has happened in Hackney since 1968—and this is perhaps the gravest indictment of local government in East London—is that the provision that was to be made in 1971–72 of 2,000 new units of accommodation was deliberately and callously cut to 600 as a matter of policy in 1968. I doubt very much whether the figure will approach anything like 600. Here is a borough teeming with housing problems—and this is the attitude of the Tory local authority, which is both inexperienced and has had its policy dictated elsewhere.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shore-ditch and Finsbury quoted Mr. Cutler as saying, The sooner we are out of the housing business the better. He had ready listeners in Hackney because the present Leader of the Council had this to say about council building: They"— the local Labour Party— have a passion for municipal development with subsidy, rebate and all this unpleasantness. So subsidy and rebate he finds thoroughly unpleasant—as unpleasant as Mr. Cutler finds the whole business of municipal development.

What the Hackney Council has done, in inheriting Labour's programme, is to rehouse a large number of people from the waiting list. But because it has not made proper provision for decanting, the future of our housing in Hackney has been thoroughly mortgaged in order to gain more electoral advantage. Of course, the council says, "We have rehoused all these people". It is true that it was done under a Labour programme, but the local Tories take the credit. I suppose that the Labour Party in the next three years —because there is no doubt that we shall win the council—can expect obloquy because no adequate provision has been made for housing in the area. Hackney desperately needs municipal development —there can be no other effective action to provide housing these—and it will be inordinately difficult for us to make proper provision for the people on the waiting list. I ask how the new Labour council will be able to cope with this heavy problem, which need not have occurred if the present Tory council had not followed this idiotic and doctrinaire approach.

The situation does not rest alone on the need for housing for those on the waiting list. There are the homeless as well. Last February I asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what had been the cost of providing temporary accommodation for the homeless in each of the Inner London boroughs in each year from 1964 to 1970. The interesting feature of his reply was that Hackney—a stress area, as it is defined in the Francis Committee's Report—had cut its provision by nearly £40,000 in comparison with the year 1968–1969. The figure in 1968–69 was £89,347. In that year Hackney was high in the league of inner London boroughs. In 1969–70 the figure was £50,757. No other London borough faces the problem that we face in Hackney, yet the local council has the gall to provide a policy of that kind. Indeed, the only other borough where there was a reduction was Greenwich, and that was a miniscule reduction of just over £2,000 in provision for the homeless. The problems of Greenwich do not begin to measure up to the problems of Hackney. How can anyone justify a reduction of nearly £40,000 in a year in provision for the homeless in such a borough?

We know the reasons. There had to be a pruning of expenditure so that the rates would not seem to be going up too high. This is what the local Tories were concerned about. They were not concerned about dealing adequately and properly with those who had the misfortune to face all the miserable consequences of homelessness.

Mr. Spearing

Is my hon. Friend aware that in some London boroughs—certainly my own, Ealing—further economies are being effected on the homeless by providing genuinely homeless families who are in the care of the council not with temporary accommodation in hostels but with accommodation in bed and breakfast lodging houses which, for families or anyone else, is very economic but socially a very damaging way of providing for their needs?

Mr. Davis

That is absolutely right. When my hon. Friend says that is an economic way of doing it I do not agree. The cost is around £20 or £25 a week. This is certainly not a sensible way, quite apart from the appalling social consequences, of dealing with the problem of providing temporary accommodation.

Mr. Ronald Brown

Does my hon. Friend recall that the Hackney Borough Council has done one outstanding thing, it has employed its own bailiffs? In my part of Hackney three families are now under notice to quit. They can be turned out of the permanent accommodation and transferred into the homeless accommodation, which, as my hon. Friend says, is not there.

Mr. Davis

The problem of bailiffs in the London Borough of Hackney is an interesting one because the only innovation to be introduced there, apart from the concessionary fares scheme, was the provision of bailiffs to distrain upon arrears of rent which amount to £20 or more. This is one of the enobling features of local government in Hackney. I know a bit about the housing situation in Wandsworth as a whole because I spoke at a meeting of Shelter, and I know that it was facing an even worse position than Hackney over Victoria Dwellings.

In 1968 the London Borough of Hackney acquired a large block of flats from the G.L.C. called Duncan Rouse. It was built in the early 1920s, and the idea was that something in excess of 100 flats would be utilised exclusively for homeless families. This was a lunatic scheme to undertake, because although the flats were not in very much worse condition than many other G.L.C. blocks of that vintage, the fact remains that the Council did not begin to comprehend the social consequences that would ensue when homeless families were herded together. This was done, aided and abetted by the G.L.C., which very readily fell in with the idea.

This was undertaken against the advice of the Labour Opposition. I have been Chairman of the Welfare Committee in Hackney, and we considered this and called for reports. The election intervened and we lost the chair, but our recommendation would have been not to undertake a scheme of that kind because of the social consequences. Our prognosis has proved to be absolutely correct, because we find that the people in Duncan House have a stigma attached to them; they are regarded as drifters, no-goods just because they have had the misfortune to be homeless. They have been given temporary accommodation, and this is their reward.

Wandsworth could well have learned the lesson but, unfortunately, that blinkered Tory local authority has decided to pursue an even worse policy. The Victoria Dwellings block in Wandsworth was built in the 1870s. This is a large block, and the Council has spent a good deal of money renovating it. The fact remains that the same error is being committed in Wandsworth as was committed in Hackney, despite the advice proffered by the Labour Opposition and others in Wandsworth. The situation in Wandsworth, as in Hackney, was that the Ministry of Housing and the Department of Social Security were absolutely against this idea. Notwithstanding these warnings, the Wandsworth and Hackney Councils continued with these ridiculous and dangerous policies.

Mr. Thomas Cox

There are three hon. Members who represent constituencies in the London Borough of Wandsworth present in the Chamber. We are therefore interested in the points being made. I should like to take up my hon. Friend's point about Victoria Dwellings. The London Borough of Wandsworth is pursuing the same policy because the number of homeless families is increasing in Wandsworth. The latest available figure is that there are 850 homeless families in the London Borough of Wandsworth—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) began his speech at seven minutes past nine; and interventions should be short.

Mr. Davis

I have covered about three-quarters of what I desire to say.

I am appalled that, notwithstanding the lessons which it should have learned from Victoria Dwellings and the information fed to it by the opposition in the London Borough of Hackney about the social consequences of Duncan House, the same policy is being pursued yet again. It means that when the Labour Party resumes control the local authorities will inherit these buildings. I do not know what we can do about it, because it is a senseless policy. I think that all we can do is to try to rehouse these people in small units of accommodation at the earliest opportunity.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

I am sorry that I was not present for the introductory part of my hon. Friend's speech, but, before moving to the main body of his remarks, will he pay attention to the problem of handing over the East Hill Estate to Wandsworth? The G.L.C. is deliberately running down this estate, and when it is eventually handed over to Wandsworth it will be in a very bad condition.

Mr. Davis

I am sure that my hon. Friend knows what he is talking about. I do not want to acquire the reputation of being an expert on Wandsworth, but I think I can claim to be something of an expert on Hackney, having served on the local authority for a number of years.

Mr. Gorst

As a newcomer to the House and an extremely inexperienced novice, may I ask the hon. Gentleman to tell me where Hackney or Wandsworth appears in the Bill?

Hon. Members

In the Preamble.

Mr. Davis

I have made this point twice. It seems that it is difficult to persuade the hon. Gentleman to read the Preamble of the Bill. It refers specifically in line 6 on page 1 to "London borough councils".

Mr. Gorst

What about the Clauses? Will the hon. Gentleman address himself to those as well?

Mr. Davis

I have referred briefly to Clause 7. But our complaint about the Bill is not what is in it but what it omits. If the hon. Gentleman is not yet seized of that point, I do not know how we can get it through to him.

Mr. Gorst

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that when it comes to voting in due course he will vote against what is not in the Bill but will have no objection to what is in it?

Mr. Davis

I propose to make up my mind on that issue at 10 o'clock.

Mr. Wellbeloved

Before my hon. Friend leaves the Preamble, will he direct his attention to the provision that should be made for financing better local government and to the very generous offer made to Londoners on behalf of the G.L.C. by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Kenneth Baker), that Councillor Plummer is prepared to accompany any hon. Member round London with an open cheque book ready to buy vacant sites for building houses for Londoners?

Mr. Davis

I listened with great interest to what was said by the hon. Member for St. Marylebone. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North said that he could take him to certain sites. There are sites in outer London areas which could be successfully utilised to diminish the problem of homelessness and inadequate housing in the inner London boroughs.

Mr. Spearing

In recalling what the hon. Member for St. Marylebone said, does my hon. Friend know that quite near Hackney there are 200 acres of land owned by the Port of London Authority which the G.L.C. is expected to purchase, possibly with finances mentioned in the Bill, and that the G.L.C. has not sent to the Minister the plans which it has had available for nearly two years?

Mr. Davis

I know that the Chief Opposition Whip is particularly concerned about this problem. He has mentioned to me that he would like to see tremendous development in this area. But we have our own little problem of Hutton Poplars in Essex which is used as a children's home. This is being dismantled, leaving a large acreage which could be utilised for municipal development to relieve the pressures on our housing list, but instead the Tory local authority decided some years ago, when the Tories first came to power, to dispose of that land for private development.

The Tories had no regard for the housing needs of the people of Hackney. They were concerned to acquire £1 million or £1½ million to enable them in one fell swoop, perhaps before the elections, to reduce the rates. It is to the enormous credit of my colleagues in opposition on the Hackney Council that they have so far managed to dissuade the Tory local authority from implementing that proposal. That land is vitally needed, and for it to be sold off to achieve a once-for-all reduction in the rates—which would not last long anyway, with the existing rate poundage—would be a deplorable policy, and I hope in the short time that remains for the Tories to be in power in Hackney this policy will not be implemented.

In 1968–69 when I was Mayor of Hackney, elected on a majority of one before the Conservatives appointed their aldermen, a gentleman came to the Mayor's parlour and announced that he would like to acquire the land at Hutton Poplars. He wanted to know what I could do to advance his interests. He said that he knew I was a solicitor and told me that conveyancing would be very worthwhile from my point of view.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)

Was he a Labour man?

Mr. Davis

He had done a great deal of research into this problem. The only thing which he had not found out was that I happened to be the Labour Mayor of a Tory local authority. When the council was discussing the sale of this land to a private developer I noticed that this man's name was amongst the names of those who were applying to develop the area. That is a somewhat distasteful feature of the way in which private developers seek to infiltrate into local authorities. I acquit the local authority and the Conservative Party in Hackney of being involved with this gentleman. I do not believe that that would be true. The fact remains that it is an unpleasant aspect of the way in which certain persons seek to corrupt people in local government. Indeed, I am not sure that it is not a criminal activity.

Another feature to which my colleagues on the council attach a great deal of importance at present is the problem of general improvement areas. I do not know how many hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House find that their local authorities are dealing with general improvement areas. Under discussion at present in Hackney are two general improvement areas. My local authority have not even started on the development of those areas, which have only been designated, but are now asking for a further 18 general improvement areas to be designated. I hope that the Minister will indicate very clearly that it would be a criminal folly for land to be sterilised in this way by designation as a general improvement area, until we know how successfully the two initial plans will evolve. I hope that they will evolve successfully.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)

Before the hon. Gentleman gets into the second half of his speech, has he heard of the situation, which perhaps pertains in Hackney and other parts of the Greater London area, in which, as in the case of the London Borough of Ealing, if one has an income of £35 a week, plus overtime and so on, one can fish in the house buying market, so whittling down the housing applications and lessening the pressure on municipal housing? Is that happening in Hackney as it is to the unfortunate people in my district, who cannot obtain a 100 per cent. mortgage from the G.L.C. and are between the devil and the deep blue sea, being unable

to do anything except to live in a couple of rooms, in which they remain?

Mr. Davis

This not only affects Southall and Ealing but the whole of Inner London and Outer London too. On 100 per cent. mortgage schemes, one of the great problems is that people find that they are not eligible for one reason or another and simply do not have the capital available to put down the 10, 15 or 20 per cent. required to obtain a mortgage from an ordinary building Society.

Mr. Gorst

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he has spoken for 50 minutes?

Mr. Davis

The hon. Gentleman's interventions have not improved with time. My hon. Friends seem to appreciate it. If my speech were appreciated by the non. Gentleman opposite then I should really begin to worry.

Mr. Kenneth Baker rose in his place and claimed to move, That the question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 147, Noes 23.

Division No. 258.] AYES [9.59 p.m.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Kinsey, J. R.
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Fidler, Michael Kirk, Peter
Astor, John Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Knox, David
Atkins, Humphrey Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Lane, David
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Fookes, Miss Janet Le Marchant, Spencer
Batsford, Brian Fortescue, Tim Longden, Gilbert
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Fox, Marcus Loveridge, John
Benyon, W. Gardner, Edward McAdden, Sir Stephen
Berry, Hn. Anthony Goodhart, Philip MacArthur, Ian
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Goodhew, Victor McLaren, Martin
Boscawen, Robert Corst, John Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Bowden, Andrew Green, Alan McNair-Wilson, Michael
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Maddan, Martin
Bray, Ronald Curden, Harold Madel, David
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Marten, Neil
Bullus, Sir Eric Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mather, Carol
Channon, Paul Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mawby, Ray
Chapman, Sydney Haselhurst, Alan Meyer, Sir Anthony
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Havers, Michael Mitchell, Lt.-Col.(Aberdeenshire, W)
Clegg, Walter Hawkins, Paul Moate, Roger
Cordle, John Hayhoe, Barney Monks, Mrs. Connie
Cormack, Patrick Heseltine, Michael Monro, Hector
Crouch, David Hill, James (Southampton, Test) More, Jasper
Crowder, F. P. Holt, Miss Mary Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Curran, Charles Hornby, Richard Morrison, Charles (Devizes)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, JamesMaj.-Gen. Hornsby-Smith, Rt.Hn.Dame Patricia Mudd, David
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Howe, Hn. Sir Geoffrey (Reigate) Murton, Oscar
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Howell, David (Guildford) Normanton, Tom
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Page, Graham (Crosby)
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Hunt, John Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Dykes, Hugh Iremonger, T, L. Peel, John
Eden, Sir John James, David Percival, Ian
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Peyton, Rt. Hn. John
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Jessel, Toby Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Emery, Peter Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Rees, Peter (Dover)
Eyre, Reginald Kaberry, Sir Donald Renton, Rt. Hn, Sir David
Farr, John Kilfedder, James Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Ridsdale, Julian Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.) Weatherill, Bernard
Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey Tebbit, Norman Wells, John (Maidstone)
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.) Temple, John M, White, Roger (Gravesend)
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Thomas, John Strading (Monmouth) Wiggin, Jerry
Russell, Sir Ronald Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.) Wilkinson, John
Scott, Nicholas Tilney, John Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Sharples, Richard Tugendhat, Christopher Woodnutt, Mark
Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H. Worsley, Marcus
Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington) Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Soref, Harold Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Stanbrook, Ivor Ward, Dame Irene Mr. David Mitchell and
Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.) Warren, Kenneth Mr. Peter Blaker.
Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Bidwell, Sydney Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Spearing, Nigel
Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.) Hunter, Adam Spriggs, Leslie
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Stallard, A. W.
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Judd, Frank Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.) Lawson, George Watkins, David
Davidson, Arthur Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, c.) Milne, Edward (Blyth) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Ellis, Tom Molloy, William Mr. Thomas Cox and
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn, P. C. Oswald, Thomas Mr. James Wellbeloved.

Question put accordingly and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed.

  1. BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE 703 words, 1 division
  2. cc1789-863
  3. ISLE OF WIGHT COUNTY COUNCIL BILL (By Order) 28,316 words, 1 division
  4. cc1863-74